Friday, February 13, 2009

Is Natural Theology Biblical?

This blog post is largely in response to Danny Pelichowski's post on Natural Theology at Theological Sharpening.

I want to say that in some sense we want to agree with Danny and say that natural theology as defined as arguments from the natural world that man conjures up about God that is not revealed by God is unbiblical. Thus, natural theology then is wholly unsupported by the Bible.

But does this mean that one can not use arguments like the cosmological, ontological, teleological, and transcendental arguments for God’s existence?

I answer: No. The Bible teaches very clearly that God reveals himself generally to all mankind and would not be unreasonable to think that this might include mediate or discursive sorts of revelation. As the Paul teaches:

Romans 1:18-20 "18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse."

General revelation would be that revelation that God has revealed to us through nature and conscience that is distinct from special revelation which is written and shows us salvation through Christ.

Thus, there is a general revelation. This general revelation is immediate and mediate as Reformed Theologian Michael Horton affirms. But R.C. Sproul thinks that general revelation is only mediate. Immediate is that we have revelation through our faculties without any sort of argument, it is just properly basic. Mediate would be the revelation that God gives us through arguments. These arguments would be God given since it is revealed.

One might object to this by saying that reason cannot be revelation because this would make us rationalist. I would agree with this, but I am saying that reason is an instrument to apprehend general revelation. That is: reason is a minister that helps see what God has revealed to us. If someone objects to this notion then they would have to object to us reasoning and using our sense perception to read the Bible. But we all know we can read the Bible with sense perception and reasoning.

Natural Theology is a false theology, without God revealing himself to us we would know nothing about him; every act of revelation is God condescending to our level because he is the greatest possible being and we are finite and sinful. Thus, I conclude that General revelation is biblical and perfectly compatible with the traditional and transcendental arguments.


  1. Nate,

    The post you are responding to is part one of the paper that I will be posting at Theological Sharpening. I hope we can continue to discuss this topic as I complete posting the paper. In no way do I deny general revelation I just don't define it the way that Moreland did in the lecture that I quoted or the way that most of the philosophy professors define it at Biola. I say most because I do not know all of their interpretations but from what I gathered there when I was a student they are all natural theologians who begin apart from Scripture in their apologetic approach and I am arguing in the paper that this is unbiblical. I'm guessing that we are mostly in agreement on that, I could be wrong.

  2. In my post I distinguish between natural theology and general revelation. General revelation is biblical. I do not see any biblical contradiction with expanding general revelation to include the theistic arguments classical and transcendental. Do you? This would reveal whether we agree or disagree at this juncture. But I hope all is well with you and Peter.

  3. Good stuff here. i often encounter two responses about the Romans 1 passage (the entire second half of the chapter):

    1. the "can be known" and "have been clearly perceived" refer only to a process of reasoning such as going through the theological arguments.

    2. this chapter describes an actual historical situation of people willfully moving away from God epistemologically speaking but does *not* describe a condition universal to mankind.

    i have a couple rebuttals to these points, but i'd love to see what you'd have to say to them. have you encountered them before?

  4. Hey thanks for your comments:

    Response to 1: I would say "can be known" and "have been clearly percived" is not suffciently clear. And thus it seems to me that it cannot exclusively rule out immediate knowledge or discursive reasoning.

    Response to 2: The *all* before ungodliness rules out that possibility and since we have no reason in other parts of the Bible or contextually to limit the scope of this *all* then we ought to take the *all* as being predicated of all humanity.

    I hope that helps!

    God Bless,


  5. This is good! But my objectors typically have more to say:

    Regarding (1) --i'm pretty sure i know how the rest of that conversation would go, so i'll stick with (2)

    Regarding (2): what about the other restrictive terms in the passage itself? Why does Paul say "they" instead of everyone as though he's talking about only a specific group? what does he state his verbs in the past tense as though this is something that happened in the past? why doesn't he speak in the present and future as well to include everyone? what about the fact that not all people are idolaters in the literal sense like Paul describes?

    and here's a another question strictly from me just because i'm curious:

    this self-deception (supressing the truth) described in this passage: is it something that happens immediately and instantly at some point in time? am i self deceived from the moment i'm born? do i go through a process of becoming self-deceived?

    thanks for your discussion

  6. These are good questions:

    Paul's use of they can be refering everyone, I see no reason for thinking that inherent within the word they there is some sort of group limitation such that it would rule out the group of all humans. Also, Remember just because a action is refering to the past does not mean it lacks continuation today. I would say all unbelievers are idolaters and that Paul just picks out a specific example. I do not know when the process of self-deception occurs, it probably occurs whenever the being has cognitive ability to do so, but when that occurs, I am not sure.

    I hope that helps!

    God Bless,