First off, what is meant by theism? And furthermore, what, exactly, constitutes an argument?
|1.||the belief in one God as the creator and ruler of the universe, without rejection of revelation (distinguished from deism )|
|2.||belief in the existence of a god or gods (opposed to atheism)|
Obviously, Christianity falls under the more encompassing category of theism, and as such, all arguments for the truth of Christianity are theistic, but not all theistic arguments are particularly Christian. That having been said, there are several categories of Theistic Arguments (I shall focus on these) presently known by me. The category of an argument is very important to the study of Christian Apologetics, because the category more or less makes known the format and purpose of the argument itself. To put it simply, if you know into which category an argument falls, you can know certainly what it is, where, when, why, and how to use it, and indeed, who to use it against.
The primary distinction you must make when examining an argument, is whether it falls under the Practical category or the Theoretical category. If an argument is practical, it attempts to show how it is somehow practical to believe in God. Another way of understanding this is that a practical argument for theism is an argument for belief in God, regardless of whether or not His existence is apparent. A theoretical argument for the existence of God is one that attempts to demonstrate the existence of God whether it’s convenient or not. (HINT: If you’re going to be a decent apologist, you should not care whether or not theism is a convenient or inconvenient truth) To put it simply, Practical Arguments show that you’re better off as a theist, whereas a Theoretical Argument demonstrates that God, in fact, exists whether you like it or not.
The difference, then, between theory and practice, is that between proof and persuasion.
Now within the practical and theoretical categories, there are four subcategories, two within each. Within the Practical Arguments, there are the Practical: practical Arguments, and the Practical: probable arguments. The Practical: practical arguments are the ones which are 100% purely practical. They are, so to speak, the “what’s in it for me?” arguments. They more or less attempt to show that theism has more “in it for you” than atheism. Indeed, this subcategory is very versatile, and can be used in arguments for the Christian faith as well as theism. The most famous example in this subcategory would have to be Pascal’s Wager, which I will go into later.
The Practical: probable subcategory is a branch of arguments that show how it is practical to be a theist (or Christian) because for some reason or another, the truth of the desired worldview is likely to be true. An example of this subcategory, which, though uncommon nowadays, is still quite valid, is the Argument from Common-Consent, which I shall examine on another post.
Throughout your usage of the Practical category, it is crucial to know that the practical arguments are not proofs in the classical sense, but rather coercive devices.
The theoretical subcategories are arguably the most difficult sort of arguments to present and defend, and as such, must be used on only one certain kind of people. I shall explain Argument Targeting, the process by which you perceive what sort of person you’re dealing with, and use an argument that suits them, later on in a separate post.
The first subcategory of this category is the Theoretical: exterior subcategory (a.k.a. Arguments from the Cosmos). This category utilizes arguments which attempt to prove that God exists, by drawing conclusions from observed facts about the universe. Arguably the most famous in this category these days is the Teleological argument, seeing as how it’s the cornerstone of the official Intelligent Design movement. The Theoretical: cosmos arguments are, in short, arguments which say:
Here’s what a Godless universe would look like.
Here’s what a universe with a God would look like.
Here’s what our universe looks like.
Although the premises often do not follow this pattern, this is what the deeper mental connections behind the actual logic look like.
The final subcategory is the Theoretical: interior subcategory (a.k.a. Arguments from Human Experience). These arguments take intuitive knowledge from the human subconscious (such as justice, reason, or desire) and attempt to show that such things are best explained in terms of a God. It would be wise to note however, that many people will not like the way you say only “best” explained by God. In this case, I find myself having to explain that when we say such and such a thing is best explained by God, what we really mean is that this and that logically point to a thing, which is what we mean when we say God. However, if you have targeted your audience properly, you will not be presenting any arguments they are likely to object to.
The critical distiction to make then, in the realm of Theoretical Argumentation, is that the arguments define what the word “God” means. Not vice versa.
If you know which category an argument belongs to, you will be able to target who is most susceptible to it, and then, and only then, are your chances for success the highest.