1505: Ontological Argument

Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
Jump to: navigation, search
Ontological Argument
A God who holds the world record for eating the most skateboards is greater than a God who does not hold that record.
Title text: A God who holds the world record for eating the most skateboards is greater than a God who does not hold that record.

[edit] Explanation

Ontology is the study of being, reality, and existence. "The ontological argument" is an attempt at proving the existence of God through reasoning about the nature of "being".

Megan's statement in the comic is likely a reference to what is considered the first ontological argument, that of 11th Century philosopher Anselm of Canterbury. His argument starts by defining God as "that than which nothing greater can be conceived". Another step in the argument is that you can conceive of such a being even if you don't believe it exists. Another step is the statement that a being of which one can conceive and which exists is certainly greater than a being of which one can conceive and which does not exist.

The comic makes fun of Anselm's ontological argument by extending to absurdity the claim that a being who exists is greater than one who does not exist, therefore God must exist. A God who can disprove the ontological argument must be greater than one who cannot disprove the ontological argument, therefore the ontological argument proves the existence of a God that disproves it.

The comic also may be drawing an analogy to the omnipotence paradox.

The title text carries the absurdity a step further.

Richard Dawkins, in his book "The God Delusion" takes a similar approach in a parody of Anselm's ontological argument that attempts to prove that God does not exist. In Dawkins' version—borrowed from the Australian philosopher Douglas Gasking—God's greatness is demonstrated by his creation of the world. A being that overcomes the great handicap of not existing and goes on to create the world is obviously greater than a being that exists who creates the world. Therefore, God, who by definition is "that than which nothing greater can be conceived" must not exist. A rather more famous parody is Gaunilo of Marmoutiers', where he argues for the existence of a maximally great island. When taking into account the comic with this argument, it seems that we now know what happened to Atlantis.

Not all ontological arguments for the existence of God rely on the notion that a God that exists is greater than one that does not exist. Examples include the modal ontological argument from Alvin Plantinga, or Gödel's ontological proof. Graham Oppy, an authority on ontological arguments, here attempts to classify what exactly makes arguments ontological; he concludes that it is that they are a priori in nature. He also classifies them into eight categories, definitional, conceptual, modal, Meinongian, experiential, mereological, higher order, and Hegelian.

This comic, in particular the way Megan and Cueball are walking and its reference to theology, greatly resembles the earlier comic 1315: Questions for God.

[edit] Transcript

[Megan and Cueball are walking side-by-side.]
Megan: ...but wouldn't a God who could find a flaw in the ontological argument be even greater?

comment.png add a comment! ⋅ comment.png add a topic (use sparingly)! ⋅ Icons-mini-action refresh blue.gif refresh comments!


Reminds me some kind of the Babel Fish... Elektrizikekswerk (talk) 06:54, 30 March 2015 (UTC)

Isn't the greatest fallacy of ontological argument the fact that the set of entities may not be well-ordered by "greatest" or "goodness"? -- Hkmaly (talk) 11:17, 30 March 2015 (UTC)
Step 1: Take S to be the set of such entities. Step 2: When I reach step 3, if S hasn't managed to find a well-ordering relation for itself....
I can't think of what to say next.. 22:59, 31 March 2015 (UTC)BK201
That's a great point, and (IMHO) a truly serious problem in these attempts to "order" gods (maybe it stems from being tied down to monotheistic thinking?). But it's not really a "fallacy," properly speaking. Not all flaws in reasoning are fallacies... (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)
I think that (using this argument) the first flaw arises when defining the "set of entities". How can we define it and make sure that it is indeed a set? 14:56, 30 March 2015 (UTC)
I think the greatest fallacy is that they start with the conclusion that the fantasy that God exists isn't a fantasy, and then try to "reason" their way into finding support for that conclusion. IOW, claiming to apply reason while working in exactly the opposite way that true reasoning demands. I realize ontological arguments, as the explanation currently says, "seek to prove that God exists using only premises about the nature of existence and logical deductions from them. This is in contrast to arguments that are based on observations of the world". But you don't get to reject the logical scientific method (marshal the facts and THEN draw conclusions from them) and then claim you're being logical. - Equinox 15:15, 30 March 2015 (UTC)
I find some humor in that 'A god who could find a flaw in the ontological argument' could easily be accomplished by a being who met and/or exceeded the original premise of being 'that than which nothing greater can be conceived'. Some of the more obvious logical flaws are pointed out in this thread, and proving the thought process wrong doesn't really affect its overall truthiness in either direction. 07:22, 31 March 2015 (UTC)

Yay a potential large, all-encompassing argument about religion waiting to happen. Oh glory day. The Goyim speaks (talk) 13:37, 30 March 2015 (UTC)

Any chance this is really about an omnipotence paradox? Can god create a rock so heavy that he cannot lift it? Is he so powerful that he can find a flaw in any argument that proves he exists? (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

I think it's analogous and worth mentioning. Added it. Djbrasier (talk) 15:30, 30 March 2015 (UTC)

Why is the William Lane Craig section in there? If there are dozens of versions of the ontological argument on wikipedia, it makes sense to list the original (Anselm), the most famous critique of it (Dawkins), and then refer the reader to wikipedia for more information. The Craig variant is not explained here and seems cherry-picked out of the long list on wikipedia for no clear reason. Djbrasier (talk) 14:08, 30 March 2015 (UTC)

The text I replaced claimed that ontological arguments for the existence of God are based on the idea that a God that exists is greater than a God that does not exist. I changed it to say that Anselm's version says that and there are other ontological arguments that don't say that. I used William Lane Craig as the clearest and easiest to understand example from the Wikipedia article for which that is not the case. That said, I like how people have edited it since better than what I wrote. Bugstomper (talk) 00:35, 31 March 2015 (UTC)

Super ultra chocolate fudge cookies mega sundae (from here on refered to as "happy happy") is by definition the best ice cream imaginable, meaning we can't concieve of a better ice cream. but, if the happy happy exists solely in your mind as an idea, than surely you can concieve of a better happy happy, that is, the one that is sitting on a desk in front of you. Therefore, the happy happy must be the one that exists right in front of you. now, where's my ice cream?? 16:57, 30 March 2015 (UTC)

Someone should put a happy happy on's desk when he isn't looking. 00:27, 31 March 2015 (UTC)

"Ontological arguments, in general, are arguments that attempt to prove a point by involving a "higher reason" or purpose for the point. " These are teleological arguments, not ontological. -- Atnorman (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

I noticed by pure coincidence that Megan and Cueball are posed exactly as they were in 1315: Questions for God. Is that the only time they were posed like that while posing a theological question, or is this a broader pattern? I haven't found any others, offhand. Also noticed that the Ontological argument came up very subtly in 1052: Every Major's Terrible. Jachra (talk) 21:31, 30 March 2015 (UTC)

1052: Every Major's Terrible does not reference the ontological argument. X therefore X exists is not the argument. -- Atnorman (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

Yeah but that's a strawman fallacy. I win. I commit no fallacy, except the fallacy fallacy. The Goyim speaks (talk) 17:06, 31 March 2015 (UTC)

Errm, isn't "Goyim" a plural and therefore wouldn't "speaks" but "speak"? -- ‎Gearoid (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

There are some ontological arguments that actually work, though. Like Rule 34. Well, in most cases at least; I'm pretty sure there are some examples that fail the rule, but I don't want to check. -- 07:34, 27 April 2015 (UTC)

Is a philosopher who assembles words into ("concieves") statements or questions that are inherently meaningless but appear meaningful greater than one who makes only meaningful ones? 07:54, 27 April 2015 (UTC)

Mu. 15:53, 7 March 2017 (UTC)
Personal tools


It seems you are using noscript, which is stopping our project wonderful ads from working. Explain xkcd uses ads to pay for bandwidth, and we manually approve all our advertisers, and our ads are restricted to unobtrusive images and slow animated GIFs. If you found this site helpful, please consider whitelisting us.

Want to advertise with us, or donate to us with Paypal?