Tuesday, January 31, 2006

A Modest Natural Theology?

Natural theology has always been viewed with suspicion by Protestant theologians, and this was particularly true of neo-orthodox theologians like Barth and Bultmann. The latter remarked that natural theology is "impossible" for Protestant theology because it "ignores the truth that the only possible access to God is faith". God is simply not knowable to man by the light of reason, and the mere attempt to know God in this manner is a sinful act. When people try to 'think their way to God', they always end up producing an idol.

Due to the prevailing influence of neo-orthodoxy, natural theology diminished in importance during the 20th century. However, in Science and Theology, Polkinghorne remarks that "a contemporary revival of natural theology is taking place, more at the hands of the physical scientists than at the hands of the theologians." He remarks that this newer version is more modest in its claims that the medieval Catholic version:

"Its discourse is of insight rather than proof. It does not assert that God's existence can be demonstrated in a logically coercive way... The new natural theology looks to the ground of all science's explanations, the laws of nature that it has to take as the assumed and unexplained basis for all its explanation, and it asks whether there is more to be understood about these laws beyond their mere assertion." This approach leads to "the God whose steadfast will is held to be expressed in the laws of nature that science discovers but does not explain."

Any constructive engagement between science and theology will require a robust (albeit modest) natural theology. Without it, the two fields will either remain completely isolated or one will be consumed by the other. But can Barthian theologians reconcile themselves to this modest natural theology, or will they simply toss aside any insights that science may provide regarding the nature of the Creator? Is revelation possible through reason, or is it always a miracle - an "impossible possibility"? It seems to me that a major theological challenge is to reconcile the "miracle of faith" with the "miracle of science"; namely, the astounding fact that humans are capable of understanding the physical universe through reason. As both miracles are gifts from the same God, they should not be kept apart forever.

1 comment:

RkBall said...

"The heaven's declare the glory of God". Doesn't this imply that somethings, at least, can be known of God through natural reflection upon the creation?

And doesn't Paul say as much in Romans 1?

OTOH, I John ends by saying "beloved, keep yourself from idols", implying that it is very easy, even for Christians, to develop what amounts to a false and therefore idolotrous view of God.

I think that unaided reason won't get us far, but aided reason can lead us to the reasonableness of faith in God, and, in particular, the reasonableness of faith in Christ.

But, without the aiding influence of the Holy Spirit, I don't think anybody gets God right -- even with the revelation of Scripture there for them to read.

Have you read Lee Strobel's The Case for a Creator?