Transcendental argument for God

From RationalWiki
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Preach to the choir
Icon religion.svg
Crux of the matter
Speak of the devil
An act of faith

The transcendental argument for the existence of God (TAG) is an argument within the realm of presuppositional apologetics. It argues that logic, morals, and science ultimately presuppose a theistic worldview, as (the arguer's) God must be the "source" of logic and morality. In other words, because Goddidit is claimed to be the answer to every question in epistemology, God necessarily exists. It has been widely discredited ever since the scientific enlightenment, so naturally it remains hugely popular with Christian theologians and philosophers.


In its most reduced form, the transcendental argument can be demonstrated with the following syllogism:

P1: God is necessary for logic and morality.
P2: People use logic and morality.
C: Therefore, God exists.

The basic idea of TAG is that certain things that one assumes are true can only be true if there is a God. These include the assumption that logical reasoning is possible, that scientific inference is justified, and that (absolute) moral standards exist. Typically, it argues that since things like logic and morality are immaterial universals, they must be derived from an immaterial universal source, namely God.

As such, when an atheist refutes a theistic argument using logic, undermines the position of the Bible on certain topic(s) using scientific evidence, or argues that the existence of evil is incompatible with the concept of an omnipotent, omniscient, and morally perfect God, the TAG maintains that the atheist is assuming God's existence in constructing these arguments. It claims that because logic and science (knowledge) cannot exist without God, it is impossible to refute God's existence; it further claims that in order to define "evil", it requires an objective standard that is also impossible without God. Of course, it can't be just any god or even a non-divine immaterial source, it has to be specifically the God that the arguer believes in.

So a slightly expanded version of the previous demonstration looks like this:

P1: God is a precondition for logic and morality.
P1-1: Logic and morality are immaterial and universal.
P1-2: God is immaterial and universal.
P1-C: Therefore, logic and morality must be derived from God.
P2: People use logic and morality.
a. Using logic (as we are now) proves we rely on something immaterial and universal.
C: Therefore, God exists.
a. If God did not exist, logic and morality wouldn't exist, and we couldn't use them.


The transcendental argument may trace its origins to the Ash'ariWikipedia scholars in Medieval Islam.[citation needed] In 1763, The argument was formulated by Immanuel Kant in his work The Only Possible Argument in Support of a Demonstration of the Existence of God, writing, "...There must be something whose nonexistence would cancel all internal possibility whatsoever."[1] Kant later rejected this argument as he entered his Critical period. Famous presuppositionalist Cornelius Van Til also promoted the transcendental argument, writing "...that antitheistic knowledge is self-contradictory on its own ground, and that its conception of contradiction even presupposes the truth of Christian theism."[2]

Modern appearances[edit]

In its modern form, TAG is predominantly used by Christians more specifically than the format listed above. Christian apologists attempt to "prove" that logic, science, and objective morality presupposes the Judeo-Christian worldview (while somehow excluding Islam, which is developed upon the same set(s) of worldviews).

A famous example is Jordan Peterson's famous, incoherent tweet claiming that Kurt Gödel proved the existence of God.[3] There are also non-Christian TAG promoters, such as Ben Shapiro.[4]


Problems shared with other apologetic arguments[edit]

One of the most common problems Christian apologetics has is that the generalized formulation (i.e. the argument minus the holy book) does not specifically argue for any particular god(s). Usually, this uniqueness issue is addressed through the use of the Bible, reducing the argument into "my book is holier than yours", or the circular arguments similar to other arguments for the existence of the Christian God.

As we will discuss in the following sections, there is also the problem that apologetic arguments almost inevitably rest on shaky logic that is doomed to fall apart at some point, putting the apologist in a position where they must admit to either being outright wrong or making groundless speculation in some fashion. TAG is no exception to this.

Problems specific to TAG[edit]

The problem of morality[edit]

Main article: Argument from morality, Divine command theory, Euthyphro dilemma

TAG argues that (objective) morality cannot exist without God. This raises the question: Since the apologist argues that there are differences between right and wrong, are the differences solely based on God?

  • If it is not, then said morality already exists without God.
  • If it is, then the following problem arises:
    • From God's perspective, there is no difference between right and wrong (if there is, that part of morality exists without God), and it is no longer a meaningful statement to say that God is good or morally perfect.
    • God has problems communicating the differences between right and wrong to anyone in an authentic manner.

This dilemma has been recognized for centuries, even before Christianity, as this contradiction is more or less identical to the one laid out in Euthyphro, a dialogue by Plato.

Another question is: Does morality even exist?

The problem of knowledge[edit]

TAG argues that without God, knowledge is impossible, which the explanation is the following:[5]

  1. "How do you know <statement> is true?" can be applied to the explanation of something ad infinitum, so an infinite regress is created.[note 1]
  2. God is used as the terminator of the infinite regress: the ability of God to terminate the infinite regress comes from His omnipotence.
  3. Therefore, God exists.

The problems with this argument are as follows:

  • There are statements that are self-evident enough that infinite regress does not come up. Those are called Axioms. Knowledge that can be built from deductive reasoning are built based on them.
    • An example may be the concept of cogito ergo sum by René Descartes.
    • The proposition that God is sufficiently self-evident to be an axiom suffers from the uniqueness problem: If you need scripture to show that the self-evident God is your version of God, then it is not self-evident.
    • If the point has been shifted to suggest that it's the Bible that is self-evident...
      • Since the apologist already argued that God has to be presupposed, either it is bibliolatry (because the Bible is equated to God) or it is circular reasoning, because each of them implies the other and both of them have to be presupposed.
  • If the termination comes from the omniscience of God, the problem is that God has problems communicating the knowledge to anyone in an authentic manner. If the revealed knowledge will go through validations afterwards, then:

Transcendental Argument for the Non-existence of God (TANG)[edit]

Michael Martin,Wikipedia the late atheist professor of philosophy, has argued that the exact same argument can be used to argue for the non-existence of God.[6] The argument goes as follows:


Logic presupposes that its principles are necessarily true. With TAG's argument, God created everything, including logic; or at least everything, including logic, is dependent on God. However, if logic is created by or contingent on God, it is not necessary — it is contingent on God. And if principles of logic are contingent on God, they are not logically necessary, and God can change them on God's fiat. Thus God can change the laws of identity to make them invalid at some point, making statements not the same as themselves. Since logic is contingent on God as one of His creations, to argue that God cannot change the laws of logic blows away God's omnipotence. As a result, the claim that logic is dependent on God is false.


Science presupposes Uniformitarianism. That is, that natural law has always operated as it operates at present and there has been no violations of such laws. However, Christianity also presupposes a version of God that gives miracles, which is by definition a direct violation of these laws. Therefore, science presupposes the non-existence of any miracle-granting gods (God(s) that don't ever give miracles fall(s) into the category of Non-Overlapping Magisteria and are thus more compatible). If the argument is shifted that Uniformitarianism is false, then the entire scientific method (the prediction/experiment design/reproduce part) and subsequently science are to be discarded and it is no longer meaningful to say that science presupposes god. In any case, this alternative is rather strongly undermined by the huge array of information that science has allowed us to amass via uniformitarian assumptions.


Main article: Divine command theory

If morality presupposes God, then the morality in question would be categorized as a variation of the divine command theory, in that moral obligations are dependent on the will of God. However, that runs into the following problems:

  • Which god(s): to argue that the scripture(s) of one particular religion is correct reduces the case to being, "My book is better than your book". To make the situation worse, all the scriptures give a somewhat different (albeit, broadly similar) list of moral obligations to follow, and the interpretation of the passages from the same scriptures can be different, as well. Since there is no rational way to reconcile the differences, without resorting to the argument of which book is correct, morality in this sense is not exactly objective.
  • Since God allegedly created such morality, can God change it?

As a result, the morality that presupposes God cannot be objective, and objective morality does not presuppose God.

How to refute a few basic TAG traps[edit]

A TAG apologist might make the following statement:

If Yahweh exists, He is therefore the arbiter of ultimate moral authority, by which we compare and contrast our own standard of ethics. Therefore, those who assert that God does not exist, cannot account for morality without being viciously circular; since to account for morality as an emergent property of our evolutionary heritage is to claim that our senses, reasoning, and memory are valid according to their own standards of proof. How, then, can the atheist say that his or her subjective experiences are objectively valid if there is no absolute standard of morality against which to judge them? Therefore, even those who deny the existence of God, by virtue of the fact that they are nevertheless morally sound, demonstrate His basic existence.

The problem with this statement is multifaceted. Firstly, even if you could prove the basic existence of a specific god, it wouldn't necessarily follow that he/she/it is therefore the arbiter of absolute moral authority. Indeed, if the specific god which was proven to exist was indeed the god of the bible, Yahweh, any claim that He is therefore the arbiter of absolute morality would, by definition, mean that the biblical account of His various commandments to rape, murder, and destroy those who do not believe in Him, is either a false account of His actual commandments or a perfectly accurate account of a deity which holds to a different standard of morality than any right-thinking human being.[note 3]

Secondly, it is not true to say that an atheistic worldview cannot account for an absolute standard of morality. Indeed, the only reason such a black and white absolutist position on morality is invoked to begin with, is because it serves the purpose of theological thinking, not because it is a logically valid prerequisite. In reality, human ethics and morality are more nuanced. What is moral at one end of the scale and immoral at the other, does not mean that shades of grey cannot and do not exist in-between. Popular science author and neuroscientist Sam Harris has called this the moral landscape; peaks and troughs of behavior which are balanced between the needs and beliefs of the individual and the needs and beliefs of his or her fellow human beings; "Do not do to someone else, what you would not have them do to you" - Confucius, 500 BCE. In other words, morality isn't necessarily an objective and absolute code that is part of the universe's components, it could very well be a subjective concept/thought system based on humans' experience, reason, empathy, etc. which continuously change, and vary for different civilizations.

Christian apologists, nevertheless, propagate and capitalize upon the notion that human morality is either absolutely sound or absolutely corrupt, precisely because it circumvents their own qualifying statement "if God exists" in the basic proposition of the TAG — to make the tonality of their overall proposal seem evenly balanced. But the use of the word "if" is extremely disingenuous. It makes the statement appear to be either true or false; that there are two equally likely possibilities as to the nature, character, and basic existence of an absolute arbiter of morality on the table. But in proposing that X and Y can only stem from Z, it rules out the possibility that X and Y could also be an emergent property of A. Further, it characterizes A as being incapable of accounting for X and Y, because in actuality X and Y are only required in order to find in favor of the proposal that a god exists, not in order that its existence be disproved.

Playing the faith card[edit]

Consider by analogy, the following conversation:

  • Person A: "Can you imagine, in your mind's eye, someone flying around this room without any obvious source of power?"
  • Person B: "Yes. I have a vivid imagination and have seen many superhero movies."
  • Person A: "I can fly around this room, simply by flapping my arms and legs."
  • Person B: "This I've got to see! Prove it!"
  • Person A: "First you must accept that, if I could fly, the laws of gravity would be therefore invalidated."
  • Person B: "I can see how you might think that, but how do I know you're not wearing a hidden wire?"
  • Person A: "You have to trust me; you have to accept that I am not cheating."
  • Person B: "OK, for argument's sake, I'll trust you. Now, leap into the air, as promised."
  • Person A: "As I have already explained, if I could fly, the laws of gravity would be invalidated. You, yourself, have already admitted that you can easily visualize what I would look like, were I to fly around the room unaided. Therefore, I can fly."
  • Person B: "Seek medical advice."
  • Person A: "You lack faith, even though (sic) the proof is now right in front of you. You're just close-minded, and I feel sorry for you."

There are many similar semantic word traps and circular reasoning built into TAG apologetics, of which the debating skeptic/positive agnostic/atheist, unfamiliar with the TAG modus operandi, can easily fall foul. But, however the basic arguments of TAG apologetics are phrased, and however insistent the interlocutor is that it is actually the skeptic who needs to "open their mind", it is an inescapable fact that the TAG fails to pass the first basic test as to whether or not it constitutes a logically valid proposal, since it assumes the basic existence of that which its own claims are predicated upon, but which cannot be objectively demonstrated.

See also[edit]


  1. Kant, Immanuel. The Only Possible Argument in Support of a Demonstration of the Existence of God, 1763
  2. Van Til, Cornelius.A Survey of Christian Epistemology, 1969
  3. (A Finnish source, but features a screen capture for the tweet)
  4. The BEST Argument for the Existence of God, Ben Shapiro
  5. Sye Ten Bruggencate vs Dan Courtney Does God Exist June 23, 2012


  1. Anyone who's had a four-year-old incessantly ask them "Why?" can attest to this.
  2. Unless, of course, you take the stance that God actually wants to be questioned, though that requires more critical thinking and willingness to deviate from Biblical literalism than most Christian apologists are capable of.
  3. Or at least any right-thinking modern human being. People living at the time of the Bible had fewer moral qualms with destroying anything that disagreed with them on the basis that it was a threat, without bothering to verify that it actually was a threat. Also, God is actually rather up-front about "My ways are not your ways" at a few points.