I've been chewing over TAG for a week or so now. It bugs the heck out of me, as it's the most inscrutable of the logical arguments for the existence of a god, and I got into a tiff over it a couple of weekends ago that didn't end in a satisfactory manner.
The easiest Logical argument to shoot down is the Ontological Argument.
- God is the being of which nothing greater can be imagined.
- Something which exists is greater than that which does not exist.
- Therefore, god exists.
This one just begs the question outright.* By necessarily including "existence" in the definition of greatness, you define god as a being which is omniscient, omnipotent, and omniexistent. I can define a unicorn as the most perfect animal possible in step 1, but that doesn't mean unicorns exist once I get to the end. Imagining something that would be greater than something else which doesn't exist doesn't make that thing's existence necessarily so.
A slightly thornier proof is the Cosmological Argument, also known as the Kalam argument, after the most recent and popular variant.
- Everything that begins to exist has a cause.
- The universe began to exist.
- Therefore, the universe had a cause.
Two problems here. First, Step 1 assumes that there are things which do not begin to exist. If only gods fit in this category, then it's begging the question. Or if one accepts that something other than gods have a beginning, not only does that complicate how you can define "universe," it more directly defeats the argument because, of course, the cause wouldn't necessarily be a god, and the argument's pretty useless at that point. Second, we don't actually know that Step 2 is true. We can't actually observe the singularity of the Big Bang, let alone what happened before. Since we don't know, #2 is merely an unproven assertion, not a fact.
It's worth pausing at this point to say that just because individual arguments may fail does not prove the converse, that God does not
exist. We will see this principle come back around as we discuss the Transcendental Argument for God, but suffice it to say that to my knowledge, gods' nonexistence has never been definitively proven save for satirical versions of theistic proof.
There are far more long-winded versions, but to simplify it as much as possible (which is not to say that I'm intending to set up a straw man) it says essentially this:
- The Logical Absolutes are transcendent. [Transcendent: adj. Perfect and absolute. Not variable; not dependent on time, place or circumstance. The Logical Absolutes themselves are axioms of symbolic logic such as the Law of Identity, Law of Non-contradiction, etc. but ironically are not actually directly germane to the argument.]
- The Logical Absolutes are not physical in nature, and are not dependent on the existence of the universe.
- The Logical Absolutes are conceptual. Things which are conceptual are dependent upon minds.
- Because the Logical Absolutes are transcendent, they must be dependent upon a mind which is likewise transcendent.
- We call this mind "God."
If you want your head to explode, feel free to debate this one with someone who buys into it. Chances are they've memorized pages upon pages of arguments and counterarguments,
and can use them to expound upon any given point until the argument is almost lost in a swamp of philosophical doubletalk. To me, it comes across as willful obfuscation. Suffice it to say, there are MANY objections to the argument, and the counterarguments are slippery as a greased priest.
I want to focus on what, to me, are the most substantive problems, and leave the nitpicking to those with more free time. The first problem I have is in step 3. When I was talking about this last month, the other guy tried to lay out as a ground rule that "if only two possibilities are possible, if one is disproven, then the other is proven by default." To which I answered "No." The argument hinges on disproving that the Logical Absolutes are physical, that "conceptual" is proven by default, and defining "conceptual" to their advantage.
Unfortunately, it simply can't be supported logically, though any TAG supporter will refuse to admit this.** However, since the premise is that Physical/Conceptual is a truly exclusive dichotomy, they have the responsibility to demonstrate that this premise is true–-proving that no other possibilities exist is their job, not yours. Personally I have yet to see a valid objection to "intrinsic aspect of reality" as something which is neither physical nor conceptual, but I had lengthy and incoherent arguments leveled at me nevertheless. However, the argument itself contradicts itself on this point, and I made a mistake last month with this guy by making my stand on the false dichotomy, rather than the next objection which I think is actually more damning.
To the best of our knowledge, nobody has ever come up with evidence that minds are not physical; that is, as a function of an organic brain. Minds are at the mercy of pokes, prods, chemicals, and damage to brains. If you shoot a person in the head, their mind is destroyed along with it. To assume that a nonphysical mind can exist begs the question.*** Until we have an example of a mind that does not exist as a function of a biological brain, it’s just an unsupported assertion.
This does involve a true dichotomy: Physical and Not Physical.
Proving what something is not
does not demonstrate what it is,
or define any attributes of it as a result. There's a reason that I didn't just start talking about "to assume a Conceptual
mind exists..." because it's nonsensical. Conceptual things, in the context of the argument, are dependent on minds
and to say that minds are dependent on minds is incoherent, let alone the Transcendental Mind that TAG demands must exist. Upon what would that particular Conceptual thing be dependent? A brain? What cosmic expanse of grey matter could possibly be the mainframe to conceive of universal truths that hold sway in all possible places and circumstances? If they allow that a Transcendant mind is not
dependent upon itself or another Transcendant mind, then they've just contradicted the categories they allowed for the Logical Absolutes.
Of course I have no trouble accepting a perfect, absolute, and transcendental disembodied mind being dependent upon brains, even human brains--it's why I don't necessarily object to the first point of the Ontological argument: just because we can imagine something greater than ourselves doesn't make it necessarily existent. That's why they're called "imaginary."
What this comes down to is the same reason that the original Cosmological Argument got so easily shot down centuries
ago. It was originally phrased as "Everything that exists has a cause, the universe exists, therefore the universe had a cause." They set up this syllogism to try and create a paradox, then they bring in this god to cut the Gordian knot because the rules don't apply to him, whether it's dodging the "who created God" question or "is God's mind physical or conceptual?" William Lane Craig, the Christian apologist, inserted the "begins to exist" language in an attempt to avoid the Special Pleading, but as we've seen, that introduces problems of its own.
*used in its formal sense: that a conclusion is being assumed as an unstated precondition, thereby making it a circular argument. “Begs the question” to mean “raises the question” is technically incorrect, but so common it’s ridiculous.
**They will demand you give an example of something that is neither physical nor conceptual, and then any possibility you submit will be dismissed by endless hand-waving and special pleading.
***Since any religious/spiritual/theistic person takes the existence of souls and other disembodied minds for granted, it's no surprise this is a blind spot. Hell, it took me two weeks to realize it. But something taken on faith isn't valid for rational argumentation.