Transcendental Argument for the non-existence of God (TANG)

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Puritan Board Junior
I just read the Transcendental Argument for the Non-existence of God (by Michael Martin, a professor at Boston University). I haven't read Frame's correspondence with Martin, so I don't know what Frame's objections to TANG are yet, but I've included TANG below and my objections afterwards. I'd appreciate any thoughts on TANG and my objections (if they are legitimate). It was way too easy to refute Martin's article, which leads me to wonder if my refutations aren't valid. Anyway, if anyone wants to read and give me some feedback it would be appreciated!

[This article originally appeared in the Autumn 1996 issue of The New Zealand Rationalist & Humanist.]

Some Christian philosophers have made the incredible argument that logic, science and morality presuppose the truth of the Christian world view because logic, science and morality depend on the truth of this world view [1]. Advocates call this argument the Transcendental Argument for Existence of God and I will call it TAG for short. In what follows I will not attempt to refute TAG directly. Rather I will show how one can argue exactly the opposite conclusion, namely, that logic, science and morality presuppose the falsehood of the Christian world view or at least the falsehood of the interpretation of his world view presupposed by TAG. I will call this argument the Transcendental Argument for the Non Existence of God or TANG for short.

If TANG is a sound argument, then obviously TAG is not, for it is logically impossible that there be two sound arguments with contradictory conclusions. On the other hand, if TANG is unsound, it does not follow that TAG is sound. After all, both arguments could be unsound. Perhaps, logic, science, and objective morality are possible given either a Christian or a nonChristian world view. In any case, the presentation of TANG will provide an indirect challenge to TAG and force its advocates to defend their position. The burden will be on them to refute TANG. Unless they do, TAG is doomed.

How might TANG proceed? Consider logic. Logic presupposes that its principles are necessarily true. However, according to the brand of Christianity assumed by TAG, God created everything, including logic; or at least everything, including logic, is dependent on God. But if something is created by or is dependent 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. Moreover, if principles of logic are contingent on God, God could change them. Thus, God could make the law of non-contradiction false; in other words, God could arrange matters so that a proposition and its negation were true at the same time. But this is absurd. How could God arrange matters so that New Zealand is south of China and that New Zealand is not south of it? So, one must conclude that logic is not dependent on God, and, insofar as the Christian world view assumes that logic so dependent, it is false.

Consider science. It presupposes the uniformity of nature: that natural laws govern the world and that there are no violations of such laws. However, Christianity presupposes that there are miracles in which natural laws are violated. Since to make sense of science one must assume that there are no miracles, one must further assume that Christianity is false. To put this in a different way: Miracles by definition are violations of laws of nature that can only be explained by God's intervention. Yet science assumes that insofar as an event as an explanation at all, it has a scientific explanation -- one that does not presuppose God [2]. Thus, doing, science assumes that the Christian world view is false.

Consider morality. The type of Christian morality assumed by TAG is some version of the Divine Command Theory, the view that moral obligation is dependent on the will of God. But such a view is incompatible with objective morality. On the one hand, on this view what is moral is a function of the arbitrary will of God; for instance, if God wills that cruelty for its own sake is good, then it is. On the other hand, determining the will of God is impossible since there are different alleged sources of this will (The Bible, the Koran, The Book of Mormon, etc) and different interpretations of what these sources say; moreover; there is no rational way to reconcile these differences. Thus, the existence of an objective morality presupposes the falsehood of the Christian world view assumed by TAG.

There are, of course, ways to avoid the conclusions of TANG. One way is to reject logic, science and objective morality. Another is to maintain belief in God but argue that logic, science and morality are not dependent on God's existence. However, the first way is self-defeating since Christian apologists use logic to defend their position and the second way presumes that TAG is invalid since it assumes that logic, science, and morality do not assume God's existence. Finally, one can object to particular aspects of TANG, for example, the claim that there is no rational way to reconcile different interpretations of the Bible. However, this tack would involve a detailed defence of TAG -- something that has yet to be provided.

Michael Martin is Professor of Philosophy at Boston University.


[1] The primary advocate of this argument in contemporary thought is the Christian apologist Greg Bahnsen. For exchanges between Douglas Jones, a follower of Bahnsen, and Keith Parsons and me, see Douglas Jones, The Futility of Non-Christian Thought, Antithesis, Vol II, July/August, 1991, pp 40-42, Keith Parsons, Is Non-Christian Thought Futile? Antithesis, Vol II July/August, 1991, pp 42-44, Michael Martin, Is a Non-Christian Worldview Futile? Antithesis, Vol II, July/August 1991, pp. 44-46. See also Jones' response in Antithesis, Vol II, July/August 1991, pp 46-47.

[2] This is compatible with the view that certain microevents are undetermined and, thus, have no explanation scientific or otherwise.


My refutation of his points:


In the first point, Martin says that if the laws of logic are contingent on God, then God could change the laws of logic. In other words, God could make it so that New Zealand is south of China and New Zealand is not south of China. He then says, "But this is absurd." Why is it absurd? What basis does he have for evaluating the absurdity of such a notion? Surely, by the law of non-contradiction. But this in no way refutes the idea that God could change the laws of logic. It simply shows that Martin adheres to such a law, and thinks it absurd that such a law could change. In effect, he is saying, "God could not change the laws of logic because that idea is absurd," which establishes nothing at all. Of course, it is absurd that N.Z. could be south of China and north of China, within the system of logic that we live by. If God changed the laws of logic so that such a thing is no longer a contradiction, then it would no longer be absurd!

Martin says that since the Christian worldview includes the existence of miracles (i.e. discontinuity), science actually needs to presuppose the untruth of the Christian worldview in order to be effective. However, miracles were never a freak occurence, but occured for a reason. God never used miracles to deceive. The existence of miracles in no way undermines science. If it were the case that God made random miracles happen, at random times, for random purposes, then science would have a problem. But that is certainly not the case. God gave us the command to know our world and subdue it, which would be impossible if such a thing were true. In other words, God's desire to perform miracles and his desire for us to know and subdue creation do not conflict. The bible does not give that impression in any way. Van Til addressed this and showed that miracles aren't a problem for science (can't find where at the moment, but I know I've read that).

Regarding morality, Martin says that it could not be objective, since it is a function of the arbitrary will of God. Well, call morality subjective for God if you like, but it still remains objective for His creation. We live under the moral system that God has established, it does not matter whether you call morality on God's level subjective or objective. Also, it sounds like Martin presupposes that there is a morality that transcends God. If such is not true, however, God remains the ultimate moral judge and even though morality is determined by the "arbitrary" will of God, it remains objective as the foundation on which morality is established. Call morality subjective if you want, since it has its foundation in the creator, but that does not imply that morality is subjective for the creation, since God never changes. Martin presupposes that all religious sources (The Bible, Koran, Book of Mormon) are all legitimate, and thus since their moralities conflict, morality is subjective. He also says that since there are various interpretations of the morality of the bible, morality is subjective. I think this ignores the plain fact that people can be WRONG in their interpretations of God's morality! (It's called sin!)

Thanks to all who read and comment! :) :banana:

Puritan Sailor

Puritan Board Doctor
[quote:ac095ad411][i:ac095ad411]Originally posted by Paul manata[/i:ac095ad411]
Martin also has an objective standard for morality. He bases it (somewhat) of Frith's Ideal Observer Theory (IOE). [/quote:ac095ad411]
What is this theory? I've never heard of it before.


Puritan Board Sophomore
Another point I don't think you touched on is the inherant phenomenality of existence. Post Hegel everything is phenomenal in contemporary thought. Einsteins relativity theory and the Heisenberg uncertainty principle were all rather affirmative in casting doubt on scientific knowledge claims. There is then an inherant unknowability that exists when one denies God and God's revelation to man. Without an infinite perspective their can be no standard to judge knowledge hence every waking breath for covenanted and unconvenanted persons is miraculous and phenomenal unless it can be rooted in the objective standard of God's truth.

Puritan Sailor

Puritan Board Doctor
Thanks for the explanation Paul. I agree with your criticisms too. Why would he need an objective observer anyway? Sounds like the feeble attempts of an unbeliever to pacify his guilty conscience.

Puritan Sailor

Puritan Board Doctor
There is so much nonsense out there. Do you ever get overwhelmed or depressed when confronting so many different arguments?

Puritan Sailor

Puritan Board Doctor
Here was my response to TANG on another thread a while back.
[quote:5c54c0e87e] [i:5c54c0e87e]Originally posted by Paul manata [/i:5c54c0e87e]
michael martin has written a paper trying to counter the transcendnental argument. (funny how he did it after Bahnsen died, things that make you go hmmmm....maybe Gary North was correct, "now that bahnsen is dead, everyone will want to debate him.)
Thankfully, Bahnsen doesn't have to be around to refute this nonsense. By, nonsense I don't mean an ad hom attack on Martin, but that he contradicts himself in the argument. He tries to assume the Christian worldview to show how the laws of logic would fail.

"Moreover, if principles of logic are contingent on God, God could change them."

This is the point in his argument where he departs from the Christian worldview, therefore destroying his whole endeavor to prove logic fails in the Christian worldview. In the Christian worldview, God doesn't change the laws of logic.

He tries the same in his argument for morality failing in the Christian worldview.

"On the other hand, determining the will of God is impossible since there are different alleged sources of this will (The Bible, the Koran, The Book of Mormon, etc) and different interpretations of what these sources say; moreover; there is no rational way to reconcile these differences."

Again, he abandons the Christian worldview (which states only the Bible is the source of God's revealed system of morality) thereby undermining his whole argument that morality fails in a Christian worldview.
On his paragraph on science, he never even attempts to assume the Christian worldview, but assumes the "science" worldview. So he can't prove his point either with this.
So his conclusion is based on faulty premises and is therefore false. [/quote:5c54c0e87e]

[Edited on 5-15-2004 by puritansailor]
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