On the Success of Secular Transcendental Arguments (Much Ado About Nothing)

Posted: August 22, 2014 in Apologetic Articles
Tags: , , , , , ,

From time to time, those opposed to the Presuppositional apologetic method will offer (as attempted defeaters) secular transcendental arguments which, if successful, will (supposedly) overcome skeptical challenges offered by the Van Tillian.And by extension, it would be demonstrated that the Christian worldview is no longer the necessary precondition of knowledge; this other argument would suffice in its place.

In their seminary course on Transcendental Arguments, both Dr. Bahnsen and Michael Butler comment on this sort of thing and what our attitude towards secular TA’s should be:

Michael Butler:  We see that contemporary transcendental arguments are fundamentally different in nature from Cornelius Van Til’s “worldview” transcendental argument.  They’re two different birds all together.  Formally they share some aspects; they both try to show transcendentals.  And even in the way they go about doing it, there’s some analogy (reductio ad absurdum).  But their scope is different and the manner in which they are argued is different as well.  Van Til argues that worldviews are the only way in which transcendental arguments work.  Contemporary proponents say that only particular transcendental arguments are the things we can use.  ~ @ 16:30 of lecture 11.

He continues later:

I want to say [to these secular TA proponents] “big deal”.  You’ve shown we need the concept of causation.  Ok.  I can agree with that.  We could disagree about the particulars of (say) P.F. Strawson’s arguments, and say “well, he didn’t really do a good job.”  But even if he had a good argument, big deal.  What is the worldview in which you can account for causation?  Ok, we need causation, but what is the worldview in which causation can be accounted for?  We need a transcendental argument for these transcendentals.  What worldview makes all these types of particular transcendentals coherent?  How does our belief in the necessity of the external world or the continued existence of non-observed objects…how do you tie these things together?  Is there just one, one, one, here and there’s no connection?….They don’t consider what the necessary preconditions are for arguing  transcendentally; so they come into it with certain assumptions and are never able to justify them or tie their transcendentals together. ~ 17:30

Then Dr. Bahnsen (in the back of the class) chimes in with the following:

Even if you have a micro transcendental argument for one little element of our thinking, that’s just a stone in a bottomless ocean falling through the water.  Who cares?  You’ve got to be able to tie these together.  You need to have logic and an external world and a mind connected to the external world… a worldview that is transcendentally necessary which makes these smaller transcendental arguments worthwhile…What Mike is telling you is that even if you have causation, if you don’t have a mind in touch with reality that can think causally, then you can’t give an account of how we’re successful in thinking anyway. So we have Van Til here saying, it’s a rock in a bottomless ocean. Yeah it’s a rock, but without a hard place, you have no place to put it!   ~ @ 19:53

While, admittedly, this line of thought doesn’t address any specific secular transcendental argument, it lays out the approach Presuppositionalists should have towards those offering them as defeaters of the methodology.  We agree that various preconditions (causation, other minds, the ubiquity of mostly-true beliefs, etc.) are necessary concepts for intelligible human experience, but unless the TAG-skeptic can offer us an entire worldview in which these preconditions are accounted for, he really hasn’t touched Presuppositionalism.

It’s our job as presuppositionalists to criticize what’s being offered in terms of its global scope to see if, in the end, it has a coherent place in light of the rest of the TAG-skeptic’s belief system.

1. See this article for example, where the author alludes to a transcendental argument by Donald Davidson as a way to avoid Sye Ten Bruggencate’s apologetic: http://absoluteirony.wordpress.com/2014/05/06/how-to-justify-your-reasoning-using-your-reasoning/

  1. SLIMJIM says:

    This is very good! Thanks for sharing this and I see this is an important reminder the Presuppositionalist must remember, that we don’t present a piecemeal Transcendental argument for a particular phenomenon of this world (say reasoning, causation, etc) without the fully orbed worldview challenge. Thanks! By the way do you know what series and lecture number the original quotes of Butler and Bahnsen comes from?


    • Aaron says:

      Thank you for the comments and thanks a lot for linking to me on your site. Seeing my blog linked on Veritas Domain was a real honor.

      The citations come from the lecture series on Transcendental Arguments, lecture 11.


      • SLIMJIM says:

        Thank you for the citation! If there’s ever a post you have written that I have missed and you think it really ought to get more attention, be sure to let us know Aaron!


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