14 Jul


by Michael Butler

From: The August 1996 Penpoint


. . . I shall now turn to Dr. Martin’s philosophical attack on the Christian faith. In response to the transcendental argument for God’s existence (TAG) [1], Dr. Martin puts forth what he calls the transcendental argument for the non-existence of God (TANG). [2]

Before responding to the details of his argument, some understanding of TAG is helpful. Basically TAG asserts that only the Christian worldview provides the necessary preconditions for the intelligibility of human experience. That is, only the Christian view of God, creation, providence, revelation, and human nature can make sense of the world in which we live. So, for example, only the Christian worldview can make sense out of morality since it alone provides the necessary presuppositions for making ethical evaluations, namely, an absolute and personal Law Giver who reveals His moral will to mankind. It does not make sense, however, for the atheist/materialist to denounce any action as wrong since, according to his worldview, all that exists is matter in motion. And matter in motion is inherently non-moral. That is, since the world according to the materialist is totally explicable in terms of physical processes, and since physical processes are categorically non-moral, moral considerations have no place in his worldview. Thus for the materialist to say that stealing is morally wrong makes as much sense as saying that the secretion of insulin from the pancreas is morally wrong. [3]

With this thumbnail sketch of TAG in mind, we can now turn to Dr. Martin’s counter-argument, TANG. TANG concludes that, “logic, science and morality presuppose the falsehood of the Christian world view.” Dr. Martin notes that ” If TANG is a sound argument, then obviously TAG is not.” He then adds that even if TANG is a failure this does not mean TAG is successful-both could be unsound. He, of course, is correct on both counts.

There are two basic ways to respond to this. One is to simply attempt to refute TANG. [4] The problem with this route is that even if successful the soundness of TAG is still unknown. The other approach is to defend the soundness of TAG and in so doing, show the unsoundness of TANG-if TAG is sound TANG is not. In what follows I will try to do some of both. I will show that not only is TANG unsound, but that TAG is sound.


Dr. Martin begins with logic. I quote the heart of his argument. “(1). . . if something . . . is dependent on God, it is not necessary-it is contingent on God. (2) And if principles of logic are contingent on God, they are not logically necessary. Moreover, (3) if principles of logic are contingent on God, God could change them. (4) Thus, God could make the law of non-contradiction false.” [5] Let’s take each contention in turn.

Is (1) true? Is it true that if something is dependent upon God (i.e. ontologically dependent) it is not necessary? Dr. Martin assures us that it is, but fails to give any argument for this general principle. Perhaps he thinks it is definitional. If this is so then we may grant him the point. Note, however, that all he would be asserting is that if logic is dependent on God, then it is not independent of God (‘not independent’ is used as a synonym for ‘not necessary’). But this is a mere truism, much like the statement, “water is water.” While true, it is completely uninteresting.

In (2) Dr. Martin contends that if the principles of logic are contingent (read: dependent) on God they are not logically necessary. How does this follow from (1) though? It follows only if Dr. Martin means ‘not logically necessary’ by ‘contingent.’ But if this is the case then we have to go back to (1) and reinterpret it to mean “if something is dependent on God it is not logically necessary.’ And this surely is not definitional. Where then is the proof for it? How does it follow that because something is ontologically dependent upon God that it is not logically necessary? As it stands it is a mere assertion; an assertion that merely contradicts the Christian claim that all things, logic included, are dependent upon God, and yet logic is logically necessary.

Thus Dr. Martin’s move from (1) to (2) trades on the ambiguity of the word ‘contingent.’ In equivocating on the two senses of the word he erroneously moves from the statement “the principles of logic are contingent on God” to the statement “the principles of logic are not logically necessary.”

Turning to (3) and (4), it is clear that Dr. Martin means these to be a reductio ad absurdum. But note that (3) is not true at all. Just because the principles of logic are ontologically dependent upon God does not mean that God could change them. According to Christian theology, there are some things that God cannot do. God, for instance, cannot deny Himself (2 Tim. 2:13) or lie (Titus 1:2). In saying this nothing is taken away from God’s omnipotence. The doctrine of omnipotence does not teach that God can do anything, but that God can do anything that is in accordance with His nature. Since God is essentially rational and rationality presupposes the principles of logic, it would go against His nature to change the principles of logic. Hence God cannot change them and hence God cannot make the law of non-contradiction false. [6]

Since (3) is not true then obviously (4) is not either. And since (4)is false, Dr. Martin’s reductio fails. Logic does not presuppose the falsehood of the Christian worldview. But as Dr. Martin reminds us, even if logic does not presuppose the falsehood of Christianity this does not mean it presupposes the truth of Christianity. Perhaps logic comports with both Christian and non-Christian worldviews.

Let us now turn the tables on Dr. Martin and make a defense of TAG. Recall that the contention of TAG is that principles of logic presuppose the Christian worldview. How on an atheist worldview can the laws of logic be justified? Given a world that is constituted solely of material substances (I assume that Dr. Martin is a materialistic atheist) how does the atheist account for non-material logical laws? They certainly are not reducible to matter since if they were, they would not be laws-laws are not something that can be physically examined. Moreover, since the principles of logic are universal in nature they are not reducible to any particular physical object or objects. But if they are not reducible matter what are they?

It does no good to say they are mental abstractions since neither abstractions nor minds are possible within an atheist worldview. Nor can they be conventional since if they were they could be changed. And if they can be changed then absurdities follow-the statement that Bill Clinton is President of the United States could be both true and false.

Finally, because the principles of logic are abstract and universal, they cannot be experienced to be true. Thus such things as the law of non-contradiction are just highly confirmed inductions. Not only are there some laws of logic that are too complex to be observed, but this view would make logic contingent because there is always the possibility of a future observation disconfirming that law. But if logic is contingent then, as Dr. Martin has pointed out, absurdities become possible. To borrow his example, New Zealand could be both south of China and not south of China. [7]

Thus the atheistic worldview does not comport with the principles of logic. If atheists were consistent with their worldview, they would give up on logic and rationality altogether. But since they do behave rationally (at least some of the time) this shows that they are borrowing capital from another worldview.

That the Christian worldview can account for the principles of logic is readily demonstrable. Christianity allows for abstract and universal laws. Abstract because the Christian worldview teaches that more things exist than material objects. Thus it makes sense for there to be abstractions. Moreover, the universality of logic is possible because it is grounded in the character of God. God is by nature logical. And this all-powerful, all-knowing God orders all things in accordance with them.


Dr. Martin asserts that science and Christianity are incompatible. He argues that since science presupposes the uniformity of nature and since Christian theology teaches that God can and does perform miracles (which Dr. Martin defines as violations of the uniformity of nature) science is inconsistent with Christianity. But why is this so? Even granting his definition of a miracle, why does it follow that science becomes impossible if there is no absolute uniformity of nature? Dr. Martin does not tell us.

I would guess that he would contend that scientists would have an insurmountable epistemological problem. Scientists would never know whether to fix the cause of an event to natural laws or to divine intervention. But this is not true. How does it follow that there is no way to distinguish between a miracle and a event that is in accordance to natural laws?

Dr. Martin’s definition of miracles, moreover, is somewhat defective. Christian theology teaches that God providentially is in charge of all events. All events are under his direct control. There are thus no impersonal natural laws.

Under Dr. Martin’s definition, all events are miraculous. The Christian view of miracles is that they are events God causes to come about in a different way from His regular pattern for directing events. Thus when humans die they usually stay dead. But in the case of Jesus, God raised Him up. In doing so God did not violate a natural law, but rather departed from His regular pattern of action.

Dr. Martin then states, “science assumes that insofar as an event has an explanation at all, it has a scientific explanation-one that does not presuppose God.” All Dr. Martin is telling us here is his view of science. But this begs the whole question. Of course atheistic scientists assume this, but Christian scientists do not. This does nothing to advance Dr. Martin’s argument that miracles are incompatible with science.

Dr. Martin begs the question regarding miracles. As Dr. Bahnsen has written: unbelievers “often think that they are treating the miracle-claims of the Bible as independent evidence that the Christian worldview is irrationally unacceptable. Their reasoning is something like this: we already know miracles do not occur (‘How could anybody believe…’), and since Christianity claims that such impossible things did occur (e.g., virgin birth, resurrection), we can draw the conclusion that Christianity must be false. But that conclusion is not so much “drawn” as it is taken for granted from the very outset. The denial of the very posibility of miracles is not a piece of evidence for rejecting the Christian worldview, but simply a specific manifestation of that very rejection.

Only if the Christian worldview happens to be false could the possibility of miracles be cogently precluded. According to Scripture’s account, God is the transcendent and almighty Creator of heaven and earth. Everything owes its very existence and character to His creative power and definition (Gen. 1; Neh. 9:6; Col. 1:16-17). He makes things the way they are and determines that they function as they do. ‘His understanding is infinite’ (Ps. 147:5). Moreover, God sovereignly governs every event that transpires, determining what, when, where, and how anything takes place-from the movement of the planets to the decrees of kings to the very hairs of our heads (Eph. 1:11). According to the Bible, He is omnipotent and in total control of the universe. Isaiah 40 celebrates in famous phraseology the creation, delineating, directing, providence, and power of Jehovah (vv. 12, 22-28). He has the freedom and control over the created order that the potter has over the clay (Rom. 9:21). As the Psalmist affirms, ‘Our God is in the heavens; He has done whatsoever He pleased’ (115:3).” [8]

It is on the atheist’s worldview that there is no basis to assume the uniformity of nature. The philosopher David Hume has taught us that to say the future will be like the past is to beg the question. [9] Since the uniformity of nature is an unjustified assumption on the atheist’s worldview, he has no basis upon which to engage in scientific activities. [10]

That the uniformity of nature is compatible with the Christian worldview is easily proven (remember that this unity is not an absolute one). God, who is providentially in control of all events, has revealed to us that we can count on regularities in the natural world. The Bible teaches that God providentially causes the harvest to come in due season, for example. Because of this regularity, we can be assured that scientific endeavors will be fruitful. Thus, far from presupposing the falsity of Christianity, science would be impossible without the truth of the Christian worldview.


Dr. Martin last turns to morality. He contends that “objective morality” is incompatible with Christian theology since morality is dependent upon the will of God. And since God can will whatever he wishes (he could will that killing other people for pleasure is good), morality is arbitrary.

This contention only has teeth to those theologians who hold a voluntaristic view of God. [11] But this is not what the Bible teaches. Scripture teaches that God cannot deny Himself (2 Tim. 2:13) and that He is immutable. Thus God cannot call good evil nor evil good. Dr. Martin will then press the issue by saying that it is arbitrary to say that God’s immutable character is good. This is to completely miss the point. Because God is absolute and personal His character defines good. The notion that there could be an impersonal ethical standard is absurd. Ethics are necessarily personal. Thus they must either be grounded in an absolute and personal God or grounded in non-absolute persons. The latter is what atheism teaches. But this leads to ethical relativism. Without an absolute person, which non-absolute person should we listen to? There is no non-arbitrary way of deciding. Thus to say that it is arbitrary to ground goodness in the character of God is simply to disagree with the Christian worldview.

It is the atheist’s worldview that cannot account for ethics. As I stated above, material processes are non-moral in nature. It makes no sense to say that the orbit of the moon is morally commendable or reprehensible and neither does it make sense to say that human actions are commendable or reprehensible since humans are merely material.

Dr. Bahnsen writes:

“What philosophy of value or morality can the unbeliever offer which will render it meaningful to condemn some atrocity as objectively evil? The moral indignation which is expressed by unbelievers when they encounter the wicked things which transpire in this world does not comport with the theories of ethics which unbelievers espouse, theories which prove to be arbitrary or subjective or merely utilitarian or relativistic in character. In the unbeliever’s worldview, there is no good reason for saying that anything is evil in nature, but only by personal choice or feeling.” [12]

Atheists often contend that we derive ethical norms from the way people typically behave. Even assuming people typically behave in a good manner (a big assumption indeed), this gets the atheist nowhere. Asserting that because the world is this way, it ought to be this way is fallacious. Just because I am presently using Word 6.0 to write this paper does not mean that I ought to be using Word 6.0.

The atheist has no way out. If he wishes to uphold morality he must give up his atheism. If he wants to keep his atheism he must give up on morality. So for an atheist to accuse a Christian of bad behavior, he must presuppose the Christian worldview. But since he claims not to presuppose the truth of Christianity he should be consistent and not be concerned over moral matters.


Since TANG fails in all three areas its failure is total. Logic, science, and morality do not presuppose the non-existence of God. Indeed the very opposite is true. In order to make sense of any of these subjects, we must presuppose the God of the Bible. Hence by the very logic that Dr. Martin uses to try to refute Christianity, he must presuppose the truth of Christianity. And this is precisely why Dr. Martin and his two atheist colleagues may be branded fools. Though they know the God of the Bible, they suppress this knowledge and in so doing deceive themselves. [13] Thus professing to be wise they have become fools for they have exchanged the truth of God for a lie and have worshipped and served created things rather than their Creator, who is forever praised (Rom.1).



[1] For a detailed discussion of transcendental arguments in general and TAG in particular, see Dr. Bahnsen’s and my tape series, “Transcendental Arguments: Nuclear Strength Apologetics.” Available from CMF: Catalog #ASV7-10 tapes-$55.

[2] Found in the Autumn 1996 issue of The New Zealand Rationalist & Humanist and on the “Internet Infidel” Internet web site: [http://freethought.tamu.edu/infidels].

[3] This is not to say, however, that atheists never act morally. Atheists feed their children, give money to charity and often make good neighbors. But atheists cannot give a justification for their actions. In the words of Cornelius Van Til, they are living on “borrowed capital” from the Christian worldview. Thus they profess one thing, but their actions belie this profession.

[4] This is the approach that Professor John Frame has taken in his exchanges with Dr. Martin. These exchanges can be found on the Internet under the Center for Reformed Theology and Apologetics home page: [http://www.reformed.org/apologetics/martin_TAG.html]

[5] Parenthetical numerals are mine.

[6] Note the absurdity of [4] which asserts that God can make the law of non-contradiction false. Since for something to be false it must be not true, which assumes there is a distinction between falsity and truth. This distinction is precisely what the law of non-contradiction implies. Thus to say the law of non-contradiction is false is to presuppose the truth of the law of non-contradiction.

[7] The view that logic is based upon observation is thoroughly refuted by Gottlob Frege in The Foundations of Arithmetic (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1980).

[8] Greg L. Bahnsen, “The Problem of Miracles: Part 1,” Biblical Worldview, Vol. IX:7 (July 1993).

[9] Hume’s discussion of this problem (often called the traditional problem of induction) is found in his An Inquiry Concerning Human Understanding, section IV.

[10] For elaboration of this point see Dr. Bahnsen’s debate with Mr. Tabash. CMF catalog #AST2-2 tapes-$17.

[11] Voluntarism is the view that God’s will is His primary attribute. Accordingly, God can will whatever He wants and can even change His mind. Thus God can one day assert the goodness of preserving life and the next assert the goodness of murder. The medieval theologians Duns Scotus and William Occam were advocates of this view.

[12] Greg L. Bahnsen, “Does the Unbeliever Take Evil Seriously? The Problem of Evil: Part 2” Biblical Worldview, Vol. VII:12 (Dec. 1991).

[13] For an analytical discussion of this psychological phenomenon see Greg L. Bahnsen, “The Apologetical Implications of Self-Deception,” available from CMF: Catalog #ASD4-2 tapes-$10.


5 Responses to “TAG vs. TANG”

  1. Tony Jiang July 26, 2014 at 2:03 am #

    well if impersonal ethical standard doesnt exist or is impossible then by definition all morality is nessaeily subjective

    • Mike Gamble November 14, 2014 at 11:33 am #

      No IMPERSONAL standard exists, but a PERSONAL ethical standard does, and it’s rooted in the authority and nature of God. For that reason alone do we have an objective standard for morality.

    • calvinist4life December 23, 2014 at 1:17 am #

      Point taken. However, God is personal, He has personality, and He is the ethical standard. God by very definition is the “ultimate” supreme being, of which there can be no higher court of appeal, no higher authority. When we talk about God as the ethical (ultimate) standard, we refer to a God who is absolute, a God who is objective, meaning He exists apart from, outside of our existence. We cannot speak of morality apart from persons. morality is necessarily and dependent on personality, on thought, action, behavior, these cannot exist apart from persons. All morality would be necessarily subjective, if there were no God, no absolute personality and attributes of the Trinity. All morality would be necessarily subjective, if it depended upon human standards. Even (to his credit) classical apologists such as C.S. Lewis recognized this, and defended the necessity of an objective moral standard.

  2. Mike Gamble November 14, 2014 at 11:21 am #

    I enjoyed the article!

    Although I agree with your conclusion, I would have approached it differently. In my understanding, “contingent” is by definition that which is not necessary, and “dependent on” could be considered a case of contingency, so the first two arguments are only definitions. The third argument suggests a principle based on nothing specific, but it doesn’t even come into play prior to establishing that logic is contingent on God, but Dr. Martin never really does that. He simply assumes it. Thus his argument doesn’t really assert anything until he reaches the conclusion.

    Therefore, my approach would be to challenge the assumption that logic is dependent on God. In your argument, you said “Just because the principles of logic are ontologically dependent upon God does not mean that God could change them.” However, if you assert that God can’t change them because they are part of God’s nature, in what sense are they “ontologically dependent”? Maybe you could shed some light on your understanding of that expression, but I would completely deny that the principles of logic are dependent or contingent. They can simply be thought of as being descriptive of who God is.

    All in all, Dr. Martin’s argument smacks at desperation. It wasn’t well thought out, and he doesn’t have any basis for asserting anything. Your discussion of the transcendental argument did a good job of showing why Dr. Martin and other atheists have no business trying to participate in debates. Their worldview lacks any sort of foundation for rationality.


    • calvinist4life December 23, 2014 at 1:32 am #

      Hello Mike, I just want to point out that the article was written by Michael Butler, and not the author of this blog. The three primary reasons for posting it here are for digital preservation, “spreading the word”, and the relevance, and advances of it to the whole TAG discussion. Thank you for your comments and interaction with the article. God bless!

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