Logic - Ontological Argument
(1) I can imagine a perfect God.
(2) One of the qualities of perfection is existence.
(3) Since I can imagine a perfect God, He must exist.
(4) Therefore, God exists.
Ontology is the area of metaphysics that deals with the nature of being. The ontological argument tries to prove the existence of God through abstract reasoning.
Anselm (1033-1109) was the Archbishop of Canterbury and one of the first to apply reason to questions of faith. He believed that faith is the beginning of knowledge but that once one accepts a truth by faith one can learn more about it through reason. One’s faith becomes greater as one applies reason to what one believes. He said, "Nor do I seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe that I may understand. For this, too, I believe, that, unless I first believe, I shall not understand."
He is the first to propose the ontological proof for God that proposed that God must exist because He is the greatest thing that can be imagined, “that than which nothing greater can be conceived.”
As humans, we understand the concept of “good.” It is “good” for me to have a warm place to lay my head at night, it would be “bad” for me to be outside freezing in the cold. I can also imagine a “greater good.” If I am sleeping on a floor, I can imagine the “greater good” of sleeping on a mattress. As I am sleeping in my house, I can imagine the “greater good” of sleeping in a beautiful palace.
If I am a “good” person, then I am kind to those around me. Intellectually, I can understand greater and greater degrees of good, even if I have never experienced them myself. If we extend the concept of “good” in all areas to its farthest possible extent, we come to the concept of “perfection.” I have been kind on occasion, but I have never been perfectly kind, however, I can imagine a being who is perfectly kind at all times. This being who is perfectly kind is also perfectly good. Anselm argues that if there is a perfect being, he must exist because one of the qualities of perfection is existence. This perfect being who must exist is the One whom we call God.
When we speak of a perfect being, we speak of God. One of the conditions of perfection is existence, therefore God must exist. The fact that we can imagine a perfect being means that perfect Being must exist.
Gaunilo of Marmoutiers, one of Anselm’s contemporaries made fun of this proof by proposing an “island that is greater then any other island that can be conceived.” Since such an island does not exist, then God’s existence cannot be proved either. Even if I could imagine a perfect husband or a perfect football player, they would not actually exist in reality. Anselm dismissed this criticism by replying that his argument only applied to concepts with necessary existence, meaning that his argument only works for God’s existence because only God’s existence is necessary.