The ontological argument concerning the existence of god was first formulated by St. Anselm (circa 1033 – 21 April 1109), who was Archbishop of Canterbury from 1093 until his death.
“God exists, provided that it is logically possible for him to exist.”
This argument is quite brazen in its simplicity, requiring not only a belief in a higher entity, but a belief in the necessity of god. Anselm argues, ‘if you believe a higher entity is necessary, then you must believe a god exists’. Unfortunately, the logic is rather dated and quite ridiculous in its simplicity.
“X exists, provided that it is logically possible for X to exist.”
First of all, when we dissect this phrase, Anselm’s logic allows the variable X to be literally anything: Quetzalcoatl, Ra, Thor, Sergei Fedorov, Jeremy Clarkson, Anna Karenina, Homer Simpson, a 1972 Pink Floyd album, that girl you fancy, the mango I had the other day, et cetera. I suppose one could argue X only applies to the god of your choosing (and is therefore not a real variable), but then the inevitable and painful follow-up question is going to be ‘why exactly should X have only one possible meaning? or why should Anselm’s logic not allow X to be a variable?’; this is a dead end, and since there is no reasonable or logical reason to pursue this line of arguing, we are forced to call X a variable. And in doing so, we are left to cut up Anselm’s argument.
Of course, we should not mock Anselm too much. With our 21st century minds, it is quite easy to see and understand that his argument is plainly untrue. To be precise, Anselm’s ontological argument is a bare assertion fallacy, which means it asserts qualities inherent solely to an unproven statement – it asserts without any support for those qualities. It is also a circular argument, revolving from a premise to a conclusion which in turn relies on the very premise from which it was deduced, which relies on the conclusion… ad infinitum.
To put it simply, Anselm’s ontological argument is one of the oldest cases of (what we would nowadays call) primary school logic ‘X is true – because!’ and it is therefore not surprising that the counter for such a line of argument is frankly: ‘saying so, does not make it so’. After all, what kind of universe would we live in if that kind of reasoning were possible?
See other: Arguments Concerning God