Natural theology – What is it?
Natural theology is the opposite of supernatural theology, or theology based on revelation. Natural theology finds truth in the observation of nature, rather than on the revealed information in the Bible. A natural theologian looks at nature—forests, mountains, the faces of people—and concludes things about God's character and personality from what he sees. The supernatural theologian looks at the Scriptures and concludes the truth about who God is from what he understands from the text. Supernatural theology can still appreciate and learn from nature. The difference is that for the supernatural theologian, the Word is the primary source of knowledge about God, and supersedes the knowledge found in nature; for the natural theologian, it is the opposite.
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There are three problems with natural theology:
1. Natural theology depends on man's intellect. In order to gather truth from the world around us, we must use our minds, and depend on our perception. We know from living life on this planet that because of the differences in our physical makeup and upbringing, our perceptions are subjective; it is impossible to be totally objective about what we are seeing and perceiving in the world around us. The Bible also tells us that the human mind is not always reliable, having been adversely affected by the fall (Romans 1:28; Romans 8:7; 1 Timothy 6:5; 2 Corinthians 3:14; 2 Corinthians 4:4). Because of these things, we are told not to lean on our own understanding, but instead to trust God (Proverbs 3:5-6).
2. Natural theology does not provide a salvation doctrine. Thomas Jefferson was a famous proponent of natural theology. In his Bible, he marked out all the miracles with a black pen, because he did not believe that there is anything in nature that proves miracles are possible. He was looking to nature, rather than to Scripture, as his primary source of truth. Unfortunately, nature does not provide us with any hope of salvation, as our salvation (as revealed in Scripture) is the product of a miracle. Jesus died on the cross and received the punishment that was meant for us (Isaiah 53:4-6). He rose again on the third day, and in doing so, secured eternal life for any who would have faith (John 20:1-18; Hebrews 10:10, 14). These are miraculous, spiritual acts that cannot be divined from nature. The natural theologian cannot find a way to heaven—or even its existence—by looking at the world around him. His only hope is to die, like the plants and animals, and return to the dust as he observes they do.
3. Natural theology leads to unbelief. Abraham was the father of all who have faith; he believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness (Romans 4:1-8, 16-17). Abraham did not come to have faith in God by observing nature, and neither can we. If we rely on empirical evidence only, we turn to science instead of God to give us answers. Science is not anti-biblical; science is a beautiful thing, and helps us to explain and understand the world around us. But it only explains the natural world. Science has no voice regarding the supernatural world, nor does it have answers to supernatural questions. Nature speaks to the human soul of God's existence (Psalm 19:1-3; Romans 1:20) but nature cannot prove His existence through empiricism—that is, by what is naturally observed. And it cannot lead us to saving faith in Jesus. Supernatural, divine intervention is necessary for faith, the miraculous is necessary for salvation, and revelation is necessary for the mind of man to understand truth.
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