Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Refuting the transcendental argument for the existence of God. Part I. Laying some groundwork.

Having recently withdrawn from a discussion where the other party was clumsily attempting to set up the transcendental argument, I have made some observations on the subject. Hopefully this will be useful to anyone encountering this monstrosity. The person I was discussing with was clearly an amateur. I kept giving him easy openings and softballs but he just kept repeating nonsense. However I have seen people use the argument effectively so I thought I would post some tools for overcoming it. The first is that for the transcendental argument to get off the ground the person postulating it must set some definitions. They must for example claim that logic is Absolute, Immaterial and Universal. Their argument rests on logic being something that has to come from a perfect and divine source. They need for it to be not explainable as a result of natural processes. Fortunately this is easy to avoid. This is the reason I ended up withdrawing from the last discussion, I asked the person to address the validity of these terms, and presented the following argument. The presuppositionalist in question just ignored it entirely and tried to change the subject. These really do mess up the position taken by the transcendental argument.

First I address absolute.
Absolute is a qualifier which is applied to the property of true. This seems either non valid or false, depending on the intention. If it is simply an adjective describing the property of true there is no reason to do so, in logic there is either true or not true applying a qualifier in this regard is non valid. If you are using the qualifier to add an additional value to the property of true then the statement must be false.

Call true T and absolutely A. and a Statement S. S=T describes a true statement describing a statement as absolutely true would be S=T+A for this to be true A=0 if a has no value it is a non valid qualifier if A>0 then you have a contradiction T+A does not =T so you have a false statement.

To sum if A=0 then there is no reason to call something absolutely true, so therefore a statement can not be absolutely true it can only be true or false.

If A>0, for instance if if the term absolute adds meaning then an absolutely true statement is false because the qualifier absolute makes it non true. So again in this instance a statement is not absolutely true it is simply true.

Logic can not be absolutely true in any possible circumstance so it is simply true.

Now that I have addressed the question of absolute and demonstrated that it is either a useless qualifier or a false one. In addition to being contradictory it also violates the law of the excluded middle, by implying that there are degrees of truth, which is not possible. If something seems partially true then the question asked is insufficient. Probably because it is either not specific enough or improperly stated.

At this point I will address universal. This is another adjective used to set up the transcendental argument. One which I question the relevance of. At least it is not a logical contradiction like absolute. However it is without value in this context.

If it means the common usage as in it would apply in every appropriate situation. Then yes it is universal, however since that is a basic concept of logic I am not sure why the term would be added. If it means something beyond that, such as the laws of logic having meaning apart from intelligence then no, universal does not apply.

Logic is a symbolic representation of the function of thought. It is not an entity in it's own right. It describes an entity, thought. Since logical axioms are self evident and irrefutable and the laws of logic are based on axioms, it must be true that any intelligence in any possible world would be subject to them.

However absent intelligence they could not exist. This does not of course mean that without intelligence the universe would behave any differently. It would do what it does regardless. Light doesn't move at a certain speed because we have a theory that says it does. It moves at that speed because that is the nature of light. Gravity does not attract because we have laws of gravity describing how it works it attracts because that is the nature of gravity. Logic allows us to understand these things it doesn't create or guide them.

The absence of intelligence would simply mean that there would be no observers measuring and quantifying things therefore there would be nothing for logic to describe.

So I can say that universal is either a useless qualifier or a false one.

Now another adjective frequently referenced is "immaterial." This seems the most vague to me but probably the least fallacious. Again it depends on what is meant.

Thoughts and concepts are immaterial in the sense that they are functions of intelligence not matter so that is true enough, however since this is pretty much part of the definition of thought again the qualifier is unneeded.

However it means they transcend the material world then no. Concepts may be in a sense immaterial, but they are formed in a mind that is tied to the material. If there was no material there would be no thought. As I said regarding the term universal. Logic is a tool to describe thought and facilitate argumentation. Even though it is perfectly accurate it only applies to thought and argumentation. In the absence of thought logic has nothing to describe so it is irrelevant.

So again the qualifier is either pointless or false.

Therefore the laws of logic are not absolute, universal, or immaterial.

They are simply true. The law of the excluded middle prevents partial truth so absolute doesn't apply. Logic is a function of intelligence so universal doesn't apply. Consciousness is a function of the material therefore immaterial does not apply, even though as a general rule concepts are defined as not material they could not exist apart from matter and energy.


Anna Sethe said...

If something seems partially true then the question asked is insufficient
Absolutely true ;)

Fundamentalists never care to define their terms properly.

Ryk said...

@Anna :D

rhiggs said...


Very interesting, and well explained. I've had similar thoughts in the past but never been able to articulate them as nicely. I can see myself using your methods next time I encounter a presupper.

Look forward to the next installment...