Transcendental argument for the existence of God: Wikis


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The Transcendental Argument for the Existence of God (TAG) is the argument that attempts to prove God's existence by arguing that logic, morals, and science ultimately presuppose the Christian worldview, and that God's absolute nature is the source of logic and morals. A version was formulated by Immanuel Kant in his 1763 work The Only Possible Argument in Support of a Demonstration of the Existence of God. A version is also commonly used in presuppositional apologetics and is considered by some apologists to be the most persuasive argument[citation needed].


Transcendental reasoning

Transcendental arguments should not be confused with transcendent arguments, or arguments for the existence of something transcendent. In other words, they are distinct from both arguments that appeal to a transcendent intuition or sense as evidence (Fideism), and arguments that move from direct evidence to the existence of a transcendent thing (Classical Apologetics).

They are also distinct from standard deductive and inductive forms of reasoning. Where a standard deductive argument looks for what we can deduce from the fact of X, and a standard inductive argument looks for what we can infer from experience of X, a transcendental argument looks for the necessary prior conditions to both the fact and experience of X. Thus, "I entitle transcendental all knowledge which is occupied not so much with objects as with the mode of our knowledge of objects insofar as this mode of knowledge is to be possible a priori." (Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, Introduction, VII).

The argument

The TAG is a transcendental argument that attempts to prove that the Christian God is the precondition of all human knowledge and experience, by demonstrating the impossibility of the contrary; in other words, that logic, reason, or morality cannot exist without God. The argument proceeds as follows:[1]

  1. Knowledge is possible (or some other statement pertaining to logic or morality)
  2. If there is no god, knowledge is not possible
  3. Therefore God exists.

It is similar in form to Descartes' Cogito ergo sum.[2]

Cornelius Van Til likewise wrote:

We must point out to [our opponents] that [non-theistic] 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 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.
(A Survey of Christian Epistemology [Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1969], p. 204).

Therefore, the TAG differs from Thomistic and Evidentialist arguments, which posit the probable existence of God in order to avoid an infinite regress of causes or motions, to explain life on Earth, and so on. The TAG posits the necessary existence of a particular conception of God in order for human knowledge and experience to be possible at all. The TAG argues that, because the triune God of the Bible, being completely logical, uniform, and good, exhibits a character in the created order and the creatures themselves (especially in humans), human knowledge and experience are possible. This reasoning implies that all other worldviews (such as atheism, Buddhism, and Islam), when followed to their logical conclusions, descend into absurdity, arbitrariness or inconsistency.


Objective morality

One aspect of the TAG regards objective morality. The argument asserts that an omnibenevolent God provides the basis for attributing right and wrong to any thought or action. In creation God equips humanity to act as moral beings, and in self-revelation God demonstrates how people should act, and commands them to do so. People then have an objective source for their standard of morality by which to condemn evil thoughts and actions (or to commend good ones).

The argument further states that meta-ethical relativists, by contrast, cannot condemn theft, rape or genocide (nor commend generosity, marriage, or the preservation of life) without relying on the assumption of an objective source for morality. No moral assertions, it is argued, can be explained by the relativist's own worldview; they are instead derived from unconsciously "borrowed capital" from Christianity, proving the truth of the Christian worldview.

Matthew Slick's TAG

This is an attempt to demonstrate the existence of God using logical absolutes. The oversimplified argument goes as follows:[3] Logical absolutes exist. Logical absolutes are conceptual by nature, are not dependent on space, time, physical properties, or human nature. They are not the product of the physical universe (space, time, matter), because if the physical universe were to disappear, logical absolutes would still be true. Logical Absolutes are not the product of human minds, because human minds are different, not absolute. But, since logical absolutes are always true everywhere, and not dependent upon human minds, it must be an absolute transcendent mind that is authoring them. This mind is called God.


Several criticisms of the TAG have emerged. One says that TAG is not a distinctive form of argument: this objection claims that the form of the TAG (indirect, transcendental) is really just a reworking of the standard deductive and inductive forms of reasoning; it claims that there is really not much difference between Thomas Aquinas and Cornelius Van Til. John Frame, a student of Van Til, has endorsed this objection.[citation needed]

Begging the question

The TAG does not fulfill the necessary prerequisites for an Argument of Proof - that is, to have already proved the foundational premises before the conclusion is made. Any premise that has not been proved, by its very nature, is an assumption and is considered to be begging the question. An assumption, by definition, might be wrong. Therefore, an Argument of Proof cannot be based on foundational premises that are assumptions. Every premise must be proven prior to the conclusion being made. Those versions of TAG that are dependent on the foundational premise that "something not conceptual must be physical" yet this notion has not been proved. Therefore, that premise is an assumption. Thus TAG cannot be offered as proof.

The TAG moves from conceptual necessity to necessary existence. This criticism argues that proving the conceptual necessity of a worldview doesn't establish its ontological reality. In other words: one may need to think about the world in a certain way in order to make sense of one's experience and knowledge, but that doesn't prove that the world actually is that way. David P. Hoover has raised this objection in his article For the Sake of Argument.

The TAG uses another form of begging the question, circular reasoning: the TAG assumes, from the beginning, what it intends to establish by its conclusion (namely, the existence of God).

No specific god proven

The TAG does not provide a uniqueness proof: even if the TAG can prove the existence of a god, it doesn't prove that of the Christian god. Any sufficiently similar god, such as Allah, would do. John Warwick Montgomery presented this objection in the article Once upon an A Priori ..., presented in Van Til's festschrift, Jerusalem and Athens.

In argumentation, apologists will attempt to demonstrate that only the Christian worldview satisfies these conditions and is therefore coherent. However, Van Tillian presuppositionalists also point out that these conditions are applicable only because they themselves presuppose Christianity. To say that Christianity is true because it meets these conditions is to say that a greater standard exists than that of the God of the Bible. However, if you accept the fundamental Christian assertion that the Bible is the direct word of God, then such a charge would be without warrant as the Bible would then be the final epistemological authority of Christianity. Using this rationale, the preconditions of intelligibility are determined merely by Scripture not by autonomous human reasoning. But the divine origins of the Bible are not universally accepted, and the idea of the Bible being a product of man rather than being from a divine source has been debated in modern circles since at least 1878 when Julius Wellhausen first published Prolegomena zur Geschichte Israels. The question has yet to be definitively answered by scholars.[4]

Criticism of objective morality

A critique of the argument from morality is that since there is no evaluative domain from which to demonstrate a source for morality, it can't be said that morals are anything more than opinions that we force other people to follow. On the other hand, it cannot be demonstrated that the source is absolutely subjective either. Without a measurable source for morality, it cannot be demonstrated absolutely that morality has either an objective or subjective source.

Criticism of Matt Slick's argument

Criticism of Matt Slick's version of TAG says that it can be dismissed because logical absolutes are truth statements based on the law of identity, and are not things. When these are confused, the argument becomes circular.

A truth statement (logic) is a concept, which does not exist without a mind to think it, as stated in Matt's definition. For example, if you make the law of identity statement, "This apple is an apple, and it is not not an apple", the truth about the apple is not contingent on the mind making the statement, the statement itself is the thing contingent on the mind. At the point of this confusion, the argument becomes circular, a form of begging the question, and offers of an explanation are not necessary since the premise is flawed and no logical syllogism can be made.


Van Til himself didn't directly attempt to answer any of the criticisms of the TAG noted above. Greg Bahnsen has offered a defense against all of them in various places in his literature and media, however he never attempted to answer all of them in one place. Michael Butler published a chapter in Bahnsen's festschrift, The Standard Bearer titled "The Transcendental Argument for God's Existence", which examines the TAG along with transcendental arguments in the contemporary philosophical literature and defends them against objections.

As the most common objection is the claim that the TAG involves circularity, the defense will be briefly outlined. Proponents of the argument claim that worldview level considerations are supposed to be circular as a sign of internal cohesion. In dealing with the inevitable circularity of worldviews, Bahnsen maintains that two criteria must be met to demonstrate a given worldview as true:[citation needed]

  1. Internal consistencyThe statements made by the worldview do not contradict one another or otherwise lead to internal contradictions. Logical Positivism fails this test by its claim that “A statement is literally meaningful if and only if it is either analytic or empirically verifiable,” a statement that is not itself verifiable analytically or empirically.
  2. ArbitrarinessThe statements must not be believed simply out of convenience, tradition, or prejudice.

See also


  • E. R. Geehan, ed., Jerusalem and Athens: Critical Discussions on the Philosophy and Apologetics of Cornelius Van Til (Phillipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1980).
  • Greg L. Bahnsen, Van Til's Apologetic: Readings and Analysis (Phillipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1998).
  • John M. Frame, Cornelius Van Til: An Analysis of His Thought (Phillipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1995).
  • Steven M. Schlissel, ed., The Standard Bearer: A Festschrift for Greg L. Bahnsen (Nacogdoches: Covenant Media Press, 2002).
  • Greg L. Bahnsen, Always Ready: Directions for Defending the Faith". Robert R. Booth, ed. (Nacogdoches: Covenant Media Press, 1996).
  • John M. Frame, Apologetics to the Glory of God: An Introduction (Phillipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1994).
  • John M. Frame, The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God (Phillipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1987).

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