This resulted in some dialogue regarding a perceived flaw in Anselm’s approach. Anselm’s view of God was, in short, that if He does exist, he must necessarily be “that being a greater than which cannot be conceived (or GCB, as a shorthand reference to the Greatest Conceivable Being). From this conception, one comes to realize that a starting point for beginning to make sense of the notion of “God” is to constantly test whether the being in your present understanding is indeed greater than all other possible beings. This led Anselm to compare a being with contingent existence – a God who might possibly exist – to a being which must necessarily exist. Of course, the latter must be God, as such a being is greater than a contingent or possibly non-existent being. All of this made sense to Anselm because he assumed that the mind can only conceive of “real” things.Here was the challenger’s position:
Regarding Anselm’s assumption that the mind can only conceive of “real” things. Why believe this is true? I can “conceive” of unicorns, griffons, orcs, etc. But they do not exist. Given this, we must either claim that either mythical creatures are “real” in some sense, or that I am “imagining”, rather than “conceiving”. The question, then, would be how we would know Anselm wasn’t “imagining” the GCB.
What Anselm meant by “real” was roughly “conforming to reality.” He did not mean that there were no such things as imagination or imaginary things, living or not. Consequently, for the examples provided, Anselm would have no difficulty with a unicorn, as a horse with a horn, a grifon, a winged animal with certain powers, or an orc, a humanoid type being. Whether actually currently existing, or imaginary, these things consist of real things – bodies, horns, wings, etc. – assembled in new, different or imaginary ways.
There is an important next step however. Let’s consider the unicorn. Perhaps it once existed, perhaps it exists somewhere in the world or in the universe, or perhaps it will someday come into existence. These possibilities appear when I begin to conceive of a “unicorn.” I can recognize it as imaginary, also. But what is clear to me is that such a being does not have, as one of its attributes, the quality of “necessary existence.” There is nothing about a unicorn that requires me to understand that, if there were such a life form, it must necessarily exist. I realize that at most it is a contingent being, a being which may exist only in the imagination. To this, the typical challenger to Anselm would say, “well, I am imagining a unicorn that does necessarily exist, some sort of “god-unicorn.” But this gets us nowhere. Again, imagination is simply that; in this case, it involves the imaginer combining two things that don’t go together, roughly similar to the imaginer saying that he is thinking of a square circle. Mere words, with no corresponding reality. One can think of a unicorn, and one can think of a limitless being that has necessary existence, but one realizes that the two are not the same.
To conceive of God, by contrast, necessarily requires that we view God as eternal, always existing, and never possibly ceasing to exist. That is the essence of God-ness. Anselm was not imagining the GCB. He was, by contrast, allowing the inborn processes of his mind to inform him as to what followed logically from the conception. His contribution, I believe, was in realizing where logic and reason inexorably led: perhaps there isn’t a God, he began, but if there is one, he would have to be…. Included in this list was necessary and eternal/everlasting existence. But if this is true, Anselm intuited, then the mere recognition of the possibility of God’s existence – which most everyone will acknowledge – leads logically to the necessary conclusion that he must therefore exist.
The challenger's next point:
Also, “logic and reason” do not tell us that God must be unlimited. In fact, being unlimited would automatically place God outside the domain of logic and reason. When considering we have no actual “concept” of an unlimited being, it would seem that an unlimited being *cannot* be the GCB. We can only “conceive” of things that our minds can comprehend. To comprehend, we use logic and reason. A God that can be comprehended by logic and reason would obviously be limited by these rational constraints. Thus, this Being would be limited.
This argument is based on an assertion that if God could be comprehended by logic and reason, this would create a limitation upon him. The conclusion is based, I believe, on two mistaken assumptions: the first is that the writer seems to think I mean to say that we, as humans, can fully comprehend God. I do not think that this is the case. By analogy, I can know things about nuclear power that are accurate without being able to fully comprehend nuclear power. The second is that logic and reason somehow stand outside of God, boxing in his options. Logic and reason are manifestations of his nature, not limitations upon it. God does not submit himself to logic and reason; they emanate from his nature. Consequently, recognizing that God’s nature is logical and reasonable are descriptions of God; they do not limit him.Finally:
Finally, it would seem that if you are to “ground” the reliability of the mind in an Anselm-ian notion of God’s goodness, then you are arguing circularly. After all, if Anselm *assumed* that we can only conceive of real things, then moved on to “prove” God’s goodness, then the very thing you are trying to ground was assumed in the argument.
This last point is interesting. If I understand it correctly, the assertion is that first, I am assuming that the mind is grounded in a good God, and then I conclude using that mind that God must be good. I think this is a fair point. The problem is that it is like one saying, “you claim that logic and reason are good tools for arriving at truth; now prove it.” But I would have to use logic and reason to “prove” anything, so this too would be considered circular. No, I would say, by contrast, that these are starting points. I must intuitively recognize that logic and reason are programs that my mind came “pre-loaded” with and that I cannot reach behind or beyond that. Similarly here. But what is the alternative? If God is a great deceiver who has tricked us into thinking that “bad” is actually “good,” I could never know that this was the case.
And so, I conclude that a being possessing that much power would not create minds for the simple purpose of deceiving them into thinking that what they perceive around them is actually the opposite of what it really is. He made us personal beings because he too is personal, and he wants us to eventually find relationship with him. That’s why relationship is so important to all of us. We were built that way for a reason. But relationships built on dishonesty and deception make sense only when the one so inclined believes he can benefit from the deception. As a limitless being, God gains nothing from deceiving us. He is the source of all, and we have nothing that he wants – other than our free will freely directed toward, and not away, from him.
If reason can lead me anywhere, here it leads me to the conclusion that such a being would act in conformance with his nature. A personal and trustworthy being, he equipped us to respond in kind.