Philosophy. Ontological vs. Teleological Argument

The ontological argument by Anselm starts from the Bible where he uses a fool who denies that God yet he acknowledges the fact that God is something that which nothing greater can be thought. The ontological argument in my view is of great importance because from a theistic point of view it is a very vital strategy towards forming and defending a theistic argument especially when is an exchange with people who are not believers. It also brings out rationalism in theism opinions. It is also important to note that theists have found crucial details in the explanation of the existence of God in this argument. This is through understanding the various contingents and actuality of the God they believe. This argument is also fundamental in trying to explain them to someone who is trying to find clarity of the existence of God.

The first criticism of the ontological argument came from Anselm who is a contemporary theorist. According to his argument, Anselm claimed that there is a self-contradiction is someone denies the existence of God without involving himself. He did believe that only by definition there is existence. He put his basis on the definition to state that denial of God’s existence amounts to self-contradiction. This ontological argument looked at from a different perspective creates a feeling of unease. This argument in many people’s minds does not sound convincing but it is a bit challenging to refute.

I will base my criticism on one aspect of the argument and this refers to the description of the object in the argument. In this argument, there is an assumption that the object satisfies the description and thus proclaims something about the object. Understanding a description in my view means understanding the properties it specifies. A good description does not necessarily have to refer to an object for its meaning to be understood. One of the descriptions in Anselm’s argument states that “something than which nothing greater can be thought. Critics have argued that this is an impossibility. Both in understanding and in reality, such a thing cannot be thought.

In his argument, Anselm denies the possibility of an object existing in reality described by something that which nothing greater can be thought. It is obvious that if this object does not exist in reality then there is a possibility that something can be thought to be greater than it.

He further believed that a fool can escape the contradiction by withdrawing. One weakness of this argument is that Anselm does not give out adequate proof that something that nothing greater can be thought claim. There have been cited inconsistencies and ambiguity in the statement the something which nothing greater can be thought about. He describes the object in a certain way but later comes to deny the property attached to the same object. Besides this argument has been said to be suspicious because it cannot be applied to any other situation or object other than God. Its application to other objects or situations could be very significant in shading more light on some of the issues which have been overlooked or left unaddressed. These are the issues that create a contradiction in the argument thus failing to adequately address the issues by the proponent of the argument is a weakness that makes people not to be comfortable with it. From another point of view, this argument can be said to be creating a fallacy. This is because something like existence does not have the property of prediction. Therefore when the argument gives existence the predicate property then one is left to wonder if existence has the added perfection advantage.

There exists ambiguity in the notion of perfection in the ontological argument. When he asserts that there is no greater being than God can be looked at from different perspectives. First of all, one can think that God is unsurpassable to all beings. None in this argument can be taken to mean all beings while from another person’s perspective it can mean other things except God. One of the clearest weaknesses of the ontological argument is that it is wholly on what can be described as an assumption. There is no external tangible evidence apart from the assumption that there is the existence of God.

It is vital to underscore the fact that after trying to explain the existence of God, Anselm might have thought that he had achieved the very goal but due to the various objections raised by people like Kant, there tends to be invalidity in this argument.

On the other hand, teleological arguments have been advanced and try to explain the existence of God. In this category of argument, the German Philosopher Immanuel Kant and St Thomas Aquinas are dominant. St Aquinas asserted that existence can be proved in five ways. The first way he explains is through motion whereby he claims that God is the first mover of things. That in the world some things are in motion and they are moved for them to be in motion.

Secondly, he asserts that there is an order of efficient causes. Something cannot be an efficient cause of itself. In the efficient causes, there is no possibility of heading towards infinity. This is because if they are arranged systematically the first would be the cause of the intermediate which would then cause the ultimate cause. He further explained that removing the cause meant removing the effect. He admitted then that the first cause then must be God.

The third way he pointed out was through possibility and necessity. He points out that in nature that things have either the possibility of being or not being at all. This is because in nature there are factors of influence such as the generation of things and at the same time there can be a corruption of the same. That there is a possibility of them being and not being. But there is no chance of the two options appearing at the same time. What if everything in the world could not be then there is a possibility that there was no existence on earth. This he says is because everything that is in existence is so because of another thing that must also have been in existence. This follows then that at that time when there was nothing in existence, nothing could have started on its own. Therefore some being must have initiated the first existence and this being has attributed the name, God. He further noted that not all things in the world are just possible without necessity. Here the necessity must have been caused by another thing.

The fourth way he postulated was due to the nature of things. He said that God must be the cause of why things are the way they are. The last explanation he gave was the movement of things towards the end. Those things that lack knowledge cannot move to the end alone thus somebody must be behind their movement. He attributed the movement of such things to be directed by a being and that being has been given the name God. Critics of this argument argue God is the God of everything and there is no way that he would allow evil to exist because He is the God of all the good things in the world. Otherwise whatever happens on earth whether good or bad must be traced back to God as its origin. One important strength of Aquinas’s argument is that he uses nature to provide explanations of the existence of God. The argument also is of importance to mankind because of its clarity it becomes the most suitable for the common reason of mankind. Kant believes that this argument sheds more light on nature as it has demonstrated that the premises are derived from the existence of nature itself. It collects ends and purposes together and puts them at a point whereby observations alone by an individual are not in a position to neither understand nor discover them. However, it is also of equal importance to underscore the fact that most of his assertions do not vide adequate proof that God exists because some things are the way they appear in nature. He also fails to put into consideration the effect of other forces in the world on things that do not have knowledge as he puts it.

Kant does not stand in objection to the rationality and utilization of St Aquinas procedure in trying to explain the existence of God. Instead, he has been on the track recommending it and encouraging the usefulness of such a procedure. He underscores that people are unable to climb up and reach the height of the claims this argument demonstrates towards demystifying certainty.

The teleological argument has limited its application only to the natural and this presents itself as another weakness. This consequently has an effect on the clear thought. Kant claims that the idea of design in the teleological argument lacks theoretical validity. That the argument can only be valid from a regulative perspective. Therefore we cannot rely on it entirely to explain the existence of God. But the lack of the said validity in the argument is not very easy to notice Otherwise he holds what he terms as doctrinal faith in the teleological argument for God’s existence. Besides these criticisms, I think the teleological argument stands out to provide sufficient proof that indeed God does exist based on the fact that it derives its reason from nature and totalizes it to create meaning and even better understanding to mankind.

Both the ontological arguments have contributed significantly to the reason of mankind concerning their belief system in the existence of God. The ontological argument for instance forms the basis for which the believers can argue when confronted with non-believer arguments. The teleological argument also based on its validity forms the foundation for better arguments that derive their premises from the natural existence of a phenomenon.


St. Anselm – “Proslogium,” Chapter I through V in St. Anselm: Basic Writing.

St Thomas Aquinas, The Teleological argument, (5th way) pg 101.

Immanuel Kant – Critique of Pure Reason, I, Division two, Book II, Chapter III, Section.

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