Slick’s Transcendental Argument

Last week on
The Atheist Experience,
a guy named Matt Slick from
CARM.org
called in to present the
Transcendental Argument
for the existence of God. His version of the argument is
here.

When I read
Slick’s version of the argument,
my reaction was one that I often have when theists try to construct
purely logical arguments: as I was going through his bullet points, I
wasn’t nodding in agreement, even reluctantly. I kept thinking “well,
this is sorta-kinda-maybe true, given the proper definition and
starting assumptions”. Take, for instance, his point 1. C. ii.:

“I am alive” is either true or false.

This statement is true, but only if you define “alive” very carefully.
This is why courts spend time splitting definitional hairs: to decide
precisely where the line between “alive” and “not alive” runs or ought
to run, and by extension where the line between “legal” and “illegal”
runs. In real life, however, things can get much messier (Terry
Schiavo, anyone?). Now, Slick is free to divide the world up into 100%
true and 100% false statements if he likes, but he must then accept
that some of the 100%-true statements won’t feel 100% true.

This sort of sloppy thinking permeates the argument, which tends to
trigger my BS-o-meter.

Or take 2. C.:

Something cannot bring itself into existence.

I wonder how Slick deals with things like pairs of virtual particles,
which just pop into existence all over the place, and usually
annihilate each other a fraction of a microsecond later.

We can also apply this statement to 7. D.:

We call this transcendent, absolute, perfect, and independent mind, God.

Surely a mind is a “thing” in the sense of 2. C.. This means that God
cannot have created itself, and therefore raises the question of who
or what created God.

Don Baker, who was co-hosting The Atheist Experience on
the day that Slick called in, has a
fine rebuttal
including several points I would have made:

  • There is no universal requirement that a system of logic be complete, elegant, or even consistent. It’s just that we humans value these properties.
  • A lot of Slick’s “universal” laws, like the law of the excluded middle (a statement is either true, or it’s false) are not inherent to logic; they just happen to be true (as far as we can tell) in this universe, and in most of the systems of logic that we humans find useful.
  • Properly applied, logic is universal and absolute, but you have to be very very careful and rigorous.

In short, this version of the Transcendental argument is par for the
course, as far as purely logical arguments for God go: it looks okay
on the surface if you don’t look at it too closely, but the
construction is shoddy. The argument doesn’t tell us which statements
are assumptions for the sake of argument, which ones are assumptions
Slick thinks are obvious enough to be axioms, and which statements
follow from which premises. If this argument were a work of
carpentry, all of its angles would be slightly off from 90°, the
sides wouldn’t line up quite right, and there would be gaps between
the boards.

Color me less than impressed.