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The Ontological Argument – Debunked (Anselm Refuted)


Likewise to most theistic arguments, there are many versions of the Ontological Argument, which differ in the language they use and in some cases the premises they rely upon. Hence, I may in the future create additional videos to address the alternative versions, but for this video I’m going to address the most popular version… the first version, as defined by Anselm in 1077. Throughout the video, I pinpoint several flaws and fallacies that those who use the Ontological Argument tend to commit, but for a very brief summary (extremely brief), they are as follows:

1.) Reductio Ad Absurdum:

Well first and foremost, and arguably the most important objection, was put forward by a contemporary of Anselm called Gaunilo, who pointed out that by simply replacing the term “greatest being” with “greatest island” you can prove that there must be a greatest island or a greatest beer, and so on. Effectively, Gaunilo used the technique of Reductio ad Absurdum, more commonly know as Reduction to the Absurd or Appeal to Extremes, to demonstrate this flaw in Anselm’s argument.

2.) Misuse of Language:

The second objection to Anselm’s Ontological Argument is that it misuses language. Premise one states that “god is a being than which none greater can be imagined”, but this is simply incorrect. Rather, ‘god is a conceptual being than which none greater can be imagined”. Minds don’t conceive beings, they conceive concepts of beings; in the same way that painters don’t paint trees, they paint paintings… of trees. Premise two states that, “god exists as an idea in the mind”, but this too is incorrect. Rather, “a concept of god exists as an idea in the mind”. Of course, I realize this may sound pedantic, but when it comes to logical arguments it is paramount that the correct language and definitions of words and terms are used, less one wants to run the risk of committing, among other errors, an Equivocation Fallacy.

3.) Equivocation Fallacy:

In the case of Anselm’s Ontological Argument, the Fallacy of Equivocation resides in the word god. During point two Anselm uses a definition consistent with, “a conceptual god who exists only in the mind”, but in point 5 he uses a definition consistent with, “a god who exists in reality”. It might be subtle, but this is a writhe example of an Equivocation Fallacy.

4.) Begging the Question:

A fourth major flaw with the Ontological Argument, and one that was first voiced by Immanuel Kant, that is that it commits the fallacy of Begging the Question. It does this because the conclusion of the argument is included in one of its premises, making it circular reasoning. Or to paraphrase Kant, it attempts to cause something to exist by adding existence to its definition. A great example to illustrate this issue can be seen in The Messianic Manic’s video, which I’ve provided a link to below, but to paraphrase his example; a Realicorn is by definition a unicorn that really exists. It exists by definition. Therefore, if you have a fully accurate understanding of what a Realicorn is, you must believe that it exists, because if you’re thinking about a Realicorn that doesn’t exist you’re not actually thinking about a Realicorn… your just thinking about a unicorn.

5.) False Attribution:

While we’re on the point of defining things into existence, a fifth major problem with the Ontological Argument is that it treats the word ‘existence’ as if it were an attribute of something, rather than the condition that allows for attributes to apply to something. Something existing in the mind is conceptual, and may or may not reference something that exists in the natural world. Or, as Scott Clifton puts it – in his outstandingly clear way, and whose content I’ve also linked to in the description, “to say that anything has any attribute at all is to already say that it exists – otherwise you’re just speaking of the attributes it would’ve had if it existed.”

6.) Faulty Definitions:

And while we’re on the topic of Clifton, and to raise the sixth objection, Anselm fails to define and emphasize the relevancy of the word greater. To briefly paraphrase Clifton on this point, one can conceive of a being greater than the Abrahamic god because one can conceive of a being that doesn’t commit genocide, sanction wars or slaughter the firstborn of an entire country because their King was stubborn.

[Video and text source: Rationality Rules YouTube channel]