Natural theology is the branch of philosophy and theology which attempts to either prove God's existence, define God's attributes, or derive correct doctrine based solely from human reason and/or observations of the natural world. This endevour is distinct from other theological methods in that it excludes the assistance of special revelation. Thomas Aquinas is the most famous classical proponent of natural theology.
Others throughout church history have rejected natural theology. Most in the Calvinist and Reformed tradition reject natural theology as having no foundational validity because the doctrine of Sola Scriptura leaves no source apart from Scripture from which to derive an accurate understanding of God, man, morality, justice, etc. Furthermore, it is rejected on the basis that mankind is so bound by sin that they can "know" nothing of God except that which is revealed to them. Neo-orthodox theologian Karl Barth, one of the most influential Protestant theologians of the 20th century, sought to demonstrate that God can only be known through special revelation. Both he and Paul Tillich debated over this issue, Tillich arguing that revelation never runs counter to reason.
Supporters of natural theology, such as Paul Tillich and Aquinas (among others), have argued that the existence of God can be known through reason. Many "proofs" for the existence of God have been created, however, theologians have often rejected these proofs on the basis that they do not end up with the Christian God of the Bible.
Arguments against Natural Theology
"Trust in the LORD with all your heart And do not lean on your own understanding." This passage contrasts trusting the LORD with leaning on one's own understanding. Many proponents of natural theology have attempted to establish an understanding of God by beginning with their own understanding of the world and nature.
"He declares His words to Jacob, His statutes and His ordinances to Israel. He has not dealt thus with any nation; And as for His ordinances, they have not known them. Praise the LORD!" One claim many natural theologians make is that an system of morality can be reached apart from God's revealed word. These verses declare that God's ordinances which defined right and wrong were not declared to any nation other than Israel. God, in other words, did not reveal himself or his criteria for morality to any nation save Israel, thus "they [all nations other than Israel] have not know them."
Barth and Brunner
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Opponents of Natural Theology
Adherents to Natural Theology
- William Lane Craig
- Douglas Groothuis
- C.S. Lewis
- Alvin Plantinga
- J.P. Moreland
- Richard Swinburne
- Paul Tillich
- Emil Brunner