Content, Delivery, and Method
Remember your freshman communication or public speaking class? We were taught that good communication requires useful content and a solid delivery.
Content is your message. Delivery puts the content in a nice little package. But where does one get content, and how does one present the content? Especially in the context of apologetics—where polemics may sometime replace pleasantries—having a systematic way to create arguments, listen to other’s assertions, and effectively handle objections is incredibly handy and useful.
A cheat sheet in your pocket. A toolbox containing all the right tools for every kind of job. Pick whichever illustration you will, but the idea is that we want to have methodologies—ways to analyze, organize, and apply subject matter—when it comes to handling discussions of faith and reasoning.
The Purpose of Methodology
As this is the introduction to a series, I’d like to define some terms that we’ll be using in later posts. Like I said, a methodology is a way to analyze, organize, and apply subject matter. You could say that a methodology is “a way of doing things.” When we create or study a systematic way to do things, it creates communication habits that are easy to apply to our reasoning.
I’d like to break down how I use the term “systematic” in that last sentence: by “systematic,” I mean an approach that “relat[es] to” or is “done according to a system” or “classification.” What kind of systems might we use when it comes to apologetics or logic? Let’s start with one common system or methodology: the scientific method.
An Example of Methodology
The processes of the system of the scientific method go like this: we formulate questions about something, we come up with hypotheses based on observation or thinking concerning the thing, we make logical potential outcomes about tests we might run, we run the tests, and then we compare outcomes. Rinse and repeat in different groups, or the same group with different variables.
While the scientific method in of itself seems logical—as in, how else would you experiment if not to postulate, test, observe, then retest?—this specific way of running experiments may have only been around for about 1,000 years. On that, here’s an important sidebar: keep in mind that sometimes what comes naturally to our minds may not be the most accurate way of going about something—like how the pre-9th century people might not have used the scientific method for experimentation.
Back to systematics: a methodology is useful because we can plug in different factors into it without having to come up with all-new methods. For instance, the scientific method can be applied to various fields as-is; we don’t need a social science scientific method, a biology scientific method, or a physics scientific method—we still use the same steps of questioning, hypothesizing, testing, and so on. We might put it like this: no matter if we’re observing proteins or people, we’re still going to use questions, hypotheses, and tests.
The scientific method is useful in apologetics as it relates to origins, Darwinism, and intelligent design. Other methods that commonly appear in apologetics include evidential apologetics (this is J. Warner Wallace’s approach), presuppositional apologetics, or classic philosophical apologetics. Within each of those methods are sub-methods, including theistic lowest common denominator reasoning, natural theology, or Bible-centered methods (for example, methods that revolve around biblical accounts like fulfilled prophecy or the resurrection). Obviously, there are broader fields under which these methods might fall, including philosophical, epistemological, or phenomenological areas of methodology.
What Methodology is Not: A Formula
In the previous paragraphs, we talked about the scientific method, testing, and hypothesis. However, let’s make this clear—a methodology is not a formula that we plug variables into (filling in x’s and y’s) and then it expect it to spit out an answer. A formula involves “set expressions” or “recipes,” that (at least mathematically) will most likely give us the correct answers for our algebraic statement. Those statements are relatively simple and easily proven, so it’s important not to mistake our methodologies for those equations (better known as syllogisms in logic and apologetics). There isn’t a lot of room to argue that “2 + 2 = 4,” but there could be room for debate in the statement “evidence of design in universe + evidence of a designer = presence of a designer.”
Why? There’s a lot of nuance, interpretation, phenomena, and logic in the second statement—including room for differing opinions and conclusions. Ultimately, the “math” in our “argument for design” might be right (that is, logically it follows) but the evidence in the two statements may be lacking, causing us to be guilty of fallacious reasoning. As it turns out, the same could actually be said of our “2 + 2 = 4” example.
Methodology vs. Formula
Let’s say we’re measuring the amount of cookies we have. So, two cookies added to a stack of two cookies means that I now have four cookies total. This is valid and sound reasoning, meaning I’m not guilty or formal or informal fallacies. When I say it’s a “valid” statement, I mean that there are no issues with the “algebra” or setup of the argument (not guilty of a formal fallacy). But it could be an unsound argument—guilty of an informal fallacy. I’ve taken the time to state that we’re measuring cookies. But what if I haven’t defined what a whole unit of a cookie is? If I took two whole cookies, then added two cookie crumbs, I don’t have four whole cookies—therefore my statement isn’t sound. Now, I could generalize my argument and say that I now have four “cookie units,” but the original statement about “2 cookies + 2 cookies = 4 cookies” is either wrong or at least misleading.
I don’t make that point to be confusing about the difference between a formula and a methodology. But you can see how a methodology could be useful, even as it applies to our cookie example. One certain kind of methodology might lend me to make the claim that two cookie units added to another group of two cookie units should equal four total cookie units, and other kind of methodology would lead me to reject this on the basis of my definition of “cookie unit” (that is, I don’t want to trade four full brownies for four cookie units, two of which are only crumbs).
So to recap: a methodology is not a formula because methodologies require more than algebra—they require at least nominal research, and at least a basic understanding of the proponent’s worldview and potential biases.
Furthermore, methodology is focused on “how,” “why,” and “to what purpose” kinds of statements—things that algebraic formulas do not intrinsically “care” about. What do I mean by “care”? A formula is something that I plug other information into: if the information is sound, all I need is for the formula to be valid for my argument to be grounded. If the formula works (that is, it’s a valid formula), then it doesn’t matter in the equation if my argument contains the answer to meaning, life, or if there’s really a God out there.
Methodologies, on the other hand, are directly affected (on the basis of bias or worldview) by the potential outcomes of said formula and may be changed, edited, or revised before being plugged into the formula. If I’m a Christian and don’t want to consider the possibility of “unexplainable evils” as an argument against a loving God, then the “how’s” or “why’s” as they relate to this potential defeater will never reach the formula, because my methodology will not allow me to consider something that could be a threat to my faith. The same example could be said about an atheist who doesn’t want to consider potential defeaters against his paradigms about the presence of God, and so never plugs in ontological or moral arguments for God into a formula because he or she could never posit God into their lifestyle.
By creating a system or method of techniques, analysis, or theory, we can cover a lot of ground when it comes to apologetics. Knowing about different methods may help us discover new or different fields of apologetics which may appeal to varying groups of people. By knowing how to analyze, organize, and apply subject matter—while differentiating it from simple formulas—we’ll be able to harness the power of systematic thinking and make great strides in our study or argumentation.