[Revision 4/17/17: The sources for Gangadean’s arguments have been added to the references.]
Christian apologist Surrendra Gangadean has developed an apologetic argument that he calls Rational Presuppositionalism. His approach is different from the more well known methods; his aim is to establish an undeniable proof for God. He claims that God’s existence is “clear to reason,” by which he means epistemologically certain.
Gangadean rejects the use of the traditional arguments from natural theology (William Lane Craig style), as well as other the forms of presuppositionalism that reduce to question-begging assertions (Van Till) and defenses from psychological experience (Plantinga); he wants to avoid all three, and instead produce an airtight proof that is objectively binding and consistent with Romans 1:18-22:
18 The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, 19 since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.
21 For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.22 Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools
Gangadean says this truth is central to “Historic Christianity,” and so without a proof — that is, without epistemological certainty — belief in Christian theism is in vain. In other words, he has set an extremely tall burden of proof for himself.
In a recent post, Gangadean lays out the conditions for his proof, which begin with general revelation:
General revelation consists of what may be known about God and man and good and evil by all men, everywhere, at all times.
The clarity of general revelation (CGR) is opposed to all that is raised up against the knowledge of God; it is opposed to skepticism (knowledge is not possible) and to fideism (knowledge, as proof based on understanding, is not necessary).
CGR is the first elementary teaching in philosophical and theological foundation.
- It is self-evident that we think: we have concepts, judgments and arguments. Acts of thinking by reason are distinct from sense impressions.
- It is self-evident that reason in itself (the laws of identity, non-contradiction and excluded middle) is the laws of thought.
- Reason in its use is formative (used to form concepts, judgments and arguments which are the forms of all thought). It is critical (used as the test for meaning). It is interpretive (used to interpret experience in light of basic beliefs). It is constructive (used to construct a coherent worldview).
- Reason in us is natural (not conventional; the same in all who think). It is ontological (it applies to being as well as to thought). It is transcendental (authoritative, self-attesting; it cannot be questioned since it makes questioning possible). It is fundamental in human nature, the basis for understanding good and evil, which directs human desires and actions.
- Common Ground is the necessary condition for thought and discourse (public life). Human society is a society of rational beings. Participation in human society depends on the exercise of one’s capacity to use reason.
- The Content of Common Ground consists of reason (as the laws of thought), integrity (as a concern for consistency vs. the logical and existential absurd), Rational Presuppositionalism (we must think of the less basic in light of the more basic) and The Principle of Clarity (that the basic things are clear to reason).
- The Principle of Clarity affirms that the basic things about God and man and good and evil are clear to reason. One must neglect, avoid, resist and deny reason in order not to see what is objectively clear. Not seeing what is clear to reason is without excuse. All acts that are contrary to one’s nature as a rational being are morally evil. The inherent consequence of moral evil is meaninglessness and boredom and guilt.
- Clarity and God’s Existence—It is clear to reason that there must be something eternal and that only some (God the Creator) is eternal: matter exists and matter is not eternal; the soul exists and the soul is not eternal.
- Clarity and the Moral Law—It is clear to reason that there is a moral law grounded in human nature and that this law is objectively clear, comprehensive (for all of life) and critical (a matter of life and death in every sense).
- Clarity and Special Revelation—In response to the Problem of Evil (if God is all good and all powerful why is there evil?), CGR requires special revelation to show how God can be both just and merciful to man in sin and death.
I will argue that this grounding of “clarity” (or epistemological certainty) doesn’t work.
Steps 1 – 3 I’m on board with; it’s part of step 4 that I find questionable: “[Reason] is ontological (it applies to being as well as to thought).” Not so fast! It seems that Gangadean is making a leap from the ways we reason naturally to the ways objects must necessarily behave in the world. This claim is suspect. How can we know a priori how the world is? Why must objects independent of our minds behave according to the same “laws” found in the consistency of our reasoning? The former doesn’t necessarily follow from the latter; that is, there is no logical contradiction in imagining the laws of nature being different than the laws of thought. So we can’t know a priori. And if we discover through empirical means a conjunction of consistency (i.e. a finite series of events consistent with the laws of thought), then we’re still left short of a deductive proof for the claim of universal necessity.
So either way the proof fails. Gangadean’s enormous burden leaves him vulnerable to the smallest error wreaking havoc on his entire philosophical project. But there’s more.
Next, 5 – 6 are about “Common Ground.” I agree that finding a common ground is good, and that participation in human society depends on the exercise of one’s capacity to use reason. But the claim that “Human society is a society of rational beings” is evidently false. Our society is filled with people who suck at reasoning. We’re not born Enlightened Creatures of Reason; we’re not logical machines by nature; and not everybody can reflect on the most basic metaphysical and epistemological things. We must learn how to reason, and not everybody is capable or proficient.
In his 6th step, he claims that part of our common ground is “integrity,” which includes “a concern for consistency vs. the existential absurd.” This is sneaky. Why should one’s feelings about their life hold sway over what we can claim is true about the world? If it turns out that life sucks and we face an existential reality that is fundamentally unpleasant, how does that change what’s true about the world? I doesn’t. Here it seems Gangadean is merely saying, “Our common ground must be something that I emotionally and existentially approve of.” That just seems arbitrary and unreasonable.
He adds the principle of clarity as part of our common ground, and claims it “affirms that the basic things about God… are clear to reason.” And by “clear to reason,” he means are logically certain, with no room for error or excuse or unbelief. A first step of his proof for God from general revelation is by way of an appeal to a refined ontological argument. In it, Gangadean attempts to deduce: “there must be something eternal and that only some (God the Creator) is eternal: matter exists and matter is not eternal; the soul exists and the soul is not eternal.” (Again, all of this hinges on his ability to prove these claims deductively.)
I would argue that it’s not deductively certain that “some [spirit] must exist” eternally. What’s the proof that “spirits” even exist? Or that “matter is not eternal”? Or that it’s false that some ‘other’ non-supernatural substance is eternal? Inductive evidence will not and cannot justify these claims. Smuggling in metaphysical concepts won’t do, either. His arguments here seem to simply fall short.
Lastly, Gangadean adds that “special revelation” is needed for clarity in response the logical problem of evil. He says that “[the clarity of general revelation] requires special revelation to show how God can be both just and merciful to man in sin and death.” But this is utterly question-begging. If the logical problem of evil is brought against Gangadean (who is claiming to be able to prove God’s existence to a logical certainty), then an appeal to a book that presupposes the existence of God as a reason to believe in God is to assume the very thing in question! If that were a legitimate move, then “we could just say that the bible tells us that God exists, therefore, God exists and so there must be no logical problem of evil.”
In conclusion, it looks as though Gangadean and his followers have their work cut out for them. Any belief that results from fallacious and/or incomplete reasoning reduces to fideism — the very thing that Gangadean is trying to avoid. My hunch is that the quest for an irrefutable deductive proof for God is to bite off more than you can chew.
- “The Clarity of General Revelation,” http://thelogospapers.com/37-the-clarity-of-general-revelation/
- See Gangadean’s book Philosophical Foundation: pages 43-47 for the proof “Some is Eternal”; pages 57-61 for the proofs “Thinking is not a Motion of Atoms” and “The Mind is not the Brain”; and pages 52-56 for the proof ‘The Material World is not Eternal.”
- “Part 4: On Gangadean’s “Real” Solution to the Problem of Evil.” http://reasontodoubt.blogspot.com/2016/05/part-4-on-realironic-solution-to.html