Ontological Argument

Most people have not witnessed or experienced God and
therefore are confused about its existence. In Western
theology, three theories have emerged to demonstrate the
existence of God. These theories are the ontological
argument, the cosmological argument, and the teleological
argument. St. Anselm of eleventh century, and Descartes of
seventeenth century, have used the ontological argument for
proving the existence of God. The God, for them, is
supreme, "needing nothing outside himself, but needful for
the being and well-being of all things." (Pg. 305).

St Anselm’s account of the ontological argument for the
existence of God deals with the ‘existence in the
understanding’ vs. ‘existence in reality.’ He defines God as
the greatest conceivable or possible being. He adds that
any person who hears this statement describing God
understands what is meant. His argument is that if God did
not exist, then a being greater than God would be possible.
This being then would be greater than the greatest possible
being, which is impossible. Therefore he proves that there
is no being greater than God and hence God exists. His
argument is also based on the premise that "the idea of an
eternal being who either does not yet exist or no longer
exists is self-contradictory, so that the very idea we have of
such a being requires existence." (Pg. 307).

In his Meditations, Decartes offers the following version of
the ontological argument. He considers the idea of God, a
supremely perfect being, just as real as the idea of the
existence of any shape or a number. His understanding of
God’s existence is no less clear and distinct than his proofs
for the existence of any shape or number. Therefore he
adds, "although all that I concluded in the preceding
Meditations were found to be false, the existence of God
would pass with me as at least as certain as I have ever
held the truths of mathematics." (Pg. 308). Initially, this
might not be all clear, and may have some appearance of
being a sophism. He argues that unlike other things he might
persuade himself that existence can be separated from the
essence of God, and hence that God can be thought of as
not existing. He adds that ‘when he thinks of it with more
attention, he clearly sees that existence can no more be
separated from the essence of God, than the fact that its
three angles equal two right angles can be separated from
the essence of a triangle, or that the idea of a mountain can
be separated from the idea of a valley’ (Pg. 308). Hence, it
is just as much of a contradiction to think of God (that is, a
supremely perfect being) lacking existence (that is, lacking
perfection), as it is to think of a mountain without a valley.
His theory is that he can’t think of God without it existing
and therefore it exists. Also he gives God all kinds of
perfection and because existence is one of the perfection,
"God necessarily exists." (Pg. 309).

Kant’s critique of Anselm’s and Descartes’ arguments state
that existence is not a perfection because all perfections are
qualities, and existence is not any kind of characteristic,
quality, attribute, or property. When we say that something
exists, Kant argued, we "add nothing to" our concept of
that thing - we merely say that there is something similar to
that concept. It follows that no matter how many
characteristics of a thing we list; we will still not have
answered the question whether there is something having all
those characteristics. "Being is evidently not a real
predicate, or a concept of something that can be added to
the concept of a thing. It is merely the admission of a thing,
and of certain determinations in it." (Pg. 311). His argument
is that it is all right to say that God has certain
characteristics but it is another to say that such a God

Many contemporary philosophers agree with Kant’s
argument, but many others do not. Furthermore,
contemporary logicians have developed versions of the
ontological argument that can even dispense with the
controversial notion of existence as a property. It is clear
that, considered simply as a logical argument, the
ontological argument does not have the power to convert
nonbelievers into believers. Or if you are a believer, it is
clear that an objection to the "proof" is not going to shake
your faith in any way whatsoever. So the significance of the
proof is ambiguous; as a logical exercise it is brilliant, as an
expression of faith it may be edifying, but as an actual proof
that God exists or as a means of converting atheists it
seems to have no power at all. (Pg.313).