The ontological argument for god

Here’s an attempt to explain Saint Anselm’s original argument that theologians love. Apparently Immanuel Kant pretty much destroyed it in its original formulation. But in this clip, theologians like Alvin Plantinga claim to have resurrected it in a better form that shifts the burden onto some thing that he refers to as a theorem in modal logic.

In this next clip Plantinga tries to explain what this ‘new’ modal argument is.

I must admit, I just don’t get it. As I have said many times, I simply do not see how you can answer an empirical question of the existence of anything using pure reasoning without any supporting data. Just because you can conceive of something or because something is possible to exist cannot lead to any firm empirical conclusions as to its existence.

Another philosopher Colin McGinn tries to explain to Jonathan Miller what the ontological argument is and the problems with it. This part begins at around the 11:30 mark and continues for the first 30 seconds of the second part.

If this is the best argument that theologians can come up with, then god is done for.


  1. says

    ” I simply do not see how you can answer an empirical question of the existence of anything using pure reasoning without any supporting data.”

    The supporting data is the Universe.

    You either believe it has a Creator (a theist/deist/whatever) or you don’t.

    The theist isn’t claiming that she/he has firm empirical evidence…she/he is believing based on faith (that the Universe has a Creator versus any alternative explanation).

    That’s why religion is religion and science is science.

  2. says

    And how does this argument lead to the existence of the Islamic/Jewish/Christian god: isn’t that what an given apologist wants to lead to and he has a tough row to plough to get there?

    These kinds of arguments leave me cold.

    It is much easier to see and examine these things in the light of mythology.

    Come to think of it, my myth and Latin teacher; conservative though he was and a reader of National Review, did me a favor by enlightening me to these things with his class.

  3. Peter says


    I, too, was well-schooled in the Classics. I hated it at the time, but now that I’m [hopefully] wiser and [measurably] older I realize the debt I owe to my parents for having sacrificed so much to provide me with that unique educational perspective.

    The thing I loved about learning about the Romans was that they had an entirely consistent, logical, and meaningful worldview. Their myths and social structures dovetailed as perfectly as any other society’s. There is more than one way to live, and most of the ones I learned about were in many ways very different from my white bread New England experience. Yet at the same time, those people really weren’t very different from us: families, politics, humor, phobias, and so on. This was one of the more major eureka experiences for me.

  4. P Smith says

    “If this is the best argument that theologians can come up with, then god is done for.”

    Our blogger is forgetting that those who buy the idea that “ontology proves god!” are the same people who “think” that people should be guilty until proven innocent – especially those of other religions or skin colour, or whom “we don’t like”.

  5. says


    I became absolutely enamored with the Greek and Roman gods when I took that course as a kid. I wanted to worship them…ha ha! Pan was one of my favorites.

    Incidentally, the series on PBS called I Claudius happened to air around that time too. I remember watching that ancient Roman soap opera with utter relish every week! I still watch that entire series at least once a year (whilst drinking wine with them in my reproduction ancient Greek kylix) and it still holds up.

  6. says

    I don’t know much about the classics but I absolutely loved the book and the miniseries of I, Claudius. Derek Jacobi was fantastic in the title role.

    The sequel book Claudius the God was not as good as the first I thought but still good.

  7. says

    The acting from Jacobi, et al, was indeed wonderful Mano. There are so many memorable scenes from that series. I loved Sian Phillips as Livia and of course the young John Hurt as Caligula. I’ve linked to a clip of Hurt, from the film, in my name. I love this scene with its little song and dance.

  8. says


    No doubt you’ve seen Hurt in the role of Winston Smith in the adaptation of Orwell’s 1984? That movie captured exactly, for me, the flavor of Orwell’s novel. A bombed out London at the end of the Second World War.

    One more British actor that I’ll mention, and in the event you haven’t seen either of these movies, is Ian Richardson and the two series The House of Cards trilogy and Gormenghast. Another wonderful (and alas, now late) British actor.

  9. says


    I haven’t seen the original 1984 and you have reminded me that I should and will soon.

    Ian Richardson is also a good actor and House of Cards was terrific. Coincidentally, I saw him again just last week in the mini-series Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy though his role was subordinate to the superb Alec Guinness, whom I will write about soon.

    Sadly, like Guinness being most widely known amongst younger audiences for his role as Obi-Wan Kenobi instead of his far superior work in other films, Richardson may also be best remembered for the Grey Poupon commercials in which he appeared with another good British comedic actor Paul Eddington, who starred in the Yes, Minister series.

  10. Robert Allen says

    Plantinga dumbfounds me. “It’s possible that I exist independent of my body because I can imagine being a beetle.” And this guy is a distinguished professor of philosophy??

    I can’t believe that Plantinga actually is confused about the difference between epistemic and subjunctive possibility. The equivocation fallacy should be obvious to a philosopher. Perhaps Plantinga is just being dishonest?

  11. Robert Allen says

    Thanks for posting the Plantinga video about the modal argument. I don’t think you could do better than Plantinga if you were deliberately trying to satirize Christian philosophy.

    Here’s the best part:
    ‘If it’s possible that I exist when my body doesn’t, then there’s at least one thing that’s true of me that isn’t true of my body, namely “possibly existing when my body doesn’t.” So there’s something true of me that isn’t true of my body. Therefore my body and I are not the very same thing. We aren’t identical. And if that’s the case, then I am not the same thing as my body.’

    If it’s possible that I am Superman, then I would not be a regular man. So (dropping the “if”), there’s something special about me, namely that I can fly. Therefore, I must be Superman. QED.

    I don’t think it’s nice to openly mock people, but I can’t seem to see a way past it with Plantinga…

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