Philosophy against Misosophy


Michael R. Butler


Essays by Me

Essays by Others



The Transcendental Argument for God’s Existence

Michael R. Butler


II. The Transcendental Argument for God’s Existence


A. Van Til on TAG

Despite his many assertions that there is an ab-solute proof for Christianity, many critics of Van Til have accused him of never actually stating it. Gordon Clark, for example, asserts that if Van Til has a certain argument for Christianity, he ought to state its premises and give the argument step by step.[21]  Clark, moreover, contends that the argu-ment has never been formulated by Van Til and that he (Clark) had been waiting forty years for the argument.[22]

Apologists from different camps have offered similar criticisms.  “Evangelical Thomist” Norman Geisler alleges, “Van Til never really spelled out how his transcendental argument actually works.”[23] Reformed epistemologist Kelly James Clark remarks in a similar vein:

Whenever I read presuppositionalists, I almost always think, “Saying it’s so doesn't make it so. Saying that Christianity is the criterion of truth (whatever that could mean), that Christian belief is the most certain thing we know, that Christian faith is not defeasible, and that Scripture supports these views, does not make it so. There are few apologetic approaches that are so long on assured proclamations and so short on argument.[24]

Proponents of the “Classical” method such as R. C. Sproul and John Gerstner simply refer to Van Til's approach as fideism.[25] The misguided nature of these criticism is amply attested to in the writings of Van Til himself. There he clearly sets forth not only the nature of his argument, but how the argument actually proceeds.  The lengthy quote that follows is perhaps his best summation:

Since the non-theist is so heartily convinced that univocal reasoning is the only possible kind of reasoning, we must ask him to reason univocally for us in order that we may see the consequences. In other words, we be-lieve it to be in harmony with and a part of the process of reasoning ana-logically with a non-theist that we ask him to show us first what he can do. We may, to be sure, offer to him at once a positive statement of our posi-tion. But this he will at once reject as quite out of the question. So we may ask him to give us something better. The reason he gives for rejecting our position is, in the last analysis, that it involves self-contradiction. We see again as an illustration of this charge the rejection of the theistic concep-tion that God is absolute and that he has nevertheless created this world for his glory. This, the non-theist says, is self-contradictory. And it no doubt is, from a non-theistic point of view. But the final question is not whether a statement appears to be contradictory. The final question is in which framework or on which view of reality—the Christian or the non-Christian—the law of contradiction can have application to any fact. The non-Christian rejects the Christian view out of hand as being contra-dictory. Then when he is asked to fur-nish a foundation for the law of con-tradiction, he can offer nothing but the idea of contingency.

What we shall have to do then is to try to reduce our opponent’s position to an absurdity. Nothing less will do. Without God, man is completely lost in every respect, epistemologically as well as morally and religiously. But exactly what do we mean by reducing our opponent’s position to an absur-dity? He thinks he has already re-duced our position to an absurdity by the simple expedient just spoken of. But we must point out to him that up-on a theistic basis our position is not reduced to an absurdity by indicating the “logical difficulties” involved in the conception of creation. Upon the theistic basis it must be contended that the human categories are but analogical of God’s categories, so that it is to be expected that human thought will not be able to compre-hend how God shall be absolute and at the same time create the universe for his glory. If taken on the same level of existence, it is no doubt a self-contradiction to say that a thing is full and at the same time is being filled. But it is exactly this point that is in question—whether God is to be thought of as on the same level with man. What the antitheist should have done is to show that even upon a theistic basis our conception of creation involves self-contradiction.

We must therefore give our oppo-nents better treatment than they give us. We must point out to them that univocal reasoning itself leads to self-contradiction, not only from a theistic point of view, but from a non-theistic point of view as well. It is this that we ought to mean when we say that we must meet our enemy on their own ground. It is this that we ought to mean when we say that we reason from the impossibility of the contrary. The contrary is impossible only if it is self-contradictory when operating on the basis of its own assumptions. It is this too that we should mean when we say that we are arguing ad homi-nem. We do not really argue ad homi-nem unless we show that someone's position involves self-contradiction, and there is no self-contradiction unless unless one’s reasoning is shown to be directly contradictory of or to lead to conclusions which are contradictory of one’s own assump-tions.[26]

Here we find the basic contours of TAG.  It starts with human experience; such things as sci-ence, love, rationality and moral duties.  It then asserts that the existence of the Christian God is the necessary precondition of such  experiences. Finally, it proves this indirectly by demonstrating the impossibility of the contrary.

The criticism that Van Til has not produced an argument is, thus, without foundation.  Saying this, however, is not saying much. That Van Til offers an argument is beyond debate. That he offers a good argument is an altogether different matter. And the question of whether TAG is a good argument is per-haps behind much of the above criticism. Unfortu-nately, Van Til does not offer much in the way of detailed analysis of TAG.  He was content to pre-sent the argument in broad strokes and leave the details aside.  More problematic was his failure to address some of the common criticisms of TAG.  Like much of his other work in apologetics, he left the detailed work to his followers.


B. Bahnsen’s Defense of TAG

In his writings and lectures, Bahnsen addressed a number of the stock criticisms of TAG.  These objections fall into four broad categories:

(1) the nature of TAG;

(2) the uniqueness proof for the conclusion of TAG;

(3) the mere sufficiency of the Christian world-view;

(4) the move from the conceptual necessity God’s existence to the actual existence of the Christian God.  I will address these in order.[27]


Objection 1. The Nature of TAG

The first criticism has to do with the nature of TAG.  Specifically, some have argued that TAG is not a unique argument form, but is reducible to the more traditional arguments for God’s exis-tence.  Frame especially has advanced this criti-cism in his recent writings on apologetics.[28]

Van Til claims that only transcendental argu-ments bring us to the conclusion that the God of the Bible exists. Van Til states, “The method of reasoning by presupposition may be said to be indirect rather than direct.”  He explains what he means by this as follows:

The issue between believers and non-believers in Christian theism cannot be settled by a direct appeal to “facts” or “laws” whose nature and significance is already agreed upon by both parties to the debate.  The ques-tion is rather as to what is the final reference-point required to make the “facts” and “laws” intelligible.

How is this to be done? The Christian apologist must place himself upon the position of his opponent, assuming the correctness of his method merely for argument’s sake, in order to show him that on such a position the “facts” are not facts and the “laws” are not laws.  He must also ask the non-Christian to place himself upon the Christian position for argument’s sake in order that he may be shown that only upon such a basis do “facts” and “laws” appear intelligible.[29]

Against Van Til, Frame argues that transcen-dental arguments may be either direct (positive) or indirect (negative).  For example, in Apologetics to the Glory of God, Frame asks:

Are indirect arguments really distinct from direct arguments?  In the final analysis, it doesn’t make much differ-ence whether you say “Causality, therefore God” or “Without God, no causality, therefore God.”[30]

How are we to understand this? Interpreted one way these two arguments are really the same.  The first is an enthymeme which when spelled out reads: “There is causality and therefore God exists [for without God there could be no causality].  The second is also enthymematic which when spelled out reads: “Without God there is no causality [but there is causality] therefore God exists.”  Under-stood this way, Van Til would have no disagree-ment.

This interpretation is not what Frame means by a direct or positive argument though.  In his book on Van Til he writes:

We can certainly conceive of a posi-tive argument that would lead to a transcendental conclusion.  We might, for example, develop a causal argu-ment for God’s existence, prove that the ultimate cause of the world must have the attributes of the biblical God, and thus establish that all intelli-gibility in the universe derives from God.[31]

Notice that he is speaking here of a causal argu-ment.  Specifically, he is speaking of the traditional cosmological argument (an argument that con-cludes there must have been an Ultimate Cause, and this Ultimate Cause is God).  And this is certainly something Van Til would take issue with.

The question before us then is, is the traditional cosmological argument (or other traditional arguments for God’s existence) a version of the transcendental argument stated in a direct or positive way?  Put differently, was Van Til right about the distinctiveness of his argument for the existence of God? Or is Frame right in saying that the transcendental argument is just a restatement of traditional arguments? To answer this a few words about transcendental arguments are in order.

Transcendental arguments attempt to discover the preconditions of human experience.  They do so by taking some aspect of human experience and investigating what must be true in order for that experience to be possible.  Transcendental argu-ments typically have the following form.  For x [some aspect of human experience] to be the case, y must also be the case, since y is the precondition of x. Since x is the case, y is the case. The argu-ment mentioned above serves as a clear example of a transcendental argument. For causality to be possible, God has to exist since the existence of God is the precondition of causality.  Since there is causality, God exists.  A corollary of this is that whenever non-believers employ the concept of causation, they are borrowing from the Christian worldview since only on a Christian worldview does causation make sense.

Does the traditional cosmological argument take this form?  A brief sketch of it will prove that it does not.  Essentially the argument is outlined as follows. There are causes in the world and these causes are contingent.  There is either an infinite number of contingent causes or there is a finite number.  Since there could not be an infinite number (an infinite chain of contingent causes is impossible) there must be a finite number.  Since there is a finite number, there must be a first cause. The argument concludes by identifying this first cause as God.

Notice that this argument does not show that the precondition of causality is God. Rather, it assumes that the non-believer is perfectly justified in believing in causation and/or using the concept of causation.  The non-believer may not have thought through the implications of the world being causally ordered—i.e. there must be a First Cause—but this does not mean he cannot make sense of causation.  It is not arguing that the pre-condition of causation is God.  Indeed, it assumes that human experience and understanding in ge-neral and causation in particular are perfectly intel-ligible outside the Christian worldview.  Thus, even if the cosmological arguments were sound, the un-believer is perfectly justified in believing in and/or using the concept of causation.

This leads to a further point.  None of the tradi-tional arguments for the existence of God (cosmological as well as others) are in fact sound.  All have been repeatedly refuted (see the writings of Hume, Kant, Russell and many contemporary philosophers). And the reason for this failure is precisely because they do not presuppose the Christian worldview. Rather, the traditional argu-ments give the concepts of being, causation, pur-pose, etc. to the non-Christian; they assume that all of these are intelligible on the unbeliever’s worldview. This being the case, the apologist has already conceded to the non-Christian that the world is intelligible without reference to God.

According to Frame, the traditional arguments are better than this, however.  He contends that the traditional argument from motion, for example, “does not necessarily begin with the assumption that motion is intelligible apart from God.”[32]Moreover, he seems to say that the traditional arguments are best understood as making this as-sumption.  Indeed, Frame asserts that Aquinas himself believed that the world is unintelligible apart from God.[33]  If this were the case, Frame’s assertion that Aquinas and Van Til are not as far apart as Van Til thought would be legitimate.

Is this really the case though? Are the tradi-tional arguments presuppositional after all? While it is certainly true that the cosmological argument (or any other traditional argument) can be pre-sented so as to presuppose the Christian world-view, this is not how it has been historically formu-lated.  There is not one remark in Aquinas or Bishop Butler (Frame’s major examples of traditional apo-logists) that even hints of the idea that the God of the Bible is the necessary precondition of intelli-gible experience. Why, then, does Frame make this error?

As I alluded to earlier, Frame thinks that be-cause Aquinas’s cosmological argument attempts to prove the existence of God on the basis of causation in the world, that this may be construed as the claim that the world is unintelligible apart from God.  But this is to equivocate on the word unintelligible.  Let me explain.

The traditional cosmological argument, for ex-ample, tries to show that we could not explain the existence of the world without God.  Stated another way, without positing the existence of God we would be ignorant of the origin of the universe.  We would not know how it came into existence and so the universe would be, in this sense, unintelligible. The transcendental argument, however, attempts to demonstrate that we could not account for the world, causation or whatever human experience we wish to speak about without presupposing the existence of God.  Without this presupposition, the world would be, in this other sense, unintelligible.

This is a difficult point and so an analogy may be helpful.  I do not know how jet engines work.  In my current state of ignorance, jet engines are, in one sense, unintelligible to me.  Does my ignorance preclude me from believing in jet engines and intelligently using the concept in communication?Of course, not.  I am justified in believing in them and am quite capable of speaking about them even though I do not know the mechanics of jet engines.  And so in another sense, they are perfectly intelligible to me.  In the same way, the traditional arguments at best show that non-Christians are ignorant of how the universe came about.  It is in this sense that it is unintelligible to them.  These arguments do not show, however, that their belief in the universe, causation and so on, are unjustified.  In this sense, these things are granted to be perfectly intelligible to them.

Contrary to Frame, then, the traditional argu-ments do not have transcendental conclu-sions.  They may conclude that God is the tran-scendent cause of the universe, but this is very dif-ferent from concluding that his existence is tran-scendentally necessary.  Though subtle, this distinction stands at the very center of Van Til's methodology.


Objection 2. The Uniqueness Proof for the Conclusion of TAG

Another criticism that has arisen against TAG is that the conclusion, God exists, does not neces-sarily follow from the premises.  This criticism has taken many forms.  Perhaps the most famous is John W. Montgomery’s “Once upon an A Priori ....”[34]  In this article, Montgomery contends that there is no way to establish that the Christian God is the necessary precondition of human experience since there is no way to eliminate all of the possible alternatives. 

Even Van Til’s trenchant decimations of non-Christian positions are ren-dered ineffective by his ulti-mate presuppositionalism, since ... all the non-Christians whom Van Til chooses to criticize could employ his own two-edged sword against him, crying ...: “Such criticisms are irrele-vant, for right reason—true interpre-tation of fact and genuine application of the standards of consistency—begins with commitment to my pre-suppositional starting point!”  And even if it were possible in some fa-shion to destroy all existent alterna-tive worldviews but that of orthodox Christianity, the end result would still not be the necessary truth of Chris-tianity; for in a contingent universe, there are an infinite number of possible philosophical positions, and even the fallaciousness of infinity-minus-one positions would not establish the validity of the one that remained (unless we were to intro-duce the gratuitous assumption that at least one had to be right!).[35]

This criticism can be construed in two ways.  First, it can be seen as the last resort of a non-Christian who has just been shown the impossibility of his own worldview and also shown that the Christian worldview is able to account for human experience.  At this point of desperation he says, “Yes, Christianity is able to account for human experience, but there may be another worldview out there that can also provide the preconditions of human experience.”  This move, however, is of little or no practical value for the non-Christian.  In a debate, people argue about actual worldviews not what may possibly be the case.  If Christianity is shown to account for human experience and, say, naturalism, Buddhism or Islam is shown to be unable to give such an account, it is of no aid to the naturalist or Buddhist or Muslim to make recourse to some unknown worldview that may, like Christianity, provide the preconditions of intelligibility.

Bahnsen’s rhetorical comeback hits the mark. Suppose a basketball player, say Michael Jordan, beats every worthy opponent in one-on-one bas-ketball games.  He can justifiably claim to be the best basketball player in the world.  Suppose fur-ther that another jealous (and peevish) basketball player who was previously trounced by Jordan resents resents that Jordan has titled himself “the best player in the world.”  His comeback is, “just because you have beaten every current player does not mean that there is not another one co-ming who is better than you.”  Jordan’s response can be anticipated: “Bring on my next oppo-nent.”  The theoretical possibility that there may be another player better than Jordan is not a con-cern to him.  In the world of basketball, it is the one who is actually the best player, and not who is pos-sibly be the best player, that is of impor-tance.  In the practice of apologetics, things are simi-lar.  What matters are actual worldviews not possi-ble worldviews.

Second, while this criticism is of no practical value to the non-Christian, it would be, neverthe-less a serious criticism of TAG if correct.  The reason is easy to see.  If there are an infinite number of worldviews and TAG only refutes a small slice of them, if one may speak this way, then it has not established that Christianity is the neces-sary precondition of human intelligibility. That is, even granting that TAG demonstrates the absurdity of all actual worldviews, it does not follow that all possible worldviews are likewise absurd.

Bahnsen’s comeback is to place the one who makes this move on the horns of a dilemma (actually a “trilemma”).  

[The] unbeliever either (1) implicitly assumes the Christian’s presupposi-tions, (2) considers it a mystery that not everything is mysterious or nonsensical, or (3) offers a worldview in which words and reasoning are meaningful.[36]  

On (1) the imaginary opponent loses the debate.  On (3) the Christian proceeds to refute the proffered worldview.  As for (2), Bahnsen contends that this is tantamount to acknowledging defeat.  He then considers the possibility of one making a blind leap of faith: one who “hold[s] out the hope that someday, somewhere, someone will furnish an adequate autonomous worldview to protect unbelievers against the compelling rationality of Christianity.”[37] This, he says, is identical with (2) and since this is acknowledgment of defeat, the opponent loses the debate.

There is a problem with this defense, how-ever.  The notions of “losing the debate” and “con-ceding defeat” trade on an ambiguity.  In this con-text these notions can mean one of two things.  

First, they can mean that since the opponent resorts to a mere theoretical possibility that there is a worldview somewhere out there that can rescue him, this is a concession that he cannot produce a worldview to compete with Christian-ity.  He is thus defeated in the sense that can offer no account of human experience.  Taken this way, Bahnsen is correct.  

Second, these notions can mean that this move is philosophically illegitimate because appeals to mere theoretical possibilities are of no significance when establishing the claim that something is a necessary precondition of something else.  Taken this way, Bahnsen is not correct. Winning the de-bate and proving that Christianity is the necessary precondition of human experience are two different things.

But Bahnsen makes the further point is that this criticism misses the thrust of TAG altogether.  TAG argues for the impossibility of the contrary (the non-Christian worldview) and not the impossibility of an infinite number of possible worldviews.  TAG does not establish the necessity of Christianity by inductively refuting each and every possible non-Christian worldview (as finite proponents of TAG, this is an impossible task), but rather contends that the contrary of Christianity (any view that denies the Christian view of God) is shown to be impossible.  And if the negation of Christianity is false, Christianity is proved true.  In other words, the structure of the argument is a disjunctive syllogism. Either A or not-A; not-not-A; therefore A.

At this point the clever opponent will simply de-ny the first premise.  He will contend that it should not be construed as a disjunction of a contradic-tion, but a simple disjunction. The argument should thus be restated along the following lines: A or B; not-B; therefore , A. And once this move is made he will then contend that while the argument is valid, the first premises involves a false dilem-ma.  That is, he will grant that given A or B and the negation of B, A does indeed follow, but neverthe-less maintain that the argument is unsound be-cause the first premise (A or B) is not true.  The reason being that there are more possibilities than just A and B.  Given a true first premise, A or B or C or D ... n, the negation of B merely entails that A along with the disjunction of other propositions besides B (C, D, ... n) follows.

In order for this to be successful, it is incumbent upon the opponent of TAG to defend two claims.  First, he must defend the contention that the original first premise is not the disjunction of a contradiction and, second, he must show that there are other possible disjuncts besides B (what we can call the view that is opposed to the Christian worldview).

Since, as far as I am aware, there is nothing in the literature on TAG that defends either of these claims I will leave them aside for the pre-sent.  However, this objection will reappear in a more sophisticated form when we survey the recent philosophical literature on transcendental arguments.


Objection 3. The Mere Sufficiency of the Christian Worldview

Another criticism TAG that has been around for some time is that while it (TAG) demonstrates the sufficiency of the Christian worldview to account for human experience, it does not demonstrate the necessity of the Christian worldview. Before moving to the objection itself, it is important to first understand the distinction between necessary and sufficient conditions. A necessary condition is a condition that must be met in order to explain whatever it is that one wishes to explain.  This explanation can take either a causal or logical form.  In terms of causality, a necessary condition for fire is oxygen.  However, the presence of oxygen alone is not sufficient to cause a fire; fuel and a struck match are also needed.  Taken together, these three things, oxygen, fuel and a struck match are sufficient conditions for fire.  In terms of logic, the necessary condition of a cate-gorical syllogism leading to a conclusion is a major premise.  A sufficient condition is that such an argument has both a major and minor premise.

Turning back to the objection, the opponent contends that even when it is granted that the existence of God is a sufficient condition for human experience, this does not prove that this is a necessary condition for human experience.  Thus far, this objection is the same as (2).  The differ-ence, however, is that where (2) merely asserted the possibility of a worldview other than Christian-ity that could provide the preconditions of human experience, proponents of this objections claim that while there is no actual worldview (such as naturalism or Islam) that accounts for human experience they claim to have invented a one that can, like Christianity, account for human experi-ence.  What then, is this worldview?

The invented worldview is said to be identical to Christianity except for the fact that it differs from it at one (or more) particular points of doctrine.  This made-up worldview may, for example, hold all things in common with Christianity except that where Christianity teaches the doctrine of the Trinity, this other worldview, call it Fristianity, as-serts a quadrinity—one God in four per-sons.  Everything else, the doctrine of revelation, salvation, and so on are all the same as the Christ-ian worldview.  Another version of this objection maintains that only the “fundamental” elements of Christianity are needed to provide the precondi-tions of human experience (the Trinity, the doc-trine of creation, etc.), but not the “non-funda-mental” elements (the fall, the atonement, the se-cond coming, etc.)

Bahnsen’s response to this objection is helpful, but not completely adequate.  He contends that this type of worldview merely apes the Christian worldview and, as such, is completely dependent upon it. That is, because this worldview has its intellectual origination in Christianity, it is not a le-gitimate competitor of the Christian world-view.  Moreover, he maintains that it is the entire Christian worldview that provides the necessary conditions of human experience, not just a portion of it.  The Christian worldview as a complete and organic system is necessary.

Proponents of this criticism retort that while it may be true that Fristianity is a knock-off of Christ-ianity, the origin of the position is not relevant. Just because Fristianity  is an invention that just so happens to be intellectually dependent upon Chris-tianity does not mean it does not pose a serious challenge to TAG. TAG, after all, claims to establish that Christianity is the necessary precondition of human experience. The Fristian worldview hypothesis is only an attempt to show that while Christianity may indeed be a sufficient precondition it is not necessary. Fristianity, so it is maintained, is also a sufficient condition.  Fristianity, thus, sup-posedly exposes the spurious nature of TAG's con-clusion.

As for Bahnsen’s other claim that it is the entire Christian worldview that is necessary, proponents of the Fristianity objection reply that this is a claim not a proof.  It is not enough to assert that the complete Christian worldview and only the com-plete Christian worldview is the necessary precon-dition for experience.


Objection 4. The Move from Conceptual Necessity to Necessary Existence

The final objection to TAG is perhaps the most uncommon.[38]  But the infrequent use of this ob-jection should not mislead the proponent of TAG into thinking that it is not of serious conse-quence.  Far from it.  I consider this stricture to be the most powerful argument against TAG and the most difficult to answer.

This objection revolves around the considera-tion that proving the conceptual necessity a worldview does not establish its ontological reality.[39] Kant, for example, argued that the notion of causation is transcendentally necessary for thought (or at least human thought).  Without the concept of causality there could be no thought.  But just because causality is necessary for thought does not mean, so Kant argued, that the things in themselves (Ding an sich) which exist independently of our conception of them, undergo causal relations.  Conceptual necessity does not guarantee ontological necessity.  In the same way, assuming that TAG is sound, all that is proved, so this objection goes, is that we must, in order to be rational, believe that God exists.

Bahnsen’s response to this criticism is, like (3) above not totally adequate.  He contends:

... because this is an apologetical dialogue (giving reasons, expecting argument, etc.) both parties have assumed that the true viewpoint must affirm rationality. Van Til argues that if the unbeliever’s worldview were true, rationality would be repudiated, whereas if Christianity were true, ra-tionality would be affirmed and re-quired. So while the whole argument may be stated in hypothetical terms, the conclusion is actually established as true, since the hypothetical condi-tions was granted from the outset by both parties. (If the unbeliever reali-zes this and now refuses to grant the legitimacy, demand, or necessity of rationality, he has stepped outside the boundaries of apologetics. Fur-thermore, he forfeits the right to as-sert or believe that he has repudiated rationality, since without rationality assertion and belief and unintelli-gible.)[40]

Bahnsen’s answer is that the issue is one of rationality.  If TAG establishes that Christianity is the necessary conceptual precondition of human experience (including rationality) it follows that we must hold to the Christian worldview in order to be rational.  And if somebody refuses to accept the Christian worldview or God’s existence, he has no foundation for rationality and, without such a foundation, has no rational basis to object that the conclusion of TAG.

This defense carries a great deal of force.  It effectively undermines the unbeliever’s ability to rationally reject the Christian faith.  But notice that this defense construes TAG not so much as a proof for God’s existence, but rather as a proof for the necessity of believing the Christian worldview.  The problem with this, of course, is that although Christianity may be the necessary precondition for experience, it does not follow from this that Christianity is true.


C. Conclusion

From this survey of the critical literature of TAG four major criticisms have emerged.  

Objection (1) is, in its present form, relatively weak.  It is easily shown that TAG differs funda-mentally from the traditional arguments for God’s existence.  

Objections (1), (2) and (3), however, are more difficult to answer, and Bahnsen’s responses to them are not, as they presently stand, entirely satisfactory.

Thus, despite the fact that Bahnsen both clarified TAG and defended it from common criticism, his defense is programmatic rather than exhaustive. He offers a basic outline against stock criticisms, but he leaves questions as to whether TAG contains a uniqueness proof of the Christian worldview, whether TAG provides the necessary and not merely sufficient conditions of human experience, and whether TAG establishes the necessity of God’s existence or merely the necessity of believing that God exists.

In the last section of this paper I shall endeavor to develop Bahnsen’s programmatic remarks and offer a fuller defense of TAG.

Before I turn to this task, however, it will be helpful to survey the recent philosophical literature concerning transcendental arguments (TAs).  This literature contains similar objections to TAs in general that were made against TAG, but are more precisely stated and more vigorously argued.



[21] Gordon H. Clark, “Apologetics,” Contemporary Evangelical Thought, Carl F. H. Henry, ed., 140.  Quoted in Nash, 301.

[22] Trinity Review, September, 1979.

[23] Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2000).

[24] “A Reformed Epistemologist’s Closing Re-marks” in Five Views on Apologetics, Steven B. Cowan, ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2000), 371.

[25] R. C. Sproul, John Gerstner and Arthur Lindsley, Classical Apologetics (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1984).

[26] A Survey of Christian Epistemology (Philadel-phia: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1969), 204-5.

[27] A recent criticism of TAG is the so called counter-argument, TANG (transcendental argu-ment for the non-existence of God).  Michael Mar-tin, the inventor of TANG, contends that God’s non-existence is transcendentally necessary in order to account for human experience.  Since this argu-ment did not appear until 1996, a year af-ter Bahnsen’s death, Bahnsen did not have a chance to respond. For a refutation of TANG, see my “The Great Debate Gets Personal,” Penpoint, vol. 7, no. 7, August 1996.

[28] Apologetics to the Glory of God and Cornelius Van Til: An Analysis of his Thought.

[29] The above quotes are found in Van Til’s The Defense of the Faith, 117-18.

[30] Frame, Apologetics, 76.

[31] Van Til, 371.

[32] Van Til, 319.

[33] Van Til, 264.

[34] In E. R. Geehan, ed., Jerusalem and Athens, 380-92.

[35] “Once Upon an A Priori . . .”, 387-88.

[36] Van Til, 488 n. 41.

[37] Van Til, 488 n 41.

[38] As far as I am aware, the only place this objection seems to be touched on in the literature on TAG is David P. Hoover’s article, “For the Sake of Argument” (Hatfield, PA: Interdisciplinary Biblical Research Institute, n.d).

[39] This objection may be recast in terms of psy-chological necessity.  On one reading of Hume, for example, he argues that our notion of causality is illegitimate because it is neither analytic (“relation of ideas”) nor is it grounded in our experience (“matter of fact”).  Nevertheless, Hume contends that we are not able to give up our belief in causality.  No matter what the philosophical arguments might tell us, our belief in causation is left undisturbed.  It is a determination of the mind that we have no control over.  Thus belief in causality is, according to this reading of Hume, a psychological necessity.  This line of reasoning is not used in the literature of TAG for obvious reasons.  Since there are people who claim to be atheists, it would be difficult to prove that belief in God is psychologically necessary.

[40] Van Til, 486, n. 37.

Next III. Transcendental Arguments in Recent Philosophical Literature 


Part I and Table of Contents