Saturday, September 20, 2008

A Transcendental Argument For the Existence Of God

Introduction: The following scene relates a continuing discussion between a Christian math teacher and his student. The student had asked the teacher for evidence for the existence of God in the previous scene.

Act One, Scene 2

The teacher and student sat down with a cup of coffee.

Teacher (T): Have you thought about our previous discussion concerning the concept of numbers, and the logical conclusion that an immutable, eternal, and transcendent Mind exists?

Student (S): I think that’s an interesting argument you have there, but I am not really convinced that simply because the concept of numbers exists, and therefore, God exists. I can understand that such a Mind would explain the existence of the concept of numbers, but I would require a stronger argument than that to convince me.

T: I wouldn’t say that what I have to discuss with you today is a ‘stronger’ argument, but I guess most of my friends find it easier to understand. Besides, the gist of the argument is quite similar to the previous one.

S: Oh well, you can try me.

T: Right from the beginning of this discussion, I would like to emphasize that no amount of rationalizing and reasoning can make a person “Christian.” It literally takes a miracle from God to change that person’s mind concerning Him. Nevertheless, my objective in presenting such arguments for God’s existence is to show you the consistency or inconsistency of your worldview as compared to mine. For instance, there are several assumptions we usually take for granted in our day-to-day living. However, we do not really take the time to think things through, that is, to consider if those assumptions we make about life are consistent with our beliefs concerning God, eternity, time, and space.

S: Can you give me an example with regard to this alleged consistency or inconsistency?

T: Take for example, the existence of truth.

S: What do you mean by ‘the existence of truth?’

T: Do allow me to present my first point in this discussion: Truth exists. Your memory belief that you had eaten meatballs today at 1:22pm Singapore time at Parkway Parade’s Pastamania is considered as truth by you. If you really did eat meatballs today at 1:22pm Singapore time at Parkway Parade’s Pastamania, then that is the truth irrespective of what people think.

S: What if I didn’t eat meatballs, but burgers?

T: Then the proposition that P, that you had eaten meatballs today at 1:22pm Singapore time at Parkway Parade’s Pastamania, is false. But if you really did eat meatballs at that time and place, then P is the truth. Your memory furnishes you with the belief that P. If you are not cognitively disabled, or mad, or demented, or comatose, your memory should serve you well, and that P is the truth concerning what, when and where you ate today.

S: I am not really sure if Truth truly exists. I mean, in this day and age where post-modernism is the reigning philosophy, what is true for me may not be true for you.

T: Why don’t you elaborate a little on what you mean by this?

S: I am a college sophomore, and having read biology at an advance level, I sincerely believe that humans are the products of evolution from a monkey-like-ancestor. My grandmother does not believe that, but I do. So what is true for me is not true for her.

T: But what is the truth concerning the origin of Man? Either man came from monkeys, or they didn’t. If God created Man, then that is the truth. It does not matter what you believe, because what you believe does not change the truth.

S: I still think that there is no absolute truth.

T: Is that belief of yours absolutely true?

S: Yeah, I think so.

T: If you claim that absolute truth does not exist, then that is the truth for you. Ironically, any attempt by you to deny the truth would serve as an affirmation of my first point: truth exists. Truth truly exists, even if the only truth that exists is, “There is no absolute truth.”

S: OK, I get it. So truth exists. And I think it is true that I ate meatballs today at 1:22pm Singapore time at Parkway Parade’s Pastamania.

T: My next claim is that “Truth is immutable.” In other words, truth cannot change. If it is true that P, or that “you had eaten meatballs today at 1:22pm Singapore time at Parkway Parade’s Pastamania,” then that truth cannot be changed.

S: Are you trying to say that if something is true, then it is always true?

T: Yes. Truth is always the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow.

S: But the truth that “my dog is pregnant” cannot be always true.

T: So when was your dog pregnant?

S: My dog was pregnant last winter, and she had since given birth to three healthy pups.

T: So let us say that, “your dog gave birth on 25th December 2007, 1:22pm Singapore time to three healthy pups at your home.”

S: That is right.

T: So how is that not always true?

S: That seems to be true no matter when you look at it.

T: The problem with your previous proposition – “My dog is pregnant” – is that no specific timeframe was given. Obviously your dog cannot be pregnant all the time. But if you were to specify the time, date, and place, the event is specifically described. Such a proposition is true even if that event has not taken place, but is yet to take place. In other words, the truth is always true, and is eternally true. What is more, truth is eternal in nature.

S: Eternal truth? It makes sense that the truth is immutable or unchangeable, but to say that truth is eternal seems to be stretching it a little. What if the world ceases to exist?

T: Then it is true that, “The world ceases to exist on a certain date and time.” This truth would abide even if the world were to be destroyed.

S: And if the entire universe ceases to exist?

T: Then the truth would be, “The universe ceases to exist at this time and on this date.” This truth would be true even if the universe were destroyed.

S: But what if truth itself should perish?

T: Then you are saying, “Truth perishes on this date and time.” That would be the truth. Again, any denial of the eternity of truth turns out to be an affirmation of its eternity. To put it simply, truth is transcendent – truth is not dependent upon time, place or people.

S: Please explain the concept of transcendence further.

T: The proposition that P, that “you ate meatballs today at 1:22pm Singapore time at Parkway Parade’s Pastamania,” is true even if you were to travel a million light-years to another planet; it is true on that planet and on planet Earth. That P is also true even if you were to travel a million years, via a time machine, into the past or future. Furthermore, that P is true even if all the people in the universe were to deny its truth. And if all humans were to cease to exist, that P is also true. In other words, truth is not dependent upon the existence of people, and neither is it the product of any human minds. That is, even if all human minds were destroyed, truth still exists, and that P – which belongs to what is known as truth – is still true.

S: OK, I’m starting to grasp what “transcendent” means.

T: That is not all. Truth being transcendent also means that truth is not dependent upon the physical world or matter. Truth is not composed of atoms, electrons, neutrons or molecules. You cannot ‘capture’ truth with a document, and destroy it by burning up that document. You cannot isolate truth in a safe deposit box, or keep it stored away with an electronic storage method. The existence of truth is not dependent upon any form of physical existence. So, even if the physical universe were to be destroyed, truth will continue to exist.

S: I understand it now. Truth is eternal because it is transcendent in nature. It is beyond time, space, matter and people.

T: This brings me to my next point, which should be familiar to you from our previous discussion: Truth is mental. In other words, truth exists in the mind, and truth presupposes the existence of minds. I shall now show you how the existence of truth is incompatible with any materialistic view of Man. We have previously agreed that truth – take for example, the laws of logic – is not dependent upon the physical body or the brain. Some neurobiologists believe that thoughts are the products of random chemical reactions and biochemical phenomenon within the physical brain. But we know that random chemical reactions cannot be true or false; the laws of logic cannot be the product of biochemical reactions.

S: I am losing you here. Why can’t the laws of logic or for that matter, truth, be the product of biochemical reactions in the brain?

T: Do allow us to use a very simple example – mathematical logic. “1+1 = 2” is true not because certain biochemical reactions decide to make “1+1 = 2” true. Most 3 years old children putting two stones together would see that there are 2 stones, not 1 or 3 stones. Mathematical logic transcends human experiences and the physical world. If such logical laws of addition are due to random molecular bombardments or neurochemistry within the brain, then each brain can have its own random molecular changes and therefore, its own “laws” of addition. Some random molecular changes would perceive “1+1 = 3,” while others might even understand “1+1 = 100,000.” Physiological changes and random chemical reactions can be neither true nor false. One set of biochemical reactions cannot be truer than another.

S: So what is your point here?

T: My point is: a truth, a thought or a proposition can only be conceived by a mind. Truth is not physical; it is not composed of atoms and molecules. Truth is mental or conceptual in nature. Truth exists in a mind or minds. Therefore, if there is no mind, there can be no truth. But we have seen that truth exists. Hence, materialism cannot be true.

S: OK, so your point is “truth exists in a mind.” I can buy that.

T: Thus far, we have argued that truth is immutable, eternal, transcendent, and mental. Furthermore, truth is superior to the human mind. Truth by its very nature cannot be subjective and individualistic. Again, let us take for example, mathematical logic. The laws of logic judge our reasoning, and not vice versa. Even though beliefs vary from one person to another, truth itself cannot change. The laws of logic cannot change. The truth of the proposition that P, that “you ate meatballs today at 1:22pm Singapore time at Parkway Parade’s Pastamania,” cannot change. We do not judge the truth, but truth judges our reasoning and beliefs.

S: But since you argued that truth is immutable, eternal, and transcendent in nature, how can truth exist in human minds since the human mind is finite, mutable, and prone to error?

T: It is true that truth must exist in a mind, but it must also exist within an immutable, eternal, and transcendent mind since truth is itself immutable, eternal, and transcendent.

S: Are you telling me that this Mind is God?

T: It follows that, since only God has these attributes of immutability, eternality, and transcendence, this Mind is the Mind of God. As Christian Apologist Dr Gordon Clark has said,

“Is all this any more than the assertion that there is an eternal, immutable Mind, as Supreme Reason, a personal, living God? The truths or propositions that may be known are the thoughts of God, the eternal thoughts of God. And insofar as man knows anything he is in contact with God’s mind. Since further, God’s mind is God, we may … say, we have a vision of God.” [Gordon Clark, A Christian View of Men and Things (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1952), 321.]

End of Scene 2


Adapted from Gordon Clark’s transcendental argument in A Christian View of Men and Things (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1952), 318ff.


Chad said...

Hey Vincent, great posts. you may be interested in some of the scholars and arguments referenced here

vincit omnia veritas said...

Hi Chad,

Thanks a million for your excellent article PLUS references. It will take me a while to plough through those references though :P

BTW, are you teaching philosophy somewhere? What are you doing in "real life?"

Chad said...

"Real life", haha. Well, I'm currently a student pursuing philosophy (the road that never ends). I stay pretty busy teaching at a couple local churches as well.

The conceptualist argument gets most attention on the net it seems. There are so many resources and “independent” projects in professional philosophy related to it that, if pulled together, I think could send shock waves through natural (a)theology. The ironic thing is that the only professional philosopher who appears to have noticed and capitalized on this is atheist philosopher Quentin Smith (and to some degree Plantinga)!

My biggest worry is pending success of fictionalism, which seems to be all the rage these days.