The Invisible Things

Articles in Apologetics

The Transcendental Argument

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I would like to begin my examination of this argument with the disclaimer: I am not quite sure if I can fully accept the view. It is typical that this argument is given within the context of a soley presuppositional approach to apologetics, excluding an evidential approach on the basis that understanding evidence is contingent upon the presupposed theistic worldview. My problem with this view is not that it is entirely incorrect, but it is typical that evidential apologetics is effective in repositioning the secular worldview once the validity of evidence is accepted. So, in order to restore the theistic worldview to a place of validity in the argument, the evidential approach is helpful. It should also be said that evidential apologetics tend to be more acceptable and understandable to the average person, whereas the transcendental approach can be a bit more philosophically complex.The transcendental argument derives its name from the meaning of transcendent, ‘of or relating to experience as determined by the mind's makeup,’ and suggests that such an argument is justified by the impossibility of the contrary. The means of this justification is based upon the following basic argument:

  1. A is the precondition of B
  2. B is true or exists
  3. A is true or exists

This proof suggests that any worldview must be reduced to a single set of presuppositions which support other beliefs. The transcendental argument serves to establish the validity of a logocentric presupposition to all means of understanding and discourse. This argument above can be applied simply by considering any belief one may have and reducing to a singular belief by means of provisional authority. In other words, the epistemological base of our variety of beliefs is the singular belief that allows for contingent beliefs to be held. This epistemological base could be visualized as the central point of a ‘web’ of beliefs, which provides the authority for peripheral beliefs that formulate our worldview. If we hold a simple belief, let’s call it ‘A,’ one could inquire “on what authority do you believe A?” We would reply, “I believe ‘A’ on the authority of ‘B,’” ‘B’ being a separate but provisional belief. Of course, one could also ask, ‘on what authority do you believe ‘B,’ to which we, in turn, would reply, “I believe ‘B’ on the basis of ‘C.’” It is clear that this process could continue much farther than our alphabet would allow! The point is that from a skeptical point of view, an infinite process of establishing epistemological authority could ensue. However, if we allow this, then no belief could be valid, no matter where in our ‘web’ of beliefs it may reside. However, implicit in an apologetic procedure, no matter which ‘side’ is being argues, is the notion of truth. (Even the orthodox relativist cannot escape this!)

What consequences would ensue if skepticism was employed? If the rule is ‘no one knows; no one can know,’ then there is no basis from which to assign authority to that rule. Without an authority, then ‘truth’ can go no further than the individual, nor can it withstand any form of external criticism, no matter how arbitrary. So what is the ultimate source of authority, and how is it to be verified? The presuppositional view argues that empirical data, observations, and/or evidences cannot be the authority simply because these are subject to interpretation based upon a worldview. So, if an ultimate authority is going to be reached, that authority must be self-attesting. But can a belief be self-authenticating? Is this not the circularity that every logician avoids like the plague? For example, in Matthew 7:28, the people were amazed at the authoritative teaching of Jesus, as apposed to the traditional teaching of the scribes, which had relied upon the authority of the elders. Yet, Jesus taught from His own authority. How could He do this? If Jesus is God, than to whom would he look to for verification of His authority? There is none greater! As Philosopher Cornelius Van Till was known to have said regarding this position, ‘the Sun does not look to the flashlight to verify itself!’ Thus, God’s Word is self-authenticating.

Clearly, the next issue is going to be the verification that the Word of God is accessible to us. Someone might propose that an opinion poll might shed some light on authorizing the Bible. However, what would the terms of this poll be? Outside of a worldwide unanimous ruling, why would we accept a poll as valid in the context of this kind of question? Let’s assume, then, that everyone in the world except one man affirms that the Bible is the word of God. When asked about his dissension, that man is likely to say, “Where does God say that everybody’s opinion matter (and he would be philosophically in the right)?” If the word of God is what it is, it should not require any man’s authority to verify itself- only God can authorize the validity of His Word, and He does it through His Word! If someone cannot accept a self-authorizing authority, then there is no authority, not even on an individual level. Those that argue for the authority of human reason do so on the basis of human reason- another self-attesting philosophy.

Everyone must have a self-authorizing epistemological base. If this worldview is denied, then with it is denied rationality and reason. This is an indirect proof, because a direct proof would require an outside element to verify it. “A reasonable basis for doubt is inconceivable with respect to God’s revelation, because apart from His revelation, the preconditions of rationality, science, human dignity and ethics are all destroyed (Greg Bahnsen, Challenges to Unbelief).”


Written by Christopher Butler

November 14, 2005 at 3:28 am

One Response

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  1. I like the quote by Van Til about the sun looking to the flashlight for verification. Are you an evidential or classical apologist?


    September 28, 2006 at 7:56 am

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