The transcendental argument for the existence of God (TAG)

 

two objections

 

The TAG has taken various forms. At The Atheist Experience’s Iron Chariots Wiki, you will find background on the argument and example formulations. Here’s the link.

 

http://wiki.ironchariots.org/index.php?title=Transcendental_argument

 

Matt Slick has produced an expanded version of the argument which attempts to repair its weaknesses. The Atheist Community of Austin’s Matt Dillahunty has exposed the invalidity and unsoundness of Slick’s formulation.

 

I think it may be useful to emphasise two of the TAG's problems: its unsound assumption about the mind and mental things such as concepts; and its confusion over the nature of linguistic expressions such as the rules of logic.

 

For reference, I reproduce here the Iron Chariots’ Version 1 of the TAG. I do this without permission and beg their forgiveness.

 

  • There are some objective logical absolutes.
  • We can have concepts of these logical absolutes.
  • These logical absolutes are not physical (you can't find them within the natural world).
  • These logical absolutes are therefore conceptual.
  • Concepts require a mind.
  • Since the logical absolutes are true everywhere they must exist within an infinite mind.
  • That mind is God.
  • God exists.

 

Here are my objections. As always, if you think any of this is unclear or wrong, do please comment. I’ll gratefully acknowledge any helpful contributions. In place of the impressive-sounding term logical absolutes, I use the term rules of logic, because that is what they are.

 

The belief that our minds are immaterial places containing immaterial things is both incoherent and unsupported by any evidence.

 

1.1  The belief is incoherent, because the terms immaterial place and immaterial thing are contradictions. Neither an immaterial place nor an immaterial thing has a location, a boundary, or any properties. They lack the requirements for places and things within the universe.

 

1.2  To claim that, as material things are or exist in material reality, so immaterial things are or exist in the immaterial mind, is to equivocate on the words thingare and exist – to use those words in a different way. Unless the new meanings are explained, the expressions immaterial thing, being and existence have no clear meaning.

 

1.3  We talk about having or sharing beliefs, perceptions, ideas, images and thoughts. And we say we have minds with things going on in them. Ordinarily we use and understand these words perfectly clearly.

 

1.4  We can replace expressions referring to the mind and mental things with substitutes that avoid them. For example, we are of the same mind means we agree. And these substitutes explain what the originals mean. But our conversations are so shot-through with seemingly mental words that it is pointless to avoid them. They are ingrained in natural language.

 

1.5  The confusion comes when we mistake these words for things – the existence, or the location, or the nature of which we need to or even can explain. The rumour goes around that there are mental things in mental places.

 

1.6  And with the rise of modern psychology, the seemingly technical word concepts emerged as the name for what we once called ideas. But when we ask what and where a concept is, the incoherence of the terms mental thing and mental place remains.

 

1.7  Since the TAG assumes the existence of concepts in our minds, or the mind of a god, it is fundamentally flawed. We cannot construct a rational argument on a metaphor.

 

Linguistic expressions are not concepts.

 

2.1  Spoken or written linguistic expressions, such as the rules of logic, exist in reality. They are not abstract things. (As yet, the term abstract thing has no clear meaning.)

 

2.2  An expression and what it is about are quite separate. The word rock is not a rock. The description the sky is blue is not a blue sky. Reality is not linguistic.

 

2.3  A rule is not a description. The rule a = a (a rock is a rock) does not describe something. It is a rule for talking about anything.

 

2.4  As they are tautologies, the rules of logic are vacuously true. And they are universal or absolute only because most linguistic expression is impossible without them.

 

2.5  The rules of logic do not inhere in reality because linguistic expressions do not inhere in reality. So the assertion that we cannot find the rules inherent in reality is vacuous.

 

2.6  To have a concept of something, such as a rule of logic, may mean we can visualise it, or at least think and talk about it. And it means we know how to use the word concept. It does not mean we have an immaterial thing in our minds. That is at best a metaphor and, writ large, a myth.

 

Conclusion

 

3.1  I suggest the rules of logic emerged in the same way as the rules of mathematics, by reflection on and codification of linguistic expressions. The idea that we were discovering universal or transcendent things was both understandable and illusory. 

 

3.2  I suggest it is unsurprising that the TAG relies on the myth of the mind as an immaterial place containing immaterial things. If we accept, even tacitly, that there are such places and things, we may be primed to believe such equally immaterial things as souls, spirits, devils, angels and gods, and such immaterial places as a heaven and a hell, are possible.

 

3.3  I suggest the TAG both relies on and reinforces a religious myth from which we have not yet fully freed ourselves.

 

Peter Holmes

September 2015