Category Archives: Ontological Proof

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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….)

Meow Mix

Encouraged by a genius-level reader, we have spent some time trying to learn more about the Muslim Falsafah, Mulla Sadra. Confession: Sadra was a mere aside we popped while trying to close out the ontological argument yesterday. In fact, we’d sort of confused him with a guy named “Sabra” (note the backwards “d,” otherwise known as a “b”), but no matter. The more we looked, the less we found, until we were spun into a vortex of wisdom so pure we’re not sure which way we’re pointing anymore.

"Excuse me, sir, are you Mulla Sadra?"

Net net: This Mulla Sadra cat knows how to meow.

Michael Crichton once said he did his best writing when his wife was calling him into dinner. (Though a bro of righteous talent, the late Dr. Crichton had female issues; so four out of five of his wives say.) Same with us here at TGPDN: we stumble on the Truth as we are about to exit the plain. Or do we?

Sadra is scandalously underknown. I dug into my analog Library of Truth and found a brief, glowing mention in Karen Armstrong’s best-selling A History of God. She says Sadra was a student of Iran’s Suhrawardi school of Islamist Falsafah, which had a deep respect for the subjective components of thought.

“Many Muslims today [says Armstrong] regard him as the most profound of all the Islamic thinkers.” (p261)

Wow. Not even “one of” but “the most.” Push in Christians for Muslims in that sentence and who would we put? Augustine? Kierkegaard? Nobody fits.

Writing in 1994, Armstrong points out that Sadra “is only just becoming known in the west.” Not so fast. Yesterday, the only work by Sadra on offer at B&N is something called “The Elixir of the Gnostics,” which I happen to know is not his most famous work (that would be “The Throne of God” or “Asfar”). There are a couple books about Sadra, the best-selling of which does not have a single customer review.

And things are not much better online. There’s an enigmatic item in a Wikipedia entry on the “Ontological Argument,” and an abstract essay by John Cooper on MuslimPhilosophy.com.

We were at first encouraged to locate a site for what appeared to be a non-profit academic foundation dedicated to the great man himself. However, after poking around, we discovered the incredible, amazing fact we are revealing here for the very first time that this website, sponsored by government-authorized Iranian academics, is unbelievably [CENSORED BY IRANIAN GOVERNMENT PRAISE ALLAH]

Still, from these and a few other sources, I think I’ve been able to piece together a beautiful boombox of insight, one that reconciles Anselm and Augustine with Kant and even Aristotle by way of Islam. What else would you expect from “the most profound”?

Grrrr-Ontology

So we’re searching for this thing called God, and we’re looking at old-time arguments for (and, eventually, against). And we’ve talked about what King Kong named the “ontological” jib-jabs, because they can be done with your eyes closed. That is, not easily, but without looking at the world outside your righteous noodle.

Samuel L. Jackson

"Hey, it works for me"

And the more I think about it, the more convinced I get these arguments only work if you already believe. They may convince a believer that her faith is not entirely irrational. But if you close your eyes an atheist, and master the ontological method, I’m thinking you’re going to open your eyes and say, “So what?”

Bertrand Russell agreed. In his “Autobiography,” he’s quoted in his early career saying, “Great God in Boots! – the ontological argument is sound!” But in his standard “History of Western Philosophy,” he one-eighties:

“The argument does not, to a modern mind, seem very convincing, but it is easier to feel convinced that it must be fallacious than it is to find out precisely where the fallacy lies.” (p536)

For the ontological argument is really more a form of meditation than a chain of thought. It may well be possible to sit down to meditate on perfection as a skeptic and stand up a true believer in the one God, creator of heaven and earth and of all that is, seen and unseen, but I doubt it.

So unless I hear a righteous upswell of ontologists, I’ll move on after mentioning what I think is the spookiest, most full-throated case of this kind: Mulla Sadra’s so-called “Argument of the Righteous.”

This is the Samuel L. Jackson of ontological attempts: it’s that cool. Mulla Sadra was a Muslim theologian living just after our Reformation, foremost among the Illuminationist school of Transcendental Theosophy. In other words: deep.

At the risk of transcendentally travestying the late Mullah, we’ll say it goes something like this:

  1. Existence itself is perfect
  2. Created things – because they are created – are imperfect
  3. Existence is an end in itself: it does not rely on anything else
  4. If anything exists, then God exists

Or, more simply: Existence itself is not the same as the existence of things – it is separate, “independent.” And that independent Existence is perfect because it is not a thing. Mulla Sadra calls Existence, God.

Still not convinced? Think about Existence for a moment. Why does it even Exist? Do you have an answer?