Bernard Lonergan (1904-1984) is one of the most fascinating theologians of the last century, and at Concordia University in Montreal, where I study, he is something of an iconic figure for the theology department precisely because he is a Concordia graduate. Now, there is absolutely no doubt that he was fantastically intelligent, and he knew it – for example, when it came time to write his Thesis he decided, for fun, to write the whole thing not in English or French, but in completely fluent Latin!
Despite these charitable acknowledgements, Lonergan’s argument for the existence of God, which is essentially a transcendental argument for the existence of God, is probably the only feature of his work which attracts me to him (though that probably says more about me than about him). However, I do think that his argument is worth taking the time to study him for. I do note that Lonergan’s argument, presented in the 19th Chapter of Insight, was admitted by even him to be “excessively laborious, complex and difficult”, not least of all because it requires a familiarity with his whole system of philosophy. However, he also thinks that his argument brings together all other arguments of Natural Theology (here I think he has in mind Cosmological, Teleological and Ontological arguments) since it is aimed at demonstrating clearly that which is at the foundation of all of them. Here, what I will offer is not a comprehensive exposition of the logic of his argument, but simply rather the argument in its most naked form. It looks something like this:
- If the real is completely intelligible, then God exists
- The real is completely intelligible
- Therefore God exists
I suspect that the main objectors to this argument today will be the progeny of the logical positivists. Thus, the controversial premise, in light of the project of Naturalized Epistemology, will be not the first premise, but the second premise. The objector will either say that what Lonergan refers to as the ‘real’ is without empirical referent, or else that the real is not completely intelligible.
In thinking about this, I realized that Lonergan’s language about God as an unrestricted act of understanding corresponds to his language about the human desire for unrestricted understanding. This made me think that one could plausibly run an inductive argument for realism to support his second premise. The argument from desire will, here, act as the model inductive argument (since I suspect that the argument I am here providing is simply the semantic equivalent to the argument from Desire that C.S. Lewis is responsible for, except that it is steeped in Lonergan’s vocabulary).
The inductive argument will look like this:
- Corresponding to every innate desire exists some object of satisfaction
- The desire for ‘unrestricted understanding’ is an innate desire
- Therefore there exists ‘unrestricted understanding’.
This argument is weak only because it is inductive, but if one accepts it then one will come to accept that the second premise of Lonergan’s argument is entailed by what this inductive argument demonstrates. For, for there to be unrestricted understanding the real must be completely intelligible.