Happy Christmas Eve, kids! Tomorrow, we celebrate what is most likely not the birthday of the little baby Jesus, but rather an entirely symbolic date set by the Roman Catholic church to celebrate the return of the sun after the solstice and supercede a common pagan festival — but no matter! Jesus is born! Merry, happy and prosperous season to you and yours from all one of us here at The God Project Dot Net.
My gift to you: Today, we will sum up and leave behind the various ontological arguments for the existence of It. Plus we really need to move on to Aquinas and Chuck Norris — yes, that Chuck Norris, Evangelical philosopher — before we get too old to type.
Here’s what is up:
Augustine and Anselm are Platonists. It is clear to them the world we live in is far from perfect, but that it contains clues or pointers to what is perfect. Think about people you love: are any of them perfect? Is your car perfect? Yet both of us can imagine perfection in people and cars because we see it — watered-down, decayed, all messed up like Christian Bale in The Fighter — in those very same people and cars.
Platonists would say what we experience with our senses is a shadow, or echo, of something perfect. This perfect thing can be called the “essence” of the imperfect thing. And it must itself exist because it is obviously, in some sense, a part of all the imperfect versions. It’s implied. Like the mold for the Jell-O, you don’t see it but the Jell-O would not look quite the same without it.
So the ontological argument can be seen as an argument that Plato is right: this supernatural, perfect realm of the forms actually does exist. And a good monotheist will add: It is One.
So we get this puzzling definition of Anselm’s that God is “That Than Which Nothing Greater Can Be Thought” (TTWNGCBT). And his subjective-seeming assertion that if we have this God in our minds — really do the work to envision TTWNGCBT — we can not believe It does not exist. I say “subjective-seeming” because, as we saw last week, Augustine describes a very similar step-by-step climb to God … but he does not call this a “proof.” It’s a mystical experience.
Yet Anselm’s so-called logical “proof” and Augustine’s seemingly hallucinatory journey lead them to the same place: an unshakeable conviction that God exists. More than that: a conviction that if anyone were to do what they did, we too would be absolutely convinced God exists. Close quotes.
This is all maddeningly out of reach, right? It’s like swiping our paws under the bathroom sink and feeling the breeze of a swinging piece of string.
Applying the scientific method, Gaunilo and much later Kant and others had short work with this “proof.” They destroyed it. But I think they misunderstood.
Let’s just say it: The classical ontological proof is not logical, it’s onto (“being”). It’s a meditation that leads to a conviction, not a scientific proof at all.
We stumbled on something yesterday, remember? Mulla Sadra, a Muslim philosopher from a school that respected non-rational inputs. I suspect he, Anselm and Augustine all did the same thing in different words: They meditated deeply on this snowy, flawed Northeastern Minneapolis neighborhood of ours and all its echoes of perfection … and realized all the righteous crap abounding has one thing in common — it exists … and ascended to believe that, as Sadra said, existence itself MUST exist, and is perfect.
Here we are, cats: TTWNGCBT! Existence itself. God!
You’re welcome. (We will keep searching, however….)