The limitations of Transcendental Arguments

0. Introduction

In the very first post on this blog, back in November 2015, I looked at a paper by Michael Butler, which is a first-rate examination of transcendental arguments (TAs) and their relationship to the presuppositional TAG of Van Til, Bahnsen, etc. I recommend reading Butler’s paper closely.

Part of what is interesting about that paper is the breadth of reading that Butler has done on the subject. It comes with a comprehensive literature review of the contemporary literature on TAs in analytic philosophy, and a satisfying look at the Kantian origins of this tradition. It also provides a look at Van Til’s approach, and how that was taken forwards by Greg Bahnsen. Butler, though a presuppositionalist himself, (and I think trained by Bahnsen) raises four interesting criticisms of TAG. He explains Bahnsen’s attempts to rebut these criticisms, and then criticises these rebuttals in turn. The four objections are:

(1) the nature of TAG; (2) the uniqueness proof for the conclusion of TAG; (3) the mere sufficiency of the Christian worldview; (4) the move from the conceptual necessity of God’s existence to the actual existence of the Christian God.

The last objection is probably the most interesting, and the one I paid least attention to in my previous post. As Butler says:

I consider this stricture to be the most powerful argument against TAG and the most difficult to answer.

The explanation of the objection runs as follows:

This objection revolves around the consideration that proving the conceptual necessity a worldview does not establish its ontological reality. Kant, for example, argued that the notion of causation is transcendentally necessary for thought (or at least human thought).  Without the concept of causality there could be no thought.  But just because causality is necessary for thought does not mean, so Kant argued, that the things in themselves (ding an sich) which exist independently of our conception of them, undergo causal relations.  Conceptual necessity does not guarantee ontological necessity.  In the same way, assuming that TAG is sound, all that is proved, so this objection goes, is that we must, in order to be rational, believe that God exists.

What this objection is highlighting is that transcendental arguments, such as those employed by Kant, even if thought to be successful, do not establish the existence of something in reality. Rather, they establish synthetic a priori truths, which are about the forms our experience must take. They establish, at best, only conceptual necessities, not ontological necessities.

For example, we may be forced to experience the flow of time as one event happening after another, in the past, present and future. We may be unable to conceive of how to make sense of the contrary – what would it even mean to have all your life’s experiences ‘at the same time’? Yet, even if this were so, we would still be left wondering whether this is because time is ‘in itself’ something which really does flow, or whether it is just a “stubbornly persistent illusion” as Einstein once said. It may be required for us to make sense of the world, yet not indicative of the way the world is. To put the point another way, it may be a necessary precondition for intelligibility (a phrase we hear a lot with internet presuppositionalists), yet not true.

  1. Bahnsen’s rebuttal

Butler quotes Bahnsen’s rebuttal to this objection:

…because this is an apologetical dialogue (giving reasons, expecting argument, etc.), both parties have assumed that the true viewpoint must affirm rationality.  Van Til argues that if the unbeliever’s worldview were true, rationality would be repudiated, whereas if Christianity were true, rationality would be affirmed and required.  So while the whole argument may be stated in hypothetical terms, the conclusion is actually established as true, since the hypothetical conditions was granted from the outset by both parties.  (If the unbeliever realizes this and now refuses to grant the legitimacy, demand, or necessity of rationality, he has stepped outside the boundaries of apologetics.  Furthermore, he forfeits the right to assert or believe that he has repudiated rationality, since without rationality assertion and belief and unintelligible.)

Butler is impressed with this response, though ultimately concedes that it does not address the point in hand. His positive comments are the following:

Bahnsen’s answer is that the issue is one of rationality.  If TAG establishes that Christianity is the necessary conceptual precondition of human experience (including rationality) it follows that we must hold to the Christian worldview in order to be rational. And if somebody refuses to accept the Christian worldview or God’s existence, he has no foundation for rationality and, without such a foundation, has no rational basis to object that the conclusion of TAG.

This defense carries a great deal of force.  It effectively undermines the unbelievers ability to rationally reject the Christian faith.

2. My objection

Before we go on to look at Butler’s criticism of this, and how he tries to improve on Bahnsen, I want to point out that I think we can bring up an interesting objection at this stage.

In a previous post on Stephan Molyneux, I pointed out an objection to one of his arguments. He made the following claim:

If I tell you that I like chocolate ice cream, and you tell me that you like vanilla, it is impossible to “prove” that vanilla is objectively better than chocolate. The moment that you correct me with reference to objective facts, you are accepting that objective facts exist, and that objective truth is universally preferable to subjective error.

However, this seemed to boil down to an implausible inference, namely: if you argue that p is true (“with reference to objective facts”), you are showing a preference for truth over falsity. The reason this seems implausible is that we can easily come up with examples of people engaging in arguments (even “with reference to objective facts”) who do not necessarily have any such preference for truth over falsity. My examples were:

  • Putting forwards an argument arguendo
  • Participating in debate competitions
  • A lawyer arguing because she gets paid to do so
  • A politician arguing to win votes
  • An internet troll arguing to cause irritation
  • An undergraduate arguing to impress others

What these examples show is that there are contexts in which someone can put forward an argument yet not be primarily directed towards truth, or be of the opinion that ‘truth is preferable to error’. I described these as ‘non-standard’ contexts, in contrast to what Molyneux seemed to have in mind, which should be called the ‘standard context’.

The standard context is something like where both parties are solemn truth-seekers, and ‘play by the rules’ of correct logical behaviour (or whatever – its not even clear what this is supposed to be). But the point is that Molyneux is effectively just presuming that all argument goes on in standard contexts, and that therefore if you make an argument you have the attitudes and beliefs of those in the standard context, i.e. you are earnestly seeking truth, and prefer truth to falsity.

However, the non-standard contexts I describe above are examples where people simply have different attitudes, and in which they are not earnestly seeking truth at all (they are doing something else). They may prefer a useful falsehood (if it wins the case, or gets them laid). This shows that you cannot make the inference that Molyneux describes; just because someone is making an argument does not establish that they prefer truth over falsity.

I might even go so far as to say that the ‘standard’ context is a kind of fantasy. Does it ever actually exist? What even are its necessary conditions? I certainly don’t know. It seems at least possible that the ‘non-standard’ contexts are in fact ubiquitous (although this is a dangerous ‘post-modern’ thought…).

Anyway, let’s tie this back in to Bahnsen’s reply. Recall, he said:

…because this is an apologetical dialogue (giving reasons, expecting argument, etc.), both parties have assumed that the true viewpoint must affirm rationality.

Here, Bahnsen is invoking the notion of the standard context, just like Molyneux, which requires that the parties “assumed that the true viewpoint must affirm rationality”.

But this seems too much of an assumption already. One could go through the motions of a debate with an interlocutor without being convinced of their rationality. I might doubt your rationality at the start, but be prepared to give you the benefit of the doubt. Maybe I took you for a rational fellow at the start, but increasingly come to doubt it as you engage with me. Am I not engaging in apologetical debate if I do that?

One could even engage in the process while being unsure of one’s own rationality. Maybe I am open to being persuaded about that question, and in the mean time I do what seems right to me in the moment of the debate. Does Bahnsen mean to say that I would not actually be participating in the debate if I was of that mindset while I did it?

And I mean, to some extent that description feels right as a description of my own mental state much of the time. My own phenomenology of rationality involves both the feeling that I am rational enough to engage in things, like conversation (and even in completing a PhD in philosophy), yet plagued with a sense of my own fallibility, seeing as I make mistakes in reasoning every day (just ask my girlfriend!). I feel aware of both the presence and the absence of my own rationality, and thus its precise extent remains somewhat unclear to me. So while I will engage in a conversation with someone like Bahnsen, he cannot assume that we both share the assumption that the truth of the matter involves my rationality, if that means to presuppose that my rational faculties are perfect. Far from it. I have a recognition that they are sometimes right and often wrong. Am I disqualified from the conversation as a result? If not, what does it even mean to say that we must both assume that the truth affirms rationality as a precondition for the debate?

But maybe all he means by the shared assumption that the truth will involve ‘affirming rationality’ is that he can assume that we both affirm enough rationality to get by in a debate. Yet, even that seems like it admits of counterexamples. Consider a variation on familiar Chinese Room thought experiments, where your interlocutor has no rationality at all.

Imagine Bahnsen is in a room and he is fed slips of paper with comments seemingly from a curious atheist about the Christian worldview, but which are in fact produced by some sophisticated mechanical algorithm. Bahnsen writes back a reply to the comments and posts them back through the slot in the door from which they came, and in this fashion enters into what he takes to be a conversation.

Imagine that Bahnsen and the algorithm debate TAG, and got into this particular bit of debate. Let’s say that the algorithm had raised Butler’s fourth objection, i.e. it had pointed out that even if TAG is sound, that only establishes that believing in God is necessary for rationality rather than establishing that God exists. At this point, imagine that Bahnsen wrote a reply on his slip of paper, which read as follows:

…this is an apologetical dialogue … [and so] both parties have assumed that the true viewpoint must affirm rationality

In this context, it is unclear whether this is even true any more. Is it still an example of ‘apologetical debate’? It is one person debating with an algorithm. Does that count? Whether we are allowed to assume all the trappings of the standard context in this setting seems rather doubtful, to say the least. What seems certain is that there isn’t really another party in the debate at all, let alone one who has assumed that ‘the true viewpoint must affirm rationality’.

This is important because the objection that the mechanical algorithm came up with is as relevant to Bahnsen as it would have been had a rational person came up with it. What difference does it make to the salience of the point itself (that TAG only establishes conceptual necessity, and not ontological necessity) if the point is made by an unthinking algorithm? It seems like Bahnsen should be just as worried about it either way.

If he left the room at this point, and then found out that there was nobody on the other side of the door, Bahnsen’s rebuttal to the fourth objection certainly seems to have been disarmed. But does he have any reason to think that the objection itself has been dealt with? I think not. What the algorithm said to Bahnsen remains true, even though it was not made by an ‘agent’ as such.

What this shows, I think, is that the problem is really his problem, not his interlocutor’s. Even if we grant that no rational agent can make the objection, it remains an objection anyway. And what this shows, I think, is that Bahnsen is really just doing a complex burden shifting exercise. Declaring victory because the interlocutor is not allowed to make the objection (while still claiming to be rational) just does not address the objection.

3. Back to Butler

Butler sees this issue in a similar way to me, although he does not put it like I do. He explains the problem like this:

The challenge is, thus, to bridge the gap between having to believe the Christian worldview because it provides the necessary preconditions of experience and showing that the Christian worldview is true.

The problem with Bahnsen’s reply to this, according to Butler, is as follows:

The problem, however, is that while TAG … demonstrates that the Christian worldview is necessary precondition for experience, it does not prove that the Christian worldview is true.  For it may be that our experience of rationality, morality, science, etc. are illusory.  Bahnsen’s reply to Montgomery, that we must make the “gratuitous assumption” that at least one worldview must be right, is without foundation. Surely, we can, for argument’s sake, conceive of the world being ultimately irrational and amoral. And if can do this, it follows that TAG, on this interpretation, fails to prove that Christianity is true.

How does Butler propose to bridge the gap between conceptual and ontological necessity? His answer involves distinguishing a conceptual scheme from the Christian worldview. The types of transcendental arguments which get us only to conceptual necessity involve conceptual schemes, whereas ones involving the Christian worldview go beyond that to ontological necessity (about how the world actually is in itself):

Stated another way, the necessity of a conceptual scheme cannot guarantee anything about the way the world must be.  For while such a scheme may organize our experience, it itself is dumb and mute and cannot, definitionally, tell us anything about the world itself.  But the Christian worldview is not a mere conceptual scheme.  It claims to do more than simply provide us with the necessary preconditions of experience. The Christian worldview posits a sovereign, creator God who is both personal and absolute in his nature. This God is, moreover, a speaking God who reveals truths to us about himself and the world. In his revelation to us he declares that he has made a world and that this world exists independently from himself and us. On the basis of his revelation, therefore, which is itself the necessary precondition of experience, we can know truths about the world and God.

The answer seems to be that Christianity involves a God who tells us what the world is like, whereas a conceptual scheme cannot. It is not clear to me how this is supposed to bridge the gap though. It seems to me though that we have simply moved from one conceptual necessity to another.

Before, we had the conceptual necessity being that ‘God exists’, i.e. the conclusion of TAG could only be that it is necessary (for rationality, etc) to believe that God exists (rather than it being true that God exists). Now though, as an attempt to bridge the gap between those, Butler has expanded the proposition in question to include the explicit statement that God tells us about the world. So now we should change the conclusion to being: it is necessary (for rationality, etc) to believe that a God exists who tells us what the world is like. Notice the scope of the belief here though. It is necessary to believe that: [a God exists who tells us what the world is like]. The content of what God tells us matching what reality is like is something that is under the scope of the belief in question; the veracity of the revelation is itself an article of belief. Unless the content of the messages that God gives us were somehow known to go beyond the conceptual necessity, to ontological necessity, we have not advanced one step from where we were before. This is because Butler’s proposal is still compatible with it being false that that God exists. It is still just a conceptual necessity. What he needs to do now is bridge the gap between believing what God tells him about the world is true, and it actually being true.

But, of course, being able to bridge the gap between something being believed to be true, and it actually being true is the very thing Butler’s suggestion was supposed to be clearing up. So unless we beg the question here, and assume we have bridged the gap somehow, his proposal is ineffective. Ultimately, the belief that what God has revealed is truthful is just another synthetic a priori truth.

4. Conclusion

Butler’s response here is utterly disappointing. I genuinely enjoyed his paper, and think it is worthy of being much more widely read. The shame of it is that the ending is so flaccid.

18 thoughts on “The limitations of Transcendental Arguments”

  1. I struggled with that fourth objection for some time before declaring it insurmountable and presuppositionalism, therefore, a verbose petitio principii. I don’t believe there’s a route from conceptual to ontological necessity, although I would love to see a philosopher construct it.

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      1. Sure. Basically, I see apologetics as, in large measure, a tool of persuasion, which is to say whatever is simultaneously true and useful for purposes of engendering faith in another. Apologetic arguments for the sake of argument are, then, pointless. And the strictly “logical,” though true perhaps, isn’t an effective apologetic if it does not drive somebody to faith.

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      2. Interesting! And utterly alien to my own outlook. For me, I pursue these arguments both because I find them to be intrinsically interesting and because I’m interested in participating in a community of inquirers who are trying to figure out the truth about our world. Of course, I don’t think it’s terribly likely that we will discover the truth in my lifetime, but we might get a bit closer. And while I pursue philosophy, I might be able to find outlooks through which I can reach ever deeper levels of intellectual satisfaction.

        From what you’ve said, it sounds like you’re not interested in investigating our world or, possibly, even in reaching deeper levels of intellectual satisfaction, but are instead interested in deepening the faith of others. Would I be right to say that, on your view, this isn’t just — or even primarily — an intellectual matter?

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      3. Oh, not at all–at least, as far as my own interests are concerned. Honest and sustained inquiry into the world is necessary. I study philosophy, theology, and related things frequently.

        I don’t think apologetics is an intellectual endeavor in itself (though it makes use of that realm of experience!); it is honest inquiry geared toward a defense of faith, which is itself geared toward conversion. And the defense can take aesthetic, aretetic, intellectual, et al forms.

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  2. “However, this seemed to boil down to an implausible inference, namely: if you argue that p is true (“with reference to objective facts”), you are showing a preference for truth over falsity. The reason this seems implausible is that we can easily come up with examples of people engaging in arguments (even “with reference to objective facts”) who do not necessarily have any such preference for truth over falsity. My examples were:”

    But if you’re engaging in arguments without regards to the preference for truth over falisity, you’re not engaged in logic, you’re engaged in sophistry. I don’t think anyone denies sophistry, so I don’t think I understand this objection.

    Is the point that non-logical arguments exist? That’s fine. I see that as the entire point of the TAG, that without the Christian world view (i.e., allowing arguments such as these), you’re necessarily going to lead to contradictions and non-logical results. So I think I’m missing something basic.

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    1. Hi.

      So you say:

      “if you’re engaging in arguments without regards to the preference for truth over falisity, you’re not engaged in logic, you’re engaged in sophistry”

      I don’t know what you mean by “engaged in logic”. The types of people I’m talking about (lawyers, politicians, whatever) can be using logic as well as anyone else. A logician can explore the consequences of a formal theory she thinks has no bearing on the real world. If you say these people are not “engaged in logic” then I guess one can be not engaged in logic while logically inferring things correctly from premises. In which case I don’t think your observation really matters. The point is that people can make good arguments without trying to get to the truth (sometimes trying to obscure the truth, or just being agnostic about the question of the truth). Simply saying “this guy is making an argument, therefore his attitude towards the truth must be X” is wrong. He could have any of a range of attitudes and still make an excellent argument.

      “without the Christian world view (i.e., allowing arguments such as these), you’re necessarily going to lead to contradictions and non-logical results”

      I don’t understand what you are saying here. Imagine a Christian lawyer. He thinks his client is probably guilty of the crime. But his job is to argue for his innocence (or at least that he is not guilty). When it comes to the trial he stands up and produces arguments to defend his client. Is he going against any doctrine of Christianity? I don’t think so. But he is someone using an argument without the standard intention, i.e. he isn’t simply trying to establish what he thinks is true (which is that his client is guilty). Rather he is using arguments (and logic) to argue the opposite. Equally, picture an atheist who is arguing for something he does believe is true. He doesn’t have the Christian world view but he can have the preference for truth. So I don’t see what having a Christian world view has to do with this precise point.

      And you say that not having the Christian world view is going to lead to inconsistencies, but that’s just an assertion. Nobody has ever come close to justifying that.

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      1. Thanks for your clarification, I think this is helpful. Sorry for my sloppy word choices, please let me clarify my position.

        ‘I don’t know what you mean by “engaged in logic”. The types of people I’m talking about (lawyers, politicians, whatever) can be using logic as well as anyone else.’

        My claim is that if one is arguing to a conclusion that is false, definitionaly (it seems to me) one is not “using logic as well as anyone else”, because one is not aimed at the truth. That is, colloquially logic seems to me to be aimed at deriving true things from other true things. If one abuses logic to convince people of false things from true things, one is actually destroying logic, because there is something in what one is saying that is not true, so from a Christian world view (I would argue), there’s going to be a contradiction somewhere in what one is saying when one argues in this way. From there, we see that one is going to be able to derive anything “using logic” in this way. Thus defeating the entire purpose of using logic in the first place, meaning that they are not using what I would call “logic” in the first place. Yes they’re making arguments, but it is not the truthiness of the claim that is important, it is some other fact which obscures the truthiness, and thus the logic, of the argument.

        I think you’re lawyer example is very helpful, and want to affirm that what you’re saying is a generally held belief that I too had. Furthermore, I want to say that there definitely are Christians who believe what you believe, and I disagree with them for the same reasons I disagree with you. For these lawyers/politicians/etc who are optimizing a reward function that is not aimed at truth seem to be analogous to the Pharisees that we see in the Bible. The same Pharisees that Jesus argues with throughout the Gospels, specifically saying that these people care more about minor infractions of the law (i.e., holding onto their power) than they do about the truth and love. As a result, these people become cold, calloused, and lose their humanity because they’re using “arguments” (i.e., logic based on getting what one wants, and not the truth) as a weapon against their enemies, and not aimed at truth (I think this is very obvious throughout history, but especially today). As such, they destroy themselves and others. So from a Christian standpoint, I would argue that almost all of the modern justice system is predicated on faulty logic, as it requires people to defend absurdities, and should be reformulated into a more Christian paradigm.

        Is that to say that justice is impossible? No. But I’d argue on a Christian worldview it does require that it be aimed at truth, rather than allowing individuals to subvert the system by knowingly using arguments not based on truth for their own gain, as that is just a society that will implode (which I feel like the modern day has proven to us very well), as there is no reason to trust anyone in that society. Otherwise through those perverse incentives and the nature of human beings, you will have guilty people who use their power and influence to avoid “justice”, and innocent people on the wrong side of power receiving the full punishments of “justice”. Thus “justice” is actually a meaningless term absent the Christian worldview (or at least means something wholly different from the Christian worldview as to be unrecognizable), which I feel has been demonstrated time and time again throughout history, but I’m willing to clarify this point further if I’m not being clear.

        That is what I meant by being “engaged in logic”. Hopefully that clarifies my sloppy word choices.

        “Simply saying “this guy is making an argument, therefore his attitude towards the truth must be X” is wrong. He could have any of a range of attitudes and still make an excellent argument.”

        I agree that his attitude mustn’t be X, however if his attitude isn’t X, then the argument should be about X and not about whatever the person is arguing about. For if one is not using logic to get at truth, then I don’t understand think one can be using logic at all (as you’re arguing for/from false premises, and thus can prove anything). Instead they are engaged in some other type of contest (e.g., getting what they want), which, to me, is an irrelevant contest, as I care about the truth and not what someone wants to be true. It is precisely this meta argument that I think is far more important than any other argument, and exactly the meta argument that I think TAG is trying (and granted, perhaps unsuccessfully in its current form) to get at.

        “Is he going against any doctrine of Christianity?”

        I would argue yes, he’s going against the doctrines of love, justice, mercy, and charity. But that debate requires presupposing the Christian worldview to start, and is a longer conversation, but I hope you get my point.

        “Equally, picture an atheist who is arguing for something he does believe is true. He doesn’t have the Christian world view but he can have the preference for truth. So I don’t see what having a Christian world view has to do with this precise point.”

        I agree there are non-Christians aimed at truth, first of all. I want to affirm that that is not a controversial statement in the Christian world view by any stretch of the imagination. However Christians also believe that we are to preach the Gospel to all, and I would argue someone aimed at truth, when encountering Christianity, would investigate further and ultimately find God in Christianity. So the ultimate conclusion of someone aimed at truth would be to come to be a Christian.

        Now I realize that you’re going to have many objections to this, and am not trying to impugn anyone’s character, as I think the Church (and many Christians) has done a despicable job of preaching the Gospel for a large number of reasons that we can get in to, but I don’t think are particularly relevant for this particular point. So I want to affirm that I, for a long time (and still today), find massive faults with all Churches and (at least almost) all people. I want to make clear I’m defending no Church or person in its entirety, even though I am Catholic. What I’m defending is the orthodox Christian worldview that has been passed down, which I think is true, and furthermore I think predicts the decay in the institutions that we see, in exactly its form we see it. As such i firmly believe that if someone aimed at truth were to investigate Christianity, that they would not find fault with it given the orthodox understanding of the claims, while finding massive fault in institutions and people who profess to be Christians, for exactly the reasons that are predicted by Christianity, making it a coherent worldview, in spite of the seeming contradictions.

        “And you say that not having the Christian world view is going to lead to inconsistencies, but that’s just an assertion. Nobody has ever come close to justifying that.”

        I agree it’s a theory, but that’s exactly what the theory the transcendental argument aims to prove. That is exactly the conversation that I want to have. If you don’t feel that’s true, then that is what I’d like to prove. So while I might not have justified it yet, I’d like to try.

        For Christianity makes very specific predictions about the way the world is, and how one should interact with it. It is entirely self consistent, and minimally complex as far as I can tell, requiring no arbitrary assumptions about limitations, and resulting in a description of reality that entails our universe where personal relationship with God are not only possible, but in some sense the meaning of life.

        You asked in your conversations with Jay something to the effect of “surely you don’t believe in personal communication with God”, and he let that slide. I would differ and say by personal experience, external evidence, and the doctrines of orthodox Christianity, that one can have a relationship with God, and in fact that makes almost no sense to talk about who saints are without this ability. For example, the orthodox Catholic worldview gives 9 stages of prayer, in some of which you are directly communicating with God, and we know that there exist people who reach all 9 stages. So that seems to indicate that there is more here for one to investigate.

        To be clear, there are well defined preconditions to this communication, but it is real, and believed by very many people. Not only that, but orthodox Catholic view says that everyone can and should become a state, and therefore experience these things. More than anything I want everyone to have such experiences, for hopefully obvious reasons.

        Thank you for your comments, I very much appreciate all of your work. I hope that is obvious and apologize for any harshness that may come across, you’ve been a massive help to me.

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      2. “My claim is that if one is arguing to a conclusion that is false, definitionaly (it seems to me) one is not “using logic as well as anyone else”, because one is not aimed at the truth.”

        If I say “all unicorns have horns, Betsy is a unicorn, therefore Betsy has a horn”, then I’m using logic in exactly the same way as if I say “all humans have hearts, Betsy is a human, therefore Betsy has a heart”. Just because the conclusion in the first argument is false doesn’t mean it’s not logical. In terms of validity, the arguments are the same. So I don’t know what definition you have of logic, but it’s wrong if it means that an argument cannot be logical if the conclusion is false.

        “If one abuses logic to convince people of false things from true things, one is actually destroying logic”

        You can’t destroy logic. If I use statistics to trick you, maths isn’t destroyed (fortunately, because this happens every day). Same with logic.

        “defeating the entire purpose of using logic in the first place”

        Logic doesn’t have a purpose, any more than maths does.

        “For these lawyers/politicians/etc who are optimizing a reward function that is not aimed at truth seem to be analogous to the Pharisees that we see in the Bible”

        A lawyer that presents a defence of their client even if they don’t believe they are innocent isn’t necessarily ‘optimising a reward function’. They may be discharging what they take to be a moral duty. Plausibly, everyone deserves a fair trial, and a good defence is a crucial part of that. If one is the only lawyer in town, it is easy to see how someone might do their duty and step up even if they don’t personally believe the defendant. You are imagining that such people become “cold, calloused, and lose their humanity”. It is certainly not a logical consequence of using an argument in the way I am describing. So it just seems like a straw man.

        “So from a Christian standpoint, I would argue that almost all of the modern justice system is predicated on faulty logic, as it requires people to defend absurdities, and should be reformulated into a more Christian paradigm.”

        Honestly, this sounds naive. Given the sketch of the motivations of the lawyer, and how that plays into the notion of how justice is discharged, I think you should reconsider this. Insisting that lawyers always ‘tell the truth’ would be incompatible with discharging justice properly. Something similar holds for the jury. If you happen to be convinced for reasons other than what was presented in court (such as rumours you heard or newspaper reports), you should return a not guilty verdict. Rather, the decision should be based entirely on the evidence presented. Insisting that you return a guilty verdict in such a situation, because to do otherwise would be ‘lying’, is to go against justice. I sincerely hope your reformulation of the justice system never gets implemented.

        “I would argue yes, he’s going against the doctrines of love, justice, mercy, and charity.”

        No he isn’t. He is doing his duty, against his personal beliefs. Another straw man I’m afraid.

        On the question of whether not having the Christian world view is going to lead to inconsistencies, you said you wanted to prove that. Then you went on to say:

        “For Christianity makes very specific predictions about the way the world is, and how one should interact with it. It is entirely self consistent, and minimally complex as far as I can tell, requiring no arbitrary assumptions about limitations, and resulting in a description of reality that entails our universe where personal relationship with God are not only possible, but in some sense the meaning of life.”

        In what sense is that paragraph a proof of the claim?

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      3. Sorry, I’m being very unclear. To be honest I’m a bit star struck by this conversation, as I hold you in very high regard, and I am obviously not doing well in this conversation. My apologies. Let me restate my point a bit more clearly.

        First, I want to affirm your comment on unicorns. That is not what I meant by “not using logic properly”. My point (to whatever degree it can be called a point), is that we must agree on a language to communicate in. That language has axioms. Insofar as we disagree on axioms, we are not speaking the same language. This is common everywhere, and hopefully not controversial to say. To that end, if we disagree on axioms (such as basic premises of logic like the LNC), then we cannot communicate effectively unless we are extremely clearly defining what we mean by any given sentence in some kind of shared representation.

        This fits into an overarching point I’m trying to make, that is we cannot have a conversation about whether lawyers should or shouldn’t behave in a certain way until we agree on a shared model of reality. For instance, when I say “optimizing a reward function”, I just mean that everyone acts for some reason in response to some reality they observe. There is no value judgement as to which reward function they should optimize, just that everyone is optimizing one whether they know/acknowledge it or not. Funnily enough, this kind of demonstrates how when I use a completely non-standard model to communicate, nothing I say makes any sense whatsoever, which motivates the need for a shared model. From there it seems at least intuitive that we want the model of reality we share to be as close to actual reality as possible, however that is my bias.

        Given that, my argument is that the discussion on which model of reality to use in our conversation (LNC vs not, Christianity vs Buddhism vs etc.) is a transcendental argument that is necessary to have before one discusses anything else, as the assumptions in the model completely change the meaning of words.

        Now at this point I will 100% concede that this is due to my training in Machine Learning, and is probably opposite of what you mean by the actual definition of a “transcendental argument”. If so I apologize for the silly way I was communicating, but hopefully we can at least now agree that a shared model of reality is important for communication, especially if I still am still not communicating any information. 🙂

        From this I argue that the model I would like to adopt is the one that “best describes reality” (e.g., predictive power, complexity, probability of truth, etc). To this end, I’m currently working on a deductive argument from the existence of something, to the existence of information, to the existence of models (i.e., information about information). From there I argue that a “perfect free will” is the a priori most likely model of reality (as it has the best predictive success and makes testable predictions). So to answer your question of how I’m going to prove Christianity, that is where my mind currently is. I am not sure if that is technically a “transcendental argument”, but I agree completely that the paragraph you quoted was hilarious to read without that context, as it makes no sense.

        I also want to state for the record that my dad’s sister was a high ranking judge in my country, and my dad’s dad a high profile defense attorney, so I understand the practical aspects of the law. What I was attempting to point at was what I (ideally) want to be, rather than what is. I also want to point out that this idealism is prompted by how many justice systems in the world are corrupt to the point of comedy, and thus it seems to me that the perverse incentives that most operate under are not exactly things I would design had I the choice. It is in this sense that I meant “destroy logic”, as in, “society cannot stand under the weight of people abusing logic/statistics, without eventually falling apart under the weight of the contradictions and lies into despotic tyranny, thus I think we should heavily prioritize ‘using logic properly’ (in the sense of optimizing toward truth and not something else)”. But I do concede that not everyone has as pessimistic view of institutions as I have, and I also concede optimizing toward truth is a very Christian bias which not everyone may share.

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      4. “My point (to whatever degree it can be called a point), is that we must agree on a language to communicate in. That language has axioms. Insofar as we disagree on axioms, we are not speaking the same language.”

        This idea, tempting though it might be from a computer science background, is incoherent. Consider how you learned language. Did you start with axioms? How could one agree with a proposed axiom *prior* to having a language? How could you understand the content of the proposal, or even that it was a proposal? Natural languages and formal languages are different in this respect. We communicate to each other under uncertainty about exactly the extent to which our usages of words overlap, and no amount of axiomatisation is going to eliminate that.

        I mean, there are no axioms of English. If you think that LNC is an axiom of English, then I’ve got news for you: a dialetheist will dispute this. It’s no good stamping your foot and insisting that you aren’t really talking unless we agree these things first. In reality you can be mid conversation with someone before you realise they have a radically different view to you. Strategies for dealing with this radical incongruity are very complicated, but this presup thing of declaring the debate to be won at this point is laughable.

        And anyway, it feels like you are drifting here. The original question is does using logic presuppose a preference for truth over falsity. You seemed to say that one is, definitionally, not using logic if they argue for a false thesis. I pointed out why this is wrong and now you are saying that unless we agree exactly what our language is we cannot communicate. Even though this is wrong (because agreeing is communicating) let’s say I conceded the point. How would needing to agree axioms mean that arguing for a false thesis isn’t using logic? Unless you also want to insist that I use your definition of logic (which presumably includes a clause like “only used to argue for true conclusions” or something) then it wouldn’t be relevant. But you may as well cut out all this stuff about the impossibility or communicating (which is wrong headed anyway) and just say “listen buddy, my definition of logic includes always arguing for true conclusions”. If that’s all this is then fine. In your sense then you can’t use logic to argue for false conclusions. But then the discipline of logic used by mathematicians and computer scientists and philosophers (etc) is mostly excluded from your definition as such. So it’s not exactly an interesting conclusion. Once you look at what the discipline actually is, then it should be obvious that no such ‘truthiness’ condition exists.

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  3. I don’t really understand how God is supposed to be just conceptually necessary. If the TAG is:
    P1: If God did not exist, human predication would not be possible.
    P2: Human predication is possible:
    Conclusion: God exists.

    The conceptually necessary idea sounds like it’s more subjective:
    P1: If you did not believe in God, then you could not be rational.
    P2: You are rational.
    Conclusion: You believe in God.

    The argument is that God is ontologically necessary for human predication to be possible, not just conceptually necessary. Couldn’t you try to make any argument for God subjective like this?

    It seems like you could do the same thing to the Kalam:
    P1: Every effect appears to you to have a cause.
    P2: The universe appears to be an effect.
    P3: The only way to explain your observations is an uncaused cause.
    Conclusion: In order to explain your observations, you must believe that an uncaused cause caused the universe.

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