Is the God of Natural Theology a False God?

Natural Theology

I recently heard a person from a presuppositionalist apologetics perspective speaking against the use of natural theology. Quoting an evidentialist who acknowledged that that natural theology does not reveal the Christian God, this presuppositionalist reasoned that since any God other than the Christian God is a false God, natural theology points to a false God.

This was a misrepresentation of what supporters of natural theology believe. When one says it is not the Christian God, what is meant is that not enough characteristics are revealed in natural theology to narrow the identification down to the Christian God. They do not mean it is a different God.

This is not an attack on presuppositionist apologetics. Nor is this argument limited to presuppositionalists.

I have been reading through Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics. Barth is especially critical in his writings toward apologetics. This is strange in that Barth actually does apologetics frequently in his writings as he gives reasons for his positions.

The reason Barth is critical toward apologetics is because he identifies apologetics with natural theology and he rejects natural theology. He argues that the God revealed in natural theology is just as likely Baal as it is YHWH. Barth would much rather begin with the starting point of the revealed Word of God.

Get The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology

Is natural theology something that should be rejected?

I would hesitate to reject natural theology in that it has played a significant role in my faith development. I did not jump right from atheism to Christianity. I first went from atheism to theism and natural theology helped me to make this jump.

I do not think that the God I believed was a different God from the Bible. I just didn’t know it at the time. It took prayer and reading of the Bible before I could make the next jump to Christianity.

Think about it this way.

Our three youngest children are adopted and they have known that for a long time. For a period of time, we spoke about their birth parents in generalities. Later, we revealed their real names and specific details about who they are. They went from understanding the category of parents to understanding the actual identity of their birth parents.

I believe something similar happens with natural theology.

Natural theology gets us close to God, but more details are needed before we understand that God as the Christian God. This is not a shift from believing in a false God to believing in the true God. This is a transition of knowing only a few details about the true God to knowing more details about that same true God.

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2 thoughts on “Is the God of Natural Theology a False God?

  1. Natural theology is discursive and progressive being a human discourse about God apart from Scripture.

    How then can we philosophically understand God unless guided by special revelation? It is even special revelation that explains that God’s attributes are understood from what is created. ROMANS 1 ETC.

    I think some people confuse Natural philosophy with General Revelation, which is immediate, perspicuous, non-propositional knowledge of God which is suppressed by sinners everywhere to their own judgment.

    Unless we base our philosophical thinking upon our biblically derived theology, we are deluding ourselves that we have the same God.

    The apostle Paul pointed to the biblical God of nature and providence when he dialogued with the philosophers and led them to hear of Jesus and the resurrection.

  2. Pierre, it seems you have left out an important part in your description/definition of natural theology: “Natural theology is discursive and progressive being a human discourse about God apart from Scripture *based upon God’s general revelation of Himself*.”

    Scripture is part of God’s *specific revelation*, but God reveals Himself in a general way in nature. And yes, natural theology is a human and fallible activity (as any attempt at theology is), but it is a reflection on what God reveals about Himself in nature.

    It would also be correct to say that belief in God is properly basic (a belief that is *immediate and perspicuous*, as you say, and not dependent on argument and evidence) based upon the inner witness of the Holy Spirit (of whom knowledge can be and are suppressed). But why would this be in opposition to reflecting philosophically upon God’s general revelation of Himself in nature and thus inferring true beliefs about God?

    So, as Stephen said, if the results of natural theology based upon general revelation reveal attributes of God *that are the same as* the attributes discovered theologically based upon studying specific revelation (i.e., God’s Word), then how are we NOT talking about the same God with respect to those attributes? Of course, we don’t get the same comprehensive picture of who God is through natural theology as through Biblical theology, but surely that speaks to the *limits* of natural theology, not its falsity or delusionary properties.

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