A Dozen Responses to the Transcendental Argument for God (2 of 3)

transcendental argumentWhat grounds the laws of logic and mathematics? We know that they work, but why? The Transcendental Argument (TAG) says that they exist because of and are sustained by God.

I introduced the argument and explored the first responses in Part 1. Let’s continue.

6. You ask “why?” but I ask “why not?”

When we look at reality, we usually explain things in terms of more primitive laws or principles, but eventually you come to the bottom. These few elementary principles, which can’t be defined in terms of anything more fundamental, are called axioms.

Apologists claim that they can do better than this—they rest everything on just “God did it.”

The first problem is that this is stated as a theological claim, not as evidence. Second, they’ve simply replaced natural axioms with a supernatural one. There are still axioms at the bottom, so this is no improvement.

Like naturalists, apologists agree that you’ve got to stop somewhere; it’s just that their stopping point is based on nothing. It has no evidence to support it. Contrast that with the naturalists’ logical and mathematical axioms. Unlike God, these aren’t taken on faith but are tested continually. Why would we want to ground the one that is strongly confirmed with evidence (logic) with the one that isn’t (God)? Why demand something solid to hold up the fundamental axioms but then use faith to hold up God?

I’ll admit that “that’s just the way reality is” isn’t completely satisfying, but “God did it” resolves nothing. The apologist won’t tell us why or how God exists; he just exists. This informs us as much as “fairies did it.” But if the Christian can have a fundamental assumption about reality (God), so can the naturalist (natural axioms).

Show me that the laws of logic are optional or different in an alternate universe. Otherwise, we can presume that the logic that we have is universal.

Let’s say instead that reality just has properties. Or: properties are a consequence of reality. A universe with zero axioms is a universe without properties. Could such a universe even exist? Is that what a godless universe would look like? I await the evidence.


See also: The Parable of the Mathematician and the Theologian


7. TAG undercuts itself

Apologists jump into a TAG presentation using logic. At the end of their argument, they conclude that God exists.

But wait a minute—was that a valid argument? The apologists will certainly say so. But it was made using logic without a presumption of God! The TAG proponents themselves argue that logic can be reliably used without assuming God.

(I believe that this is Timothy Pew’s argument.)

8. Logic needs a vessel, like a mind

One variant of TAG says that logic requires a vessel. Logic can’t be just free-floating truth but must reside in a mind. Before humans, logic must still have been in force, but what held it? God’s mind, of course.

One popular example of this is the argument that gravity is a ghost in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Before humans, there was no mind to hold the law of gravity. It had no mass or energy. How much more nonexistent could it be?

The problem here is that gravity and the law of gravity aren’t the same thing. Before Newton, Newton’s Law of Gravity didn’t exist. But gravity did. Similarly, you don’t need a mind for time to exist, but you do for “September” or “ten o’clock.” And you don’t need a mind for logic to exist, but you do for the laws of logic.

Said another way, logic and math are languages. We didn’t need to invent English for rocks to exist, we didn’t need to invent physics for gravity to exist, and we didn’t need to invent math for 1 + 1 to equal 2.

Gravity, time, and logic are properties of the universe, and no mind is required.

Concluded in part 3.

Atheism is the arrogant belief 
that the entire Universe 
was not created for our benefit.
— Michael Nugent

(This is an update of a post that originally appeared 12/4/13.)

Photo credit: Wikimedia

 

"He did make us that way Adam, and the irony of your name cannot be ..."

God Is Love—Does That Make Any ..."
"Daniel is not that difficult to understand, yet people like you want to make it ..."

Daniel’s End Times Prediction
"Called me out on what ya prick?It is me that is calling you out on ..."

Responding to the Minimal Facts Argument ..."

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!


What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Hans-Richard Grümm

    I’m not so sure. An alternative position is that we needed to invent languages and their semantics to define logic as the set of statements in a language which are true in every model. In this sense, logic is not derived from the properties of our universe, since it also applies to statements about hobbits, snarks and borogroves.
    After all, the language which defines classical logic is not the only one. There are are also trivalent logics (true/false/undetermined) to describe quantum phenomena, intuitionist logics in mathematics (where the double negation is not equivalent to the identity) etc.
    Of course, this is an even stronger counterargument to TAG.

  • Kevin K

    I think logic is a emergent property of things with brains sophisticated enough to develop logical principles. I don’t believe it would be existent in-and-of itself.

    Because logic is a methodology used to organize thoughts. You need a brain to have thoughts, and an intelligent brain to want to systematize and organize those thoughts.

    Cognito, ergo sum is not intrinsic to the universe. It’s emergent from humans clever enough to come up with the argument.

    • JustAnotherAtheist2

      Very well said. The remarkable consistency of the universe means other minds would likely abstract similar logical principles in our absence, but that is not the same thing as the principles themselves having independent existence.

  • Michael Neville

    Logic was invented independently by the Chinese, the Sanskriti Indians and the Greeks. These three systems, while not identical, are all valid. The purpose of logic is to help determine if statements are true. No gods or other supernatural critters were involved in the invention of logic.

    • https://www.jonmorgan.info Jon Morgan

      No gods or other supernatural critters were harmed in the invention of logic.

      • Kodie

        They all died.

        • sandy

          All gods disappear…if you ignore them.

    • Doubting Thomas

      To pick a nit, logic doesn’t determine whether a statement is true or not. It determines if different ideas are compatible with each other.

  • Bruce Gorton

    Logic simply requires a degree of consistency.

    2+2=4, we know this because we can demonstrate. In fact that is how i first learned addition in primary school (the teacher used beads to show it.)

    In other words, at its basis logic begins as being descriptive, and eventually works its way up to being prescriptive – you figure out how things work, then apply your logic to figure out how they would work if you did this that or the other thing.

    Now here is the thing, consistency implies a lack of an outside driving force. If you park your car, and it is still there when you come out, you don’t assume there was some active intelligent force keeping it there.

    If however you park your car and come out and find it is gone, you call the cops because you think some active intelligent force nicked it.

    Now there is no active intelligent force particularly nicking the universe, so you expect it to more or less continue on much the same trajectory. If there was a God however, you would expect more inconsistency, because having an intelligent being in charge allows for that being having an imagination and thus the universe not behaving consistently.

    The TAG in other words, is looking for the exact opposite to what would constitute evidence for an intelligent driving force.

  • Without Malice

    Religion wants nothing to do with logic since the beliefs of most of the world’s religions cannot stand up to logic.

    • sandy

      ALL of the world’s religions cannot stand up to logic…or reason or evidence. So obvious to so many of us.

  • Chuck Johnson

    Bob:
    “The problem here is that gravity and the law of gravity aren’t the same thing.”

    Chuck:
    Yes.
    With this clear definition, it is easy to see that gravity existed before the human perception of gravity existed.

  • Chuck Johnson

    Bob:
    “And you don’t need a mind for logic to exist, but you do for the laws of logic.”

    Chuck:
    Your statement is very unpersuasive to me.
    Logic existing without a mind sounds like an absurdity.
    It sounds like something a Deist or a Theist might say.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      I don’t know how to explain it any better than I did above. There’s a difference between something (time, physics, logic) and our human description of it. One can exist without the other. We can have time without there being an “October.”

      • Chuck Johnson

        Bob:
        There’s a difference between something (time, physics, logic) and our
        human description of it. One can exist without the other.

        Chuck:
        Yes, there are differences between a thing and the human description (or perception) of it. But finding the right words and descriptions will often be tricky.

        This trickiness is often the basis of Theists asserting absurdities, and not feeling confused or dishonest about it.

        You mentioned three things above: time, physics, and logic.

        Instead of saying that time exists without any human perception of it, we should say that “time passes and events unfold even without any human perception of time”. This helps to avoid the confusion between time (the natural phenomenon) and time (the human perception of time).

        Physics is similar.
        Our universe has many physical properties and undergoes many physical changes, reactions and interactions.

        Just saying “physics’ is not specific enough.

        You should say whether you are referring to human ideas about physics, or referring to the natural physical behavior of our universe.

        Logic is different.
        To me, asserting that logic exists without an intelligent mind to invent, perceive and use logic is an absurdity.

        In what way would logic exist independent of intelligent minds ?

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          In what way would logic exist independent of intelligent minds ?

          How is logic dependent on minds? The constraints defined by the laws of logic are there whether anyone has been clever enough to summarize those laws or not.

        • Chuck Johnson

          Bob:
          “The constraints defined by the laws of logic are there whether anyone has been clever enough to summarize those laws or not.”

          Chuck:
          Constraints are human ideas.
          We know that such ideas exist now, but didn’t exist in the distant past (unless intelligent beings existed back then).

          To avoid confusion, paradox and contradiction, modern human ideas should not be asserted to have existed in the distant past.

          Modern human logic did not exist a million years ago. Logic developed over time.

        • Chuck Johnson

          Bob:
          “How is logic dependent on minds?”

          Chuck:
          We can now use logic to analyze things that happened billions of years ago.

          This doesn’t mean that logic existed billions of years ago. It just means that today’s logic can be effective in analyzing things that existed before logic existed.

          Our Earth and our universe contain preserved clues and evidence which can be (and are) routinely analyzed using modern logical thinking.

          That logical thinking did not exist a billion years ago because human minds did not exist a billion years ago.

        • Chuck Johnson

          Bob:
          “How is logic dependent on minds? ”

          Chuck:
          By dictionary definition:

          log·ic
          “1. reasoning conducted or assessed according to strict principles of validity.”

          Reasoning does not happen without minds to do the reasoning.

        • Tommy

          Are definitions dependent on minds?

        • Chuck Johnson

          Tommy:
          “Are definitions dependent on minds?”

          Chuck:
          Yes, definitions are thoughts, and as such they are dependent upon minds.

  • Chuck Johnson

    Bob:
    “. . . and we didn’t need to invent math for 1 + 1 to equal 2.”

    Chuck:
    1 is an idea. 2 is an idea. Adding (or plus) is an idea. Equals is an idea.

    I don’t see one plus one equaling two anywhere in the universe except where intelligent minds exist.

    Ideas are strictly attributes of intelligent minds, not just free-floating things in our universe.

    • Kodie

      How could 1+1=2 if it wasn’t true outside of a mind?

      • Chuck Johnson

        Because that equation is an idea.
        Ideas are nonexistent outside of minds.

        • Kodie

          I’m not talking about the equation, I’m talking about one thing and another thing amounting to two things. We wouldn’t create the equation to describe it if it weren’t true.

        • Chuck Johnson

          For one thing and one thing to amount to two things, language must be used. – – – You used English.

          Also equations are the creations of intelligent minds.

          Lots of things existed before human intelligent minds existed. Science can prove this. But to project sophisticated human ideas backwards in time onto inanimate objects that existed back then is a mistake. It causes confusion.

          Correct:
          “Before human minds existed, the Earth had one moon and Mars had two. Adding those together, we get three moons, total.”

          Incorrect:
          “Before human minds existed, math existed, therefore, the total number of moons of the Earth and Mars was three.”

          Yes, those three moons have existed much longer than humans have. But it’s the moons that existed, not the math calculations that show that three moons are being counted.

          Math and counting came into existence as human minds and cultures developed.

        • Kodie

          It seems like a philosophical distinction that is unnecessarily picky. A one thing and another thing are 2 things, regardless of who was there to not call it 2.

        • Chuck Johnson

          Kodie:
          “It seems like a philosophical distinction that is unnecessarily picky. A
          one thing and another thing are 2 things, regardless of who was there
          to not call it 2.”

          Chuck:
          You are only saying that because you exist. If you didn’t exist, then you wouldn’t be telling me that.

          The fact that there are “2 things” only exists because intelligent beings exist. If no intelligent beings ever existed, then the whole “two things” idea would not exist.

          Facts are properties of intelligent minds.

          When you start counting imaginary things, then numbers get legitimately applied. We can all count imaginary things and get correct, appropriate answers.

          I think that’s where your confusion comes in. You are counting imagined things, and then saying that counting, addition and numbers exist even if there is no one around to do the counting.

          That’s not true.
          If no intelligent being would ever exist, then math would never exist.

          But once intelligent beings exist, then even imagined objects can be counted, added, subtracted, etc.

          The objects don’t need to be real in order to count them and add them, but without intelligent beings, the math will not exist.

          All ideas (including math) come into existence with the emergence of intelligent life-forms.
          God can not have any ideas. – – – I am an atheist.

        • Greg G.

          Long before there were anybody around to count anything, atomic nuclei were being formed with different numbers of protons. But the nuclei attracted the same number of electrons as protons. The electrons formed shells that interacted with other shells in specific ways according to the number of protons and electrons. These interactions were chemistry even though there was nobody around to call it that.

          Some of the chemistry became very complex, forming cells with specific numbers of chromosomes that nobody was around to count. Eventually, creatures developed that could count all of those things but the atoms and molecules didn’t care as they kept interacting the way they did for billions of years before, all depending on the numbers of protons and matching electron numbers and the numbers of neutrons varied ever so slightly.

        • Chuck Johnson

          Yes, your sequence of events and your cause-and-effect are exactly the way that I see it, too.

          First, there was the natural world.
          The natural world “understood” how to go about its business. I use “understood” in the metaphorical sense. The natural world did not have brainpower.

          Eventually, the natural world gave birth to the artificial world, the world of humans. The human world is greatly affected by brainpower. Intelligence helps us to evolve.

        • Kodie

          I’m not confused. I’m not counting the things. Regardless of who was there and who was not, if there was one thing and another thing, there were two things. The universe doesn’t use a language to describe things that happen in it, how many years it has been, or whatever. Despite language, things happen. We develop language to describe things that happen or happened. They still happened. You’re trying to be very picky about how we talk about those things. It’s like you’re saying, without intelligent minds to even encounter things, a thing or another thing didn’t exist, things were not there, things did not happen, and there weren’t a countable number of things. All the while the universe existed, not one star or planet or comet or whatever felt or thought “gee it’s cold out here”, “I’m lonely, I wonder if there are others like me out there”, “holy crap, would you look at that, is it coming toward me?” Two things and greater than two things are not ideas. They are events.

        • Chuck Johnson

          Kodie:
          “Two things and greater than two things are not ideas. They are events.”

          Chuck:
          Yes, two things that exist are events (natural phenomena).

          Two things that are natural phenomena and are noticed and counted by humans are then both natural phenomena and ideas.
          It can be both at the same time.

        • Chuck Johnson

          Kodie:
          “It’s like you’re saying, without intelligent minds to even encounter things,
          a thing or another thing didn’t exist, things were not there, things
          did not happen, and there weren’t a countable number of things.”

          Chuck:
          A countable number of things requires information to be available about these things, and a mind to do the counting.

          If we don’t have both of these, then things might be present, but we should say that they are not countable.

          The existence of things is a natural phenomenon. The counting process is a man-made invention.

        • JustAnotherAtheist2

          It is most certainly picky, but it is also necessary when dealing with apologetics, particularly TAG. Theists love to exploit any opportunity created by imprecise language. I agree, though, that in most other circumstances the ideas Bob conveyed would be clear enough.

        • JustAnotherAtheist2

          The point that Chuck is making is that numbers and math in general are abstractions that have no existence without a mind to create them. Said another way, they describe reality as adjectives rather than embodying it.

          It is similar to physical laws, which have proven to be reliable enough to talk about as if they were independent entities, but are really descriptive abstractions. Stuff would behave the same without minds, but the models that describe said behavior would not.

          One other thing, asking if something would be “true” without a mind is a malformed question. Reality isn’t true, propositions about reality are, and propositions are impossible without a mind to conceive them.

        • adam

          “Ideas are nonexistent outside of minds.”

          So?

          Is reality?

        • Chuck Johnson

          Tell me more.
          I don’t see what your question is.

        • adam

          Pretty simple, Does reality exist outside of mind?

        • Chuck Johnson

          adam:
          “Pretty simple, Does reality exist outside of mind?”

          Chuck:
          There are various ways to define reality.
          For some definitions, I would answer “no”.
          For some definitions, I would answer “yes”.
          For some definitions, I would say that your definition of reality is not specific enough for a yes or a no answer.

        • adam

          Definition of real

          2a : not artificial, fraudulent, or illusory

        • Chuck Johnson

          adam:
          “2a : not artificial, fraudulent, or illusory”

          Chuck:
          Yes, this is one of the main ways that the word “reality” is used, to correct error or fraud.

          So if we would use that particular definition of reality, then reality only exists in a mind or in minds.

          That is because the correction of errors or fraud is only done in minds.

        • epeeist

          Ideas are nonexistent outside of minds.

          You’re a nominalist? Abstract objects do not exist?

        • Chuck Johnson

          epeeist:
          “You’re a nominalist? Abstract objects do not exist?”

          Chuck:
          I went to the dictionary to answer your question.
          Here’s a definition:

          1.
          existing in thought or as an idea but not having a physical or concrete existence.

          So with this definition, I can say that under (definition 1) abstract objects exist as patterns of chemical and electrical activity in the brain, and as other human representations such as written descriptions, photographs, oil paintings, etc.

          But of course, such representations are different from the original physical or concrete object which caught the human’s notice and then generated the brain patterns, etc. that are reflections of the original concrete object.

          So an apple and the human thought of an apple are both concrete, physical things, but very different from each other.

          Science is still finding out what thoughts consist of.

      • Chuck Johnson

        The concepts of true and false only exists within minds.
        Other than that, true and false don’t exist.

        • epeeist

          The concepts of true and false only exists within minds.

          So without minds the statements “The atomic mass of hydrogen is 1” and “The atomic mass of hydrogen is 4” are both meaningless, are compatible or are contradictory?

        • Chuck Johnson

          epeeist:
          “So without minds the statements “The atomic mass of hydrogen is 1” and
          “The atomic mass of hydrogen is 4″ are both meaningless, are compatible
          or are contradictory?”

          Chuck:
          None of the above.

          Without minds, those statements are nonexistent.
          With minds, those statements can exist.

        • epeeist

          Let’s take it a little further, is it a fact that the atomic mass of hydrogen is 1 regardless of the existence of minds?

        • Chuck Johnson

          epeeist:
          “Let’s take it a little further, is it a fact that the atomic mass of hydrogen is 1 regardless of the existence of minds?”

          Chuck:
          No, the existence of facts depends entirely upon the existence of minds.

          Paradox and confusion arises from your question. That is because it is not specific enough. I will rephrase it to be more specific:

          (A) “Can science provide evidence that one million years ago, the atomic mass of hydrogen was 1 ?”

          The answer is that yes, science can provide that evidence.

          (B) “Can science provide evidence that one million years ago, no humans existed who understood the fact that hydrogen has an atomic mass of 1 ?”

          The answer is yes, science can provide that evidence.

          So the additional detail provided by (A) and (B) takes away the paradox and confusion.

        • Chuck Johnson

          Yes, I would say that “meaningless” is the best choice here.
          Sorry, I missed that selection.

        • Kodie

          Does one thing and one other thing amount to two things, yes or no?

    • Dr Sarah

      If one thing was added to one thing in the frozen wastes of space and there was no-one there to count them, would there still be two things? :)

      • Chuck Johnson

        Only intelligent beings can count and perceive “two things”.
        Only intelligent beings can know what “addition” means.

        So if no intelligent being perceived the things that you describe, then those things don’t get added or counted, and they don’t undergo any other kind of intelligent scrutiny.

        You, Dr Sarah are an intelligent being who is counting imaginary or hypothetical things. They can get added or counted to the degree that intelligent beings can do that.

        Either direct observation can be used to add and count things, or imagined and hypothetical reasoning can be used. But if things exist with no intelligent observer, (either direct or hypothetical observation) then rocks, comets, moons, etc. don’t add up to any number in particular. They just exist unobserved. Things in our universe do whatever their natural tendencies cause them to do.

        When intelligent observers come onto the scene, then things can be noticed, measured, counted, analyzed with a spectrophotometer, etc.

        Counting real objects works. Counting imaginary objects works. But counting things when intelligent beings don’t exist just doesn’t happen.

        Except in your own imagination.

        • Greg G.

          If a deuterium isotope of hydrogen fuses with another one, does it become an atom with two protons and two electrons that does not interact with other atoms if there it nobody there to see it?

        • Chuck Johnson

          Greg:
          “If a deuterium isotope of hydrogen fuses with another one, does it
          become an atom with two protons and two electrons that does not interact
          with other atoms if there it nobody there to see it?”

          This is one of a huge number of natural phenomena which requires no human perception in order to proceed.

  • JustAnotherAtheist2

    I’m not sure why there is so much resistance to Chuck’s comments. Numbers and mathematics are just a language humans abstracted from reality’s behavior. The fact that the entities described by math would remain unchanged in the absence of a mind doesn’t in any way illustrate that the math would as well. It just means that some other mind would likely abstract the same rules as we have.

    • JustAnotherAtheist2

      Forgive me for replying to my own comment, but I thought of a way to elucidate the idea further using the words “horse” and “two.” I hope we all agree that neither “horse” nor “two” exist on their own. On that front they are both the same.

      However, things change when we take the next step. “Horse” wouldn’t exist, but the thing it describes would remain the same without a mind to name it. Peel the top layer off of “two” in the same manner, and you don’t yet reach external reality, you reach a concept that describes external reality. Beneath the linguistic concept we reach a descriptive concept.

      There is no doubt the items described would be unchanged in the absence of a mind, but that doesn’t change the fact that “two” at its core is just a concept, and concepts cannot exist without a mind to conceive them. That one rock and another rock always leads to two rocks speaks to the remarkable consistency of the universe, not the reality of concepts that describe it.