Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Transcendental Argument for God (Or More Commonly Known TAG)

The Transcendental Argument for God first presented by Immanuel Kant in his 1793 book 'The Only Possible Argument in Support of a Demonstration of the Existence of God'.  Kant's argument for the existence of God has been pretty much rejected, however Christian philosophers and apologists have continued to advance various versions of the Transcendental Argument for God.  

Transcendental Arguments for the existence of God, advance their argument by contending that  there are certain 'transcendent' aspects of reality (logic, mathematics, ethics and even science have all been posited for example). These things are taken to be transcendent due to the fact that it is claimed the transcend physical or observer based reality. The existence of such transcendent knowledge can only be explained by positing a God. The argument is generally considered a type of presuppositionalism and has been broadly rejected in most circles.   

However, the argument has received a lot of attention in the past couple of years. This can be mainly attributed to Christian apologist Matt Slick and his formulation of the Transcendental Argument for God which was thoroughly debated on the Atheist Experience Television Show. Of course Matt Slick contended that he won this debate with presenter Matt Dillahunty, such a conclusion is certainly dubious.

The argument presented by Matt Slick and CARM.org proceeds with the following premises: 

  1. Logical Absolutes. 
  2. Logical Absolutes are truth statements. 
  3. Logical Absolutes form the basis of rational discourse. 
  4. Logical Absolutes are transcedent.
  5. Logical Absolutes are not dependent on the material world. 
  6. Logical Absolutes are conceptual by nature. 
  7. Thoughts reflect the mind. 
Commonly atheists and those who have raised objections to the 5th, 6th and 7th premises of the argument. But I believe the argument can be objected to and thoroughly undermined much earlier. In this post I intend to object to the argument on several points to show that the argument thoroughly fails to prove the existence of God. To do this I am going to thoroughly examine each of the premises the argument relies on. 

1. Logical Absolutes 
The first premise of the argument simply states that logical absolutes exist and the longer complete version displayed on the CARM page offers up the three rules of formal Aristotelian logic. It should be pointed out that Aristotelian logic has been far surpassed by modern predicate logic, though this doesn't necessarily undermine the Transcendental Argument for God.  

The three rules of classic Aristotelian logic are as follows: 
  • The Law of Identity 
  • The Law of Non-Contradiction
  • The Law of the Excluded Middle 
It's interesting that Matt Slick describes these as Logical Absolutes, rather than describing as tautologies or as the Aristotelian laws of logic. Describing them as logical absolutes is clearly intended to tacitly bring in the idea that these statements some how transcend reality. But I am more than happy to grant their argument the above logical absolutes.

 A extra note and important point: The Law of Identity used in the particular formulation by CARM explicitly endorses a type Platonism by stating that something that exists has a specific nature. 

Think of the world chair, does chair have a specific nature? You may want to say answer in the affirmative. We say many things are chairs and good legitimately use the word chair to describe chair like natural objects. Imagine a large rock which you can sit on and lean back into.

2. Logical absolutes are truth statements 
The above premise is bizarrely worded, what I really think they are trying to get across is that logical absolutes are true statements which are objectively true and can neither be false. This again we pretty much to have to accept, but I think it's important to point that while they are necessarily true they are at the same time vacuous.  

Consider the following sentences: 
  • Dogs eat bones.
  • If dogs eat bones, then dogs eat bones. 
The first sentence (which happens to be true) is capable of being shown to be true or false, even if it may be difficult to formulate a hypothesis to test in order to verify such a vague claim. The second statement, is true regardless of any empirical observation and is merely a tautology. It is possible to say of the second sentence and of all logical propositions that they are necessarily true. However what is the price for being absolutely true as such? Well that comes at a very high cost namely that such propositions lack any content. 

To quote Wittgenstein 'But in fact all the propositions of logic say the same thing, to wit nothing' (Wittgenstein 1921:5.43) Such a view was developed in explicit rejection of Bertrand Russell's logical Platonism at the time. The view was that logical propositions were statements about logical objects. For Russell, logical objects were impossible to define and we must therefore become acquainted with them through 'logical experience'.(Russelll) Such a view is clearly problematic and I feel that the CARM argument can be brought into question on this point, it seems clear to me that the argument is relying on a type of logical Platonism. The rest of the argument from this point on depends on the truth of logical Platonism without having shown the truth of such a controversial position. This is something that becomes very clear in premise 3. 

3. Logical Absolutes form the basis of rational discourse 
The argument takes the fact that logical absolutes are necessarily true to show that they must themselves underpin rational discourse. This is justified in the following way: 'For example, I could say that a square is a circle (violating the law of identity), or that I am and am not alive in the same sense at the same time (violating the law of non-contradiction)'. However you can't state that a square is a circle, but this is not because logical absolutes are transcendent it is rather down to linguistic convention. Anyone who has a clear understanding of what a circle is  cannot say that it is at the same time is a square, if someone were to do so it would be because they didn't have an adequate understanding of the concepts involved. Some statements preclude the possibility of other statements for example saying during a game of chess that a pawn is on 'a4' precludes the possibility of their being a knight on 'a4'. The reason certain statements are absolute is down to the linguistic conventions that govern them and something that any English speaker should be able to see and claiming that logical absolutes form the basic of rational discourse seems to be obviously false. It is rather the common linguistic conventions shared among speakers of a language that allow for rational discourse. 

4. Logical Absolutes are not dependent on the material world 
This is the point where I believe the argument totally collapses, the 4th premise follows only from the others if we accept the doctrine of logical Platonism. As I believe there are good reasons for not accepting such a doctrine or one similar, I believe we also have good reasons in rejecting CARM's Transcendental argument for the existence of God. 

Matt Slicks' TAG Argument attempts to argue from logical absolutes (tautologies) to the existence of a God. Logical absolutes (tautologies) however while always true are vacuous of content and in Wittgenstein's terminology say 'to wit nothing'. Logical absolutes (tautologies) are dependent on both our linguistic conventions and the nature of the world and purely analytic statements. To hold that Logical absolutes were not dependent on the material world one would have to embrace a form of logical Platonism.

No comments:

Post a Comment