God’s too big to not exist
James Knight demonstrates why it is logical and reasonable to believe that God exists.
A friend asked me what I think of Anselm’s famous Ontological Argument for God’s existence. For those unfamiliar with it, the Ontological Argument is this:
1) It is a conceptual truth (or, so to speak, true by definition) that God is a being than which none greater can be imagined (that is, the greatest possible being that can be imagined).
2) God exists as an idea in the mind.
3) A being that exists as an idea in the mind and in reality is, other things being equal, greater than a being that exists only as an idea in the mind.
4) Thus, if God exists only as an idea in the mind, then we can imagine something that is greater than God (that is, a greatest possible being that does exist).
5) But we cannot imagine something that is greater than God (for it is a contradiction to suppose that we can imagine a being greater than the greatest possible being that can be imagined.)
6) Therefore, God exists.
Anselm's Ontological Argument is interesting: It’s not as ill-conceived as many atheists claim, because Anselm was not trying to prove God's existence in the traditional sense, he was merely stating a belief in God and trying to show why he thought such a belief is rational. And equally it’s not as compelling as some Christians think, because his argument ultimately comes to grief whenever it is mistakenly offered as straightforward evidence for God.
Ideas like Anselm’s Ontological Argument work best as demonstrative, investigative ideas based on the assumption of God’s existence and that this belief is substantiated by rational sense. Arguments of the kind Anselm propounded are not so much a priori proofs of faith; rather they are a posteriori demonstrations of the harmonious link between faith and its metaphysical profundities and narrative-intense structures.
I think the ultimate point related to the Ontological Argument is whether God's nature is something qualitatively different from anything else we experience, or whether the attributes of God are filtrated into human emotions (like love, grace, mercy and justice) in an inexpressibly larger quantity (this is known as ‘kinesis’). When thought of that way, ideas like Anselm’s are very interesting starting blocks for much deeper spiritual contemplations.
When one reads poetry, fantasy novels and science fiction books, the primary force of the creativity comes from improvement of concepts that are already familiar to the everyday person (however strange the narrative). If they did not pertain to representations of life projected in everyday living they would not be sold in their millions.
With the concept of God and whether one can imagine something so far beyond naturalistic mental precipitations that God must be reasonably inferred, the question, I think, would be something like; can it be shown that we are projecting not just a quantitative change in our current understanding but also a qualitative change in it; and if the latter, what/where is the demarcation line?
First off, how the form provides us with narrative and metaphor and symbolism is complex because it impinges upon the extraction of meaning facilitated by our mental resources. When it comes to God's word in scripture we extract meaning and contextualisation, but that meaning and contextualisation is played out against a further backdrop of meaning and contextualisation in being itself - a sort of meta-meaning and meta-contextualisation. For example, a parable about human kindness and solicitude like the Parable of the Good Samaritan has meaning based on singular instances of helping those in need, but a broader meta-meaning can be extracted from the story related to the overall well-being of the human race and the psychological development of those who act with great concern for others.
One of my favourite allusions to the Ontological Argument is in the Narnia tale The Silver Chair – it's known as Puddleglum's speech:
‘One word, Ma’am. All you’ve been saying is quite right, I shouldn’t wonder. I’m a chap who always liked to know the worst of things and then put the best face I can on it. So I won’t deny any of what you said. But there’s one thing more to be said, even so. Suppose we have only dreamed, or made up, all those things–trees and grass and sun and moon and stars and Aslan himself. Then all I can say is, in that case, the made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones. Suppose this black pit of a kingdom of yours is the only world. Well, it strikes me as a pretty poor one. And that’s a funny thing, when you come to think of it. We’re just four babies making up a game, if you’re right. But four babies playing a game can make a play-world which licks your real-world hollow. That’s why I’m going to stand by the play-world. I’m on Aslan’s side even if there isn’t any Aslan to lead it. I’m going to live as like a Narnian as I can, even if there isn’t any Narnia. So we’re leaving your court at once and setting out in the dark to spend our lives looking for Overland’.
The upper world is Aslan's world, which of course represents what Christ drives us towards in a relationship with Him. Just like Pascal’s wager, C.S. Lewis is stating what we could call ‘Puddleglum's Wager’ - which expresses that even if Jesus isn’t God, it is still a better life pursuing the world envisaged by Christ. It is a probabilistic venture based on the wisdom of Christ even aside from the supernatural – and it calls for a courage that many find difficult, because it asks us to ‘be perfect’ - which is about the most supernaturally unnatural thing anyone has ever said while also sounding perfectly truthful and authentic in saying it.
The quintessence of its magic is in another altogether unexpected form; roughly this; ‘Don’t worry if you cannot believe that there’s a God’ just believe you have the courage to act as though there is one, and by your failing to live up to the standards you’ll increase your probability of belief’. I think that really is the genius of Christ – and shows precisely His coming to earth just once was more than enough for humankind to fall at their feet, believe, and have everything we need for a full life. With this, you can see why Christ assured us that, for anyone who asks, the full life will be given to them -
"Seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened."
Puddleglum's speech is basically this: if Narnia does not exist, then fiction is more stupendous than reality - and as fiction cannot be more stupendous than reality, Narnia must be real. To translate that into Christian thinking as regards the Ontological Argument, then if Christ's claims are not based on Him being the truth, Christ's fiction appears to me to be more stupendous than any truth out there.
What I'm always telling the atheists is that I personally know of no better way to live, or no greater standards to which I’d want to adhere. I’m on Jesus’ side even if there isn’t any Jesus to lead the Christian world. If I’m guilty of making a play-world, then I fancy that the play-world into which I’m immersed and to which I’m committed licks the other ‘real’ world hollow.
James Knight is a local government officer based in Norwich, and is a regular columnist for Christian community websites Network Norfolk and Network Ipswich. He also blogs regularly as ‘The Philosophical Muser’, and contributes articles to UK think tanks The Adam Smith Institute and The Institute of Economic Affairs, as well as the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity (LICC).
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