New York Minute

We’re using the “Handbook of Apologetics” by Peter Kreeft and Ronald Tacelli to go over the arguments for the existence of God.  Today, we will be covering the above referenced subject in relation to the existence of God. Dr. Kreeft teaches logic in two major universities, so his arguments tend to be clear, concise and very helpful.

Six Methodological Principles

Before we attempt to solve this notorious problem, we should pause to remember a few indispensable rules of method. We need not have a full-blown methodology in place beforehand. In fact, we are suspicious of those who do, for method is meant to serve and be subordinate to subject matter, and to emerge out of it. But there are certain basic methodological principles that we ignore at our own peril. Here are six of them.

1. We must begin with data, not with theories. Theology, like every science, has data, basic givens. In addition to experience, both religious and nonreligious, theology has the data of faith, that is, the data received by faith, as the data of astronomy are received by telescopes. These data are the contents of divine revelation, for example, of the Scriptures.

The problem of evil arises from the data, from the apparent contradiction between two sets of data, namely the experience of real evil and the revelation of an all-good, all-loving, all-just God who created and omnipotently controls the universe. If either set of data could be denied, the problem would be solved. Atheism denies the datum of revelation that there is a real God. Idealism denies the data of experience that there is real evil. These are cheap, simple solutions, we think. We are in the market for a better and more costly one. We shall have to spend more time and thought to find it.

2. We should not minimize, compromise or water down the data. Pantheism and naturalism do just that. They reduce the all-good and all-powerful God which our data deliver to either a pantheistic pudding equally inclusive of good and evil like lumps in the tapioca, or to a “Force” in nature, or the cosmos, which is unable to create the cosmos out of nothing and unable miraculously and supernaturally to turn the forces of evil in the cosmos to good.

When Augustine faced the apparent contradiction between divine grace and human free will (On Grace and Free Will), his most important move was his first, his methodology. He did not minimize either half of his apparently contradictory data. Instead, he reflected deeply on, and explored both halves of, his data, so that after this double journey he could emerge from these two deep caves, these two great mysteries, into the light of day with the insight that grace and free will are really two sides of the same coin. This insight was not available on shallower levels of looking at the data. His solution came from looking into his data more deeply.

Specifically, it worked like this. On the shallow level, it looks like a question of whether God pulls my strings or I pull my own strings. But by going more deeply into the double data, Augustine came to realize two things, one about grace and the other about free will. First, grace is an “interior master” rather than an exterior one; grace deals with nature according to its nature, “grace perfects nature.” And “nature” for humans means human nature, which includes free will as part of its essence. Second, true freedom is not just indetermination, freedom from all influence, but self-determination, self-realization, self-perfection; freedom for the realization of our end and destiny. And this comes only from God, our Author and Designer, our Savior from the sin that blocks this self-realization. Thus, the two parts of the problem become the two parts of the solution.

But this coming-together could not have happened if Augustine had been impatient with paradox and minimized or compromised his paradoxical data. Augustine’s method seems to us paradigmatic and archetypical for the Christian theologian. In fact, all great Christian thinkers have used it—in modern times, especially Pascal, Kierkegaard, Dostoyevsky, Chesterton and C. S. Lewis.

3. We must not use the typical style found in scholarly dissertations and articles. Rather, we should strive to think and write clearly, simply, directly, concretely and specifically, and to translate abstract, technical terminology into ordinary language. Polysyllabic jargon is like long freight trains: they put the mind to sleep as you wait for them to cross the road. They are like magical incantations that go on by themselves and have a life of their own. But one-syllable words force the gray matter to make connections. If you can’t translate it into words a fisherman would understand, you don’t understand it yourself. We propose the radical exercise of translating Christian apologetics into language the apostles (some of whom were fishermen, remember) would understand.

4. We should think logically; that is to say, the threefold logical structure of thought itself should always be in the background. We should habitually check the clarity of our terms, the truth of our premises and the validity of our arguments, and remember that there are three and only three ways to answer any argument: find an ambiguous term, a false premise or a logical fallacy. Argumentation is really much simpler, not more complex, than most people think.

5. We should not try to be original, or avant-garde, or “politically correct,” or peer-popular, or anything except true. C. S. Lewis said no one who tried to be original ever succeeded. Only when you seek the truth, not caring who saw or said it before you, will you be original.

6. We should begin with definitions—that is, real definitions, not just nominal ones: definitions of real things, not just fussing over words and usage. In modern logic, modern philosophy and modern life, the most neglected mental act is the one needed for real definitions, “the first act of the mind,” “simple apprehension” or understanding of an essence, a nature, a what, a unit of meaning which can be defined.

All judging and reasoning begins with understanding its terms. Augustine resolved the problem of grace and free will not by reasoning but by understanding. We will try to resolve the problem of evil in the same way.

We begin by defining the terms used in this debate.

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