Ontological Argument, in its initial verison as presented by Anselm of Canterbury is as follows,

The first ontological argument in Western Christian tradition[i] was proposed by Saint Anselm of Canterbury in his 1078 work, Proslogion (Latin: Proslogium, lit. 'Discourse on the Existence of God'), in which he defines God as "a being than which no greater can be conceived," and argues that such being must exist in the mind, even in that of the person who denies the existence of God. From this, he suggests that if the greatest possible being exists in the mind, it must also exist in reality, because if it existed only in the mind, then an even greater being must be possible—one who exists both in mind and in reality. Therefore, this greatest possible being must exist in reality. Similarly, in the East, Avicenna's Proof of the Truthful argued that there must be a "necessary existent"


There have been, since many variants of ontological arguments, but they all have one common idea, that the God is the greatest entity that can be conceived.

Problem of evil is an ancient problem.

Possibly originating with Greek philosopher Epicurus (341–270 BCE),[38] Hume summarizes Epicurus's version of the problem as follows: "Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then from whence comes evil?"


To answer this problem of evil many theodicies have come, they use free will argument, greater good argument and human ignorance about it, etc.

But, whatever maybe the theodicy, any reasonably imaginative intelligent person can easily conceive of Universe, with no evil or way less evil, which is a greater Universe than the current one and then therefore a God who creates a Universe with no or comparatively little evil which is not rife with horrendous human and animal suffering and still has good things like free will, happiness etc. would be a greater God

Now coming back to ontological arguement, and rephrasing it,

We can concieve a God who can create the Universe with no or little evil in it. Since such a God would be great, if that God exists in both mind and reality, therefore such a God indeed exists in relaity, and is greater than the God of this current Universe.

But we don't have less evil Universe. We have the Universe where comparatively more suffering exists. So this argument cannot establish a maximally good God, because maxiamlly good God would have created a better Universe. So here problem of evil seems to disprove ontological argument. Is this argument acknowledged and are there any criticisms to it?

P.S: I'm trying to explore specifically how problem of evil impacts ontological argument. I'm not trying to just disaprove ontological argument.

Edit: Many people in the comment section are struggling to imagine a better universe than ours along with free will. This makes me second guess my assumption that anyone can easily comprehend a better universe. Anyway I argue that it is indeed possible to create a Universe which has far less suffering and far less pain. This suffering and pain by all is what is termed as evil. I will try to contrast a better universe just as an example of what I'm trying to say. Please note, we don't have to come up with the best universe possible, we just have to come up with a slightly better universe than the one we have. The very fact we don't have the slightly better universe is enough to disprove the ontological argument.

First we have the current world with free will, which itself many people do not agree is actually present, nevertheless for argument sake let's assume this universe of ours has free will, but is also filled with human and animal suffering. In our universe we have free will not total freedom. Many people keep confusing free will with freedom. Free will is the property of innermost core of one's mind. A paralysed guy has the same amount of free will which a rich healthy person has. A human being is only free to make choices, can also think if mentally healthy and move his or her body if physically healthy. That's all there is to free will. It says nothing about the laws of Universe, of cancer and other diseases, of natural disasters etc. A human can control only his mind and body which he has been given at birth. He doesn't have any control over external laws and instead is subject to them, so it is therefore possible to retain all the elements of freewill, that is control over mind and body at best but change the external laws to create a better Universe.

Imagine a Universe, where there is free will, just like ours, where everyone lives till 100, after everyone reaches 25, they stop, aging, no cancer or any other diseases, can eat anything and be healthy like people with good metabolism already do. No kids with cancers or horrific diseases. No Animal suffering as all animals are in controlled environment and are happy. And if things go wrong politically like a dictator takes over, immediately God comes and takes him out, note this is not interferring with free will, as God has striked many sinners in the past. People can't get murdered as anyone less than 100 years can be revived. This seemingly kiddish imagination of mine is arguably already way way better than the current Universe, even though this imaginative Universe may not be the best there is, but definitely a way better Universe than the current one, with free will. The very fact that we don't have this Universe proves that ontological argument cannot be used to establish a maximally good God. We don't have to even imagine where the changes I have imagined is strictly true, just a trend towards that direction is already a better Universe than the current one. If you have any doubt whether the Universe I have imagined is not the better one than our current Universe, just ask yourself in which one would you like to live.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Philip Klöcking
    Aug 26, 2022 at 19:14
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    Indeed there's a famous place called western pure land described in Buddhism's Amitābha Sūtra which sounds absolutely not this real Saha world. The impact of POE to ontological argument in the West is the establishment and study of theodicies which surmised POE is consistent with a higher-level intelligence beyond human reasoning. The Evil which can take myriad shapes for all beings with self-awareness plus the Delphic sense-certainty intelligence is a deviate, mistaken and overweening way to redeem oneself in the supposed narrow right way... Aug 27, 2022 at 0:15
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    You could further read and contemplate stories in Old Testament such as the story of Abel and Cain (the real first humans since they're not created by God but descendants of Adam), the Flood, etc. For example, why God didn't punish Cain if God is not benevolent and wholesome compassionate? Are you most likely descendant of Abel or Cain?... Aug 27, 2022 at 0:26

3 Answers 3


Anselm was writing in an era in which rationalism was assumed -- one could characterize how the world was, thru reasoning. Reason trumped mere observation. Hence Anselm, who no doubt knew of the Problem of Evil, would NOT agree that the POE refuted his rational argument.

Since Kant, philosophy has inverted the priority of empiricism vs rationality in characterizing our world. Whether a God exists, and if so, what are that God's characteristics, is now considered an empirical question, as the answer is contingent, not necessary. The POE is best understood as an empirical test case for an Omni God, who has both Omnibenevolence, and Omnipotence.

There are other empirical test cases for Omni properties. Omniscience, plus Omnibenevolence, should lead to undeniable divine inspiration as to the true ontology of our universe, and our fate in it, and the flawed/contradictory/unconvincing nature of religious references is a similar test case refuting that combination of Omni properties.

And simple coherence and accuracy tests of religious claims test and refute their assertion of being divinely inspired, etc.

In contemporary thinking, these absolutely trump the rationalist Ontological Argument of Anselm.

The response of contemporary religions to these test cases, is not to assert the primacy of rationalism above empiricism, but to engage in various evasions to avoid thinking about these test cases. Redefining Good, such that our conception of good does note apply to God (IE, God is not actually Good as we understand it) is the most popular. Another popular approach is to claim that limited humans cannot comprehend God, hence wee cannot reason validly about Him, such that one can DO no test cases of a God claim (this would of course vitiate the Ontological Argument, plus all other religious dogma the believer is defending, but this argument is absurdly ONLY applied to refutations, not any other aspect of the religion!). The Free Will Defense is a third popular excuse, (which as you note, is easily also easily refuted by citing the ability of people and God to have free will, but do no evil in heavens [by having a different character], and by the possibility of a world with much GREATER free will, as well as LESS tragedy).

As the comments in parenthesis demonstrate, none of these excuses stand up to scrutiny -- but theodicy is not about doing philosophic self-questioning, but instead about reinforcing rationalizations to hold by a faith.

In summary, YES the POE trumps the Ontological Argument in contemporary thinking, but did not when Anselm wrote it.

  • Umm disagree, it's valid for all times. I'm explaining it in an edit.
    – Wtjtykajwy
    Aug 26, 2022 at 17:19
  • Plz check the edit
    – Wtjtykajwy
    Aug 26, 2022 at 17:36
  • @Wtjtykajwy -- getting out of "contingency" is tough for any specific religion. A Triune God is not "maximal", as mono-God Muslims point out. The even MORE mono-God Sikhs point out their "God is Everything" is greater than the separate Islamic God. But Sikhs cannot defend the specificity of the poems and poets of the Granth Sahib as NECESSARILY MAXIMAL! An abstract "God of the Philosophers" is all Anselm can argue for, and even that is rejected by most people today as an invalid rationale
    – Dcleve
    Aug 26, 2022 at 17:41
  • Agree with all your points. I'm trying to explore specifically how problem of evil impacts ontological argument. I'm not trying to just disaprove ontological argument.
    – Wtjtykajwy
    Aug 26, 2022 at 18:03
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    @Wtjtykajwy -- add links or summaries to these other arguments, if you want them addressed as well. I am not familiar with either you just mentioned.
    – Dcleve
    Aug 26, 2022 at 18:37

If we are free to use our imagination to a decent extent here, I will acknowledge the problem and try to offer a solution in favor of/defending some sample of ontological arguments, to some degree. I will not directly try to sustain any of those arguments, but I will try to illustrate a question and its attendant possible answers, in such a way that God's omnibeneficence is what we would like to apologize for.

The setting. Per Kant's dialectic, we assume that free will's true action occurs initially outside of empirical spacetime. It might occur in something spacetime-like of its own, but we will not dwell on this issue. So be that as it may, a subassumption of ours is that we can imagine that "when" we initially used our free will, outside of normal physical reality, we could have done so in concert with other people's deep use of their own free will, too. In some sense, we could have influenced the particular form of our physical reality, by virtue of our initial joint exercise of transcendental will.

Now, consider deontic logic. There is a possible scheme of elementary operators according to which there is only one negative operator, FR for the forbidden/wrong/evil, but at least two positive ones, OB and SR for obligations and supererogations. So on this scheme, there is twice as much pure abstract good as there is evil. Moreover, we assume that if the deontic operators can be constructibly apprehended, the process "witnessed" in time, in our minds, then it is possible to provide a morally wrong definitional order for these operators, viz. by commencing from FR. So in some "logical" sense, the maximum of evil can never exceed the maximum of good, and perhaps evil can never even equal good, on that level of reality.

Our next insane assumption is that there is a transet of the good, wherefore there is a possibly absolutely infinite degree and "quantity" of goodness. This is trivially the limit that evil must not exceed; nontrivially, it is the limit that evil can only approach. Per our constellated reasoning, we say that this is the primary interdict on the power of evil in ours or anyone else's physical reality.

However, what if there were a secondary interdict, too? A number chosen by those influencing the structure of the world, on the noumenal side of things, "before" they lived in the actual world. If this number is quite large, perhaps some absurd height of an infinite mathematical tree, then that world would be internally rendered capable of sustaining enormous amounts of evil, because that was part of what was chosen, "in the beginning."

Of course we don't, and can't, really know all that. Again per Kant, we are just floating a description that is (hopefully) logically possible, without asserting that it is also metaphysically or locally possible. The first point would have to be, then, that such a world, if it existed, might allow the omnibeneficence of the divine nature to harmonize better with Its other omnimorphisms: if the deity respects free will, It will not seek to change the seal on evil in whichever world, without the cooperation of those who placed the corrupted seal upon their world in the first place. There will be an appearance of cosmic "war," so to speak, in the metaphorical metanarrative at least, of the attempt at a victory of the transet of the good over the transet of sin.

Does this reflect any better on ontological arguments? I don't know. In this scenario, God is never tasked with creating all the worlds anyway; they already exist from the eternal haecceities of the persons who will dwell in them. Since a haecceity is a concept indexed exactly to a "thisness," it is a concept nonetheless, and so its abstract counterpart always exists. Each personal haecceity encodes its free-willed disjunction-elimination, over the possibilities of its will in the given world. The choices are made in the essence of each possible person "outside of our spacetime." Since God is all-loving, It has a motive to "eventually" create all possible persons in some world or other, so even if there is no automatic reason for these "souls" to be embedded in their chosen world, still the embedding ends up happening, and so as the "souls" wished anyway.

You might say that that's the interior part of the solution: if God creates all possible worlds, then God does create all dire worlds, but all holy ones as well, and anything "in between," "forever and ever, amen." Vs. the primary interdict, then though there are absolutely many worlds, the number of genuinely evil worlds cannot indirectly cover all the worlds in total, but at most ranges chaotically over the transfinite numbers in general, always hungry for absolute infinity but never satiating this desire. In other words, if God creates all possible worlds, then It creates absolutely-many more good than evil worlds, so the transfinal balance of the deontic multiverse is fixed aright.

Again, I don't know how to solve for the exterior structure of the problem, the connection to ontological arguments. At best, I could say that the theory of existence that best fits with the above "options" (or it's one of the best, anyway?) provides for all sorts of interesting questions, and possible answers, in this category of inquiry. If that could be cashed out much more directly, maybe that's where you'd find another part of the answer that you are looking for.

  • Well, if God is not tasked with creation, then this is not the Abrahamic or Christian God or the Islamic God as this runs against the idea of Genesis. So prima facie this argument can never be made to establish Abrahamic God.
    – Wtjtykajwy
    Aug 28, 2022 at 5:52
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    @Wtjtykajwy your definition of evil is Peterson's definition of tragedy inevitably suffered by finite beings created by the infinite as discussed in a recent post. Under this Abrahamic definition, it's easy to see it's neutral and inevitable (recall all the wise ancient Greeks' literatures on tragic fate?), even somehow the external nomological laws are changed because its scope is the created finite beings with self-consciousness, thus Adam rightly shied and hide in bushes once realized so. Evil can be avoided if all things are good... Aug 28, 2022 at 21:37
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    @Wtjtykajwy from your above comment as a bypassing stranger it's clear your definition of omnibenevolence is relative to yourself. It's like during an exam you hope your professor solves every problem therein for you so that you can survive and thrive going forward? In fact from a neutral stranger's POV doing so may be evil in that it eliminates your rare chance to enhance your consciousness thus can have true mental advancement. By standing silently and ensuring you don't cheat, this may be the best form of a necessary exam, and in reality it is so if not in every corner of this world... Aug 29, 2022 at 19:20
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    @Wtjtykajwy btw your "asserted" harsh environment is not the case, there've been numerous kinds of animals, people, and other living beings born and walked on this earth for a long time, if it's really that harsh as you labeled, then how these are possible? Hint: most times the "harshness" you rightly perceived or conceived may came from nothing but some form of evil which should be your real target of concerns if you're a descendant of Abel or an enlightened descendent of Cain... Aug 29, 2022 at 19:27
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    @Wtjtykajwy generally speaking disease and biological evolution including extinction of species as a whole ought to be classified as above unavoidable tragedy since as a single finite being once was conscious of alive must necessarily be conscious of tragic death, even in those species didn't got extinct any individual still dies. Now if cancer is not genetically (evolutionarily) caused but by persistent environmental or manmade cause then evil comes into play. Thus we have to differentiate these 2 types of suffering and of course evil will aggravate tragedy sometimes dramatically... Aug 30, 2022 at 5:05

here problem of evil seems to disprove ontological argument. Is this argument acknowledged and are there any criticisms to it?

P.S: I'm trying to explore specifically how problem of evil impacts ontological argument.

Because of man's actual suffering, the problem of evil disproves one crucial assumption on which the ontological argument is premised.

The ontological argument impliedly requires the simultaneity of the god's omnibenevolence and omnipotence, since the absence of either or both of these attributes would make it possible to conceive a greater god that the one which is assumed to exist. Hence, the simultaneity of both attributes is a crucial assumption in the ontological argument.

Man's suffering is evidence of the existence of evil. The formulation of the problem of evil is merely man's attempt to make sense of the inconsistency between his experience and the dogmatized speculation.

Of the three premises in the problem of evil (1. the god is omnibenevolent; 2. the god is omnipotent; 3. evil exists), one that cannot be ruled out is the existence of evil. This implies that [in the problem of evil] the solution, whichever it is, necessarily entails ruling out the simultaneity of omnibenevolence and omnipotence. The solution might even entail ruling out both attributes, since neither omnibenevolence nor omnipotence are verifiable.

Since simultaneity of omnibenevolence and omnipotence is ruled out in a context where evil exists, the greatest god that the mind can conceive is necessarily greater than any god that exists and greater than any god that can reasonably be presumed to exist.

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