atheism for lent, day 11: WANTED, a god with all the impediments
As far as I can recall, I never heard of Douglas Gasking before this week. Apparently, a lot of other people haven’t heard of him either, because he doesn’t even have his own Wikipedia page, GASP AND EGAD! All he gets over there is an in-passing mention under “Melbourne Philosophy” in the Australian philosophy entry, and three brief paragraphs in the Ontological argument entry.
Gasking’s version of the ontological argument is why today’s Atheism for Lent reflection focuses on him. A professor of philosophy at the University of Melbourne, Gasking once told his friend Denis Robinson a parody of the ontological argument. Robinson remembered and passed it around, and, to my understanding, that’s the only reason we’ve got a record of Gasking’s argument today, which is yet again confirmation that good, thoughtful friends are important and we need them.
In the intro for this week, I noted Gasking as hailing from Australia. Well, U of Mel notwithstanding, my further reading has muddied those waters for me. Turns out he was actually born in Canada and studied all over the world. So I have no idea what his citizenship was by the time he died in 1994. This isn’t relevant to our considerations (or is it?), but I’m noting it because, as a TCK, I automatically relate HARD to anybody who has lived in so many different cultures. 💗
But let’s get to Gasking’s parody of the ontological argument. Remember, the ontological argument argues for the existence of God based on the nature or essence of things; God “must” exist because necessary existence is part of the perfect essence of God. Gaskings’s counter-parody runs as follows:
–Dr. Peter Rollins,
- The creation of the world is the most marvelous achievement imaginable.
- The merit of an achievement is the product of
(a) its intrinsic quality, and
(b) the ability of its creator.
- The greater the disability (or handicap) of the creator, the more impressive the achievement.
- The most formidable handicap for a creator would be non-existence.
- Therefore, if we suppose that the universe is the product of an existent creator, we can conceive a greater being — namely, one who created everything while not existing.
- An existing God, therefore, would not be a being than which a greater cannot be conceived, because an even more formidable and incredible creator would be a God which did not exist.
- God does not exist.
paraphrasing Dr. Denis Robinson (Auckland via Melbourne),
super-helpful friend of and listener to Dr. Douglas Gasking
The salient ideas here are in (3) and (4).
(3) points to how we humans react to others’ impressive creations. When I do an oil painting, I’m bringing skill and training to bear on my work. I produce a fair piece most of the time. But my paintings would be more impressive if I were producing them with no natural skill or training at all. Furthermore, they’d be superlatively impressive if I were producing them while dealing with what seems to be an insurmountable impediment.
Non-existence is a pretty darn significant impediment.
Anselm, who pioneered the ontological argument, proposed God as a being than which none greater can be conceived. If that ties your brain up in knots as it does mine, here’s a clunkier rephrasing: (a) think of the greatest, most perfect thing you know of in existence; (b) now think of something even greater and more perfect than that; it’s the thing that tops everything else you can possibly imagine; you can’t go any further into perfection with it; (c) that is God.
Part of God’s essence, says Anselm, is that God exists; a being can’t be the most perfect we can imagine if that being doesn’t exist, because perfect existence is part of a perfect being.
BUT. Here comes Gasking with points (3) ( <– Creating While Monumentally Impeded Is Super Effective!) and (4): God would be even More Super Effective if God created All The Things while impeded by God’s non-existence.
THEREFORE, The Most Supereffective Being is not one that exists, but One Who Creates All The Things While Not Existing, which means that God can’t exist.
Yeah, I dunno if my re-phrasing clarifies anything or if I’m just stirring up silt.
As I said earlier in the week, I have my issues with Anselm and his “necessary existence” argument. It just strikes a chord in me like somebody’s trying to put something over on me. Gasking’s parody kind of makes me feel the same way — but at least he makes me laugh.
I truly do love the idea that the most perfect and effective God is the God who creates everything while not existing in the first place. It’s just the sort of paradox to tickle my darkling fancy. Gaskings’s argument doesn’t prove the non-existence of God, but it sure does highlight the issues with Anselm. Peter says he’s going to expound upon Gasking’s parody in next book, and I absolutely cannot wait to get my grubby hands on that.
So, to paraphrase the late and great Terry Pratchett:
In the beginning, God did not exist, and then God made nothing explode. Boom.