Clarifying the Obvious

Happy Monday, Seekers!


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Let’s start with a clarification. By calling this a Clarification – as opposed, say, to a Correction – I’m trying to imply without saying it out loud that what follows is a point that, in my infectious enthusiasm for the Truth, I may have passed over too lightly on my way to yet more brilliant observations. I’m implying, had I only stopped for breath in my recitation of mind-blowing truths, I might have expounded a tad more on a certain item for those of you in the back row who were tweeting at the time.

So here I am about to clarify the obvious for the people. (By the way, this is one theory about why Anselm’s reply to Gaunilo is so disappointing: he left out the parts of his “Proof” he considered obvious, not realizing that Gaunilo wasn’t getting it.)

Yet I just learned this last night, while walking my dog through a snowdrift so intimidating it scared even her, a Bernese mountain dog: Kant himself created the phrase “ontological argument” to describe these Proofs of Anselm, Descartes, Leibniz, et al. And Kant did not know Anselm’s argument directly: he argued against Descartes. Clear? Good.

Now we were talking about Anselm’s Credo of “Faith seeking understanding.” He’s a believer trying to show that faith is compatible with reason. He’s not a modern dude trying to convince a busload of atheists there is a God. That’s a totally different Project.

Here’s the thing, again: Anselm defines God as That Than Which Nothing Greater Can Be Thought (TTWNGCBT) … and proceeds to show how those who have TTWNGCBT in their minds can not fail to see that It exists. In the form of a dialogue, it might go:

ANSELM: Imagine God.

FOOL: Got it.

ANSELM: Can you fail to see that It exists?

FOOL: Actually, yes.

ANSELM: Imagine God.

FOOL: Got it. Wow. Really amazing. Still doesn’t exist, bro.

ANSELM: Imagine God.

It’s a strange argument. Anselm is saying if we really, truly have TTWNGCBT playing on the small screen of our minds then … we can see It MUST exist. We can’t imagine an imaginary God, if we are imagining God.

The Fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” She can imagine whatever she wants, there still ain’t no God. Anselm says: “Imagine God.” This is not the scientific method. Gaunilo and Kant saw it as absurd – a way to conjure up anything we want, like some computer-animated fantasy.

But Anselm isn’t conjuring up just Anything, is he? He’s making claims about Everything: that is, God. There’s an ultimacy in this God that’s complete: It is anything and everything. The Source of all, unchanging, entire, outside of time and space, the perfection of perfections, love and truth Itself.

Another way to put his argument – one less offensive to us moderns – is: “If we think about the concept of ‘Perfection’ long enough, we will realize that we are thinking about something that is, in some way, real.”

We’ll see when we get to Augustine, Platonists like Anselm were fond of looking at the good things in our world and imagining the better things to which they seem to point. We could argue this is pure mysticism, meditating ourselves into a subjective state of believing things no one else can see. Anselm would not agree. He would say: anyone who meditates on this topic ends up in the same place: it is not subjective. It is true.

Augustine describes a similar maybe-mystical experience in Book VII of “The Confessions.” Can we wait?

* Highly Recommended: Medieval arguments for the existence of God are described with greater eloquence and authority by Prof. Thomas Williams in this incredible audio course. Grade: 5 snowballs out of 5!


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