September 1, 2008

The Great Debate: Does God Exist? : Part III

Dr. Greg Bahnsen versus Dr. Gordon Stein
At the University of California, Irvine, 1985

The Transcendental Argument for the Existence of God:
This was the argument that Bahnsen actually used, and he pretty much defeated Stein with it. It is completely dependant upon presuppositional apologetics. Again, the emphasis on a presuppositional approach is a comparison of the system of thought instead of individual pointers. Thus, the transcendental argument has to do with a comparison of theism and atheism as systems. In other words, if you show that atheism is a foolish system of thought, therefore God must exist.
Put simply, the transcendental argument states that it is impossible to show or prove anything without presupposing God. In order for an atheist to prove that God doesn't exist, he must use tools that come from a theist point of view.
There's a modern parable that I have heard many times that properly assesses what Bahnsen is talking about here (though the argument originated with his mentor, Vantil). A group of scientists approach the throne of God and say to him, "God, we don't need you any more. Science has brought us to a place where we can accomplish everything that you did. We can even make man out of sand."
God smiles and says, "Really, wow, that's amazing! I'm really impressed!"
The scientists start to smile at each other at their own self achievement, when God suddenly spoke again and said, "By the way, can I see it?"
The scientists said sure and began to gather their equipment. Once it was all set up, one of the scientists reached down to the ground for some sand, when God spoke again and said, "Hold on. You have to go and get your own sand."

Logical Tools:

Atheism is primarily based upon the philosophies of the Enlightenment which stated that certain concepts, such as reason and morality, were universal and neutral, especially that of reason. As such, humanity had the ability to control every aspect of the world, and also control God.

However, it was still considered illogical to state that there wasn't a God, primarily because of the Design Argument. Darwin changed this, and allowed atheism to be a reasonable hypothesis. Considering that humanity at this point was trying to obtain a sense of control, a refutation of the existence of God was the final step. However, logic was still the primary universal which they appealed to.

According to the transcendental argument, it would be impossible to disprove God without using a tool that could only exist if there were a God. Logic would be one of these tools. Without a being which imposes laws onto the world, then there is no reason to assume that there are any laws whatsoever, including math, logic, and morality. Without a God, these concepts are just conventions agreed upon by humanity, and thus have no real effect on reality. How can reality be bound by human convention? As an atheist, Stein found himself forced to admit this:

Bahnsen: Do you believe there are laws of logic then?

Stein: Absolutely.

Bahnsen: Are they universal?

Stein: They are agreed upon by human beings not realizing it is just out in nature.

Bahnsen: Are they simply conventions then?

Stein: They are conventions that are self-verifying.

Bahnsen: Are they sociological laws or laws of thought?

Stein: There are laws of thought which are interpreted by man.

How can atheists demand that theists be bound by the laws of logic if logic isn't law? Bahnsen later expounds:

Dr. Stein has mentioned logical binds and logical self-contradictions. He says that he finds that the laws of logic are universal; however, they are conventional in nature. That is not at all acceptable philosophically. If the laws of logic are conventional in nature, then you might have different societies that use different laws of logic.

The Rebuttals:

Reduced, Stein's answer to that challenge is that the scientific laws are agreed upon and have been verified by observation: therefore, the laws are justifiable by the atheist world view.

Appropriately, Stein eventually rebuttals with the question of how the theist can account for the laws of logic. Bahnsen quickly responds with that it is a reflection of the mind of God. His precise wording is: the statement that the laws of logic are intelligible within a Christian theistic universe has meaning because there are things which are, in fact, spiritual, immaterial, and have a universal quality, such as God's thinking, and those standards that He imposes on people. Stein then attempts to reduce Bahnsen's response with a little analogy:

[I'll give you] an example: If I said, "How did that car that's parked in the parking lot - the red car - how did it get there?" And you say "General Motors made it," that doesn't explain how the car got there.
Now if you want to go and explain that in Detroit 100 men worked a certain number of hours to make this car out of steel which they got from Youngstown, Ohio - from the smelting plant - then maybe we're getting somewhere: I mean, how it got here in existence. To say that General Motors made it is not answering the question of how the car got here. Neither is it an answer to say that God made it.

However, Stein never turns his analogy on himself. "Bahnsen's explanation" at least points to the starting place as to how the car got there. But if one applies Stein's logic to it, he would say something along the lines of, "well, I can see, I can smell it, and can touch it, so its there." But that has nothing to do with the question nat all!

The end result is that an atheist has no ground to stand on. He can't say that the existence of God is illogical, because according to atheism, logic is convention. He can't say that God is immoral, because according to atheism, morality is an illusion. However, all of humanity has attested to the existence of morality and logic. As Stein pointed out, the existence of these laws are verifiable. Therefore, since they do exist, since they are universal, there must be a God. Otherwise, notions such as logic and morality would be irrelevant and moot.

click here for the link

post I
post II


David B. Ellis said...

The end result is that an atheist has no ground to stand on. He can't say that the existence of God is illogical, because according to atheism, logic is convention.

Except, of course, for the fact that it isn't true that, according to atheism, logic is convention.

Logical truths are truths which cannot, under any circumstances, be false. This, of course, includes the circumstance of God not existing.

The argument denies that logical truths would exist if God didn't exist. But to claim a proposition wouldn't be true if some circumstance X (in this case the nonexistence of God) was the case is to deny that it is a logical truth (since this contradicts the definition of a logical truth)---the transcendental argument itself rests on internally contradictory propositions.

To put the problem in simpler terms, the transcendental argument rests on the premise that if God didn't exist that 2+2 wouldn't necessarily equal 4.

An obviously silly claim.

Jc_Freak: said...

"To put the problem in simpler terms, the transcendental argument rests on the premise that if God didn't exist that 2+2 wouldn't necessarily equal 4"

Yes and no. Bahnsen is dealing with logic not math. One of the things that come up in the debate is whether or not logical is mathatacial. Some logic can be represented mathamatically, yes, but not all logic. Most logic is propositional, and yet remains consistant.

The other issue is that without some kind of ordering principle, there is not reason to assume that the laws of physics will be consistant. For instance, if I had 2 apples, and you gave me two apples, there is would be no reason to assume that one of them wouldn't suddenly disappear leaving me with one.

Science is based on the assumption that reality is consistant. Indeed, it is. But there is no reason why it should be. Why does it need to be unless it was ordered? The point of the argument is why does the atheist admit this assumption?

TrueHope said...


Mathematical truths (such as 2+2=4) are a logical necessity, and must be true even if God doesn't exist. However, many theorems require the use of logic, but are not logical necessities.