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Transcendental argument for the existence of God

Transcendental argument for the existence of God

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The Transcendental Argument for the Existence of God (TAG) is the argument that attempts to prove God's existence by arguing that logic, morals, and science ultimately presuppose a theistic worldview, and that God is the source of logic and morals. A version was formulated by Immanuel Kant
Immanuel Kant
Immanuel Kant was a German philosopher from Königsberg , researching, lecturing and writing on philosophy and anthropology at the end of the 18th Century Enlightenment....

 in his 1763 work The Only Possible Argument in Support of a Demonstration of the Existence of God
The Only Possible Argument in Support of a Demonstration of the Existence of God
The Only Possible Argument in Support of a Demonstration of the Existence of God is a book by Immanuel Kant, published in 1763. It questions both the ontological argument for God and the argument from design...

. A version is also commonly used in presuppositional apologetics
Presuppositional apologetics
In Christian theology, presuppositionalism is a school of apologetics that presumes Christian faith is the only basis for rational thought. It presupposes that the Bible is divine revelation and claims to expose flaws in other worldviews...

 and is considered by some apologists to be the most persuasive argument
Argument
In philosophy and logic, an argument is an attempt to persuade someone of something, or give evidence or reasons for accepting a particular conclusion.Argument may also refer to:-Mathematics and computer science:...

.

Transcendental reasoning


Transcendental
Transcendence (philosophy)
In philosophy, the adjective transcendental and the noun transcendence convey the basic ground concept from the word's literal meaning , of climbing or going beyond, albeit with varying connotations in its different historical and cultural stages...

 arguments should not be confused with transcendent arguments, or arguments for the existence of something transcendent
Transcendence (religion)
In religion transcendence refers to the aspect of God's nature which is wholly independent of the physical universe. This is contrasted with immanence where God is fully present in the physical world and thus accessible to creatures in various ways...

. In other words, they are distinct from both arguments that appeal to a transcendent intuition or sense as evidence, and arguments that move from direct evidence to the existence of a transcendent thing (Classical Apologetics).

They are also distinct from standard deductive
Deductive reasoning
Deductive reasoning, also called deductive logic, is reasoning which constructs or evaluates deductive arguments. Deductive arguments are attempts to show that a conclusion necessarily follows from a set of premises or hypothesis...

 and inductive
Inductive reasoning
Inductive reasoning, also known as induction or inductive logic, is a kind of reasoning that constructs or evaluates propositions that are abstractions of observations. It is commonly construed as a form of reasoning that makes generalizations based on individual instances...

 forms of reasoning. Where a standard deductive argument looks for what we can deduce from the fact of X, and a standard inductive argument looks for what we can infer from experience of X, a transcendental argument looks for the necessary prior conditions to both the fact and experience of X. Thus, "I entitle transcendental all knowledge which is occupied not so much with objects as with the mode of our knowledge of objects insofar as this mode of knowledge is to be possible a priori." (Immanuel Kant
Immanuel Kant
Immanuel Kant was a German philosopher from Königsberg , researching, lecturing and writing on philosophy and anthropology at the end of the 18th Century Enlightenment....

, Critique of Pure Reason
Critique of Pure Reason
The Critique of Pure Reason by Immanuel Kant, first published in 1781, second edition 1787, is considered one of the most influential works in the history of philosophy. Also referred to as Kant's "first critique," it was followed by the Critique of Practical Reason and the Critique of Judgement...

, Introduction, VII).

The argument


The TAG is a transcendental argument that attempts to prove that the Christian God is the precondition of all human knowledge and experience, by demonstrating the impossibility of the contrary; in other words, that logic, reason, or morality cannot exist without God. The argument proceeds as follows:
  1. If there is no god, knowledge is not possible.
  2. Knowledge is possible (or some other statement pertaining to logic or morality).
  3. Therefore God exists.


Cornelius Van Til
Cornelius Van Til
Cornelius Van Til , born in Grootegast, the Netherlands, was a Christian philosopher, Reformed theologian, and presuppositional apologist.-Biography:...

 likewise wrote:
Therefore, the TAG differs from Thomistic and Evidentialist arguments, which posit the probable existence of God in order to avoid an infinite regress of causes or motions, to explain life on Earth, and so on. The TAG posits the necessary existence of a particular conception of God in order for human knowledge and experience to be possible at all. The TAG argues that, because the triune
Trinity
The Christian doctrine of the Trinity defines God as three divine persons : the Father, the Son , and the Holy Spirit. The three persons are distinct yet coexist in unity, and are co-equal, co-eternal and consubstantial . Put another way, the three persons of the Trinity are of one being...

 God of the Bible
Bible
The Bible refers to any one of the collections of the primary religious texts of Judaism and Christianity. There is no common version of the Bible, as the individual books , their contents and their order vary among denominations...

, being completely logical, uniform, and good, exhibits a character in the created order and the creatures themselves (especially in human
Human
Humans are the only living species in the Homo genus...

s), human knowledge and experience are possible. This reasoning implies that all other alternatives such as Buddhism
Buddhism
Buddhism is a religion and philosophy encompassing a variety of traditions, beliefs and practices, largely based on teachings attributed to Siddhartha Gautama, commonly known as the Buddha . The Buddha lived and taught in the northeastern Indian subcontinent some time between the 6th and 4th...

 and Islam
Islam
Islam . The most common are and .   : Arabic pronunciation varies regionally. The first vowel ranges from ~~. The second vowel ranges from ~~~...

, when followed to their logical conclusions, descend into absurdity
Reductio ad absurdum
In logic, proof by contradiction is a form of proof that establishes the truth or validity of a proposition by showing that the proposition's being false would imply a contradiction...

, arbitrariness or inconsistency.

Objective morality


One aspect of the TAG regards objective morality. The argument asserts that an omnibenevolent God provides the basis for attributing right and wrong to any thought or action. In creation God equips humanity to act as moral beings, and in self-revelation God demonstrates how people should act. People then have an objective source for their standard of morality by which to condemn evil thoughts and actions (or to commend good ones).

The argument further states that meta-ethical relativists
Moral relativism
Moral relativism may be any of several descriptive, meta-ethical, or normative positions. Each of them is concerned with the differences in moral judgments across different people and cultures:...

, by contrast, cannot condemn theft, rape or genocide (nor commend generosity, marriage, or the preservation of life) without relying on the assumption of an objective source for morality. No moral assertions, it is argued, can be explained by the relativist's own worldview; they are instead derived from unconsciously "borrowed capital" from Christianity, proving the truth of the Christian worldview.

Criticisms


Several criticisms of the TAG have emerged. One says that TAG is not a distinctive form of argument: this objection claims that the form of the TAG (indirect, transcendental) is really just a reworking of the standard deductive and inductive forms of reasoning; it claims that there is really not much difference between Thomas Aquinas
Thomas Aquinas
Thomas Aquinas, O.P. , also Thomas of Aquin or Aquino, was an Italian Dominican priest of the Catholic Church, and an immensely influential philosopher and theologian in the tradition of scholasticism, known as Doctor Angelicus, Doctor Communis, or Doctor Universalis...

 and Cornelius Van Til
Cornelius Van Til
Cornelius Van Til , born in Grootegast, the Netherlands, was a Christian philosopher, Reformed theologian, and presuppositional apologist.-Biography:...

. John Frame
John Frame
John M. Frame is an American philosopher and Calvinist theologian especially noted for his work in epistemology and presuppositional apologetics, systematic theology, and ethics...

, a student of Van Til, has endorsed this objection.

No specific god proven


John Warwick Montgomery
John Warwick Montgomery
John Warwick Montgomery is a noted lawyer, professor, Lutheran theologian, and prolific author living in France. He was born October 18, 1931, in Warsaw, New York, United States. In 2007 he was named "Distinguished Research Professor of Philosophy and Christian Thought" at Patrick Henry College...

 presented an objection in the article Once upon an A Priori ..., presented in Van Til's festschrift
Festschrift
In academia, a Festschrift , is a book honoring a respected person, especially an academic, and presented during his or her lifetime. The term, borrowed from German, could be translated as celebration publication or celebratory writing...

, Jerusalem and Athens. Christian apologist Timothy McCabe disagrees, claiming that the non-Christian worldview is inherently illogical, yet always endorses the laws of logic, causing it to self-destruct. With respect to Islam, McCabe argues on the God Contention website that in Islam, objective justice is personified in Allah, yet when Allah chooses not to punish sinners (such as when he forgives them) the penalty for sin is not meted out, the debt is not paid, and justice is not served. Thus, in Islam, according to McCabe, Allah is always objectively just and it is not the case that Allah is always objectively just, making the logical law of non-contradiction invalid and knowledge itself impossible.

In argumentation, apologists attempt to demonstrate that only the Christian worldview satisfies these conditions. Van Tillian presuppositionalists also point out that these conditions are applicable only because they themselves presuppose Christianity. To say that Christianity is true because it meets these conditions is to say that a greater standard exists than that of the God of the Bible. However, if one accepts the assertion that the Bible is the direct word of God, then such a charge would be without warrant as the Bible would then be the final epistemological authority of Christianity. Using this rationale, the preconditions of intelligibility are determined merely by Scripture, not by autonomous human reasoning. But the divine origins of the Bible are not universally accepted, and the idea of the Bible being a product of man rather than being from a divine source has been debated in modern circles since at least 1878 when Julius Wellhausen
Julius Wellhausen
Julius Wellhausen , was a German biblical scholar and orientalist, noted particularly for his contribution to scholarly understanding of the origin of the Pentateuch/Torah ....

 first published Prolegomena zur Geschichte Israels
Prolegomena zur Geschichte Israels
Prolegomena zur Geschichte Israels is a book by German biblical scholar Julius Wellhausen which formulated the documentary hypothesis...

. Some claim the question has yet to be definitively answered by scholars. Greg Bahnsen
Greg Bahnsen
Greg L. Bahnsen was an influential Calvinist philosopher, apologist, and debater. He was an ordained minister in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and a full time Scholar in Residence for the Southern California Center for Christian Studies.-Early life and education:He was the first born of two...

 attempts to crush any doubt in his dissertation, arguing that without the Christian God, nothing can be proven because God allows for the precondition of intelligibility, because otherwise, all reasoning is viciously circular in that reason is used to test reasoning.

Defenses


Van Til himself didn't directly attempt to answer any of the criticisms of the TAG noted above. Greg Bahnsen
Greg Bahnsen
Greg L. Bahnsen was an influential Calvinist philosopher, apologist, and debater. He was an ordained minister in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and a full time Scholar in Residence for the Southern California Center for Christian Studies.-Early life and education:He was the first born of two...

 has offered a defense against all of them in various places in his literature and media. Michael Butler published a chapter in Bahnsen's festschrift
Festschrift
In academia, a Festschrift , is a book honoring a respected person, especially an academic, and presented during his or her lifetime. The term, borrowed from German, could be translated as celebration publication or celebratory writing...

, The Standard Bearer titled "The Transcendental Argument for God's Existence", which examines the TAG along with transcendental arguments in the contemporary philosophical literature and defends them against objections.

As the most common objection is the claim that the TAG involves circularity, the defense will be briefly outlined. Proponents of the argument claim that worldview level considerations are supposed to be circular as a sign of internal cohesion. In dealing with the inevitable circularity of worldviews, Bahnsen maintains that two criteria must be met to demonstrate a given worldview as true:
  1. Internal consistencyThe statements made by the worldview do not contradict one another or otherwise lead to internal contradictions. Logical Positivism
    Logical positivism
    Logical positivism is a philosophy that combines empiricism—the idea that observational evidence is indispensable for knowledge—with a version of rationalism incorporating mathematical and logico-linguistic constructs and deductions of epistemology.It may be considered as a type of analytic...

     fails this test by its claim that “A statement is literally meaningful if and only if it is either analytic or empirically verifiable,” a statement that is not itself verifiable analytically or empirically.
  2. ArbitrarinessThe statements must not be believed simply out of convenience, tradition, or prejudice.

Articles


Debates

  • "The Great Debate: Does God Exist?" Audio (listen/download format) of a formal debate between Christian Greg Bahnsen and skeptic Gordon Stein from the University of California, Irvine
    University of California, Irvine
    The University of California, Irvine , founded in 1965, is one of the ten campuses of the University of California, located in Irvine, California, USA...

    .
  • The Martin-Frame Debate A written debate between skeptic Michael Martin
    Michael Martin (philosopher)
    Michael L. Martin is an American philosopher and professor emeritus at Boston University. He obtained his PhD from Harvard University in 1962....

    and Christian John Frame about the transcendental argument for the existence of God.
  • The Drange-Wilson Debate A written debate between skeptic Theodore Drange and Christian Douglas Wilson.
  • "Is Non-Christian Thought Futile?" A written debate between Christian Doug Jones and skeptics Keith Parsons and Michael Martin in Antithesis magazine (vol. 2, no. 4).