An Atheist ontological argument

Other versions of this have been given, but one that is closer to Thomistic ideas would be something like:

If God exists, then there is a definition that provides positive information that the thing defined exists.

But definitions cannot provide such information.

Therefore, God does not exist.

The consequence follows from the Platonic-Anselmian-Thomistic idea that God exists by nature or in virtue of what he is along with the idea that definition is the statement of what something is.

The argument has many precedents- it can even be read as a commentary or elaboration of Kant’s idea that existence is not a real predicate, sc. that whether something exists or not is not a piece of information that can be conveyed by an account of what it is. In this way we mihgt be able to draw a more direct line between the ontological argument (or, as here, an anti-ontological argument) and Kant’s claim that his refutation also shows the cosmological argument can’t work.

The Thomistic response is well known, though perhaps could be dwelt on at greater length: one way to articulate the response is that definitions arise from knowing intrinsic causes, but we do not know God by intrinsic causes; or that definitions are proper to finite reality whereas God is not such a thing. These responses themselves generate new conclusions – indeed, a whole science falls out of them. Another important division is between knowing that something is and knowing what it is, but this distinction has yet to be fully fleshed out by any Thomist I’m aware of.

This raises other, more interesting problems: if we do not know intrinsic causes in God, or at least what is analogous to intrinsic causes in God, what do we come to understand, as in the Fourth Way, that God exists in the same way that fire is hot?   If we update Aquinas’s example,* we would say that molecular motion is certainly an intrinsic cause of heat, and we are speaking about existence in God in the same way; so that  it is not clear how we are restricting ourselves to a knowledge of that God is and not what he is. It is not easy to see how we can predicate something positive about another first and per se wihtout giving an account of what it is as opposed to an account that it is.


* In Aquinas understanding of thing, heat is fire in exactly the same way that we now say heat is mean molecular motion. Aquinas was wrong, but we can update his example without losing his main point – in fact, unless we update his example we totally miss the point he was making.


  1. RP said,

    November 2, 2013 at 8:44 am

    Our understanding of Infinite Multiverse is a being than which no greater can be conceived.
    The idea of Infinite Multiverse exists in the mind.
    A being which exists both in the mind and in reality is greater than a being that exists only in the mind.
    If Infinite Multiverse only exists in the mind, then we can conceive of a greater being—that which exists in reality.
    We cannot conceive something that is greater than Infinite Multiverse .
    Therefore, Infinite Multiverse exists.

  2. thematrixq said,

    November 20, 2013 at 2:34 pm

    Reblogged this on ?verything!.

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