Modest is Hottest: A Brief Response to Bálint Békefi’s “Van Til versus Stroud: Is the Transcendental Argument for Christian Theism Viable?”

Stroud’s Objection Restated

Bálint Békefi proposes the following transcendental argument (Békefi, B. Van Til versus Stroud: “Is the Transcendental Argument for Christian Theism Viable?” TheoLogica. Published Online First: September 26, 2017):

(S1) If the negation of p is self-defeating, then p is true.
(S2) The negation of p is self-defeating.
(S3) Therefore, p is true.
(Békefi 9)

Békefi follows Adrian Bardon (Bardon, Adrian. “Performative Transcendental Arguments.” Philosophia 33: 2005, 69-95) in distinguishing between two types of self-defeating propositions:

A proposition then is performatively self-falsifying if its affirmation implies its falsehood; it is self-stultifying if its truth implies that one can never be rationally justified in affirming it. (Békefi 10)

Thus, Békefi restates his transcendental argument:

(1) If the negation of p is either self-stultifying or performatively self-falsifying, then p is true.
(2) The negation of p is either self-stultifying or performatively self-falsifying.
(3) Therefore, p is true.

Having provided the aforementioned distinction between self-stultifying and performatively self-falsifying propositions and having applied said distinction to the transcendental argument in question, Békefi states what he believes is Barry Stroud’s objection to transcendental arguments:

Stroud’s objection is that showing that we must believe something (probably because we can never be justified in believing its negation) does not establish its truth. We can plausibly take Stroud to be talking about self-stultification—and so the gist of his critique, the Stroudian thesis, can be formulated in the following way:
(ST): Self-stultification does not imply falsehood.

The question of a proper interpretation of Stroud’s objection aside, it can be demonstrated that Békefi’s ST is not nearly as strong as it can be since it is also the case that performative self-falsification does not entail falsehood. Thus ST needs to be restated:

(STʹ): Self-defeat does not imply falsehood.

For example, Bardon borrows from Davidson to state:

Our belief-forming practices are not reliable. (Bardon 73)

Bardon explains, “If not, then most of what we say is false, and so our utterances could not be part of a public language. But then none of our utterances, including any attempt to affirm this proposition, would be meaningful.” (73) Perhaps, but it does not follow that the proposition is false. The performative element contradicts the proposition, but implies nothing with respect to the truth or falsehood of the proposition. The proposition might still be true; it is not falsified by way of assertion. Propositions are true or false; performative inconsistencies are not. Performative inconsistencies do not establish anything with respect to the content of propositions.

Békefi reformulates TACT according to the modified self-defeat view:

(C1’) If the negation of CT is performatively self-falsifying, then CT is true.
(C2’) The negation of CT is performatively self-falsifying.
(Békefi 11)

Since self-defeat, whether in terms of performative self-falsification or self-stultification, does not imply falsehood, the first premise is false.

Modest Transcendental Arguments

Here is a proposal for a Modest Transcendental Argument:

(T1) If the negation of p is self-defeating, then p is transcendentally necessary.*
(T2) The negation of p is self-defeating.
(T3) Therefore, p is transcendentally necessary.

The argument is ‘modified’ because it no longer claims anything with respect to the truth or falsehood of the proposition in question.

The argument is ‘transcendental’ because it pertains to necessary preconditions of intelligible experience, not to metaphysics.

The argument is in a deductively valid form; modus ponens.

The argument has true premises, since self-defeat just means performative inconsistency or irrationality, and the negation of p entails self-defeat.

The argument is sound.

Van Tilian Transcendental Arguments

The transcendental method set forth by Cornelius Van Til and Greg Bahnsen is useful whether it is interpreted transcendentally or metaphysically. By ‘useful,’ I simply mean that the transcendental method is a cogent apologetic argument. Not only is the argument sound, as demonstrated above, but persuasive. Why? The argument demonstrates (assuming all the other pieces are in order, which Stroud’s objection does not address) that if someone wishes to set forth any rational argumentation whatsoever, he or she must psychologically presuppose the Christian worldview (or more narrowly construed, God) to make sense of anything. The unbeliever must remain silent (because of performative inconsistency) or function irrationally (because of self-stultification). This is more than enough for the apologist. This result is also perfectly consistent with traditional Van Tilian claims. Although this modest expression is not the strongest form of the Van Tilian project, the argument still powerfully demonstrates that in order for unbelievers to be able to argue against Christianity, they must first assume they are wrong – and not just wrong, but undoubtedly wrong – and that does not sound like a very happy state of affairs (no pun intended) for the skeptic. In the end, the Stroudian objection tends to highlight the tenacity of the transcendental method.

*In the comments David Byron rightly observes:

Rather, (T1’) If the negation of p is self-defeating, then a transcendental equivalent of p is transcendentally necessary.

Maintaining a strict distinction between “metaphysical “ and “transcendental” (if that were meaningful) ensures that this rebuttal is insurmountable.

Public Statement on James R. White

The contributors to Choosing Hats have unanimously chosen to comment upon the recent controversy surrounding Dr. James R. White of Alpha and Omega Ministries.

White has faced extreme criticism related to his apologetics ministry to Muslims. Since Choosing Hats embraces what is known as the doctrine of Total Depravity, we also believe that no man, including White, is above correction.

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Review: Beginning with God: A Basic Introduction to the Christian Faith by James W. Sire

(Thanks to InterVarsity Press for providing a review copy of this book!)

Sire, James W. Beginning with God: A Basic Introduction to the Christian Faith. Downersgrove, IL: Intervarsity, 2017. 189 pp. $8.57.

“In explaining the Christian faith, we can begin almost anywhere, for Christianity relates to the whole of life – the outer world of natural science, the inner world of the human psyche, society at large, and individuals in particular. In short, we could begin with God, with people, or with the universe.” (15)

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A Friendly Response to Jordan Standridge’s “A platform for porn and a dialogue with the devil”

Over at The Cripplegate there is a post by Jordan Standridge titled, “A platform for porn and a dialogue with the devil.” Jordan starts off with a story that sheds a little light on that title.

A few years ago my wife and I were invited to what was being called “The Great Porn Debate.” A Christian man who was anti-porn was going around the country with a famous porn actor and they were debating the question: Is porn harmful or helpful? They were debating this on college campuses, but the meeting we were invited to was in a church—a large church in San Diego where thousands of Christians would be exposed to a man who was going to try to convince the crowd that porn can be good for you and your marriage. Needless to say, we declined — a decision for which I was subject to ridicule. I was called a Pharisee, and also I was mocked for being “afraid” to hear inappropriate language.

If the post ended here, it probably would not generate much discussion. But the post does not end here. There is more, and the title gives us a hint of what is to come. Obviously, nobody wants to give porn a “platform,” and we know a “dialogue with the devil” is not exactly kid friendly or mother approved, so whatever Jordan is getting ready to describe must be really, really bad, right?

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No Excuse for God


Four words into God’s living and active autobiography and, boom, there He is. Front and center. No beating around the bush. After all, from Him and through Him and to Him are all things (Romans 11:36), so it should be no surprise that the Bible begins with Him.

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Debate Review: Who Is God? James White Versus Joe Ventilacion (3)

I was asked to review “Who Is God?”, a debate between James White and Joe Ventilacion that took place on April 21st, 2017 in Rapid City, SD. The review will consist of a lengthy series of shorter posts to capture the significance of each of the arguments used and to make them as clear as possible to the readership.
Debate Review: Who Is God? James White Versus Joe Ventilacion (1)
Debate Review: Who Is God? James White Versus Joe Ventilacion (2)
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