A Call to Theology of Nature

@jongarvey has a good and frustrated post.


Setting aside his frustration for why this has not happened yet, I think his call to theology of nature is important. In particular, the distinction between natural theology (what we can learn about God from nature) and theology of nature (what we think of nature in light of theology) is important. It seems that these two are often collapsed into one, and opposition to bad natural theology can leave us impoverished in our theology of nature.

Perhaps this is on of the tasks before us here at Peaceful Science?

Coincidentally, I’ve recently been considering Evolutionary Creation’s role from the other end, that is, in terms of theology of nature , that is, what our knowledge about God leads us to expect to find in nature. My thinking was based on the the fact that, whilst ID claims to be a scientific enterprise, BioLogos and Evolutionary Creation do not, and so it follows that they must be essentially theological positions.

I agree entirely with a robust effort to consider science and nature in light of theology.

the theology of nature implied by “Evolutionary Creation” tends to be “We don’t need a theology of nature.” Independent of this, on the Peaceful Science thread already linked, Daniel Gordon (@dga471) , a graduate physics student, endorsed this impression (in agreeing with Eddie’s piece), but put it down to the narrowly scientific education of people at BioLogos , making them hesitant in areas like philosophy and theology.

I think it is more just because it is not really the founding principle of BioLogos to do that sort of work. They rely on scholars to work that out, and perhaps that task has not been fully engaged by them.

Joshua Swamidass asks in his review of the Crossway Tome whether there is a theory of theistic evolution that can be theologically orthodox. It remains to be seen how successfully orthodox views on God’s sole Creatorship and sovereignty over nature can be integrated with evolutionary science, particularly under the naturalistic metaphysical assumptions of modern science.

I’m less pessimistic than @jongarvey here. It seems we already have a fairly robust understanding of this through theology of providence. Nothing in evolution seems to threaten that body of understanding. Perhaps the issue is making some of the connections more clear, and making it more widely known

My cynical side tells me this is because if you refuse to formulate a position, it can’t be demonstrated to be incoherent. Or perhaps, that realising you can’t make “Evolutionary” and “Creation”, or “Bios” and “Logos”, or “Theistic” and “Evolution” fit together, except as a slogan, you keep mum.

I don’t want that to be merely a slogan here. Let’s find that better way…


Really, Josh? They currnetly have scientists, historians and philosophers on staff, and have had biblical scholars (and still have links to all these). And as I said, BioLogos was quite theory-rich in its early days.

Well, not really pessimistic, but I think it’s a bigger challenge than has really been attempted. Universal providence is a useful paradigm - but then the term “Evolutionary Creation” becomes suspect, as “creation” and “providence” have a separate theological history.

But that, indeed, is the kind of discussion that’s needed, because a genius like Aquinas spent a lifetime on his theology of nature, and it did not include creation because creation was the foundation, not the fruit, of nature.

So it’s more than simply saying “God creates through nature”, until someone does the level of analysis that Aquinas did.

Incidentally, I major on Aquinas rather than Descartes or Bacon here because, to be frank, the new philosophy of the latter two has been causing problems ever since in things like the mind-body problem, the natural-supernatural divide and so on.

Science is still working on a theology of nature that’s very limited, and so it produced great fruit in the Newtonian phase of science, but creates paradox after paradox in the quantum, information and genomic ages.


I’d say one of the first forks in any “Theology of Nature” would be whether nature was “subjected to futility” from the start in the hopes that it would one day be elevated or whether it was only subjected to futility after the fall of Adam.

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That is a great question!

It parallels the very same question that has been raised about Eden and Adam & Eve!

Did God have the general arc of Fall and Redemption already set in stone? Or was it all a big surprise!


it’s a very important question.

Too right - not least because there’s undoubtedly general confusion between the goal of a new creation and the effects of sin on the old. How come Jesus not only deal with sin but gives us a new creation? People are too often lacking inquisitiveness into how that comes about in Scripture.

Part of the lack of thought on that is, I think, the longstanding Platonizing idea to lose the recreation of the earth in the idea of “going to heaven when you die.”

Any theology of nature ought to take into account that the Bible is about 2 creations.

But one of the new factors to put into deciding the question you raise is that the world appears to have been a perfectly adequate creation for 4.5bn years (and the universe more) before man came along. There’s something very perverse in suggesting that it was groaning in frustration, metaphorically or not, throughout that time, and that God was happy with that.

It reminds me of those Creationist ideas that the whole world of dinosaurs and so on would be a “waste of time” if Ken Ham wasn’t around to enjoy it. Only it’s worse, because the dinoaurs, it seems, know they’re a waste of time.


Things like “futility” depend on purpose… If we see nature’s purpose as to glorify God , or shout out his eternal qualities… Wouldn’t the corruption and fall of humanity subject creation to futility to an extent… in that the part of creation, that should have proclaimed God’s glory loudest in word and deed… Now blasphemed him in word and deed?

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It’s pretty clear to me that the NT itself, in the words of Paul in Acts14:15-17, calls for the view that it’s unequivocal that natural history, all by itself, is a lasting witness to God as creator, provider, a “good Person” Who is living and actively involved in blessing the earth and its inhabitants.
“But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of it, they tore their robes and rushed out into the crowd, crying outand saying, ‘Men, why are you doing these things? We are also men of the same nature as you, and preach the gospel to you that you should turn from these vain things to a living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them.In the generations gone by He permitted all the nations to go their own ways;and yet He did not leave Himself without witness, in that He did good and gave you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness.’ Even saying these things, with difficulty they restrained the crowds from offering sacrifice to them.” - Acts 14:14-18 NASB

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They do not have a scholarly agenda. This is not part of their strategic plan in any way. The closest they have is their blog calendar, which is been severely hollowed out with Venema and Davis’ departure. It mainly covers a series of topical themes for each month, which are often satisfied by recycling old blog posts. That is not a scholarly agenda.

Scholarly work is only initiated externally. Right now BioLogos function more like a marketing and community platform for TE/EC. They certainly give platform to academics, but they do not have an scholarly plan. Even what you call being “theory-rich” in the early days was the articulation of the personal views of several of the early leaders. That ended up not working so well too, and BioLogos has generally backed away from that though there are some notable exceptions.

I’d rather say science cannot work on a theology of nature with any coherence. So it is really up for those outside science to take up that work, as we are doing here, and you have been doing a long time. In general, @jongarvey, you are doing great work. I only wish you’d be a bit more deferential to what scientists say in the domain of science, and the methodology we use. Biology is full of both ands, and complex interactions. It is difficult to communicate, but it is often far more coherent than you sometimes articulate.

Outside science, however, in theological discourse, I think you are doing a great job of contextualizing scientific knowledge in a larger framework. This is really your sweet spot. The more you can pair this with granting autonomy to science (merely within in scientific discourse), then the better and more broadly important I think your work will be.

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I think that is a really good point.

I think it is better to say that its purpose was frustrated with the rise of fallen man. So at that point, the groaning and frustration starts. Things God has made are conscripted into a broken world, beauty is defaced, and power is abused with grave consequences to us and the world around us. God had many purposes in nature before Adam, but in Adam’s world the real purposes of creation are twisted towards darkness.

Yes, I agree. Saleska’s article on this is really good, the artistic Lutheran Tree. Remember that?

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@jongarvey this is where also we might be to start working out a Cosmic Fall of some sort. Let me define that, explain the wrong way to go about it, hint at a better way, and see if you can take it further.

When we realize how grand and vast the universe is, A Cosmic Fall seems totally implausible. How could actions here on Earth by Adam have an effect on other galaxies, stars, planets in the vast expanse of a universe that we have seen? This just seems absurd.

In the YEC view, and perhaps even in some traditional theology, it is sometimes proposed that the laws of nature throughout the whole universe changed when Adam fell. Early on at their origin 50 years ago (The Origin of Young-Earthism 50 Years Ago) they proposed, for example, that the 2nd law of thermodynamics is an effect of the fall. That does not make any sense, and has been rejected by most modern YECs. Still, how do we give an account for how the vastness of the universe is conscripted into Adam’s fall?

So, is there a hint of a different way? What if we start by saying that the natural law was not altered by the fall, but its intended purpose was twisted toward darkness instead. What we read instead is that the seed of a new law, a new order, was withdrawn when Adam was cast from the Garden. So how does this affect the stars outside Adam’s causal horizon? Let me propose possible ways:

  1. Perhaps God had a purpose for the stars within human society that was lost by Adam’s rebellion. Perhaps their purpose was to declare God’s eternal attributes: He is ancient, powerful, and vast. Perhaps, in the Fall, the become twisted into objects of worship. In our moment, they are often conscripted into arguments against God too. In this way, the stars and the cosmic heavens are fallen. Not because they natural law has been altered by Adam’s sin, but because their original purpose is twisted to darkness.

  2. Perhaps the Garden was a seed of a new natural law that was intended to transform all Creation, inducting even the stars and distant galaxies into a new natural order. The original purpose of nature as we know it might have been to be the substrate to be inaugurated into a grander reality. With the closing off of the Garden, rather than being perfected this way, it is now stuck in limbo. An analogy might be a high school student suck in first year classes for several years. It is expected that first years will take first year classes, then graduate to go on to better. Held back year after year, the groaning and the frustration grow.

I wonder if either or both these this directions might be the foundation for a coherent account of a cosmic fall. What do you think @jongarvey?

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N. T. Wright has written critically about the idea that the world (creation) is destined to be destroyed anyway (so you can almost have a Platonic contempt for the material world) and the whole point of salvation is to be saved out of the doomed world and to “go to heaven when you die.” I think this is pretty much the Evangelical mindset and this colors a lot of people’s thinking. I see a fair amount of dualistic thinking of the physical vs. the spiritual.



To me, if we wish to view things in terms of a cosmic fall, we need to consider the intended cosmic role of man.

As you know, the whole point of my forthcoming book is to deny that the natural creation is fallen in the sense that’s usually taken, so we don’t need to be looking for the flaws in distant galaxies (let alone the beginning of entropy).

But if we take the achieved role of Christ as being the intended role of Adam (and my discussion on this usually begins in Psalm 8 as interpreted by Hebrews 2), then God’s purpose was to fill creation with his glory through mankind.

Such a plan can be fruitfully discussed in terms of God raising the humble and humbling the mighty, as a “naked ape” on a lowly planet gets to judge the glorious angels. If it seems implausible, it’s only as implausible as the eschatological hope we have in Christ of a new heavens and a new earth (well described by N T Wright as Jacob rightly says - welcome Jacob). Then the bets are off about entropy and everything else.

But meanwhile, the whole cosmos would be involved in that frustration of being promised the intimate, permanent presence of God and yet being denied it because of human sin and remaining perishable. Paul’s use of that “frustration” imagery in Romans is highly metaphorical and spiritual, I guess, because it’s ahard to imagine how a black hole, or a lump of roick come to that, could be groaning in frustration.

But biblical thought, like ancient thought generally, has much to do with right order: just as Abel’s blood “cried out from the ground” because of an unresolved murder, I think creation is pictured as disrupted simply because sin exists in it, God’s purposes are (apparently) thwarted, and “all is not well with the world”.

Additionally, since God does judge sin in history, and nature is often his instrument, at least the earthly creation is turned to uses it would (again in personified language) rather avoid - it was to bless man, not curse him.

Additionally still, of course, there is the damage inflicted on man upon nature, but like the last point, none of that seems to touch the vast cosmos out there. If we deny some huge change after Eden (and the Bible gives not one hint of it), then it seems to me the best lens is the new purpose of God for it, interrupted by the Fall of the absurd creature God had chosen to bring it about - and who, in Christ, actually does so as the cosmic drama unfolds.


A new Hump post on the Theology of Nature topic here, intended to make a start at clearing the ground of non-starters, in this case what is most accurately called “Semi-deism”, the belief that God has done all his work in nature through the laws created at the time of the Big Bang.

I’ve started a new sub-category there called “Theology of Nature”: older posts may get added to that if they appear relevant to the theme.


I think this view has great promise. The analogy of our being under a tutor, or the law was our tutor is one that is used in the NT as well.

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There is at least one overarching purpose that is not brought to naught because of the fall, but which did necessitate the atoning death of Jesus as the Son of God.
It is God’s desire for humanity that we live in rightly-related (righteous) fellowship with Him and with one another in this gifted life.
What Adam and Eve had, prior to the fall, however, was not yet righteousness, but innocence.
Because righteousness is innocence tested.
It was God’s desire for humankind to gain that righteousness by following His command not to “eat of the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil,” and to continue to live in trusting obedience towards Him.
We failed; we fail, we will continue to fail at that, and would be in permanent despair if not for one glorious truth: the righteous atoning work of Christ has restored our standing with God, and His obedience and example has won our own evil hearts back to the generous fellowship of God.
The loss of moral innocence has not permanently kept us from learning righteousness (the hard way) because of the transforming and ongoing work of Christ. The whole drama of which, does, indeed, have a cosmic role to play, as God “reconciles all things to Himself.”


This is true, in case anyone is disposed to argue! The Scripture says that Jesus “learned obedience through suffering”, not in the least implying disobedience before.


Another post on this subject on the Hump, which is mainly linking back to past posts on the same subject.

Like the last, it’s clearing the ground for a theology of nature by dealing with the objection sometimes put forward on pseudo-Thomistic grounds that God cannot be involved in nature, except through its laws, because then he would then be “just another cause in nature”.

that cannot be susatined
(a) because Scripture denies it many times
(b) because God is only analogically a physical cause and
(c )Because Christology links God inextricably with the world.

Some other stuff too.


" We are left with the view that the Christian God can act contingently in the natural world, and that to achieve his stated ends he must do so. It remains at some stage to say something about the ‘how’."
Personally, I’d change your last sentence to read that God can act directly, or indirectly, to accomplish His purposes in nature (not “contingently”) and in human affairs. Given the means available to Him, I have little confidence that we could ever identify any kind of universal “how.” God is not obligated to fit our mental strictures, but does act in accord with His nature and character.

The problem is with the definition of “nature” and “natural”…
Science identifies “natural” as Physical observable predictable events… This is a purely human classification created for a very limited kind of investigation into reality. Why should God be bothered about such classifications.
I think when we talk about creation, we need to talk in terms of primary causes and secondary causes… i.e Aspects of creation in which God’s agency primary (eg De Novo Creation, guiding mutations in existing organisms etc) as opposed to aspects for which God’s agency is secondary and “natural” processes are set into motion by God to create.

Perhaps words such as natural, common descent etc have no place in a theological discussion. Edit : or at-least these terms should be used in the context of primary and secondary causes. For example, it needs to be decided whether evolution/common descent can also mean God being the primary agent of change in some cases.