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By Spencer D Gear PhD
How would you respond to these statements?
‘There is no such person as an atheist’.
‘Most natural theology is metaphysical and the current theories of the day for Science do not really have an impact’?
‘Natural theology is anti-biblical as well as unbiblical’ (Morey 2010:396).
The importance of natural theology
Scripture, which is revealed theology, focusses on God’s searching for human beings. According to Romans 1:18-32 (NLT), natural theology involves human beings searching for God through the display of Himself in the cosmos – nature.
How does one define natural theology? By it, I mean that attempts are made from evidence in nature that ‘there is a First Cause or unmoved Mover or cosmic Orderer, without reference to the characteristics attributed to God in Scripture’ (Oden 1987:134).
Since I live in a post-Christian culture, I use natural theology, whenever possible, to point people to the existence of God. Therefore, I do not agree with your statement that ‘most natural theology is metaphysical’.
Most natural theology should be pointing to the revelation of God in nature through which all human beings know of his existence. If there is order and design in our world, we need to test the hypotheses: (1) Who is the one who creates order? (2) Who is the designer?
The argument for natural theology was summarised by Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) in his Summa Theologica (I Q2.3.1, p. 14):
a. The visible world is a cosmos, an orderly unity whose order is constant, uniform, complex, and intrinsic to the universe itself.
b. Such an order cannot be explained unless it is admitted that the universe has a cause that displays intelligence capable of bringing it into being.
c. Therefore, such a cause of the universe exists, which is to say, God exists as the intelligent cause of the universe (summarised in Oden 1987:143).
Part of the Aquinas’ argument was:
The existence of truth is self-evident. For whoever denies the existence of truth grants that truth does not exist: and, if truth does not exist, then the proposition “Truth does not exist” is true: and if there is anything true, there must be truth. But God is truth itself: I am the way, the truth, and the life (John xiv. 6). Therefore “God exists” is self-evident (Aquinas Summa Theologica 1.Q2.1.3).
Even though the Aquinas’ summary argument was made in the 13th century, it is just as relevant to a post-Christian Australia in 2016. I’m in the midst of preparing a submission to the Queensland government against decriminalising abortion at any time up to the time of birth, using natural theology and revealed theology to call on our politicians not to change the criminal code that already allows for abortion if the life of the mother is at risk.
Natural theology has especial benefit when in apologetic discussion about the existence of God. For example, the east coast of Australia (including my city of Brisbane) has experienced the unseasonal ‘Big Wet‘ of torrential rain and destructive winds over the weekend of 4-5 June 2016 (Branco 2016).
What an opportunity to use natural theology to point to God’s existence and his involvement in the cosmos. This is no metaphysical examination but a pointing to the evidence for God’s existence and interventions in nature.
However, Thomas Oden rightly shows that it may lead to confusion if we try to prove God’s existence from natural theology and then later state the specifics of what Christian teaching means by ‘God’. His approach is:
For so long as what one means by “God” remains wholly ambiguous, it is hardly an exercise of great meaning to prove God’s existence. It is less pivotal to biblical faith that an unmoved Mover exists than that the caring God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jesus lives indeed and acts as attested in Scripture (Oden 1987:134).
So, it is packed with more meaning to proceed from the nature of God revealed in Scripture and to state ‘candidly what Christians mean by the caring God and only then to ask whether that One is as characterized and whether that set of meanings is true to the facts we can gather’ (Oden 1987:134-135).
When we define God as ‘caring holy love’ (Oden’s language), as revealed in Scripture, and then turn to natural theology for evidence of this care, we are on more solid foundations to discuss the nature of God and his actions. My understanding is that the caring, holy, loving God deals with humanity with loving, perfect discipline, which is a discipline that flows from the perfect nature of the one true God who exists and is revealed in Scripture.
For further explanations of the nature of God, according to the Bible, see my articles:
Implications of natural theology
Natural theology, as Romans 1:18-32 (NLT) indicates, is designed to demonstrate:
The truth about God is obvious to all people (v. 18);
God has made the truth about himself known since the world was created (v. 19);
That truth about God is seen in the earth and sky, i.e. in everything God has made (v. 20);
All people can see God’s invisible qualities, his eternal power, and divine nature in what God has made (v. 21);
Therefore, all human beings have no excuse to say they do not know of the existence of God (v. 20);
People do not worship God because they choose to suppress the truth of God’s existence by their wickedness (v. 18);
Then they turn to their own foolish ideas about what God is like (v. 21);
They worship their own idols (v. 23), and
God abandons them to their shameful desires (v. 24) with their many ugly consequences.
If sinful human beings do not pursue the revelation of God in nature (natural theology), God hands them over to their natural, sinful desires with their many wicked consequences. These are described in Romans 1:26-32 (NLT) as including:
Both women and men abandoning heterosexual for homosexual relationships. This brought negative consequences.
They committed other sin, including greed, hate, envy, murder, quarrelling, deception, malicious behaviour, gossip and were backstabbers;
Thus, they are God haters who are insolent, proud and boastful;
They invent ways of sinning, including being disobedient to parents;
They refuse to understand, break promises, are heartless, and without mercy;
Knowing God’s justice requires that they deserve to die, they continue to practise wickedness themselves and encourage others to join them.
Natural theology is designed by God himself to provide evidence of his existence in creation so that human beings will pursue him. When it comes to judgment day, all human beings will be ‘without excuse’ about whether they know of God’s existence (Rom 1:20 NIV).
However, natural theology does not lead to eternal salvation through Christ. That is obtained by responding in faith to the proclamation or sharing Gospel: ‘God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it’ (Eph 2:8-9 NLT). How does that happen? ‘So faith comes from hearing, that is, hearing the Good News about Christ’ (Rom 10:17 NLT).
‘But God shows his anger from heaven against all sinful, wicked people who suppress the truth by their wickedness. They know the truth about God because he has made it obvious to them’ (Rom 1:18-19 NLT).
Branco, J 2016. Brisbane Weather: SES prepares for a day of cleaning up. Brisbane Times (online), June 5. Available at: http://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/queensland/brisbane-weather-ses-prepares-for-a-day-of-cleaning-up-20160604-gpbo64.html (Accessed 6 June 2016).
Morey, R 2010. The Bible, natural theology and natural law: Conflict or compromise? Maitland FL: Xulon Press.
Oden, T C 1987. The living God: Systematic theology, vol 1. New York, NY: HarperSanFrancisco.
 This is adapted from Crossway, ‘Why there’s no such thing as an atheist’, November 02, 2015. Available at: https://www.crossway.org/blog/2015/11/why-theres-no-such-thing-as-an-atheist/ (Accessed 7 June 2016).
 Christianity Board 2016. ‘Natural Theology?’ 6 June. Administrator#167. Available at: http://www.christianityboard.com/topic/22653-natural-theology/page-6 (Accessed 6 June 2016).
 The following is my response in ibid., OzSpen#168.
 His reply, before closing the thread, was: ‘Very well stated….I stand corrected’ (ibid., Administrator#169).
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Copyright © 2016 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 7 June 2016.