In Ian Barbours
Typology of the possible relationships between science and religion he uses
these two similar terms.
theology is traditionally understood as the
consideration of what can be known about God without the aid of revelation,
i.e. from consideration of the created world in general, aided by reason.
Whereas Barbours theology of nature starts from a religious tradition based on
religious experience and historical revelation. But it holds that some
traditional doctrines need to be reformulated in the light of current science.The framing of a theology of nature is in fact what most of the contemporary
writers in the science-and-religion field are engaged upon.
Most Christian natural theology has stemmed
in one way or other from the work of Thomas Aquinas. Two of his arguments for
the existence of God have stimulated particular interest among those concerned
with science: the cosmological argument
(that all change must stem from a necessary, self-existent being who is the
First Cause of all phenomena in the universe) and the teleological argument (that order and intelligibility and
apparent purpose in nature imply a rational designer). Much of the science done
in the late 17th and the 18th Centuries was motivated by a desire to learn more
of the nature of this ordering designer-divinity.However, the teleological argument was the subject of a devastating attack by
David Hume (1711-76), who pointed out for example that our experience of the
world does not rule out its order having arisen by chance, or indeed there being
not one but many designers.
Arguments for the existence of God from
apparent design in nature persisted, but were finally laid to rest by the work
of Charles Darwin (1809-82).Arguments for a different sort of
divine designer then developed, but they were arguments from presuppositions about God, rather than attempts to prove Gods existence or character.
cosmological argument has also received much critical scrutiny from the time of
Kant on, and it must now be accepted that what we know about the universe can
never demonstrate whether it has a cause, or whether its existence is
The demise of natural theology, and its
partial rebirth as a philosophical theology or new style natural theology are
well analysed by John Macquarrie.The central point to note is that those authors claiming to revive natural
theology tend to do so in a way which is descriptive instead of deductiveA good example concerns the anthropic coincidences. Commenting on the notion
that the universe appears to be fine-tuned so as to produce life, John
Polkinghorne calls this not a demonstration of the existence or the nature of
God but merely a fact of interest calling for an explanation.The boldest attempt to reinvoke natural theology in our own time is that of
Richard Swinburne who claims not that what we know of the universe demonstrates
God, but that it renders theism more probable
link | Feedback | Contributed by: Dr. Christopher Southgate
Source: God, Humanity and the Cosmos (T&T Clark, 1999)