By C.L. Bolt
We have said that the apologetic encounter involves a clash of worldviews which are opposite one another and are held at the deepest level of thought determining how evidence, argumentation, and even fundamentals and concepts like possibility and logic etc. are thought of and interpreted. We have said also that the unbeliever suppresses the truth in unrighteousness and that objections to the Christian faith could not even be raised were it not for the unbeliever knowing God. We might plainly assert all of these things, but they do not thereby constitute an apologetic argument. How then might we proceed in the apologetic encounter?
As mentioned only briefly earlier in this introduction, we begin to resolve the conflict between worldviews transcendentally. By “transcendentally” and “transcendental” here we do not mean to cause any confusion of the term with “transcendent.” Transcendental arguments pertain to the transcendent, but only in the sense that there are beliefs which serve as the basic or foundational beliefs for others and in that sense cannot be denied. These beliefs are preconditions for intelligible experience, transcendental beliefs, and are only in that sense transcendent, philosophically speaking. (We will see later on that these beliefs must also involve transcendence in the traditional theological sense, but the distinction is important here for a number of reasons that will not be discussed.)
Transcendental arguments are not particular to Christian theism. They have a long history in philosophy. Transcendental arguments pertain to the preconditions of intelligible human experience. They are often offered in light of the challenges of skepticism, which we will come to shortly. Transcendental arguments have some unique features about them. We might say that transcendental arguments generally show that in order to be able to deny something, that something must be affirmed in the very denial of that something. So for example, in order to deny that one exists, one must affirm that one exists. If one does not exist, then there is no possible way that one can deny that one exists, since in order to deny that one exists one must in fact exist, or so the argument goes.
Now notice what we have done. The argument actually begins by the denial of one’s existence for the sake of argument. In order to argue for one’s existence, the opposite is assumed by that individual as a thought experiment, and then a contradiction is produced. The argument functions by virtue of the impossibility of the contrary; the opposite leads to absurdity. One cannot deny one’s own existence, since one’s existence is itself the precondition for denying one’s existence.
Or take for example the denial of logic. For one to deny logic, one must affirm logic. That is, if someone denies logic then one is using logic in order to deny logic, thus implicitly affirming logic. If we just throw logic out, then there is no real distinction between denying and affirming logic. Note again that we assume the opposite of the affirmation of logic – its denial – for the sake of argument in order to generate an absurdity. So we see that transcendental arguments, for all of their controversial and unique features, work from the impossibility of the contrary. Or, we might prefer to say that they work from the absurdity of the opposite.
It is impossible, or absurd, to say that one can both not exist and affirm one’s non-existence; the one affirming non-existence would have to exist in order to affirm one’s non-existence. Likewise, we may argue for logic by the impossibility of the contrary or absurdity of the opposite; in denying logic one is affirming it.
By “contrary” here we simply mean the denial of whatever is in view. Contrary is being used in an informal and conversational way, and not in its philosophical sense. In the philosophical or logical sense contraries cannot both be true but they can both be false, whereas here we want to say that if the contrary of a position is false or at any rate impossible, then the original position must be true or necessary.
As stated before, transcendentals pertain to the preconditions of intelligible experience. Denying one’s existence or logic is, if those arguments are correct, unintelligible. It makes no sense to do so. One’s existence and logic are, in other words, preconditions of intelligible experience (at least with respect to their denials). Further, there can only be one or the other that provides the precondition for intelligible experience. If logic is the precondition of intelligible experience in terms of thought then not-logic cannot be the precondition of intelligibility. We can show that logic is a sufficient precondition for intelligibility in terms of those things which directly relate to logic, and we can show that one’s existence is the sufficient condition of those things which relate to one’s existence. However, not-logic or non-existence cannot also be the condition of intelligible experience. Thus refuting the opposite of whatever is in view through generating an absurdity illustrates that whatever it is that we are setting out to prove is not only sufficient but necessary. Much of this will hopefully become clearer once we move away from these specific examples to broader examples of some of the things that qualify as preconditions of intelligible experience in general.