Converging and Convincing Proof of God: Perfection is Real
Like St. Anselm, let us rise up to God--that than which nothing greater can be conceived--with two wings.
St. Anselm went from faith and from prayer to reason in a sort of existential continuum. But there is no reason that one cannot take his proof and step up by the use of reason alone to see that it is reasonable to believe in God, and then from that threshold to take the further step further by an act of faith and prayer.
In itself, the argument is quite simple.
It starts with a definition of God, a definition that can be accepted by anyone, including the fool who says in his heart that there is no God. (Cf. Ps. 14:1).
God is defined as "that than which a greater cannot be thought," aliquid quo nihil maius cogitari possit. This is a being with the fullness of perfection, of power, of intelligence, of truth, and of love. There is no perfection that can be thought of which is not present in that than which a greater cannot be thought.
Importantly, even an atheist can understand such a concept. That sort of concept exists in his mind, although he would deny (though, as St. Anselm would show, inconsistently) that the being identified by such a concept has existence outside his mind.
The atheist can also conceive in his mind the possibility that such a perfect being can exist outside of his mind, if for no other reason than to deny it. (How can he deny it, if he cannot conceive that that than which no greater can be thought may also exist?) So the atheist can conceive that "that than which a greater cannot be thought" can exist both in his mind and outside of his mind, that is to say in reality also.
This puts the atheist in an immediate quandary because he has two thoughts in his mind that contradict each other.
He has in his mind the concept "that than which a greater cannot be thought" as existing only in his own mind (in intellectu), and "that than which a greater cannot be thought" as existing in his own mind and in reality (in intellectu and also in re). Yet something existing both in the mind and in reality is greater than something only existing in the mind and not existing in reality.
He cannot hold both concepts simultaneously, and the former must yield to the latter, and so that than which a greater can be thought must exist both in the mind and in reality. This necessarily means that God exists in reality.
"If," St. Anselm observes, "that than which a greater cannot be thought exists in the mind alone, this same thing than which a greater cannot be thought is that than which a greater can be thought," namely that that which a greater cannot be thought exists both in the mind and reality. "But this is obviously impossible," St. Anselm concludes.
"Therefore there is absolutely no doubt that something than which a greater cannot be thought exists both in the mind and in reality."
In other words, the very thought of the concept of God would seem to require, as a necessary corollary, that God also exists. This is the only way to avoid the quandary.
The proof has given many doubters many fits. Even the atheist Bertrand Russell is said to have exclaimed one day after having bought a tin of tobacco, "Great God in Boots!--the ontological argument [of St. Anselm] is sound!" But it didn't seem to dissuade him from his disbelief, though he admitted that "it is easier to feel convinced that [the ontological argument of St. Anselm] must be fallacious than it is to find out precisely where the fallacy lies."
Frequently, Immanuel Kant has been invoked to disprove St. Anselm's ontological proof. Kant's argument against St. Anselm works if existence adds something to the concept in the mind, for then the two concepts are different, and being different cannot contradict each other. But Kant's disproof fails if we understand St. Anselm to mean that existing in reality (in re) "means belonging to experience as a whole, which experience cannot but be informative about the realm of the real."
According to Aidan Nichols, St. Anselm's argument is "founded upon the language of perfection." St. Anselm's definition of God--that than which a greater cannot be conceived--is equivalent to proposing the "the unconditionally perfect." If, we can talk of God in this way, and ...
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