Natural Theology, what’s all the rage all about? (Inherent problems with Classical Apologetics)

Matthew Barrett and Steven Duby set out to defend Natural Theology, but in the final analysis they discuss Natural Revelation as it relates to Natural Knowledge. As early as @5:55 Steven Duby slides into a discussion on the Natural Knowledge of God gained through Natural Revelation (even as it relates to the “pressure” that restrains men in conscience). There is a bit of sliding back and forth between terms (Natural Revelation and Natural Theology) that carries throughout the episode; yet it is merely maintained that all men know God through revelation of himself in nature. Surprisingly, the discussion never touches upon the question of whether man in his fallen and unaided reasoning can construct a Natural Theology of God, let alone a true one, and how such a theology might be defended.

Notwithstanding, it’s a fine introductory presentation of the realty, usefulness and limits of Natural Revelation and Natural Knowledge. I thoroughly enjoyed it! (Seemed like swell guys too!) I dare say Cornelius Van Til, even in his most sanguine moments, would have been delighted by this brief presentation. That said, I’m not prepared to jump on the Natural Theology bandwagon quite yet based upon those delights. Moreover, I’m not quite sure who the target audience was as it relates to persuading people to embrace such an expression of Natural Theology. Certainly not the Reformed, for what was offered was plain vanilla and uncontroversial in the Augustinian tradition. Perhaps they targeted some extreme fundamentalists who are opposed to learning anything from unbelieving thinkers? Not sure. Anyway, the discussion was most enjoyable, though Thomists and Arminians might be a bit disappointed.

Some possibly related reservations as they relate to apologetics:

Natural Revelation (or General Revelation) indeed teaches us much about God. Without Scripture unregenerate man knows God is all powerful, omniscient, and omnipresent (and other perfections too).

Romans 1 teaches that natural man actually knows God. And not just that all men know God, but that they know the one true and living God, which is why it can be said that all are without excuse. Indeed, men suppress the truth in unrighteousness, but it is the truth they suppress (and not false conceptions of God). In moral and epistemic rebellion, natural man turns the truth he knows into a lie. Without exception, that is universally man’s response to what he knows by nature as he lives in God’s ordered universe. Accordingly, any treatment of the viability of Natural Theology should be placed in that context – man’s twisting and suppression of the truth.

In a defense of Natural Theology it might’ve been interesting to have heard what sort of catholic creed might be formulated by an unconverted fallen race, and how naturally devised theological distinctives, even if it were possible not to fashion them according to minds at enmity with God, could be epistemically justified. After all, even the converted need special revelation to justify the possibility of acquiring knowledge through general revelation. So, aside from the natural distortion of natural revelation, there’s also the justification of knowledge that warrants consideration.

Some further context before addressing some apologetic considerations:

There is knowledge of God that is properly basic. It is apprehended directly (as opposed to discursively), yet not in a vacuum but always through the mediation of created things in the context of providence. Without reasoning from more fundamental or basic beliefs, the unbeliever actually apprehends God in conscience through the things that are made. Man’s knowledge of God is mediated through the external world, but it is apprehended immediately by God’s image bearers apart from argumentation or modest reflection. (It’s not discursive.) This is why Paul can say that all men have this knowledge of the truth. Not all men can follow the argumentation of someone else’s Natural Theology, let alone are capable of formulating their own, but all men directly apprehend God’s Natural Revelation of himself.

Moral considerations regarding Natural Theology as it relates to Classical Apologetics (CA).

To try to prove God exists in order to get someone to believe God exists is to go along with the charade of the fool who has said in his heart there is no God. Engaging the folly of unbelief in this way is to become like the fool (as opposed to properly answering the fool). In short, by not affirming this one foundational apologetic truth that all men know God and are, therefore, without excuse, the employment of CA easily can imply several distinct yet related untruths (by what it omits, if not assumes) in methodological practice.

Before reading on, it’s important to understand that it is only the fool who has said in his heart there is no God. So, naturally, let’s not become like her.

Seven concerns:

1. It’s seemingly implicit in the employment of CA that God has not plainly revealed himself in creation and conscience through which man knows God exists. After all, why use CA to prove God’s existence unless all aren’t certain God exists?

Many additional untruths are seemingly made implicit by those who don’t recognize and submit to this one truth, that man already knows God.

2. CA would seem to imply that such unbelief is an intellectual matter, not an ethical one. It too easily suggests one needs better arguments in order to become intellectually persuaded of what is already known yet suppressed. The apologetic emphasis is on proof and persuasion, and not the need to gently expose one’s willful, sinful rebellion that manifests itself in a denial of the truth. It focuses on a supposed need for intellectual enlightenment and not an actual need for moral repentance (from denying the God who has made himself known).

3. CA too easily implies that all men are not culpable for denying that God has plainly made himself known. After all, the implicit need of the unbeliever would seem to be intellectual persuasion, not a need to avoid wrath due to rebellion against God who is known a priori.

4. If CA implies man is not culpable, then CA implies God’s injustice, for God would be unjust for punishing those who aren’t culpable.

5. By trying to overcome the unbeliever’s alleged agnosticism or atheism, CA seems to deny that no one seeks after God. Accordingly, CA easily implies that an alleged seeker is not in ethical rebellion while she masquerades in an intellectual pursuit of the answer to whether God exists.

6. CA would seem to imply that God is not a necessary precondition for the possibility of seeking God (and denying God). In other words, CA grants the requisite tools of investigation (common notions) are implicitly neutral ground and not merely common ground that can only be justified if it is first true that God exists.

7. If it’s implied that common ground is neutral ground, then CA implies that there are brute facts that can be interpreted without worldview bias. In other words, it grants that the facts of nature can exegete themselves without any reference to God as sovereign interpreter.

There is an apologetic that is true to the context of man’s true knowledge of God, but it looks quite different from CA. It’s my experience that an appreciation for the sheer profundity of a distinctly presuppositional approach to apologetics is directly correlative to a diminishing view of CA.

An insignificant Reformed Apologist