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Revision as of 21:16, 24 March 2013

Welcome to the explain xkcd wiki!

We have collaboratively explained Expression error: Unrecognised punctuation character ",". xkcd comics, and only Expression error: Unrecognised punctuation character ",". (Expression error: Unrecognised punctuation character ",".%) remain. Add yours while there's a chance!

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Go to this comic explanation

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.

Explanation

Ambox notice.png This explanation may be incomplete or incorrect: Could use more links and references.

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, 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.

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?

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Lots of people contribute to make this wiki a success. Many of the recent contributors, listed above, have just joined. You can do it too! Create your account here.

You can read a brief introduction about this wiki at explain xkcd. Feel free to sign up for an account and contribute to the wiki! We need explanations for comics, characters, themes, memes and everything in between. If it is referenced in an xkcd web comic, it should be here.

  • List of all comics contains a complete table of all xkcd comics so far and the corresponding explanations. The red links (like this) are missing explanations. Feel free to help out by creating them! Here's how.

Rules

Don't be a jerk. There are a lot of comics that don't have set in stone explanations; feel free to put multiple interpretations in the wiki page for each comic.

If you want to talk about a specific comic, use its discussion page.

Please only submit material directly related to —and helping everyone better understand— xkcd... and of course only submit material that can legally be posted (and freely edited.) Off-topic or other inappropriate content is subject to removal or modification at admin discretion, and users who repeatedly post such content will be blocked.

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