This is the weekly Q & A blog post by our Research Professor in Philosophy, Dr. William Lane Craig.
Hello Dr. Craig. My question was awakened after having been listening to your class on ''The Ontological Argument''.
My question to you is: Does a maximally great being, necessarily have be what we humans are able to imagine as the greatest being? Can it not just be that the being (God) who is in reality the greatest of all beings (since no greater being exists in reality), is the greatest conceivable being. Why do our imagining of a greater being need to devaluate the greatness of the already greatest being. Even if we could imagine a greater being, can it not just be that those ''greater/higher attributes'' are unnecessary and therefore not really greater attributes?
Does God necessarily have to be Omnipotent. Can he not just be the being with the most amount power in the universe, instead of unlimited one?
So my question is:
Is it possible that the greatest being (God) is only the being that in reality is the greatest. Without necessarily having to be ''greatest conceivable'' one?
I am an 18 year old student in Sweden. And I ask you this from the perspective of a Christian that believes that the Bible is the word of God.
Much love and appreciation for the work you are doing Dr. Craig. Your work has been tremendously helpful to me and my brothers and sisters in Stockholm.
Dr. William Lane Craig’s Response
Whatever we may think of his ontological argument, we are all in Anselm’s debt for helping us to have a more adequate concept of God. According to Anselm, God is the greatest being conceivable (aliquid quo nihil maius cogitari possit). This definition does not make God dependent on the human imagination. “Conceivable” here means possible: God is the greatest being possible, that is to say, it is impossible for there to be any being greater than God.
It is clearly inadequate to think of God as merely the greatest being there is. For that does not exclude that God is imperfect in various ways, for example, limited in His goodness, knowledge, and power. Zeus was probably conceived by ancient pagans to be the greatest being there is, but such a finite and flawed being hardly commends himself to us as worthy of worship. Atheism is, in fact, consistent with the existence of a greatest being in the world.
So an adequate concept of God requires that God have a certain degree of these various great-making properties. What degree? The least arbitrary and intuitive answer is: the greatest degree possible! This answer glorifies God by magnifying His greatness and so seems most adequate religiously. More than that, think of the alternative. If God is not the greatest being possible, then it’s possible that some other being could have existed which would be greater than God, so that God should be obligated to bow down and worship Him! That is impossible, for then God would not be God. Surely you don’t think that God is only contingently God.
So, “Does a maximally great being, necessarily have be what we humans are able to imagine as the greatest being?” No. We are fallible and may make mistakes as to that wherein genuine greatness consists. For example, medieval theologians thought that God is greater if He is timeless, simple, and impassible. Few contemporary thinkers would agree with that judgment. Now whether they were right or we are right, this disagreement shows that our grasp of what greatness consists in is not infallible. Still, some attributes, such as moral perfection, omniscience, and omnipotence are evidently great-making properties.
You ask, “Even if we could imagine a greater being, can it not just be that those ''greater/higher attributes'' are unnecessary and therefore not really greater attributes?” Of course, as the examples just given show. But that is very different than disputing that God is the greatest possible being. We might mistakenly esteem an impassible God to be greater than a God capable of suffering, but that only shows that we failed to form an adequate conception of the greatest conceivable being. God is necessarily the greatest being possible, even if our concept of what such a being is like is fallible and so capable of correction and refinement.
This post and other resources are available on Dr. William Lane Craig's website: www.reasonablefaith.org