Missing the Point

Dart arrows missing targetAfter discussing Anslem’s ontological argument, Mackie moves to Alvin Plantinga’s version. Personally, I’ve always had a personal distrust of ontological arguments; proving notions based on abstract reasoning alone raises a red flag for me. Still, I’m having an increasingly hard time dismissing them as I read. In fact, one of the ironies of my current situation is that Mackie’s book has done more to persuade me of the truth of these arguments than to put me off them.

What I am convinced of, and I think this is undeniable, is that God’s existence is either logically necessary or impossible. It simply cannot be the case that God could have existed, but didn’t–or could not have existed, but did. I think this is clear that necessary existence is part of what it means to be God. But the implication, then, is this:

If God is either necessary or impossible, then either there is a logical contradiction in the idea of God, or there is an ontological argument that works.

Mackie argues that Plantinga’s version doesn’t work, but seems to rest his argument on a misunderstanding of the argument. He spends quite a bit of time arguing against the idea of “world-indexed properties”. But, by my reading, Plantinga’s argument doesn’t depend on such properties (this was, indeed, part of Plantinga’s own response to the book). As such, he’s simply given us a very long red herring argument.

Where Mackie has a point (even as I disagree) is in the idea that it is more parsimonious to claim that God does not exist than that he does. After all, this has always been the atheist’s best line of attack.

Still, there’s a very reasonable response.

It is only more parsimonious for the question of God in isolation. Given the number of brute facts, and downright self-contradictions, that seem to stem from modern “parsimony” about non-physical things, this attack isn’t nearly so strong as it seems at first blush.

In fact, I’d say that theism is much more parsimonious, at the end of the day, than any other view I know.

But Mackie has one other challenge: the suggestion that we remain undecided on this position.

But, whatever the logical merits of this approach, it is simply not livable. Each of us has to live either as if God exists, or as if he does not. One can be actively seeking, and open to change, but neutrality on fundamental questions isn’t an option to anyone who has to live and act in the real world.

This is why I find this wrong-headed from the start. Really, it relies on a slight of hand. Though I don’t doubt Mackie’s sincerity, the functional result is deceptive. A myth of neutrality often persuades people to live as functional atheists without actually establishing atheism as the most reasonable position.

That, and Mackie will need to have done more than remain neutral on this point for one of his other refutations to work, as we shall see next.


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