Anselm’s Ontological Argument for God’s Existence

Does God exist? For centuries, humanity has struggled with this question leading to the division between those who claim that God exists and those who dismiss the existence of God as a mere imagination. This is to be expected given how contentious such a topic can be. Some philosophers such as Anselm, Descartes, and Gottfried have developed ontological theories that postulate the existence of God. In this regard, this paper asserts that God exists and uses Anselm’s ontological argument to support this proposition. The paper starts with a definition of God according to Anselm and then goes on to deconstruct the atheist’s argument that there is no God. Furthermore, the paper examines Gaunilo’s criticism to Anselm’s postulation and presents a reply to concerns raised by the critic.

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According to Anselm, God is an unsurpassable being that cannot be conceived or improved upon. This, therefore, means that God is perfect, omnipresent and exists from generations to generations and thus, humanity can only think of him as an idea since he cannot be conceived (Benzmüller,Christoph & Paleo,p.67). This understanding is essential since if God is that which man cannot conceive, then nothing can be imagined that is greater than God and hence the person who does not believe that there is God is showing logical inconsistency in their argument. This is because by stating that there is no God, the atheist indicates that there is God only that he does not believe since if there were no God, even the idea of God’s existence would not be there (Scarfe, p.34). Even atheists understand what it means for a being to exist which no greater can be conceived. Therefore, since atheists are aware that God exists but refuses to accept this fact, one can conclude that there is God.

Anselm’s main argument is that God cannot exist in understanding only. To drive his point home, Anselm contrasts the existence in reality and existence in understanding. Things can either exist in the understanding alone, in understanding and in reality, but not in understanding (Baker, Rudder &Matthews, p.42). For instance, President Donald Trump exists in understanding and reality while Troll exists only in understanding. Thus, if the atheist believes that God exists in the understanding alone, then there exists a being that is greater than God but it cannot exist in reality. Besides, it is possible for a thing to be perceived to exist greater in verity than in the understanding (Benzmüller et al., p.90). Hence, one seems to be forced to conclude that a being that is the greatest can be conceived to be higher than it is and since this is absurd, then God must exist in reality and understanding. Through this argument, Anselm deconstructs one of the significant assumption of atheists since they argue that God in understanding but not in reality.

In Proslogium III Anselm puts across the second argument to illustrate that God exists. To do this, Anselm assumes that if a being that nothing which is greater does exist, then it is possible to conceive of a being that cannot be thought not to exist. This means that if X’s existence is necessary if it cannot be perceived to exist and that it is present in all worlds. In addition, the fact that conceived to be non-existent indicates that there is a world where X is not present. Thus, it is possible to think of a being that exists in every possible world, and  it is greater than a being that is absent in all worlds (Benzmüller et al., p.78). Hence since God exists in every possible world, his existence is necessary, and his it does not depend on whether people acknowledge his existence or not. Though Anselm does not rule out the existence of more than one essential being, his definition that God is greater than any other necessary being leads to the conclusion that there is a God who surpasses all beings (Christian, p.60). Another instance in which would not exist is if he were contingent meaning that his existence depended on another thing. Examples of contingent beings are unicorns and Supermen, and since God cannot be contingent, one can only dismiss his existence on the proof that he is illogical (Baker et al., p.48). To the argument that God is illogical, Anselm posits that if God is non-existent, then his existence is a logical impossibility and this is not true since for a this to happen; there must be a logical contradiction such as the existence of male sisters which lacks in the topic of God’s existence (Scarfe, p.35). Hence, it is logically possible for God to exist. Furthermore, God is not an existent contingent like human beings and therefore the only available option is that God is a necessary existence being that exists both in understanding and reality.

Despite the clarity of Anselm’s argument, some critics will argue that his line of reasoning proclaims the idea of God to correspond to his existence. Such a criticism was fronted by Gaunilo of Marmoutier who asserted that one could prove the existence of all kinds of non-existent things using Anselm’s argument. For instance, Gaunilo argues that one can postulate that there exists an island which none greater can exist. Since the greatest island exists in mind and reality, then such an island exists (Scarfe, p.36). One pitfall of this example is that it is logically inconsistent with the features than making an island great do not admit of conceptually maximal qualities, and this is in contrast with the concept of God which Anselm conceives. Characteristics such as power, moral goodness, and knowledge portray the idea of a maximally great being and have intrinsic maximums (Baker et al., p.51). For instance, the notion of perfect power means that the being can do all that is possible to do and it is conceptually impossible for a being to perform more than this. Thus, Gaunilo’s criticism to Anselm’s argument is erroneous.

The discussion above has illustrated that God exists using Anselm’s ontological argument. The paper starts with Anselm’s definition of God and then deconstructs the major argument made by atheists that God exists in understanding only. Furthermore, the paper illustrates that God is a necessary being since his existence is logically consistent and he is not a contingent being. Besides, the discussion looks at one of the major criticism of Anselm’s argument by Gaunilo. The critic argues that using Anselm’s theory, it is possible to illustrate that that all non-existent things exist. This criticism is erroneous since it lacks logical consistency. Therefore, God exists as a necessary being both in reality and in understanding.


Cited Works

Baker, Lynne Rudder, and Gareth B. Matthews. “Anselm’s argument reconsidered.” The Review of Metaphysics (2010): 31-54.

Benzmüller, Christoph, and Bruno Woltzenlogel Paleo. “Automating Gödel’s ontological proof of God’s existence with higher-order automated theorem provers.” Proceedings of the Twenty-first European Conference on Artificial Intelligence. IOS Press, 2014.

Christian Jr, William A. Meaning and truth in religion. Princeton University Press, 2015.

Scarfe, Adam C. “Against atheism: why Dawkins, Hitchens, and Harris are fundamentally wrong.” Ars Disputandi 11.1 (2011): 33-36.

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