good science is good theology
since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal
power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through
what has been made, so that they are without excuse.
Natural revelation vs. natural theology.
is the discovery of certain attributes of God through the study of creation.
In contrast to written revelation in which God communicates with us directly
(the Bible), natural revelation is inferred from human observations. Because
of the subjectivity involved in doing so, we cautiously trust natural revelation
to reveal only the more general qualities about God.
Natural revelation stems
from verses of Scripture like the one above. With limitations, as the verse
suggests, nature can be accepted as a source of information about God for
the same reason Scripture is accepted. Both were the products of the mind
of God. Because God's written word bears the fingerprints of his mind and
character, we reason his creation does as well.
My own field of architecture
illustrates this. After one becomes familiar with a particular designer
and with the way he or she thinks, it becomes possible to tell who designed
a project just by studying it. In the same way, if you come to know God
through the study of his Scripture, you'll be able to recognize his handiwork
when you see it in creation.
This works the other
way around, too. If you look closely at a project without knowing the designer
and find an extremely high level of care and coherency in the details, then
you can be sure that 1) there was a designer, and 2) he or she is very worthy.
It's by this principle that the verse above is able to declare natural revelation
leaves men "without excuse". In other words, creation so wonderfully
reflects the Creator, that just being exposed to it is enough to hold you
accountable to worship him. Creation alone extols the worthiness of God.
though sounding similar, is quite different. Natural theology accepts natural
revelation as a substitute for written revelation. Natural theology
believes God can be just as deeply known through nature as he is through
the message of Jesus and the cross. This belief devalues the teachings of
Jesus and treats his death on the cross as unnecessary. That
is inconsistent with what written revelation teaches. Because it's inconsistent,
then the basis for concluding it to be equivalent no longer exists. Natural
theology refutes itself.
Wherever a mere human
inference drawn from natural observation conflicts with God's clearer message
of his written revelation, God's clearer message always wins.
What might be examples of natural revelation?
The best examples are
also covered under the chapter on the cosmological
argument for the existence of God. Let me repeat part of
We know that the Congress
of Astronomers concludes the universe to have had a definite beginning.
We know that cause precedes effect. And we know that the universe is made
up of space, time, and matter. So anything consisting of, or limited by,
space, time, and matter must itself be merely a component part of that universe.
Thus the pre-existent cause of the universe could not have consisted
of those characteristics which it subsequently produced. The causal
force/agent must therefore be described as:
- independent of
- independent of
time (eternal), and
- independent of
further suggest that:
- If the cause is
limitless, in some sense it must exist everywhere.
- If the cause is eternal,
it: (a) never began to exist; (b) can never cease to exist; and (c) is
itself uncaused and self-existent. And...
- If the cause is immaterial,
it is: (a) not natural, i.e. supernatural; and (b) not constrained
by any resultant law or property of the universe which it brought about.
These qualities of God,
or "invisible attributes", are very likely of the type which the
Bible verse above refers. They describe the same God as found in the Bible,
yet come to us merely by observations of the natural world, coupled with
Here are some additional
examples of what nature might reveal to us about God (the following are
not necessarily invisible attributes and, as such, may or may not be inclusive
of Romans 1:20):
- Just like the cosmos
seems to extol the universal application and eternality of physical laws
and constants, the Bible extols the universal application and eternality
of God's moral laws and constants. They both appear to apply everywhere
and always, with only the rarest of exceptions.
- Just like the everything
from microbiology to cosmology in the natural world reveals amazing pattern
and order, the Bible reveals God's character and behavior to be of amazing
pattern and order.
- Just like astronomers
point out that our weak eyes are blind to the beautiful vistas of deep
space nebulas which actually fill large parts of the night sky, the Bible
points out our moral blindness to the majesty of God's spiritual
world which is equally all around us. In both cases, it requires a long
exposure to see the majesty that no quick glance will ever reveal.
- Just like humanity
reluctantly learned to accept that it wasn't the sun which revolved around
the earth, but the earth around the sun, we reluctantly must learn to
accept that it's not God who revolves around us, but we
who should humbly revolve around God.
- Just like our relative
insignificance and smallness in this universe is being progressively revealed
by advancing astronomy, our relative insignificance and unworthiness
before God is progressively revealed as we each grow in the knowledge
The skeptical response
to natural revelation is to turn things around and say it's the latter
(the world) that likely created the former (the belief in God). For
example, savages long ago may have been so scared by the seeming randomness
and spectre of death that they invented the idea of a God who applied death
for some beneficial purpose.
What is the skeptical response to this?
While a Christian would
likely argue the opposite is true, the skeptic's position has actually testified
to a certain truth of Scripture. Whenever skeptics argue that beliefs about
God are easily explainable as mere outgrowths of the natural world, they
are admitting the reality of the passage from Romans quoted at the start;
namely that creation holds sufficient revelation as to hold us accountable
to its Creator. No longer is there an "ignorant savage" argument that
calls into question the destiny of people who have never heard of the Lord.
we are God's offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like
gold or silver or stone--an image made by man's design and skill. In the
past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere
to repent. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice
by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by
raising him from the dead.
Natural revelation: what it reveals
did the universe come from?
did the earth come from?
did man come from?
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