This is the weekly Q & A blog post by our Research Professor in Philosophy, Dr. William Lane Craig.
Hello Dr. Craig, my question is in regards to the Ontological Argument. If the proposition there is no maximally excellent being is a non-modal sentence, then wouldn’t it follow that maximal greatness can’t possibly be exemplified?
Dr. William Lane Craig’s Response
It would follow if it is true that “There is no maximally excellent being.” But it wouldn’t follow if it is false.
A maximally great being must exist in a maximally excellent way in every possible world. So if there is no maximally excellent being, then obviously a maximally great being does not exist. If a maximally great being’s existence is even possible, then it exists in every possible world, including this one. So if it does not exist, it is not possible that it exist.
I wonder if there is some confusion on your part about what a modal sentence is. A modal sentence includes some sort of modal operator like “Necessarily, . . .” or “Possibly, . . . .” But a non-modal sentence can still be necessarily true or necessarily false. For example, “2+2=4” is non-modal sentence, as is “Gold has the atomic number 79,” but both are necessarily true. So the non-modal sentence “There is no maximally excellent being” may still be necessarily false. Indeed, if a maximally great being is even possible, that non-modal sentence is necessarily false.
The problem of evil aside, there’s no good reason to think that a maximally excellent being does not exist. Perhaps the more interesting question is whether it’s possible that a maximally excellent being does not exist. You might think so. But our modal intuitions on that question will be parasitic on whether we think it’s possible that a maximally great being exists. Proponents of the ontological argument think that it is possible and, accordingly, that the sentence “Possibly, a maximally excellent being does not exist” is false.