What Should We Assume And Not Assume About TAG? (Clarifications Within Presuppositional Apologetics)May 8, 2011
What is TAG? TAG stands for the transcendental argument for God’s existence. It is a form of apologetics under the umbrella of presuppositional apologetics. Presuppositional apologetics examines what a person already supposes or assumes about reality and the world. Just like there can be only one Highlander, so there can only be one worldview which is most consistent with all of reality. Is Christianity it? TAG is a part of presupositional apologetics that shows this to be the case. TAG especially helps show that “naturalistic” atheism can’t be correct because TAG reveals how without God there would be no such thing as thinking or morality. It is a powerful apologetic. It’s usually confusing at first but then begins to make a lot of sense. Thankfully, presupositional apologetics is starting to catch on more in mainstream Christianity.
However, here are some concerns I have with how people use TAG:
(1) Is it sinful to use historical and scientific methods to prove God’s existence like many proponents of TAG claim?
Many people who use TAG, in particular arguing for God’s existence via the laws of logic (LoL), say that evidential apologetics are “sinful” because the apologist is allowing God to be judged via history, science, etc, rather than revealed to be the one who accounts for the LoL in the first place, thus can even argue about his existence.
It’s true we should make atheistic historians and scientists aware that when they argue against God they are also assuming his existence by using what only he can supply, namely, the LoL. It’s like a king giving a soldier a sword, but then the soldier wants to use the sword against the king. That’s the powerful truth of TAG, especially when it comes to the LoL.
But when we say it’s sinful to argue in these other ways for proof of God, we need to be careful when we say this and we need to clarify how it’s sinful. It’s not sinful in and of itself to argue historically or scientifically for God’s existence. It’s not even sinful if we argue in these ways and never even mention TAG (which I don’t know why we wouldn’t do). Just as Augustine said, “all truth is God’s truth”, so we should expect all areas of study to point to God somehow. We wouldn’t just expect God to account for logic and morality, but then have zero traces of evidence historically or scientifically (i.e. fine tuning of the universe).
The problem comes when we use historical and scientific evidences to be the greatest inferences of God that we get into trouble. In light of the God of the Bible, the Lord Jesus Christ, it is sinful to stand over him as judge. Just because one uses historical apologetics doesn’t mean they are necessarily standing over God as judge, but if one assumes that this is the ultimate basis by which we can infer God, then they are standing over him as judge, and that is sinful. This needs to be greatly clarified when proponents of TAG go around telling people that using historical methods to prove God is sinful. It isn’t always the case.
(2) Will TAG lead us to a Reformed view of God?
Van Til taught that this was the case. I would clarify that TAG makes more sense when we assume certain aspects of a Reformed view of God. As a Calvinist I believe in total depravity (TD) meaning our natural spiritual condition is more likened to a bloated dead body at the bottom of a river, rather than a person just being in trouble going down the river needing to grab a life line. Hence, why the rescuer on the shore would need to command the dead corpse to rise, not merely throw a life line and leave it up to them. The gospel jives with TD because it explains why no matter what you say to try and convince them, people will still suppress the truth and go on their merry way.
When it comes to leaving people without an excuse of God’s existence with TAG, I find that TD helps me understand why they still reject that which is so obvious.
I also find it helpful to show the atheist why reject. That’s right. You can actually tell the atheist that they reject God no matter what because they’re helpless to do otherwise. When an atheist says “if God is all-knowing, why doesn’t he do what he knows he could do to get me to believe?”, the Arminian can’t answer this. The Calvinist can lovingly tell them it’s because of TD. It’s not a matter of them believing that God exists, but having a new heart to love him and no longer be hostile to him. Apart from God granting that to them, they will remain as they are, condemned yet accountable for their lawlessness.
But does the fact that Calvinists can answer in this way, and understand the reality of the spiritual condition of the atheist, mean that TAG is mostly for Calvinists and not Arminians? No, it doesn’t. Unfortunately, I’ve seen fellow Calvinists react out of their superiority truth complexes and act like it’s so. But there’s a big difference between being able to use an apologetic method, and also being able to tell the rejecter why they reject. (Note: I say “rejecter” rather than “unbeliever” because it’s not a matter of believing in God, but a matter of accepting him to be whom he claimed, namely, risen Lord.) The Arminian can still use TAG just as effectively as the Calvinist can. TD isn’t part of TAG from the atheists perspective, but from the apologists perspective. TD isn’t the argument; it’s why many reject the God of the argument.
Surprisingly, many Calvinists who use TAG aren’t always consistent with it in their assumptions either! We’ll touch on this next.
(3) Does TAG leave us without excuse before Yahweh, or leave us without excuse before a similar view of God?
I have seen so many argue for TAG to deduce the Triune God of Scripture. I would argue it absolutely necessitates all of the attributes of the Triune God of Scripture, but just because it necessitates all of God’s attributes, that’s not enough to tell you for certain which “God” it is. You may be thinking “what?!” But please hear me out. Just because there’s enormous correlation between the revelation of Yahweh and the LoL doesn’t necessarily imply Yahweh. We can say Yahweh would be a pre-condition, or maybe the best option for a pre-condition, but human reasoning can’t guarantee he is the pre-condition. We need the Holy Spirit to know he is the pre-precondition.
Take the LoL for example. They are abstract (not comprised of “matter”, yet correlate with “matter”, also not entirely based on what is observable, i.e. the concept of “infinity”), absolute (not created, un-changing, exist only in minds, thus, require an eternal mind), universal (they apply to all sentient beings, hence why we can communicate about the same things), and prescriptive (we have a pre-commitment to logic meaning we ought to be rational and not contradict). We can easily say that all of this is accounted for by the God of Scripture since he is eternal, is the prime cause beyond all finite matter, and has an eternal mind.
For logic to work there needs to be a mind (knower) and substance which takes on certain functions, or is relational to something else (the thing known). God is eternally both.
With the LoL being abstract, this ties into them deriving from a “mind” (a knower).
With the LoL being absolute identities (the thing known), this perfectly fits with the criterion of God being one and many (three in one). What something is (the first law, i.e. law of identity) requires a “mind” to know and recognize something’s function. A “function” is possible when there are multiple parts to something. Thus, in God, there is eternally all possible functions since God consists of multiple persons whom can relate to each other in every possible good way. To have the classification of “apple” for example, you first need the function of “food”, which derives from the relationship of something giving life, which God eternally does within the relationships that make up himself.
In addition, the LoL are universal, meaning we all share and understand the same meanings and concepts (hence you reading this), and this is possible since the three persons within the Godhead eternally know and understand each other.
With the LoL being prescriptive, the 3rd law (the law of non-contradiction) has us know that something cannot be what it’s not in every way and at the same time. 3 cannot also be 1,006 in every way and at the same time. It’s not just that this is the way it is, but that we should admit this, otherwise that would be immoral because that would be a lie. It would be dishonest and purposefully dishonest.
Since there is eternal love and selflessness within the relationships of the three persons of the Trinity, then God never lies to himself, thus, eternally does not contradict himself for his own glory. Hence, since we’re created in his image we shouldn’t contradict ourselves either. It would be a lie, and lies fall short of the glory of God, thus are sin (Rom 3:23). Thus, we can’t really separate morality and the LoL as being two ways to argue TAG. They are really connected as one, since we ought not contradict; because otherwise it would be a lie. The law that governs our thinking is not just the law of non-contradiction, but is also the moral law. When we argue for morality, we’re also arguing for the LoL, and when we argue for the LoL, we’re also arguing for morality.
So the Trinity certainly can account for the pre-condition to reality, especially the LoL by which we can even judge reality. But this does not necessarily imply then that the triune God of Scripture is that pre-condition. One could say “maybe it’s another “God” who meets all this criterion. Maybe it’s the Quadrinity, etc”.
What if someone argues in this way? First, when the atheist is forced to talk this way, and many do and have after hearing this powerful apologetic, they have all of a sudden become theists, but now just theists who still deny that Christ is the risen Lord (TD ring a bell?). If the atheist still wants to not become a Christian and hold to the Quadrinity for the sake of consistently accounting for the LoL, then we’d use historical apologetics and show how they’re choosing a “god” with no revelation and history over that of Christianity with tons of revelation and history.
So maybe we could say Yahweh isn’t the only presupposition, but Yahweh is the only revealed presupposition, thus the best presupposition! Before you write me off as a flaming heretic, remember I’m arguing from the standpoint of what human reasoning is limited to show us. Even Greg Bahnsen said in his debate with Gordon Stein, “I believe Christianity provides that [worldview in which transcendental realities make sense] and I just can’t find any other one that competes with it that way”. When it comes to established “religions”, TAG does point only to Christianity. However, when it comes to mere presuppositions, it doesn’t imply Yahweh necessarily. Even if we could show how only the Trinity could be presupposed and not a Quadrinity, this wouldn’t necessarily imply Yahweh (apart from the Holy Spirit’s certainty). In such a case, the shoe would fit, and only one shoe would fit, but that can’t guarantee us it’s the shoe (using human reasoning alone).
Second, the only special revelation of any God who is said to be “eternal” is Scripture. The only other religion in the world that believes in an eternal God, and will outright admit that it’s eternal, is Hinduism with “Brahman”. Yet, Brahman being eternal is only theorized. There is no revelation of Braham anywhere near that of the imminent special revelation of God in Scripture. Of course, the absolute kicker is that Yahweh is the only God ever revealed to eternally be triune, or one and many.
This interestingly shows that Yahweh is not a by-product of human minds, because human minds wouldn’t start with a paradox. Also, it is the doctrine of the Trinity which Francis Schaeffer said is the doctrine that helped convert him from atheism to Christianity in his book ‘He Is There And He Is Not Silent’. He even understood as an atheist the necessity of something like the Trinity.
Nevertheless, if one is going to be a Fristian, and presuppose a Quaddrinity for the sake of having a consistent out look on things, we’d then have to argue against the Quadrinity, not by using presuppositional apologetics or TAG, however! This shows the limitations of presuppositionalism and TAG as well.
However, if one really believes in the Quadrinity (or jokingly says they do), then that’s fine. We want people to come to this point! If they admit this much then at least they’re being intellectually honest about the truths of “God”, just not the truths of Christ who is God. They have realized that naturalism, atheism, and all other false religions of the world are precluded. This person is either very close to being saved, or are heaping up greater judgment on themselves in rejecting Yahweh who is right in front of them.
Now getting back to the main point, just because Yahweh, and only Yahweh, is specially revealed to fit all of the criterion needed for the LoL and morality, doesn’t absolutely mean that TAG proves Yahweh. Just because Yahweh accounts for all the needed pieces of the puzzle, doesn’t absolutely mean that Yahweh is the puzzle piece, if you will. It only goes so far as to show he is an option, or the best option.
Scirpturally speaking, what ultimately shows that it’s Yahweh is the personal Spirit of Yahweh, the Holy Spirit. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again until I die, “we can’t know anything for certain unless that which is certain makes itself known to us”. You’ll say, how do you know that for certain? I don’t, but I believe it for good reason.
Two things: First, since we don’t have exhaustive knowledge about anything, that fact alone all the more should make me believe my statement above is true. We don’t even know for certain that we don’t know anything for certain. Nor do we know that. Nor that, nor that, etc. We’re potentially caught in an infinite regress of questioning about everything. We’re only left with inferences with our finite limited rationality since we can’t know things exhaustively – as only God can. Since only God can know things exhaustively, this brings us to the second point.
The Holy Spirit will lead us into Truth (John 16:13). There’s a difference between God revealing his word to be true to us by his Spirit, and us inferring things to be true. Human reasoning alone is limited and can’t discover absolute truth about anything left to itself. There’s a direct correlation between God absolutely knowing he is the Truth, and making us aware that he is the Truth. We need to keep preaching the gospel to sinners, not belabor TAG over and over. Some apologists could talk to a blown up doll about TAG until the air deflated out of it, but never mention the gospel.
The Calvinist shouldn’t have a problem admitting this since they believe in TD and realize that God must change someone’s heart so they can embrace the Truth, even when TAG gives us the enormous inference and gets one extremely close to Yahweh. Inference isn’t supposed to ultimately leave sinners without excuse before Yahweh. The gospel is. The gospel message is what ultimately convicts men before Yahweh. Perhaps if more proponents of TAG understood this, they’d preach the gospel more than TAG. The gospel wins over TAG in what saves a person. And the gospel wins over TAG in what keeps a person saved.
Use TAG and use it well, but don’t worship it or worship yourself for knowing it. TAG leaves people without excuse in that naturalism, atheism, and all established religions of the world must be false, except Christianity. Contrary to the opinion of many advocates of TAG, the rejecter still has the autonomy to reject Christianity, because they can still presuppose what Christianity offers, while not being a Christian. Hence, all the more why TAG isn’t the sin-less apologetic, as it is so often purported. The gospel makes men deal with Jesus Christ the Lord (Boss) personally, not TAG. TAG becomes sinful when we idolize it, and emphasize it more than Christ. Do you daydream about how powerful TAG is more than you daydream about how powerful Christ is? I hope not. Do you find more confidence in TAG than you do in the person of Christ? Do you talk about TAG more than you talk about Christ?
(4) Isn’t it less effective to say that we can’t absolutely know that Yahweh accounts for the LoL (with finite human reasoning)?
I believe it’s more effective, because when we act like we can, which a lot of apologists are out there doing, it shows atheists that we’re inconsistent and jumping the gun. I think it’s more powerful to be consistent and not jump to un-warranted conclusions. Also, everyone in the world is in the same ultimate predicament of not being able to know anything absolutely (with limited human reasoning alone, or apart from God’s assistance). So since we’re all in this ultimate predicament, what we can still do is try to be the most consistent and ask if Yahweh makes the most sense of reality. What you’ll find is that you can still sleep great at night because Yahweh is the only revealed eternal Triune God, thus, the only revealed pre-condition for all of reality. That’s still saying a lot. We really have no greater inference!
Lastly, we don’t need to know for certain that Yahweh is the pre-condition for all of reality (with finite human reasoning alone). The gospel is the power of God unto salvation (Rom 1:16). What we need to do when we use TAG is not only leave the rejecter seeing how utterly inconsistent they are in denying God, but that the Bible says the reason they reject the obvious is because they need to be saved from their sins. After revealing their inconsistency it’s a great time to tell them to believe and repent. Their inconsistency is a sign of them suppressing the truth in unrighteousness (Rom 1:18-20), and that is not only evidence that they are intellectually in error, but that they are hostile towards Christ who is Truth. One way to infer the Bible is true is that its claims about people being anti-Christ are extremely fulfilled in this anti-Christ world!
If the rejecter believes that Jesus Christ is the risen Lord (Boss) and lives for him, then not only will they have the most consistent worldview, but will also be saved from the wrath they deserve for their lawlessness. Then they’ll know they’re right with Christ the risen Lord because of Christ the Sinner’s Savior. Tell them to repent and believe today while they’re still in a time of God’s patience!
(5) Correlations And Causation
Just because there’s supposed similarities between something and God doesn’t necessarily imply that God is the cause of it. Correlation doesn’t necessarily imply causation. Just saying that there is a correlation between the LoL (being immaterial) and God’s being (being immaterial) doesn’t necessarily imply that God is the cause of all that is immaterial. 1. We could/should argue that God is a “better” cause, however, and 2. I believe we CAN show how God is the best cause, it’s just something we need to be willing flesh out if it comes down to it. We need to be prepared to do some leg work and show why God only accounts for this correlation, thus is the cause of it.
The same would go for when people argue that the LoL are absolute and immutable, God is absolute and immutable, thus it’s said the LoL must then come from God. There are similarities between the two that are worth noting, but just simply stating similarities doesn’t necessarily imply causation. Nevertheless, I agree we can and should emphasize the correlation between the LoL and God’s nature.
However, I’ve found that at times it will also be important to demonstrate that for the law of identity to exist in a mind there needs to be an eternal “knower” and “the thing known”. The LoL presuppose both, and God accounts for both. Simply speaking, the LoL are absolute and require a mind. Thus, because they are absolute, they can only ultimately come from an eternal mind. We don’t say something is absolute and immutable because it became that way. It always was the case, before our minds were even formed with the capacity to acknowledge it yet. Since the LoL are absolute and abstract, an eternal mind accounts for them, namely, God’s “knower”.
But God also eternally knows himself, hence, the “thing known”. Within God exists the three eternal and distinct persons of the Trinity, thus exists all possible good relationships and functions. Thus, God knows all possible relationships between things and functions, namely, “the thing known”. Even knowing what a puddle is is possible due to the eternal relationship between the God-head. So the next time you see a puddle, give God glory.
NOW PLEASE TELL ME YOUR THOUGHTS