Transcendental argument for God
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The transcendental argument for the existence of God (TAG) is an argument within the realm of presuppositional apologetics. It argues that logic, morals, and science ultimately presuppose a theistic worldview, as God must be the "source" of logic and morality. In other words, because Goddidit is claimed to be the answer to every question in epistemology, God necessarily exists.
This argument was first proposed by Immanuel Kant in 1763, in his work The Only Possible Argument in Support of a Demonstration of the Existence of God. It has been widely discredited ever since the scientific enlightenment, so naturally it remains hugely popular with Christian theologians and philosophers.
- 1 Overview
- 2 Problems with TAG
- 3 How to refute a few basic TAG traps
- 4 See also
- 5 References
The basic idea of TAG is that certain things that atheists assume are true can only be true if there is a God. These include the assumption that logical reasoning is possible, that scientific inference is justified, and that (absolute) moral standards exist. As such, when an atheist refutes the theistic argument using logic, undermines the position of the Bible on certain topic(s) using scientific evidences or argues that the existence of evil is incompatible with the concept of an omnipotent, omniscient and morally perfect God, the TAG maintains that the atheist is assuming God's existence in constructing these arguments. It claims that because logic and science (knowledge) cannot exist without God, and that in order to define "evil" it requires an objective standard that is also impossible without God.
In its modern form, TAG is predominantly used by Christians more specifically than the format listed above. Christian apologists attempt to "prove" that logic, science and objective morality presupposes the Judeo-Christian worldview (while somehow excludes Islam, which is developed upon the same set(s) of worldview).
Problems with TAG
One of the most common problem Christian apologetics has is that the generalized formulation (i.e. the argument minus the holy book) does not specifically argue for any particular god(s). Usually this uniqueness issue is addressed through the use of the Bible, reducing the argument into "my book is holier than yours", or the circular arguments similar to other arguments for the existence of the Christian God.
Problems specific to TAG
The problem of morality
TAG argues that (objective) morality cannot exist without God. This raises the question: Since the apologist argues that there are differences between right and wrong, Are the differences solely based on God?
- If it is not, then said morality already exists without God.
- If it is, then the following problem arises:
- From God's perspective there is no difference between right and wrong (if there is, that part of morality exists without God), and it is no longer a meaningful statement to say that God is good or morally perfect.
- God has problems communicating the differences between right and wrong to anyone in an authentic manner.
Another question is: Does morality even exist?
The problem of knowledge
TAG argues that without God knowledge is impossible, which the explanation is the following:
- "How do you know <statement> is true?" can be applied to the explanation of something ad infinitum, so an infinite regress is created.
- God is used as the terminator of the infinite regress: the ability of God to terminate the infinite regress comes from His omnipotence.
- Therefore, God exists.
The problem with such argument is as follows:
- There are statements that are self-evident enough that infinite regress does not come up. Those are called Axioms. Knowledge that can be built from deductive reasoning are built based on them.
- An example may be the concept of cogito ergo sum by René Descartes.
- The proposition that God is sufficiently self-evident to be an axiom suffers from the uniqueness problem: If you need scripture to show that the self-evident God is your version of God, then it is not self-evident.
- If the point has been shifted to suggest that it's the Bible that is self-evident...
- If the termination comes from the omniscience of God, the problem is that God has problems communicating the knowledge to anyone in an authentic manner. If the revealed knowledge will go through validations afterwards, then:
Transcendental Argument for the Non-existence of God (TANG)
Logic presupposes that its principles are necessarily true. With TAG's argument, God created everything, including logic; or at least everything, including logic, is dependent on God. However, if logic is created by or contingent on God, it is not necessary--it is contingent on God. And if principles of logic are contingent on God, they are not logically necessary, and God can change them on God's fiat. Thus God can change the laws of identity to make them invalid at some point, making statements not the same as themselves. Since logic is contingent on God as one of His creations, to argue that God cannot change the laws of logic blows away God's omnipotence. As a result, the claim that logic is dependent on God is false.
Science presupposes Uniformitarianism. That is, that natural law has always operated as it operates at present and there has been no violations of such laws. However, Christianity also presupposes a version of God that gives miracles, which is by definition a direct violation of these laws. Therefore science presupposes the non-existence of any miracle-granting gods (God(s) that don't ever give miracles fall(s) into the category of Non-Overlapping Magisteria and are thus more compatible). If the argument is shifted that Uniformitarianism is false, then the entire scientific method (the prediction/experiment design/reproduce part) and subsequently science are to be discarded and it is no longer meaningful to say science presupposes god. In any case, this alternative is rather strongly undermined by the huge array of information science has allowed us to amass via uniformitarian assumptions.
- Main article: Divine command theory
If morality presupposes God, then the morality in question would be categorized as a variation of the divine command theory, in that moral obligations are dependent on the will of God. However, that runs in to the following problems:
- Which god(s): to argue that the scripture(s) of one particular religion is correct reduces the case to being, "My book is better than your book". To make the situation worse, all the scriptures give a somewhat different (albeit, broadly similar) list of moral obligations to follow, and the interpretation of the passages from the same scriptures can be different, as well. Since there is no rational way to reconcile the differences, without resorting to the argument of which book is correct, morality in this sense is not exactly objective.
- Since God allegedly created such morality, can God change it?
- If God can change it on his fiat, then morality is not objective.
- Such morality would never be objective anyway, because it wouldn't apply to God. For a morality to be objective, it would have to be uniformly applicable to all possible actors, at all possible times, in all possible contexts, which means it shouldn't even be possible, if objective morality exists, to imagine a species for which (for example) killing would be less wrong.
- If God cannot change what he had created, then God cannot be omnipotent.
As a result, the morality that presupposes God cannot be objective, and objective morality does not presuppose God.
How to refute a few basic TAG traps
A TAG apologist might make the following statement:
“”If Yahweh exists, He is therefore the arbiter of ultimate moral authority, by which we compare and contrast our own standard of ethics. Therefore, those who assert that God does not exist, cannot account for morality without being viciously circular; since to account for morality as an emergent property of our evolutionary heritage is to claim that our senses, reasoning and memory are valid according to their own standards of proof. How, then, can the atheist say that his or her subjective experiences are objectively valid if there is no absolute standard of morality against which to judge them? Therefore, even those who deny the existence of God, by virtue of the fact that they are nevertheless morally sound, demonstrate His basic existence.
The problem with this statement is multifaceted. Firstly, even if you could prove the basic existence of a specific god, it wouldn't necessarily follow that he/she/it is therefore the arbiter of absolute moral authority. Indeed, if the specific god which was proven to exist was indeed the god of the bible, Yahweh, any claim that He is therefore the arbiter of absolute morality would, by definition, mean that the biblical account of His various commandments to rape, murder and destroy those who do not believe in Him, is either a false account of His actual commandments or a perfectly accurate account of a deity which holds to a different standard of morality than any right-thinking human being.
Secondly, it is not true to say that an atheistic worldview cannot account for an absolute standard of morality. Indeed, the only reason such a black and white absolutist position on morality is invoked to begin with, is because it serves the purpose of theological thinking, not because it is a logically valid prerequisite. In reality, human ethics and morality are more nuanced. What is moral at one end of the scale and immoral at the other, does not mean that shades of grey cannot and do not exist in-between. Popular science author and neuroscientist Sam Harris has called this the moral landscape; peaks and troughs of behavior which are balanced between the needs and beliefs of the individual and the needs and beliefs of his or her fellow human beings; "Do not do to someone else, what you would not have them do to you" - Confucius, 500 BCE. In other words, morality isn't necessarily an objective and absolute code that is part of the universe's components, it could very well be a subjective concept / thought system based on humans' experience, reason, empathy etc. which continuously change, and vary for different civilizations.
Christian apologists, nevertheless, propagate and capitalize upon the notion that human morality is either absolutely sound or absolutely corrupt, precisely because it circumvents their own qualifying statement "if God exists" in the basic proposition of the TAG — to make the tonality of their overall proposal seem evenly balanced. But the use of the word "if" is extremely disingenuous. It makes the statement appear to be either true or false; that there are two equally likely possibilities as to the nature, character and basic existence of an absolute arbiter of morality on the table. But in proposing that X and Y can only stem from Z, it rules out the possibility that X and Y could also be an emergent property of A. Further, it characterizes A as being incapable of accounting for X and Y, because in actuality X and Y are only required in order to find in favor of the proposal that a god exists, not in order that its existence be disproved.
Playing the faith card
Consider by analogy, the following conversation:
- Person A: "Can you imagine, in your mind's eye, someone flying around this room without any obvious source of power?"
- Person B: "Yes. I have a vivid imagination and have seen many superhero movies."
- Person A: "I can fly around this room, simply by flapping my arms and legs."
- Person B: "This I've got to see! Prove it!"
- Person A: "First you must accept that, if I could fly, the laws of gravity would be therefore invalidated."
- Person B: "I can see how you might think that, but how do I know you're not wearing a hidden wire?"
- Person A: "You have to trust me; you have to accept that I am not cheating."
- Person B: "OK, for arguments sake, I'll trust you. Now, leap into the air, as promised."
- Person A: "As I have already explained, if I could fly, the laws of gravity would be invalidated. You, yourself, have already admitted that you can easily visualize what I would look like, were I to fly around the room unaided. Therefore, I can fly."
- Person B: "Seek medical advice."
- Person A: "You lack faith, even though (sic) the proof is now right in front of you. You're just close-minded, and I feel sorry for you."
There are many similar semantic word traps and circular reasoning built into TAG apologetics, of which the debating skeptic / positive agnostic / atheist, unfamiliar with the TAG modus operandi can easily fall foul. But, however the basic arguments of TAG apologetics are phrased, and however insistent the interlocutor is that it is actually the skeptic who needs to "open their mind", it is an inescapable fact that the TAG fails to pass the first basic test as to whether or not it constitutes a logically valid proposal, since it assumes the basic existence of that which its own claims are predicated upon, but which cannot be objectively demonstrated.