A Faultless Modal Ontological Argument

Mike Almeida and Yujin Nagasawa (both amazing philosophers) were gracious enough to share some of their groundbreaking work on a new Modal Ontological Argument with Capturing Christianity! What follows below is an argument they’ve written that some maximal being must exist. Even if it is not the traditional God, it’s something very close. Some of the material is so groundbreaking that they want to keep it private. If you have questions about any part of the argument, feel free to reach out to them via email (provided at the end).

If this is your first encounter with the Ontological Argument, I strongly recommend you to watch my interview with Dr. Ben Arbour first. We cover the basic concepts involved and discuss common objections. It’s very accessible and easy to follow.

A Faultless Modal Ontological Argument

Perfect being theism is the ambitious project to prove, on the basis of a single argument, that God exists and exemplifies all of the traditional divine attributes. According to Anselm, we can argue from the fact that God is a being than which none greater can be conceived, to the conclusion that God exists and is whatever it is better to be than not to be.

What then are You, Lord God, You than whom nothing greater can be thought? But what are You save that supreme being, existing through Yourself alone, who made everything else from nothing? For whatever is not this is less than that which can be thought of; but this cannot be thought about You. What goodness, then, could be wanting to the supreme good, through which every good exists? Thus You are just, truthful, happy, and whatever it is better to be than not to be—for it is better to be just rather than unjust, and happy rather than unhappy. (Proslogion, V)

The form of reasoning that St. Anselm uses so efficiently in the Proslogion is a defining feature of Perfect Being Theism. The project offers a single powerful argument to show that God necessarily exists and exemplifies all of the well-known divine attributes.

The most serious objection to perfect being theism concerns the consistency of the divine attributes. The objection is that there are several well-known arguments that the divine attributes are not metaphysically consistent, and no good arguments that they are. There might be no possible world in which the divine attributes are coexemplified. Call that the problem of metaphysical consistency.

There is a solution to the problem of metaphysical consistency. The maximal properties—knowledge, power, and goodness—are all degreed properties. We argue that there is a hierarchy of sets of maximal properties from the highest degreed traditional divine attributes to lower and lower degreed properties of knowledge, power, and goodness. We argue that there is some highest consistent set of maximal properties in the hierarchy, and that the highest consistent set includes the properties of God.

Metaphysical Consistency and Maximal Properties

We assume that the overall greatness of any being is a function of the degree of knowledge, power, and goodness it exemplifies. In what follows, unless necessary, we set aside other great-making properties. We understand God to be the greatest possible being but not necessarily the greatest conceivable being. We leave open the possibility that the greatest conceivable being might be metaphysically impossible. The set of conceivable worlds far outstrips the set of possible worlds. If the greatest conceivable being is an impossible being, then that being is not God. Anything is greater than an impossible being, so no impossible being could be God.

Anything is greater than an impossible being, so no impossible being could be God.

Proponents of traditional ontological arguments, Leibniz and Gödel for instance, try to show that it is possible for the Anselmian God to exist because omniscience, omnipotence and omnibenevolence are positive properties and positive properties do not conflict with each other. Nevertheless, there are many arguments purporting to show that omniscience, omnipotence and omnibenevolence are internally incoherent, mutually inconsistent, or inconsistent with some possible states of affairs. The well-known objections have claimed that it is impossible for an Anselmian God to know all true propositions, impossible for an Anselmian God to sin, impossible for an Anselmian God to coexist with evil, impossible for an Anselmian God to act freely, and so on. We leave open the possibility that an Anselmian God might be impossible. There might be no possible world in which all of the traditional divine attributes are coexemplified.

But knowledge, power, and goodness are degreed properties. Beings can exemplify greater and lesser degrees of knowledge, power, and goodness. Our proposal is that if the divine attributes are not coexemplified in any possible world, then the best consistent set of maximal properties could be the set of properties a safe degree below the set of divine attributes. If the divine attributes are all maxima, then the set of divine attributes is the set of maximally degreed properties, S1 = {omnipotencem, omnisciencem, omnibenevolencem}. If the divine attributes are not coexemplified in any possible world, then we proceed to the consistency of S2 = {omnipotencem – 1, omnisciencem – 1, omnibenevolencem – 1}. In S2 all of the divine attributes are safely restricted. The maximal properties in S2 are safely restricted if those properties do not generate the inconsistencies in S1. This is not to assume that S1 is in fact is inconsistent. We leave open the possibility that S1 is a metaphysically consistent set.

Of course we might discover that the restricted maximal properties in S2 generate their own inconsistencies. If the set of properties in S2 is not coexemplified in any possible world, then we proceed to the consistency of S3 = {omnipotencem – 2, omnisciencem – 2, omnibenevolencem – 2}. The properties in S3 are a safe degree below the properties in S2. We follow the procedure until we reach the first genuinely consistent set of maximal properties. We know that there is such a set since some degree of the maximal properties is in fact coexemplified in many possible worlds. Consistency problems for maximal properties are the result of the degree of those properties, and not the kind of those properties.

Since S2 is the first safely restricted set of properties following S1, every set of maximal properties between S1 and S2 (if there are any) will not be metaphysically consistent. Wherever the highest consistent set is located there cannot be more than one highest consistent set of maximal properties. Every omnipotent or nearly omnipotent being actualizes most states of affairs in most possible worlds. No two beings could do that [Ask us about this!]. For the same reasons, any being that exemplifies omnipotence or near omnipotence, necessarily exists [No kidding, ask us!]. Finally, the maximal properties in the highest consistent set are uniquely exemplified. No two beings could exemplify the properties in S2 [If you’re finding any of this hard to believe, you’ve got our email!].

There’s reason to believe that the highest consistent set will not be very distant from S1. Set S2 includes only safely restricted properties. Since the maximal properties are safely restricted, they do not generate the inconsistencies of S1. If there is an inconsistency argument against, say, S2, then there must be some inconsistency even among the safely restricted properties in that set. If there is a sound inconsistency argument against S2, we of course move to S3. But of course there are no inconsistency arguments at all against S2, and we have no reason to believe that it is possible to generate such an argument. We conclude that theists have nothing to fear from the standard set of inconsistency arguments. If S1 is not consistent, then the next set in the hierarchy very likely is consistent. God therefore exemplifies the set of properties in S2. Among the many things we will eventually learn about God, it is totally unsurprising to learn something new about his nature.

Contact

If you’re like me, you found the penultimate paragraph the most intriguing. Given that their work is so new, they’ve asked that questions about it be emailed. To contact either of them:

Mike Almeida: [email protected]

Yujin Nagasawa: [email protected] | [email protected]

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