A Classic Argument for the Existence of God


by Wayne S. Walker

     When God told Moses to do down to Egypt to tell Pharaoh to let the Israelites go, Moses asked Him what he should say if they wanted to know the Lord’s name. In Exodus 3:14, we read, "And God said to Moses, ‘I AM WHO I AM.’ And He said, ‘Thus you shall say to the children of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’" Adam Clarke commented on this verse, "It is difficult to put a meaning on the words; they seem intended to point out the eternity and self-existence of God." This raises a question. If there really were no such person as God, could man, in and of himself, without some revelation outside himself, ever come up with the idea of God, and if so, how?

     The "ontological" argument is designed to answer this question. It is credited to Anselm, an eleventh-century theologian who was born around 1033 at Aosta, Italy. He served as an advisor to William of Normandy, with whom he came to England in 1066. Anselm was made the Archbishop of Canterbury in 1093 and continued in that office until his death in 1109. He defined God as "a being that which nothing greater can be thought." His reasoning was that since existence must be part of any such perfect being, then this being actually exists.

     This reasoning is somewhat obtuse and for many people it is not very convincing. Philosophers have been critical of the ontological argument ever since it was first suggested. Skeptics, of course, rejected it out of hand, and even defenders have admitted that it sounds too much like magic. However, according to an article entitled "Modernizing the Case for God" in the April 7, 1980, issue of Time magazine, several twentieth-century theologians and philosophers have claimed that the argument is defensible. These include Norman Malcolm, a former professor at Cornell University; Alvin Plantinga of Michigan’s Calvin College; Charles Hartshorne, now retired from the University of Texas; and James F. Ross of the University of Pennsylvania.

     According to the article, the modern defenders of the ontological argument say, "that it is possible for everything, including God’s existence, to be explained, but that God’s nonexistence does not admit an explanation. Even atheistic philosophers grant that by the latest rules of logic, the updaters of Anselm are right; if it is even possible that a highest conceivable being exists, then he must exist in actuality. The trouble is, the atheists do not accept that he is even possible." However, the significance of the ontological argument is the way it makes us think about God. If there is any characteristic greater than that which can be attributed to a thing, that thing cannot be God. Therefore, one may not speak of God as being existent only in one’s mind or the evolutionary product of man’s thought. Such a being could never fit the definition of God.

     When one denies the existence of God, he is saying that all we see and know came from nothing. He implies that the wondrous and perfect design of the universe is just an accident. He avers that man, with all his noble characteristics, is just another animal, the product of millions of years of evolution guided by blind chance. And he says that man’s knowledge of God is the product of his own mind. These are the alternatives to faith in God and the Bible. People can make these claims, but they cannot prove them. And while we cannot prove the existence of God either, we can show from the evidence of the existence of the universe, its order and design, the unique nature of man, and even the very concept of God itself, that it is more reasonable to believe that such a God does indeed exist than to disbelieve. (—taken from With All Boldness; June, 1993; Vol. 3, No. 6; p. 4)


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