Thursday, 19 April 2012

A Question on the Transcendental Argument for God

I have a question on the Transcendental Argument for God.  Greg Bahnsen boiled it down to:

The transcendental proof for God's existence is that without him, it is impossible to prove anything.
My question is this: what is the argument?  Seriously.  I can accept, in its entirety, the alleged proof and absolutely nothing follows from it.

"Without [God] it is impossible to prove anything" can be rephrased as:
"God exists or it is impossible to prove anything."
With the "or" being an inclusive "or": the statement is false only if both phrases are false.  The statement is true when either:

1. God exists and it is possible to prove something
2. God exists and it is impossible to prove anything
3. God does not exist and it is impossible to prove anything

Now a conclusion follows from its premises if its negation generates a contradiction, if the negated conclusion and the premises cannot be true at the same time.  So what conclusion follows from "God exists or it is impossible to prove anything"?

It's not "God exists".  The negation of "God exists" is "God does not exist", and "God does not exist" can be true at the same time as "God exists or it is impossible to prove anything." (it's situation 3)

It's not "it is possible to prove something".  The negation of "it is possible to prove something" is "it is impossible to prove anything" and that is the second situation.

It's not "it is impossible to prove anything".  The negation of "it is impossible to prove anything" is "it is possible to prove something" and that is the first situation.

Is there a missing premise? Or is the argument just bollocks? Will any presuppositionalist reply to a question rather than just asking them?


Robert said...

I'm not a presuppositionalst, but I've always assumed that they meant something along the lines of, "it is possible to prove anything if and only if God exists".

Anonymous said...

Hello Tony,

I have answered your question:

Tony Lloyd said...

Hi Hesekiah

Well, I suppose you tried. Still hasn't actually answered the question though.

You do give a little clue later on in the comments thread:

"proof" by reducing everybody else to absurdity.

You haven't reduced everyone else to absurdity. At most you have reduced everyone to either theism or certainty-scepticism even if the argument is accepted. Certainty-scepticism is not an absurd position.

Note that this "proof" is not the same level of "proof" as the “proof” in the argument. You can reduce other people’s arguments to absurdity without God: call it “proof-lite”. If God is necessary for proof then proof is not proof-lite, call the other concept of proof “proof-max”.

Plug that into Bahnsen’s “proof”:

The transcendental proof-lite for God's existence is that without him, it is impossible to prove-max anything.

Now, if we accept the “argument” we are forced either to accept God, or that we cannot prove-max anything. “Fine”, we say, “we’ll use proof-lite”.

You can either accept that we happily run our lives using proof-lite (in which case the argument fails), or you can insist that we absolutely must prove-max everything (in which case the argument is contradictory and fails).

Ron Murphy said...

Even for a valid argument it is only a sound argument with a true conclusion if the premises are also true.

But whatever argument we construct we then need another to prove the premises of the current one.

Premises from presupposition or by definition can't contribute to soundness, since they are themselves not reached by proof - they are not themselves the results of a sound deductive argument.

The consequence is that deductive proofs are always provisional. So, you can't prove anything. So, the transcendental proof proves nohing about God.

Unfortunately, by the same argument, I can't prove this argument correct.

But the provisional nature of "can't prove anything" (or "nothing can be proved") is not sufficient to prove "can prove something".

Since we can't prove that we "can prove something" the matter of proving stuff says nothing about God.

Deductive logic is only useful within a limited context, to ensure the imtermediate steps we take are justified. It says nothing about our premises, which are always contingent. All human knowledge is contingent.

The transcendental argument fails miserably. The argument could fail equally well with non-biblical gods, fairy magic, or any made-up stuff being used as a presupposition. Presupposition by its very nature is nonsense.

The one remaining puzzle for me is how the minds of presuppositionalists actually work. I mean, I get faith, blind faith. That's just about making stuff up, believing it, and denying any requirement for logic or reason. But presuppositionalists somehow manage to deny logic and convince themselves they can do logic, a better logic. Totally mental.