In their book Reasonable Atheism authors Aikin and Talisse claim that any serious book about Atheism must tackle the Ontological Argument for the existence of a god. Let’s see what the argument is, and what we can say about it.
The form given in Reasonable Atheism consists of these statements (which I have numbered here):
- God, by definition, is supremely perfect.
- As a consequence of his supreme perfection, God is perfect in every way and lacks nothing that could make him better.
- If God lacked existence, he would not be perfect, because an existing god is better than one that does not exist.
- [Therefore] God must exist because he, by definition, is supremely perfect.
Note that “supremely perfect” here seems to mean “as perfect as possible”.
Comparing statements 1 and 4, the argument looks circular. But there are other objections that one could make.
Statement 1 takes as given the result that the argument is supposed to prove! For example, it implies that the specifically-named “God”–not “a god”–exists. Also, the use of the word “is” in this context implies that this particular god exists. Finally, the trait of being “supremely perfect” must be assigned to something rather than nothing. So in three ways statement 1 assumes the existence of “God”.
But there is more to statements 1 and 2: How do we know that “God” is supremely perfect? Who is it who can tell “the mind of God” and thus knows that both inwardly and outwardly this “God” is perfect? Who has seen all the ways and acts of this “God”, and thus knows that all are perfect? The statement is a guess.
Why are we to accept statement 3, that existence is better or more perfect than nonexistence? As an Atheist, I think that the nonexistence of gods is better than their existence. This is the same way I feel about cancer and the Black Plague. Statement 3 is arbitrary, and has nothing to back it up.
That is all I wish to say about the Ontological Argument itself, but let’s look at something related. Religious people who promote this particular argument cannot also claim that this “God” creature is inscrutable or mysterious, for the reason given above, and in addition should never pray. Why not pray? Because this perfect god must know perfectly well not only what the praying person wants, but also what he or she needs and deserves. Only an imperfect god needs to be reminded or needs to be begged for it. Praying is pointless, perhaps even insulting.
How do I know this? The same way anyone “knows” that “God, by definition, is supremely perfect” and “must exist”. I made it up!