The Transcendental Argument for the Existence of God (TAG) is the argument that attempts to prove God's existence by arguing that logic, morals, and science ultimately presuppose a supreme being, and that God must be the source of logic and morals. A version was formulated by Immanuel Kant in his 1763 work The Only Possible Argument in Support of a Demonstration of the Existence of God and most contemporary formulations of the transcendental argument have been developed within the framework of Christian presuppositional apologetics.
Transcendental arguments should not be confused with transcendent arguments, or arguments for the existence of something transcendent. In other words, they are distinct from both arguments that appeal to a transcendent intuition or sense as evidence, and arguments that move from direct evidence to the existence of a transcendent thing (Classical Apologetics).
They are also distinct from standard deductive and inductive forms of reasoning. Where a standard deductive argument looks for what we can deduce from the fact of X, and a standard inductive argument looks for what we can infer from experience of X, a transcendental argument looks for the necessary prior conditions to both the fact and experience of X. Thus, "I entitle transcendental all knowledge which is occupied not so much with objects as with the mode of our knowledge of objects insofar as this mode of knowledge is to be possible a priori." (Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, Introduction, VII).
The TAG is a transcendental argument that attempts to prove that God is the precondition of all human knowledge and experience, by demonstrating the impossibility of the contrary; in other words, that logic, reason, or morality cannot exist without God. The argument proceeds as follows:
- If there is no god (most often the entity God, defined as the god of the Christian Bible, Yahweh), knowledge is not possible.
- Knowledge is possible (or some other statement pertaining to logic or morality).
- Therefore a god exists.
Cornelius Van Til likewise wrote:
We must point out ... 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 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.—(A Survey of Christian Epistemology [Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1969], p. 204).
Therefore, the TAG differs from thomistic and evidentialist arguments, which posit the probable existence of God in order to avoid an infinite regress of causes or motions, to explain life on Earth, and so on. The TAG posits the necessary existence of a particular conception of God in order for human knowledge and experience to be possible at all. The TAG argues that, because the triune God of the Bible, being completely logical, uniform, and good, exhibits a character in the created order and the creatures themselves (especially in humans), human knowledge and experience are possible. This reasoning implies that all other alternatives such as Buddhism and Islam, when followed to their logical conclusions, descend into absurdity, arbitrariness or inconsistency.
The chief criticism of all formulations of the TAG revolve around its premise that "without a god, knowledge cannot exist". While acceptance of this premise can lead to the conclusion that a god must exist, the argument itself provides no demonstrated necessity to accept the premise. Martin (1997) suggested the invalidity of this assertion when he reformulated the TAG as the 'Transcendental argument for the non-existence of God' starting with the negation of TAG's premise, namely, that 'the existence of knowledge presupposes the non-existence of God'
- E. R. Geehan, ed., Jerusalem and Athens: Critical Discussions on the Philosophy and Apologetics of Cornelius Van Til (Phillipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1980).
- Greg L. Bahnsen, Van Til's Apologetic: Readings and Analysis (Phillipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1998).
- John M. Frame, Cornelius Van Til: An Analysis of His Thought (Phillipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1995).
- Steven M. Schlissel, ed., The Standard Bearer: A Festschrift for Greg L. Bahnsen (Nacogdoches: Covenant Media Press, 2002).
- Greg L. Bahnsen, Always Ready: Directions for Defending the Faith". Robert R. Booth, ed. (Nacogdoches: Covenant Media Press, 1996).
- John M. Frame, Apologetics to the Glory of God: An Introduction (Phillipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1994).
- John M. Frame, The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God (Phillipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1987).
- A critique of the supposed top ten arguments for the existence of God
- Responses to Atheist Philosopher, Michael Martin
- Naturalism Defeated A recent transcendental argument by Alvin Plantinga.
- Derrida, Van Til and the Metaphysics of Postmodernism An appraisal of Postmodernism, specifically Deconstruction, in light of Van Til by Jacob Gabriel Hale.
- The Transcendental Argument for God's Existence by Michael Butler.
- The Transcendental Argument for the Existence of God by Matt Slick.
- "The Great Debate: Does God Exist?" Audio (listen/download format) of a formal debate between Christian Greg Bahnsen and skeptic Gordon Stein from the University of California, Irvine.
- The Martin-Frame Debate A written debate between skeptic Michael Martin and Christian John Frame about the transcendental argument for the existence of God.
- The Drange-Wilson Debate A written debate between skeptic Theodore Drange and Christian Douglas Wilson.
- "Is Non-Christian Thought Futile?" A written debate between Christian Doug Jones and skeptics Keith Parsons and Michael Martin in Antithesis magazine (vol. 2, no. 4).