Monday, November 14, 2005

Is the AFR a transcendental argument"

This is another redated post to answer a question that was asked my by Mr. Sabatino, and which gets asked from time to time. See also my response to Don Jones a few weeks back.

I got a note from Robert Larmer asking me if I thought the Argument from Reason was a teleological argument or a transcendental argument. This is a very interesting question. I personally prefer to just call it the argument from reason and not try to put it into any of Kant's classifications (ontological, cosmological, teleological, moral, etc.) Richard Purtill, in C. S. Lewis's Case for the Christian Faith, identifies it as a teleological argument.

I think the argument has a transcendental character to it that is absent, from, let's say, the argument from consciousness. The straightforward argument from consciousness is sometimes answered simply by denying that there is consciousness is the sense that the arguer means to suggest that there is consciousness. But if you deny that there is reason, but still try to reason, if is like writing a book to prove that books don't exist.

On the other hand, the terms Transcendental Argument has been hijacked by presuppositional apologists like Van Til and Bahnsen, and I want to maintain that there is a fundamental difference between Lewis's and my argument on the one hand, and theirs. Just for starters, the AFR is an argument in support of the claim that the universe, or what caused the universe, is mental rather than physical. In C. S. Lewis's Miracles we find it used to attack naturalism, but when Lewis gets to his chapter on Pantheism/Absolute Idealism we find him using other arguments. He does not argue that these positions, which are positions distinct from theism but which nonetheless claim that what is fundamental to the universe is rational but not nonrational, are false because they are inconsistent with the validity of reasoning. TAG, on the other hand, seems to be an argument against everything except Christianity. Its claim seems to be that we have to accept Christian Theism as an absolute presupposition, (and I think they mean by that Calvinistic Christian theism) because all other views lead to incoherence. I wouldn't say that, and neither would Lewis, Dick Purtill, William Hasker, and other AFR defenders.

Years ago I did listen to the debate between Greg Bahnsen and Gordon Stein and I did think that Bahnsen posed some embarrassing questions to Stein. But Stein was not a philosopher. When you see a TAG defender going up against a real philosopher like Michael Martin or Theodore Drange, these philosophers seem to be able to expose serious weaknesses in the TAG methodology. Still, I would agree with Bahnsen that the question "What are laws of logic and how do they fit into a naturalistic world view" is an embarrassing question for a materialistic or naturalistic atheist.


Johnny-Dee said...

I like your analysis of AFR. I think AFR presents some tough bullets for atheists to bite, many of which deal with the very notion of rationality. Since it seems to demonstrate that materialism is self-referentially incoherent, I could see how some think it is a transcendental argument. Still, I think it escapes the traditional confines for teleological arguments. It's a unique kind of argument in my book.

CJR said...

Prof. Reppert - I'd long considered Lewis's AFR to be an extremely compelling defeater of rational naturalism and had argued it as an amatuer apologist with actual a fair amount of stunned responses (as in amatuer atheists had never considered that mental determinism was a logical corollary of naturalism and, subsequently, disarmed their ability to support their position).

I've read your book and consider it in my "keeper" list of books to stash away for re-reading. Thanks for your work!

On the Blog, I've added it to my review list and look forward to more posts. BTW, can you add an email feature so the posts can be easily emailed? Often I email posts to myself to take with me for later reading. Just a suggestion!


Dave said...

As you presented the AFR in your book (which I own and really enjoyed, BTW), it seemed to me to combine elements of both the telelogical and transcendental arguments, depending on the form. The evolutionary argument of Plantinga's seems to be both an argument that naturalism, if true, would undermine reason (its transcendental element??) and an argument, by implication, to the "designed-ness" of our intellectual abilities.

I listened to the Bahnsen/Stein debate a long time ago. I have to agree that, while Bahnsen scores some points against Stein, the TAG, which many presuppositionalists think is an atom bomb that can vaporize all non-Christian worldviews, is a lot less effective than is commonly thought.

Bahnsen asked Stein a lot of questions which Stein could not answer, but that is far from proof of Christian theism. The version of the argument which Bahnsen employed, viz, that naturalism cannot provide an adequate ontology for the laws of logic, seems to me to be simply a negative version of the argument from eternal truths made, in various ways, by Augustine, Leibniz and, in his pre-Critical days, Kant.

Good luck with your blog! I plan to revisit frequently.

Chirp said...

Prof. Reppert, I really appreciate this post, as I consider the AFR as outlined in Lewis' Miracles to be his strongest work. However, I believe that it is strong for the same reasons that TAG arguments, particularly as outlined by Bahnsen, are. The question of the existence of God doesn’t seem to be the sort of thing that can be found at the end of the argument, but is the metaphysical foundation for all argumentation. In other words, if God did not exist, all experience would be unintelligible. Atheists are unable to provide the necessary preconditions for inductive arguments, the existence of universals, the laws of logic, ethics, et cetera. Therefore, if God did not exist you could not know anything.

Insofar as non-Christian theisms are able to provide the preconditions for the intelligibility of experience, they can be combated on theological grounds because all of them turn out to be Christian heresies (Mormonism, Christian Science, Islam, modern Judaism, et cetera). According to Van Til and Bahnsen, there do not seem to be any other worldviews standing. They claim that Deism isn’t an option either because if God is completely transcendent the only way we can have any knowledge of him is through his imminence in the world via scripture.

I am by no means a professional philosopher, but I have found the objections to TAG arguments (particularly those raised by Michael Martin) to be unsatisfactory. What would your argument against them look like?

Thanks, and keep up the good work. Your book is on my reading list.

Victor Reppert said...

See the debate between Theodore Drange and Douglas Wilson on Internet Infidels. I have yet to see a commentary on that debate by a presuppositionalist that can tell me what happened. It looks to me like the atheist won that one.

Steven Carr said...

My apologies to Victor for the length of this, but it is a classic piece , by a clergyman no less, which demonstrates that logic needs no foundation, and can't even have a foundation. It just is.

I'm sorry, but there are no prizes for guessing the author.

“Well, now, let’s take a little bit of the argument in that First Proposition – just TWO steps, and the conclusion drawn from them. Kindly enter them in your note-book.

And in order to refer to them conveniently, let’s call them A, B, and Z: –
(A) Things that are equal to the same are equal to each other.
(B) The two sides of this Triangle are things that are equal to the same.
(Z) The two sides of this Triangle are equal to each other.

Readers of Euclid will grant, I suppose, that Z follows logically from A and B, so that any one who accepts A and B as true, MUST accept Z as true?”
“Undoubtedly! The youngest child in a High School – as soon as High Schools are invented, which will not be till some two thousand years later – will grant THAT.”

“And if some reader had NOT yet accepted A and B as true, he might still accept the SEQUENCE as a VALID one, I suppose?”

“No doubt such a reader might exist. He might say, ‘I accept as true the Hypothetical Proposition that, if A and B be true, Z must be true; but I DON’T accept A and B as true.’ Such a reader would do wisely in abandoning Euclid, and taking to football.”

“And might there not ALSO be some reader who would say ‘I accept A and B as true, but I DON’T accept the Hypothetical’?”

“Certainly there might. HE, also, had better take to football.”

“And NEITHER of these readers,” the Tortoise continued, “is AS YET under any logical necessity to accept Z as true?”

“Quite so,” Achilles assented.

“Well, now, I want you to consider ME as a reader of the SECOND kind, and to force me, logically, to accept Z as true.”

“A tortoise playing football would be –” Achilles was beginning.

“– an anomaly, of course,” the Tortoise hastily interrupted.

“Don’t wander from the point. Let’s have Z first, and football afterwards!”

“I’m to force you to accept Z, am I?” Achilles said musingly. “And your present position is that you accept A and B, but you DON’T accept the Hypothetical –”

“Let’s call it C,” said the Tortoise.

“– but you DON’T accept
(C) If A and B are true, Z must be true.”

“That is my present position,” said the Tortoise.

“Then I must ask you to accept C.”

“I’ll do so,” said the Tortoise, “as soon as you’ve entered it in that notebook of yours. What else have you got in it?”

“Only a few memoranda,” said Achilles, nervously fluttering the leaves: “a few memoranda of – of the battles in which I have distinguished myself!”

“Plenty of blank leaves, I see!” the Tortoise cheerily remarked. “We shall need them ALL!” (Achilles shuddered.) “Now write as I dictate: –
(A) Things that are equal to the same are equal to each other.
(B) The two sides of this Triangle are things that are equal to the same.
(C) If A and B are true, Z must be true.
(Z) The two sides of this Triangle are equal to each other.

“You should call it D, not Z,” said Achilles. “It comes NEXT to the other three. If you accept A and B and C, you MUST accept Z.”

“And why must I?”

“Because it follows LOGICALLY from them. If A and B and C are true, Z MUST be true. You can’t dispute THAT, I imagine?”

“If A and B and C are true, Z MUST be true,” the Tortoise thoughtfully repeated. “That’s ANOTHER Hypothetical, isn’t it? And, if I failed to see its truth, I might accept A and B and C, and STILL not accept Z, mightn’t I?”

“You might,” the candid hero admitted; “though such obtuseness would certainly be phenomenal. Still, the event is POSSIBLE. So I must ask you to grant ONE more Hypothetical.”

“Very good, I’m quite willing to grant it, as soon as you’ve written it down. We will call it
(D) If A and B and C are true, Z must be true.

Have you entered that in your note-book?”

“I HAVE!” Achilles joyfully exclaimed, as he ran the pencil into its sheath. “And at last we’ve got to the end of this ideal race-course! Now that you accept A and B and C and D, OF COURSE you accept Z.”

“Do I?” said the Tortoise innocently. “Let’s make that quite clear. I accept A and B and C and D. Suppose I STILL refused to accept Z?“

“Then Logic would take you by the throat, and FORCE you to do it!” Achilles triumphantly replied.

“Logic would tell you, ‘You can’t help yourself. Now that you’ve accepted A and B and C and D, you MUST accept Z.’ So you’ve no choice, you see.”

“Whatever LOGIC is good enough to tell me is worth WRITING DOWN,” said the Tortoise. “So enter it in your book, please. We will call it
(E) If A and B and C and D are true, Z must be true.
Until I’ve granted THAT, of course I needn’t grant Z. So it’s quite a NECESSARY step, you see?”

“I see,” said Achilles; and there was a touch of sadness in his tone.
Here the narrator, having pressing business at the Bank, was obliged to leave the happy pair, and did not again pass the spot until some months afterwards. When he did so, Achilles was still seated on the back of the much-enduring Tortoise, and was writing in his notebook, which appeared to be nearly full.

The Tortoise was saying, “Have you got that last step written down? Unless I've lost count, that makes a thousand and one. There are several millions more to come. And WOULD you mind, as a personal favour, considering what a lot of instruction this colloquy of ours will provide for the Logicians of the Nineteenth Century – WOULD you mind adopting a pun that my cousin the Mock-Turtle will then make, and allowing yourself to be renamed TAUGHT-US?”

“As you please,” replied the weary warrior, in the hollow tones of despair, as he buried his face in his hands. “Provided that YOU, for YOUR part, will adopt a pun the Mock-Turtle never made, and allow yourself to be re-named A KILL-EASE!”