Joe Hinman has made a rather obscure theistic argument based on philosopher Jacques Derrida's metaphysical concepts of the "Transcendental Signifier" (TS) and "Transcendental Signified" (TSed). It is worth noting that Joe actually rejects the philosophical position of Derrida, which is basically that the existence of any Transcendental Signified is a myth. But he accepts Derrida's metaphysical concept of the TS and the TSed as being valid, and he believes Derrida is wrong in positing that it doesn't exist. I must admit that I am not familiar with Derrida's work, but I'll try to explain it from Joe's perspective, and walk through his argument, step by step. So without further ado, let me state Joe's argument here:
1. Any rational, coherent, and meaningful view of the universe must of necessity presuppose organizing principles (Ops)
2. OP's summed up in TS
3. Modern Thought rejects TS outright or takes out all aspects of mind.
4. Therefore, Modern thought fails to provide a rational, coherent, and meaningful view of the universe.
5. minds organize and communicate meaning
6. Therefore universal mind, offers the best understanding of TS
7. Concept of God unites TS with universal mind therefore offers best explanation for a view that is Rational, Coherent, and Meaningful (RCM).
Joe defends his argument with a somewhat lengthy commentary on each of its numbered statements. Statements 1 to 3 are explained here, and the remainder are explained here. But first, it might be helpful to read Joe's other article on Transcentental Signifier, where he provides a somewhat more cogent explanation of what he means by TS and TSed. Basically a signifier is a word or mark that represents something, and the TS is what represents the ultimate ground of meaning - the organizing principle at the apex of the metaphysical hierarchy (according to Joe). In Christian parlance, it is "the Word", or "the Logos". The signified is the referent for that word - the thing that the word stands for. In Christian parlance, the Transcendental Signified is God. Why Joe should go to such pains to separate the signifier from the signified is a mystery to me. It doesn't seem to add anything substantial to his argument. And in fact, he seems to use the terms TS and TSed interchangeably, as far as I can tell.
Statement 1 summary:
Joe asserts that organizing principles (OPs) require hierarchies of understanding. He explains that this does not mean that the laws of physics imply a designer or a law-giver. (OK. I didn't think so, either.) He uses the term TS in an ambiguous manner, though. In one instance he says "I point to grammar as an example of a TS", and then he goes on to assert organizing principles are summed up in a "single first principle", or TS. This really should have come under his discussion of Statement 2, but I point it out here because he has used TS to mean both a generic top-level organizing principle (such as laws of physics, or rules of grammar), and the ultimate OP (the Logos). This only serves to confuse his argument. He discusses how self-organizing systems must still subject to an external OP. I disagree. The universe itself is a self-contained, self-organizing system, with the laws of physics as the top-level organizing principle (if that's what you want to call it). The point I make is that the OP that governs the structure of the universe is contained within the universe itself, not something imposed from outside. Note that if you think the laws of physics must be externally imposed, Joe already stated that is not implied. So there is no need for a higher-level OP.
Statement 2 summary:
Here, Joe makes the assertion that there are various high-level organizing principles, such as mathematics, language, logic, that are summed up in an overarching first principle. Again, he describes this in a confusing way. He actually uses the term "first principle" both in reference to those high-level principles (like the laws of physics) and in reference to the single overarching principle, which he calls the TSed. At this point, it's impossible to know what he means by "first principle". Is it the overarching first principle or not? Is that first principle the TS or the TSed? By Joe's own words we are left confused, and it isn't clear that Joe has a good grasp of what he's trying to say. But confusing terminology aside, Joe explains that there are top-level organizing principles that "explain everything". I must take issue with that, because they don't explain everything, but they may explain everything within a particular domain. For example the search for a Grand Unified Theory in particle physics does nothing to enhance our understanding of language or logic or chemistry. Joe says that the TS "organizes the organizers". So it must be at a higher level than an OP, yet he still uses the term TS and OP to refer to the same things. Still more confusion. Some consistency in his use of terminology would be appreciated.
But the bigger point to make is that there really is no overarching organizing principle. You might say God explains it all, but that is equivalent to saying we know all there is to know because God. In truth, just saying that doesn't explain anything at all. It's a feel-good thing for theists to say, but it does nothing to help us understand any of the subordinate organizing principles. The idea of an overarching organizing principle in meaningless. Just as is the idea that there is some kind of metaphysical hierarchy. Can Joe explain the structure of this supposed hierarchy, other than saying that God is on top of it all? No. Because there is no such thing. And likewise, there is no hierarchy of meaning that culminates in a first principle TS. There are domains of meaning, and they are more or less independent - not organized onto a single structure.
Statement 3 summary:
Joe's main point here is that we tend to use mindless concepts for our organizing principles. For example the laws of physics require no conscious entity to operate as an organizing principle. But (and this seems to be something that should probably fall under one of the later premises) the overarching first principle does require a mind to put it all together. I have already explained that the appeal to an overarching first principle is essentially meaningless. But even if that were not the case, I still see no need for this conscious entity. Why can't things just exist as they are and behave the way they do without being controlled by some mind? Joe doesn't say. It's just an assertion he makes.
Statement 4 summary:
What Joe is saying here is that without a mind governing everything, we have no way to explain the meaning of the whole. We can't answer certain questions like Why are we here? We can't explain why the laws of physics exist. He is making the assumption that God is necessary to answer these questions, but he ignores the fact that Because God really doesn't answer them any better than having no answer at all. Why is there something rather than nothing? We could say Because God, or we could admit that we have no answer. Either way, we still don't have anything meaningful. Joe feels that by saying Because God, we now magically have all the understanding we need. And that makes him feel good, but what has he actually explained? He says that without God, the world is irrational. That's not true. The world is a-rational, but not irrational. We humans can provide rational explanations for what we observe. We just can't answer some of those big Why questions. But Joe seems to be making the case that without God's mind, we can't provide any rational explanations at all. This is false.
Statement 5 summary:
Minds organize meaning. No argument there. But there is something Joe leaves unsaid. Meaning is entirely within a mind. There is no meaning that somehow exists outside of our minds. Meaning is how we understand things. Consider a proposition P. P might mean one thing to me, and a different thing to you. It depends on what definitions we attach to the words of the proposition, and the concepts we associate with them, which is based on our experience. Meaning is not some universal thing that exists apart from our brains. Even if there were a God, how does that give me any more understanding than I already have? Joe seems to be making the theistic case that we don't understand anything without having access to God's mind. Which would be an assertion without any justification, and which denies scientific knowledge.
Statement 6 summary:
This is where Joe puts his argument together. He makes the assertion that science omits mind, and so precludes "an explanation uniting all the major areas of human being: the physical nature of the universe, the moral, and the existential or the dimension of our being where higher meaning and sheer existence meet." Joe ignores the fact that science doesn't exclude mind at all. It explains mind in terms of the function of the physical brain. But this isn't good enough to give Joe the answers he's looking for. He cites unscientific opinions that say mind must not be physical. The real source of all mind is God. God provides the source of ultimate meaning and purpose, which gives us the answers that science can't. True enough, science does not give us that kind of mind. Science only gives us answers that are obtainable by humans. But positing God as a universal mind answers to those Why questions, and the answer is always Because God. That's the best we can do when we are looking for answers that are not attainable by humans. For some reason, it is an answer that Joe finds satisfying.
Statement 7 summary:
Joe returns to the concept of the Transcendental Signified, which is the ground of meaning, and the only way to those Why questions. But since he equates the TSed with God (or is it the TS?), he could have just said "God is the ultimate organizing principle" from the outset, and not bothered with TS and TSed at all. But then he goes further and claims without any supporting explanation that the ultimate answer (Because God) is "rational, coherent, and meaningful". Frankly, I don't see it. It isn't rational, it isn't coherent, and it isn't meaningful.
I think the whole argument could have been stated in a much simpler way:
1. There must be a universal mind to answer the questions that science can't.He could have skipped over all that discussion of TS and TSed, which really add nothing substantial to the argument. But they do serve to obscure the real meaning of what he's saying. If you use lots of big words, perhaps you can hide the fact that your premises are baseless. Why must there be a universal mind? Joe may be uncomfortable with the thought that there might be no such thing, but he hasn't substantiated the claim that it must be true. God is, of course, the thing that fits the bill by definition, but once again, he still hasn't substantiated the claim the God must exist. Perhaps there simply is no answer to those Why questions. Just because he wants to believe that there are answers, doesn't make it true. And even if God does exist, there are still no meaningful answers beyond Because God. If we want to understand our world in any truly meaningful way, we still need science.
2. God is the universal mind that answers those questions.
3. Therefore, God exists.
The bottom line is that this argument is much like the Argument From Reason. It gives the believer a warm, fuzzy feeling by making theistic assertions that are unjustified. It is not even slightly compelling to someone who doesn't already believe.