Thursday, September 27, 2012

Musing on Anselm

Anselm of Canterbury was the first to attempt ...
Anselm of Canterbury (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Enjoyed listening to a radio discussion this morning on Anselm of Canterbury's ontological argument for the existence of God.

The discussion took in the development of Anselm's idea through the writings of Descartes, Spinoza and Leibniz, all of whom offered modified versions of the argument that God is "that than which nothing greater can be conceived." Critics included Anselm's contemporary and fellow Benedictine Gaunilo of Marmoutiers, to Thomas Aquinas, Immanuel Kant and David Hume. 

Those taking part alongside host Melvin Bragg were John Haldane (Professor of Philosophy at the University of St Andrews), Peter Millican (Professor of Philosophy at the University of Oxford) and Clare Carlisle (Lecturer in Philosophy of Religion at King's College London).

In the twentieth century, mathematician Kurt Godel created a formal logical proof of God based on Aselm and Leibniz and, subsequently, Alvin Plantinga developed the idea with reference to the concept of "maximal greatness".

The consensus was that, despite the idea being strongly criticised since the Enlightenment, its resurgence in the last 50 years or so is evidence of the profundity of Anselm's thought, especially his meditations of the "greatness" of God, and his insistence on the difference in essential being between the Creator and the created. It was argued that even though some may disagree with his argument, his concepts retain an important religious and theological significance.

The programme can be listened to online here

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Steve Smith said...

I suppose the proposition that God is "that than which nothing greater can be conceived" could be countered by the question of 'who is doing the conceiving?' We will always (at least here on earth) conceive of God less than that which he is, in which case that which we conceive is not God. Further, what do we mean by 'greater'? The 'greater' of person A may not be defined in the same way as the 'greater' of person B.

Al Shaw said...

Hi Steve,

Gaunilo and (I think) Aquinas both made similar observations about the problem with subjectivity in considering the idea of God as Anselm proposed.

The ontological argument, however, does have a certain internal force when approached from the perspective of faith.