An atheist redditor named hatsoff2 attempts to attack Greg Bahnsen’s transcendental argument for the existence of God (TAG) here.
My replies (with some light revision) are below. I won’t quote everything I wrote since a lot of it is repetitive or unnecessary.
1. You’re not dealing with the most sophisticated form of TAG. Like you said, Bahnsen deployed his version of TAG in the 1980s. If you want a more up-to-date and sophisticated form of TAG, then consider Prof. James Anderson at Reformed Theological Seminary (e.g. “No Dilemma for the Proponent of the Transcendental Argument: A Response to David Reiter“). Prof. Anderson also has a selection of presuppositional arguments on his website. Likewise Prof. Greg Welty has written on TAG, though it’s a bit dated. I presume Welty would make refinements today.
Anderson and Welty are clearly inspired by Bahnsen and Van Til, and their “theistic conceptual realism” is interesting to be sure. But their approach is quite distinct from Bahnsen’s.
Anderson and Welty may have been “inspired” by Bahnsen and Van Til, not to mention John Frame, and probably others, but Anderson and Welty develop TAG in more sophisticated and robust forms that are quite independent from Bahnsen and Van Til. I think their TAG is a far better representation of TAG than Bahnsen.
Plus, Bahnsen passed away a long time ago and he isn’t available to respond to your criticisms of his TAG. However, if Bahnsen were alive today, his TAG would likely look different too.
I guess I regard them as different camps. It’s true that Bahnsen is dead, but not Sye Ten Bruggencate, Matt Slick, and Eric Hovind.
If you’re trying to figure out what “cancer” is, you could look up the word “cancer” in a dictionary like Merriam-Webster or the Oxford English Dictionary. M-W and OED could have a useful definition of “cancer” for the average person. Nothing wrong with their definitions, per se. However, if you really want to dig into what “cancer” is, then you really would have to research what cancer is based on oncology papers and textbooks and speaking with oncologists and other cancer researchers.
Similarly, in apologetics, guys like Sye, Slick, and Hovind are popularizers rather than scholars. They’re more like M-W or OED than an oncology textbook like The Biology of Cancer. Nothing wrong with popularizers, per se, it’s sometimes useful to have popularizers, but guys like Anderson and Welty are more like oncologists and cancer researchers. So, if you really want to address TAG in its best and most sophisticated form, then it’d make much more sense to deal with guys like Anderson and Welty rather than guys like Sye, Slick, and Hovind.
I’d like to know more about what you mean when you say Bahnsen’s argument is “outdated.” I don’t see that anything in his argument is date-sensitive. That is, if it was a good argument in 1985 or whenever it was, it should still be a good argument in 2019, right? But if it was a bad argument in 1985…
Philosophical arguments can evolve over time. For example, Bahnsen’s opponent Gordon Stein was widely said to have lost the debate with Bahnsen, but Stein later said he had come up with a rebuttal to Bahnsen’s argument. If that’s true, then Bahnsen would need to modify his argument in response to Stein. So even at this basic level, it’s a give and take between philosophical arguments and counterarguments.
5. As for modern TAGs, TAGs could be framed as a family of arguments with major and minor premises and so on, populated with different kinds of abstract objects (e.g. numbers, laws of logic, possible worlds), etc. It depends how somoene wishes to put the pieces together and develop their argument. Different people have different strategies.
It sounds maybe like you agree it’s a bad argument but you don’t want to come out and say it outright because you’re sympathetic to it for some reason. Maybe it’s because you think it can inspire something worthwhile (like the Anderson/Welty theistic conceptual realism). And that’s all well and good, but it doesn’t change the fact that Bahnsen’s original formulation was a howler, as are its direct descendants.
Lol, wut. This is a string of assertions that fails to recognize anything I’ve said to you so far.
However, I guess if we’re psychoanalyzing motives now (despite all my clear words to you), I’d say you’d prefer to deal with low-hanging fruit and easy targets. You’d rather not deal with the most robust versions of TAG. Maybe it’s because you’re unable to deal with guys like Anderson and Welty. That’s perfectly fine, it’s your prerogative, and not everyone is as intellectually capable as guys like Anderson and Welty, so there’s no shame in knowing your intellectual limitations.
Still this doesn’t change the fact that transcendental arguments today are significantly different than in 1985. That’s also recognized by non-Christian philosophers if you peruse the relevant material on the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy or the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
Ironically, you have the same mentality as the caricature of the supposed ignorant fundamentalist Christian attacking Darwinism. This fundamentalist Christian purportedly attacks Darwinism based on Darwinism in the mid-1800s, not based on neo-Darwinism today, which has incorporated modern genetics, population genetics, advanced dating methods, and so on. You’re doing the same with Bahnsen’s TAG as the fundamentalist Christian allegedly does with mid-1800s Darwinism; you’re not dealing with contemporary versions of presuppositionalism and transcendental argumentation. Again, that’s your prerogative, and again not everyone is as intellectually dexterous as Anderson and Welty and therefore able to respond to their arguments, but you should know what you’re doing isn’t all that relevant to responding to the most sophisticated and robust forms of TAG.
If you’d like to create a separate thread about Anderson and Welty’s argument, I’d be happy to discuss it. But this thread is about Bahnsen’s argument, which first appeared in the 1980s and continues to be used today by people like Slick, Sye, and Hovind.
Like I’ve repeatedly said to you, you’re picking off low-hanging fruit.
It was a bad argument in the 1980s, and it’s still a bad argument today.
It was a good enough argument to defeat Gordon Stein at the time, according to people present at the debate (e.g. see John Frame’s comments).
If it’s such a bad argument, then it’s interesting so many atheists are still talking about it, debating it, posting about it, even obsessing about it. After all, it’s been nearly 35 years! You’d think if it was such a bad argument, atheists wouldn’t care so much. Instead atheists would easily dismiss it and be done with it if it was such a bad argument. So, even though I think Bahnsen’s argument had its weaknesses, it’s telling that his argument is still being debated today, and debated not only by a handful of atheists, but generations of atheists. Nearly 35 years is a long time to discuss such a “bad argument”.
Anderson and Welty’s argument is also deeply flawed, but its flaws are different since it’s a different argument.
You’re welcome to present a paper at a conference or publish a paper in response to Anderson or Welty, as other critics have done.
I’m not sure why you have such an attitude all of a sudden. You didn’t before, until two posts ago. What changed? Did I say something that offended you?
On the contrary, perhaps you have a tin ear or another sort of reading deficiency if you think I “have such an attitude all of a sudden”. I was more direct with you, yes, because (I could say) you had become quite direct yourself “all of a sudden”. However, directness doesn’t imply “attitude” in the way you mean.
You’ve said that about low-hanging fruit before. But what does that metaphor mean, exactly, if not that Bahnsen’s is an obviously bad argument that’s easy to criticize? I would definitely agree that Bahnsen’s argument, since it’s so obviously terrible, is much easier to criticize than Anderson and Welty’s argument. But it seems like you want to say that Bahnsen’s argument is a good one—or at least it used to be a good one when it originally appeared in the 1980s.
I think you answered your own question. I gave you an analogy with Darwin and neo-Darwinism. Assuming Darwinism is true for the sake of argument, there’s nothing necessarily wrong with Darwin’s argument for his time. However, significant improvements have been made since Darwinism came on the scene in the mid-1800s (e.g. Mendelian genetics, population genetics). So much so that modern Darwinism is typically termed neo-Darwinism for example. Likewise, there was nothing necessarily wrong with Bahnsen’s argument for his time against Stein, but significant improvements have been made since then.
And you think Stein’s criticisms don’t hold up, despite Bahnsen being unable to answer them. And I guess you think that my additional criticism doesn’t hold up either, even though you’ve declined to explain why.
No, I never told you what I think, in fact I was quite clear about my reasons for that, but I cited John Frame’s comments. Frame was present at the debate.
You pointed to the comments by Frame, but Frame didn’t offer any response to Stein either. What does it even mean to say that Bahnsen “won” the debate? Was anyone in attendance persuaded from atheism to theism? Presumably not. I think all Frame is saying is that Bahnsen was more polished in his presentation and exuded more confidence than Stein. Of course I disagree—I thought Stein looked far more professional and was far more impressive than Bahnsen. Maybe if I was physically present I’d have felt differently; I don’t know. But regardless I’m discussing Bahnsen’s argument, not his public speaking skills.
I suspect you’re failing to be objective about Frame’s remarks due to your strong (if not borderline irrational) bias against Bahnsen’s TAG (whereas I see strengths and weaknesses in Bahnsen, at least based on my memory of the debate from years ago, but obviously I’d have to re-visit his argument for a detailed assessment).
In any case, as for Frame, Frame didn’t need to re-present arguments against Stein’s arguments, for the obvious reason that, if it’s true Bahnsen “won” the debate (by which it’s obvious to any fair-minded reader after reading Frame that Frame meant Bahnsen had the better argument), then Bahnsen himself would have done a sufficient job against Stein at the time – at least in Frame’s opinion.
Finally, you suggested that skeptics wouldn’t still be talking about the argument if it really was so terrible. But that’s not true at all. Many bad arguments have long lives, for various reasons. I’m sure you can think of some arguments you regard as terrible, which just won’t go away. Well, this one is like that. Calvinists continue to bring it up, and so skeptics like myself continue to knock it down.
Some of that may be due to Christians discussing it, sure, but surely not all of it, for it happens even among certain atheist circles on their own. Not to mention atheists themselves have deployed transcendental arguments for the non-existence of God which interact with Bahnsen though in principle they need not have if Bahnsen had given such a “bad argument”, a “howler”, and so on.
One last thing. You asked why I haven’t published a response to Anderson and Welty.
No, I never “asked” why you haven’t published a response. I said you’re welcome to present a paper at a conference or publish a paper in response to Anderson or Welty.
(I would be the first since nobody else has yet done so.) The thing is, there isn’t enough interesting to say about it that would justify an entire paper. Keep in mind, the part of their argument posing the main problem is only two or three sentences long, and it doesn’t take much more than that to critique it.
The problem is you’re forgetting or ignoring that presuppositionalism is the broader backdrop for TAGs. At least they’re significantly intertwined. I’ve already alluded to this to you earlier including in my very first comment to you. So you’re failing to consider Anderson’s presuppositionalism in general.
What needs to happen, then, is to get a dialogue going with Anderson and Welty so that we’d have more to say. In that case I could submit a blog post to the Philosophia Christi website. I’ve already spoken a bit to Anderson but he wants to wait until Alex Malpass makes his critique public, because Malpass’s critique is similar to mine. I might email Welty before then but it’s unlikely he’ll have much to say either.