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Transcendental Argument
Ermanno D'Annunzio

"Logic presupposes that its principles are necessarily true. However, according to the brand of Christianity assumed by TAG, God created everything, including logic; or at least everything, including logic, is dependent on God. But if something is created by or is dependent on God, it is not necessary -- it is contingent on God. And if principles of logic are contingent on God, they are not logically necessary."

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From: "Positive Atheism Magazine" <editor@positiveatheism.org> To: "Ermanno D'Annunzio"
Subject: Re: TAG help
Date: Wednesday, January 31, 2001 6:35 AM

I have sent this question off to another correspondent, as I am in the midst of a flood of e-mail resulting from the George W. Bush inauguration. It seems that it's now open season on atheists, and all the fundamentalist Christians appear to have come out of the woodwork. I am also in the midst of a three-month-long self-study refresher course on the history of Western philosophy (Popkin's new anthology from Columbia), so I am not entirely prepared to discuss this one, though I think some of it is related to the Ontological argument.

George H. Smith's new book, Why Atheism?, covers the Ontological Argument quite handily, describing the argument enough different ways that I think almost anybody can walk away from Smith's treatment with a usable grasp of the argument states and how and why it was used. Smith also presents, I think, both the bottom-line of the argument itself and a perspective on its use in modern times. I think this may be related to the Ontological Argument. This argument explores the notions of "contingency" and the history of the attacks upon and the rebuttals by those advocating the Ontological Argument. The circular reasoning is this:

An a priori proof, as this is called, supposedly appeals to reason independently of experience. The obvious problem with this is that thinking that something can exist does mean that the thing does, in fact, exist. In other words, you cannot define God into existence. The self-referential circularity of this one is that if God does not exist, then He is not "a thing, greater than which cannot be conceived" because existence is greater than nonexistence.

But, all this is based upon an outdated understanding of reality, says George H. Smith. Since we moderns are unfamiliar with how people thought back then, Anselm's reasoning sounds absurd, to say the least, and is difficult to wade through in order to come up with a response (and we have all watched a theist try to present an argument with which she or he lacks a firm grasp!). So, Smith helps us out with an explanation of the Conceptual Realism of the Medieval Neoplatonists:

Before Europeans rediscovered the works of Aristotle in the late twelfth century, many Christian theologians had embraced the conceptual realism of Plato and later Neoplatonists (such as Plotinus). Realism, as it applies to the controversy over the nature of concepts (or universals), maintains that a being is more or less real -- and hence more or less perfect -- according to the extent of its universality. The highest degree of reality, according to conceptual realism, exists as pure form without matter. Thus, just as Plato had maintained that our ability to conceive of a perfect triangle means that the idea of "triangle" must exist somewhere in a transcendent world of pure forms, so Anslem maintained that our (supposed) ability to conceive of a perfect being means that God must really exist. (Or, to put it in more modern terms, the more abstract something is, the more real it is.) To quote from the brilliant account of Wilhelm Windelbandt:

    [T]hrough the whole development which this line of thought had already taken in antiquity, we find that the worth-predicate of perfection was inseparably fused with the conception of being. The degrees of being are those of perfection; the more anything is, the more perfect it is, and vice versa, the more perfect anything is, the more it is. The conception of the highest being is, therefore, also that of an absolute perfection; that is, of a perfection such that it cannot be thought higher and greater.... In accordance with these presuppositions, Anselm is perfectly correct in his conclusion that, from the mere conception of God as most perfect and most real being, it must be possible to infer his existence.
    [ -- Wilhelm Windelbandt, A History of Philosophy, trans. James H. Tufts (New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1952), p. 113.]

Windelbandt notes that the Ontological Argument, despite its flaws, "is yet valuable as the characteristic feature of medieval Realism, of which it forms the most consistent expression." This raises the interesting question of how some contemporary philosophers can continue to defend the Ontological Argument while rejecting the conceptual realism on which it depends. At the very least, this historical perspective helps us to understand how this argument, which strikes many people today as sophistical, might have appeared more credible in centuries past.
-- Why Atheism?, (2000) pp. 154-5

The bottom line, though, is that I don't hear this argument at all (but then, most Christians who write to our forum have yet to encounter a basic primer on logical fallacies or the "basic truthfulness" chapter of a good etiquette book). I'm sure there are people who use it, and I know that it forms one of the bases of the newer, more sophisticated forms of creationism, particularly those associated with the Anthropic Principle.

The Anthropic Principle is not a favorite of biblical fundamentalists, to be sure, but it does play an important a role in the efforts of the new Bush administration to bring widespread credibility to religion and thus put momentum into Bush's plans to wed the United States government to the Christian church. The Anthropic arguments also enjoyed wide coverage in the journalistic "balance" provided in an article (below) about the quark-gluon plasma experiment expected to take place on Long Island: since these experiments will probably push the "hand of God" option back to within the first ten millionths of a second (and also probably show that the Universe, during that phase, was more entirely random than even proponents of the Anthropic Principle will feel comfortable with), it became imperative for the journalist to pad the article with scientific-sounding gobbledygook and divert attention from the oxymoronically absurd notion of designed randomness.
 

Another insight into your question can be seen in the classic moral dilemma posed by atheists: If God created good and evil, that is, if good and evil is what God says it is, then good equals obedience to God and evil equals disobedience to God. And, since we are incapable of distinguishing good from evil without God, we would never know if God Himself were good or evil. But, if good and evil are not created by God, then God Himself is subject to the mandates of Good and Evil. Also, we would be able to distinguish good from evil without need of God.

This is a summary of the classic dilemma, but what this means regarding your question is that in the first example, good and evil are contingent on God. In the second, God is subject to good and evil just as we are.

I am not sure what "necessary" is, but think that is related to the discussion on the Ontological Argument above.

Cliff Walker
"Positive Atheism" Magazine
Five years of service to
     people with no reason to believe

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Added: January 31, 2001, 10:51 PM (GMT)
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From: "Gijsbers V.A."
To: "'Positive Atheism Magazine'" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
Subject: RE: Wanna take this one one?
Date: Wednesday, January 31, 2001 2:28 PM

Greetings, I've actually read Martin's articles on the Transcendental Argument for the existence of God (TAG), and also his very own Transcendental Argument for the Non-existence of God (TANG). It is quite a difficult argument really, and the chance that any theists will use it against you n a debate is close to zero.

Basically, the argument does not set out to prove that God exists. It tries to show that certain assumptions by atheists presuppose the existence of God, and hence, that atheists must either accept the existence of God of stop presupposing those things. TAG is normally used to show that atheists can not use logic, science and morality.

This proceeds like this: Science assumes that its laws don't change with time or place, and that what is true now is always true. But there is no reason to assume this is true. If there is a God however, He would ensure that this was true: [Insert Bible quotes to prove that God brings order to the world etc.] Hence, only by presupposing the existence of God can one accept the basic presumptions of science. Therefore, atheists cannot use science, as it is worthless in an atheistic Universe.

Martin, however, completely reverses the argument, achieving TANG. In it he shows that science, morality and logic presuppose the non-existence of God. Let's look into it.

I'll first explain the quote given here:

"Logic presupposes that its principles are necessarily true. However, according to the brand of Christianity assumed by TAG, God created everything, including logic; or at least everything, including logic, is dependent on God. But if something is created by or is dependent on God, it is not necessary -- it is contingent on God. And if principles of logic are contingent on God, they are not logically necessary."

First, it is said that logic presupposes not only that its principles (like the Principle of Noncontradiction, which says that A and not-A cannot be both true) are true, but also that they are necessarily true. This means that they are true in every conceivable world, that there cannor be a place or time where they are not true. Now if God created logic, then logic is not necessarily true, since there was a place and time (meant to be seen in the widest way possible) where logic was not true as God had not created it yet. So if God has created logic, it is not necessarily true, but rather based on God. This quote is from Martin's article on TANG, and it is meant to show that if you accept the existence of God, you must also accept the fact that logic is not necessarily true. Hence, says Martin, theists cannot use logic, for it might not be true. Ans even if it were true, God could always change it.

The same with science: God might change the laws of physics when he wants, so what worth has science in a theistic Universe? And theistic morality must be based on the will of God, in which case murder might suddenly become moral. Hence, there can be no objective theistic morality, and only atheists can use objective morals.

Though Martin himself says that he's not sure how much these arguments are worth, he also says that this argument is at least as convincing as TAG itself. Whether it is so, or whether both TAG and TANG are basically completely unconvincing, I leave to you to decide. There is a debate at Internet Infidels between Martin, Jones and Parson about TAG at:
http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/michael_martin/jones-parsons-martin/
and a debate by Martin and Frame about TANG at:
http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/michael_martin/martin-frame/

Victor Gijsbers

Visit me: Http://www.phys.uu.nl/~gijsbers

"The church says the earth is flat, but I know that it is round, for I have seen the shadow on the moon, and I have more faith in a shadow than in the church."
        -- Magellan

"The fact that a believer is happier than a sceptic is no more to the point than the fact that a drunken man is happier than a sober one. The happiness of credulity is a cheap and dangerous quality."
       -- George Bernard Shaw

"To assert that the earth revolves around the sun is as erroneous as to claim that Jesus was not born of a virgin."
       -- Cardinal Bellarmine, during the trial of Galileo in 1615.

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