Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Is the AFR a transcendental argument

This is another redated post from 2005, on the relation between the AFR and transcendental arguments. I'm including a trackback to the original discussion where you can read the comments that were made at that time.

This is another redated post to answer a question that was asked my by Mr. Sabatino, and which gets asked from time to time. See also my response to Don Jones a few weeks back.

I got a note from Robert Larmer asking me if I thought the Argument from Reason was a teleological argument or a transcendental argument. This is a very interesting question. I personally prefer to just call it the argument from reason and not try to put it into any of Kant's classifications (ontological, cosmological, teleological, moral, etc.) Richard Purtill, in C. S. Lewis's Case for the Christian Faith, identifies it as a teleological argument.

I think the argument has a transcendental character to it that is absent, from, let's say, the argument from consciousness. The straightforward argument from consciousness is sometimes answered simply by denying that there is consciousness is the sense that the arguer means to suggest that there is consciousness. But if you deny that there is reason, but still try to reason, if is like writing a book to prove that books don't exist.

On the other hand, the terms Transcendental Argument has been hijacked by presuppositional apologists like Van Til and Bahnsen, and I want to maintain that there is a fundamental difference between Lewis's and my argument on the one hand, and theirs. Just for starters, the AFR is an argument in support of the claim that the universe, or what caused the universe, is mental rather than physical. In C. S. Lewis's Miracles we find it used to attack naturalism, but when Lewis gets to his chapter on Pantheism/Absolute Idealism we find him using other arguments. He does not argue that these positions, which are positions distinct from theism but which nonetheless claim that what is fundamental to the universe is rational but not nonrational, are false because they are inconsistent with the validity of reasoning. TAG, on the other hand, seems to be an argument against everything except Christianity. Its claim seems to be that we have to accept Christian Theism as an absolute presupposition, (and I think they mean by that Calvinistic Christian theism) because all other views lead to incoherence. I wouldn't say that, and neither would Lewis, Dick Purtill, William Hasker, and other AFR defenders.

Years ago I did listen to the debate between Greg Bahnsen and Gordon Stein and I did think that Bahnsen posed some embarrassing questions to Stein. But Stein was not a philosopher. When you see a TAG defender going up against a real philosopher like Michael Martin or Theodore Drange, these philosophers seem to be able to expose serious weaknesses in the TAG methodology. Still, I would agree with Bahnsen that the question "What are laws of logic and how do they fit into a naturalistic world view" is an embarrassing question for a materialistic or naturalistic atheist.


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