On Transcendental Argument For The Existence Of God

We often find scenarios such as this:

  • Atheist: I have no god-belief
  • Theist: Okay, why is that?
  • Atheist: Well, for one thing, you cannot prove that God exists.
  • Theist: Certainly I can.
  • Atheist: Okay, prove God exists.
  • Theist: Okay. Do you believe that the laws of logic exist?
  • Atheist: Sure I do. I do not think that is in dispute.
  • Theist: It may not be in dispute, but I hold that your atheism cannot account for the existence of the laws of logic.

Stop right there. For one thing, the assumption that atheism as such should be held responsible for accounting for facts is fallacious. The claim that “Atheism is inadequate to explain the very reasoning processes we use to discuss the existence of God” commits the fallacy known as allegation of the neglected onus. Atheism is the absence of god-belief, and is not a positive, but a negative – “which leaves wide open what you do believe in.” [Footnote: Leonard Peikoff, “Religion Versus America,” The Objectivist Forum, June, 1986, p. 14.] In other words, atheism as such is not a worldview, nor does it inform a worldview. This fact is only confirmed by the fact that there are many non-theistic philosophies which differ radically (i.e., fundamentally) from each other (such as Objectivism vs. Communism, etc.). Failure to recognize this results from the failure to recognize crucial distinctions of essential nature (such as the advocacy of the morality of rational self-interest in the case of Objectivism vis-à-vis that of altruism in Communism). Insistence on rejecting these distinctions results in a package-deal, which is a conceptual fallacy.

Going back to the debate above; And more importantly, the atheist challenged the theist to prove that God exists. After all, that is the theist’s claim, is it not? If this is what the theist claims, then he has the burden of proof to support this claim. The claim that God exists is existentially positive in nature: It asserts a positive statement about existence. Therefore, we are justified in expecting the theist to offer a positive course of argument to meet the end he is challenged to meet. The theist, in typical presuppositionalist stride, attempts immediately to shed his onus of proof, like a snake shedding his dead skin, and to turn the tables on the atheist: he now wants the atheist to contribute a positive argument for something that is apparently not in dispute between either party, and which is unproductive to the end of meeting the end which the theist is challenged to meet.

This route of debate is profoundly disingenuous. What relevance does one atheist’s ignorance of the proper foundations of the laws of logic have to do with the establishment of an existentially positive claim? It does not follow from Mr. A’s ignorance of X that Mr. B’s assertion that Y exists is true. Even if Mr. B wants to propose a relationship between X and Y (in this case, between the laws of logic and the existence of God), Mr. B still bears the prior onus of demonstrating his claim that Y exists. Only then, after he has settle this matter in question, can he then proceed to pontificate on his claim that some relationship exists between X and Y. This kind of tactic merely attempts

It is the attempt to persuade without putting forth a legitimate proof. This is the baiting nature of presuppositionalism, for it attempts to goad non-believers into accepting the believer’s questionable premises by ceasing on something which the non-believer does accept, but for which the non-believer may or may not have a ready explanation. The non-believer’s lack of a ready explanation, however, does not prove the believer’s questionable premises by any stretch. In this very sense, the transcendental argument for the existence of God, and presuppositionalism in general, are merely intricate arguments from ignorance.

The certainty of the claim that God exists, notwithstanding the incoherence of the attributes ascribed to it, does not and cannot follow from one’s ignorance of another matter.

Christian apologists claim that ” that without any foundational or overarching (transcendental) source, truth, morality, value, and meaning cannot be absolute but only relative (to oneself, one’s culture, a historical epoch, an evolutionary stage, etc.).” But how do they establish this? As an Objectivist, I do not object to the call to clarify one’s foundations. Indeed, there is nothing so crucially important to the validity of a worldview. As I see it, one has three basic alternatives when it comes to defining one’s foundations, one which is valid, the other two being invalid:

  1. Existence – as Objectivism holds (“existence exsits”)
  2. Non-existence – and this would be absurd, because existence exists
  3. Consciousness – because philosophers want to start with a zero (non-existence) but still need to explain 1. above.

The theist refuses to start with the universe as his foundation. He gives many different reasons for this, but all these reasons are disabled by dubious assumptions. Essentially, this means he does not want to begin with the fact of existence as such. If he were willing to begin with the fact of existence as his irreducible foundation, he should have no problem embracing Objectivism fully.

The fact that many philosophers wish to begin with non-existence is evident in their theories about “space,” and in arguments such as the “first cause” argument, which posits a beginning to the universe (i.e., of existence as such). “The universe had to come from somewhere,” they chatter, remaining blind to the fact that “somewhere” implies the existence of the universe already. ‘Universe’ is the sum total of existence; if something exists, it is by definition a member of the universe. There are no existents which exist “outside” the universe. There is no “outside” the universe. To posit the need to explain the alleged beginning of the universe is to imply that one must start with the zero of “nothingness.”

But the universe indisputably exists, because existence exists. And the theist now has a problem: how does he get from the non-existence with which he implicitly wants to begin (and, incidentally, to which he wants to return), to the fact that existence does exist? How does he get from the vacuum of nothing to the plenum [Footnote: By ‘plenum’ I mean “an assembly attended by all members” (Webster’s II New Riverside Dictionary, s.v., ‘plenum’.] of the universe? Here he needs causality: the universe is the result of a prior cause. But to posit causality, he needs an agent which does the causing. One cannot posit a cause without also positing something that does the causing, just as one cannot have a dance without a dancer. And this is where we get to the notion of a God: a form of consciousness which is the source of all existence. Thus, for the theist, consciousness holds primacy over existence. This is the doctrine of metaphysical subjectivism, which assumes the validity of the primacy of consciousness, which Objectivism shows to be false.

Therefore, the claim that one needs a “transcendent” (i.e., beyond existence) principle as the foundation to logic, reasoning, cognition, conceptual thought, intelligibility, or what have you, is built on false premises, and should be rejected.

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