Thursday, March 07, 2013

Merely natural theology

Nate Shannon:

I only wish A/W [James Anderson, Greg Welty] viewed it this way, but I don’t think they do. Your approach is presuppositional; theirs appears to be merely natural theology–which is fine–NT is what it is–but it isn’t presuppositional, and it doesn’t prove the existence of the Christian God. Not even Aquinas thought that it did.

i) Arguing for the theistic foundations of logic is a presuppositional argument.

ii) Natural theology involves a cumulative argument for the existence of the Christian God.

iii) The Bible deploys the argument from prophecy. In the OT, a paradigm-case is Isa 40-48, where Isaiah appeals to God’s foreknowledge, in contrast to the blind gods of paganism. In the NT, we have appeal to messianic prophecy in the Gospels and Acts.

But does the argument from prophecy prove the existence of the Christian God? Doesn’t the Bible warn us that false prophets can make true predictions (e.g. Deut 13:1-5)?

Likewise, the Bible deploys the argument from miracles (e.g. Acts 1:3; 2:22; 2 Cor 12:12). The argument from miracles is prominent in the Fourth Gospel, where Jesus appeals to his miraculous deeds to attest his divine mission.

But does the argument from miracles prove the existence of the Christian God? Doesn’t Scripture indicate that the dark side can work miracles (e.g. Exod 7-8; 2 Thes 2:9; Rev 13)? Don’t demoniacs have supernatural strength and clairvoyance (Mk 5:3-4; Lk 4:33-34; Acts 16;16-17)?

Does Shannon fault Scripture for using theistic/evidential arguments that fall shorting of proving the existence of the Christian God?


  1. Shannon wrote: "Van Til has sharpened considerably both claims: (1) he argues that all knowledge, not only theological knowledge, is true iff it depends on special revelation, and (2) that natural theology can only get us a finite God, one essentially inseparable from the creation, which is to say, any God but the triune, a se God of Scripture. Despite some renewed discussion of these issues (Plantinga’s “The Reformed Objection to Natural Theology” and M. Sudduth’s text with the same title), I think these basic tenets of consistent Protestantism remain steadfast."

    But historic Protestantism has held to a doctrine of general revelation. God, the true God, is really revealed through general revelation. The Gospel and God's triunity is only revealed through special revelation, but this is not a different god from the one revealed in general revelation. People use the term "natural theology" as a bit of a scare term, but isn't it just a subset of general revelation?

    I think the various strains of hyper-pressupositionalism or hyper-Vantilianism stumble on this point. The epistemic process by which we innately know God's existence (and at least some of his attributes) is quite different from the epistemic processes by which we come to know that God became incarnate by the Virgin Mary, was crucified under Pontius Pilate around 30 A.D., and rose from the grave for the justification of sinners in fulfillment of the messianic hope of the Hebrew scriptures. They want to make all Christian truth into a package deal, but our theology of revelation is more complicated than that.

  2. Thanks for the interaction. I hope what I wrote serves to help us understand the Scriptures better.

    Do I fault Scripture for its use of evidence? Of course not, but Scripture uses evidence within the context of a redemptive-historical view of history, a covenantal view of history, which has God as its starting point and referent at every point. It does not use evidence as though facts simply exist, triune God or no triune God. (An article that helps with this point is by Lane G. Tipton, on Paul's use of evidence in Acts 17:30-31, in Revelation and Reason, ed. Tipton and Oliphint).

    General revelation--totally on board with you there. But as Rom 1 teaches, Gen. Rev., though it is clear--unavoidably clear--it is, by the sinner, always and only suppressed. So the fact that Gen. Rev. is so clear (even perspicuous), rather than producing clear and true knowledge of God, only ends up serving as grounds for condemnation. "They are without excuse."

    This is the historic doctrine, as per Rom 1, as I have read Reformed history. All men know God--gnontes ton theon--and they even know his law; but they refuse to worship him, and so in that sense refuse to know him. They worship created things instead. They take created things as ultimate, and even in their thinking become futile.

    In that sense, no: natural theology is NOT a subset of GR, because GR, due to sin (as described explicitly in Rom 1), though clear, never results in true knowledge of God.

    I think sometimes people take this to mean that, therefore, if they are Christians, they can then do natural theology without the pre-redemptive difficulties. But this is mistaken. You can see this in simply a factual sense: take Aquinas, for example, who, though he was a Christian, believed that we could not get the trinity in nature. But in nature, we could find God. Aquinas as a Christian could find God through natural theology; but he knew also that the Muslims also found God in nature (he learned a lot from their methods of doing so), even using the same arguments. So even in Aquinas, we are hand-in-hand with a theology which rejects the trinity and the deity of Jesus Christ, all the way up until we allow Scripture to be our principle of knowledge.


    1. You're sidestepping the issue. Biblical prophets and apostles, as well as Jesus, deploy the argument from prophecy as well as the argument from miracles. However, as I also documented from Scripture, these fall short of proving the one true God inasmuch as the dark side can duplicate prophecy and miracles.

      So do you think the arguments from prophecy and miracles merely prove a finite God? Is the biblical apologetic defective?

      BTW, slapping the word "covenantal" on your argument doesn't rehabilitate your argument.

  3. I don't feel that this exchange is aimed at better understanding. It feels personal and competitive.


  4. It's giving me a better understanding. Thanks both to Steve and Nate.