Helping Dawson Recognize a TA

This lengthy (well, at least by my standard) reply is in response to comments Dawson Bethrick and I have traded in response to my post “Dawson’s (Mis)Understanding of TAs” found here

Dawson wrote: I’m not sure why this is so important to you. As I indicated in my original comment, not only does RK not provide an argument for his god’s existence, he does not – from what I can see – provide any argument for the position he’s defending. That was what I was trying to say in response to your claim that his argument is “presuppositional.” If there’s no argument, then there’s no argument to call “presuppositional.” If the way I responded implied that I think presuppositionalism is used exclusively for proving the existence of a god, you have my apologies – I did not mean to imply this. 


Truth is important to me, and I didn’t think you were being completely truthful with me in the reason you gave for responding as you did. I’m still not sure at this point. You did, after all, state explicitly that you didn’t believe RK presented any argument. You did this *after* making the comment I am taking you to task over, so I fail to see how the comment in question was merely a failed attempt to state something you stated explicitly in the very next paragraph.

Regardless, I’m ready to move on.

Dawson wrote: Now I will note that your blog post implies (at least on my reading) that presuppositionalism and transcendental arguments are one and the same. That is not my understanding.

You need to be more specific than that. Granted, the method of Presupp and the use of TAs typically go hand-in-hand (for obvious reasons), but they aren’t the same at all. If you think I am conflating the two, then please give specifics as to why.

Dawson wrote: Presuppositionalism is typically described as an approach to apologetics which includes the use of a transcendental argument, without equating its transcendental argument as such with presuppositionalism proper.

Agreed. Although one need not use a TA while arguing presuppositionally, it is a common thing to do as the only way to argue for one’s ultimate presuppositions is via a TA.

Dawson wrote: I know that on at least one occasion, a presuppositionalist has scolded me for implying that presuppositionalism and TAG are the same (when in fact I did not).

Was it me? If so, please point it out. If not, this is irrelevant.

BK wrote: You know, I guess it doesn’t surprise me that you didn’t recognize RK’s use of a TA anymore than you recognized it when Bahnsen explicitly used it against Stein (as you so clearly demonstrate in your post titled ‘Bahsen’s Proof’.)



Dawson wrote: First of all, it’s Bahnsen’s Poof, not Bahnsen’s “Proof.” Since I didn’t find any argument in Bahnsen’s opening statement, it would be a misnomer to call what he presents a “proof.” I see it more as a “poof” – as in, “Poof! God exists!” 


Ah, I see I misread your post title – my apologies.

Dawson stated: Also, you say that I have failed to recognize an argument that, according to what you seem to be saying, is plainly there, both in the case of RK’s debate with Mitch LeBlanc, as well as in the case of Bahnsen’s debate with Dr. Stein. As I explained to Chris Bolt in my two-part comment on 2 Sept., TAs are considered to be a type of deductive argument. I cited presuppositional theorist David Byron who states this and goes on to say that a transcendental argument is “distinguished from other deductive arguments by its modality and its particular subject matter.” He also states that “a transcendental argument may be expressed in the form of Modus Ponens.” (Both quotations come from Byron’s 28 Aug. 1998 post to The Van Til list, msg. #00374.)

In my own reading of Byron’s answer to the question “what does a formally expressed transcendental argument look like?” in the aforementioned post (thank you very much for the cite, btw), I don’t see such a cut and dry answer as you seem to present in quoting a very small portion of everything he had to say. Rather, Byron claims a formalized representation of TAs is controversial, and the aspect of that representation he points to is the very aspect you fail to include in your attempt to formalize Butler’s expression of a TA – the “formalization of the transcendental premise itself.”

It is, after all, the transcendental premise that is so easily attacked (whether successfully or not), and which makes any particular formalized representation so contentious. Byron says the same thing in the same post referenced above:

“The ease with which this objection arises suggests that a TA must be a multiform affair, involving not only the presentation of the phenomenological description of an intentional operation and the claim regarding the preconditions of that operation, but also a second argument in defense of the transcendental premise itself.”

But more importantly, Byron then states that the way in which this premise is argued for is by retorsion – that is, from the impossibility of the contrary. Hmm .. I wonder where I’ve heard that phrase before? Oh yes, in the last paragraph of Bahnsen’s opening statement in his debate with Stein.

“When we go to look at the different world views that atheists and theists have, I suggest we can prove the existence of God from the impossibility of the contrary. The transcendental proof for God’s existence is that without Him it is impossible to prove anything. The atheist world view is irrational and cannot consistently provide the preconditions of intelligible experience, science, logic, or morality. The atheist world view cannot allow for laws of logic, the uniformity of nature, the ability for the mind to understand the world, and moral absolutes. In that sense the atheist world view cannot account for our debate tonight.” (source)

In this statement Bahnsen not only calls out the specific “form” of argument he plans on using, he also explains how he intends on defending the transcendental premise, by appealing to the “impossibility of the contrary”. And then, in Bahnsen’s second opening statement, he lays out his justification for claiming that the non-existence of God is (logically) impossible

“Dr. Stein proposes an atheist world view. I propose a Christian theistic world view. There are other proposals out there that may want their evening to debate as well. I’m maintaining that the proof of the Christian world view is that the denial of it leads to irrationality. That is, without the Christian God, you cannot prove anything.” (source – emphasis mine)

Bahnsen then proceeds through the remainder of the debate to give examples of how a denial of Christianity leads to absurdity, specifically in the areas of logic, morality and induction. You may not agree that the examples he gave were compelling, but to say he never presented an argument is a clear demonstration of a failure to understand just what a TA is and how it operates.

RK used exactly the same method of argumentation, even though he was not arguing for God per se. His transcendental premise was actually the thesis he was defending in the debate, namely that “The Triune God of Scripture is the proper ground for all knowledge.”. Notice that RK chose a very specific thesis to argue, and that part of that thesis was the Triune God ”of scriptu

re

. In other words, the Triune God as presented in scripture is the proper ground for all knowledge. Consider the implications of this as it pertains to questions in this debate as to whether God may have lied in his revelation.

Moving on, in section 1.5, RK gives us the first clear indication he will be employing a TA – the type of argument – by stating that any person attempting to argue from other than the Christian position has to “borrow” from the Christian position to do so (the Christian position obviously being what is found in the Bible). This is the hallmark of a TA – claiming that even a denial of the claim in question requires one to accept/employ it. The “transcendental” (i.e. the precondition) in this case is the Christian worldview as found in the Bible. Accordingly, anyone arguing against Christianity must borrow from it (and by extension the Biblical revelation) to do so.

RK then explains (for the uninitiated) the method he intends on using (presuppositionalism), by quoting part of Bahnsen’s own opening statement in section 2.2 of his opening, which I will not bother to quote here.

RK then dedicates the entirety of section 4 of his opening to the topic of “the impossibility of the contrary” (sound familiar?). Here he spends a great deal of time explicating his “transcendental premise”, as it is always the most contentious in a TA (as we have already seen). He clearly presents his reasons as to why he believes a denial of the Triune God of the Bible is a deathblow to one’s ability to know anything at all.

At this point, RK has made it abundantly clear that his “program” is to show that any denial of the God of the Bible requires one to borrow from the Biblical Christian worldview, meaning that any failure to do so will result in irrationality. This “program”, if he is successful, will be proof-positive of the truth of his thesis.

At this point (as in the Bahnsen/Stein debate), RK proceeded to outline point after point where the Christian worldview provides a foundation for knowledge, whereas a denial of it (Mitch’s denial, in this case) leads to irrationality. Again, you may or may not agree that RK was successful at this stage, but to state that RK presented no argument is to (once again) show a complete lack of understanding of a TA.

Dawson said: Of course, even in the case of Butler’s formulation, if the goal of the argument is to establish the existence of “God,” and yet its existence is assumed in one of its premises, then the argument is fallaciously circular, flat and simple.

Well, I don’t care much for your reformulation of Butler’s formulation. However, I will present for you Bahsen’s formulation, and one that I am more than comfortable with:

“The proof of God’s existence is that without him you cannot prove anything.”

There …that is an “informal” representation of TAG that begs no questions. How do I know God exists? Well, because I cannot reason about anything at all … even his existence … without first presupposing he exists. Now, if you see this as a simple case of petitio principii, then there really is nothing further to say about this subject until you do some homework and get up to speed on what is involved in arguing for/from your ultimate commitments.

Dawson wrote: In the case of Bahnsen’s debate with Stein, my understanding is that Bahnsen’s side of the resolution was that the Christian god exists. I found nowhere in his opening statement where Bahnsen put forward an argument which takes the above form and leads to the conclusion “therefore God exists.” Certainly not in any non-question-begging manner anyway.


“Certainly not in any non-question-begging manner anyway”?

Well, which is it? Did you not see any argument which takes the above form, or did you not see one which take the above form in a non-question-begging manner?

Dawson wrote: Similarly, in RK’s debate with LeBlanc, RK’s task was, presumably, to present an argument which concludes something along the lines of “therefore, the Triune God of the Scriptures is the basis of knowledge.” I found no such argument in RK’s opening statement, or elsewhere in his statements for that matter.

Well, I have now presented for you in painful detail exactly where RK presented what his argument was, how he planned on arguing for it, and how he actually did argue for it.

Dawson said: If I have missed something in either Bahnsen’s or RK’s statements, perhaps you could restate the argument, in the format given above, using only quotations from either arguer to assemble the argument he allegedly made.

I have done better. I have explained why the format above is insufficient/inappropriate, and have laid out both Bahnsen’s and RK’s argument for you informally.

I will take up Part III of your response and the question of axioms in a separate post.

BK


9 Comments

Bahnsen Burner

Thank you for this post, Brian. I've read what you've stated, but still I don't see any actual arguments in either Bahnsen's or RK's debates. Rather, it appears that they're just asserting their position, and presuppositionalists are dubbing their assertions "arguments."

For example, you write:

<< I will present for you Bahsen’s formulation, and one that I am more than comfortable with:

“The proof of God’s existence is that without him you cannot prove anything.”

There …that is an “informal” representation of TAG that begs no questions. >>

I wouldn't call that an argument, but simply an assertion. Since I see no attempt to *infer* a conclusion here, I wouldn't even charge it with petitio principii.

If the above constitutes a "transcendental argument" for the Christian god's existence, then it seems one could use this formula to prove the existence of just about anything one imagines in place of the Christian god.

E.g.:

"The proof of Blarko's existence is that without Blarko it is impossible to prove anything."

You could call this an informal presentation of TAB – the transcendental argument for Blarko.

If that one statement informally represents Bahnsen's argument, then it seems my blog post was correctly titled. As for having to go hunting throughout Bahnsen's statements to assemble his argument from statements made here and there, I'd say he could have been a little more organized.

As for RK's "argument," it seems to suffer from the same problem: mere assertion mistaken for an argument.

Regards,
Dawson

Brian Knapp

Dawson said: Thank you for this post, Brian. I've read what you've stated, but still I don't see any actual arguments in either Bahnsen's or RK's debates. Rather, it appears that they're just asserting their position, and presuppositionalists are dubbing their assertions "arguments."


Perhaps an examination of the history of TAs would help, as opposed to reading the Van Til list. There is a very detailed (yet somewhat boring) lecture by Bahnsen and Butler on TAs, including Kant’s thoughts and “contemporary” (in the 80s) authors writing on the same subject such as Strawson. The lecture can be found here. I believe Butler’s Masters Thesis was actually on this subject.

BK wrote: I will present for you Bahsen’s formulation, and one that I am more than comfortable with:

“The proof of God’s existence is that without him you cannot prove anything.”

There …that is an “informal” representation of TAG that begs no questions.

Dawson wrote:I wouldn't call that an argument, but simply an assertion. Since I see no attempt to *infer* a conclusion here, I wouldn't even charge it with petitio principii. 


What is inferred here is the existence of God, based on the premise “for without him you cannot prove anything”. This structure has all the necessary elements of an argument – namely a conclusion and a reason why one should accept the conclusion as true.

Dawson wrote: If the above constitutes a "transcendental argument" for the Christian god's existence, then it seems one could use this formula to prove the existence of just about anything one imagines in place of the Christian god.


The argument “The proof of Blarko’s existence is that without Blarko it is impossible to prove anything” is just as valid as the aforementioned argument. Of course, just because an argument is valid does not entail it is sound. One would need to take the next step and analyze the premise the conclusion is drawn from to determine whether or not it is true, and therefore whether or not the argument is sound.

Dawsone wrote: If that one statement informally represents Bahnsen's argument, then it seems my blog post was correctly titled.

And I disagree for the reasons stated above.

Dawson said: As for having to go hunting throughout Bahnsen's statements to assemble his argument from statements made here and there, I'd say he could have been a little more organized.


Perhaps he could have been, but that is of no relevance to the truth of whether he did presented an argument or not.

Dawson said: As for RK's "argument," it seems to suffer from the same problem: mere assertion mistaken for an argument.

I appeal to my response above re: Bahnsen’s argument here as well.

By the way – I notice you didn’t respond to my challenge to point out why it is you felt I was conflating a Transcendental Argument with the apologetic method known as Presuppositionlism.

BK

Bahnsen Burner

BK wrote: I will present for you Bahsen’s formulation, and one that I am more than comfortable with:

“The proof of God’s existence is that without him you cannot prove anything.”

There …that is an “informal” representation of TAG that begs no questions.

I responded:I wouldn't call that an argument, but simply an assertion. Since I see no attempt to *infer* a conclusion here, I wouldn't even charge it with petitio principii. 


BK replied: What is inferred here is the existence of God, based on the premise “for without him you cannot prove anything”. This structure has all the necessary elements of an argument – namely a conclusion and a reason why one should accept the conclusion as true.

So what is/are the premise(s) given to support the conclusion "Therefore, God exists"?

Regards,
Dawson

Anonymous

Here's a TA for your consideration. I call it the "Transcendental Ontological Argument from Mathematical Infinity" or (to use the language of the Children's Catechism) "God is Big":

Mathematical entities, such as numbers, appear to be mental entities. They don't subsist in time and space. 1+1 doesn't become 2. There is no secret valley where the CIA keeps all of the numbers. They don't have physical features. 2 is not red or hairy or confused. Numbers exist as mental constructs. This is rather uncontroversial.

In a system of internal relations, all of the relations must be true for any to be true. 2+2=4 is true because 1+1=2 and 4-2=2 and so on. Multiplication implies division, addition implies subtraction, etc. The entire system of mathematics, from basic algebra to advanced calculus, rests on these internal relationships between numbers. This is rather self-evident, and few would advocate that 2+2=5. However, as soon as one admits that 2+2=4, one is presupposing the existence of God. Don't believe it? Here's the demonstration: in a system of infinite internal relations, the infinite must be actual rather than potential.

(Note: A potential infinite is a procedure by which one approaches infinity without ever reaching it, such as constantly adding 1 to a number. It is potentially infinite, since you can always add 1 to it. An actual (or complete) infinite is a closed set with an infinite number of entities contained therein. As demonstrated above, for 2+2=4 to be true, an infinite number of other internal relations must also be true, demonstrating that the set of whole numbers must be an actual infinite.)

If numbers are mental entities (and what else could they be?), and the set of whole numbers must be an actual infinite for any even simple mathematical equation to obtain, then they must inhere in an actually infinite and timeless mind — the mind of an eternal and omniscient God. Therefore, 2+2=4 if and only if God exists.

QED

Bahnsen Burner

At least what Anonymous has presented is better than what we find in Bahnsen’s debate, for at least here we have an argument that’s been spelled out.

I rebutted a very similar argument on my blog. In the argument which I considered in this blog, the arguer seeks to prove the existence of an eternal mind by suggesting that such a thing is required for logical principles (“mental laws”) to obtain, because these principles are themselves presumably eternal.

In either case (be it “mental laws” or “mathematical entities, such as numbers”), we are dealing with concepts, and an objective account of concepts would never lead one to suppose that “an actually infinite and timeless mind” is required for two and two to equal four. Concepts are formed, in part, by omitting measurements, including temporal measurements, such that their reference is open-ended (i.e., not restricted to any specific quantity of qualifying units) and also that their application transcends temporal boundaries. (Incidentally, this is one reason why concept-formation is rightly considered a mathematical process.)

For instance, the concept ‘man’ includes every man which exists, has existed and will exist, regardless of how many this might potentially be (after all, who’s keeping count?), and regardless of when any of them live. The concept includes men who are six feet tall or four feet tall, lean and muscular or fat and wimpy, young or old, clean-shaven or bearded, living in this century or in the sixth century BCE, etc. Since we ourselves are capable of forming concepts (which are open-ended in the manner described), why suppose that “an actually infinite and timeless mind” is necessary?

It appears that Anonymous' argument has attempted to draw a conclusion in ignorance of the nature of concepts and their formation. Rather than a conceptual understanding of math, it seems that this argument trades on a storybook understanding of math, since it seeks to conclude that math depends on the mind of a character described in a storybook.

Here are a couple questions:

1. What is an “infinite number”?

2. What is an “infinite mind”?

Regards,
Dawson

Anonymous

(Teacher to class) "Gather around, children. Remember, we've been studying informal fallacies. Today's lesson will be brought to us by a subject matter expert, Mr. Dawson Bethrick. He will be lecturing primarily on ipse-dixitism…"

Bahnsen Burner

Anonymous, is there anything in my comment which suggests to you that I expect readers to take what I say merely on my say so? Is that what you are implying with your comment?

For the record, I am not expecting this. That is why I (a) link to another article of mine where I present my interaction with a similar argument, and (b) identify the objective account of concepts as the proper antidote to the kind of mistakes your argument commits.

Is there anything specifically in what I stated in my comment with which you disagree or want to take issue? If so, I'd be more than happy to discuss the matter, as time allows.

I notice that my questions have not been answered. Why is that?

Regards,
Dawson

Brian Knapp

BK stated: What is inferred here is the existence of God, based on the premise “for without him you cannot prove anything”. This structure has all the necessary elements of an argument – namely a conclusion and a reason why one should accept the conclusion as true.



Dawson responded: So what is/are the premise(s) given to support the conclusion "Therefore, God exists"?

"… based on the premise 'for without him you cannot prove anything.'"

By the way – I notice you didn’t respond to my challenge to point out why it is you felt I was conflating a Transcendental Argument with the apologetic method known as Presuppositionlism.

This is now the third time I bring this to your attention, and can't help but wonder why you are not answering me.

BK

Ben Wallis on Van Tilian Presuppositionalism (Updated)

[…] quote from Bahnsen’s Opening Statement in his debate with Gordon Stein, followed by a brief explanation of it by Knapp: “When we go to look at the different world views that atheists and theists have, I suggest we […]


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