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

We conclude our responses to the Transcendental Argument (TAG) here. I introduced the argument and begin in part 1.

9. Transcendental Argument for theNon-existence of God (TANG)

TANG is a variant on TAG. It supposes that God created everything, including logic. But then logic is dependent on God—it’s contingent. Said another way, logic isn’t logically necessary. The laws of logic are then arbitrary, and God could’ve made them something else. X and not-X could both be true, for example.

You may enjoy logic as we know it, but TAG says that it’s not as absolute as you thought.

10. Some things don’t need supernatural explanations

I’ve always found the claim, “Well, if there are moral or logical laws, there must be a lawgiver!” to be a mindless applause line.

When falling sand in an hourglass forms a cone, does that require a supernatural cone maker? When a river changes course as it meanders over a flat valley, does that demand a river designer? When there is an earthquake, must the timing and placement of that be supernaturally ordained? No, there natural explanations for all these things.

Similarly, the question “Why these fundamental laws and not others?” doesn’t demand the supernatural. To support a claim of supernatural grounding, we need the evidence.

11. An answer without evidence is no answer

“God did it” explains everything. Therefore, it explains nothing. “God did it” is a solution searching for a problem, and apologists thinks they’ve found one with “What grounds logic?”

But “God did it” is simply a repackaging of “I don’t know.” It tells us nothing new. I’m no smarter after hearing “God did it” than before. How did God do it? Why did God do it? Did he break any scientific laws to do it? Who is this guy and where did he come from? This is an answer that just brings forth yet more questions, and it never comes with any evidence to back it up. Since the apologist answers “I don’t know” to each of these new fundamental questions, let’s just save a step and avoid replacing a natural “I don’t know” with a supernatural one.

And which scientists, on hearing and believing TAG, say, “Well, I guess my job is pointless now, so I’ll go be a plumber”? That “explanation” doesn’t explain anything; it simply relabels “We don’t know.”

12. TAG asks a poor question

The Edge had an interesting list of scientists’ musings on a similar topic. I’ll summarize a few points from physicists Sean Carroll and Jeremy Bernstein.

We’re used to asking questions about nature. What causes earthquakes? Why do the continents move? Why is the sun hot? It seems natural to then ask, “Why does logic work?”

But that’s a different kind of question. Earthquakes, continents, stars, molecules, and the elements of nature are part of a larger whole. Asking about the fundamental properties of reality is instead asking about the whole.

The demand to explain the laws of reality is malformed—explain in terms of what? There’s no larger context in which to explain them. The buck stops with these fundamental properties.

Caltrop arguments

I first heard the TAG argument when it was given as a challenge by apologist Matt Slick during a live radio interview ten years ago. Here’s a tip: a radio interview is not the best place to hear a new argument against your position.

And that’s the point. That’s why TAG is a good argument—not that it’s accurate but that it’s confusing.

I call this category of argument caltrop arguments—arguments made simply to slow down an opponent. They’re good for scoring rhetorical points, not for revealing the truth.

You can make your argument so simple that there are obviously no errors. Or you can make it so complicated that there are no obvious errors (Hoare’s Dictum). Said more colloquially, if you can’t dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with bullshit.

Gods are fragile things; 
they may be killed by a whiff of science 
or a dose of common sense. 
— Chapman Cohen

(This is an update of a post that originally appeared 12/9/13.)

Photo credit: Wikimedia


About Bob Seidensticker
  • Halbe

    “Logic exists and therefore God exists, who else could have created logic?”
    – “Ehm, okay… so can God create a stone He cannot lift?”
    “No, that is illogical, and God cannot do things that contradict logic”
    – “Ehm, okay… so God created logic but He cannot change it, and He cannot contradict it? Is He bound by other laws as well? Does not sound all that omnipotent too me.”
    “Well ehm… yeah, you know, ehm… logic is different you know.”
    – “Ehm, okay… different how exactly?”

    • Tony D’Arcy

      Can God create a world without poverty, inequality, disease, warfare, and death ? It seems not. Mysterious ways or not, the old codger never DOES ANYTHING ! Almost as if He weren’t there !

  • Doubting Thomas

    The laws of logic don’t need a lawgiver because, much like the laws of nature, they’re descriptive, not prescriptive.

    And logic doesn’t necessarily work. In much the same way that bad math (2+2=5) doesn’t work because it doesn’t accurately describe reality, bad logic (X=notX) is simply logic that doesn’t accurately describe reality.

    We figured out logic. It wasn’t something handed down from on high.

    • GubbaBumpkin

      … bad logic (X=notX) is simply logic that doesn’t accurately describe reality.

      I would argue the opposite. The usual two-value logic (something cannot be both X and notX) is part of abstract mathematics, it may fail when you try to take it into the real world. Example: are viruses alive? Things get messy out there in the real world.

      • Doubting Thomas

        The logical premise still holds up even when things are on a spectrum. For example, viruses couldn’t be 2/3 alive and not 2/3 alive at the same time.

  • Major Major

    Alex Malpass does a sit down with Matt Slick over why the Transcendental Argument is not even a good argument. Another good source would be Ozymandias Ramses II, who also talks about presupp apologetics and properly basic beliefs. I suck at linking them, but they are good to search out on Youtube.

  • Taneli Huuskonen

    I was the one who created logic, and I’m immune to any logical arguments to the contrary.

  • Tommy

    Maybe OT. I’ve posted this on another thread but it got ate up as spam for some reason, so I’ll post it here again. Here’s a hypothetical discussion between me and a christian apologist:

    Christian Apologist: Of course the universe has a creator! All scientific and all physical, natural evidence testifies to a creator!

    Tommy: So, about this creator. Is it a he or a she or an it?

    Christian Apologist: It’s a being! It has a mind! It’s a consciousness! The creator is a person! We believers call it a ‘he’!

    Tommy: So, about ‘him’; is he a natural being like you and me or is he ‘supernatural’?

    Christian Apologist: He is supernatural! He is above nature! He created nature! He is not bound by natural laws or made up of atoms! He’s a spiritual being! A spiritual being is not of this world!

    Tommy: So you believe supernatural ‘spiritual’ beings exist? What evidence do you have that supernatural/spiritual beings exist? Can you demonstrate it through the scientific method?

    Christian Apologist: You silly deist! That question has no meaning! You’re asking me to provide natural/physical evidence of non-natural and non-physical beings! It is impossible! You cannot prove the supernatural using the natural!

    Tommy: So what you are telling me is that I cannot demonstrate the supernatural/spiritual using the scientific method, nor is there any physical/natural way to prove their existence?

    Christian Apologist: Of course!

    Tommy: If that is true, then your statement ‘All scientific and all physical, natural evidence testifies to a creator!’ is false since the creator you posited is a supernatural/spiritual being and you further explained that it is impossible to provide natural/physical evidence of non-natural and non-physical beings and that one cannot prove the supernatural using the natural. You then confirmed that I cannot demonstrate the supernatural/spiritual using the scientific method, nor is there any physical/natural way to prove their existence.

    Christian Apologist: ……………

    Tommy: Hello? Are you still with me?

    Christian Apologist: Why do you hate Jesus so much?

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

      Nice conversation.

      Re: Spam
      May or may not be relevant to your comment, but I have a theory that the Disqus spam checker attacks edits. Just about every one of my comments that have been marked as spam were where I saw an error in the comment and edited it. Annoying.

  • JustAnotherAtheist2

    TAG: “You are honest enough to admit you don’t have absolute certainty and I’m not, therefore I win.”

    Oh shit, you got me there.

    • Tommy

      TAG: “You are honest enough to admit you don’t have absolute certainty and I’m not, therefore I win.”

      Presuppositional apologetics in a nutshell.