Thursday, January 20, 2011

Natural Theology's Detractors

Natural theology does not garner widespread attention from the secular world as an apologetic for the existence of God or to describe His attributes. Some Christians also struggle with its value. The reasons are complex and difficult. Some Christian apologists loosely use the term proof in connection with scientific evidence pointing to a Creator. As that term is commonly understood, there is no such thing as proof for God’s existence even if the evidence seems persuasive. Evidence which proves God’s existence for one person may not even slightly budge a staunch atheist’s unbelief.

In ancient times natural theology was a philosophical statement of “divine purpose” based on reason. Aristotle (384 BC–322 BC) speculated on metaphysical principles such as an unmoved mover--a “first cause.” This unmoved mover was not a personal God who desired interaction with man and sought to impact man’s daily experience. Aristotle’s religion, therefore, did not resemble that of the ancient Hebrews. His “metaphysical principles” were not in the same league with the characteristics of the Hebrew Yahweh.

Today natural theology is seen as an instrument of human reason and therefore, supposedly accessible to all men. But it speaks to simpler and more straightforward questions: Does the natural world exhibit order, balance, and predictability, even intelligent design? Do such manifestations point to the God who authored the physical constants, the laws of nature based on those constants, and the apparent fine-tuning of our universe? In my view, the answer is “Yes.”

The truth discovery process of medieval theologian Thomas Aquinas relied heavily on human reason as a pathway to faith, but not to the exclusion of divine scriptural revelation. In my discussions with fellow Christians, I encounter two very disparate groups of people for whom empirical evidence from the world of nature is not strongly persuasive. Believers in young earth place their personal interpretation of biblical revelation above all scientific evidence which points away from their own view of reality. On the other side of the belief spectrum, theistic evolutionists reject evidence of design and evidence of apparent interventional innovations among life forms in order to adhere to their presupposition of naturalism as the driving force of evolution and an unalterable feature of their philosophy of science.

The spectrum of beliefs within and between the groups described above is very broad. My discussion has not described the diversity of viewpoints adequately. Christian theists must humbly acknowledge that the process of acquiring truth about present and past reality is indeed challenging. We must have faith that the most important truths about theological, physical, and historical realities are accessible. God enables us to make progress in our quest for truth.