Did Deism Lead to Natural Theology?

Reason alone is no more capable of delivering a consensus about God and religious truths than human efforts to interpret Scripture.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://biologos.org/blogs/jim-stump-faith-and-science-seeking-understanding/did-deism-lead-to-natural-theology
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I’m happy to discuss things related to the topics of this post.

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I think this statement is terrifically insightful! I remember engaged in quite the struggle with a tag-team of atheists. They insisted that RATIONAL ANALYSIS would lead any honest person to Atheism.

I commented that if such a thing were really true, then there wouldn’t be such a distinct difference between Atheists and Theists. So I said I could prove it.

I asked them if their astounding rational logic helped Atheists to reach the same conclusions.

They said “Sure!” So, I said, that must be true about Atheists views on Free Will or No Free Will, right?

There was a pause… So which of you believe humans DEFINITELY have Free Will. There were a few who said yes. Then I said, how many of you believe humans do NOT have Free Will? A few more people… leaving one or two that refused to say.

So THERE is the power of Rational Logic… leaving those perfect Atheists without an ability to decide whether something as OBVIOUS as Freedom exists or not …


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I’d probably word the paragraph you quote differently given what you say. I readily admit that most of the tradition of natural theology is concerned with bare theism. But I don’t accept what you say here. The current form of Christian evidentialist apologetics seems to fit this definition of natural theology, and it certainly argues for the truth of Christianity. Or what about Anselm and his argument from reason for the necessity of the Incarnation?

About Aquinas, I’m aware of the debate about interpretation of the ST and SCG. To my mind, both supporters of natural theology and theology of nature can proof text Aquinas for their purposes.

I too acknowledge that for many people natural theology has been helpful in clearing away some obstacles to faith that their cultures had imbued in their minds. More striking to me, though, is how many people don’t find the arguments of natural theology persuasive. That is the point I was emphasizing. If natural theology really is objective and neutral, it seems that it should be much more effective in persuading people than it is. That leads me to think it is not so neutral and objective.

And as to whether it hurts anything or not, I’d say at the individual level it generally doesn’t. But to consider the broader cultural impact, please read Buckley’s book. There is a shift of the ground of religious faith in the 16th and 17th centuries from the person of Jesus Christ and the faithful witness of the Church, to what can be established by reason. Consider Descartes in the preface to his Meditations where he says (I’m paraphrasing), “I’ve always thought the existence of God and the immortality of the soul are doctrines that should be established by philosophy rather than theology.” Culturally today, there lingers the feeling that is reinforced by natural theology that unless it can be proved to the satisfaction of the disinterested observer, then it is irrational. You can say all you want that natural theology isn’t supposed to replace revelation, but the way it feels to the person on the street is that all of Christian doctrine stands or falls with rationally established arguments. So in that sense, I think it can hurt.

I’m sure, though, that you see things differently. I suppose I could leverage that fact to support my suspicion of some sort of neutral, objective point from which we can reason!

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