The transcendental argument for the existence of God (TAG) attempts to show that logic, science, ethics (and generally every fact of human experience and knowledge) are not meaningful apart from a preconditioning belief in the existence of God.
The standard requirement to the argument is that there are transcendental things such as science, logic, morality, and mathematics which are not physically in existence which are also part of reality (when you stop believing in them, they don't go away). Since these systems exist, *waves arms*, God exists.
The argument is popular within presuppositionalism and the associated apologetics. Presuppositionalism, however, tends to reverse the argument and simply begin at the conclusion. Logic depends on God, therefore you can't use logic to argue against God as that would be contradictory.
It is worth noting that TAG presupposes Platonic epistemology, that the knowledge of abstract ideas is innate and that knowledge of these abstract ideas is absolute. While this view is sometimes defended on the basis that the knowledge of abstract propositions, like the Laws of Logic and Geometry, can be located through an a priori investigation.
Versions of TAG
That is, knowledge cannot be obtained absolutely unless the source of that knowledge is itself an absolute source (read: being/God). Therefore, either you subconsciously believe in an absolute being that upholds and makes absolute the laws of the universe/morality or you do not—and can not—know anything for certain.
- There are some objective logical absolutes.
- We can have concepts of these logical absolutes.
- These logical absolutes are not physical (you can't find them within the natural world).
- These logical absolutes are therefore conceptual.
- Concepts require a mind.
- Since the logical absolutes are true everywhere they must exist within an infinite mind.
- That mind is God.
- God exists.
Other iterations of the same general theme exist.
- Logic is rational, but atheism presupposes that everything comes from material sources.
- Logic isn't material, so atheism lacks any objective source for logic.
- Without an objective source for logic, atheism cannot employ logic.
- Therefore atheism is self refuting.
- Since atheism is refuted, theism must be true.
- God exists.
This is the version of the Transcendental argument presented by Matt Slick of the CARM:
- Logical Absolutes
- Law of Identity
- Something is what it is, and isn't what it is not. Something that exists has a specific nature.
- For example, a cloud is a cloud, not a rock. A fish is a fish, not a car.
- Law of Non-Contradiction
- Something cannot be both true and false at the same time in the same sense.
- For example, to say that the cloud is not a cloud would be a contradiction since it would violate the first law. The cloud cannot be what it is and not what it is at the same time.
- Law of Excluded Middle (LEM)
- A statement is either true or false, without a middle ground.
- "I am alive" is either true or false. "You are pregnant" is either true or false.
- Note one: "This statement is false" is not a valid statement (not logically true) since it is self-refuting and is dealt with by the Law of Non-contradiction. Therefore, it does not fall under the LEM category since it is a self-contradiction.
- Note two: If we were to ignore note one, then there is a possible paradox here. The sentence "this statement is false" does not fit this Law since if it is true, then it is false. Paradoxes occur only when we have absolutes. Nevertheless, the LEM is valid except for the paradoxical statement cited.
- Note three: If we again ignore note one and admit a paradox, then we must acknowledge that paradoxes exist only within the realm of absolutes.
- Law of Identity
- Logical absolutes are truth statements such as:
- That which exists has attributes and a nature.
- A cloud exists and has the attributes of whiteness, vapor, etc. It has the nature of water and air.
- A rock is hard, heavy, and is composed of its rock material (granite, marble, sediment, etc.).
- Something cannot be itself and not itself at the same time.
- It cannot be true to state that a rock is not a rock.
- Something cannot bring itself into existence.
- In order for something to bring itself into existence, it has to have attributes in order to perform an action. But if it has attributes, then it already has existence. If something does not exist, it has no attributes and can perform no actions. Therefore, something cannot bring itself into existence.
- Truth is not self-contradictory.
- It could not be true that you are reading this and not reading this at the same time in the same sense. It is either true or false that you are reading this.
- Therefore, Logical Absolutes are absolutely true. They are not subjectively true; that is, they are not sometimes true and sometimes false, depending on preference or situation. Otherwise, they would not be absolute.
- That which exists has attributes and a nature.
- Logical Absolutes form the basis of rational discourse.
- If the Logical Absolutes are not absolute, then truth cannot be known.
- If the Logical Absolutes are not absolute, then no rational discourse can occur.
- For example, I could say that a square is a circle (violating the law of identity), or that I am and am not alive in the same sense at the same time (violating the law of non-contradiction).
- But no one would expect to have a rational conversation with someone who spoke in contradictory statements.
- If Logical Absolutes are not always true, then it might be true that something can contradict itself, which would make truth unknowable and rational discourse impossible. But, saying that something can contradict itself can't be true.
- But since we know things are true (I exist, you are reading this), then we can conclude that logical statements are true. Otherwise, we would not be able to rationally discuss or know truth.
- If they are not the basis of rational discourse, then we cannot know truth or error since the laws that govern rationality are not absolute. This would allow people to speak irrationally, i.e., blue sleeps faster than Wednesday.
- Logical Absolutes are transcendent.
- Logical Absolutes are not dependent on space.
- They do not stop being true dependent on location. If we travel a million light years in a direction, logical absolutes are still true.
- Logical Absolutes are not dependent on time.
- They do not stop being true dependent on time. If we travel a billion years in the future or past, logical absolutes are still true.
- Logical Absolutes are not dependent on people. That is, they are not the product of human thinking.
- People's minds are different. What one person considers to be absolute may not be what another considers to be absolute. People often contradict each other. Therefore, Logical Absolutes cannot be the product of human, contradictory minds.
- If Logical Absolutes were the product of human minds, they would cease to exist if people ceased to exist, which would mean they would be dependent on human minds. But this cannot be so per the previous point.
- Logical Absolutes are not dependent on space.
- Logical Absolutes are not dependent on the material world.
- Logical Absolutes are not found in atoms, motion, heat, under rocks, etc.
- Logical Absolutes cannot be photographed, frozen, weighed, or measured.
- Logical Absolutes are not the product of the physical universe, since that would mean they were contingent on atoms, motion, heat, etc., and that their nature was dependent on physical existence.
- If their nature were dependent upon physical existence, they would cease to exist when the physical universe ceases to exist.
- But, if the universe did not exist, logical absolutes are still true.
- For example, if the universe did not exist, it is still true that something cannot bring itself into existence; that is, anything that did exist would have an identity, and whatever could exist could not be itself and not itself at the same time.
- Therefore, they are not dependent on the material world.
- Logical Absolutes are conceptual by nature.
- Logic is a process of the mind. Logical absolutes provide the framework for logical thought processes. Therefore, Logical Absolutes are conceptual by nature.
- Expanded: Logical absolutes are either conceptual by nature or they are not.
- If they are conceptual by nature, then they are not dependent upon the physical universe for their existence.
- If they are non-conceptual by nature, then:
- What is their nature?
- If it is denied that Logical Absolutes are either conceptual or physical, then there must be a 3rd (or 4th...) option. What would that option be?
- If another option cannot be logically offered, then the only options available to us are conceptual and physical.
- Since logic is not a property of physical nature (see point 5 above), then we must conclude that they are conceptual by nature.
- Simply "denying" that Logical Absolutes are either conceptual or physical nature isn't sufficient.
- Thoughts reflect the mind
- A person's thoughts reflect what he or she is.
- Absolutely perfect thoughts reflect an absolutely perfect mind.
- Since the Logical Absolutes are transcendent, absolute, are perfectly consistent, and are independent of the universe, then they reflect a transcendent, absolute, perfect, and independent mind.
- We call this transcendent, absolute, perfect, and independent mind God.
Fallacy of equivocation: 5.1-4
The first major problem with the argument occurs in 5.1-4 (carm.org version)
- 5. Logical Absolutes are not dependent on the material world.
- 1. Logical Absolutes are not found in atoms, motion, heat, under rocks, etc.
- 2. Logical Absolutes cannot be photographed, frozen, weighed, or measured.
- 3. Logical Absolutes are not the product of the physical universe, since that would mean they were contingent on atoms, motion, heat, etc., and that their nature was dependent on physical existence.
- 1. If their nature were dependent upon physical existence, they would cease to exist when the physical universe ceases to exist.
- 4. But, if the universe did not exist, logical absolutes are still true.
- 1. For example, if the universe did not exist, it is still true that something cannot bring itself into existence; that is, anything that did exist would have an identity, and whatever could exist could not be itself and not itself at the same time.
- 2. Therefore, they are not dependent on the material world.
This is a fallacy of equivocation. Two things of separate value are equated to be the same thing. The page on Wikipedia uses the word 'light' as an example:
- A feather is light.
- What is light cannot be dark.
- Therefore, a feather cannot be dark.
There are actually two separate aspects of logical absolutes to be considered. The conceptual statements such as 'A=A', and the physical underpinning on which the conceptual statement is based.
It is true that the conceptual statement that 'A=A' cannot be photographed, frozen weighed or measured. It is an abstract. However the semantic statement refers to the physical nature of things that do exist and are material and are absolutely contingent on physical existence. Atoms are [Atoms]. Motion is not, [not motion]. Heat is not [heat and not heat] at the same time.
5.1-3 attempts to equate the conceptual semantic statement and the physical underpinning of that statement to be the same thing, and then continues in 6.1-2 to argue that the logical absolutes are only conceptual and therefore dependent on a mind. The logical absolutes are not arbitrary prescriptive conceptual statements about what logic can and can't do. They are descriptive statements about the nature of the reality we observe, on which the laws of formal logic are then based.
Furthermore, 5.4 is an unfounded assertion. If the universe did not exist, neither would the three logical absolutes as they would have nothing to apply to. If nothing existed there would be no A to equal A. The underpinning of the logical absolute statements are dependent on something existing. The logical absolutes themselves are simply a fundamental property of material existence.
Fallacy of division: 6.1
The second major problem occurs in 6.1 (carm.org version).
- 6.1 Logic is a process of the mind. Logical absolutes provide the framework for logical thought processes. Therefore, Logical Absolutes are conceptual by nature.
This is a fallacy of division. An attribute or property of a complete system is applied to an individual part of that system. The example given at Wikipedia uses an air plane as an analogy:
- A Boeing 747 can fly unaided across the ocean.
- A Boeing 747 has jet engines.
- Therefore, one of its jet engines can fly unaided across the ocean.
Some other examples of Fallacy of Division would be:
- I have a concept of an apple, therefore the actual apple I'm holding in my hand is also conceptual
- My lust is emotional, therefore the object of my lust is also emotional.
- A car can be driven. Therefore the design of a car can also be driven.
The logical absolutes provide the underpinning and framework for the structure of formal logic. However, the fact that formal logic is of a purely conceptual nature does not necessarily mean that the underpinning of that formal logic is also purely conceptual.
As humans, we require linguistic signifiers in order to discuss the things and patterns we observe (i.e. the things and patterns signified), therefore the logical absolutes have a conceptual existence insofar as we need words to signify them. This approach entails that logical absolutes are discovered through a process of the mind, rather than constructed. Thus logical absolutes are not conceptual by nature. Instead, they are a physical property of reality—observed by humans and pointed to with language.
Presumably, the theist does not intend to challenge the idea that we discover logical absolutes rather than construct them. A formal system of logic that constructs rather than discovers absolutes within reality would be incoherent (what meaning could absolute have in this context?) and useless. Any idea could necessarily be true. We know this isn't the case. Rather, the theist's intention is to show that God constructs the logical absolutes. Which, being necessarily conceptual, cannot be truly absolute without a stable, unchanging source. Since concepts reside only in minds, and the only stable, unchanging mind is God's, then the existence of logical absolutes necessitates God. This, as demonstrated above, is the fallacy of division.
False dichotomy: 6.2
The third major problem occurs in 6.2 (carm.org version)
- 6.2 Expanded: Logical absolutes are either conceptual by nature or they are not.
- 1. If they are conceptual by nature, then they are not dependent upon the physical universe for their existence.
- 2. If they are non-conceptual by nature, then:
- 1. What is their nature?
- 2. If it is denied that Logical Absolutes are either conceptual or physical, then there must be a 3rd (or 4th...) option. What would that option be?
- 3. If another option cannot be logically offered, then the only options available to us are conceptual and physical.
- 4. Since logic is not a property of physical nature (see point 5 above), then we must conclude that they are conceptual by nature.
- 5. Simply "denying" that Logical Absolutes are either conceptual or physical nature isn't sufficient.
- 6.2 Expanded: Logical absolutes are either conceptual by nature or they are not.
This attempts to set up a false dichotomy. This is where two options are presented as Boolean opposites (A or not A) where that is not necessarily the case (A or B).
If the logical absolutes are not physical and not conceptual there must be a 3rd or 4th option. What are they? The fact is that conceptual and physical existence are not a true dichotomy. In fact they are not even mutually exclusive.
- 6.2.2 - Claims that Logical Absolutes are either conceptual or physical. As is shown in the above sub-article for 5.1-4 Fallacy of Equivocation the logical absolutes have both a physical and conceptual counterpart. It isn't an either/or situation thus a 3rd option isn't required.
- 6.2.4 - Claims that since logic is conceptual, the absolutes they are based on must also be conceptual. As is shown in the above sub-article 6.1 Fallacy of Division this is not the case.
It is also interesting to note, that by its very nature, this section of the argument specifically argues against the existence of anything spiritual, which doesn't leave much room for the theist assertion that a god exists somewhere outside of their mind, and also outside the physical reality we are able to observe and measure.
Special Pleading: 7.1-4
The final conclusion of the TAG argument is also logically invalid.
- 7. Thoughts reflect the mind
- 1. A person's thoughts reflect what he or she is.
- 2. Absolutely perfect thoughts reflect an absolutely perfect mind.
- 3. Since the Logical Absolutes are transcendent, absolute, are perfectly consistent, and are independent of the universe, then they reflect a transcendent, absolute, perfect, and independent mind.
- 4. We call this transcendent, absolute, perfect, and independent mind God.
Even ignoring all the major fallacies up until this point, and accepting the false premise that the logical absolutes are purely conceptual, the final conclusion also makes a case of special pleading. The fact that human minds are capable of conceiving of the logical absolutes to make this very argument, is proof that these concepts are not dependent on an absolutely perfect supreme transcendent mind.
This section of the argument is also related to the ontological argument. Just because you semantically define something transcendent perfect and magical as existing doesn't mean it actually exists.
The Number 4 Summary
To summarize, a simple analogy to the logical absolutes would be abstract mathematics. The number 4 is “transcendent” by the TAG definition. It isn't a 'thing' that 'exists'. It cannot be photographed, frozen, weighed, or measured. It is always the number 4. It always remains the same. It always remains true.
However, if there were no minds in existence to conceive of the number 4, the shape we currently call a square would still have the same number of sides it has now. It would not physically gain or lose any sides. The abstraction of the number 4 is conceptual, but the concept isn't dependent on a transcendent mind for the real world underpinning of the concept to remain true.
- TANG or the Transcendental argument for the non-existence of God attempts to show that such logical absolutes cannot be absolutes if they are subjective by being God based. God could simply ignore the number 7 or believe that killing children is good and the logical absolutes would change. Therefore, they would not be logical absolutes or objectively true but rather subject to the whims of God.
- It should always be remembered that theists are in the same position as non-theists once enough layers are peeled back. The goal of TAG and other presuppositionalist arguments is to stay on the offensive and keep asking "why" and "how do you account for" questions until you hit bedrock at "The just universe exists and behaves consistently". This is a brute fact and it makes no sense to ask for "why" beyond this point, however the TAG proponent will declare victory if you don't have an answer, then baldly assert that they do (God did it). This usually trips atheists up because they don't realize that they are being asked an impossible question that equally applies to ANY worldview, including the theistic one. Your goal should be to mirror the questions they ask you and go on the offensive yourself until you expose that they also don't have answers to the "why" question at the bottom of their worldview. You will find that TAG proponents are trying to account for the consistent behavior of nature by appealing to the consistent mind of a god that can't be accounted for! They cant account why god exists instead of not existing. He "just exists" for no reason and no cause, and just has the properties he has for no reason and no cause. His will is effective rather than ineffective, for no reason and no cause. In other words they cannot account for the existence or capabilities of the being they are appealing to as the foundation of logic! So they have actually accounted for nothing. They've just pushed the question back a level. The argument relies on the Münchhausen trilemma. If you keep asking "why" while rejecting accepted precepts you have to come down to a circular argument. However as stated above the trilemma can be used against the theist.
- So what? Many non-theists, when they are backed against the wall, will admit that they know nothing with 100% certainty. Humans generally will prefer some explanation rather than no explanation. However, providing "some explanation" does not make the claims in the explanation true. Absolute certainty is in general meaningless as by definition one would have to be omniscient to acquire it. Atheists do not in general make claims to the absolute truth of things; this is usually the domain of the theist.
- An example of what some may call absolutely certain is the idea that the Sun will rise tomorrow. To be truly absolute in certainty, you would require precognition; however, that is generally useless. It's much more accurate to state that based on the evidence of many days prior as well as our understanding of chemistry and the composition of stars that the sun will not soon cease to rise.
- Even, for the sake of argument, accepting every point made, the only conclusion drawn is that there must be at all times intelligence. Unless God is defined only as a something capable of conceptualizing the rules of logic -- of which, most mammals by necessity are able to grasp in a rudimentary sense -- the existence of a god is still unsubstantiated.
- Reductio ad absurdum
The version of the transcendental argument for the existence of God which claims that the classical laws of logic depend upon God may be refuted simply by pointing out that its conclusion, if taken seriously, is absurd.
If the classical laws of logic depend upon God for their existence, then the classical laws of logic must not apply to God. If they did, this would be like a mother giving birth to her mother, a ceiling supporting itself in the air, or an effect causing itself or the cause of its parent cause.
- Since the law of the excluded middle would not apply to God: any statement about God, as well as its negation, may both be true. So, “God exists,” and “God does not exist,” may both be true. Demonstrating “God exists,” would fail to imply that “God does not exist,” is false.
- Since the law of non-contradiction would not apply to God: contradictory statements about God may be true. Therefore, “God exists and does not exist,” may be true.
- Since the law of identity would not apply to God: God may be other than, or not, God.
- If this variant of the transcendental argument for the existence of God is accurate, any attempt to think rationally about God proves itself absurd. This, of course, includes any and all logical arguments for the existence of God, including this variant of the transcendental argument for the existence of God. It would also render all other claims made concerning God meaningless.
P1 God does not exist. P2 Tag proposes that if god does not exist, then truth does not exist. P3 If god does not exist then P1 is true. Conclusion: from 2 and 3, TAG is not sound.
- Fallacy of division
- Fallacy of reification
- False dichotomy
- Special pleading
- Ontological argument
- Christian Apologetics Research Ministries – Matt Slicks website
- Sorry, Denise but God didn't make numbers – Article by Mark Chu-Carroll PhD on Good math, Bad math.
- Slick Logic – Youtube Theoretical BS run down on the TAG argument.
- Atheist experience #593 – Youtube AE television debate between Matt D and Matt Slick.
- Matt/Matt Debate – Youtube Theoretical BS commentary of the atheist experience debate.
- Wikipedia:Transcendental argument for the existence of God – Wikipedia article