Transcendental argument for the existence of God

Transcendental argument for the existence of God

The Transcendental Argument for the existence of God (TAG) is an argument for the existence of God that attempts to show that logic, science, ethics (and generally every fact of human experience and knowledge) are not meaningful apart from a preconditioning belief in the existence of God. A version was formulated by Immanuel Kant in his 1763 work "The Only Possible Argument in Support of a Demonstration of the Existence of God". A version is also commonly used in presuppositional apologetics and is considered by some apologists to be the most persuasive argument.

Transcendental reasoning

Transcendental arguments should not be confused with transcendent arguments, or arguments for the existence of something transcendent. In other words, they are distinct from both, arguments that appeal to a transcendent intuition or sense as evidence (Fideism), and arguments that move from direct evidence to the existence of a transcendent thing (Classical Apologetics).

They are also distinct from standard deductive and inductive 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, Critique of Pure Reason, 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. R. L. Dabney describes the concept:

Cornelius Van Til 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 God of the Bible, being completely logical, uniform, and good, exhibits a character in the created order and the creatures themselves (especially in humans), human knowledge and experience are possible. This reasoning implies that all other worldviews (such as atheism, Buddhism, and Islam), when followed to their logical conclusions, descend into absurdity, arbitrariness or inconsistency.

One aspect of the TAG regards moral absolutes. 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, and commands them to do so. People then have an absolute standard of morality by which to condemn evil thoughts and actions (or to commend good ones).

The argument furthers states that moral relativists, by contrast, cannot condemn theft, rape or genocide (nor commend generosity, marriage, or the preservation of life) without relying on the assumption of absolute 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 of the TAG

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 and Cornelius Van Til. John Frame, a student of Van Til, has endorsed this objection.

Another objection is that the TAG does not provide a uniqueness proof: even if the TAG can prove God's existence, it doesn't prove that of the Christian god—any sufficiently similar god, such as Allah, would do. John Warwick Montgomery presented this objection in the article "Once upon an A Priori ...", presented in Van Til's festschrift, "Jerusalem and Athens".

Another objection claims that the TAG moves from conceptual necessity to necessary existence. This criticism argues that proving the conceptual necessity of a worldview doesn't establish its ontological reality. In other words: one may need to "think about" the world in a certain way in order to make sense of one's experience and knowledge, but that doesn't prove that the world actually "is" that way. David P. Hoover has raised this objection in his article "For the Sake of Argument".

Another objection claims that the TAG uses circular reasoning: the TAG assumes, from the beginning, what it intends to establish by its conclusion (namely, the existence of God).

Others suggest that TAG is a variation of the Ontological argument, which was originally employed by the Archbishop of Canterbury in the 11th century, which abandons standard evidential requirements in favor of employing logic itself to suggest that for something intangible to be recognized, it must exist in some form.

Defenses of the TAG

Van Til himself didn't directly attempt to answer any of the criticisms of the TAG noted above. Greg Bahnsen has offered a defense against all of them in various places in his literature and media, however he never attempted to answer all of them in one place. Michael Butler published a chapter in Bahnsen's festschrift, "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 popular 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:

#Internal consistency — "The statements made by the worldview do not contradict one another or otherwise lead to internal contradictions." Logical Positivism 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. Another example is the claim by moral relativists that absolutes do not exist, which is itself an absolute claim.
#Arbitrariness — "The statements must not be believed simply out of convenience, tradition, or prejudice." Mormonism fails this test with its claim that the truth of Mormonism is known due to a subjective, positive feeling — a claim that any adherent of any worldview could make.

In argumentation, apologists will attempt to demonstrate that only the Christian worldview satisfies these conditions and is therefore coherent. However, 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, such a charge is without warrant, as it fails to consider that the standards are derived from the epistemological authority of Christianity, The Bible. The preconditions of intelligibility are determined by Scripture not by autonomous human reasoning.

ee also

*Christian apologetics
*Argument from morality (Some forms of which are TAGs)
*Transcendental Argument for the Non-existence of God


*E. R. Geehan, ed., "Jerusalem and Athens: Critical Discussions on the Philosophy and Apologetics of Cornelius Van Til" (Phillipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1980).
*Greg L. Bahnsen, "Van Til's Apologetic: Readings and Analysis" (Phillipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1998).
*John M. Frame, "Cornelius Van Til: An Analysis of His Thought" (Phillipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1995).
*Steven M. Schlissel, ed., "The Standard Bearer: A Festschrift for Greg L. Bahnsen" (Nacogdoches: Covenant Media Press, 2002).
*Greg L. Bahnsen, "Always Ready: Directions for Defending the Faith". Robert R. Booth, ed. (Nacogdoches: Covenant Media Press, 1996).
*John M. Frame, "Apologetics to the Glory of God: An Introduction" (Phillipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1994).
*John M. Frame, "The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God" (Phillipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1987).

External links


* [ Top ten arguments for the existence of God]
* [ Responses to Atheist Philosopher, Michael Martin]
* [ Naturalism Defeated] A recent transcendental argument by Alvin Plantinga.
* [ Derrida, Van Til and the Metaphysics of Postmodernism] An appraisal of Postmodernism, specifically Deconstruction, in light of Van Til by Jacob Gabriel Hale.
* [ The Transcendental Argument for God's Existence] by Michael Butler
* [ Transcendental Arguments in Apologetics – The Current State of Affairs] by Sebastian Heck


* [ "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.
* [ The Martin-Frame Debate] A written debate between skeptic Michael Martin 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).
* [ "Bahnsen at the Stein Debate"] by John M. Frame

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