Alder's excursion into Aristotelian dialectics may be handled by an excursion into Platonic dialogue. Something like this:
Agnostes: What is that book in your hand, Theophilus?
Theophilus: More than a mere book, Agnostes; this is the most important document in the history of human thought. In these 175 pages, Mortimer Alder has done what Plato and Aristotle, Aquinas and Anselm were unable to do. He had proved the existence of God by the operations of pure reason unaided by faith.
Agnostes: Amazing. This Adler must be a very great man indeed, to have surpassed such remarkable minds.
Theophilus: He is the chairman of the board of editors of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, director of the Institute for Philosophical Research in Chicago, and the author or compiler of many useful and interesting books, including his intellectual autobiography and "Aristotle for Everybody" and "Great Treasury of Western Thought" (with Charles Van Doren).
Agnostes: A great mind indeed. And how does he define God?
Theophilus: He does nothing so foolish, for how can you define the infinite? How can the puny mind of man encompass the inscrutable depths of the creator? Instead, he carefully formulates a "definite description" of this being who is "incapable of not existing" and laboriously proves that there must be such a being to explain the continuing existence of a universe which cannot exist of its own inner necessity. I simplify, of course.
Agnostes: We all simplify; I suspect that even Adler may simplify, since it is impossible to attach a word to a reality without simplifying. I am still not sure how a "definite description" differs from a definition -- except that it contains the forbidden word, "finite," even more explicitly. And I wonder whether a being who cannot not exist does not thereby suffer a limitation on his (or her or its or his-her-its) omnipotence. Could God not choose to exist or not exist as he chooses -- or perhaps to exist or not exist in pulses -- or to operate in a context in which the human-made word "existence" is totally irrelevant?
Theophilus: No, Agnostes, for God is "a being than which no greater can be thought of," and Adler says that if we think of such a being we must necessarily think it exists -- for existence is clearly greater than nonexistence.
Agnostes: And such a being would consult our thought-processes before deciding in its infinite wisdom and power whether or not to exist? I am not sure about these degrees of greatness among beings, which smack of feudalism to me, and if we are to fit God to the limits of our minds, why not make his existence self-evident as well as necessary. For it seems to me that this God of Adler's must be a greater being than the sun, and nobody has to write a book to prove that the sun exists. Perhaps God needs a public-relations representative better than Adler. Or more likely, God needs nothing at all and does not make any special effort to trim his existence to the limits of our minds.
Theophilus: You mock God, Agnostes!
Agnostes: No, Theophilus, I mock the arrogance of intellect, which thinks it understands what it has merely been able to name.
Theophilus: That is almost as bad; you mock the noblest activity of the human mind, philosophy.
Agnostes: Mock it? No, I merely try to find its definite description, for I know not whether to call it a game or a science. If it be a game, I have no quarrel with it, so long as it does no harm to those who choose not to play. But if it be a science, I think it must be often an applied science and not a pure pursuit of knowledge for its own sake. Tell me, does Adler try to persuade his readers of the existence of God?
Theophilus: Again and again.
Agnostes: Then perhaps his book should be put on a shelf with the books of rhetoric and not of knowledge.
Theophilus: But he persuades with the most rigorous logic.
Agnostes: Like those who persuaded our ancestors that the sun moves around the earth and that the atom cannot be split.
Theophilus: In spite of your mockery, I will continue to believe that God exists.
Agnostes: I have not said that he does not -- merely that I suspect Adler has not proved his existence or said anything useful about him. Adler has said merely that his manner of thinking finds it necessary to suppose the existence of God. He must also prove that the necessities of his own mind are the necessities of all other minds -- and then that this way of thinking corresponds to a reality outside of the minds. Has he done that?
Theophilus: You would say he has not, I am sure. But I believe and I would continue to do so even if it were absurd. I am like those whom Adler cites in his book; look here where he says: 'Religious persons in the Middle Ages repeatedly said 'Credo nisi absurdum est' (I believe even though it is absurd, that is, unreasonable)."
Agnostes: A noble sentiment, but that is not what the Latin says; it says "I believe unless it is absurd." Perhaps Mortimer Adler should learn to use a Latin dictionary before he begins plumbing the depths of infinity.