The Temple

Plantinga’s Version of the Ontological Argument

The Ontological Argument for the existence of God was developed by Anselm in the 12th Century. Since then it has been a topic of conversation and criticism with regard to the argument of God’s existence. Alvin Plantinga is a Christian philosopher teaching at Notre Dame and considered the premier Christian thinker of our time. His Ontological Argument for God uses the logical notion of possible worlds. This notion of possible worlds is used to help distinguish between necessary truths and contingent truths.

Necessary truths are truths that must be true and cannot be false.

Contingent truths happen to be true if all the circumstances line up; contingent truths are not of necessity true. An example of a contingent truth would be: John Smith owns a red Ferrari. It could be true or it could be false.

A necessary truth is: 2 + 2 = 4. A necessary truth must be true, it cannot be false.

2 + 2 = 5 is necessarily false, it cannot ever be true.

We use the notion of possible worlds to help distinguish between these two things. It is possible somewhere that John Smith owns a red Ferrari. It is necessary in every possible world that 2 + 2 = 4. It is not possible in any world that 2 + 2 = 5. This argument attempts to conclude that the existence of God is a necessary truth and is true in all possible worlds. If you have read this far and are not confused, brace yourself:

  1. There is a possible world in which maximal greatness is instantiated.
  2. Necessarily, a being is maximally great only if it has maximal excellence in every world.
  3. Necessarily, a being has maximal excellence in every world if it has omniscience, omnipotence, and moral perfection in every world.
  4. In the possible world mentioned in (1) above the following proposition is necessarily false: “There is no omnipotent, omniscient, and morally perfect being.”
  5. A proposition necessarily false in one possible world is necessarily false in all possible worlds, i.e., what is impossible does not change from one world to another.
  6. Since the actual world is a possible world, the proposition referred to in (4) above is necessarily false there as well.
  7. Hence, there exists in the actual world, as well as in every possible world, a being who essentially has the qualities of omnipotence, omniscience, and moral perfection.

The bottom line in this argument is the attempt to categorize the existence of this maximal being as a necessary truth.

The form of this argument taken from Class Notes, Christian Apologetics, Dr. Stanley Obitts, Westmont College, April 9, 1981.

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March 28, 2007 - Posted by | Christianity, God's Existence, Philosophy

5 Comments »

  1. Dear Steve,
    What an interesting article. I am currently studying philosophy, and attempting to publish a paper about the problem of evil. Thus, any views associated with Alvin Plantinga are of great interest to me. His work on Freewill is quite moving, and somewhat associated with his views about the ontological argument. Plantinga (in a nutshell) refers to the idea that God can actualize only logical and present things in any world, he cannot actualize the illogical or past things, thus, moral evil is logically necessary because logically good must be actualized with evil. This is supported upon the grounds that we are truly free.

    Since you are obviously interested in such subjects, I have a question for you. This question is something that I have been battling with for some time. It is as follows:
    Plantinga, I feel, explains moral evil, but, he dose not adequately answer the existence of natural evils. Plantinga states that natural evil is caused by the free actions of evil spirits. I feel that that is impossible because of the following:
    1. If Satan is a spiritual being (not consisting of anything physical), then he has no influence or effect on physical objects.
    2. Satan is spiritual.
    3. Therefore he has no influence over physical worlds.
    If the previous is true, then the idea that Satan causes natural evils is false. This is because Satan is a being commonly accepted as a spirit living on this earth, yet in a separate dimension. Now to avoid arguing time and space held dimensions, we shall say that this dimensions in which Satan lives, is purely a spiritual dimension (This is assuming that Satan is not omnipotent, for if he were omnipotent then he would logically have control over the natural world). A spiritual dimension would consist of maxims that are only acted upon spiritually. This is to say that Satan is free to act and do as a sentient being only according to things that are spiritually related. The physical world consist of elements, atoms, and actions that are not necessarily spiritual, thus, it would seem that Satan would not have any control over the natural world. Now, many claim that this idea refutes God’s ability to interfere with the natural world; however, we know that God is omnipotent. If God is omnipotent, then God has the ability to effect, or actualize any possible/logical world. That would include natural and spiritual (especially if one believes that God consist of both spiritual and physical matter). What do you think? Is it possible for Satan’s free actions to cause natural evil without God’s permission? And what is your stance of Plantinga’s views of the problem of evil?
    Best,
    John

    Comment by john | March 28, 2007 | Reply

  2. Hey John,

    Thanks for reading. I have just a few moments today to respond. I have not read too much recently of Plantinga on the problem of evil, but I am not enamored of his explanation as you have presented it.

    My response here is a mixture of philosophical and theological. You are on the right track in limiting Satan’s ability to influence the physical world. So I guess I would broaden the discussion on your premise #1. Is it in fact true that spiritual beings can have no influence or effect on physical objects. Is his limitation his nature as “spiritual” or his lack of omnipotence? I think that needs clarification.

    But as to the approach as a whole, I don’t explain natural evil by appealing to Satan, and do I agree with you that this is not an adequate explanation for the problem of evil, especially since I believe (theologically) that whatever power we ascribe to Satan has been greatly diminished by the cross, yet natural evil seems to continue at the same pace.

    Thanks for reading, I was briefly over to your site and like what you are doing – elevating the discussion. More later…maybe I will need to write a post on evil.

    Steve

    Comment by Steve Bagdanov | March 29, 2007 | Reply

  3. I woul love to read a post on your sight about the problem of evil. Theologically and philosophically would be great. The real problem that the athiest seems to hold as true is the existiance of Natural Evil, or Unnessary evil. If you could touch on that it would be great.
    best,
    john

    Comment by john | March 29, 2007 | Reply

  4. steve that was heavy but very interesting

    Comment by adam bubert | April 15, 2008 | Reply

  5. Have you read Augustine’s Enchirdion?

    The notion of privatio boni may be useful in the discussion of natural evil. Personally, I think all natural evils are two sided and come as both benefits and curses for some people and not others. We are metaphysically limited in our ability to assess the existence of purportedly “gratuitous” evil… However this has nothing to do with the privatio boni, but it would take too long for me to discuss it anyways. I was just offering my thusfar untested opinion on the matter. The lot of you seem remarkably bright, so I would expect you to know of Augustine’s idea. I’ll be watching this post!

    Do take the time to visit my website at http://www.highschoolapologetics.wordpress.com . Any and all comments are greatly wanted and appreciated.

    Comment by highschoolapologetics | February 1, 2009 | Reply


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