The Trancendental Argument is an argument often used by presuppositionalists to argue for the existence of God and the philosophical bankruptcy of atheism. The argument is that if atheism is true, we would not be able to trust our reasoning faculties in leading us to truth, but since we obviously can trust our reasoning faculties, it follows that the atheistic worldview is not true.
The argument has been defended by apologists in several different ways. The way I often like to give it comes in the form of the following syllogism.
1: If we weren’t created by God, our reasoning faculties would be unreliable.
2: Our reasoning faculties are reliable.
3: Therefore, we were created by God.
This is a logically valid argument because this argument follows the logical rule of modus tollens. Therefore, the soundness of the argument will depend on whether both of the premises are true. Are both premises true? Let’s take a look at them.
Defense Of Premise 1
Natural selection doesn’t aim at truth, just for survival. While natural selection would (assuming Darwin’s theory is true) produce reliable faculties that could aid in survival, I see no reason to think that natural selection acting on random mutations could produce reasoning faculties that would help us discover truths that are totally irrelevant to our survival. For example, natural selection acting on random mutations would produce brains that could conclude that falling from great heights is bad because if you do, you’ll die. So that’s why we avoid cliffs and why we become uneasy when standing in a high place, like on the roof of a building. We believe falling is fatal, therefore, we try to avoid it at all costs. Same with fire. We know “Fire bad if touch” because we’ll get burned. Therefore, we don’t touch because we know how dangerous it is. Natural selection can produce reliable reasoning faculties that can help us avoid dangerous things so that we’ll live long enough to reproduce.
However, what about coming to conclusions that have nothing to do with our survival? Scientific and philosophical truths fall into this category. Let me ask you; would it matter to my physical survival if I believed the earth was flat and that the sun revolved around the flat Earth? No. Nothing about this proposition hinges on my physical well being. A monkey in an African jungle goes about swinging from tree to tree and doesn’t think twice about whether the Earth is flat or a sphere. He doesn’t give it a second of his thoughts as to whether the Earth revolves around the sun or vice versa. He doesn’t care. Nor should he, for all he need be concerned with is being able to find food and water, be able to avoid predators and know where to find a mate so that he can reproduce. Science and philosophy are irrelevant to survival. So, why should natural selection take the development of the human brain in that direction? We don’t need to know where we came from or how the universe works in order to survive, do we? We only need to know the basics of survival.
Even Richard Dawkins agrees with this! He said in his book “The God Delusion”, “Since we are creatures of natural selection, we cannot totally trust our senses. Evolution only passes on traits that help a species survive, and not with preserving traits that tell a species what is actually true about life.”
Moreover, on atheism, we’re just molecules in motion! Everything we think, do and say is determined by electro-chemical processes in our brains stimulated by our external environment and internal factors as well. As such, a person could reason to false conclusions if he’s simply put in the wrong circumstances. How you think is wholly dependent and caused by firing neurons and brain chemistry. There is no soul that controls the brain. Substance dualism is false on the atheistic view. So, why should I trust my reasoning if I was causally determined by my firing neurons and electro-chemical reactions in my brain stimulated by external and internal factors?
Since there is no soul, the body just functions according to the laws of nature. According to physical processes. If atheism is true, a man’s thinking is like a can of fizzing coke. The fizzing of the soda happens according to natural processes. The soda doesn’t control which way the bubbles go or whether the bubbles surface to the top at all. On Atheistic Materialism, you don’t reason, rather your thoughts just happen through a series of cause and effect inside your brain and in the world around you.
C.S Lewis put it well. C.S Lewis wrote in The Case for Christianity, on page 32: “Supposing there was no intelligence behind the universe, no creative mind. In that case, nobody designed my brain for the purpose of thinking. It is merely that when the atoms inside my skull happen, for physical or chemical reasons, to arrange themselves in a certain way, this gives me, as a by-product, the sensation I call thought. But, if so, how can I trust my own thinking to be true? It’s like upsetting a milk jug and hoping that the way it splashes itself will give you a map of London. But if I can’t trust my own thinking, of course I can’t trust the arguments leading to Atheism, and therefore have no reason to be an Atheist, or anything else. Unless I believe in God, I cannot believe in thought: so I can never use thought to disbelieve in God.”
On atheistic materialism, your actions and thoughts are like a can of fizzing coke, or a paper bag being blown about by the wind, or water droplets running down the side of a window, or a raft floating about randomly on the sea, going wherever the winds and the current takes it. You’re being determined by nature to form your beliefs and you’re also being determined by nature to take action. Every move you make is just matter and energy moving about, not your soul making conscious decisions. Every single action we take is nothing but mere chemical, physical determinism. As such, you could be reaching faulty conclusions all the time simply because that’s the way the neurological cookie crumbled. You could also be reaching sound conclusions, but who really knows? Whether you reason soundly all depends on whether the right conditions are in place.
We have no reason to trust our own thinking should atheistic materialism be true. By contrast, on the Christian worldview, our minds are reflections of the one perfect Mind. We’re made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27). On the Christian worldview, we’re not molecules in motion. We have a soul and we have free will. On the Christian worldview, our abilities to reason and form conclusions come from God Almighty, who, unlike natural selection and random mutations, is very much concerned with His creatures knowing truth, not just how to survive long enough to reproduce. Since as Jesus said, knowing the truth will set us free (John 8:32). Only if we were created by a supreme Creator would we have grounds to trust our own thinking. Only if our brains are more than meat machines would we be able to believe our reasoning faculties are reliable.
Ironically, atheists are constantly touting that they are the beacons of reason. They act as if they have a monopoly on logic and reason, looking down on all religious people as irrational and stupid. Not saying all atheists think that way. But most do. It’s ironic because it turns out that it’s the theist who has a monopoly on reason, for only on theism would we have a basis for believing our own thoughts.
“There are not many options — essentially, just two. Either human intelligence ultimately owes its origin to mindless matter or there is a Creator. It is strange that some people claim that it is their intelligence that leads them to prefer the first to the second.” – John Lennox, professor of mathematics, from the article “Beyond Reason?”
Defense Of Premise 2
This premise of the argument is the only one that’s uncontroversial. I know of no atheist who would concede that we cannot trust our cognitive faculties. If he did, he would have no grounds on which to challenge theism, for any argument leading to atheism would become suspect. Even if the argument for atheism seemed logical and reasonable, how could you really know? Maybe it just seems logical when it really isn’t. Maybe the atheist’s brain chemistry led him in the wrong direction.
I used The Trancendental Argument on an atheist once before, and the atheist never refuted my argument that if atheism were true, our reasoning faculties would be unreliable. Rather, he tried to argue that our reasoning faculties are in fact reliable. He argued that they were reliable, but he never refuted my point that they would be unreliable if atheism is true. I didn’t disagree with him on that point. I agree that we can trust our reasoning. What I disagreed on was whether we could trust it within an atheistic framework. He argued his point by citing a bunch of accomplishments that the human race has achieved due to using our brains. Now, at that point, I didn’t know that my argument could be used to argue in favor of theism. In that conversation, I only sought to show incoherence of atheism. I discovered that it could be formulated into an argument for theism because I realized that between the 2 of us, we created a syllogism against atheism. He provided the missing premise in the argument. I was arguing for premise 1 and he was arguing for premise 2. By the way, that conversation can still be read here.
Most people won’t disagree with the second premise of this argument. It is a properly basic belief that our reasoning faculties are reliable. Moreover, any argument one could try to mount against this premise would be self refuting because they would be using their reasoning to argue that we cannot trust our reasoning. But if we cannot trust our reasoning then we cannot trust an argument that employs reasoning to arrive at the conclusion that we cannot trust our reasoning. Any argument against the 2nd premise would be self refuting! It would pull the rug out from under itself! The atheist’s only hope is to refute the first premise, and I have seen no atheist successfully do this.
Given the truth of the 2 premises, the conclusion necessarily follows. If P, then Q. Not Q. Therefore, not P. If we weren’t created by God, our reasoning faculties would be unreliable. But our reasoning faculties are not unreliable. Therefore, we were created by God.