Saturday, September 19, 2009

The Transcendental Argument for the Non-Existence of God?

 In the next series of articles, I’d like to discuss several atheist arguments and their weaknesses. Of course, I have the right to interrupt the series at any time if any kind of news breaks that bears commenting on. The point of the series, though, is as much to get myself back into the regular habit of writing as it is to provide an apologetics resource. Eventually, I hope to have enough collected to form the spine of a book.

In 1996, atheist Michael Martin first proposed the Transcendental Argument for the Non-Existence of God (TANG). Since Immanuel Kant, many Christians have argued that logic, science and morality all depend for their existence not just on a God but a specifically Christian God. Not content to demonstrate the argument to be false, Martin chose to claim that the opposite is true: logic, science and morality can’t be true as long as the Christian God is held to be true.

Beginning with logic, Martin’s argument (as explained in Wikipedia) runs thus:[1]


“L1. Logic presupposes that its principles are necessarily true.

“L2. According to Christianity, 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.”


Let’s pay a little closer attention to steps 4 and 5: Here we see a shift in meaning from ontological necessity to logical necessity, a fallacy of equivocation. But there’s an even deeper problem, to see which we should look at ontological necessity further.

The necessity of God’s existence is one of five classic arguments posed by St. Thomas Aquinas. We look at the universe, and we note that things come into being and go out of being all the time, from single-cell organisms to red giant stars. (While many people assume particles can’t be created or destroyed, this hasn’t been empirically verified.) Because all these things can not be, they don’t have to be; if for instance the star Aldebaran had never been, the rest of the galaxy and universe would be at least minimally different but not destroyed.

Because it’s debatable whether the math of our universe extends back past the Big Bang, and whether there’ll be a Big Bust to bookend it, the universe isn’t ... er, necessarily necessary, either. Bringing in a “parent” universe, so to speak, doesn’t solve the problem, as the parent would be no more necessary than the offspring; it simply leads to an infinite-regression fallacy, as one piles on more and more universes to try to create an infinite chain of Bangs and Busts.

To solve this problem, we postulate the existence of a Necessary Being—God. Because God’s existence is necessary, according to this argument, His existence is infinite and independent: He cannot not exist, nor is His existence contingent on anything else, which means that He can’t be infinitely regressed away.

Now, the central problem can be summed up in a formal argument:

·         MP: If logic’s existence is contingent on God, then God could have created a universe such that both and not-a are true at the same time and in the same manner.

·         mP: God could not have created such a universe.

·         \ Logic’s existence is not contingent on the existence of God.

Now, how do we know the minor premise is true? We don’t, unless we assume that logic is not a construct of God, that it has a necessity which can bind even the Maker of All Things ... which is what we’re trying to prove. The argument is shown to be a classic petitio, and thus falls apart.

How does Martin approach science?


“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.”


Now, does science assume that all events have non-theistic explanations? No, science simply assumes that natural events are rational and understandable; while God isn’t presupposed, neither is God ruled out of court from the beginning ... unless you’re an atheist. Again, the argument begs the question, and thus falls.

Finally, we come to morality:


“M1. The type of Christian morality assumed by the Transcendental Argument for God’s Existence (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.”


Here there are many assertions in the minor premise which need to be addressed:

1.         It does not necessarily follow that, because the objective nature of morality is dependent upon God’s will, the definitions of “good” and “evil” must therefore be arbitrary. To successfully argue this, you must argue that God does not have a final purpose in mind which would shape His decisions. To do that, you must first concede He exists. But,

2.         Even if you could establish that moral values were arbitrarily chosen, that still wouldn’t affect their objective nature; they would still be facts of the universe that rational beings would have to reckon with.

3.          While there are different ways to interpret the literary sources, not all the different ways are equally valid in terms of reason. It is possible to rationally consider the claims of each tradition and literary source, and to come to a reasoned conclusion as to which has the best claim to be true. That atheists don’t truly attempt this task—which is no small one—is no proof that it can’t be done.

4.          However, despite the differences, when considered rationally and logically, it’s easy to see that the Judeo-Christian traditions share the same moral imperatives, although their applications of the imperatives may differ. Differences only creep in when and where subjectivity and irrationality claim philosophical supremacy. This is because

5.          The moral imperatives aren’t, strictly speaking, sourced in the literary traditions but in the overarching meta-culture of the monotheistic religions.


In sum, the minor premise here is merely a grab-bag of atheist assumptions and claims which themselves have yet to be proven and which aren’t obviously true once spoken.

The problem for the atheist is that, having removed God from the equation, nothing else becomes necessary; you’re still left with a universe that must somehow pull itself into existence. Logic, science and morals are ultimately beings of reason, functions of rationality, and not independent forces existing from beyond time. Since the order and reasonableness of the universe are functions of the universe, they obviously can’t antedate the universe.

The objection that the argument attempts to give God special protection from the infinite-regression fallacy misses the mark. The Necessary Being—“being” as in “something that be s”—is by definition non-regressible; if you could make such a Being contingent, the Being would not be ontologically necessary. To successfully make God regressible, you have to show either that the Christian God is not and cannot be the Necessary Being or that a Necessary Being is ... er, not necessary.

In closing, I’d like to acknowledge that I’ve spent more time defending the Argument from Necessity rather than the Transcendental Argument for the Existence of God. That’s because I believe TAG is a fairly specialized argument whose truth depends on the Argument from Necessity. Logic, science and morality are contingent on God because all things are contingent on God. That contingency doesn’t spoil the objectivity of their truths.




[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transcendental_argument_for_the_non-existence_of_God.