Instigator
Points: 9

The Ontological Argument is Sound

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Debate details
Publication date
Last update
Category
Philosophy
Time for argument
One week
Voting system
Open voting
Voting period
One month
Point system
Four points
Rating mode
Rated
Characters per argument
10,000
Contender
Points: 21
Description
INTRO
The ontological argument for God's existence has fascinated me for quite some time. For the uninitiated, the modal argument goes like this:
1. It is possible that a maximally great being exists.
2. If it is possible that a maximally great being exists, then a maximally great being exists in some possible world.
3. If a maximally great being exists in some possible world, then it exists in every possible world.
4. If a maximally great being exists in every possible world, then it exists in the actual world.
5. If a maximally great being exists in the actual world, then a maximally great being exists.
6. Therefore, a maximally great being exists.
=== Definitions ==
Ontological argument: See above
Sound: An argument is sound if and only if it is valid and all its premises are true. If an argument is sound, then the conclusion follows
-- STRUCTURE --
1. Opening
2. Rebuttals
3. Rebuttals
4. Rebuttals/Close
Rules
1. No forfeits
2. Citations must be provided in the text of the debate
3. No new arguments in the final speeches
4. Observe good sportsmanship and maintain a civil and decorous atmosphere
5. No trolling
6. No "kritiks" of the topic (challenging assumptions in the resolution)
7. For all resolutional terms, individuals should use commonplace understandings that fit within the logical context of the resolution and this debate
8. The BOP is on Pro; Con's BOP lies in proving Pro wrong. Con may make original arguments if he wants to.
9. Rebuttals of new points raised in an adversary's immediately preceding speech may be permissible at the judges' discretion even in the final round (debaters may debate their appropriateness)
11. Violation of any of these rules merits a loss.
Round 1
Published:
I'd like to thank Ramshutu for accepting this debate. It's a pleasure to debate you on this topic. As mentioned in the intro, the ontological argument is formulated like this:

I. The argument

1. It is possible that a maximally great being exists.
2. If it is possible that a maximally great being exists, then a maximally great being exists in some possible world.
3. If a maximally great being exists in some possible world, then it exists in every possible world.
4. If a maximally great being exists in every possible world, then it exists in the actual world.
5. If a maximally great being exists in the actual world, then a maximally great being exists.
6. Therefore, a maximally great being exists.

In philosophy, there are 3 types of beings:

  1. Contingent being: A being that could exist, but may not necessarily exist (such as a unicorn) 
  2. Impossible being: A being that is impossible, such as an invisible pink unicorn or a married bachelor. 
  3. Necessary being: A being who exist necessarily and whose non-existence is impossible (such as numbers, logic, etc). 
Likewise, there are 3 types of worlds:

  1. The actual world: The world that we live in
  2. An impossible world: A world that cannot exist 
  3. A possible world: a world that possibly exists
To illustrate, numbers and logic are both necessary beings; they exist necessarily in every possible world and their existence is impossible. 2+2=4 is a true saying in every possible world and A=A in every possible world. The ontological argument thus makes the claim that God is a necessary being and His existence is impossible in every possible world. 

In this context, God is defined as a maximally great being. Indeed, if there was a being greater than God, then that thing would be God! To be maximally great, one would need to be all-powerful, all-knowing, morally perfect, etc. in every possible world, thus existing in the actual world. 

Steps 2-6 are relatively uncontroversial among philosophers. Indeed, one gets from 2-3 from S5 modal logic which states that:

S5: If possibly necessarily P, then necessarily P.


II. Conclusion

When I first looked at the ontological argument, I thought it was rather laughable and easy to laugh off. However, once I seriously engaged in the argument, I found that it was nearly irrefutable. The idea of God is perfectly coherent, thus He must exist in some actual world. I look forward to your rebuttal. 
Published:
Thanks Virtuoso for the debate! 

To make the debate flow better, virtuoso has agreed that it’s okay for me to reference his opening argument.  With this in mind, let’s leap right in.

The OA is fundamentally unsound, as it Is contains key logical errors that cause its conclusion not to follow its premise.

1.) Equivocation Part 1

P2: If it’s possible that a maximally great being exists, then a maximally great being exists in some possible world.
Using pros definition of a possible world: a world that possibly exists. We have two options:

(1) If this possible world exists, then the MGB in this world exists. 
(2) If this possible world doesn’t exist, then the MGB in that world doesn’t exist.

The OA is making the existence of the MGB contingent on the existence of the possible world - which is fine.

What is not fine, is that it uses “exists” throughout to mean two completely different types of existence, and then later equivocates between the two. Let’s label these to avoid confusion.

Exists(a) - definitely and absolutely exists. Virtuoso, Myself, voters, trees, Owls definitely exist.

Exists(c) - exists contextually contingent on something else existing. Neo from the matrix exists - only in the context of the matrix universe. He only Exists(a) if that matrix universe exists(a)

Importantly : Exists(a) != Exists(c)

They are not the same, and it must be shown that the contingent or contextual thing exists in order to show Exists(a)=Exists(c)

2.) Equivocation Part 2

P3: If a maximally great being exists in some possible world, then it exists in every possible world. 
As further premises of the OA state, exists in every possible world, is used to mean actually exists  - exists(a)

As we showed in P2: “exists in some possible world”, really means exists(c)

If we substitute these two into this premise, the equivocation becomes clear:

If a maximally great being exists(c), then it exists(a)

This is logically invalid - and this equivocation is what makes the OA unsound.

3.) Potential begging the question.

P1 : It is possible that a maximally great being exists.
This argument is more preemptive.

Is it possible that a maximally great being exists? It would depend on what properties that maximally great being has.

If those properties were contradictory, physically impossible, or paradoxical; then such a being would not be possible as it would match pros own definition of an impossible being.

There is a substantial risk here of the OA begging the question.

For example, if the OA assumes that a MGB must exist if it possibly exists: then P1 is assuming its own conclusion - and is thus invalid.

IE: if P1 states it is possible that a MGB exists - with the properties stated, this premise is effectively assuming an MGB exists.

Moreover, would not the property of a MGB that definitely exists if it possibly exists make the MGB an impossible being by pros definition?

Pro must pay careful attention to the properties he assumes is possible or requires for a MGB, as this P1 is a minefield for the potential of assuming ones own conclusion.

Conclusion

It can be shown that the OA equivocates two different definitions of its central terminology, which allows the argument to manufacture the existence of the MGB.

Secondly, the first premise makes it easy for the OA to implicitly assume its own conclusion.

As a result, the OA is clearly unsound.


Round 2
Published:
Thank you for your speedy reply! To keep things simple, I'll use the same heading that Ramshutu uses. 
 
1.) Equivocation Part 1
 
The first thing to note is that the fallacy of equivocation is an informal fallacy and not a formal fallacy. There's a significant difference between an informal and a formal fallacy. Informal fallacies in deductive reasoning can still be valid (though not necessarily sound). With that said, let's look at the argument itself to see whether or not it commits this fallacy. 
 
1. It is possible that a maximally great being exists.
2. If it is possible that a maximally great being exists, then a maximally great being exists in some possible world.
3. If a maximally great being exists in some possible world, then it exists in every possible world.
4. If a maximally great being exists in every possible world, then it exists in the actual world.
5. If a maximally great being exists in the actual world, then a maximally great being exists.
6. Therefore, a maximally great being exists.
 
Con accuses the argument of defining "exists" in two different ways: 
 
 Exists(a) - definitely and absolutely exists. Virtuoso, Myself, voters, trees, Owls definitely exist.
 
Exists(c) - exists contextually contingent on something else existing. Neo from the matrix exists - only in the context of the matrix universe. He only Exists(a) if that matrix universe exists(a)
This is far from the truth. Rather, the word "exist
 
This is absolutely false. Throughout the argument, the word “exists” means “have objective reality or being.” To prove this, let’s plug in this definition instead of the word “exists:”
 
1. It is possible that a maximally great being have objective reality or being.
2. If it is possible that a maximally great being have objective reality or being, then a maximally great being have objective reality or being in some possible world.
3. If a maximally great being have objective reality or being in some possible world, then it have objective reality or being in every possible world.
4. If a maximally great being have objective reality or being in every possible world, then it have objective reality or being in the actual world.
5. If a maximally great being have objective reality or being in the actual world, then a maximally great being have objective reality or being.
6. Therefore, a maximally great being have objective reality or being.
 
There is no equivocation going on here.
 
1.2) Equivocation Part 2
 
The next equivocation charge is also false. “In every possible world” means that a MGB exists in every world that is logically possible. By definition, our world is a logically possible world and thus is included in the possible worlds.  
 
Had he read my opening argument, he would have known that this is simply the result of modal logic which states:
 
S5: If possibly necessarily P, then necessarily P.
 
My opponent drops this point.
 
2.) Question begging
 
This is the more serious objection to the argument. The first premise states that “It is possible that a MGB exists.” The first premise essentially states that such a being is logically coherent. However, as we have seen above, the question begging is an informal fallacy and not a formal fallacy. Begging the question is when the conclusion of the argument is considered to be proven without any new information other than what is given in one premise. The ontological argument does not do this thus is not question begging.
 
So, what is actually meant by “maximally great being”? A MGB is a being with the maximum great making properties. For example, it is greater to exist than not to exist; it is greater to be morally perfect than not morally perfect; it is greater to be all-knowing than lacking certain knowledge etc.
 
3.) Conclusion
 
As I have shown, my opponent’s arguments rest on a faulty understanding of the argument and a faulty understanding of the equivocation fallacy. The ontological argument remains unbloodied and unbowed. The same cannot be said of Ramshutu’s rebuttal. 


Published:
An interesting reply!

1.) Equivocation PT1

Pro contests the charge of equivocation, and reframed his argument, I’ll focus on his P2:

2. If it is possible that a maximally great being has objective reality or being, then a maximally great being has objective reality or being in some possible world.
The reframing made the issue more obvious: A maximally great being only has objective reality or being in some possible world if that possible world actually exists. 

It’s somewhat hard for a being to objectively exist if the world it exists in doesn’t exist.

The problem can be reframed too: as a possible world may or may not exist we can split P3 into those two possible options to make the issue more obvious. 

P3.1: If a maximally great being exists in a possible world that exists, then it exists -and exists in every possible world.
P3.2: If a maximally great being exists in a possible world that doesn’t exist, then it doesn’t exist and doesn’t necessarily exist in every possible world.

There are two possible outcomes from this clarified P3 - one that proves the conclusion, one that doesn’t. 

The OA does not eliminate P3.2 as a possibility, it only uses equivocation between exists(a) and exists(c) to mask that there are actually two options.

This logical error renders the OA unsound.

2.) Equivocation PT2:

“The next equivocation charge is also false. “In every possible world” means that a MGB exists in every world that is logically possible. By definition, our world is a logically possible world and thus is included in the possible worlds. “

To clarify - this is not a separate equivocation charge, but showing how the initial equivocation is used to bestow existence on something that is not shown to exist. 

This step is basically showing that the MGB exists - once further steps are accounted for.

When you substitute this, and the unequivocated definitions, P3 is essentially stating, essentially, that because the MGB exists(c) it exists(a).

This is the logical error on the OA, it manufactures existence through equivocation. P2 introduces the equivocates term, and P3 realizes the it.

3.) Modal S5 Logic.

As pro claims I dropped this argument, I feel I need to address this.

Pro made a logical argument that is inherently flawed due to the issues I raised above.

Nothing mentioned about S5 modal logic is instructive or even relevant in solving the logical error, and no argument was offered in pros opening as to the relevance of S5 in resolving the issues I raised.

As pro is not specific in how S5 was inherently used in P2 or P3 in any detail, nor is it clear how that reasoning ties into my objections: there isn’t really a valid contention to drop, nor any impact to the validity of the specific claims I made even had I done so.

Pro should explain how S5 logic contradicts the point I am making, or undermines the accusations of equivocation. If not, pros usage of S5 logic is largely irrelevant.

4.) Informal vs Formal fallacy.

If the OA commits an informal or formal fallacy - the conclusion cannot be said to follow from the premises. Thus in either case, the OA is un-sound, even though it’s conclusion - that God exists - may still be valid.

In this respect the distinction pro makes between formal and informal fallacies is largely irrelevant. If a fallacy exists of either type, the argument is unsound as the conclusion does not follow.

5.) Begging the Question

Pros definition is mostly correct: Begging the question is where the conclusion of the argument must be presupposed as true in the premise.

In the case of the OA “An MGB is possible” is a bottomless pit of potential assumptions.

What makes an MGB possible? What would make it impossible? What things can and can’t exist in the universe in general? 

It’s not possible to guess, assert or assume what is metaphysically possible - or not- in the universe. We simply don’t have the data, knowledge or information; there is inherently no real basis for pro to claim that P1 is valid as I alluded to.

For example - if we assume that the laws of physics are supreme : God invalidates these laws, and is impossible. Thus, claiming God is possible, implicitly assumes that the laws of physics are not supreme. We don’t know whether they are or not - and yet pro requires the assumption that they are not.

There are many of these metaphysical assumptions the OA makes. Going any other way than pro does would render God impossible, and the OA fails.

What the OA does therefore, is to make all of these assumptions with the inherent goal of allowing God to exist, and is therefore inherently assuming the conclusion.

To highlight this issue, I can reframe the point I raised a few paragraphs ago as a question for my opponent:

If the laws of physics are supreme over everything: we can agree that a MGB could not exist: this would be an impossible being by pros description. This would invalidate P1.

If the laws of physics are not supreme over everything: let’s assume that MGB is a possible being. (For the moment, let’s ignore other similar assumptions that can raise questions like this one). This would be consistent with P1.

If P1 may be untrue - does that not mean the OA is unsound? And if not - on what basis can this inherent assumption on the lack of primacy of physics be justified?

That’s inherent where the begging exists: the assumptions are chosen with the predicated conclusion existence.

Conclusion

As shown; the OA clearly uses equivocation of the word exists. This is obvious with pros reframing - and the underlying logical error I pointed out in R1 is fully exposed.

As shown, the OA is forced to make unsupported assumptions for P1, that are implicitly hidden behind the simply statements it makes. To allow the OA to work, these unsupported assumptions made are inherently required in the conclusion that an MGB exists.

Round 3
Forfeited
Published:
I extend all my arguments.

I would also like to invoke pros rule #1: No forfeits, and ask all voters award arguments based on this rule.
Round 4
Forfeited
Published:
Well, that’s a bit of a let down.

I extend my arguments and encourage everyone to vote based on pros no forfeit rule, 


Added:
--> @Virtuoso
1 day left
Contender
#4
Added:
--> @Ramshutu
The BOP is on Pro; Con's BOP lies in proving Pro wrong. Con may make original arguments if he wants to.
Instigator
#3
Added:
--> @Ramshutu
Yeah I basically have full burden, and no I don't have an issue with that.
Instigator
#2
Added:
--> @Virtuoso
Hey virt, as you have assumed full burden, and I’m basically refuting your position, would you have an issue with me referring directly to some of your points in the opening round to make this more of an orderly back and forth?
Contender
#1
#3
Criterion Pro Tie Con Points
Better arguments 3 points
Better sources 2 points
Better spelling and grammar 1 point
Better conduct 1 point
Reason:
Forfeit
#2
Criterion Pro Tie Con Points
Better arguments 3 points
Better sources 2 points
Better spelling and grammar 1 point
Better conduct 1 point
Reason:
Rule 1 in the Description says 'No Forfeits'.
Rule 11 states: "11. Violation of any of these rules merits a loss."
R3 and R4 forfeited by Pro while Con didn't forfeit.
#1
Criterion Pro Tie Con Points
Better arguments 3 points
Better sources 2 points
Better spelling and grammar 1 point
Better conduct 1 point
Reason:
50% forfeiture, and rule violation with the stipulated punishment of it meriting a loss. Further this rule being executed as such was brought up as a debate argument and left unchallenged when there was opportunity to challenge it. ... I would not be comfortable doing this for any single infraction of the rules (particular K had that occurred, as it's such a varied thing), but repeated ones, and dropping every single point, there's no likely recovery from that.
...
Advice: Got to say it, the resolution likely confused validness with soundness. Proving that MGB indeed exists is an impossible BoP, but one to which pro insisted on taking the full weight.