Response to Wiki Criticism of the CARM Transcendental Argument

by Matt Slick

This is a response to a wiki article1 that attempts to refute the TAG argument used on CARM at carm.org/transcendental-argument.  At the bottom of the original article2 it states, "If we have only two possible options by which we can explain something and one of those options is removed, by default the other option is verified since it is impossible to negate both of the only two exist options."  This is not addressed, and it needs to be in a proper criticism of the argument.  Furthermore, the argument fails to propose how the atheistic perspective can account for the Logical Absolutes.  Atheism cannot account for the existence of transcendent logical absolutes.  As a worldview it fails.  Therefore, the theistic worldview succeeds.  Nevertheless, let's take a look at the attempted refutation. 

I am reproducing the criticisms in Brown text, with my responses in Green.  The text of the original article on CARM is in black.3

Fallacy of equivocation: 5.1-4

The first major problem with the argument occurs in 5.1-4 (carm.org version)

5. Logical Absolutes are not dependent on the material world.
1. Logical Absolutes are not found in atoms, motion, heat, under rocks, etc.
2. Logical Absolutes cannot be photographed, frozen, weighed, or measured.
3. Logical Absolutes are not the product of the physical universe, since that would mean they were contingent on atoms, motion, heat, etc., and that their nature was dependent on physical existence.
1. If their nature were dependent upon physical existence, they would cease to exist when the physical universe ceases to exist.
4. But, if the universe did not exist, logical absolutes are still true.
1. For example, if the universe did not exist, it is still true that something cannot bring itself into existence; that is, anything that did exist would have an identity, and whatever could exist could not be itself and not itself at the same time.
2. Therefore, they are not dependent on the material world.

This is a fallacy of equivocation.  Two things of separate value are equated to be the same thing. The page on Wikipedia uses the word 'light' as an example:

A feather is light.
What is light cannot be dark.
Therefore, a feather cannot be dark.

There are actually two separate aspects of logical absolutes to be considered.  The conceptual statements such as 'A=A', and the physical underpinning on which the conceptual statement is based."

I would like to point out that because the article states that the first problem occurs at 5.1-4, this means that there are no problems with the previous statements in the argument including the idea that logical absolutes are transcendent and are not dependent on space or time or people as 4.A-C declares.4 

The critic says, "The first major problem with the argument occurs in 5.1-4 (carm.org version)" which is "This is a fallacy of equivocation. Two things of separate value are equated to be the same thing."  "There are actually two separate aspects of logical absolutes to be considered. The conceptual statements such as 'A=A', and the physical underpinning on which the conceptual statement is based. It is true that the conceptual statement that 'A=A' cannot be photographed, frozen weighed or measured. It is an abstract. However the semantic statement refers to the physical nature of things that do exist and are material and are absolutely contingent on physical existence. Atoms are [Atoms]. Motion is not, [not motion]. Heat is not [heat and not heat] at the same time"  "5.1-3 attempts to equate the conceptual semantic statement and the physical underpinning of that statement to be the same thing, and then continues in 6.1-2 to argue that the logical absolutes are only conceptual and therefore dependent on a mind."

On the contrary, the argument does not equate the conceptual statement and the physical underpinning to which the statement refers.  The argument states that logical absolutes are not dependent upon the physical world.  This means they are separate from the physical world--to which the criticism agrees.  This is not equivocation.

The logical absolutes are not arbitrary prescriptive conceptual statements about what logic can and can't do. They are descriptive statements about the nature of the reality we observe, on which the laws of formal logic are then based.

This is a common response by many atheists, but it is they who are equivocating.  They are confusing the statement about the thing with the thing.  The critic says "they [Logical Absolutes] are descriptive statements about the nature of the reality we observe on which the laws of formal logic-based."  If that is the case, then how do you observe the Law of Non-Contradiction (LNC, cited in the original argument at 1.B) which deals with truth statements?  Or what about the Law of Excluded Middle (LEM, cited in the original argument at 1.C) which says that statements are either true or false?  Statements are the products of minds!  Statements aren't observed.  How is LNC or LEM observed without presupposing their validity to begin with?  Are statements found in the material world?  Are logical inferences found in the material world?  Are they under rocks, or behind asteroids, or frozen on the polar caps of Mars?  Or, are they products of the mind as the original argument claims?  Remember, the criticism of my TAG argument states that the first problem occurs at 5:1-3 (original 5.A-C) which means it accepts the notion that logical absolutes are truth statements (2.A-E), are transcendent, not dependent on space or time, or on people (4.A-C) since those points precede the point where the criticism begins.  So, we must ask how the truth statements of LNC and LEM are observed in the material world--without making the fallacy of argument known as Begging the Question (assuming their validity) and also Equivocation (confusing the statement about something with the something), and be guilty of the very thing the critics accuse me of doing.  In my opinion, the author(s) of the criticism of the original argument does not grasp the full scope of the TAG argument and also improperly applies logic to its attempted refutation.

"Furthermore, 5.4 is an unfounded assertion. If the universe did not exist, neither would the three logical absolutes as they would have nothing to apply to. If nothing existed there would be no A to equal A. The underpinning of the logical absolute statements are dependent on something existing. The logical absolutes themselves are simply a fundamental property of material existence."

The article criticizes 5.4 as an unfounded assertion, yet makes its own unfounded assertion when it says that if the universe did not exist--"neither would the three logical absolutes as they would have nothing to apply to."  How is my assertion unfounded when the refutation of it is itself an unfounded assertion?  Furthermore, the article makes the mistake of assuming that logical absolutes are directly related to the physical world, which the critics have already conceded is not the case by agreeing with the idea that logical absolutes are not dependent upon the universe, i.e., space and time or human minds (4.A-C).  If they are not dependent upon the universe, then it is true that they are independent of the universe.  Therefore, if the universe did not exist, the assertion that "the three logical absolutes would have nothing to apply to," cannot logically be maintained since they don't depend on the universe for their validity!  The criticism shoots itself in the foot by agreeing to the transcendence of logical absolutes not being dependent on the physical universe and then implies they are should the universe not be there.  The criticism is self-refuting.

Fallacy of division: 6.1

The second major problem occurs in 6.1 (carm.org version).

6.1 Logic is a process of the mind. Logical absolutes provide the framework for logical thought processes. Therefore, Logical Absolutes are conceptual by nature.

This is a fallacy of division. An attribute or property of a complete system is applied to an individual part of that system. The example given at Wikipedia uses an air plane as an analogy:

A Boeing 747 can fly unaided across the ocean.
A Boeing 747 has jet engines.
Therefore, one of its jet engines can fly unaided across the ocean.

The logical absolutes provide the underpinning and framework for the structure of formal logic. However, the fact that formal logic is of a purely conceptual nature does not necessarily mean that the underpinning of that formal logic is also purely conceptual.

If the underpinning principles known as logical absolutes are not conceptual, then what are they?  We can see that they are statements (which the critic acknowledges as being true).  We can see they are true.  Now, I need to make it clear that I know that the statement is not the same as the thing it represents.  I am not committing the fallacy of division.  If the statement represents the truth of the LA's, then LA's must have some form of existence so that they can be referred to.  Furthermore, if it is not necessarily so that the underpinnings of formal logic are conceptual, then falsify the assertion by demonstrating how these underpinnings are something other than conceptual.  If this cannot be done, then the assertion that they are conceptual stands.  This is, after all, one of the main points of the TAG argument used on CARM.

We must ask how the statements (which require minds) that represent what logical absolutes are (logic being a process of the mind), are not conceptual by nature.  Remember, the criticism he has already conceded that the logical absolutes are statements and are transcendent; that is, they're not dependent upon space, time, or human minds.  This means they're not dependent upon the physical universe.  What else is left?

As humans, we require linguistic signifiers in order to discuss the things and patterns we observe (i.e. the things and patterns signified)), therefore the logical absolutes have a conceptual existence insofar as we need words to signify them. This approach entails that logical absolutes are discovered through a process of the mind, rather than constructed. Thus logical absolutes are not conceptual by nature. Instead, they are a physical property of reality observed by humans and pointed to with language.

Requiring linguistic signifiers in order to discuss what is observed is fine.  But, this does not explain how someone observes the Law of Excluded Middle or the Law of Proper Inference by which the statements can be made without assuming their validity in the first place.

The article says, "Thus logical absolutes are not conceptual by nature. Instead, they are a physical property of reality observed by humans and pointed to with language."  This contradicts what is presumed in the criticism, which accepts the idea that logical absolutes are not dependent on the universe (remember it said the first problem was after the TAG argument stated that LA's are not dependent on the universe).  Properties are dependent on the thing from which they propagate.  You can't have it both ways and admit that the LA's are not dependent on the universe and then also say they are dependent on the universe by being properties of it.  This
is self-refuting and demonstrates further that the author(s) have not properly dealt with the argument.

Presumably, the theist does not intend to challenge the idea that we discover logical absolutes rather than construct them. A formal system of logic that constructs rather than discovers absolutes within reality would be incoherent (what meaning could absolute have in this context?) and useless. Any idea could necessarily be true. We know this isn't the case. Rather, the theist's intention is to show that God constructs the logical absolutes. Which, being necessarily conceptual, cannot be truly absolute without a stable, unchanging source. Since concepts reside only in minds, and the only stable, unchanging mind is God's, then the existence of logical absolutes necessitates God. This, as demonstrated above, is the fallacy of division.

I affirm that we discover the logical absolutes.  This must mean that we discover what already exists.  Since the critic has admitted that logical absolutes are true statements that are transcendent and not depend upon the universe, then it is logical to conclude that we are discovering transcendent truths.  This is precisely what the TAG argument proposes.  Since truth statements require minds, it is logical to infer that there is a transcendent mind.

Furthermore, the critic fails to understand the TAG argument.  It does not say that God constructs the logical absolutes.  Rather, it states that the logical absolutes are transcendent and conceptual entities (since they are not dependent on the universe) that are best explained by positing a transcendent mind.  Furthermore, the atheist worldview cannot account for them--as the "Objections Answered" section in the original article deals with and which the critic's article did not.

It is not the fallacy of division to state that we discover transcendent, conceptual truth statements (LA's).  LA's are not the same thing as the mind of God.  It is an improper accusation of the Fallacy of Division.  Again, the assertion is that the logic absolutes are the product of God's mind, the same way my thoughts are not my mind but are the product of my mind.  Logically, if God's mind is eternal and transcendent, then so are the logical absolutes . . . which is the case.  I am saying that the necessary pre-conditions for LA's is God's mind, and that atheism cannot account for LA's . . . even by saying they reflect reality which, as I stated earlier, you can't observe statements like LNC and LEM in the universe without assuming their prior validity.

False dichotomy: 6.2

The third major problem occurs in 6.2 (carm.org version)

6.2 Expanded: Logical absolutes are either conceptual by nature or they are not.
1. If they are conceptual by nature, then they are not dependent upon the physical universe for their existence.
2. If they are non-conceptual by nature, then:
1. What is their nature?
2. If it is denied that Logical Absolutes are either conceptual or physical, then there must be a 3rd (or 4th . . . ) option. What would that option be?
3. If another option cannot be logically offered, then the only options available to us are conceptual and physical.
4. Since logic is not a property of physical nature (see point 5 above), then we must conclude that they are conceptual by nature.
5. Simply "denying" that Logical Absolutes are either conceptual or physical nature isn't sufficient.

This attempts to set up a false dichotomy. This is where two options are presented as Boolean opposites (A or not A) where that is not necessarily the case (A or B).

It is not a false dichotomy to say that something is a particular something or not that same something.  It is the statement and the negation of the statement, an antonymic pair.  Just "saying" it is a false dichotomy doesn't make it so, and this is what the criticism does--make assertions without validation.  Alright, if it "is not necessarily the case (A or B)," then show the 3rd option, don't just say there's a 3rd option without producing it.5 It is true that logical absolutes are either conceptual by nature or they are not.  If they are not, then what are they?

If the logical absolutes are not physical and not conceptual there must be a 3rd or 4th option. What are they? The fact is that conceptual and physical existence are not a true dichotomy. In fact they are not even mutually exclusive.

This is correct.  Saying that logical absolutes are either conceptual or physical is not a true dichotomy.  I have long ago modified the TAG argument to employ true dichotomies, i.e., personal or not personal, when presenting it. 

6.2.2--Claims that Logical Absolutes are either conceptual or physical. As is shown in the above sub-article for 5.1-4 Fallacy of Equivocation the logical absolutes have both a physical and conceptual counterpart. It isn't an either/or situation thus a 3rd option isn't required.

It might be true that saying a 3rd option isn't necessary by saying that the physical/conceptual is not a true dichotomy.  But that needs to be examined.  The argument deals with the atheistic worldview that necessitates physicalism and/or materialism (both say everything is physical or is part of the physical).  The conceptual option seems to be the only other possibility.  Still, as I have said, I have long ago modified the argument in my presentations to be even tighter by presenting TAG in terms of personal and non-personal options by which the LA's must be accounted for.

6.2.4--Claims that since logic is conceptual, the absolutes they are based on must also be conceptual. As is shown in the above sub-article 6.1 Fallacy of Division this is not the case.

This has not been shown to be the case.

It is also interesting to note, that by its very nature, this section of the argument specifically argues against the existence of anything spiritual, which doesn't leave much room for the theist assertion that a god exists somewhere outside of their mind, and also outside the physical reality we are able to observe and measure.

On the contrary, I do not argue against the spiritual.  Again, the TAG argument deals with the atheistic position and how it cannot account for the universal, transcendental, LA's.

Special Pleading: 7.1-4

The final conclusion of the TAG argument is also logically invalid.

7. Thoughts reflect the mind
1. A person's thoughts reflect what he or she is.
2. Absolutely perfect thoughts reflect an absolutely perfect mind.
3. Since the Logical Absolutes are transcendent, absolute, are perfectly consistent, and are independent of the universe, then they reflect a transcendent, absolute, perfect, and independent mind.
4. We call this transcendent, absolute, perfect, and independent mind God.

Even ignoring all the major fallacies up until this point, and accepting the false premise that the logical absolutes are purely conceptual, the final conclusion also makes a case of special pleading. The fact that human minds are capable of conceiving of the logical absolutes to make this very argument, is proof that these concepts are not dependent on an absolutely perfect supreme transcendent mind.

This is rather presumptuous.  Much of the critic's article has been built upon opinions that have not been established as being true.  Logical Absolutes have not, in the critic's argument, been proven to be something other than conceptual.  Therefore, the conclusion it makes about special pleading doesn't follow. 

Furthermore, just because human minds are capable of conceiving of logical absolutes is not proof that they are not dependent on a supreme transcendent mind.  It only means that we can conceive of them.  The article in question did not deal with the "objections answered" in my original paper which included issues with LA's and natural existence, that they are axioms, that they are conventions, their eternality, being uncaused, dependent on the universe, existence independent of our minds, etc.  It seems to ignore them and provides an incomplete analysis.

This section of the argument is also related to the ontological argument. Just because you semantically define something transcendent perfect and magical as existing doesn't mean it actually exists.

That is correct, and that is why I don't use the ontological argument.

  • 1. http://wiki.ironchariots.org/index.php?title=Transcendental_argument
  • 2. Occasionally, I will modify articles due to constructive criticism, answering objections, or just simply reading it and polishing it.  I do this with many articles on CARM.  So, I do not know what version of the original article or how long ago the attempted refutation is addressing.  But, the original article does contain answers to many objections and a summary point (i.e., only two options available), which are not addressed in the Wiki "refutation."
  • 3. At the bottom of the article at ironchariots.org is a link to copyright information.  It says, "You are free to share--to copy, distribute and transmit the work, to remix--to adapt the work, to make commercial use of the work.  Under the following conditions:  Attribution, You must attribute the work in the manner specified by the author or licensor (but not in any way that suggests that they endorse you or your use of the work). Share Alike, If you alter, transform, or build upon this work, you may distribute the resulting work only under the same or similar license to this one."
  • 4. There seems to be a slight discrepancy in the nomenclature.  For example, the original article has 5.A-C, where the criticism cites 5.1-3.  Perhaps it is the result of a difference in web browsers or a fault with the criticism's copying of the original information.
  • 5. I call this the Dillahunty Fallacy where you merely assert there is a 3rd option in order to falsify a dichotomy but aren't able to produce the 3rd option.

 

 

 

 
 
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