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36 Flavors and then Summa

November 23rd, 2009 · 10 Comments

Edge runs an excerpt of Rebecca Goldstein’s new novel 36 Arguments for the Existence of God, along with the non-fiction appendix outlining those 36 popular arguments and (rather briefly) what’s wrong with them.  It mentions, in passing, philosopher Sydney Morgenbesser’s wry inversion of the infamous “Ontological Argument”:

Existence is such a lousy thing, how could God go and do it?

He’s kidding, of course, but it occurs to me that this actually points to a more serious inversion of the real ontological argument that, although it isn’t valid either, strikes me as rather more plausible on face than the original.  It might go roughly:

  1. For every good thing that exists, I can imagine a still better version that does not exist.
  2. Generalizing, extant things are always less perfect than those that exist only in the imagination.
  3. God is defined as a supremely perfect entity.
  4. Therefore God is purely imaginary.

Of course, to say that this one is more plausible than the original is only to say that the original was not at all plausible.

Tags: Religion



10 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Doug // Nov 23, 2009 at 12:56 pm

    You’re reversing Aquinas here, aren’t you? Always be careful reversing Italians. The other side is often worse.

  • 2 Julian Sanchez // Nov 23, 2009 at 1:23 pm

    Actually, bad pun in the title notwithstanding, it was St. Anslem, not Aquinas.

  • 3 Doug // Nov 23, 2009 at 1:59 pm

    Oh, then continue. He should be the same from either side.

  • 4 Gregor S. // Nov 23, 2009 at 2:31 pm

    Haven’t you just become an Idealist?

  • 5 K.Chen // Nov 23, 2009 at 4:41 pm

    Is it bad I immediately thought of platonic ideals?

  • 6 y81 // Nov 23, 2009 at 9:40 pm

    “For every good thing that exists, I can imagine a still better version that does not exist. ”

    You haven’t had one of my pumpkin pies, then. Nor probably ever will, unless you come to our church bake sale.

  • 7 Julian Sanchez // Nov 24, 2009 at 12:01 am

    If I’m ever visiting the Whitney on a Sunday, I’ll stroll down.

  • 8 southpaw // Nov 24, 2009 at 3:43 am

    Perhaps God arranged the world so that you could prove He doesn’t exist.

  • 9 Chuchundra // Nov 24, 2009 at 1:11 pm

    And you think that your meat space, monkey brain is better equipped to judge what is perfect than the Lord God Almighty?


    Even as a committed atheist, the argument seems week to me. We tend to think of God as a human being with enormous superpowers, either the capricious tyrant of the Old Testament or the loving redeemer of the new. But if God did exist he wouldn’t be like that at all.

    His thought processes and his conception of perfection would be as incomprehensible to us as ours are to dung beetle. Go read the story of Job again.

  • 10 On Anselm’s Proslogion and “Proofs” for God – The Blag Switch // Jan 3, 2010 at 8:06 pm

    […] Commenter J points me to an excellent parody of Anselm’s argument by the inimitable Julian […]