Slick’s Transcendental Argument

Last week on
The Atheist Experience,
a guy named Matt Slick from
CARM.org
called in to present the
Transcendental Argument
for the existence of God. His version of the argument is
here.

When I read
Slick’s version of the argument,
my reaction was one that I often have when theists try to construct
purely logical arguments: as I was going through his bullet points, I
wasn’t nodding in agreement, even reluctantly. I kept thinking “well,
this is sorta-kinda-maybe true, given the proper definition and
starting assumptions”. Take, for instance, his point 1. C. ii.:

“I am alive” is either true or false.

This statement is true, but only if you define “alive” very carefully.
This is why courts spend time splitting definitional hairs: to decide
precisely where the line between “alive” and “not alive” runs or ought
to run, and by extension where the line between “legal” and “illegal”
runs. In real life, however, things can get much messier (Terry
Schiavo, anyone?). Now, Slick is free to divide the world up into 100%
true and 100% false statements if he likes, but he must then accept
that some of the 100%-true statements won’t feel 100% true.

This sort of sloppy thinking permeates the argument, which tends to
trigger my BS-o-meter.

Or take 2. C.:

Something cannot bring itself into existence.

I wonder how Slick deals with things like pairs of virtual particles,
which just pop into existence all over the place, and usually
annihilate each other a fraction of a microsecond later.

We can also apply this statement to 7. D.:

We call this transcendent, absolute, perfect, and independent mind, God.

Surely a mind is a “thing” in the sense of 2. C.. This means that God
cannot have created itself, and therefore raises the question of who
or what created God.

Don Baker, who was co-hosting The Atheist Experience on
the day that Slick called in, has a
fine rebuttal
including several points I would have made:

  • There is no universal requirement that a system of logic be complete, elegant, or even consistent. It’s just that we humans value these properties.
  • A lot of Slick’s “universal” laws, like the law of the excluded middle (a statement is either true, or it’s false) are not inherent to logic; they just happen to be true (as far as we can tell) in this universe, and in most of the systems of logic that we humans find useful.
  • Properly applied, logic is universal and absolute, but you have to be very very careful and rigorous.

In short, this version of the Transcendental argument is par for the
course, as far as purely logical arguments for God go: it looks okay
on the surface if you don’t look at it too closely, but the
construction is shoddy. The argument doesn’t tell us which statements
are assumptions for the sake of argument, which ones are assumptions
Slick thinks are obvious enough to be axioms, and which statements
follow from which premises. If this argument were a work of
carpentry, all of its angles would be slightly off from 90°, the
sides wouldn’t line up quite right, and there would be gaps between
the boards.

Color me less than impressed.

10 thoughts on “Slick’s Transcendental Argument”

  1. From the CARM page:

    Logical absolutes exist. Logical absolutes are conceptual by nature, are not dependent on the space, time, physical properties, or human nature. They are not the product of the physical universe (space, time, matter) because if the physical universe were to disappear, logical absolutes would still be true. Logical Absolutes are not the product of human minds because human minds are different, not absolute.

    I dispute this. I suspect (though my musings on this are neither fully developed, nor yet corroborated by my readings of Really Smart People) that his Logical Absolutes are just formalizations of the naive categories our evolved neurology uses to form our internal world-models — and we have those categories because they happen to build better models than most alternate schema. (As an aside, I think all of mathematics is ultimately built this way). Christian apologists, however, are continually pushing this quasi-Platonist view in which abstractions like Logic (and Love and Good and Evil, etc, etc) are real things independent of us. I also suspect that most people who haven’t thought deeply and/or been exposed to the right concepts, are naive quasi-Platonists about this sort of thing.

    As I said, I haven’t pushed this line of thought too far — thoughts and reading suggestions would be most welcome.

  2. Eamon Knight:

    Actually, I agree with all but the last sentence of the CARM paragraph you quoted. Logical statements are really descriptions of the way systems behave, or would behave if they existed.

    For example, given the right assumptions and rules of inference, 1+1 = 2. And in our world, if you have a basket with an egg in it, and put another egg in it, you’ll have two eggs. This is true because the assumptions necessary for 1+1=2 are true in the egg-basket system, and the rules of inference happen to work in that case.

    We can easily imagine systems in which those assumptions don’t hold: if you pour a pile of sand on top of an existing pile of sand, you get one pile of sand, not two. Presumably either the way we count piles of sand doesn’t obey the rules that are required for 1+1=2.

    We can imagine much stranger systems of logic, ones that have no connection whatsoever to the universe we know. If chemistry, biology, medicine, etc. are just special cases of physics, then physics is just a special case of math (and logic; I don’t really try to distinguish between the two).

    To that extent, logic is not just universal, but trans-universal. But you’re right that we tend to favor the logical systems that yield useful results and are in accord with the world as we perceive it to be (with more than a passing nod to systems that are simple and not too wrong: we know that space is curved, but we still use Euclidean geometry because it’s much easier to work with, and not wrong enough to matter, most of the time).

    You’re right that a lot of math has very pragmatic roots — ISTR that the earliest computations found by archeologists had to do with keeping inventory and tracking commercial transactions; and I believe Pascal started working on probability to help a friend win at cards — but for purposes of this discussion, the math we choose to work with is just a subset of all possible maths.

    I’m not sure how much sense that makes.

    (Update, Feb. 19: Make sentence make more sense.)

  3. Andrew: Thank you. I’m not sure whether I exactly disagree with you, but developing my argument in full would require a lengthy essay, which would be a blog post, which I will probably never get around to composing…..
    (Man, working for a living sucks — 40+ hours/wk, which I could instead spend explicating the mysteries of the universe….)

  4. Eamon Knight said:

    (Man, working for a living sucks — 40+ hours/wk, which I could instead spend explicating the mysteries of the universe….)

    I find a tasty bottle of malbec can greatly assist in the mental time compression necessary to engage in some free-thinking of a universal nature while maintaining a full time work schedule.

  5. What a bunch of guilt ridden fags of total IGNORance.

    None of you even begin to show any form of intelect beyond that of picking your asses and licking your fingers.

    You people have some issues, and you aren’t doing anything productive.

    You spend all your time on some computer somewhere trying to put down the bible, because of your guilt, and some cliche you heard along the way. Some internet cafe, or library computer, were sure to see you there condeming God. You need to get a real job so you can buy your own computer.

    If you need a computer, and can’t afford one, go to a CHURCH and ask for one, Christians are far more friendly than you, and forgiving too. Maybe you could learn from them something about REAL life.

    You really do need to stop going to the library and spending all your time there writing your snibbling false complaints about a book filled with the testimony of WITNESSES, and hogging the library computers so others can’t find any real research their after. Your time would be much better spent looking for a job, and being part of a CHURCH GROUP to learn compassion, forgivness, and understanding, and how to HELP OTHERS.

    After all, the way things are going the FREE choice of RELIGION is almost over, muslims will guarentee that if you don’t bow down to their false god of perversion, murder, theft, molestation and hate, you get to loose your head… Take a look at ashira, and sharia, and some other aspects of islam…

    Study the Quran, this site is fast and easy… You don’t even have to read, you can listen to it in mp3 format in a couple hours time. It is a very precise layout of the Quran, by way of the ISLAMIC AUTHORIZED English translations.

    http://www.prophetofdoom.net

    I don’t want to alarm you, but guess what…

    “Non-believers” (stheists, evolutionists, agnostics, any form of non religious person) are the first enemy of islam and the biggest threat, Christians are the very leaste of their fears, they think Christians are easy to deal with, so they will be last to be killed.

    Isn’t it nice to know you have to BELIEVE in God to even think about being ATHEIST, or some sort of NON-believer, and to be AGNOSTIC you have to admit that your STUPID, since AGNOSTIC means “KNOWS NOTHING”, and ATHEIST means “YOU DON’T FOLLOW GOD”….

    Atheist comes from the word “THEIST”, the “A” at the beginning REVERSES the meaning, don’t be so stupid or VAIN that you think it’s the other way around dumb ass.

    To be “ATHEIST” you must FULLY ACCEPT “THEIST”, because you can’t have the reverse of, or opposite of something unless that somthing TRUELY EXISTS FIRST!….

    Put that in your faggot sucking, guilt ridden pipe and smoke it you fudge packers…

    Many of you ATHEISTS do nothing but run around pointing a finger of guilt at Kent Hovind. What IGNORNAT ASSES you are. First off, which of you is NOT GUILTY??? NONE OF YOU!!!!

    How about that kid who mowed your lawn, did you pay the taxes? Did you withhold tax money for him?

    How about your kids? Did you pay them for washing the dishes?

    Some friend that helped you do something, or some one who fixed something on your car, did you withhold their taxes????

    Well, Go DIRECTLY TO JAIL, do not collect $200, YOUR GUILTY ASSHOLE!!!

    Your not only ATHEIST, your a BIGOT too. AND IGNORANT!!!!

    Did you know the bible has totally described every aspect of your lives, lays out every detail of this world today, this Mysticle Babylon, the city that is not a city, which encompasses the entire earth, and has a multitude of amazements, and colors, and everything sold can be purchased here, and if the internet goes down, your monitor is fire mingled with glass, yes this great city is a sea of glass mingled with fire, and it will go down in one hours time, like it has in sections, but very soon the entire net will go down and ALL COMMERCE WILL STOP, all governement top officals know this already, and are preparing for it. Your Dr won’t give you any meds, you won’t get gas at the pumps, you can’t buy your booze at the cornor store, and you wont get electricity, the computerized switching stations will stop and shut down, EVERYTHING will STOP!

    Do you know anything about coma, or death, or beyond?

    Do you know anything about having only a few days or weeks or months to live?

    How would you face that?

    Panic?

    Fear?

    Anxiety?

    Insanity?

    Hate the world?

    Curse God?

    999 out of 1,000 of you will be that way, and it will be the toughest of you who are the biggest cry babies!

    I died 3 times, had death certificates written, tried out my own casket too, and I have returned. I know death, I know hell, I know the truth. I was on life support like Terry Shivo, my mother wouldn’t let them fully remove it, and took me home on life support, with a signed death certificate, and cared for me, allthough the DUMB ASS ATHEIST DR’S said I was DEAD, and my body hasn’t got the message yet….. Well her faith paid off, I woke up to save her life after a brutal assult. Yes, I met death face first, and wide awake, all 3 times, and now in my aged years, I know what the truth is in life, and I am once again on a feeding tube, but I don’t stop, I would have been burried more than 50 years ago if my mother would have let them pull my feeding tube.

    I know what it’s like being the person in a coma, month after month, when everyone thinks it’s only residual electricty keeping a heart going about 5 beats a minute, with only 2 respirations per minute.

    So I have a right to call any person who has pulled a feeding tube out of some person in the same condition I was in, a MURDERING IGNORANT BASTARD… A Mental Cripple…. A Human DEFECT!

    Ejoy your guilt…. You earned it…. The day of judgment is near, very near…. What choice have YOU made?…

  6. ‘truth’ – seriously dude, the glory hole is two buildings down thataway. FFS man grow some dignity even if you can’t grow enough balls to come out.

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