Editor’s note: This post originally appeared on Think Apologetics. Tabernacle of David considers this resource trustworthy and Biblically sound.
Human existence is dependent on communication. The abundance of methods to communicate attests to this. Clearly, we rely on phone calls, text messages, email, and other forms of communication daily. If there really is a creator behind the universe, it seems quite plausible that we can know very little about Him unless He communicates with His creation. If there really is a God, our knowledge of him may be obtained by both reason and faith. Natural theology is the practice of using reason to philosophically reveal the existence and nature of God. This enterprise of unaided human reason is accomplished independent of revealed theology (Scripture). Reason attains to a natural theology of God, and by this means, people can know, to a certain extent, what God is like apart from a holy book like the Bible, the Quran, or the Vedas. Natural theology is therefore a rational and philosophical enterprise which demonstrates the existence (and attributes) of God. Now when I say “attributes of God” I mean the God of classical theism. In classical theism, the attributes of God are that God is: simple (not made of parts), immutable (changeless), impassible (is not affected by anything in creation), eternal (outside of time and space), omniscient (all-knowing), omnipotent (all-powerful), and good.
One criticism that has always been leveled against natural theology is that the God of the Philosophers doesn’t seem to resemble the God of the Bible. This past year, I reviewed a book called Essential Eschatology: Our Present and Future Hope by John E. Phelan Jr. In this book, he says the following:
“Whether we recognize it or not, the contemporary Western view of God was shaped powerfully by the god of the eighteenth-century rationalists. Their god was not the God of Israel, intimately involved with his people. The rationalists’ god was the “unmoved mover” of Aristotle, the divine “watchmaker” who created the world and set it on its course. This view of a remote, untouchable god was frequently combined with the predestinarian views of Calvin and his followers to produce a god that set from eternity the inexorable fate of the world. Whatever happened, then, was ultimately the will of this god, whether it was the death of young mothers of cancer, toddlers succumbing to the flu or the indiscriminate slaughter of Europe’s Jews in a war that consumed millions. The new atheists justifiably wonder, what kind of god would will such things? What divine purposes are served by such brutality, such injustice? Devotees of theodicy, the defense or justification of God, spend their time, fruitlessly in my opinion, trying to defend God of the charges against him. But in the presence of the Rwandan genocide, the mass graves of Bosnia, and raped and abused women and children everywhere, their defenses ring hollow. Christians can no longer afford to follow the god of the philosophers. Christian thinkers need to give up on their efforts to defend this god, because in truth this is not the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ but a modern, idolatrous construct. This is a god who justifies the power of the elites and renders their actions inevitable and justifiable. This is the god whose ways cannot be challenged even when they appear to be monstrous or, at least, monstrously indifferent. The god of the elites, the unmoved mover who keeps all in place as it should be, is an idol that needs to be thrown down.
The God of the Bible is a God whose will can be thwarted. His people can and frequently do disobey his laws and ignore his will. Their disobedience and violence are the reasons for the hunger, desperation, and fear in the world. Israel, so far as the prophets were concerned, had the power to obey or disobey, follow God or follow Baal. They could join God in partnership or follow their own whims and wills. In the Hebrew Scriptures, obedience and disobedience matter. Certainly God was sovereign and powerful, but not even God could force the Israelites to do his will—however much he punished them. In the Old Testament, and I dare say the New, human actions matter and have consequences. God through his prophets expresses enormous frustration with his people. Jesus expresses amazement that his disciples are so dense (see Mk 8:14-21) and weeps over the disobedience and indifference of Jerusalem (see Mt 23:37-39). What we do and do not do can frustrate the purpose of God.”
I have also nearly finished Edward Feser’s book. See Ben Shapiro’s interview with Feser here:
Towards the end of his book, he answers an objection about The God of Natural Theology. Here is the questions that is leveled at his book:
“Even if it is proved that there is a First Cause, which is omnipotent, omniscient, perfectly good, and so forth, this would not by itself show that God sent prophets to ancient Israel, inspired the Bible, is a Trinity, and so forth.” Feser responds with this answer:
“This is true, but completely irrelevant. Arguments like the ones defended in this book are not claiming in the first place to establish every tenet of any particular religion, but rather merely one central tenet that is common to many of them—namely, that there is a cause of the world which is one, simple, immaterial, eternal, immutable, omnipotent, omniscient, perfectly good, and so forth. If they succeed in doing that, then they show that atheism is false, and that the only remaining question is what kind of theism one ought to adopt—a purely philosophical theism, or Judaism, or Christianity, or Islam, or some other more specific brand of theism. Deciding that would require further investigation and argumentation. It would be silly to pretend that since the arguments of this book don’t answer every question about God, it follows that they don’t answer any question about God. That is like saying that special relativity theory must be false, because it doesn’t tell us whether and how living things evolved, or that quantum mechanics must be wrong, because it doesn’t answer all the questions we might have about engineering.”
Philosopher Elenore Stump has written a book called The God of the Bible and the God of the Philosophers (Aquinas Lecture).
The more I have thought about this issue, I conclude that the arguments given in natural theology will never get someone all the way to the God of the Bible. I have always said the arguments in natural theology are a first step to get someone to think outside their naturalistic or materialistic worldview. But I never say to anyone that if they want to know the moral attributes of God (i.e, justice, mercy, love, holiness, etc) they will find those from natural theology arguments. As I said, in classical theism, the attributes of God are that God is: simple (not made of parts), immutable (changeless), impassible (is not affected by anything in creation), eternal (outside of time and space), omniscient (all-knowing), omnipotent (all-powerful), and good. These are what we call God’s metaphysical attributes. If I want to know God’s moral character, there is no choice but to go one step further by examining revealed/historical theology. The revelation of Scripture is when God acts in history and communicates to us through miracles, prophets, and a written text. Faith is a commitment of the will based upon the mind’s reasoning process of what is believed to be true. Scripture may be verified by means of historical argumentation. Therefore, biblical faith rests on being able to know something about history—at the very minimum, knowing the historical truth of the person and work of Jesus of Nazareth.
In the end, the God of natural theology or what is called “The God of the Philosophers” does come across as having the metaphysical attributes of the God of the Bible. But it isn’t meant to reveal anything more than that. So that is why we need both natural and revealed theology.