Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Problems with TAG (Transcendental argumemt for God)

Image result for Greg L. Bahnsen

Greg L. Bhansen. (1948-1995)

I am about to present an argument (on monday) that also uses the term “transcendental.” Both arguments argue for belief in God. The difference being that TAG proceeds from presuppositional apologetics, while my argument is made on an evidential basis. 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 evidential basis for belief while the presupositional argument merely assumes the truth of the argument then rejects the presuppositions of other views. TAG says nothing about signifier. To understand the insufficiency of TAG (thus they need for a new argument) we must examine TAG more closely. Greg Bahnsen was the champion of TAG.[1] Van Til never really makes the argument, never actually states it [2]. TAG is basically just the assumptions of Van Til's presupositional approach, he wants to scratch starting from a point of neutrality and trying to prove truth and asserting the presuppositions we believe: “ He maintained that because God, speaking in his word, is the ultimate epistemological starting point, there is no way of arguing for the faith on the basis of something other than the faith itself. God's authority is ultimate and thus self-attesting.”[3] That is really the basis of TAG. The problem is he never bothers to prove it. That is an instant turn off for most atheists, and since he never states the argument clearly, it's not real clear what it is. I like the idea of not being stuck with a phony neutrality because most atheists, at least new atheists lionize their assumptions, at least in my experience those I've dealt with tend to do that. I don't seek to argue for total proof but rational warrant for belief. This argument I will present in terms of the best explanation.

I think the approach I'm taking will offer a couple of things that Van Til doesn't. First, In dealing with Derrida’s world of signifiers and it's concept of the TS we are in a better position to insist that God is the presupposition, because all the Derridians agree Western metaphysics accepts TS and that is basically another version of God. So the difficulty in getting the secular thinker to accept the premise that God is the presupposition is not as great a gap to cover if we can start out assuming the tradition affirms a God-like premise in a logos anyway. Secondly, I don't think Van Til get's us out of the closed in world of his presuppositions. He asserts that the Triune deity is the presupposition to all logic, truth, and meaning but why would an unbeliever assume it? If my argument is successful it should become apparent that God is the best explanation.

Modern secular thought can't make the leap outside itself to find God because it either rejects God or uses itself as the standard of truth. Of course this is inadequate because that is the problem in the first place. God is truth but that's not obvious because it's too transparent, we are too close to the reality. St. Augustine made an argument that might be considered transcendental in that it assumes God as the presupposition to truth. Paul Tillich summarizes this argument:

Augustine, after he had experienced all the implications of ancient skepticism, gave a classical answer to the problem of the two absolutes: they coincide in the nature of truth. Veritas is presupposed in every philosophical argument; and veritas is God. You cannot deny truth as such because you could do it only in the name of truth, thus establishing truth. And if you establish truth you affirm God. “Where I have found the truth there I have found my God, the truth itself,” Augustine says. The question of the two Ultimates is solved in such a way that the religious Ultimate is presupposed in every philosophical question, including the question of God. God is the presupposition of the question of God. This is the ontological solution of the problem of the philosophy of religion. God can never be reached if he is the object of a question and not its basis.[4]

One might ask why, if God is so basic to be synonymous with truth we can't all recognize it? That is the reason, it's so basic. So it is with being, we write it off as “just what is” and go on looking for this “God” who can’t be found because we don’t understand he’s nearer than our inmost being. Such is the pitfall of scientific empiricism. The point of course is that God is too basic to our being, too much a part of the existence we share that we don't see any indications of presence. We take for granted the aspects of being that indicate God's reality. Some of the indications might be physical or cosmological, such as fine tuning or modal necessity. Others are experiential. The atheists pointed out that water is physical and can be detected. It's only an analogy and all analogies break down at some point. Analogies are not proofs anyway. I don't offer this as proof but as a clarification of a concept. In so clarifying we find a link to being; the connection between God and Being itself.

Heidegger approaches being in this manner, it is ready-to-hand, too basic to notice. In other words like a carpenter using tools we find being so inherently part of our experience, so ready-to-hand that we don't notice it. Paul Tillich worked in the vain of Heidegger, he used the philosopher to translate classic Christian theology into modern thought. In that vain we are too close to being, it's too fundamental to what we are to realize that our place in it is to be contingencies based upon the reality of God. God is also "detectable" but of course, not in the sense that physical objects are. Like a fish in water, being is the medium in which we exist. Given certain assumptions we can understand the correlation between experience of presence and the nature of eternal necessary being. When we experience the reality of God through the presence of holiness we experience the nature of being as eternal and necessary. All we need to do is realize the necessary aspect of being to realize the reality of God. This is why Tillich says:

The name of infinite and inexhaustible depth and ground of our being is God. That depth is what the word God means. And if that word has not much meaning for you, translate it, and speak of the depths of your life, of the source of your being, of your ultimate concern, of what you take seriously without any reservation. Perhaps, in order to do so, you must forget everything traditional that you have learned about God, perhaps even that word itself. For if you know that God means depth, you know much about Him. You cannot then call yourself an atheist or unbeliever. For you cannot think or say: Life has no depth! Life itself is shallow. Being itself is surface only. If you could say this in complete seriousness, you would be an atheist; but otherwise you are not." [5]

"Depth of being" and being itself are synonymous. Depth just means that there's more to being than appears on the surface. The surface is the most obvious aspect, that things exist. The existence of any given thing is the surface level. If we go deeper to probe the nature of being that entails the realization of the eternal necessary aspect of being and thus being has depth. Then we realize our own contingent nature and thus, we are at one and the same time realizing the reality of God (that is after all the basis of the cosmological argument and the ontological argument as well. This is why God seems to be hidden. God is not hiding himself. According to Hartshorne, "only God can be so universally important that no subject can ever wholly fail or ever have failed to be aware of him (in however dim or UN-reflective fashion)."[6]  Now the issue of why God doesn't hold a "press conference" has do do with the fact that God does not communicate by violating normal causal principles. In process terms, the "communication" of God must be understood as the prehension of God by human beings. A "prehension" is the response of an occasion to the entire past world (both the contiguous past and the remote past.) As God is in every occasion's past actual world, every occasion must "prehend" or take account of God.

It should be noted that "prehension" is a generic mode of perception that does not necessarily entail consciousness or sensory experience. There a two modes of pure perception --"perception in the mode of causal efficacy" and "perception in the mode of presentational immediacy." If God is present to us, then it is in the presensory perceptual mode of causal efficacy as opposed to the sensory and conscious perceptual mode of presentational immediacy
[7]. That is why God is "invisible", i.e. invisible to sense perception. The foundation for experience of God lies in the nonsesnory non conscious mode of prehension. So now, there is the further question: Why is there variability in our experience of God?. Or, why are some of us atheists, pantheists, theists, etc.? Every prehension has an initial datum derived from God, yet there are a multiplicity of ways in which this datum is prehended from diverse perspectives.

I agreed with Hume that sense perception tells us nothing about efficient causation (or final causation for that matter). Hume was actually presupposing causal efficacy in his attempt to deny it (i.e., in his relating sense impressions to awareness).
[8] Causation could be described as an element of experience, but as Whitehead explains, this experience is not sensory experience. From Hume's own analysis Whitehead derives at least two forms of non-sensory perception: the perception of our own body and the non-sensory perception of one's past.

But this is at an unconscious level. However, in some people, this direct prehension of the "Holy" rises to the level of conscious experience. We generally call theses people "mystics". Now, the reason why a few people are conscious of God is not the result of God violating causal principle; some people are just able to conform to God's initial datum in greater degree than other people can. I don't think that God chooses to make himself consciously known to some and not to others. That would make God an elitist. Now, the question as to why I am a theist as opposed to an atheist does have to do with me experiencing some exceptional religious or mystical experience; it does not have to do with amazing experiences that prove. Rather, I believe that these extraordinary experiences of the great religious leaders are genuine and that they do conform to the ultimate nature of things. It's not necessarily a "blind leap" of faith, as my religious beliefs are accepted, in part, on the basis of whether or not they illuminate my experience of reality.

The experience of no one single witness is the "the final proof," but the fact that there are millions of witnesses who, in differing levels from the generally intuitive to the mystical, experience must be the same thing in terms of general religious belief, the argument is simply that God interacts on a “human heart” (deep psychological) level, and the experiences of those who witness such interaction is strong evidence for that conclusion. This does not, however, remove the usefulness of deductive argument. The argument could be made as an inductive argument based upon religious experiences, yet with greater uncertainty. While deductive veracity is assurance of the truth of a statement, that assumes the premises are true, that's hard to establish with no basis in the empirical. that's hard to do if one finds it hard to believe that deduction can prove God we don't need to argue that. It can establish a rational warrant. For example we can't prove by observation weather the moon was a fragment of Earth or a captured meteorite, until we invent time travel we can't know empirically but we deduce a theory that makes sense. We might never know with certainty but we can have an indication that makes sense. So with deductive argument and God belief. Deductive argument can give us rational warrant for belief. The difference in warrant and proof is the difference in really knowing how the moon came to be and reaching a rational conclusion based upon deductive reasoning. One might ask “where does warrant get us in terms of belief in God?” It doesn't prove but may clear away the clutter so that we can come to terms with God on an existential level.


[1] Greg L. Bhansen. Pushing the Antithesis, Powder Springs, Georgia: American Vision Inc. 2007Ibid., 6-7

[2] Gordon H. Clark, in Nash, op cit 301.
original, Gordon H. Clark, "Apologetics," Contemporary Evangelical Thought (Carl F. H. Henry, ed.), 140.

[3] Butler, op.cit.

[4] Paul Tillich, Theology of Culture, London, op cit

[5]  Paul Tillich. The Shaking of the Foundations. Eugene Oregon: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2012, 57.

[6]  Charles Harthorne, The Divine Relativity: A Social Conception of God, New Haven: Yale University press, 1982, 70.

[7] Jon Mills. “Harthorne's Unconscious Ontology,” oneline,URL: http://www.processpsychology.com/new-articles/Whitehead.htm accessed,7/3/15.

[8] This is common knowledge of Hume's take on causality that we don't see causes at work. This is the pojnt of the billiard balls.


Joe Hinman said...

no one has commented on this one, because they assume TAG is stupid, but it;s not, its just suffering from bad salesmen.

Mike Gerow said...

Yes, the lovely b&w pic of such a "respectable" Calvinist sort of person doesn't likely endear the view to many of us either.

It all comes off totally uncool ;-)