The transcendental argument for the existence of God is the argument that attempts to prove God’s existence by arguing that logic, morals, and science ultimately presuppose the theistic worldview and that God’s transcendent character is the source of logic and morals. The transcendental argument for the existence of God argues that without the existence of God it is impossible to prove anything because, in the atheistic world, you cannot justify or account for universal laws.
For the Christian and other theists, there is a transcendent standard for reasoning.
Of course, I expect that champions of TAG would deny this equation. That’s fine, and in fact I would hope that they would, for that would suggest some respect for the distinction between reality and fantasy. But I firmly put the onus on the believer then. I challenge the believer to explain how I can reliably distinguish between what he calls “transcendent” and what may in fact merely be imaginary, especially if it’s supposed to reside outside the universe, so that the belief stated here (namely “there is a transcendent standard for reasoning”) as the believer informs it can be considered with any credibility whatsoever. Lacking that, then I think he’s off to a bad start.
The article states:
As the laws of logic are reduced to being materialistic entities, they cease to possess their law-like character.Is there a difference between saying that something is “reduced to being a materialistic entity” on the one hand, and saying that something is “a materialistic entity” on the other? I ask because it seems that the addition of the notion of “reduced to” is either unnecessary or worse – adding confusion. For the very next sentence reads as follows:
But the laws of logic are not comprised of matter; they apply universally and at all times.
Now the article does say that the laws of logic “apply universally and at all times.” It’s hard to take such a statement seriously, however, when it is made in the context of defending a worldview which involves belief in an all-powerful being which is said to have created the universe to begin with as well as other supernatural beings, rests on faith in revelations, affirms the reality of miracles, etc. Then again, if defenders of such a worldview make vague appeals to the laws of logic in their defenses and never bother to provide a listing of what those laws might be (perhaps that list would be found in the Book of Ruth or the Epistle to the Galatians?), they give themselves a higher chance of getting away with such ironic incongruities as the apparent affirmation of logic on the one hand and belief in supernaturalism on the other.
From the Objectivist perspective, however, I can “make sense” of the laws of logic as unalterable principles which “apply universally and at all times” in a manner wholly consistent with my fundamental metaphysics. Objectivism begins with the recognition that existence exists and also explicitly observes the fact that existence exists independent of conscious activity. On this view, the realm of existence is not a product of conscious activity; rather, conscious activity is the means by which we discover and identify the realm of existence. We’ve all heard the adage “wishing doesn’t make it so.” I would think that most theists would agree with the observation that reality does not conform to one’s wishing and may even go so far as to understand that a reliable system of logic in which its principles “apply universally and at all times” would be wholly incompatible with a metaphysical view which holds that wishing does make it so. But then how can we accept the notion that the laws of logic “presuppose the theistic worldview”? For the theistic worldview explicitly teaches that essentially wishing does make it so. How else did the Christian god create the universe if it did not essentially wish it into being? How does any thing in the world have the identity it has if the Christian god did not essentially wish it to be what it is? How else does the Christian god ordain the course of human history if it does not essentially wish human events to lead to certain predetermined outcomes? How did Jesus cure the lame, still storms and walk on water if not essentially by bringing reality under submission to his wishes?
Objectivism also has a theory of concepts which explains how and why concepts – including logical principles – “apply universally and at all times.” Concepts are the human mind’s means of differentiating, integrating and retaining the objects one perceives in the world. I would think that even the most devout theists would agree that differentiating, integrating and retaining the objects one perceives in mental form are important functions of the human mind, indeed fundamental to the questions of what logic is and why logical principles might “apply universally and at all times.” But what would a specifically theistic account of how the human mind does this look like? I’ve searched all my translations of the Christian bible and I’m sad to report that I have found no discussion of this fundamental epistemological matter anywhere in its many, many pages. It devotes entire passages to topics such as animal sacrifice, circumcision, prostitution, war, revenge, shame, temptation, obedience, etc. But the fundamental workings of the human mind? Similarly, I have searched the Koran, the Book of Mormon and other religious writings for an informed discussion on this matter, and likewise came up empty. The Christian bible has nothing unique to offer when it comes to the basics of human epistemology. So apparently, we human beings are on our own when it comes to discovering and understanding the fundamental cognitive operations of our own minds. That makes me very thankful for Objectivism, for at least it explains how concepts are formed and how they relate to the objects we find in the world.
Concepts are of critical importance here, since concepts are universal categories. The concept ‘man’, for example, includes all men who exist now, who have existed in the past, and who will exist in the future. Similarly, the concept ‘shoe’ includes every shoe which exists now, every shoe which has existed in the past, and every shoe which will exist in the future. The scope of a concept’s reference is exhaustive and not confined to time or place, since time and place are omitted measurements. It is because of this exhaustive scope of reference that we need to apply qualifiers in order to narrow our intended meaning in real-time language use. I might say, for example, that the man whom I saw at the bank yesterday was extremely tall (my guestimate is that he was pushing 6’8”!). The subordinate clause “whom I saw at the bank yesterday” is necessary to distinguish the individual I have in mind from all others of the same category. The universality of concepts, then, is key to any analysis of the nature of the laws of logic and explaining why they “apply universally and at all times.” But in every defense of TAG that I have investigated (and going back to the 1990s, that’s quite a few!), the conceptual nature of logic is never considered. (For more on this, see here.)
The article goes on to say:
The laws of logic are contingent upon God’s unchanging nature and are necessary for deductive reasoning.
But supposing it’s the case that the theist has no “direct” argument for the existence of his god (some apologists make the case that only an “indirect proof” is possible for this; for example, see here), and taking this circuitous route of trying to finagle a vindication of his god-belief by artificially underwriting the laws of logic with theistic notions is the only route open to him, what exactly would be the argument for the conclusion that “the laws of logic are contingent upon God’s unchanging nature”? If what logic needs is (a) universality and (b) an unchanging standard, why suppose that theism supplies either of these? As I pointed out above, it is by means of concepts that we can grasp universal truths (meaning: we don’t need to go outside the universe to account for universality as such), and the fact that existence exists is both fundamental and unchanging. Moreover, the orientation between ourselves as conscious subjects and the objects of our awareness is also unchanging: wishing will never make it so because existence exists independent of consciousness. But all of these factors, critical to an informed understanding of the nature of logic as they are, are systematically undermined and denied by a theistic worldview, which is ultimately premised on wishing makes it so. So the entire enterprise of TAG is doomed from the start.
The article then states:
The invariability, sovereignty, transcendence, and immateriality of God are the foundation for the laws of logic.
Functionally, the statement above appears to be just another way of saying “the laws of logic are contingent upon God’s unchanging nature,” so it does nothing to support the previous affirmation. It’s just repeating it using different words. So, irony of ironies, following up with the conclusion, “Thus, rational reasoning would be impossible without the biblical God,” is not logically warranted.
What’s also nowhere explained is how the human mind is supposed to have access to what is called “God” throughout TAG. Apologists often like to pepper non-believers with “How do you know?” questions. Here’s an opportunity for the theist to explain how he knows. Clearly we are supposed to have some idea of what is meant by “God.” But to have an idea of something that corresponds to what actually exists, one needs objective inputs from reality to inform his conceptions and a reliable method of validation. What objective inputs does TAG offer in this regard, and by what means are we all supposed to identify those inputs as belonging to what TAG styles “God”? If TAG took into account the way in which the human mind operates in acquiring and validating knowledge (see here for some important pointers), I would think that a good version of TAG would anticipate such questions. But in my experience, this treatment of TAG is all too typical in that it ignores the needs of man’s cognitive limitations while tacitly allowing the imagination to assume psychological primacy over reason. Consider: What safeguards does TAG have in place in order to prevent a thinker from mistaking what he imagines for what TAG seeks to conclude?
But I don’t think any of this is an accident per se. Rather, I suspect that this is a consequence of what lies at the heart of any religious worldview, namely that objective input has no binding role in informing any idea of “the supernatural,” whether it’s the Christian god or animistic spirits. On the contrary, the source informing such notions is imagination, which readily accounts for the enormous variety of religious beliefs, sectarian differences, ritualistic practices, etc. Nothing in nature, for example, tells us that swallowing a cracker is equivalent to consuming the flesh of a divine being, but at least one interpretation of a fantasy-based narrative does!
So far, I think my analysis of TAG is on target. If understanding the laws of logic and why they “apply universality and at all times” were truly important, why is it that TAG does not explain how conceptual integration presupposes theism? Why is it that TAG does not anticipate the question of how an honest thinker can reliably distinguish between “God” and what is merely imaginary? Why does TAG not explain how the human mind can discover and validate theism’s god-belief claims without granting primacy to imagination over objective input?
If one’s understanding of logic is rather unsophisticated and ultimately informed by a storybook worldview, as the TAG enthusiast’s apparently is, then I can see how something like TAG might have gravitational attraction for him. As such, it is essentially a variant of a god-of-the-gaps approach to theistic defense. To wit: “How do you account for logic?” “I donno! Must be there’s a god!” Anyone satisfied with TAG’s approach and intended conclusion might want to do a little more investigation on the matter.
The article does consider a few responses that atheists might raise against TAG, but none of them take into consideration the points I raised above. Rather, the article goes after the low-hanging fruit one might expect from philosophically undernourished thinkers.
For example, the article provides the following:
The atheist might respond, “Well, I can use the laws of logic, and I am an atheist.” But this argument is illogical. Logical reasoning requires the existence of a transcendent and immaterial God, not a profession of belief in Him. The atheist can reason, but within his own worldview his reasoning cannot rationally be accounted for.
The article here distinguishes between logic requiring the existence of a god as opposed to requiring profession of belief in one. That’s an important distinction for defenders of TAG themselves to keep in mind, especially if they also state that logic presupposes a particular worldview, which is a set of beliefs as opposed to a set of metaphysical conditions which obtain independently of anyone’s beliefs. But this latter distinction in itself points to the orientation I noted above, namely the distinction between ourselves as knowing subjects and the objects of our awareness, the orientation which Objectivism identifies as the primacy of existence. I have argued that theism is inherently subjective and thus incompatible with the very distinction that the article wants to enlist in charging the would-be atheist with illogical reasoning. My experience has been that, when theists are made aware of these fundamental distinctions and how wrong their theistic worldview gets them, they do not self-correct but rather double-down on their false worldview. Consequently, I admit that I’m at least a bit skeptical that their defense’s ostensive concern for logic, morals and science is truly genuine.
The article addresses another stock objection which few serious thinkers would likely ever make:
If the laws of logic are merely manmade contentions [conventions?], then different cultures could adopt different laws of logic. In that case, the laws of logic would not be universal laws. Rational debate would be impossible if the laws of logic were conventional, because the two parties could simply adopt different laws of logic. Each would be correct according to his own arbitrary standard.
But it is interesting that the article expresses the worry that “different cultures could adopt different laws of logic.” Again, note the lack of self-awareness here. Central to the biblical worldview’s precepts is the notion of atonement for sins, and according to biblical “logic” this is achieved by means of blood sacrifice. The practice of ritualistically slaughtering a lamb and draining its blood somehow absolves a person – or even a whole community – of “past sins.” But what logical connection the death of a biological organism has to a spiritual matter such as guilt is stubbornly nebulous. An article on gotquestions.org devoted to addressing the question What are the various theories on the atonement? lists no less than nine different theories to explain this. But I have yet to meet a Christian who would be on board with going out and killing a sheep instead of prosecuting a guilty party for his crimes in a court of law. Indeed, what Christian can explain the “logic” of the doctrine of the Trinity? So again, the concern here does not seem to be very aware of what is being advocated.
The article entertains yet another misfire objection:
If the atheist argues that the laws of logic are simply the product of electro-chemical impulses in the brain, then the laws of logic cannot be regarded as universal. What happens inside your brain cannot be regarded as a law, for it does not necessarily correspond to what happens in another person’s brain. In other words, we could not argue that logical contradictions cannot occur in a distant galaxy, distinct from conscious observers.
At any rate, as should be clear, I do not argue “that the laws of logic are simply the product of electro-chemical impulses in the brain.” But again, such a view is more than we’ll ever find in the Christian bible, which nowhere supplies an informed discussion of logic.
Yet another would-be objection to TAG is considered:
One common response is, “We can use the laws of logic because they have been observed to work.” However, this is to miss the point. All agree that the laws of logic work, but they work because they are true. The real issue is, how can the atheist account for absolute standards of reasoning like the laws of logic?
I “account for the absolute standard of reasoning like the laws of logic” by referring to the axioms, the objective theory of concepts, and the primacy of existence. Apologists have not brought any informed objections to this approach to the matter (the gotquestions.org article certainly does not consider this objection). In fact, I would like to see how the theist can account for logic without assuming the truth of the axioms (which his worldview systematically denies), without making use of concepts (which his worldview cannot explain), and without at least performatively granting the primacy of existence (which is wholly incompatible with theism). Notice that my “account” does not style the laws of logic as conventions or treat them as “electro-chemical impulses in the brain,” nor does it miss the point by appealing to pragmatic concerns which reduce to habit, custom, cultural mores, etc. In fact, unlike the theistic treatment, my approach goes directly to the heart of the matter, beginning with the unalterable fact that existence exists, taking into account the proper orientation between reality and consciousness, adducing the conceptual nature of logic as a central issue in accounting for logic, and also showing how the theistic worldview cannot have any bearing on the matter.
The article does not equip defenders of TAG for the approach I have outlined above and defended at length on my blog. But whoever wrote it apparently believed that the following question apparently deserves a place in it:
Why does the material universe feel compelled to obey immaterial laws?
It goes on to state:
Moreover, the appeal to the past to make such deductions concerning the way matter will behave in the future—from the materialistic point of view—is circular.
Next the article states:
Indeed, in the past, matter has conformed to uniformity. But how can one know that uniformity will persist in the future unless one has already assumed that the future reflects the past (i.e., uniformity)?
What implications does this have for TAG? Well, they’re not very good. It can only mean that TAG’s commitment to theism systemically undercuts its own aims by challenging non-theists to “account for” for a concept fundamental to science and yet metaphysically incompatible with theism. Either wishing makes it so, or it doesn’t. The objective view is that wishing does not make it so because existence holds metaphysical primacy over consciousness. By contrast, theism assumes the metaphysical primacy of consciousness and thus performatively undermines any attempt to debate the issue.
The article continues:
To use one’s past experience as a premise upon which to build one’s expectations for the future is to presuppose uniformity and logic. Thus, when the atheist claims to believe that there will be uniformity in the future since there has been uniformity in the past, he is trying to justify uniformity by presupposing uniformity, which is to argue in a circle.
As with other false dichotomies, this one overlooks at least one alternative. This would be the view that understands uniformity essentially to be the concurrence of identity with existence, which seals our grasp of uniformity at the level of the axioms. A human being only needs to learn this once – just as once one grasps the principle of object permanence, he doesn’t have to continue experimenting to see if objects really do continue to exist even though they disappear from one’s immediate range of vision (such as a ball rolling under a couch). Thereafter it’s primarily a matter of application. But it is the task of philosophy to make this implicit recognition explicit: Existence exists (that’s the axiom of existence), and since to exist is to be something specific (that’s the axiom of identity – A is A, a thing is itself; if A exists, it must be A), then this principle applies universally – and uniformly - to all of existence. This means that uniformity is something that consciousness discovers in nature, not a product which consciousness dreams up and imposes on nature.
Notice that this approach does not fall into the trap which ensnares theism, for it explicitly adheres to the primacy of existence principle: wishing doesn’t make it so, and the uniformity of nature is not a result of wishing. Nor does it seek to validate the recognition that nature is uniform by appealing to past instances as justification for assuming similar instances in the future. Indeed, this approach is fully at home with the recognition that both time and place are omitted measurements, meaning that specification neither of points in time nor of locations is essential to formulating the concept to begin with. Because it is always now and because the concept of the uniformity of nature is a direct corollary of the axioms of existence and identity, universality – i.e., the application of uniformity to all locations and all points in time – is naturally implicit in even the most primitive grasp of this concept. This is why it’s unreasonable to expect an argument to prove that nature is uniform, just as we do not need an argument to prove that existence exists or that A is A. Argumentation is a mental project which seeks to validate a higher-level item of knowledge by explicitly identifying its conceptual ties to more basic knowledge, ultimately grounded at the axiomatic level of cognition. This of course would not be possible without concepts, and concepts would not be possible without the concurrence of the law of identity with all of existence. A disuniform reality would be a reality in which some existents have identity while other existents do not. We do not find such opposite phenomena in reality. The notion of an existent without identity would be a contradiction in terms at the most fundamental level, and there’s no reason to accept such a notion, nor is there any need to justify rejecting it once it’s proposed – it disproves itself.
The article comes to a close with the following final remarks:
To conclude, the transcendental argument for the existence of God argues that atheism is self-refuting because the atheist must presuppose the opposite of what he is attempting to prove in order to prove anything. It argues that rationality and logic make sense only within a theistic framework. Atheists have access to the laws of logic, but they have no foundation upon which to base their deductive reason within their own paradigm.
If on the other hand the goal is to argue “that rationality and logic make sense only within a theistic framework,” why is TAG not upfront about theism’s inherently subjective metaphysics (cf. wishing makes it so) and why don’t its defenders make an effort to demonstrate how rationality and logic are even possible on the basis of a metaphysics of wishing makes it so? The claim that rationality and logic must have a theistic basis would mean that rationality and logic would have to be compatible with the fantasy-world described in religious texts, where supernatural beings can pop in and out of locations, assume various shapes, manipulate objects by conscious intentions, wish things into existence, command natural forces to rise up and go away, etc. But we do not find defenders of TAG doing anything of the sort. It is as though they wanted to keep the supernatural aspects of their worldview out of view while emphasizing qualities which only at a most superficial level can be portrayed as having any relevance – e.g., the “transcendent,” the “immaterial,” the “immutable,” etc. But an informed probing of these qualities reveals that TAG is essentially a means of hijacking otherwise valid philosophical concepts and presenting them as things they are not.
TAG enthusiasts should consider the question: Do logic, morality and science presuppose an imaginary standard? If they answer no, then they need to abandon TAG. If they think the main thrust of TAG is compatible with an objective standard, then clearly they have compartmentalized their worldview commitment on the one hand and their feigned concern for logic, morality and science on the other and are thus simply not being honest on the matter. A fractured mind cannot serve as a reliable source of information on such important topics as logic, morality and science.
by Dawson Bethrick