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Proof of God: The Ontological Argument

David Cowles

Jun 1, 2024

“Value permeates every nook and cranny of the World. God is Value… No values – no world...”

In the Middle Ages, the most attractive ‘proof’ of the existence of God was what’s now called ‘The Ontological Argument’. It is most often attributed to Anselm of Bec (c. 1100) but it pops up here and there all across the theological landscape of the late Middle Ages. 

The ‘proof’ is as follows: God, by definition, is a perfect being. In such a ‘God’, all perfections must subsist…and they must subsist perfectly, i.e. to the greatest degree possible, so it is impossible to imagine any being more perfect in any way than ‘God’. 

Hamlet notwithstanding, ‘to be’ is better than ‘not to be’; apologies to Sartre, but ‘being’ is better than ‘nothingness’. If God, as we define ‘God’, did not exist it would be possible to imagine another being, the same as ‘God’…only existing. That God could beat up our God!

In that case, our ‘God’ would not be God. Only a ‘God’ that exists can qualify as God. Therefore, according to the Ontological Argument, God, the perfect Being, must exist!

Clever. Somewhat convincing perhaps in the context of Nominalism…not so much in the Days of Deconstruction. I won’t reproduce the counter argument here. I don’t have to. We can sense intuitively that there is something wrong with this version of the ‘Ontological Proof’; it just doesn’t pass ‘the smell test’.

But might there be a way to formulate the argument that would command our super sophisticated 21st century attention? Let’s see…

When we say ‘God’, we mean a being in whom all perfections subsist to the max. According to Nietzsche et al., there are no ‘perfections’ and therefore there are no gradations. There are no ‘values’, period. And did I mention, there is no God? Nietzsche is gloriously consistent, his successors, not so much!

If Nietzsche is right, the World is flat; sorry, Columbus. There are no ‘values’; things just are, and they are the way they are. So-called Historical Process is just Fate. Nothing is better, or less good, than anything else; everything just is. 

To say otherwise would require ‘evaluation’ and that would require us to entrust the power of ‘valuation’ to some region within the World (like ourselves)…or to some entity beyond the World (like the verboten God). 

Nietzsche understood that to bifurcate World into ‘evaluator’ and ‘evaluated’, even if those designations were fluid, would disrupt flatness and create hierarchy. In that case, the evaluator, whether understood as part of, or separate from, the World, would in fact transcend the World. 

Evaluation is a species of recursion: the World sees itself and/or the World acts on itself. The subject is the same as, but different from, the object. A flat (linear) cosmos cannot be recursive (non-linear). There is no subject, there are no objects.

But what if we stand Anselm on his head? What if we follow the lead of the 6th century Irish poet, St. Dallan? What if we begin, not by defining God but by provisionally asserting God’s existence. “Naught is all else to me save than Thou art!”

If God exists, what can we say about him? First, God transcends World. That’s by definition; it’s what we mean by ‘God’. Going further, we can say that God is Transcendence per se

What transcends the World is God…again, by definition. In Genesis, God begins the process of creation by separating darkness from light. But there must have been a prior step, only implicit in the text: the distillation of immanence out of transcendence. 

To transcend the world is to judge it, explicitly or implicitly, just as to judge the world, by definition, requires us to transcend it.  Judgment discloses Value; all judgments refer to values. The application of Value is what judgment is.  

So the theoretical question of God’s existence comes down to the empirical question of whether ‘values’ are operative in our World. Of course they are! Right now, I’d love a nap, but I judge it more important to keep writing. I value B over A. Later today, I will choose a TV program to watch, a book to read, a snack to eat – all driven by the application, however trivial, of Value.

How does God fit in? Does God prefer Law & Order to Seinfeld? Kafka to Faulkner? Corn chips to popcorn? Of course not. But God is the well-spring of Value which enables us to make such choices for ourselves.

20th century philosophy begins in the 19th - with Nietzsche. Nietzsche alone in the modern era challenged the doctrine of Transcendence (aka Godhead, Keter), the root concept behind God and Value.

Fundamentalists honor God over Value; humanists honor Value over God. Nietzsche had no use for either. Unfortunately, few if any of Nietzsche’s successors remained faithful to his core. 

Could there be two more different thinkers than A.J. Ayer (the British analytic) and Albert Camus (the French existentialist)? Both were affirmed atheists. Both denied the objectivity of Value. But unlike Nietzsche, both allowed values to ‘corrupt’ their thinking… sneaking in through a back door carelessly left ajar. 

After thoroughly debunking the concept of Value and declaring the World to be absurd, Camus provided a laundry list of identities that folks might coherently assume. The list is extensive. One suspects that Camus may have been moonlighting in the job placement office of some university.

But don’t assume that Camus’s list is value agnostic. He dismisses any sort of asceticism (e.g. monasticism) as ‘incoherent’. He praises those who live lives full of variety and intensity, both values. Ultimately, he applied his own, quite detailed, value-based filter (logos) to the World.

Ayer took a different tack in his break with Nietzsche. He boils the ethical imperative down to a single value, Kindness. Unfortunately, he offers no justification for this ethical choice. Is it possible that he fails to see that Kindness also is a value?

Sidebar: Remarkably, the world is full of books that begin by stating a proposition and then proceed, unwittingly, to demolish that proposition. I am thinking, for example, of Something from Nothing, which begins by stating that the world we know can ‘naturally’ emerge out of ‘nothing’…and ends by inadvertently disproving that thesis. 

Who says that kindness is better than cruelty? Is it just a personal preference? Can we find no objective distinction between Mother Theresa and the Marquis de Sade? Can we find no objective criteria to underpin our condemnation of Adolf Hitler?

If rejecting belief in God means placing Mother Teresa on the same ethical rung as Hitler, then I’m proud to have you call me a Theist! Sticks and stones you know…

Personally, I doubt that it is possible for anyone to live a single day without allowing ‘values’ to color perception or motivate behavior. The closest approach to such would be the lifestyle of the contemplative, the mystic. Yet this is precisely the lifestyle choice that Camus disallows.

The traditional Ontological Argument assumes that manifestations of Value can be ordered by degrees relative to perfection. Then we have proven the existence of God only if we have proven that a perfect being must exist in order to account for various degrees of value in the world. But the Middle Ages set the bar too high. We don’t need to prove perfection; we only need to demonstrate gradation. 

Of course, the experience of gradation may lead us to belief in perfection; but it doesn’t have to. The existence of gradation alone is sufficient to demonstrate the existence of God.

Anslem moved from value to existence; we propose to move from existence to value. If God did exist, what would the World be like? Without God, could the World still be the way it is? 

Far from being flat (Nietzsche), the world is riddled with values. The phenomenon of Value is literally ‘universal’, as the Baltimore Catechism affirmed (c. 1955): “Where is God? God is everywhere!” 

The Nominalists and the Scholastics attempted to deduce the existence of God from first premises. How logical of them! We have attempted to infer the existence of God from observation. How empirical of us!

Value permeates every nook and cranny of the World. God is Value, the source of all values, and all values inhere in God. No values – no world (as I know it). No God – no values! The unmistakable detection of Value in the World, not perfection but gradation, is empirical proof that there is a God.

We can certainly imagine someone saying, “I don’t believe in the existence of anything perfect.” It is more difficult to imagine anyone saying, “I don’t believe that anything is any better than anything else.”

Then to say, “I have satisfied myself that some things are better (e.g. more beautiful, more true, more just) than others,” is to say, “I have proven the existence of God.”  

Easy-peasy, but I await your rebuttal, dear reader!


David Cowles is the founder and editor-in-chief of Aletheia Today Magazine. He lives with his family in Massachusetts where he studies and writes about philosophy, science, theology, and scripture. He can be reached at


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