Lesson 24B Preview: Prof. Jones’ Video Explains “Anselm’s Ontological Argument”; “Logical Consistency and Contradiction”; Alvin Plantinga Videos “Anselm’s Argument”; William Lane Craig on “Beyond The Big Bang”; The Cosmological Argument; William Lane Craig “Science and Religion in the 21st Century”

Anselm’s Ontological Argument for the Existence of God

Undoubtedly he is a philosophy or theology professor at some college or seminary, but his name and academic affiliation are missing. Beyond being identified as “Prof. Jones”, he remains a mystery. Prof. Jones’ very short presentation is less than seven minutes, but it is a dazzling tour de force of a lecture. Stay fully awake as you listen.

[Before your viewing of the video, here is a little review of a key concept YOU MUST UNDERSTAND when using Anselm’s argument: “In classical logic, a contradiction consists of a logical incompatibility between two or more propositions. It occurs when the propositions, taken together, yield two conclusions which form the logical, usually opposite inversions of each other. Illustrating a general tendency in applied logic, Aristotle’s law of noncontradiction states that “One cannot say of something that it is and that it is not in the same respect and at the same time.”, Wikipedia]

As you noted in the conclusion of Prof. Jones’ video above, falling into a logical contradiction is a very bad thing, particularly if one prides himself on being a logical, rational creature. From Sacramento State University we learn the following about Logical Consistency and Contradiction: 

“We say that a statement, or set of statements is logically consistent when it involves no logical contradiction.  A logical contradiction is the conjunction of a statement S and it’s denial not-S.   In logic, it is a fundamental law- the law of non contradiction- that a statement and its denial can not both be true at the same time.  Here are some simple examples of contradictions.

1.  I love you and I don’t love you.
2.  Butch is married to Barb but Barb is not married to Butch.
3.  I know I promised to show up today, but I don’t see why I should come if I don’t feel like it.

These all seem to be contradictions because they seem either explicitly to state or logically imply a certain statement and its denial. (1) is an explicit contradiction.  You can’t love someone and not love someone at the same time.  (2) is an implicit contradiction.  It depends on the unstated but well known principle:  if x is married to y, then y is married to x.  (3) is also an implicit contradiction.  It depends on the unstated meaning of promising, namely, that whenever you promise to do something you thereby acquire a moral obligation to do it.”

Click on the title Logical Consistency and Contradiction for this excerpt’s source, and you can read the full discussion.

Dean Zimmerman, Paul Guyer, and Alvin Plantinga provide below useful additional insights into Anselm’s Ontological Arguments (NOTE THAT THE PLURAL IS USED: “ARGUMENTS”). Recall Olson points out that Anselm developed two versions. Today, we may encounter both theists and atheists who use a contemporary form of Anselm’s argument different from the one Prof. Jones has illustrated. (Jone’s presents the most popular version.) The first speaker in the video, Prof. Zimmerman, does appear to be discussing, perhaps rather cryptically, the version Dr. Jones explains; however, because it is not fully defined, you may feel Anselm’s argument is shortchanged. If you explore at YouTube videos the Ontological Argument videos, especially those created by professional philosophers,  this issue will be resolved by those who recognize Alvin Plantinga’s major contribution to a modern revision of
Anselm employing 20th century advances in symbolic logic. You will also find at YouTube numerous videos presenting persons who dismiss the Ontological Argument but appear not to really understand either Anselm’s version or Dr. Plantinga’s revision.

[It may aid your comprehension of Alvin Plantinga’s comments, which conclude with the affirmation of God’s existence using Modal Logic, to understand this reference to Modal Logic: “Modal logic is a type of formal logic that extends the standards of formal logic to include the elements of modality (for example, possibility and necessity). Modals qualify the truth of a judgment. For example, if it is true that “John is happy,” we might qualify this statement by saying that “John is usually happy,” in which case the term “usually” would be a modality. Traditionally, there are three “modes” or “moods” or “modalities” represented in modal logic, namely, possibility, probability, and necessity.” Wikipedia]

Dr. Plantinga is now Emeritus Professor of Philosophy at Notre Dame and has been described by Time magazine (in 1980) as “America’s leading orthodox Protestant philosopher of God.” He should not be confused with  his brother  Cornelius “Neal” Plantinga, Jr., who is a theologian and the current president of Calvin Theological Seminary in Michigan. 

Dr. Plantinga’s Revised Ontological Argument for the Existence of God:

Plantinga’s comments in the video above may be better understood by a brief summary of his version of the Ontological Argument: From Wikipedia we learn that,

“Alvin Plantinga has given another descriptive, initial version of the [Ontological] argument, one where the conclusion follows from the premises, assuming axiom S5 of modal logic. A version of his argument is as follows:

  1. It is proposed that a being has maximal excellence in a given possible world W if and only if it is omnipotent, omniscient and wholly good in W; and
  2. It is proposed that a being has maximal greatness if it has maximal excellence in every possible world.
  3. Maximal greatness is possibly exemplified. That is, it is possible that there be a being that has maximal greatness. (Premise)
  4. Therefore, possibly it is necessarily true that an omniscient, omnipotent and perfectly good being exists.
  5. Therefore (by axiom S5) it is necessarily true that an omniscient, omnipotent and perfectly good being exists.
  6. Therefore, an omniscient, omnipotent and perfectly good being exists.”

William Lane Craig prefers to state it in the form below, which you will note is very similar while being a little less technical. After reading this, you may want to gain clarification of the “possible world” concept, and this can be accomplished by going to the Alvin Plantinga Bonus Lesson and reviewing the two part interview “What are Possible Worlds?”


1.It is possible that a maximally great being exists.

2. If it is possible that a maximally great being exists, then a maximally great being exists in some possible world.

3. If a maximally great being exists in some possible world, then it exists in every possible world.

4. If a maximally great being exists in every possible word, then it exists in the actual world.

5. If a maximally great being exists in the actual world, then a maximally great being exists.

6. Therefore, a maximally great being exists.

William Lane Craig on Beyond The Big Bang:

We now turn our attention to another argument and view Dr. William Lane Craig’s presentation on The Cosmological Argument.

If you have an interest in investigating Craig’s reference to Leibniz’ Cosmological Argument, after completing Lesson 24B, here are links to Craig’s YouTube presentations on this subject: Part One (10 mins.); Part Two ( 7  mins.).

Please note that a Bonus Lesson  with extensive videos from William Lane Craig’s  has been tucked behind Lesson 26B. It offers videos presenting numerous useful ideas that may help with developing a broad  understanding of Craig’s approach to apologetics and the issues raised by discussion questions in 24B and 25B. These videos, which include lively debates with atheists Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris, constitute a “short course” in contemporary apologetics from a leading apologist.

Bible Verses for Reflection: Romans 4: 1-3 ; Matthew 21: 21-23; 2 Thess: 2: 13

Two Quotes for Your Consideration: “I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe that unless I believed I should not understand.” (Saint Anselm, Cur Deus Homo)

“If we don’t know that there is such a person as God, we don’t know the first thing (the most important thing) about ourselves, each other and our world. This is because… the most important truths about us and them, is that we have been created by the Lord, and utterly depend upon him for our continued existence.”

– Alvin Plantinga here in Warranted Christian Belief

Questions for Discussion:

PLEASE READ CAREFULLY: You will need to first go to William Lane Craig’s website to get a login and password so that you will be able to click through to the linked pages that I cite below as resources to use in preparing your answers. Go to this page on the site before you click to begin answering the questions. Once again, be sure to complete your signing in process before you attempt to click on the hotlinks below. Having done so, means you can go immediately to the appropriate page.

Willliam Lane Craig offers his perspective, with other respected authorities, on “Science vs. Religion”:

1. You have been asked to be part of a panel discussion at a local community college by a philosophy instructor who attends your church. He has assured you this will be fun as it is good group of students who are trying to sort out the issue of theism vs. atheism. He has also asked some other people he knows who will be representing different Christian denominations, the other monotheisms – Judaism and Islam, and a representative of the American Humanist Association who will present his atheist point of view.

The atheist on the panel during his presentation declares “…the concept ‘god’ is not meaningfully defined, ergo, by simple tautology, it is 100% certain that “god” does not refer to anything that exists (or that does not)”. You are puzzled by this argument but, after a moment of reflection, you realize it is really an out-of-date argument from the early 20th century school of philosophy called logical positivism. You also recall William Lane Craig saying “It [the argument] was then popular among positivist philosophers who believed “metaphysical” notions like God were meaningless [non-sense concepts] because no empirical content could be given to such notions. You also recall reading that it is still, amazingly, a popular position with college student atheists who, lacking education in the history of Christian theology and the history of Anglo-American philosophy, consider it quite profound. The class instructor asks if someone on the panel wants to respond to the challenge of this atheist’s comment. Another light goes on in your head when you recall Craig’s follow up statement on the positivist position that “the best definition of God as a descriptive term is… St. Anselm’s: the greatest conceivable being.” You now feel ready to share your perspective with this eager group of students. [You will find  Craig’s comments at this link: [Craig’s site.]

Please note that if you want to employ Anselm’s argument in your explanation to this student, or in the questions 2,3, or 4 that follow, you may find Prof. Plantinga’s videos What are Possible Worlds? helpful, especially part 2 where he begins with Anselm’s argument, explains it, and then describes how his extension of it, through the use of the Possible Worlds concept, adds power to the Ontological Argument. Finally, if you own Plantinga’s book Warranted Christian Belief, please turn to Chapter One where he examines Kant’s  argument that propositional language about the concept “God” is impossible. In the process of discussing him, Plantinga refers to the logical positivist spin on the Kantian concept, that is the Verifiability Criterion of Meaning (see page eight), and suggests it is not viable. Subsequently, Plantinga explains the debate over Kant’s noumena-phenomena distinction and applies it to the issue of being able to discuss the properties of God.

2. During the Q & A, a student stands up following your presentation and says, “I do take issue with you theists about one aspect of your arguments – I am somewhat puzzled by your  support of  – I think you said his name was Anselm. Well, from what you have said – he argued “God is the greatest conceivable being and there is no greater being that can be conceived.” Here are my problems with this definition: 1. It seems real subjective and relative to what any one believer thinks is “greatest”. 2- Aren’t you just enabling an atheist to get the better of a theist. The atheist might be the kind of person who has greater imaginative powers to conceive of a non-God “greatest being”, a real Godzilla type, earth-bound, but  a monster, one that has not yet been discovered. And maybe this atheist is real articulate and expresses himself well. So you are left with a theist trying to argue, but he has a weak imagination and little verbal skill to conceive, or describe, God. So won’t you end up with a theist stating a very unstable, perhaps inferior, concept of God?  Not a good foundation for a proof of God’s existence. 3- My last point: Isn’t this Ontological Argument contrary to what Christianity teaches? God is not simply a being whose properties rely on human thinking; rather, He is the Creator of the world, He is entirely independent in both existence and essence from what we as humans think of Him. Our thinking has nothing to do with the reality or “unreality” of God. So who’s going to answer my concerns?” He sits down looking right at you.

[See Craig’s site, Reasonable Faith and his information will help you formulate your answer. You will note, particularly when you reach the videos in Lesson 25B or the many excellent videos in the Bonus Lesson: Craig on Best Arguments, that Craig has been significantly influenced by Plantinga’s adapted version of Anselm’s Ontological Argument. Therefore, you may want to consider how do I best incorporate Plantinga’s Maximally Greatest…argument into answers to these students’ questions? I might also add that this student’s second point regarding imagination offers an opening that Prof. Jones indirectly addressed at the very start of his video when he was detailing Anselm’s initial painter-painting analogy. Recall he advised caution so the viewer will not mistakenly conclude Anselm was suggesting that the theist is creating, in effect, God in his mind.

3. A Muslim student stands up and asks ” Why does the “greatest conceivable being” need to be defined as Christians do. By definition the greatest being is the most powerful being. It follows from that, that a powerful being would have as few constraints as possible. So why does Allah have to be ALL loving?! Why does Allah have to love everything?”

As the student concluded,  you recall Craig saying in one of his debates that “the Muslim concept of God is rationally objectionable.” How will you respond to this student using Craig’s ideas? [Please go to Craig’s site, Reasonable Faith and formulate your answer from his response.]

4. You field one final question today from yet another clever student: “I have two problems with what you theists have been saying: 1. Why is theism a better explanation than, say, arguing for the existence of a very powerful Flying Spaghetti Monster? 2. Why can’t we say some evil being – some powerful, malevolent being, say, something like Satan – is a better explanation than God, especially when pervasive, existing evil is included in all the data we take into our brains every day from the outside world? Thank you very much.” You now make a mental note to send a thank-you card to William Lane Craig as he has again equipped you with more ideas for a response. You also think about the Plantinga’s comments on evil in the videos (Does Evil Disprove God?) he did with PBS’ Lawrence Kuhn.

[Please go to Craig’s site, Reasonable Faith and formulate your answer from his response. You will also find Craig’s presentation on Leibniz’ Cosmological Argument helpful – see hotlink above to this 2-part, brief video summary. In it he will conclude with a final rebuttal that mentions our student’s unoriginal Flying Spaghetti Monster objection.]

Glossary of Terms and Conceptsthis lesson has a number of concepts linked to sources that define them. For example, you may click the concepts possibility, necessity, or contingency. This single link below will take you to a discussion of Logic and provide you with additional definitions that will prove useful in comprehending the lesson’s video and audio materials as it surveys the field of contemporary logic. If you still want to know more about Modal Logic, central to Dr. Plantinga’s contributions to Apologetics, here is a link.

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