Gasking’s Proof – What Does It Prove?

I came upon this great breakdown of Gasking’s Proof, which is probably the most well-known parody to the theist’s Ontological Argument. For a full breakdown on the “counter-counter apologetics” of the Ontological Argument, check out the blog from whence it came. I’m going to post basically word for word because I think it spells it out pretty good why such a proof actually doesn’t prove anything.

The final attempt at invalidating the Ontological Argument is another parody, known as “Gasking’s Proof”:

1. The creation of the universe is the greatest achievement imaginable.
2. The merit of an achievement consists of its intrinsic greatness and the ability of its creator.
3. The greater the handicap to the creator, the greater the achievement. (Would you be more impressed by Turner painting a beautiful landscape or a blind one-armed dwarf?)
4. The biggest handicap to a creator would be non-existence.
5. Therefore if we suppose that the universe is the creation of an existing creator, we can conceive a greater being — namely, one who created everything while not existing.
6.Therefore, God does not exist.

There are many problems with this attempt to parody the Ontological Argument and prove God doesn’t exist. These are all problems with the premises. Premise 1 states that the creation of the universe is the greatest achievement imaginable. How so? Are there not achievements that could be greater? Could not the greatest achievement be creating infinite universes? For the sake of argument, however, I’ll concede step 1. Premises 3 and 4, I believe, have the greatest problems. Premise 3 assumes that doing things with a handicap makes something logically greater. I’d love to see a proof of this. The premise makes an appeal to common sense, but that is invalid in logic. I’m not at all convinced that having a handicap and doing something makes that achievement itself greater. This is made more problematic by the fact that premise 1 points to the universe as being the greatest achievement. This would seem to mean that an achievement is a finished product, not the steps leading up to the product.

For example, the Cubs winning the World Series after over a century without doing so may seem a greater achievement than the Yankees doing so, but it would be hard to show that logically, for both have the World Series as the finished product. I’m willing to grant premise 3, however, just for the sake of argument.

Premise 4 is where the argument really breaks apart. How is it that non-existence is a handicap? Handicaps can only be applied to things that do exist. To imply that something has a handicap assumes implicitly that it exists. Thus, premise 4 essentially says that a being both exists and does not exist, which is logically impossible. I assume that this premise was in order to counter the idea that existing-in-reality is greater than existing-in-understanding, but note that both of these are existing. In other words, the choice in the Ontological Argument is not saying that something that doesn’t exist exists, just that something that exists-in-the-understanding rather exists-in-reality. Premise 4 is therefore completely invalid both logically and in relation to the Ontological Argument.

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3 responses to this post.

  1. Glad you enjoyed my post! There are more problems with this proof than I outlined in my original blog, though. I’ll just point out one. Premise 4 is again flawed in that only things that exist can have properties. This is something that has significant justification within philosophy. Properties can only be attributed to things that exist. For some philosophers, in fact, to exist is to have properties (though this is not uncontroversial). But to be the “Creator of the Universe” is a property–it names a property of “being the Creator”. Thus, anything that is the Creator of the Universe must exist. And once more Premise 4, which is the key premise to his argument, breaks down.

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  2. Interesting point.

    As far as handicaps go, I guess it depends on how you look at it. Say you do it mathematically, for instance. One equation has a handicap of 3, the other has no handicap.

    -3 + 3 = 0
    0 + 0 = 0

    So to get the same answer, the one with the handicap has to do more work. Still, if the end result is where the achievement lies, there is no difference.

    But let’s take a more practical approach. Let’s talk golf. Pit Tiger Woods against your average professional golfer. Apparently, Tiger has played with a handicap as high as +13.5, but that’s just a number designed to balance out his clear advantage. If we take his handicap away and give him the advantage he has naturally, then Tiger winds up with a score 13.5 points lower (better) than his opponent. And so the end result, where the achievement lies, is different, and Tiger comes out on top.

    So to give God a handicap would be to try to balance out the advantage he clearly has of being greater than all. A handicap doesn’t change who He is; it is just supposed to put Him at less of an advantage because you recognize how great His advantage is. Giving God “the biggest handicap” possible – the handicap of not existing – is the same as giving Tiger Woods the biggest handicap possible – a handicap of not being allowed to play in the tournament. It makes the point moot and absurd.

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  3. “A handicap doesn’t change who He is; it is just supposed to put Him at less of an advantage because you recognize how great His advantage is. Giving God “the biggest handicap” possible – the handicap of not existing – is the same as giving Tiger Woods the biggest handicap possible – a handicap of not being allowed to play in the tournament. It makes the point moot and absurd.”

    Good points, though I think the mathematical kind of handicap would also show how ridiculous Gasking’s Proof is. For God, being infinitely powerful, would also have to have a mathematically infinitely negative handicap, according to Gasking. When theologians speak of the infinite nature of God, they don’t mean a mathematical infinite, they mean a metaphysical infinite, but Gasking would have to assert an actual infinite, which, as William Craig has argued powerfully, is impossible.

    Not only that, but I still find it (as I wrote in the post cited above) questionable as to whether an accomplishment is greater if a being is handicapped in some way. I really don’t see any reason to accept that claim, and only granted it for the sake of argument, but I think that premise 3 has some serious issues.

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