Natural Theology

The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork.  Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night sheweth knowledge.  There is no speech nor language, where their voice is not heard.”

Ps. 19:1-3

“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men…  Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them.  For the invisible things of Him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse:”

Rom. 1:18-20

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Order of Contents

Articles  6
Books  10
History of  12
Quote  1
On the Immortality of the Soul  2

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Articles

1600’s

Turretin, Francis – 3rd Topic, ‘The One & Triune God’, 1st Question, ‘Can the Existence of God be irrefutably demonstrated against Atheists?  We Affirm.’  in Institutes (1992), pp. 169-177.  See an excerpt: ‘Nature Proves the Existence of God’.

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1800’s

Cunningham, William – Chs. 8-10  of Theological Lectures: on Subjects Connected with Natural Theology, Evidences of Christianity, the Canon and Inspiration of Scripture  Buy  (1878), pp. 101-137

Cunningham was a professor in the Free Church of Scotland.

In regard to the whole volume of lectures, Cunningham “had bestowed much care and labor upon their composition and revision, and that he had attached a special value to them as the first-fruits of his professional labors.”

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2000’s

Sudduth, Michael – ‘Revisiting the ‘Reformed Objection’ to Natural Theology’  2013  26 pp.

Sudduth argues against Alvin Plantinga’s objection to Natural Theology.  Regretfully, Sudduth, since writing this article, has converted to polytheistic Hinduism and writes immoral novels as a professor of religion in the pluralistic university environment, though this does not affect the scholarship or helpfulness of this work.

Haines, David

‘Natural Theology and Orthodox Protestant Theology’

Abstract: “In this paper I seek to lay out the criteria for determining that some doctrine is necessary for protestant orthodoxy.  I then apply these criteria to Natural Theology in order to discover if Natural Theology should be considered necessary to orthodoxy, whether it should be rejected as unorthodox, or whether it is an unnecessary doctrine of little importance.”

‘Presuppositionalism and Natural Theology’

Abstract: “In this short treatise I will be considering the relationship between Van Til’s Presuppositionalism and Natural Theology, and will attempt to demonstrate that the philosophical foundations of this system force him into a Relativism of Interpretative Schemes, and, consequently, self-contradiction…  It seems that if the Presuppositionalist system succumbs to these flaws, then its most difficult objections to the traditional understanding of Natural Theology do not hold.  If this is the case, then we may be warranted in engaging in natural theology as traditionally understood.”

‘Natural Theology, Perspectivalism, and the Assumption of the Divine’

Abstract: “Natural Theology has traditionally been defined as that part of philosophy which explores that which man can know about God (his existence, divine nature, etc.) from nature, via his divinely bestowed faculty of reason; and, this, unaided by any divinely inspired written revelation. Defining Natural Theology this way seems to give value to the study of philosophy and encourages the use of philosophy in theology.

Since the early 1900’s, however, many Christian theologians have begun describing Natural Theology as the attempt to prove the truth of the Christian Religion, or worse, as the attempt to replace revealed truths with human ideas. These theologians often go on to claim that the only way that Natural Theology could be valuable, is if we first assume the truth of Christianity. In other words, the universe does not point to the existence of God, unless we first assume a religious position in which some God exists.

Though this approach is, in Christian apologetics, often associated with Cornelius Van Til’s Presuppositionalism; it is also known, to philosophers, as Perspectivalism. Other well-known theologians who seem to have adopted this approach to Natural Theology, include Alister McGrath, Fergus Kerr, and Wolfhart Pannenberg.  In their opinion, Natural Theology has no other use than to provide Christians, if it does even this, with some form of existential certitude concerning the truth of Christianity.  Natural Theology most certainly does not prove Theism, let alone the truth of the Christian Religion.

In this paper, I will begin with a short exposition of the positions of the contemporary theologians mentioned above. I will then attempt to refute these claims through (1) an historical exposition of the traditional approach to Natural Theology, and (2) a philosophical argument demonstrating the self-defeating nature of these claims.”

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Books

1600’s

Charleton, Walter – The Darkness of Atheism Dispelled by the Light of Nature  (1652)

Charleton (1620-1707) was an Anglican, natural philosopher.

“…the systematic attempt to use detailed natural phenomena to establish God’s existence, wisdom, benevolence, and so forth, becomes a significant philosophical movement in the seventeenth century, especially in Britain (Brooke 1991, 192-225; Harrison 2005).  Among the first to appear were The Darkness of Atheism…  (1652), by Walter Charleton…” – John Henry in Oxford Handbook of Early Modern Theology, pp. 613-4

More, Henry – An Antidote Against Atheism; or, An Appeal to the Natural Faculties of the Mind of Man, whether there be not a God…  with an Appendix  2nd ed.  (1653; London, 1655)

More (1614-1687) was an Anglican, Arminian, Latitudinarian and a philosopher of the Cambridge Platonist school.

“…the systematic attempt to use detailed natural phenomena to establish God’s existence, wisdom, benevolence, and so forth, becomes a significant philosophical movement in the seventeenth century, especially in Britain (Brooke 1991, 192-225; Harrison 2005).  Among the first to appear were…  An Antidote against Atheism (1653) by the Cambridge Platonist, Henry More (1614-87).” – John Henry in Oxford Handbook of Early Modern Theology, pp. 613-4

Bentley, Richard – Eight Sermons, preached at the Hon. Robert Boyle’s Lecture, in the year 1692, to which are added Three Sermons on Different Occasions  (d. 1742; Clarendon Press, 1809)  ToC  Including A Confutation of Atheism from the Origin and Frame of the World, a Sermon  (London, 1692)

Bentley (1662-1742) was an English classical scholar, critic and theologian. He was Master of Trinity College, Cambridge.

Bentley was the first lecturer for the Boyle Lectures, which began in 1692, founded upon the dying will of Robert Boyle (1627-1691), a Christian, natural philosopher.  The main design of the lectureship was to counter atheism through examining the relationship between Christianity and the new natural philosophy then emerging in European society.

Bentley based his natural theology on the physics of Isaac Newton’s Principia Mathematica (1687), which was translated into English as The Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy (1729).

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1700’s

Clarke, Samuel – A Discourse Concerning the Being & Attributes of God, the Obligations of Natural Religion, and the Truth & Certainty of the Christian Revelation, in Answer to Mr. Hobbs, Spinoza…  & other Deniers of Natural & Revealed Religion, being Sixteen Sermons…  in the years 1704 & 1705, at the Lecture founded by the Honorable Robert Boyle, Esq.  10th ed.  (1705; London, 1767)

Clarke (1675–1729) was an English philosopher and Anglican clergyman.  He is considered the major British figure in philosophy between John Locke and George Berkeley.  Clarke was an Arian who wrote at length on and debated the Trinity, especially with Daniel Waterland, who defended orthodoxy.

Clarke held to Newtonian physics.  His Discourse Concerning the Being & Attributes of God set the stage for further British debate which lasted till the middle of the century.

Ray, John – The Wisdom of God Manifested in the Works of the Creation, in Two Parts…  with Answers to Some Objections  (1714; London, 1735)  Sermons

Ray (1627-1707) was a Cambridge professor, Anglican minister and an English naturalist, widely regarded as one of the earliest of the English parson-naturalists.  He published important works on botany, zoology, and natural theology.  His classification of plants in his Historia Plantarum, which classified plants according to similarities and differences that emerged from observation was an important step towards modern taxonomy.  He was among the first to attempt a biological definition for the concept of species.

Derham, William

Astro-Theology, or a Demonstration of the Being & Attributes of God, from a Survey of the Heavens  6th ed.  (1715; London, 1731)  ToC

Derham (1657-1735) was an Anglican clergyman, natural theologian, natural philosopher and scientist.  He produced the earliest, reasonably accurate measurement of the speed of sound.

Physico-Theology, or a Demonstration of the Being and Attributes of God, from his Works of Creation, vol. 1, 2  (London, 1798)  ToC

This work ‘proved to be especially influential’. – John Henry, Oxford Handbook of Early Modern Theology, p. 614

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1800’s

Paley, William – Natural Theology: or, Evidences of the Existence and Attributes of the Deity, Collected from the Appearances of Nature  (1802; New York, 1879)  ToC

Paley (1743-1805) was an Anglican clergyman, Christian apologist, philosopher, and utilitarian.  He is best known for his teleological argument for the existence of God, which made use of the watchmaker analogy.

Fisher, George Park – Manual of Natural Theology  1893  125 pp.

Fisher (1827-1909)

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1900’s

Joyce, George Hayward – Principles of Natural Theology  1923  648 pp.

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2000’s

Sudduth, Michael – The Reformed Objection to Natural Theology  Pre  Buy  Routledge  2016  250 pp.

“Michael Sudduth examines three prominent objections to natural theology that have emerged in the Reformed streams of the Protestant theological tradition: objections from the immediacy of our knowledge of God, the noetic effects of sin, and the logic of theistic arguments. Distinguishing between the project of natural theology and particular models of natural theology, Sudduth argues that none of the main Reformed objections is successful as an objection to the project of natural theology itself.”

Regretfully, Sudduth, since writing this dissertation, has converted to polytheistic Hinduism and writes immoral novels as a professor of religion in the pluralistic university environment, though this does not affect the scholarship or helpfulness of this work.

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The History of the Doctrine of Natural Theology

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On the Early Church

Haines, David – ‘Natural Theology in Augustine’

This was a conference presentation.

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On the Reformation & Puritan Era

Articles

Muller, Richard – Ch. 6, ‘Natural & Supernatural Theology’  in PRRD (2003), vol. 1, pt. 2, ‘The Reformed Orthodox Theological Prolegomena’

Henry, John – 3. ‘Natural Theology’  in ch. 40, ‘Early Modern Theology & Science’  in eds. Lehner, Muller & Roeber, The Oxford Handbook of Early Modern Theology, 1600-1800  (Oxford, 2016), pp. 613-5

Haines, David

‘Natural Theology in Reformed Orthodoxy’  a chapter in ed. Joseph Minich, Philosophy & the Christian  (2018)

Haines has been a professor of philosophy at Veritas Evangelical Seminary.

Abstract: “Our purpose in this article is to provide a clear outline of how some of the most important early reformed theologians, and confessions, articulated their understanding of Natural Theology…  we will limit our analysis primarily to John Calvin (1509-1564), Theodore Beza (1519-1605), Peter Martyr Vermigli (1499-1562), Girolamo Zanchi (1516-1590), Franciscus Junius (1545-1602), John Davenant (1572-1641), and Francis Turretin. We will also take note, in passing, of some of the more authoritative Reformed documents and councils, such as the French Confession of faith (1559), the Canons of the Synod of Dort (1618-1619), and the Westminster Confession (1646)…”

‘John Calvin’s View of Natural Theology’

Abstract: “I will, therefore, consider Calvin’s claims about man’s natural knowledge of God under five headings: (1) What Calvin means by “knowledge of God”, (2) The possibility of knowledge of God, (3) The sources of man’s knowledge of God, (4) The content of this knowledge, and (5) the what man does with this knowledge (or, the effect of this knowledge on man).”

‘Francis Turretin and Natural Theology’

“I here consider Francis Turretin’s approach to Natural Theology through an analysis of his response to Five important questions. First of all, what, according to Turretin, Natural Theology is and isn’t (as well as the contents of Natural Theology). Secondly, whether humans (fallen or regenerated) are able to engage in Natural Theology, and how. Thirdly, the relationship between Natural theology and the articles of faith. Fourthly, the uses and limitations of natural theology. Fifthly, the effect of Natural Theology.”

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Book

Wallace Marshall – Puritans and Natural Theology  Buy  2012  205 pp. being his PhD dissertation for Boston College

This excellent work surveys the natural theology of the puritans, which was their undergirding for apologetics.

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On the 1800’s

Haines, David

‘One Reformed View of Natural Theology’

Abstract: “In this article I will be considering, primarily, what Charles Hodge has to say about Natural Theology in his 3 volume, Systematic Theology and and what A. H. Strong has to say about Natural Theology in his Systematic Theology…  The title refers to one reformed view, because, though we are considering two different theologians, from two different protestant denominations, working at different schools and at different times, these two reformed theologians hold essentially the same view on Natural Theology.  We will consider what they have to say about Theology, the relationship between Natural and Revealed Theology, and the relationship between Reason, man’s knowledge of God, and the doctrine of Total Depravity, among other issues.”

‘Another Calvinist on Natural Theology: the Case of Herman Bavinck’

This is a summary of research into Bavinck’s approach to Natural Theology.

Muller, Richard – ‘Kuyper & Bavinck on Natural Theology’  Bavinck Review 10 (2019): 5–35

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On the 1900’s

Haines, David – ‘Benjamin B. Warfield on Natural Theology’

This is a summary of research into B. B. Warfield’s approach to Natural Theology.

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On the 2000’s

Haines, David – ‘Alister McGrath and Natural Theology’

“In the book The Open Secret: A New Vision for Natural Theology, Alister McGrath sets out to lay the foundations for an entirely new natural theology…  “…if nature is to disclose the transcendent, it must be ‘seen’ or ‘read’ in certain specific ways – ways that are not themselves necessarily mandated by nature itself.”  He does not wish to embark on a neutral natural theology, but to advance a Christian natural theology – one which, rather than proving the doctrinal claims of Christianity, begins by accepting the doctrinal claims of Christianity, and then goes on to show how the Christian worldview gives the best interpretation of our perceptions of this universe.

The claim that he will seek to validate in his book is summarized briefly as follows: “…A Christian understanding of nature is the intellectual prerequisite for a natural theology which discloses the Christian God.”

In order to understand his revised natural theology we must first understand the need for this revision. What does McGrath perceive as the old natural theology, and what is so wrong with it that we need a new vision?  Once we have understood these contentions we will be able to better understand McGrath’s revised version, which will allow us to give it a critical analysis.”

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Quote

Samuel Rutherford

The Divine Right of Church Government…  (1646), p. 66

“…a reasonable soul, which to me is a rare and curious book, on which essentially is written by the immediate finger of God that natural Theology that we had in our first creation.”

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On the Immortality of the Soul

1600’s

Flavel, John – ‘The Immortality of the Soul Proved from Scripture & Reason’  from Pneumatologia: A Treatise of the Soul of Man, wherein the Divine Original, Excellent & Immortal Nature of the are Opened…  (London, 1698), pp. 81-120

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1700’s

Clarke, Samuel – A Letter to Mr. [Henry] Dodwell: wherein all the Arguments in his Epistolary Discourse Against the Immortality of the Soul are particularly answered, and the Judgment of the Fathers concerning that matter truly represented…  (London, 1718)

Clarke (1675–1729) was an English philosopher and Anglican clergyman.  He is considered the major British figure in philosophy between John Locke and George Berkeley.  Clarke was an Arian who wrote at length on and debated the Trinity, especially with Daniel Waterland, who defended orthodoxy.  Clarke held to Newtonian physics.

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