Reply To Don Collett On Transcendental Argument -- By: John M. Frame

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 65:2 (Fall 2003)
Article: Reply To Don Collett On Transcendental Argument
Author: John M. Frame

Reply To Don Collett On Transcendental Argument

John M. Frame

[John Frame is Professor of Systematic Theology and Philosophy at Reformed Theological Seminary, Orlando, Fla.]

My thanks to Don Collett for his careful thinking on the important issue of transcendental argument. He has stated my position accurately and has presented some criticisms of my argument that are well worth further reflection. I’m also grateful to him for defending me against certain points made by Bahnsen and Craig.

The formal analysis of presupposition by Strawson and Van Fraassen is a helpful addition to our discussion of these matters. Certainly I agree that Strawson’s formulation expresses accurately what Van Til usually meant by presupposition. So, as Collett puts it, if, say, causality presupposes God, then either the affirmation or the denial of causality implies God’s existence. This is the analogue to modus ponens. And, in the analogy to modus tollens, if God does not exist, then the existence of causality can neither be affirmed or denied, for on that assumption causality is not an intelligible concept.

I also agree with Collett that this definition of presupposition enables apologists to construct some non-traditional argument forms. Following Van Fraassen, he proposes the following argument form (certainly in an actual discussion it would have to be filled out by additional premises and definitions):

Causality presupposes God.

There is no causality.

Therefore God exists.

This is not the traditional modus ponens, since the second premise denies the antecedent of the first, though it may be described as an “analogue” of modus ponens. But given the definition of presupposes it is a valid argument. Similarly with Collett’s analogue of modus tollens:

Causality presupposes God.

There is no God.

Therefore, causality is unintelligible.

It will be interesting to see how Collett and others make use of these argument forms, developing formulations of them for practical debate.

I will, therefore, no longer claim that presuppositional argument is the same thing as traditional implication. I will, however, continue to claim that one may reach presuppositional conclusions by traditional argument forms, as well as the Collett-Van Fraassen form.

Presuppositional apologists have regularly used these traditional forms to establish the presupposition of Christian theism. In his taped debate with Gordon Stein, for example, Greg Bahnsen (w...

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