God Exists: Logically Proved?
Religion is like politics because either topic will cause trouble in polite company . This is not an especially polite blog, so a one-time departure from politics to consider the possible existence of the Most High doesn’t seem out of place. However, courtesy demands a cautionary note before we begin: if you arrived at this page because you Googled “does God exist?” or “ontological argument” or some other religious term or phrase, be forewarned that Overalls Nation has pictures of semi-nude women wearing overalls. Folks with tender eyes or delicate sensibilities should seek enlightenment elsewhere, because they will see such pictures when they scroll down.
Are we clear?
Assuming that only us sinners remain, let’s begin.
Whether the argument we’re about to examine is truly convincing is open to question. The fascination here is more about the argument itself than it is about the Almighty’s actual existence. It’s a logical structure that can stick in your head and stay there for years, like a riddle or a paradox that goes first one way then the other way, and you just can’t settle it. Hopefully, one bright reader will either confirm it conclusively or put it to rest forever in a brilliant comment.
Definition: What do we mean by “God”?
The first thing we need is to define what we’re talking about. This argument borrows St. Anselm’s definition of God:
“God is the being greater than which nothing can be conceived.”
In other words, you can’t imagine a being greater than God. If you have a concept of God in your mind, but it is possible to think of something greater, then your concept of God is wrong. You can’t think of anything that is more powerful, more intelligent, more permanent or more loving than God. We don’t need to decide whether we’re talking about the God of the Bible, the Koran, the Upanishads or the Sutras. All we’re talking about here – all we mean by “God” for the purpose of discussion – is Something with the attribute of being greater than any other thing you can think of. There is no need to drag in any doctrinal clutter. If the argument succeeds, it only proves that that Something, with the attribute stated above, exists. People who kill each other over their differing religious outlooks can proceed untroubled by any conclusion reached here.
Premise #1: Necessary or Impossible
The certain and undeniable statement “God either exists or He doesn’t” is where our argument begins. Surprisingly, there are some important facts to be deduced from this statement, in light of our definition of God.
First, if God exists, He is necessary. The word “necessary” should be taken here in its strict logical sense. A thing that is necessary cannot fail to exist. It must be. If 2+y=3, then it is necessary that y=1. That is the sense in which God is necessary if He exists. Here’s why:
As the greatest conceivable being, if God exists at this moment in time, there could never have been a time when He didn’t exist. In the same way, He’ll never stop existing at some point in the future. A temporary God would not be as great as a permanent God. So the being we’ve defined would have to be eternal. He could never not exist. He would be necessary.
One the other hand, if God does not exist, He is impossible. He could never have existed in the past, and He’ll never pop into existence in the future. Our concept of Him demands that He would be eternal and necessary. So if he isn’t here now, he never was and He never will be. His existence would be a total impossibility.
God’s existence implies His necessity. His non-existence implies His impossibility. So our beginning statement “God either exists or He doesn’t” leads us to our argument’s first premise: “God is either necessary or impossible.”
Premise #2: What is impossible?
Some things we call “impossible” really aren’t. Imagine that there are 50 beautiful, semi-nude women wearing overalls sitting in the House of Representatives chamber. Such a thing is so unlikely that it would be ridiculous to give it serious consideration. But is it possible? Yes, it is. The most skeptical person would have to admit that it is in fact conceivable – just barely.
Consider another claim: “The solid brown overalls I am wearing are blue.” Is that possible? No, it isn’t. You can’t see my overalls, but you still know my claim is false. The reason is, we say something is impossible when it is self-contradictory and logically absurd, as that claim was. There is absolutely no chance that my brown overalls are blue.
Now consider a third claim: “God exists.” Is that possible? This statement is like the one about the overalls chicks in the House chamber. However unlikely we may find it, there is nothing self-contradictory or logically absurd in it. Even if the prospect of His existence seems outrageous or wildly improbable, in the final analysis He could just possibly exist.
The statement that breaks the deadlock of premise #1 follows: “God is not impossible”
With both of our premises in place, the syllogism is complete:
God is either necessary or impossible.
God is not impossible.
Therefore, God is necessary.
Unless there has been a misstep somewhere in the reasoning process, God cannot not exist. His existence is an absolute necessity.
Your humble blogger goes back and forth on this one and honestly doesn’t know what to think. If you have any insights one way or another, your comment will be much appreciated.
If anyone wants to read the argument as Norman Malcolm wrote it in that dusty old book*, here it is:
Let me summarize the proof. If God, a being greater than which cannot be conceived, does not exist then He cannot come into existence or have happened to come into existence, and in either case He would be a limited being, which by our conception of Him He is not. Since He cannot come into existence, if He does not exist His existence is impossible. If He does exist He cannot have come into existence (for the reasons given), nor can He cease to exist, for nothing could cause Him to cease to exist nor could it just happen that he ceased to exist. So if God exists His existence is necessary. It can be the former only if the concept of such a being is self-contradictory or in some way logically absurd. Assuming that this is not so, it follow that He necessarily exists.
* Malcolm, Norman. Logic and Certainty: Essays and Lectures (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1963), p. 144