An Ontological Disproof of Classical Anselmian Theism

Here's a rough draft of yet another argument I'm toying with that's in the same vein as several others I've discussed here recently:

Suppose for reductio that it's metaphysically possible that a necessary being exists, and that this being is the god of classical Anselmian theism. Let's follow Plantinga's claim here that such a being has the property of maximal greatness, where: (i) a being's maximal greatness entails maximal excellence in every possible world, (ii) maximal excellence includes the classical attributes of omniscience, omnipotence, and moral perfection, and (iii) omnipotence includes the capacity to create or sustain concrete objects distinct from itself without a material cause. Therefore, if it's metaphysically possible that a maximally great being exists, then such a being exists in all metaphysically possible worlds. Therefore, a maximally great being exists in all metaphysically possible worlds. By the above conception of maximal excellence, for any world W that contains a universe of concrete objects distinct from God, if God exists in W, then God originates or sustains the universe in W without a material cause. But the origination or sustenance of any such universe without a material cause is metaphysically impossible. Now a universe of concrete objects exists at the actual world. Therefore, the god of classical Anselmian theism did not originate or sustain the universe that exists at the actual world. Therefore, the god of classical Anselmian theism doesn't exist at the actual world. But this contradicts the above line that he exists in all possible worlds. Therefore, the existence of the god of classical Anselmian theism is metaphysically impossible.

The upshot is that Plantinga appears to have been wrong: the crucial premise of the modal ontological argument -- viz., that a maximally great being (as Plantinga understands that notion) is metaphysically possible -- is contrary to reason. For we've just seen that the notion of a being that is the creator of all other concrete objects distinct from himself is on a par with the concept of a being that is the creator of round squares, as both entail a metaphysical impossibility.


Brett Lunn said...

This strain of argument seems to rest on your premise from another post: "All concrete objects that begin to exist have a material cause of their existence."

In support, you cite experience and intuition. As to experience, I think we know that can only get us so far. In other words, it's not a closed case for the premise, but it does provide a bit of evidence (note: what Craig believes or argues seems irrelevant, so we can set him aside). So maybe if one is on the fence, then it should carry some weight, but if there is a decent argument for the theism targeted here, then it would be undercut.

But does the premise even have outright experience? People will differ. If Cartesian dualism is true, then it's hard to see that it has universal support. I'm not here to defend Cartesian dualism, but simply making an observation.

Second, you give intuition. Suppose God exists, can He create an angel? It seems like most people (all?) want to accept that, but then intuitions would clash on the matter. So it would be undercut.

Moreover, it could be undercut by, again, a decent argument for the particular brand of theism or for some conclusion that says all material reality began to exist (which, again, I'm not here to defend).

Brett Lunn

exapologist said...

Hi Brett,

Thanks for your comments.

The truth of substance dualism wouldn't be a counterexample to the principle of material causality as I've defined it, as it's no essential part of substance dualism that souls are created ex nihilo, although of course they are commonly held to be created in this way in some religious traditions.[1]

But in any case, it bears stressing that the principle of material causality in play is neutral about the existence of immaterial concrete objects, such as souls or spirits. Rather, it merely asserts that objects (whether material or immaterial) with originating or sustaining causes (whether material or immaterial) are made from other objects or stuff (whether material or immaterial). By ‘material cause’, then, I mean (roughly) ‘the things or stuff out of which a new thing is made (whether material or immaterial)’. As such, the principle in play would, if true, require the creation of substantial souls to be created from prior (immaterial) stuff, in which case substance dualism, if true, would itself entail the falsity of classical theism.

However, suppose one thinks that while the thought experiments from the earlier post adequately support the principle of material causality with respect to physical concrete objects, they can't adequately support the extension of the principle to immaterial concrete objects. Can similar thought experiments likewise support the intuition that substantial immaterial souls likewise require a material cause? I think it's clear that they can. So, for example, suppose we were told that a certain finite immaterial soul had a very special characteristic: it popped into existence out of nothing without an efficient cause. Most, I imagine would find such a claim implausible. But suppose instead that we were told the soul was special for another reason: a finite disembodied spirit created a soul -- an immaterial substance that can exist in its own right every bit as much as a log cabin, with a structure and properties and capacities -- without any prior materials. Most, I imagine, would find the second claim at least as implausible as the first; a similar intuition obtains when we consider the creation of any other sort of immaterial substance, such as an angel or other sort of finite spirit. It therefore seems to me that the principle of material causality extends to immaterial substances as well.

Perhaps one will reply that while a finite spirit can't create souls ex nihilo, an omnipotent spirit (viz., God) could do so, as an omnipotent spirit has the capacity to do anything that's metaphysically possible. However, that would beg the very question at issue, viz., that creation ex nihilo of concrete objects is metaphysically possible.

I think you're right about your point re: the limitations of appeal to experience in support of a non-defeasible version of the principle of material causality. Because of this problem, I have subsequently dropped appeal to experience for support of a non-defeasible version of the principle (viz., the one in the post linked to above). I think the intuition triggered by the original thought experiments are sufficient by themselves to confer prima facie support for this stronger version of the principle. However, I have subsequently proposed a defeasible version of the principle, and I think experience provides adequate abductive grounds for the latter version of the principle.


[1] Even here we must be careful, though. For traducianism is a prominent view among dualists within the Christian tradition, according to which souls are created from the preexisting materials of the soul(s) of their parents.

Review of Paul Draper's (ed.) <I>Current Controversies in Philosophy of Religion</I>

Allison Krile Thornton reviews the book for NDPR .