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

A Dozen Responses to the Transcendental Argument for God (3 of 3) December 9, 2013

Transcendental Argument for GodWe conclude our responses to the Transcendental Argument (TAG) here. I introduced the argument and explored the first responses in Part 1.

9. Transcendental Argument for the Non-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? 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 (in particular, those of 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 Matt Slick during a live radio interview six 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

Photo credit: Wikimedia

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