Transcendental argument for the non-existence of God

Transcendental argument for the non-existence of God

The Transcendental Argument for the Non-existence of God (also called TANG) was first proposed by Michael Martin in a 1996 article in "New Zealand Rationalist & Humanist". []


It was first intended as a reply to the Transcendental argument for the existence of God, which argues that logic, science and morality can only be justified by appealing to the theistic worldview. TANG, however, argues that the reverse is true. Martin makes three separate arguments:

On logic, Martin's argument proceeds thus: [Martin, op cit, para 3]

L1. Logic presupposes that its principles are necessarily true.

L2. According to the brand of Christianity assumed by TAG, God created everything, including logic; or at least everything, including logic, is dependent on God.

L3. If something is created by or is dependent on God, it is not necessary — it is contingent on God.

L4. If principles of logic are contingent on God, they are not logically necessary.

L5. If principles of logic are contingent on God, 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?

L6. Hence logic is not dependent on God, and, insofar as the Christian world view assumes that logic is so dependent, it is false.

On science, Martin argues as follows: [Martin, op cit, para 4]

S1. Miracles by definition are violations of laws of nature that can only be explained by God's intervention.

S2. Science assumes that insofar as an event has an explanation at all, it has a scientific explanation — one that does not presuppose God.

S3. Hence doing, science assumes that the Christian world view is false.

On morality, Martin argues that: [Martin, op cit, para 5]

M1. 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.

M2. 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.

M3. Thus, the existence of an objective morality presupposes the falsehood of the Christian world view assumed by TAG.


These three arguments make considerable excursions into a great deal of well-explored philosophical territory, and are open to criticisms at each point. Martin himself recognises that TANG may well be unsound and suggests that his purpose in making TANG is to "provide an indirect challenge to TAG and force its advocates to defend their position." [ op cit para 2]

Criticisms re Logic

* Many Christian philosophers would argue that weasel-inline the principles of logic apply to God, not because God is constrained by them but because they act as constraints on what can be meaningfully asserted. They would therefore consider L2 misleading and deny L4. They would assert that "human understanding" of Logic is dependent on God, but that is a different matter altogether.
* On L5 some thinkers, like John Polkinghorne point out that "obvious contradictions" often happen in science and suggest that we should not overestimate our abilities in this area. Quantum entanglement allows particles to pass through a slit and not pass through a slit at the same time.

Criticisms re Science

* Some theologians dispute S1, hold that miracles are not violations of the laws of nature. For example Polkinghorne suggests that the miracles attributed to Jesus may be due to the presence of Jesus causing a regime change so that pheonomena occur that are not normally observed.
* S2 is a form of strong scientific reductionism that finds favour with few serious philosophers. When doing science one looks for scientific causes but this is not the same as assuming that indeed the only causes that exist are scientific. S2 also essentially begs the question, an assumption that "science presupposes that God does not exist" cannot be used to prove that "if science is true, God does not exist"

Criticisms re Morality

* On M1 by no means all Christians hold some form of Divine Command Theory
* On M2 the argument confuses whether morality is "objective" from whether moral truths are logically necessary independent of God's will. Assume for a moment that God has created a meteorite that is about to destroy the Earth, but that He could have chosen not to: the existence of this meteorite woud be "objective" even though it is (hypothetically) wholly dependent on God's will.
* Objections to M2 also include the point that it is inherent to most philiosophical definitions of a Christian God (such as the loving Ultimate Creator, the Father of Jesus Christ, [as per St Paul] the perfect being, [Following Plato] or A being greater than which nothing can be conceived [Following Anselm] ) that it is in God's nature to be loving, [St John "God is Love"] and that a loving God would not command people to act in immoral ways.
* The difficulty that an adherent of no religion has in deciding which (if any) of the claims made by various religious worldviews are true does not "per se" establish the falsity of these claims. Within each religious worldview it may be quite possible to evaluate the claims, and indeed there is very broad agreement within Christianity about morality, and considerable agreement between the major religions.

Other points

An objection to TANG is that logic, uniformity and morality are an inherent part of God's nature, and therefore cannot change. This objection has been raised by John Frame in a debate against Martin. To this Martin replied that " [t] he only reason for making such an assumption about God's nature is that it must exemplify some independent standard of logic. This is just to say that logic does not presuppose God." [ [ A Response to John Frame's Rebuttal ] ]

See also

* Transtheism
* Posttheism

Notes and References

External links

* [ Introduction to materialist apologetics]
* [ Responses to Atheist Philosopher, Michael Martin]

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