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A Response to John Frame's Rebuttal of The Transcendental Argument for the Nonexistence of God (TANG)

Michael Martin


My article, "The Transcendental Argument for the Nonexistence of God," was originally published in the New Zealand Rationalist and Humanist (Autumn 1996, p. 4). It recently appeared on the Internet and was replied to by John Frame in his paper, "A Brief Response to Michael Martin, The Transcendental Argument for the Nonexistence of God"

In my original paper I maintained that a good case can be made for the thesis that science, logic, and objective ethics presuppose the nonexistence of God. I called this argument The Transcendental Argument for the Nonexistence of God (TANG). I used this argument to argue indirectly against the Transcendental Argument for the Existence of God (TAG)--the argument that logic, science and objective ethics presuppose the existence of God. I argued that if TANG is sound, TAG is refuted. However, I pointed out that if TANG is refuted, TAG is not established since both arguments could be unsound. In this paper I show that John Frame's rebuttal of TANG is inadequate.

A. Science

1. In my paper I argued that science is incompatible with Christianity because, on the one hand, science assumes the uniformity of nature and, on the other hand, if anything has an explanation, it has a scientific one. However, these assumptions are incompatible with the belief in miracles that is part of the Christian worldview. Frame has argued correctly that science does not presuppose the absolute uniformity of nature, but I do not suppose that it does. In my paper I said that science assumes that insofar as an event has an explanation at all, it has a scientific explanation--one that does not presuppose God. As I said in footnote 2, "This is compatible with the view that certain microevents are undetermined and, thus, have no explanation scientific or otherwise." My point was that what science does rule out are supernatural explanations. Any scientist who claimed that some event could only be explained by God's intervention would have stopped doing science.

2. By a miracle I mean an event that can only be explained in terms of divine intervention. By definition such events do not have natural explanations. This I take to be the standard sense of miracle. Frame says that sometimes miracles have natural explanations. Yes, in another sense they do. But this is not the sense I was using. In any case, this other sense of miracle--what I call an indirect miracle--is criticized in my book Atheism: A Philosophical Justification, pp. 207-8.

3. Frame has said that "divine providence is not itself a scientific explanation." Indeed, it is not. However, he insists that science can still presuppose divine providence. But if divine providence allows for miracles in the sense I was employing, scientific explanations cannot presuppose divine providence. Explanations in terms of miraculous intervention of divine providence exclude scientific ones.

B. Logic

1. I argued that according to advocates of TAG, logic presupposes God. But what could this mean? One obvious interpretation is that logical principles are created by God and are contingent on Him. This view is clear but absurd. Logical principles are not contingent; they are necessary. To his credit, Frame rejected this view. He says that logic is not arbitrarily decreed by God and that logic is necessary.

2. However, Frame's less clear alternative construction of what it means for logic to presuppose God is problematic. He says that logic is not "above" God and that the "ultimate basis" of logic is God's "eternal nature." In one obvious sense logic is above God: God presupposes logic and not the reverse. God's action and His attributes presuppose the law of contradiction. God cannot do act A and not A at the same time; God cannot have property P and not P at the same time, and so on. On the other hand, there is no inconsistency in both denying that God exists and affirming the law of contradiction. Moreover, basing logic on God's nature does not overcome the problem. If God's character were different, logical principles would be different, and the law of contradiction would not hold. But this is absurd. Could Frame reply that God's nature could not be such the law of contradiction would fail? The only reason for making such an assumption about God's nature is that it must exemplify some independent standard of logic. This is just to say that logic does not presuppose God.

C. Ethics

1. I argued that objective ethics presupposes that God does not exist. There are three problems with basing objective ethics on God. First, ethics would be based on God's arbitrary commands. For example, God could command cruelty was good. Second, there would be no objective basis for picking a reliable source of what God commands. Should we use the Bible or the Koran or the Book of Mormon? Third, once we picked a source there would be objectively no way of choosing between conflicting interpretations.

2. Frame has denied that morality is based on God's arbitrary fiat. Rather, he says, it is based on God's character. So be it. But basing morality on God's character does not overcome the problem of arbitrariness. Is something good because it is part of His character or is God's character the way it is because it is good? Suppose something is good because it is part of God's character. Then if God's character is cruel and unjust, these attributes would be good. On the other hand, if God's character is the way it is, for example, merciful and just, because being mercy and justice are good, then there must be an independent standard of good that God's character exemplifies. In the first case, a religious foundation of morality is arbitrary; in the second case, morality is not founded on religion but religion on morality. But would not Frame reply that God could not be cruel and unjust and thus the first alternative fails? However, the only reason for supposing that God could not be cruel and unjust is that God's character must exemplify some independent standard of goodness and this presupposes the second alternative.

3. Frame maintains that "to say that there is 'no rational way' to deal with the difference between the Bible, Koran, etc., is an arbitrary assumption. This is an assumption which most Christians and Muslims reject." Is it an arbitrary assumption? What then is a rational way? The only way Frame mentions is revelation. But Christians say that the revelation of the Koran is bogus, and Muslims give similar compliments to the Christian interpretation of Jesus in the NT. If there is a rational way to reconcile this controversy, Frame does not begin to specify what it is.

4. Interestingly enough, Frame has neglected to mention the third part of my argument. I also pointed out that there are different interpretations of what these sources say. Let us recall that there are differences among Christians over, among other things, the morality of the death penalty, war, abortion, premarital sex, homosexuality, private property, social drinking, and gambling. Most of these differences are based on different interpretations of Christian revelation. To suppose that there is a rational way to reconcile these controversies by appealing to revelation stretches credibility to the breaking point.

Michael Martin's contributions to "The Martin-Frame Debate on the Transcendental Argument for the Nonexistence of God" are copyright © 1996 by Michael Martin. All rights reserved.
The electronic version is copyright © 1997 by Internet Infidels with the written permission of Michael Martin. All rights reserved.