September 03, 2014

The Ontological Argument

Next, we'll consider the ontological argument. Ontology is the study of being or existence. It asks questions like "What exists?" and "How can we categorize existing things?"

An ontological argument, then, has to do with existence in some way. It argues that something about existence--about the nature of existence--leads to God.

The most famous version is St. Anselm's from the Prosologion:
"God, by definition, is that for which no greater can be conceived. God exists in the understanding. If God exists in the understanding, we could imagine him to be greater by existing in reality. Therefore God must exist."
Let's break that down:

1. God is that for which no greater can be conceived.
By definition, God is the greatest being that can be imagined. We cannot imagine anyone, real or not, greater than God. This is a definition, or a starting point, for the argument. This is the kind of God we're discussing and, if successful, proving to exist.

2. God exists in the understanding.
Simply, we can imagine God. All of us, believers and unbelievers, can understand what is meant by the name "God" and hold the idea in our minds. This seems non-controversial.

3. If God exists in the understanding, we could imagine him to be greater by existing in reality.
Is it "greater" to exist or not exist? It seems reasonable that existence is better than non-existence. You cannot do anything or be anything without existence. Everything we experience requires existence.

4. Therefore, God must exist.
Here is the logical leap, and not everyone is comfortable making it. God is the greatest possible being. It is greater to exist than not exist, therefore an existing God is greater than a non-existing God.

Which God do we have?  Let's assume it's imaginary-God. In that case, there is something greater: namely, real-God.  Real-God is greater than imaginary-God.  So, by definition (God is that which nothing is greater), imaginary-God can't be our God. That leaves the other option: real-God.

Others have followed on with their own forms of the ontological argument. I'm a New Jerseyan, so I feel obliged to mention Kurt Gödel's ontological proof. It can be a difficult read, especially if you're not familiar with modal logic.

Catholic apologist Dave Armstrong analyzed several versions in his post on The Ontological Argument for God's Existence: A concept greater than which first meets the eye.

Dr. William Lane Craig defends the ontological argument against several criticisms in a video on The Ontological Argument and Objective Morality.  He briefly describes a version of the argument based on possible worlds (created, I believe, by Dr. Alvin Plantinga) in What is the Ontological Argument?

What does this have to do with my life? We'll get into the Christian life eventually--step-by-step--but for now consider what the YouCat says in response to the question of being free to pursue evil:
"Man is freest when he is always able to say yes to the good; when no addiction, no compulsion, no habit prevents him from choosing and doing what is right and good. A decision in favor of the good is always a decision leading toward God." (YouCat Q. 287)
If God is the greatest possible good--the maximal good--then any movement toward good must be a movement toward God. Any movement, however small, toward any good, however small, is a movement toward God. That gives us such hope! The fallen-away Christian who still seeks a good, perhaps by caring for his family or by seeking truth academically or by serving a charity, is still turning in some way toward God. The atheist who authentically seeks to know and do good is, unknowingly, seeking God.  And God has promised us that all who seek find. (Mt 7:7)

August 13, 2014

My Precious Devotion (Trusting God with St. Therese)

Since I relaunched this blog, I've been primarily working on building our beliefs logically from basic definitions, to arguments, and on up. I'm particular devoted to learning and teaching the faith this way. But is that how God started? No. He didn't propose and argue. He offered Himself . He walked in the garden with Adam and Eve. He got on first-name basis with Moses. He sent his only son, that whoever believes in him shall have eternal life.  He has offered--and continues to offer--Himself personally.

What does God ask? He asks what anyone offering themselves asks, what anyone seeking a personal relationship asks.  He asks us to trust Him, and because He is God, we can trust Him completely.

Is there anything wrong with arguing logically for God? Of course not. God wants our heads, but he wants our hearts more. One may know God intellectually but reject Him. If one loves God an follows Him, he will be saved regardless of how much or how little theology he knows.

In her book, Trusting God with St. Therese, Connie Rossini points out so well how "(o)ur precious devotions can become a hindrance, preventing us from being humble." That's true about devotions to a particular prayer or saint or spirituality. It's true, as well, of apologetics and catechesis.

Apologists are criticized on this point sometimes. I think, for example, of Dr. William Lane Craig, who has been publicly criticized for admitting that he believes in God because of an internal movement of the Spirit--not because of his own apologetics. Yet that is perfectly consistent with the God we believe in. God wants our trust. He wants us to let Him in. To adapt a line from Trusting God with St. Therese, we may win over minds with our arguments, but He must win over our hearts.

If we become convinced that our line of reasoning is the only way to truly understand, or that our way of teaching is the single best, we may find ourselves led into sin. In chapter 5 of Trusting God, we consider the Pharisees' strict observances and self-righteousness. "We might take optional devotions, spiritualities, or traditions and judge others by whether they follow them."  Trust in God must extend to trusting His will and work in the lives of others. If they learn or pray or understand in a different way, there may be nothing wrong.

Likewise, we must extend that trust to trust in God's work in ourselves. We can create our own "optional" practices that become anything but. The author discusses St. Therese's discoveries, by God's grace, as well as her own; they give us examples of how others have received the grace of God to let "good" things go whenever they become hindrances. "It was still a burden," she writes of her own experience, "But I could carry it now without resentment because Jesus carried it with me."  That is the trust St. Therese found and the trust Connie Rossini encourages in her book.

She has many tales to share, both from St. Therese's life and her own, and along the way, much wisdom from the great little saint that is surprisingly, and sometimes awfully, timely. I encourage you to read Trusting God with St. Therese with an open heart.

I'm a teacher at heart, so the inclusion of review questions and activities particularly endears the book to me. These, however, aren't the typical (and much less useful) "did you do the reading?" questions. These questions and activities bring the point of each chapter home to your own life, and I recommend slowly working through them as you go.

You can get a free chapter by subscribing at, and read her free e-book 5 Lessons from the Carmelite Saints That Will Change Your Life

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