I normally would not bother with such questions, but I hope that the beauty of logic (and mathematics) could be appreciated more. Also, hopefully we can collectively learn to be more familiar with popular logical fallacies. One can start by learning about the more classical arguments for the existence of God. These include the Cosmological Argument and the Ontological Argument.
It was Bertrand Russell who noted of such arguments like the Ontological Argument that it “does not, to a modern mind, seem very convincing, but it is easier to feel convinced that it must be fallacious than it is to find out precisely where the fallacy lies.”
Russell’s observation could very well be true for many of the newer, less classical apologetics from very obscure theological traditions (that seem incidentally quite isolated from the larger evangelical community). One argument is called the Transcendental Argument for the Existence of God (TAG). It is known not for its popularity but for its ability to become very long and convoluted.
Unsurprisingly, there are many distinct formulations of this argument that one can find at places like CARM. One of the more popular ones, formulated by Matt Slick, has inspired many refutations which you can both read and watch. For the purposes of this post, I will focus on a less formal version covered on this blog. It’s a rehash of the ideas of a relatively little known theologian named Cornelius Van Til.
The argument is given below with cute diagrams.
The Transcendental Argument for the Existence of God
The atheist offers many criticisms of Christianity. There must be a basis for such criticisms.
Truth claims like “Christianity is not true” employ logic, science, and ethics.
Logic, science, and ethics need to be accounted for. At the base of logic, science, and ethics are transcendental truths about reality. These truths, like the idea that the universe is consistent across time (see Hume’s Problem of Induction), that the law of noncontradiction holds, etc. are transcendental because they are not contingent on experience or consciousness.
How do we account for what is true? EITHER we are autonomous beings capable of understanding truth OR God decides what is true. This is the position of “non-neutrality”. Christians and atheists cannot agree on anything because the very idea of truth they hold is different.
As it turns out, the diagram above is wrong. It is impossible for a secular worldview to account for the transcendent absolutes that are the foundations of logic, science, and ethics. Autonomous man is trapped in his own experience and cannot by itself rationally justify the transcendental absolutes that allow for logic, science, and ethics.
The only alternative left is a Christian God who accounts for the transcendent absolutes that give rise to logic, science, and ethics.
For the Christian, everything is what it is because God says – and is – so… God is thus the prior and authoritative interpreter of all facts, and the truth of a proposition is equivalent to how well it conforms to God’s interpretation of the facts.
Therefore, the atheist who uses logic, science, and ethics to argue against Christianity presupposes that Christianity is true. This cannot be.
This argument, if valid, is a very damning one. By the author’s own admittance, this would throw out not only all secular criticism of Christianity, but also the arguments of Christians who argue for the existence of God from a neutral point of view (one that says we agree with atheists on some things.)
It has a further implication.
The argument I provided doesn’t a priori prove the truth of Christianity, it just says it’s not rational to assert anything else to be true. You could think that nothing is true, including the statement “nothing is true.” You would be left with radical nihilism, which rejects that the meaninglessness of truth claims is a reason for rejecting them, and can’t assert anything to be true, even itself.
It builds a strong choice between Christianity and absolute atheistic nihilism. It means either Christianity is true, or everything we know is meaningless. It would mean that atheists cannot make objective truth claims, and therefore cannot make a logical or moral argument without the Christian God.
Imagine that the only restaurant in town is one that serves only nihilism and Christianity, and you can’t order both.
Where does the fallacy lie?
There are many troublesome and outright fallacious parts of this argument. Many of these objections are interconnected, but we will start with an obvious one.
The most noticeable thing is that the Christian God is not well-defined as a solution. That is, there is no good reason to think that God solves the problems presented by TAG to atheists.
The Christian God, under almost all interpretations, cannot do evil. It is therefore also bound by the ethical absolutes and is therefore neither independent of ethical absolutes nor a possible interpreter of such “facts” because he cannot decide otherwise. Also the principle that God cannot cease to be God (or cease to be perfect, moral, loving, etc.) because of his nature (consistent with the law of noncontradiction) is also a transcendental absolute that limits God’s independence. This Christian God, bound by transcendental absolutes, when used in an argument like TAG, is clearly an example of referring the problem upward. In short, one must still explain why the absolutes transcend God. It is clear that the proposition of God in TAG is merely a semantic slight-of-hand to try to avoid explaining what is still not explained. If the rest of TAG is valid (which it is not), the Christian has the same problem as the atheist because there is no real account of the absolutes that God is also subject to.
Non-neutrality is nonsensical.
The false dilemma given in TAG is either that truth is God’s truth as he interprets it, or truth is what humans seek to interpret it as. Both of these positions on “truth” are nonsensical because, by citing a proper “authority” on truth, they make truth contingent on conscious minds (either God’s mind or human minds). The only working idea of truth is that it is independent of all minds (not just of human minds). The objectivist formalization of this principle is called the Primacy of Existence. Truth is neither decided nor created by humans; rather, truth is what is according to reality, and reality is that which is primary over consciousness.
The dichotomy of Autonomous Man vs. Christian God is therefore not only a false dichotomy, but also nonsensical.
The argument uses a fallacy of equivocation on the words “interpretation” and “truth”. When TAG says that what is true is what God interprets it to be, the direct meaning is that God decides what is true. This is utterly and blatantly confused with the concept of human interpretation of truth, which is not a process of deciding truth, but is rather an exercise of trying to understand what is true in the objective world; it is a mental exercise. Therefore, denying atheists the right to understand the objective world while allowing Christians the ability to understand God’s interpretation is a dishonest form of special pleading.
The assumption of truth-making “authority” is an incorrect premise.
TAG uses the connotation of the word “authority” and presupposes that there is something that grants authority to make truth claims (Man or God). This premise is not only unproven but is also clearly incorrect. Because the purpose of TAG is to show that only by assuming the Christian God can we make valid truth claims, we can merely show how valid truth claims can be made without the need to even mention authority.
As noted above, I believe that the assumption that Existence is Primary is necessary to make any truth claims. In fact, Christianity is nonsensical if the Primacy of Existence is not assumed. Otherwise, God’s existence would be contingent on God (or something else) deciding that he himself exists, which contradicts the fact that God must be eternal.
On the contrary, if we assume that the existence of all things is what it independently is; that is, all interpretations of X do not affect the actual existence of X. In this context, valid truth claims are simply made based on how well they conform to existence; they do not require ill-defined concepts like “authority” and “autonomy”.
TAG fundamentally misunderstands logical systems.
TAG at its core asks that logical systems must be fully accounted for, that is, they must be consistent and complete. Its solution of the Christian God, as I have shown, is not a solution but an incoherent deux ex machina. But a more fundamental problem is that it is searching for a solution to a problem that probably has no solution (see Kurt Godel).
Neutrality is correct.
There are two main reasons why neutrality is correct (and why non-neutrality is wrong). The first is that TAG fundamentally does not allow for probabilistic arguments. The need for a completely satisfactory answer to the Problem of Induction, for example, is a search for logical certainty about the validity of the inductive method (and therefore logical certainty that the sun will rise tomorrow given enough experience, for example). This is not only inconsistent with the spirit of scientific inquiry, but it also mistakenly excludes positions of neutrality.
Secondly, the Christian cannot be consistent without agreeing with many of the assumptions that atheists commonly hold. As in all logical systems, it is impossible to derive logical truth without some unprovable assumption. Atheists choose to believe assumptions like the Primacy of Existence and the reality that we are not Brains in Vats. Christians also believe this too, but also in addition to other theological claims that I have shown are neither necessary nor coherent.
TAG assumes neutrality.
TAG is made to convince the atheist that there are only two justifiable choices (nihilism and Christianity) based on commonly agreed knowledge. If it did not assume neutrality, then all attempts to refute TAG would automatically be wrong because the atheist cannot assert it to be wrong. TAG would then be a logical fallacy called begging the question.
Further comments and fallacies
Christianity does not solve the problems given by inductive skepticism; instead it exacerbates the problem. Hume’s critique of induction is that given that we see that the sun rises in the morning everyday, there is no reason to think that the sun actually rising tomorrow will happen rather than its negation, that is, the sun not rising tomorrow. Christianity, incidentally, says that it is indeed possible for the conclusions of induction to be invalid. That is, at any time, and at any moment, God may choose to suspend the laws of nature. This has happened not only at events like Joshua’s halting of the sun and , but also at events fundamental to the truth of Christianity, like the Resurrection of Jesus. Christianity itself is not consistent with the uniformity of the Universe.
Introducing a new form of pseudoscientific model that says the universe is uniform as long as God says otherwise is not only another form of special pleading, but it renders science as we know and use it today completely irrelevant (hence pseudoscientific). A scientific and inductive method that is accepting of supernatural phenomenon renders science absurd and opens the floodgates to unfalsifiable explanations like intelligent design and faith-healing. Christianity cannot account for science as we know it.
Let us ignore all the above problems and grant that TAG is 100% valid.
TAG does not hint at the existence of God and is therefore poorly named. TAG merely questions the logical absolutes that we hold and asks for an account of them. The proper conclusion of TAG (assuming it is 100% valid, which it is not) is that either that the Universe is completely nihilistic or that there is some mind accounting for logic, science, and ethics. This mind does not have to be a “god” in the perfect, all-knowing, all-powerful sense. This entity merely needs to be capable enough to interpret facts and create a rational, objective universe where logic, science, and ethics are valid.
Let us go even further and assume that TAG is 100% valid and does actually hint at the existence of God.
Then this God is not necessarily Christian. To show uniqueness would require not only serious theological interpretation of all current ideas of God, but also all existing and future conceptions of God. Specifically, TAG does not show how this supposed “God” sent a son down to Earth. It does not demonstrate the validity of the Adam and Eve “metaphor” or the revelation that Jesus is returning one day. It does not show much of what is essential in the Apostle’s Creed and Nicene Creed to be true. TAG demonstrates almost nothing that is important in Christianity.
Therefore, even if we make the absurd assumption that TAG is valid, its final conclusion of reducing the only possibilities to nihilism and Christianity is a false dilemma, and a very bad one.
It was Bertrand Russell, of course, who wrote that many of the Ontological arguments reduce to “bad grammar” and “bad syntax”. I think this is a good paradigm for many of these “arguments for God’s existence”.
I personally find it hard to believe that the Christian God spread his message so well as to send his own Son to die in an illiterate and superstitious part of Palestine, only to not give any reasonable argument for his existence to be passed on. Rather, we have questionable 20th century “experts” on theology to tell us exactly how to think on their fallacious grounds.
I agree with many Christians who say that God “transcends all reason”. He is illogical, incoherent, and so blatantly nonsensicalthat human comprehension is impossible (and perhaps human knowledge of his existence is unattainable). It is clear that belief in God requires faith, and, as Kierkegaard might note, a mega-gigantic leap of faith. After all, it is faith that gives “evidence for things not seen, and the substance of things hoped for.” In short, it makes people think there is evidence when there is not, and it gives things for people to believe just to fulfill their wishes.
I hope you enjoyed it. If you didn’t, the good news is that I’m never posting one of these apologetic refutations ever again.
In a world where fancy hats and holy robes mean absolutely nothing and where arguments must stand by themselves, Christians are not feeling quite at home. Some Christians are admitting that the internet is a great threat to Christianity.
Christian apologist Josh McDowell put it succinctly:
…the abundance of knowledge, the abundance of information, will not lead to certainty; it will lead to pervasive skepticism. And, folks, that’s exactly what has happened. It’s like this. How do you really know, there is so much out there… This abundance [of information] has led to skepticism. And then the Internet has leveled the playing field [giving equal access to skeptics].
… The Internet is weakening Christian witness and “we better wake up to it because it’s just beginning.”
Nothing is more damning to religion than the greatest library of information ever assembled in the world. With just a few clicks, people everywhere can look up everything, from common logical fallacies that Christians use to the latest news on evolutionary science. A database of knowledge on such a gigantic global scale, built on top of a a free marketplace of ideas, is exactly the kind of environment where religion does not flourish.
While Christianity enjoys a robust online presence, the edge still seems to belong to its unbelievers. ChristianForums.com, online since 1998, boasts a quarter-million members. But with an Alexa ranking of almost 12,000 in the U.S. and only 68,000 unique page views per month, it lags behind the most popular forums for the irreligious. The web’s largest atheist forum is a subcommunity of the social media site Reddit, launched in 2005. Its Alexa traffic ranking puts it in the top 50 sites in the United States with 2 million unique visitors per month, many of those to its “Atheist” subcommunity of 154,000.
The secular community indeed has a huge presence online. And it’s a testament to our success that we’ve made it this far. The evidence and arguments have always been on our side, and by all means, we are winning the hearts and minds of millions of people around the world whose minds had previously been enslaved by religious nonsense.
We should be proud of our position on the internet, but at the same time, we should humble ourselves about reality on the ground. Over 10% of public high schoolers are still taught creationism. In poor communities especially, graduation rates are low, religiosity and crime rates are high. Access to quality education is lacking.
That’s why atheists and secularists should make education reform our number one issue, possibly higher than church-state issues. It is the ultimate civil rights issue, and it’s an issue that is going to affect millions of youth for the rest of their lives. We already know that improvements to education is correlated with rates of atheism, which is natural, but that’s not why it should be our issue. It’s our issue because we stand for things greater than statistics; we want to open people’s minds and have them come to their own conclusions.
Supporting the internet and fighting for children’s opportunity to learn more about this world. Inspiring generations of people with science, history, literature, and world cultures. This is the issue of our time.
You know there’s a parallel between Harry Potter and the Bible. Too bad all the atheists are crazy for Harry.
By the way, the guy who that says he’ll see Gandhi and Hitler in Hell is completely wrong. Hitler was a Roman Catholic.
Greta Christina slammed William Lane Craig a couple of days ago on his insane defense of Biblical atrocities.
And he [Craig] said that as long as God gives the thumbs-up, it’s okay to kill pretty much anybody. It’s okay to kill bad people, because they’re bad and they deserve it… and it’s okay to kill good people, because they wind up in Heaven. As long as God gives the thumbs-up, it’s okay to systematically wipe out entire races. As long as God gives the thumbs-up, it’s okay to slaughter babies and children. Craig said — not essentially, not as a paraphrase, but literally, in quotable words — “the death of these children was actually their salvation.”
You can and should read the whole blog post. I’ve never seen an argument so bad and intellectually suicidal since… the last time I heard this argument (at an SSA debate).
Before my secular readers go into “WTF” mode, I say we have to show some sympathy for people like Craig. You see, we atheists don’t know what it is like to have to kiss up to a book at all costs, despite all the evidence in the world that the characters in the book are fictional (cannot possibly be good or divine).
Like I mentioned in the previous post, Christians usually go through all kinds of obstacles to make up desperate rationalizations for things that don’t normally make sense. They reinterpret Genesis to fit evolutionary theory. They think the Flood was a metaphor. And in this case, they come up with some morally bankrupt defense for atrocities in the Bible.
There’s nothing more entertaining than watching people say what they believe. Pastor Mark Driscoll tells it as it is.
My job is to tell you the truth. Your job is to make a decision.
Yes, apparently as a human being, he knows such incredible details about what happens after we die and what thoughts we must have in order to not get roasted for eternity, and he holds a job for telling us about it. As for the rest of us, we just have to make a choice between keeping ourselves sane and believing in some God who can only forgive you if you believe in a human sacrifice.
But my point is that Pastor Mark Driscoll is absolutely right.
If the Bible is the Word of God and if Jesus was the Son of God, the overwhelming majority of people who have ever lived are in Hell. Most people on Earth will probably end up there too. I’m also sick and tired of new-age Christians who want to metaphorize this reality away. I also don’t want to hear my fellow atheists tell me I’m not studying enough theology, I’m taking the Bible out of context, I’m being as bad as a fundamentalist, or any other excuses that I’ve heard.
My job is also to tell you the truth: the Bible’s message of salvation by faith alone is real, and this message will not disappear no matter how hard you try to study history, theology, philosophy, etc. The only thing people can do is to ignore it and live with the cognitive dissonance.
I tell the truth, and you make the decision. Either you accept Christianity as Jesus says (and live with all the immoralities and absurdities that it entails) or you take my position: religion is a human invention, and it shows.
If an atheist made it to heaven, he would want to be conscious. Some say that people aren’t really conscious in Heaven. They say that only the soul or spirit goes up, and that we really won’t be aware of where or what we are. As far as the atheist can see, that would mean we’re as good as dead, which can’t possibly be the case.
If an atheist made it to heaven conscious, he would want to have free will. Without free will, God could indeed make us act (and even think) perfectly and without sin, but we wouldn’t be us. We would be in terrible pain if we could not control the movement of our limbs or the thoughts in our head. We must therefore have free will.
If an atheist made it to heaven conscious and with free will, he would want his reasoning faculties intact. Without that, he would be incomplete, he would be someone else, someone who could do all kind of crazy, superstitious, nonsensical things. The idea of Heaven as a place without the light of Reason is absurd.
If an atheist made it to heaven conscious, with free will, and with the faculty of reason intact, he would commit the same freaking sins on earth as on heaven. He would doubt and disbelieve in many of the commands and instructions of God. The atheist would still tell white lies, get angry from time to time, and some may even participate in homosexual activities. The atheist would still be himself: created sinful and commanded to be perfect.
That’s why atheists go to hell. Because they mess it up.
Now, what do Christians do when they go to Heaven?
A very good video. My favorite part is the last part, of course, on the topic of arrogance vs. humility.
Yesterday, I watched this excellent documentary by the BBC about ultra-nationalist Jewish settlers who dedicate their lives to repopulating parts of the West Bank.
It’s a very vivid portrayal of the tension and intense hatred on both sides, and I very much recommend that you watch the whole thing.
What really stood out for me was the conversation between journalist Theroux and a young man [YM] near the end of the documentary:
[YM]: This is our land. You can come and kill us and do whatever you want. We are going to stay here. We are going to die for this country.
[Theroux]: And kill for this country?
[YM]: If necessary, yes. I don’t know if mentally I can do it, but by the law of God, you are supposed to do it. You told me you’re an atheist. Do you like it?
[Theroux]: A lot. It’s very comforting. It’s very comforting to know that there’s no one up there looking after me.
[YM]: It’s comfortable… sure. I think it’s a–you forgive me already right?–a stupid way of life. What are you here for? You think you came from a monkey? Everyone likes to think there’s a big thing behind us, not that we are here just to work, get money, feed our children, and die, and that’s it. You are supposed to be a good man. You are supposed to work for God, not just for yourself.
Of course, the ironic thing is that we’d probably all be better off if we only worked, made money, fed our children, and die. We’d be better off if we didn’t have a great voice in our head calling for us to steal property and kill those in our way. And if you really are going to claim that you, another evolved mammal, actually can comprehend the commands of God, perhaps you should keep it private (or at least announce it with a great deal of embarrassment).
But as long as Israel and Palestine remain racially divided entities founded on the premise of different promises from God(s), there will never be a harmonious society that fully respects human rights.
Therefore, the inspirational thought(s) of the day will be reflections on the purpose of life by none other than Mr. Hitchens:
As you all know, this a great blog with no secular bias whatsoever, which is exactly why I want to show you the religious perspective on inspiration. My last post demonstrated the incomprehensible size of stars and how they should humble us, but this is how Christians view the exact same thing:
So he gets a nice sinking feel, huh? And all our false feelings of importance? They come from sin, right?
Remember that this is coming from a religion that for centuries insisted that we really were at the center of the Universe, that we were really the special creation of God completely separate from animals, that everything was tweaked just right for human life.
But let us forget about that. The guy is a Christian, and he claims to be humbled by the awesome size of stars in the Universe.
He’s so incredibly humbled that he, while holding the Bible in one hand, can probably answer the following:
1. Whether God certainly exists or not.
2. How many Gods there are.
3. Whether this God cares about what happens in some negligible nanoscopic alley in the Universe.
4. Which God, out of the millions that humans have believed, is the one true God.
5. Whether or not God really chose to save us by sending Jesus to some backwards part of the Middle East.
6. Whether there is an afterlife or not.
7. What the afterlife consists of, and what thoughts and beliefs (or rituals) you must have to get there.
8. Who you may have sex with.
9. What divine instructions God gave thousands of years ago.
10. Which parts of the Bible are literally true, and which ones are metaphor.
11. Whether God really answers prayers.
As a human being, I maintain that anyone who even remotely claims that they have the answers to some of the questions above are, at the least, extremely suspect and, at worst, complete frauds. The obvious fact, of course, is that anyone who claims to know with some clarity all or most of the answers above are claiming things that human beings cannot possibly know.
This is exactly why I don’t want to see my President having breakfast with people who make a living out of making the claims above. I especially don’t want to hear him saying how faith is about being humble and understanding the limits of your own knowledge.
The problem with faith is that it makes people so incredibly, unbelievably, astronomically, and galatically arrogant, while at the same time making them not realize it.
The inspiration of the day, therefore, comes from Carl Sagan:
We live on a hunk of rock and metal that circles a humdrum star that is one of 400 billion other stars that make up the Milky Way Galaxy which is one of billions of other galaxies which make up a universe which may be one of a very large number, perhaps an infinite number, of other universes. That is a perspective on human life and our culture that is well worth pondering.