Natural theology

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Natural theology is a branch of theology based on reason and ordinary experience. Thus it is distinguished from revealed theology which is based on scripture and religious experiences of various kinds; and also from transcendental theology, which is based on a priori reasoning.

Marcus Terentius Varro (116–27 BC) in his (lost) Antiquitates rerum humanarum et divinarum established a distinction between three kinds of theology: civil (political) (theologia civilis), natural (physical) (theologia naturalis) and mythical (theologia mythica). The theologians of civil theology are "the people", asking how the gods relate to daily life and the state (imperial cult). The theologians of natural theology are the philosophers, asking about the nature of the gods, and the theologians of mythical theology are the poets, crafting mythology. The terminology entered Christianity after having been adopted by the Stoic tradition; it is used by St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas.

Natural theology therefore is a branch of philosophy, whose object is the nature of the gods, or of the one supreme God. In monotheistic religions, this principally involves arguments about the attributes or non-attributes of God, and especially the existence of God - arguments which are purely philosophical, and do not involve recourse to any supernatural revelation.

The related term Physico-theology describes a theology based on the constitution of the natural world. This often proceeds by invoking the need for a designer. One of the first examples of this approach to theology was the fifth of St. Thomas Aquinas's "five ways" to prove the existence of God.[1]

Key proponents[edit]

Besides Zarathushtra's Gathas, Plato gives the earliest surviving account of a natural theology. In the Timaeus, written c. 360 BC, we read: "We must first investigate concerning [the whole Cosmos] that primary question which has to be investigated at the outset in every case, — namely, whether it has always existed, having no beginning or generation, or whether it has come into existence, having begun from some beginning."[2] In the Laws, in answer to the question as to what arguments justify faith in the gods, Plato affirms: "One is our dogma about the soul...the other is our dogma concerning the ordering of the motion of the stars".[3]

Aristotle in his Metaphysics argues for the existence of a principle he calls the "unmoved mover". This argument was taken up again by the medieval scholastics.[citation needed]

From the 8th century AD, the Mutazilite school of Islam, compelled to defend their principles against the orthodox Islam of their day, looked for support in philosophy, and were among the first to pursue a rational Islamic theology, called Ilm-al-Kalam (scholastic theology). The teleological argument was later presented by the early Islamic philosophers, Alkindus and Averroes (founder of Averroism), while Avicenna (founder of his own school of Islamic philosophy) presented both the cosmological argument and ontological argument in The Book of Healing (1027).[4]

St. Thomas Aquinas (c.1225–1274) presented several versions of the Cosmological argument in his Summa Theologica, and of the Teleological argument in his Summa Contra Gentiles. He also presented the Ontological argument, but rejected it in favor of proofs that invoke cause and effect alone.

There are various ways to analyze the theories of natural theology. According to many people who study this field, the existence of God is based on religious activity and experiences that have taken place in the universe. There is another understanding to theology that is proposed by some scientists which tends to debate the existence of a God. John Hedley Brooke understood the thinking of natural theology much differently than any other religious leader, academic, or scientist. His contributions to the controversy over natural theology was important. He claimed that the use of science could be incorporated into the way in which people think about religion. Brooke used Charles Darwin as evidence to provide his argument. Darwin's theories of evolution and view of science influenced the work of Brooke when he released his book Science and Religion. The controversy over natural theology cause individuals to question the existing God religious people acknowledge and worship. Brooke states, "Instead of treating science and religion as discrete definable entities, his approach is sensitive to shifting boundaries and willing to consider the contexts in which particular forms of science could be used both for religious and secular ends." Jerry Coyne believes that it is hard for people to believe in both religion and science being compatible which as been a common way of thinking about this relationship for a long time.

[5] [6]

Notes[edit]

((reflist))

Later examples[edit]

Thomas Barlow, Bishop of Lincoln, in his Execreitationes aliquot metaphysicae de Deo (1637), often invoked natural theology during the reign of Charles II.[citation needed]

John Ray (1627–1705) also known as John Wray, was an English naturalist, sometimes referred to as the father of English natural history. He published important works on plants, animals, and natural theology.

William Derham (1657–1735), was a friend and disciple of John Ray. He continued Ray's tradition of natural theology in two of his own works, The Physico-Theology, published in 1713, and the Astro-Theology, 1714.[citation needed] These would later help influence the work of William Paley (see below).[citation needed]

In An Essay on the Principle of Population, the first edition published in 1798, Thomas Malthus ended with two chapters on natural theology and population. Malthus—a devout Christian—argued that revelation would "damp the soaring wings of intellect", and thus never let "the difficulties and doubts of parts of the scripture" interfere with his work.

William Paley gave a well-known rendition of the teleological argument for God. In 1802 he published Natural Theology, or Evidences of the Existence and Attributes of the Deity collected from the Appearances of Nature.[7] In this he described the Watchmaker analogy, for which he is probably best known, however, his book, which was one of the most published books of the 19th and 20th century, presents a number of teleological and cosmological arguments for the existence of God. The book served as a template for many subsequent natural theologies during the 19th century and, for those who did not agree with its argument, it served as a spring board to a variety of theologies of nature.[8]

Thomas Paine wrote the definitive book on the natural religion of Deism, The Age of Reason (1794–1807). In it he uses reason to establish a belief in Nature's Designer who man calls God. He also establishes the many instances that Christianity and Judaism require us to give up our God-given reason in order to accept their claims to revelation.[citation needed]

American education reformer and abolitionist, Horace Mann (1796–1859) taught political economy, intellectual and moral philosophy, and natural theology.[citation needed]

Professor of chemistry and natural history, Edward Hitchcock also studied and wrote on natural theology. He attempted to unify and reconcile science and religion, focusing on geology. His major work in this area was The Religion of Geology and its Connected Sciences (1851).[9][page needed]

The Gifford Lectures are lectures established by the will of Adam Lord Gifford. They were established to "promote and diffuse the study of Natural Theology in the widest sense of the term—in other words, the knowledge of God." The term natural theology as used by Gifford means theology supported by science and not dependent on the miraculous.[10]

The Bridgewater Treatises[edit]

Debates over the applicability of teleology to scientific questions came to a head in the nineteenth century, as Paley's argument about design came into conflict with radical new theories on the transmutation of species. In order to support the canonical scientific views at the time, which explored the natural world within Paley's framework of a divine designer, The Earl of Bridgewater, a gentleman naturalist, commissioned eight Bridgewater Treatises upon his deathbed to explore "the Power, Wisdom, and Goodness of God, as manifested in the Creation."[11] They first appeared during the years 1833 to 1840, and afterwards in Bohn's Scientific Library. The treatises are:

  1. The Adaptation of External Nature to the Moral and Intellectual Condition of Man, by Thomas Chalmers, D. D.
  2. On The Adaptation of External Nature to the Physical Condition of Man, by John Kidd, M. D.
  3. Astronomy and General Physics considered with reference to Natural Theology, by William Whewell, D. D.
  4. The hand, its Mechanism and Vital Endowments as evincing Design, by Sir Charles Bell.
  5. Animal and Vegetable Physiology considered with reference to Natural Theology, by Peter Mark Roget.
  6. Geology and Mineralogy considered with reference to Natural Theology, by William Buckland, D.D.
  7. On the History, Habits and Instincts of Animals, by William Kirby.
  8. Chemistry, Meteorology, and the Function of Digestion, considered with reference to Natural Theology, by William Prout, M.D.

In response to the claim in Whewell's treatise that "We may thus, with the greatest propriety, deny to the mechanical philosophers and mathematicians of recent times any authority with regard to their views of the administration of the universe", Charles Babbage published what he called The Ninth Bridgewater Treatise, A Fragment.[12] As his preface states, this volume was not part of that series, but rather his own reflections on the subject. He draws on his own work on calculating engines to consider God as a divine programmer setting complex laws underlying what we think of as miracles, rather than miraculously producing new species on a Creative whim. There was also a fragmentary supplement to this, posthumously published by Thomas Hill.[13]

The works are of unequal merit; several of them took a high rank in apologetic literature, but they attracted considerable criticism. One notable critic of the Bridgewater Treatises was Edgar Allan Poe, who wrote Criticism.[14] Robert Knox, an Edinburgh surgeon and leading advocate of radical morphology, referred to them as the "Bilgewater Treatises", to mock the "ultra-teleological school". Though memorable, this phrase overemphasises the influence of teleology in the series, at the expense of the idealism of the likes of Kirby and Roget.[15]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Thomas Aquinas' Five Ways (Part 2): Contingency, Goodness, Design
  2. ^ Plato, Timaeus
  3. ^ Plato, Laws
  4. ^ Abrahamov, Binyāmîn (1990), "Introduction", in Abrahamov, Binyāmîn, Kitāb al-Dalīl al-Kabīr, Brill 
  5. ^ Hedley Brooke, John. Science and Religion. 1991.
  6. ^ http://edge.org/conversation/does-the-empirical-nature-of-science-contradict-the-revelatory-nature-of-faith
  7. ^ Paley, William (2006). Natural Theology, Matthew Daniel Eddy and David M. Knight (Eds.). Oxford: Oxford University Press. 
  8. ^ Eddy, Matthew Daniel (2013). "Nineteenth Century Natural Theology". The Oxford Handbook of Natural Theology. 
  9. ^ Hitchcock, Edward. "Making of America Books: The religion of geology and its connected sciences:". quod.lib.umich.edu. Retrieved 2009-08-08. 
  10. ^ See Gifford Lectures online database accessed October 15, 2010.
  11. ^ Robson, John M. (1990). "The Fiat and Finger of God: The Bridgewater Treatises". In Helmstadter, Richard J.; Lightman, Bernard V. (eds.). Victorian Faith in Crisis: Essays on Continuity and Change in Nineteenth-Century Religious Belief. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press. ISBN 978-0-8047-1602-4.
  12. ^ The Ninth Bridgewater Treatise, A Fragment, Charles Babbage
  13. ^ Hill, Thomas; Charles Babbage (1874). Geometry and faith. GP Putnam. 
  14. ^ Criticism, Edgar Allan Poe, (1850)
  15. ^ Alexander, Denis; Numbers, Ronald L. (2010). Biology and Ideology from Descartes to Dawkins. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. p. 107. ISBN 0-226-60841-7. 

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

The Bridgewater Treatises

  1. The Adaptation of External Nature to the Moral and Intellectual Condition of Man, by Thomas Chalmers, D. D.
  2. On The Adaptation of External Nature to the Physical Condition of Man, by John Kidd, M. D.
  3. Astronomy and General Physics considered with reference to Natural Theology, by William Whewell, D. D.
  4. The hand, its Mechanism and Vital Endowments as evincing Design, by Sir Charles Bell.
  5. Animal and Vegetable Physiology, Considered with Reference to Natural Theology Animal and Vegetable Physiology considered with reference to Natural Theology, by Peter Mark Roget.
  6. Geology and Mineralogy considered with reference to Natural Theology, by William Buckland, D.D.
  7. The Habits and Instincts of Animals with reference to Natural Theology, Vol. 2, by William Kirby.
  8. Chemistry, Meteorology, and the Function of Digestion, considered with reference to Natural Theology, by William Prout, M.D.