Monday, July 06, 2015

The Trancendental Signifier Argument for God (1 of 5)

I am going to do several pages on my TS argument.
This argument is not to be confused with the “TAG” (transcendental argument for God) of Cornelius Van Til (1895-1987) and Greg Bahnsen.1 Though both arguments share in common use of the term “transcendental,” and it is basically used in the same way, they are different arguments. The difference being that TAG proceeds from presuppositional apologetics, while my argument is evidentually based. Both assume that God is at the basis of all knowledge and meaning. This is what is meant by “transcendental,” it refers to the basis of the system of thought. My argument uses the TS as an evidental basis for belief while the presupositional argument merely assumes the truth of the argument then rejects the presuppostions of other views. TAG says nothing about signifiers. To understand the insufficiency of TAG (thus they need for a new argument) we must examine TAG more closely. Van Til summarizes his argument:

Since the non-theist is so heartily convinced that univocal reasoning is the only possible kind of reasoning, we must ask him to reason univocally for us in order that we may see the consequences. In other words, we believe it to be in harmony with and a part of the process of reasoning analogically with a non-theist that we ask him to show us first what he can do. We may, to be sure, offer to him at once a positive statement of our position. But this he will at once reject as quite out of the question. So we may ask him to give us something better. The reason he gives for rejecting our position is, in the last analysis, that it involves self-contradiction. We see again as an illustration of this charge the rejection of the theistic conception that God is absolute and that he has nevertheless created this world for his glory. This, the non-theist says, is self-contradictory. And it no doubt is, from a non-theistic point of view. But the final question is not whether a statement appears to be contradictory. The final question is in which framework or on which view of reality—the Christian or the non-Christian—the law of contradiction can have application to any fact. The non-Christian rejects the Christian view out of hand as being contradictory. Then when he is asked to furnish a foundation for the law of contradiction, he can offer nothing but the idea of contingency. What we shall have to do then is to try to reduce our opponent's position to an absurdity. Nothing less will do. Without God, man is completely lost in every respect, epistemologically as well as morally and religiously. But exactly what do we mean by reducing our opponent's position to an absurdity? He thinks he has already reduced our position to an absurdity by the simple expedient just spoken of. But we must point out to him that upon a theistic basis our position is not reduced to an absurdity by indicating the "logical difficulties" involved in the conception of creation. Upon the theistic basis it must be contended that the human categories are but analogical of God's categories, so that it is to be expected that human thought will not be able to comprehend how God shall be absolute and at the same time create the universe for his glory. If taken on the same level of existence, it is no doubt a self-contradiction to say that a thing is full and at the same time is being filled. But it is exactly this point that is in question—whether God is to be thought of as on the same level with man. What the antitheist should have done is to show that even upon a theistic basis our conception of creation involves self-contradiction.

We must therefore give our opponents better treatment than they give us. We must point out to them that univocal reasoning itself leads to self-contradiction, not only from a theistic point of view, but from a non-theistic point of view as well. It is this that we ought to mean when we say that we must meet our enemy on their own ground. It is this that we ought to mean when we say that we reason from the impossibility of the contrary. The contrary is impossible only if it is self-contradictory when operating on the basis of its own assumptions. It is this too that we should mean when we say that we are arguing ad hominem. We do not really argue ad hominem unless we show that someone's position involves self-contradiction, and there is no self-contradiction unless one's reasoning is shown to be directly contradictory of or to lead to conclusions which are contradictory of one's own assumption.2

This might seem odd as a summary of an argument because it's more like what not to do. Notice that the only thing he offers in the way of proof is the failure of other approaches. Yet this same quotation was offered by Butler as the positive and major summary of the argument. 3Moreover, the arguments he makes about the failure of other views is not convincing. He says “Then when he is asked to furnish a foundation for the law of contradiction, he can offer nothing but the idea of contingency.” Yet he does not illustrate. I know several atheists who could furnish a basis for the law of non contradiction. For example I know many of them would quote “A is not non A, same place/time.” This point is rather self explanatory and self evident. The atheist can extend the argument and say their basis for law of contradiction is truth. Van Til gives us to understand that God is truth. As a Christian I agree, but the point is to give the atheist a reason to believe it, this he does not do. Why is contingency not a good basis for the law of contradiction? Contingency implies necessity, which turns on determinates and that means the contrary is contradiction. When he says: “The contrary is impossible only if it is self-contradictory when operating on the basis of its own assumptions,” he's only half right. The problem here is that a system
can't be self consistent and yet violate the law of contradiction in deductively self evident ways and still lay claim to truth. If not so then the atheist can just make the same kind of claims to privet truth and self consistency and slough all Van Til's talk about their own failings. While it is true that a system must be self consistent to be non- contradictory it must also occupy a beach head in reality and that means it must be recognizable to those not initiated into the mysteries. Otherwise it's just another cult.

This quality of recognizing universal consistency with reality we call “objectivity.” Bhansen dots Van Til's “i's” and crosses his “T's.” If Van Til was Joseph Smith, Bhansen would be Brigam Young, if I may be forgiven for that analogy. Bhansen sloughs off the concept by bait and switch; he exchanges it for “assumed neutrality,” which he castigates as inconsistency. Rather than offering proof of the veracity of his own ideas he establishes it by contrast with other views which he merely asserts are wrong. In Pushing the Antithesis he entitles the first chapter “the myth of neutrality.4 What unbelievers really demand is logical objectivity. Bhansen turns this into a demand that one be neutral toward all belief. He does not this is their true demand, although he tries to, neither do I believe it is their demand. “Should you be neutral regarding your Christian commitment while arguing for the existence of God to an unbeliever?”5 His argument is that Christians often take this tact. That doesn't prove that it is a real atheist demand. Of course I'm there are those who say it, but we should set our sights higher than a message board. In making the bait and switch his logic has become convoluted. Not only does he confuse neutrality of belief with objectivity but he confuses the culturally bound approach of the ancient world with some kind of divine logic. “Christians must be committed to biblically warranted procedures for defending the faith.”6 Apparently the Bible doesn't warrant explaining things.

Bhansen gives a few examples of the neutrality demanded but they his thinking than about the atheists: David Hume: “nothing can be more unphilosophical than to be positive or dogmatic on any subject.” William Hazlitt: “the great difficulty in philosophy is to come to every question with a mind fresh and un shackled by former theories.” C.C. Colton: “doubt is the vestibule which all must pass before they can enter into the temple of wisdom.” William H. Seward: the circumstances of the world are so variable that an irrevocable purpose or opinion is almost synonymous with a foolish one.”7

Each of these statements is problematic. I have encountered many atheists in my battles over belief, who are skeptical of belief and who don't seem to be aware that their beliefs are beliefs. Still none of these statements say that one must not have beliefs. They all seem to suggest that one should not be closed minded, but that is not the same as no belief. Hume refers to being dogmatic. Hazlitt uses the term “theory” not belief. Is he including deep convictions or is he only speaking of theoretical ideas? Colton doesn't say one must always doubt. His metaphor implies that doubt is a stage one passes through. No doubt all of these thinkers held religion as a disaprobation. What does that matter? We have dueling fundamentalists. Atheist dogmatism does not free us from the need to prove anyway. We need a better argument, the TS fills the bill . The presuppers look to the Bible as an apologetics handbook, it clearly is not. God is too wise to pin us to a method that was obsolete with the fall of the Roman empire. Christian witness must of necessity be rooted in time and culture. There is no Biblical method for conviencing unbelievers. The early church did not intelectualize their faith. They witnessed about what God had done in their lives. I see no reason why we should not do both. The argument I make here is not an attempt to prove the existence of God, but to offer rational warrant for belief.

1 Michael R. Butler.“The Tanscendental Argument for God's Existence,” online resourse, URL:, viewed 7/3/15.
Mike is Professor of Philosophy and Dean of Faculty at Christ College, Lynchburg, Virginia. 2 CorneliGreg L. Bhansen. Pushing the Antithesis, Powder Springs, Georgia: American Vision Inc. 2007), Van Til. A Survey of Christian Epistemology, Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed, (1969), 204-5
3 Butler, ibid.
4 Greg L. Bhansen. Pushing the Antithesis, Powder Springs, Georgia: American Vision Inc. 2007), 5.
5 Ibid.,6-7
6 Ibid.
7 Ibid.,7

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