TAG, you’re it

[Map: Intro, I, II, III, IV, V, VI]

So I realize that many of my readers (assuming unreasonably that (a) I have “many” readers, and (b) a subset of them could still be described as “many”) have been less than thrilled with my recent series of Puzzle posts (6 long and wordy posts, from beginning to end). I hope to gain back the interest of at least some of those “many” by revealing my threefold secret purpose for writing those posts:

  1. Because a probabilistic yet certain, existence yet non-constructive proof is way cool.
  2. Because the mathematical concepts are simple enough that I am hoping some homeschooling friends will be able to use the puzzles with their kids.
  3. To make a point about Christian apologetics.

The point is this: atheists (like Derek Sansone) often say things like (and this is just a paraphrase from memory) “Where is God? Show him to me? Let me touch him, feel him, measure him, examine him — then I’ll believe! You can’t prove that God exists unless you can concretely demonstrate him.” The first statement is an unreasonable demand, the second is just wrong; Sansone is relying on the incorrect assumption that the only possible standard of proof that a thing exists, is to show the thing (this is not surprising, given his belief in an entirely materialistic universe).

The long-winded buildup of puzzles serves to demonstrate that an existence proof need not be constructive. Anybody with a high school diploma (strike that — anybody with an education better than U.S. public high school) should be able to follow the logic of the puzzles and understand that there certainly does exist a 2-edge coloring of K100, such that no K10 are monochromatic. Yet I can’t show you what that coloring is (and even if I could, you couldn’t verify it — at least not within your lifetime).

So on the one hand, Sansone tries to declare victory by pointing to the Christian’s failure to accomplish the impossible task of thwarting God’s invisibility — as if God were as small as the Wizard of Oz, and we (like Toto) could pull the curtain away. Sansone is demanding an unreasonable standard of proof — God does not give command performances (or at least not to our liking).

At this point, enter TAG: the Transcendental Argument for the existence of God. Apparently it was conceived by Immanuel Kant, born of Cornelius van Til, and brought to maturity by Greg Bahnsen (of Theonomy fame — other proponents include my homeboy John Frame). Common catchphrases for TAG include “The existence of the Christian God is the precondition of intelligibility,” and “Without the Christian God, there is no basis for univeral and absolute laws of logic, nature, and morality,” and “We know the Christian God exists, because of the impossibility of the contrary.” That last phrase, “impossibility of the contrary”, is just another way of saying “proof by contradiction” (the same form of proof as the irrationality of \sqrt{2} proofs). Very briefly, TAG follows this outline:

  • Assume God doesn’t exist
  • Therefore there is no basis for universal and absolute laws of logic, nature, and morality
  • There are universal and absolute laws of logic, nature, and morality
    • Contradiction!
    • Thus we must invalidate our previous assumption
    • Thus God does exist

I was first exposed to TAG from Paul Manata’s use of it against Derek Sansone (reported here), and Sansone didn’t seem to realize that an argument had been made. Later I heard TAG used by Greg Bahnsen in his debate against Gordon Stein (PDF transcript downloadable here, mp3 available for purchase here). Stein was prepared to address all the classical “-ological” arguments for the existence of God (cosmological, teleological, ontological, …), and was flummoxed when presented with an argument that was not in his crib notes. Although Bahnsen-Stein was triumphantly dubbed “The Great Debate” by Christians, it was really not that great of a debate (as John Frame summarized here), because it was just as hollow a victory as taking candy from a baby. Or (more literally) a philosopher beating a physical scientist at philosophy.

Both of those debates left me feeling empty, because the Christian apologetic was not answered. Because the atheist failed to engage the argument, the atheist didn’t really lose (you can’t lose at shadowboxing, even if you’re the shadow!)

So I have a series of posts planned to dissect TAG, kind of from a devil’s advocate position, not because it is wrong, but to give the atheist a leg up — enough, at least, to be able to engage the TAG — enough, at least, to be able understand when he’s been beaten.

[Continue to the next post in this series]


22 Responses

  1. “Sansone is relying on the incorrect assumption that the only possible standard of proof that a thing exists, is to show the thing (this is not surprising, given his belief in an entirely materialistic universe)” Not speaking to any of this yet – just reminding your readers about evolution. The universe is entirely materialistic, but I can’t show you it all yet, certainly. Another random point – if one of you guys got TB, would you want to be innoculated against some early form, or the multiple antibiotic resistant form it has evolved into through exposure to an environment (humans with drugs)? Thus, as in myriad other fascinating and surprising ways – and ways not to our liking – is evolution revealed to us mortals.

  2. The universe is entirely materialistic

    I’ll grant that as a tautology, given a definition of “universe” as “all matter (and energy)”, which just means we’ll have to allow for an extra-universal category for things that exist abstractly, like logic & math & truth (& mind & right & wrong…).  I’ll be getting to that presently…

  3. Cool.

    Cool??? No preemptive strike on the possibility of an extra-universal category? No sneak preview of the fact that logic & math & truth & mind & right & wrong are only electrochemical signals within spongy cellular blobs?

    What restraint! :-)

  4. Perhaps “Cool” was just for “I’ll be getting to that presently”. As for “spongy cellular blobs”, that’s Gently Electrified Bags of Meat to you, bub!

  5. “Perhaps “Cool” was just for “I’ll be getting to that presently”. As for “spongy cellular blobs”, that’s Gently Electrified Bags of Meat to you, bub!”

    You guys sure have a lot of good humor. Everytime I have a discussion with my kids about this topic of right and wrong, I explain to them that there are people who think just like the above quote. I always give the same answer to this kind of thinking. I go up to my son and pinch him on the arm really hard. It turns out, everytime I do this, he is convinced no one really believes that stuff, including the people that promote it.


  6. That reminds me of a great quote from C.S. Lewis (which Google is uncharacteristically unable to unearth for me, so I’ll paraphrase:) The same type of person who is likely to declare that there are no moral absolutes, is just as likely to get very upset if you take his seat on the bus.

    Any help on an exact quote?

  7. Let’s sort out the relationship between that quote as it stands above and a notion of moral absolutes?

    Serve: The seat thief has forced effort of search and possible deprivation. If the thief doesn’t deserve the seat more (Pregnant? Conventionally more deserving since we find it easier to stand when not pregnant) then we are angry (nobody we know) or resigned (Big guy with scars). What is absolute here? Certainly it is pointless desiring the seat if you’re not going to do something about it.

  8. I think the quote is intended to describe any two average people, who have no more nor less inherent right to a bus seat than each other. If X displays some intent to possess the last seat on the bus, and Y sneaks in while X is folding his umbrella or some such, then X is indignant. Resignation does not preclude anger. What is absolute is that everybody would agree that Y should not have stolen the seat — that it was wrong for Y to do so. If N people were shown a film of such a seat-stealing incident (with X and Y indistinguishable wrt seat-deservingness), then N people would have a morally negative indictment of Y. The reactions would of course, vary in magnitude (all the way down to “that’s certainly much less wrong than to the moral wrongness of Bush’s agenda for world domination”). WHY various people think it’s wrong, and what to do in response to the wrong, are separate questions entirely.

  9. If N people were shown a film of such a seat-stealing incident (with X and Y indistinguishable wrt seat-deservingness), then N people would have a morally negative indictment of Y.

    Is this necessarily an indication of moral absolutes? Could it not be seen as a case of moral prevalence? Seems like this phenomenon could just as easily be explained by Rousseau’s social contract.

  10. Well, I don’t want to stifle discussion, and yet I don’t want to get ahead of myself, since I am saving moral absolutes for last in this developing series. I don’t know a lot about the details of social contract theory (your wiki link is helpful), but here are a number of questions I would ask about a social contract: why is a social contract better than a “state of nature”? (for who?) What’s wrong with human nature if a “state of nature” needs to be improved upon? On what basis are those in the social contract authorized/allowed/entitled to compel membership of those who might rather stay out of the social contract?

    The question of a social contract also seems equivalent to: is the universal moral indictment I posit the result of nature (instinct, access to moral absolutes), or nurture (indoctrination into the social contract.

  11. On what basis are those in the social contract authorized/allowed/entitled to compel membership of those who might rather stay out of the social contract?

    Authorized/allowed/entitled? That basis would be, in rough ascending order: the fist, the club, the blade, the gun, the tank, the nuclear missile.

    It seems you’re attempting to draw a too-sharp division between social contract and state of nature. The social contract is a state of nature, just dressed up a little — and served with a heaping dose of sanctimony.

  12. That Lewis quote is not unlike this one:

    “A moment after they have admitted that good and evil are illusions, you will find them exhorting us to work for posterity, to education, revolutionise, liquidate, live and die for the good of the human race” ~ C.S. Lewis

    Much sweet Lewis (and Tolkien) candy like that can be found here:

  13. Good point. Here’s a concrete example from Bertrand Russell:

    As I said before, I do not think that the real reason why people accept religion has anything to do with argumentation. They accept religion on emotional grounds…Religion is based, I think, primarily and mainly upon fear…

    OK Bertie, well that’s an interesting opinion. Do you have a better idea?

    We want to stand upon our own feet and look fair and square at the world — its good facts, its bad facts, its beauties, and its ugliness; see the world as it is and be not afraid of it. … We ought to stand up and look the world frankly in the face. We ought to make the best we can of the world, and if it is not so good as we wish, after all it will still be better than what these others have made of it in all these ages. A good world needs knowledge, kindliness, and courage; it does not need a regretful hankering after the past or a fettering of the free intelligence by the words uttered long ago by ignorant men. It needs a fearless outlook and a free intelligence. It needs hope for the future, not looking back all the time toward a past that is dead, which we trust will be far surpassed by the future that our intelligence can create.

    How inspiring. Just a minute, let me wipe my tears away. OK, that’s better. Well that was nice Bertie, but I’m afraid I can’t take your advice, because you convinced me that I shouldn’t make decisions about whether to accept or reject religion based on emotional grounds. TAG, you’re it!

  14. For those who have had the unfortunate time listening to miscontried perceptions of my moral theory you will need to listen to this podcast.
    I explain my position with Dr. Zachary Moore. And refute the miscontrued perceptions of my moral theory.
    I defend behavior relativity. If you think Morality is objective, you will trully profit from this show.
    Hope you enjoy it.
    Plus here is another gift:
    Here’s a quick deductive argument against the Christian use of deduction to prove contrary views wrong or false. It’s a doozy. I mean, how the heck can incoherent premises/propositions, be true? How can they even be true given the presuppers presuppositions, when those presuppositions are rooted in faith? If they don’t have a truth, then they have no grounds to prove atheism wrong or untenable.
    Here’s my Deductive argument against Christian use of deduction. Please tell me if I am wrong. Now I know you as a human can use deduction, but to do so withoin the faith, commits a stolen concept fallacy.
    Faith, belief or trust cannot not serve as knowledge
    Christian Presuppositions/assumptions are faith based (Heb:11) – It’s an antithesis to knowledge.
    Propositions are either true or false.
    Deductive conclusions are known, necessarily, from true premises/propositions
    Faith based premises/propositions cannot be proven true, by definition, since proof would require knowledge, not faith.
    Faith cannot be used in deduction, whatsoever.
    So, any attempt by the Christian to use deduction undermines his faith based – presupposed starting point, thus contradicts his position. Since one cannot have faithfully supposed premises/propositions serve as a known true proposition of a deductive premise. Without true premises supporting the deductive conclusion, you don’t have a proof in the conclusion.
    The Christian cannot avoid the use of a faith based premise/propositions
    Therefore, no Christian worldview can ultimately secure a Deductive conclusion.
    Respond only to dereksansone@sbcglobal.net

  15. Your “Deductive argument” is wrong on many counts, but I’ll focus on the middle: “Deductive conclusions are known, necessarily, from true premises/propositions”. Deductive conclusions can be deduced also from false premises/propositions (which, by the way, is what you do all the time).

    Anything that is ever “proven” is subject to qualification with the underlying presuppositions. Thus I’ll grant that anything I “prove” depends on the presupposition “The Bible is the word of God,” and it is not (necessarily) proven within any other worldview. The point of debating (presuppositionally) with a reasonable atheist is to use commonly-agreed-upon laws of logic to show internal consistencies in the atheistic worldview that arise from incorrect presuppositions. I’m not sure what the point of debating with you is, since you don’t think the laws of logic actually exist, and the uniformity of nature is just a working hypothesis, so within your worldview, you can’t deductively prove anything with certainty anyways.

    I will try to download and burn and listen to your link sometime this week. Make sure you check out other posts in this series, especially II and III, as you really need to re-think your stance on the existence of the laws of logic.

  16. Rube,

    Since you said you were going to do another post in this series, I thought I’d raise 2 objections to TAG.

    1. The logical syllogism abbreviated as the impossibility of the contrary, essentially says that without God, there can be no upholding of the laws of logic, etc. My objection is that this argument presupposes logic as valid. Within the syllogism, logic is in question, but just using the argument presupposes that logic is already valid. It seems as unnatural as giving a deductive proof that proves that logic is valid. No such proof could exist that wouldn’t be circular. That’s why what presuppositionalism really is, is not deductive logic, but axiomatic. The atheist’s argument is axiomatic too.

    2. This is conflated with my second objection.

    Heb 11:3 By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.

    We have to begin by taking the Word of God by faith, and only then do we know that God is the Creator. Yeah, Paul says that we know God through the things that have been made – that’s RC Sproul’s excuse, and actually it was Descartes’ too. Descartes even mentions Romans 1 in his introductory comments to the Meditations. The problem is sin. Sin clouds our vision, so as long as there’s sin involved, no proof can penetrate. The atheist simply asks WHY God must exist for the laws of logic to be upheld, and no answer you could possibly give would satisfy him. So again, it must be axiomatic. We take these presuppositions to be true because we have faith that the Bible is the Word of God, as you said above in 16. Ultimately, it’s circular. But we don’t need to apologize for that. Ultimately, all human reasoning is circular, because all human reasoning presupposes the validity of logic, and this in turn presupposes an ordered universe. Why is it ordered, Mr. Atheist? Well, it just is. But there is no God. Because there is no God, God is not necessary for logic to be valid. Since God is not necessary for logic to be valid, you cannot prove his existence by saying that his existence makes logic valid. Anyway, it must start with faith. So axiomatically, by faith, we take the Bible to be the Word of God. Unbelievers cannot surmount the sin obstacle and recognize God’s existence as reflected in the creation. Only faith can do that, because faith obtains Christ as the federal head, and faith is the result of the Spirit at work in us, bearing fruit in us, so we know sanctification is ocurring, and thus sin is being conquered and overcome. The atheist will never overcome sin apart from faith in Christ.


    PS But it is an interesting question. Atheists can’t answer for the order of the universe and the validity of logic.

  17. You’re not wrong in what you say with 1. and 2., but I disagree that you have stated objections to TAG, but rather elucidations of it. TAG affirms that the Christian worldview rests on a presupposition (axiom) that the Bible is the Word of God, (who exists), and what we learn about God from his Word gives the basis for the validity of logic. And part of the point is to engage the atheist so that he understands the presupposed axioms on which his own system is founded. You say “not deductive logic, but axiomatic”, but there is no way that deductive logic can be applied in any system which is not, at base, axiomatic.

    See here for why I think the name “Presuppositional Apologetics” should be changed.

  18. Right, nothing is non-axiomatic. I dig that. That was all I was trying to say. The atheist seems to think that that’s not the case.

    But anyway, I do sort of reject that the contradiction or impossibility of the contrary proves God in any definitive sense. Otherwise you wouldn’t need faith to believe.


  19. Turretin says that faith = knowledge, assent and trust.

    It is not mere intellectual knowledge. It is not knowledge that we refuse to accept (Rom 1). Nor is it mere assent, as if we were leaping out into the dark (Rome, Kierkegaard). But it is certain knowledge that we give our assent to and put our trust in. We don’t suppose that it’s true, we are convinced it is true, and in that we put our hope.

    Heb 11:1 Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

  20. […] Comment on TAG, you’re it by Echo_ohcEComment on Before or After by Echo_ohcEComment on Before or After by Echo_ohcEComment on Before or After by RubeRadComment on Before or After by Echo_ohcEComment on TAG, you’re it by Echo_ohcEComment on Before or After by zrimComment on TAG, you’re it by RubeRadComment on Happy Birthday by limejellyComment on TAG, you’re it by Echo […]

  21. […] by RubeRad on June 2nd, 2007 [Map: Intro, I, II, III, IV, […]

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