Sunday, 28 October 2012

Beachballs and the existence of God

Phew!  Glad i got that out of my system.

Anyway, here's today's video:



This is about the ontological argument, one of the most interestingly silly arguments for the existence of God.  Basically, the idea is that God is a perfect being, that an idea of a perfect being is possible, that existence is a quality of a perfect being which would be more perfect than the quality of not existing and therefore that God exists.  This was thought up by Anselm, the Archbishop of Canterbury.  This is Anselm:

And this is Canterbury:

(I actually wanted to find a picture of the Clocktower as this is too picturesque, but then so's the Clocktower).

Anyway, this bloke Gaunilo came along and wrote a dialogue about it where he pointed out, respectfully and carefully, that the argument was rubbish because it was possible to think of a perfect island without that island existing.  I would take that further, but not yet.

Later on, the question of whether existence was a property arose.  Here is a beachball:

(it's actually a Wikipedia beachball, not the one in the front room, because the camcorder's still plugged in and i can't take pictures with it at the moment).  This beachball has various predicates - it is round, made of plastic, inflated, multicoloured and similar to the one in the front room.  However, does it have the predicate of existence?  Is existence actually a predicate?  Does it add anything to the description of that beachball to say that it exists?

This is what's meant by "wrong for interesting reasons".  The ontological argument is wrong for much more interesting reasons than any other argument for the existence of God.  However, when they were younger the children used to express the concept of existence as a predicate.  Instead of saying that something existed, they used to say it "was real".  In other words, they used the predicate of having an instance, instantiation, instead of the concept of existence, but it seems to mean the same thing.

I have a completely different reason for throwing away the ontological argument.  Well, i have several in fact but they're not all interesting.  My main reason for rejecting it is that i see non-existence as more commonly associated with perfection than existence.  Perfectly spherical or flat objects, for example, do not and could not exist.  The very existence of an object makes it less perfect, on the whole, than its concept.  Therefore, far from being an argument for the existence of God, the ontological "proof" is more like one for God's non-existence.