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Revision as of 17:59, 4 March 2014

Welcome to the explain xkcd wiki!
We have an explanation for all 1506 xkcd comics, and only 19 (1%) are incomplete. Help us finish them!

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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: First draft. Could use some attention from someone better-versed in theology and/or philosophy.

Ontology is the study of being, reality, and existence.

Megan's statement in the comic is believed to be 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 panel 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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