Rauser interviwed me and posted on his blog January 18, 2019.
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Title of interiew: "God in a Transcendental Signifier: A Conversation with Joseph Hinman" January 18, 2019.
A few months ago, I published an article on “The Top Five Problems with Contemporary Christian Apologetics.” Number 5 was “Lack of Imagination”: in short, among contemporary apologists there is an inordinate focus on a small number of arguments (e.g. the Kalaam; the argument from cosmic fine-tuning) at the expense of countless underutilized arguments to say nothing of still other arguments yet to be imagined.
That’s one reason I appreciate the work of Joseph Hinman. Mr. Hinman has an MTS from the Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University and has studied at the doctoral level at the University of Texas at Dallas. And he quite deliberately seeks to explore underexplored and wholly new avenues of argument. Consider, for example, our recent conversation on his argument for God from mystical experience.
In this article, we take up a second argument for God that Mr. Hinman has been developing, one that proceeds from what he calls transcendental signifiers.
RR: Joe, thanks for joining us for another discussion in the philosophy of religion. This time out we’re going to discuss your argument for God from transcendental signifiers. I suspect a good place to begin is with your concept of a transcendental signifier. When I first read that term I thought of C. Stephen Evans’ argument in his book Natural Signs and Knowledge of God. Evans argues that arguments for God’s existence are based on so-called “natural signs” which are non-coercive pointers to the reality of God. As such, these signs provide the intuitive appeal for various arguments for God’s existence. Is that what you mean when you refer to transcendental signifiers? Or is your concept different?
JH: You would think so, since he’s just down the road in Waco, I’m up here in Dallas. There is some commonality, in the sense that both views deal with natural theology. It may be a case of great minds thinking alike because I see many aspects that our views hold in common but my idea has nothing to do with him. I started working on my argument back in 2002 when I had just discovered internet apologetics and began arguing on message boards and blogs, and I created the Christian CADRE apologetic group. I was adapting things I had been thinking about at UTD when I was studying Derrida, This argument is rooted in my study of Derrida; I don’t think Evans deals with Derrida. At first it was just a fun way to flabbergast atheists on message boards, A couple of years ago I decided it was time to dig it out of mothballs and turn it into a real argument.
I like Evans idea of signs pointers, that is similar to my notion of what I call “deep structures of being.” Speaking only of my own argument, because I’m not sure his idea and mine are really the same, I have not read his book. My argument is based in Derridean ideas but it seeks to reverse Derrida. I ask what if Derrida is wrong and there is a transcendental signified? Then that on itself is a good reason to believe in God. Derrida’s whole program was a reaction against belief in God; the desire to tear down hierarchies because he rejected the ultimate hierarchical principle. If as he supposed reason and rationality stem from an overarching principle that forms the basis of all meaning and thus sets up the ultimate hierarchy the will of God, the reality of that hierarchy ought to mean we accept or assume the reality of God. So the ultimate reason I can give for doing so is that without it we have only the dissolution of meaning. The TS is the only way to have a rational, coherent, and meaningful view of the universe, of life, of nature.
Before going on I need to remind the reader that all of my God arguments are about rationally warranting belief not proving the existence of God.
RR: Okay, can you say more about the specifically Derridean ideas you’re engaging with and then how you seek to reverse them to, as you put it, “flabbergast atheists”?
JH: Derrida’s overall project is to explicate the end of metaphysics, but not to merely explicate he also wanted to help hasten it. His major issue was the myth of presence,which begins with the Platonic theory of knowledge and sees this theme echoed throughout Western thought up into modern times. Scientific hegemony of thought is a hint of this, latest version of the myth of presence. The myth says that meaning is present in the signifiers. There is meaning in an overarching final sense and it is immediateness present to us. That was the case with belief in God or the Platonic realm, now only hinted at with science which makes all truth available through its own ruination; or with formal logic.
Western thought has always assumed a logos, a first principle that gives meaning to all ambiguity and grounds all knowledge and norms (reason, logic, mathematics, truth, God, whatever). This concept has been embodied in many different ideas; collectively Jacques Derrida calls them “transcendental signifiers” (TS). These differing notions all point to a single idea, the one thing that is necessary and universal that orders and gives meaning to all signs and signification. That is the thing signified by the words used to mark it, the transcendental signified (TS). The term G-O-D is the Transcendental signifier and the actual reality the word points to is the transcendental signified.
Humanity has been unable to find any matching candidate for this post in modern thought primarily because we gave up the idea of a logos. Gave up on a universal ordering principle. Modern science has a sort of truncated logos in the idea that empirical observations will eliminate all false hypotheses until just the truth, scientific truth. That will never happen because it cannot; science can’t render first principles in areas like ethics and morality and it can’t delve into the spiritual, the phenomenological, the existential or anything not immediately verifiable empirically. Postmodern thought has given up on the whole project. They reject the concept of truth itself and seek not to understand anything beyond their self referential language game. Yet in rejecting the concept of truth, and tearing down hierarchies, they create their transcendental signifier differance, (with an a)i. Only the concept of God fits the parameters for the TS. God offers the best explanation for hierarchical ordering, thus offers the most likely correlate for TS. Or to put it another way, mind is the missing dimension that enables the TS to unite human experience of being with understanding. That in itself should warrant belief in God.
My argument says Derrida didn’t believe in the reality of a TS and he assumed such terms just refer to empty promises. Thus the consequence of such hierarchies as are mandated by the veracious notions of a TS are oppressive and totaling, so says the upshot of Derridean thinking. Thus he seeks to tear down hierarchies.I say more power to him Those hierarchies in so far as they are oppressive should be torn down. The problem is true to his own deconstruction, Derrida contradicts himself by also stating that we can’t avoid metaphysical hierarchies and that some hierarchy is inevitable.
At that point I make my argument. Rather than tear down all hierarchy (only to have it replaced by others) let’s seek the true TS that mandates the right hierarchy (God’s Love). I argue that the missing element is mind. of course specifically the mind of God. Thus most of the arguments are oriented issues like mind and cosmos. It’s not a design argument or the CA but does reference both ideas. I have a deductive version and an abductive version.
There is much more use the link below and scroll down 11 paragraphs:
Rauser says: "That’s one reason I appreciate the work of Joseph Hinman. Mr. Hinman has an MTS from the Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University and has studied at the doctoral level at the University of Texas at Dallas. And he quite deliberately seeks to explore underexplored and wholly new avenues of argument. Consider, for example, our recent conversation on his argument for God from mystical experience."