A Play in One Act
The following play was written in order to encapsulate what I consider to be the salient points in my discussion of the “Transcendental Argument for the existence of God” (TAG) with Christian apologist Paul Manata in May of 2004. I wrote this play for the purpose of illustrating the essence of a dialogue which Mr. Manata and I carried on over the course of several exchanges. In the play PRESUPPOSITIONALIST is the part of the Christian apologist, and many of his statements are taken verbatim from Mr. Manata’s own messages to me. ATHEIST 1 represents an atheist who initiated the conversation on the All_Bahnsen discussion list, and ATHEIST 2 represents my side of the conversation. Some license has been taken in creating this for the sake of presenting it in the form of a condensed dialogue. But for those who are interested in the actual exchange, readers are encouraged to join the All_Bahnsen discussion list in order to review the May 2004 archives of the list, which are reserved for members only.
Enter ATHEIST 1, PRESUPPOSITIONALIST, and ATHEIST 2.
A sunny afternoon, late in the day. The three are gathered in a park.
ATHEIST 1: Hey, you know, I'm not even sure Bahnsen really presents an actual argument for his claim that only the Christian worldview can account for logic, science and morality.
PRESUPPOSITIONALIST: What are you talking about? Nobody denies that Bahnsen argued! What are you, daft?
ATHEIST 2: Well, now that you mention it, you might have something here. It seems to me that Bahnsen simply asserted his claim and tried to shift the burden by denouncing those who didn't accept it. That's not arguing for the truth of anything.
PRESUPPOSITIONALIST: What are you, dense or something? Blimey! I can't believe it! Everything Bahnsen said was an argument! You just don't like the conclusion!
ATHEIST 2: Well, hold on here, let's look at an example and see what we find. Here's Bahnsen's opening statement in his debate with Gordon Stein. Where exactly is his argument?
PRESUPPOSITIONALIST: Are you kidding? Bahnsen royally stumped Stein in that debate! Stein even admitted this. And Michael Martin says that Bahnsen "argued"! That's proof that there's an argument here! Error #1!!
ATHEIST 2: Hmmm…it's not clear to me what his argument is. Let's look at those final four paragraphs in Bahnsen's opening statement. Which statements are to serve as the premises in his argument, and which statement is the conclusion? If there's an argument here, it's certainly not clearly articulated.
PRESUPPOSITIONALIST: That's because you don't understand a TA, fool!! Go back and read Bahnsen and Van Til, bonehead. Error #2!
ATHEIST 2: I'm sorry, what good will that do if Bahnsen does not present an identifiable argument for his position in his opening statement in a public debate? Where's the argument?
PRESUPPOSITIONALIST: Come on, you dummy! I'll show you the basics since you can't figure it out by yourself. The argument goes like this: If X is the case then Y is the case because Y is the precondition for X. X is the case, :. Y is the case. Get it, numb nuts?
ATHEIST 2: Okay, well, that looks like Modus Ponens to me.
PRESUPPOSITIONALIST: Your idea that the general stucture [sic] on a TA was just a basic modus ponens does show that you do not grasp TAG. Error #3!
ATHEIST 2: Sorry, I must have misunderstood your earlier statement. You said the argument is If X is the case then Y is the case. X is the case, therefore Y is the case. That's not Modus Ponens?
PRESUPPOSITIONALIST: You clearly don't grasp TAG, idiot! Take a philosophy course, man! Learn how to read, goofball! Go back and learn the basics. Right now you're just embarrassing yourself.
ATHEIST 2: I'm puzzled, Sir. Presuppositional theorist David Byron, who's done a lot of work to refine and strengthen Bahnsen's and Van Til's apologetic, makes it very clear: "A transcendental argument may be expressed in the form of Modus Ponens."
PRESUPPOSITIONALIST: I am familiar with Byron and his underdeveloped view means nothing to me.
ATHEIST 2: So, you're disagreeing with Byron on this point? You're saying that a TA cannot be expressed in the form of Modus Ponens, even though your own representation of the structure of TAG clearly follows this form?
PRESUPPOSITIONALIST: You heathen idiot! I know it takes the structure of MP! I never said it didn't! You just don't grasp TAG! Error #4!
ATHEIST 2: But so far it appears that your assessment that I don't understand TAG is premised on the assumption that I am wrong to suppose that TAG can be expressed in the form of Modus Ponens, but now you've agreed (since I quoted Byron) that it indeed "takes the structure of MP." Can you tell me where an argument which "takes the structure of MP" can be found anywhere in Bahnsen's opening statement?
PRESUPPOSITIONALIST: [BLANK OUT]
ATHEIST 2: Then I must say, TAG remains an utter mystery, for it's not apparent where Bahnsen presents anything that takes the shape of MP in his opening statement. All he seems to do is attempt to shift the burden onto his opponent and carry on ***as if*** he's presented an argument. Meanwhile, he accrues an increasing inventory of burdens of his own which he never attempts to meet. What's up?
PRESUPPOSITIONALIST: You just don't understand TAG, fool! Error #5!!!
ATHEIST 2: Okay, I admit I don't understand it. You say it "takes the form of MP," but I've not seen any argument presented in the form of MP, not from Bahnsen, that's for sure. Why don't you present your own version of TAG?
PRESUPPOSITIONALIST: The argument was: The atheist worldview cannot account for logic, science and morality.
ATHEIST 2: Where's the Modus Ponens here?
PRESUPPOSITIONALIST: See! You just don't grasp TAG! I can't believe it! It is perfectly clear that to even ask that then I know I am wasting my time.
ATHEIST 2: Well, let's see. First you insist that there's an argument. When I ask you to point it out, you say that I don't understand it. When I ask what the argument looks like, you say: If X is the case then Y is the case because Y is the precondition for X. X is the case, :. Y is the case. I then ask how this is different from MP, and again you respond by saying that I don't grasp TAG. Then I quote a heavy-hitting presuppositional theorist who says explicitly that "A transcendental argument may be expressed in the form of Modus Ponens." (Note that he does not mention any other argument form which a TA might assume; Byron singled out MP specifically.) Then you turn around and say that you're not denying that it can be expressed in the form of Modus Ponens, but dismiss out of hand the presuppositional theorist who says it can be. Then I ask you to point where an argument in the form of Modus Ponens can be assembled from Bahnsen's opening statement, and then you again complain that I don't understand TAG. So, I ask you to present your own version of TAG, and what you present does not take the structure of an argument, Modus Ponens or otherwise. In fact, it looks like a conclusion in need of an argument, like a little girl who's lost in the woods.
PRESUPPOSITIONALIST: Look, I am a single father will [sic] full custody of a four yr old. I am trying to finish school and have a full time job… this is way to [sic] time consuming. [EXITS]
ATHEIST 2: [LAST ONE STANDING] Well, that's a pity. I was hoping to finally see what TAG looks like. I'm afraid this guy turned out to be a disappointment on this matter, just as Bahnsen was in his debate with Stein. I suppose I'll have to continue seeking for presuppositional apologists who actually have an argument to present. So far, I've not found one. Good day.
[ATHEIST 2 walks off into the sunset singing dixie…]