Natural Theology

Introduction

What is natural theology?

Natural theology is the study of God but apart from the use of any kind of revelation.

 

Does the Bible teach that such a thing is possible?

It does. Psalm 19 speaks to this.

 

How does Psalm 19 show the possibility of natural theology?

Because Psalm 19 teaches us the reality of general revelation.

 

General Revelation

What is general revelation?

This is revelation that comes to us unwritten or unspoken.

 

What does Psalm 19 say about this?

In the first half of this Psalm, David speaks about general revelation; in the second part, of special revelation.

The heavens are telling (cf here) of the glory of God; And their expanse is declaring (cf here) the work of His hands. (Psalm 19:1)

Furthermore, this declaring never stops. It goes on day after day and night after night.

Day to day pours forth speech, And night to night reveals knowledge. (Psalm 19:2)

Then, we are told that this revelation comes to us not in words or by a voice.

There is no speech, nor are there words; Their voice is not heard. (Psalm 19:3)

Finally, we are told of its extent. It reaches to the ends of the earth; there is no place under the sun which cannot access this revelation.

Their line has gone out through all the earth, And their utterances to the end of the world. (Psalm 19:4)

Then in the last half of the Psalm, David switches to speaking about special or written revelation.

The law of the LORD is perfect, restoring the soul; The testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple. (Psalm 19:7)

 

So if there is such a thing as general revelation, then there must be such a thing as natural theology.

Yes, precisely. Every science has its source or the object of its study from which it draws its conclusions. The geologist studies the earth, the biologist studies the human body, the astronomer studies the heavens, etc. The theologian also has his source which is Scripture or special revelation. When doing natural theology, this source is changed to that of general or unwritten revelation.

 

What other Scriptures speak to this?

Paul teaches in Romans that even those without the written word of God still know God.

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, (19) because that which is known of God is manifest to them; for God revealed it to them. (Romans 1:18-19)

Note here that God has made a revelation of Himself even to the Gentiles who do not have the written word of God.

 

What truths about God are those without the written word of God capable of learning? How far can such a person come?

Paul goes on in Romans 1 to teach that since the creation of the world, God’s attributes, His eternal power, and divine nature are able to be seen clearly from the things which God created.

 

In history, there are several examples of brilliant men who had no access to the word of God. Plato, Aristotle, and others never read Scripture as far as we know. Why is their “theology” nothing even remotely close to what the Scripture teaches?

Paul answers this question as well. Granted these men did teach the existence of a “god” and did correctly describe some of His attributes, but the vast bulk of their theology is utter nonsense. The reason for this is that those without God’s word are not neutral toward God. Paul teaches that they are holding down or suppressing the truth because they are under the control of sin.

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, (Romans 1:18)

 

The Cosmological Argument

How can we know the truth about God from the things that are made? (Romans 1:20)

This is what is commonly referred to as the cosmological argument.

 

What is the cosmological argument?

This argument is articulated in wide variety of different ways. Perhaps the simplest way is to think about this. If there was ever a time when there was really nothing at all, then there would be nothing now. The Latin expression is ex nihil (from nothing) nihil fit (nothing comes).

 

How does this show us the existence of God?

Because it shows us that something must be eternal.

 

Why must something be eternal?

The assumption here is that there are things now in existence. If this is so, then something must be eternal since if there was ever nothing, then there would be nothing now. Pearson writes:

We find by the experience of ourselves, that some things in this world have a beginning before which they were not; the account of the years of our age sufficiently infer our nativities, and they our conceptions, before which we had no being. Now if there be any thing which had a beginning, there must necessarily be something which had no beginning, because nothing can be a beginning to itself. source

 

How do you know that things exist now?

Because even to doubt our existence, we must first exist; cf Descartes.

 

Put this altogether for me.

Sure, here is Clarke’s statement of the cosmological argument.

First then, it is absolutely and undeniably certain, that Something must have existed from eternity. This is so evident and undeniable a proposition, that no atheist in any age has ever presumed to assert the contrary; and therefore there is little need of being particular in the proof of it. For since something now is, it is evident that something always was; otherwise the things that now are must have been produced out of nothing, absolutely and without cause, which is a plain contradiction in terms. For to say a thing is produced, and yet that there is no cause at all of that production, is to say that something is effected, when it is effected by nothing; that is, at the same time when it is not effected at all. Whatever exists, has a cause, a reason, a ground of its existence; (a foundation, on which its existence relies; a ground or reason why it doth exist rather than not exist;) either in the necessity of its own nature, and then it must have been of itself eternal; or in the will of some other being, and then that other being must, at least in the order of nature and causality, have existed before it. source

William Lane Craig articulates the argument by pointing out that whatever begins to exist must have been caused to exist. Since there is good evidence to show that our universe had a beginning, then it must have been caused to exist by something else. That something else must be something which did not begin; otherwise, this something would also require a cause for its own existence. Eventually, there must be something eternal; i.e. something without a beginning. source

 

What does this argument prove? Is it really a proof of God’s existence?

It is true that this argument does not prove the existence of the God we know and love. It simply proves that something must be eternal. To learn more about this eternal being, we will have to continue farther down the path of natural theology.

 

Is it not possible that the world has just always existed?

This is what every non-theist must believe. The evidence of science, however, makes this an impossible theory.

 

How so?

Because most scientists have abandoned the steady-state theory of the universe in favor of the big bang theory. Furthermore, science teaches us that the world is running down as per the second law of thermodynamics.  Now if the world were eternal, it would have long since reached the state of entropy. But the universe has clearly not reached entropy; and therefore, is not eternal.

 

The Design Argument

What is the design argument for God’s existence?

This argument reasons from the presence of design in nature to the existence of a great designer. It is also known as the teleological argument.

 

What evidence of design to we see in nature?

There are an almost infinite variety of these.  Scientists seem to uncover new instances of this almost daily.  Paley wrote a book on this almost two hundred years ago with the evidence available to him then.  In our own day, the evidence for this has exploded far beyond one man’s ability to take it all in.

 

Give an example of this design.

Paley gave the example of hiking through a park and coming upon a watch. source  Today, one might think about hiking through the mountains and coming upon Mount Rushmore or driving through Egypt and seeing the Pyramids or the Sphinx.

 

Why does discovering a watch or seeing Mount Rushmore or the Pyramids suggest the existence of God?

Because it is clear to everyone that the watch and the images on Mount Rushmore were not the result of unguided, purposeless forces. Everyone recognizes immediately that some person with intelligence fashioned the pyramids into their unique shape. In the same way, when we see evidence of such design in nature, we conclude that some intelligence designed it to be so. This is a perfectly rational way of thinking.

 

Does not the theory of evolution account for this appearance of design?

 

 

What are the anthropic principles?

These are many different factors which must be calibrated with exact precision or life on earth would be utterly impossible. Scientists have discovered many of these. See chapter 12 in D’Souza’s book What’s so Great About Christianity? or the entire book, Privileged Planet.

 

The Moral Argument

What other arguments do natural theologians use to teach us about God?