This post develops the point of an earlier post on the Roman Catholic theologian Bernard J. F. Lonergan (1904-1984).
“If the real is completely intelligible,” Lonergan argued, “God exists. But the real is completely intelligible. Therefore, God exists.” Insight: A Study of Human Understanding, New York: Philosophical Library, 1957, 672; Collected Works of Bernard Lonergan, Book 3, U Toronto Press, 5th ed, 1992.
Lonergan seems to derive the minor premise (“But the real is completely intelligible”) from the alleged fact that the human desire to know, which by nature seeks complete intelligibility, therefore affirms (at least implicitly) the existence of a completely intelligent object (which satisfies that desire).
This affirmation in turn entails the existence of a completely intelligent “unrestricted act of understanding” that understands everything about everything and all the attributes of the God of Christian theism to boot.
Epistemologically self-conscious Christians know that Christ is the light of every human knower. (John 1:9; “In thy light shall we see light.” Psalm 36:9b) They not only know God exists, but know that they know God exists. (Romans 1:18-20)
And so they do not feel a need to prove God’s existence from things allegedly known better, any more than they feel the need to prove the existence of a world order existing independently of their experience of it or the existence of persons like themselves. They reject any presumption of atheism.
By “feel a need” I mean the guilt that can attach to believin’ what ain’t so or, in the jargon of philosophy, one’s sense of failing to perform one’s cognitive obligations.
Consequently, epistemologically self-conscious Christians know (at least implicitly) that creation is completely intelligible (and actually intellected by God: Psalm 147:5). They are not interested in pretending to infer God’s existence from creation’s intelligibility (pseudo-autonomously and dubiously from one’s mental innards).
Contrast Lonergan’s neo-Thomist approach with that of Reformed Baptist theologian Augustus Hopkins Strong (1836-1921).
Strong regarded God’s existence as a “first truth, ” that is, a “rational intuition” that logically “precedes and conditions all conditions and reasoning” and therefore not derived from them; and occasioned by “reflection upon the phenomena of nature and of mind.”
First truths like God’s existence, Strong wrote:
has such logical priority that it must be assumed or supposed in order to make any observation or reflection possible. Such truths are not, therefore, recognized first in order of time; some of them are assented to somewhat late in the mind’s growth; by the great majority of men they are never consciously formulated at all.
Yet they constitute the necessary assumptions upon which all other knowledge rests, and the mind has not only the inborn capacity to evolve them so soon as the proper occasions are presented, but the recognition of them is inevitable so soon as the mind begins to give accounts to itself of its own knowledge.
Systematic Theology: A Compendium Designed for the Use of Theological Students, Volume I, Part II, Chapter I, “The Existence of God. (I’ve posted the text of this section here.)
In this context, Strong might have added that the rebellious mind foolishly suppresses that truth (Romans 1:18-20) even as it affirms truths that logically depend on it.
What F. H. Bradley (1846-1924) said about metaphysics in the preface to Appearance and Reality applies to philosophical theology: it’s the finding of bad reasons for what one already believes upon grace; but to find these reasons is no less a grace.
And some reasons are better than others.