Wednesday, July 26, 2017

“A Critical Analysis of Bob Siedensticker’s “Dozen Responses to the Transcendental Argument for God”

Bob Siedensticker has a way of oversimplifying, well, just about every view that he disagrees with. Bob’s first step is to oversimplify, then misrepresent and equivocate if necessary, and then refute. When it comes to the transcendental argument for God (TAG), he remains consistent in his method. For starters, Bob doesn’t think it necessary to spend any time talking about a working definition of TAG, its history, philosophical or theological roots, or its function. That is just plain sloppy work.

Concerning Transcendental Arguments, Robert Stern writes, “The first, and perhaps most definitive feature, is that these arguments involve a claim of a distinctive form: namely, that one thing (X) is a necessary condition for the possibility of something else (Y), so that (it is said) the latter cannot obtain without the former.”[1] A necessary condition for the occurrence of a specified event is a circumstance in whose absence the event cannot occur.[2] For example, a necessary condition for combustion is oxygen. If there is no oxygen, there can be no combustion. So then, a transcendental argument asks the question, what has to be the case in order for (Y) to be the case?

The Transcendental Argument for God is made predominantly by those who espouse the presuppositional method of apologetics as popularized by Cornelius Van Til, Greg Bahnsen, and lately, Scott Oliphint and James Anderson. Greg Bahnsen writes, “To put it simply, in the case of “direct” arguments (whether rational or empirical), the negation of one of their premises changes the truth or reliability of their conclusion. But this is not true of transcendental arguments, and that sets them off from other kinds of proof or analysis.”[3] In other words, the necessary condition for the denial of God is the existence of God.

Cornelius Van Til set out to show that TAG established the truth of the Christian worldview as the necessary precondition for human experience. While I do recognize that TAG is not persuasive, it is nonetheless, sound in its conclusion. Christianity is, in fact, the only way to make sense out of human experience. Alternative worldviews, or perhaps, the alternative worldview ends in irrationalism.

TAG starts with human experience, things like science, morality, reason, and asserts that God is the necessary precondition for the intelligibility of these experiences. It seeks to prove its claim by indirectly showing that the alternative, non-Christian worldview is impossible because it always involves contradiction. Take, for example, human reason. TAG claims that God is the necessary condition for human reason. Without God, human reason could not exist. An alternative is that human reason evolved from non-reason to its present state. But we know that reason cannot be the product of non-reason. We know that the reason cannot exist without a rational mind. Locating the beginning of human reason apart from God is an impossible challenge. It is a blatant contradiction to say that reason was invented, created, or even evolved from non-reason. The same holds for things like knowledge, human language, etc.

Bob has said elsewhere that logic is an invention of the human mind. This means that the laws of logic are not really laws after all, not in the sense that we understand them. They are arbitrary rules engineered by some human mind(s) along the way. If this is true, then it is possible to reject these laws without consequence. Why should I accept the arbitrary rules of the majority? Would it not be the case that such a perspective would be perfectly compatible with Nietzsche’s will to power? So, when Bob asserts that Christianity lacks evidence for its claims, I can happily ignore him and swat the gnat flying about my head and get on with my business of believing, all the while ignoring the buzz that is Bob telling me how irrational my Christianity is.

What is the form of TAG? How does TAG proceed? While TAG takes the form of a deductive argument, it is not. TAG is a transcendental argument. In a deductive argument, negation of one of the premises proves the argument unsound. This is not the case with the TA. The TA is looking for the necessary preconditions for the possibility of things like intelligibility. It is asking what has to be true in order for human intelligibility to be the case. The argument can be stated this way:

Intelligibility --> God


Intelligibility --> God

Greg Bahnsen helps: “Clearly, then, transcendental demonstration has a very distinct kind of argument over against rational and empirical proofs.[4] The atheist will protest that the first premise in both arguments cannot be proven and that the second premise in the second argument leads to a non-sequitur. The second indictment simply means that the atheist doesn’t understand transcendental arguments. But the atheist doesn’t understand Christianity either and this doesn’t step him or her from vociferously criticizing it. What the second argument is saying is that the denial of intelligibility presupposes God because it requires intelligibility. And since intelligibility presupposes God, anything that requires it presupposes God as well.

Bob’s first claim is that “TAG is just a deist argument.” Bob’s claim is that if he agreed with TAG, he would only end up being a deist at best. Well, that is actually not true. Bob says that same thing about a number of other theistic proofs here. But is this actually the case? The answer is not at all. First of all, if one of the theistic proofs moved you to accept the existence of God, it would not necessarily move you to believe in a specific sort of God. There is something to be said about the theistic arguments ability to prove that it is the God of Christianity that exists. This is one of the criticisms of using these arguments to prove God. The arguments are quite often criticized for proving a generic theism and little more. But that is not the same thing a proving deism. This they do not do. Bob seems to confuse generic theism with deism. You see, deism is belief in a specific strain of theism: the divine being does not intervene in the universe. Therefore, none of the arguments (cosmological, moral, ontological, design, fine-tuning, argument from credulity) actually prove deism. So Bob is factually wrong in his assertion. If these other arguments convinced you, you would be a deist. And he is wrong about TAG as well. TAG would not lead one to deism. This shows that Bob does not understand TAG.

TAG is, for the most part, the product of Cornelius Van Til. Van Til talks about the Christian principle of discontinuity: the mind of God as all-comprehensive in knowledge because all-controlling in power. He then talks about the Christian principle of continuity: the self-contained God and his plan for history. When these principles are conjoined, we obtain the Christian principle of reasoning by presupposition. Van Til says, “It is the actual existence of the God of Christian theism and the infallible authority of the Scripture which speaks to sinners of this God that must be taken as the presupposition of the intelligibility of any fact in the world.”[5] This sort of God is not the god presented in deism. The god presented in deism does not condescend. He is not immanent. He is not uninvolved. The God of TAG is both all-controlling in power and he has a plan for history. At a minimum, this shows that Bob’s analysis of TAG is wide of the mark. His first criticism claims too much.

Bob’s next criticism of TAG is a “God of the gap” objection. Bob seems to think that God was invented as an explanation for the things humanity cannot explain. This is simply an anachronistic falsehood. Men served, feared, and worshipped God long before they didn’t know that they didn’t know. At best, where TAG is concerned, this is a red herring.

Bob then attempts his poor understanding of the laws of logic to attack and blaspheme God. He says, “By saying that God can’t make something that’s logically impossible, however, they create another problem as God’s actions become constrained by an external logic. If God is bound by logic, logic isn’t arbitrary. God can’t change it. He acts logically because he must, just like the rest of us.” This is simply a false assumption on Bob’s part. There is no reason to assume that logic is external to God any more than it is to think that good or just or love is external to God. For some reason, Bob thinks he has done his duty in his rebuttal to the many philosophers who agree that the idea that God cannot create a rock so big that he cannot move it, is simply a category mistake. Bob wants to force the theologian to accept his definition of omnipotence. But that isn’t how arguments work Bob. That is not how you refute another person’s worldview. That is the childish and amateur straw man fallacy and it is a fallacy that Bob seems to live by. To say that God is all powerful is to say that God can do anything that is logically possible for a being to do. Bob thinks his reference to the Trinity demonstrates a violation of logic. This only means that Bob does not understand the nature of the Trinity. Once again, the straw man fallacies are adding up more quickly than one can count. The limitations of human reason to fully comprehend the Trinity should not be mistaken for obvious contradiction. Bob simply doesn’t get it. Bob then claims this is a Euthyphro-like dilemma. But this depends entirely on Bob being correct that Christians accept his view that logic is something external to God just as the Greeks thought of morality as something external to the pantheon. Christians do not accept the view that logic is something external to God. Bob has been told this repeatedly, but he chooses to ignore it. Why? It preserves his argument. He ignores it because Bob knows that if he does not, he will have to retract his arguments and lose credibility. Well, Bob’s poor arguments and multiple misrepresentations of Christian belief and his logical blunders have demonstrated that his credibility is near the bottom anyways. Bob’s understanding of Christianity and his use of logic are highly suspect.

Bob’s 4th objection is no better. Bob asks, Could God create logic and mathematics? Or is he bound by them? Well, Bob will have to prove that mathematics and logic are created. Christianity and good philosophy hold both to be necessary truths. They are absolute. There is no possible world in which 2+2 does not equal 4. There is no possible world in which the law of non-contradiction is false. Things like logic, math, language, knowledge, all existed eternally in the mind of God who is himself an absolute, self-contained, eternal being. Bob is again dreaming up objections to things that Christian belief does not teach. Bob is 0-4 in his criticism of TAG. In his 10 objections to Christianity, Bob scored an impressive 0-10. At a minimum one can say if nothing else, Bob is consistent; consistently wrong.

Bob’s 5th criticism of TAG is not any more impressive than his first four: Bob talks about the consequences of a godless universe. But he immediately imposes his own fallacy on the apologist when he against implies that the TAG proponent presupposes a universe in which God created logic. He goes on to talk about how preposterous it is to think that the law of non-contradiction could be vacated. Bob is on record as stating that logic is an invention of the human mind. Well, Bob seems to have no choice but to think this way since he subscribes to naturalism. Since this is the case, it is Bob who believes that logic was created…created by the human mind. And if logic is created by the human mind, then yes, it is quite alright for humans to vacate the laws of logic and this means that A could be a rock and not a rock in the same sense and at the same time, Bob. It isn’t the TAG proponent that has a problem dealing with the existence of the laws of logic. It is the atheist sir!

Bob’s 6th criticism of TAG is: You ask why? I ask why not? Bob says that God as an explanation is nothing more than a theological claim, not evidence. But that is yet another arbitrary decision on Bob’s part. Why does a claim have to be either theological or not evidence? Why can’t theological claims count as evidence if they come with good backing? Bob does say. He just presumes it to be so and continues his criticism. Bob says that logic is an axiom. But how can logic be the invention of human minds and be an axiom? How can mathematics be an invention of the human mind and be an axiom. And if there were no human minds to invent math and logic, then neither would exist, right Bob? At best, in atheism, logic and math are mere conventions…conventions we are theoretically free to ignore if we so choose. I will close with James Anderson’s excellent formulation of TAG using human thought (T).

(1)  Possibly, T
(2)  Necessarily, possibly, T.
(3)  Necessarily, if possibly T, then G.
(4)  If necessarily, possibly T, then necessarily, G.
(5)  Necessarily, G.

Anderson rightfully notes, “I suggest that the transcendental argument should be understood along similar lines; specifically, as a family of theistic arguments from the possibility of human thought and experience. We ought therefore to be skeptical of any claim that the transcendental argument has been refuted or shown to be misguided.”

My next post will deal with Bob’s observations of TAG, numbers 7-12. So far, Bob is 0-16 in his criticisms of Christianity. I suspect it will get worse.

[1] Robert Stern, ed., Transcendental Arguments: Problems and Prospects, Mind Association Occasional Series (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1999), 3.
[2] Irving M. Copi, Introduction to Logic, 14th ed. (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, ©2011), 471.
[3] Greg L. Bahnsen, Van Til's Apologetic: Readings and Analysis (Phillipsburg, N.J.: P & R Pub., ©1998), 501.

[4] Greg L. Bahnsen, Van Til's Apologetic: Readings and Analysis (Phillipsburg, N.J.: P & R Pub., ©1998), 502.

[5] Cornelius Van Til, The Defense of the Faith (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Pub. Co., 1985), 118.

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