Monday, January 29, 2007

Another Confused Atheist

In his desperate attempt to restore Richard Dawkins' idiotic The God Delusion to some level of credibility, Steven Weinberg makes an exceedingly odd statement about Anselm's ontological proof of the existence of God:
From the monk Gaunilo in Anselm’s time to philosophers in our own such as J. L. Mackie and Alvin Plantinga, there is general agreement that Anselm’s proof is flawed, though they disagree about what the flaw is. My own view is that the proof is circular: it is not true that one can conceive of something than which nothing greater can be conceived unless one first assumes the existence of God.
While technically accurate in his summary of the criticism of the ontological argument, Steven Weinberg neglects to mention that Plantinga has reformulated the ontological proof in a logically near-unassailable fashion (it relies on axiom S5, which I understand has some few dissenters). But more interesting is his reason for dismissing it. Weinberg states that one must first assume God before one can conceive God. It is almost needless to point out that this makes no sense. You can't conceive something until you believe it exists? So, presumably, I can't conceive of a centaur without believing it exists? But let's be generous, and presume Weinberg doesn't mean what he appears to say. How might we understand his statement in a manner that gives some sensible meaning to it? It seems likely that Weinberg understands the existence of God to somehow allow for the "nothing greater than" clause to be coherent. If this is the case, Weinberg is implying that a metaphysical ordering of goods cannot exist without God. The irony is that atheists have long fought against the notion that objective ethics are an impossibility in atheism- but in order to hold the ontological argument at bay, Weinberg is willing to sacrifice such a possibility.


Blogger Daniel Cowper said...

Hmm. It's hard to guess what exactly your Joe Bloe Weinstein or whatnot means. The 'thing than which' can't be conceived without presupposing God's existence?

First of all, Anselm's proof is a demonstration, not an argument. So its no flaw in the demonstration that one can only conceive of 'that than which nothing greater can be conceived' if and only if such a thing exists. That iff statement is just what's being demonstated. The demonstration just relies on accepting the premise that one can conceive of such a thing. Then it proceeds to show that our conception of the thing demands the existence of 'that than which...'.

What's ironic about your poor confused chappie is that he's explicitly granting the validity of the demonstration's reasoning. While Gaunilon and other critics have accepted the premise, but denied the reasoning, he's taking the opposite tack: which is quite obviously rubbish.

But I understand Plantinga's argument to be a modal argument, which is distinct from Anselm's proof.

By the by, my objection to Anselm is the same as St. Thomas': how can a conception require or neccisitate the reality of anything? Surely Anselm must be thinking wrongly about how things are conceived. Indeed, a good description of how one's power to conceive of a thing operate should make clear that Anselm's proof is flawed.

Of course, if one tries to adopt Anselm's argument to a modal argument.

Although, as a final point, the fact that S5 makes the modal argument valid is a persuasive argument against S5. Shoud it be that easy to show the logical neccessity of God's existence?

February 12, 2007 2:49 PM  

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