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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 existence. Ontological arguments for the existence of God are those that argue that the nature of existence requires there to be a God. The general formulation of an ontological argument is that there must be some entity that is greater than all other entities, and that that being is, by definition, God.

The ontological argument has never been formally disproven, and Bertrand Russell noted that "it is easier to feel convinced that it must be fallacious than it is to find out precisely where the fallacy lies." This comic proposes a potential fallacy. Suppose that the ontological argument proved that there was a greatest entity, and that entity was God. If this God could disprove the validity of the ontological argument, then there is no longer a valid proof that this entity is God. Therefore, this God that is proved by the ontological argument must not be able to disprove the ontological argument. This comic jokingly suggests that if there was an entity that could disprove the ontological argument, then the entity is "greater" since this entity can do something that the other entity cannot. Now, the original entity can no longer be proved as God by the ontological argument, since there is a greater entity. The ontological argument cannot be a valid proof that the new entity is God either, since this entity can disprove it. If the suggestion was taken at face value, then the result is that the ontological argument cannot prove the existence of God. Along with the title text, this comic pokes fun at the ambiguous notion of "greatness" used in the ontological argument, pointing out that there must be some restrictions on what constitutes "greatness" in order for the ontological argument to prove the existence of God.

This is not an unfamiliar critique to actual proponents of the ontological argument; their response is indeed to give a more precise meaning of "greatness". For example, using it to refer to "goodness" in a moral sense, rather than the trivial sense of "most extreme" as used in the comic.

The format of this argument is similar in character to the kinds of contradictions exploited in Gödel's incompleteness theorems and the Halting problem, and those ideas are related to Russell's paradox. The paradox of "greatness" itself is somewhat similar to the question of "What happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object?"

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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