The Transcendental Argument


Today we want to move on from traditional arguments for God, the ontological, the cosmological and the teleological to some new arguments advanced for the existence of God. Today we want to look at what is known as the transcendental argument for God. This is an argument implemented by Cornelius Van Til, perfected by Greg Bahnsen and is now widely used by Presuppositionalists, this is a particular brand of Reformed apologists. The transcendental argument as a type of argument was first used and named by Immanuel Kant. He proposed the transcendental argument to demonstrate contrary to the scepticism of David Hume that things are known by sense alone, and contrary to Liebniz that things are known by reason alone, that things are known by a combination of sense and categories the mind brings to anything we are encountering. In other words, when we know anything we know it by what our senses experience, but also by previous innate categories the mind brings that helps us make sense of the data, like space and causality. These presuppositions in combination with what our sense experience enable us to know things. This transcendental way of knowing became a staple of Van Til’s apologetic method.

Cornelius Van Til, 1895-1987 was a Reformed Theologian who taught at Princeton and then at Westminster in America. And because of His Reformed theology was critical of traditional arguments for God. You see most traditional arguments for God can be put in the rational or empirical category. In other words, they rest on man’s ability to reason from what man is able to identify as foundational truth; or its rests on man’s ability to scrutinise the universe and reason his way to God. Both rationalism and empiricism as epistemological starting points for Apologetics contradict what the Bible teaches about man’s ability to know because of sin, and it makes man’s reason autonomous and not dependent upon Revelation to be taught. What God says of Himself is side-lined as man’s opinions based on fallible and finite reason parade as truth. Man is thereby exalted God is brought down, man is the judge and God who has spoken is silenced and judged. In reaction to this autonomous thinking of man Van Til insisted that we must accept the Bible and its teaching as the necessary starting point for reason, and the Bible assumes God and does not first prove Him.

The system of apologetics that Van Til developed was called Presuppositionalism and not Transcendentalism because of the connotations of Kantianism that Van Til rejected. This is the system of apologetics that I subscribe to as a biblically consistent apologetic method. I will outline the argument itself, and then talk about the biblical thinking behind it.