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Closing Time: The Ontological Argument Part 5. By Aaron Johnson
Blog Post
Closing Time: The Ontological Argument Part 5. By Aaron Johnson

In the previous blog, the controversy over the truth of the premises was narrowed to premise 1: It is possible that a maximally great being exists. To see if this being’s existence is really possible, one must examine the great making properties of that being and determine if there is any contradiction or incoherence. Omnipotence and omniscience were covered last time, and so we turn our attention to moral perfection.

Moral Perfection and Maximal Greatness.

As noted last time, this might be the most controversial property. After all, don’t people disagree about what is right and wrong? How then can anyone come into consensus about what “moral perfection” means? We will explore the possibility of someone disagreeing with this characterization in the next blog. Nevertheless, even without exploring this objection in too much detail, a fairly agreeable solution can still be reached.

While many people disagree about various particulars, most people are committed to foundational values. Justice, for example, is a universal value. How this value of justice is cashed out may differ, but the value remains the same. Loving parents, also, are always thought to be morally superior to hateful and abusive parents. What that looks like might be different from person to person and culture to culture, but the value of parental love is identical.

For example, speed limits on a highway might change, but the value of motorist safety remains the same. How that value is cashed out might change, but the value does not. Therefore, even in the midst of disagreement on how various values ought to be cashed out, most everyone can agree on the values.

A Possible Objection

When thinking about moral perfection, one might see a possible contradiction between it and omnipotence. For instance, Christians believe that God cannot lie, because lying is objectively evil (Heb. 6:18). Does this mean that God is not all-powerful? Again, you might disagree with this characterization of moral perfection, but your disagreement with the Bible has no impact on your own personal characterization of, and commitment to, the possibility of moral perfection. Notwithstanding, insofar as this is an internal problem for Christians, the issue is worth exploring.

The confusion lies in where one places the emphasis in their thinking. To say that God cannot lie is not a comment on the amount of power He has, but rather on the amount of goodness He has. In other words, this is not to say that He does not have enough power to lie, but that He has too much goodness to lie. Technically speaking, God has sufficient power to lie, and to do whatever else could be done with power for that matter. The “limiting factor” (this terminology is incorrect, but is useful here) then, is not God’s power, but His goodness.

Accusing God of lacking something on account of His “inability” to lie is actually a misunderstanding. Saying that God lacked something because He could not lie would be like accusing a full glass of water of not being half-full. Sure, it’s impossible for a full glass of water to be half-full. Where’s the inadequacy? In the same way, talking about God’s “inability” to lie characterizes a positive attribute (moral perfection) as a negative attribute (cannot lie) – it’s just a round-about way of thinking. Villains are not greater than the hero because they lie, steal, cheat, and murder. Rather, the hero is greater because he will not do such things. Greater still is the one who cannot do these things. Therefore, no contradiction exists between moral perfection and omnipotence.

Conclusion

Given the argument’s validity, the premises of the modal ontological argument need only be true for the conclusion to follow. Premise 1, the only really controversial premise, has no obvious logical incoherence, and there is no obvious contradiction between the great making properties of a maximally great being. Therefore, the premises being true:

  • If it is possible that a maximally great being exists, then a maximally great being exists.
  • It is possible that a maximally great being exists.
  • Therefore, a maximally great being exists.

The next blog will be dedicated to answering some of the most common objections that people have to this argument. If you are not yet convinced, perhaps those answers will be of interest to you.

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