AJ Roberts's Theology of Nature

So thinking about this a bit, I’m convinced we are using language with subtle differences, and we actually agree. Let me review some proper distinctions.

  1. “God is hidden” is different than “God is hiding”
  2. “Science” is different than “Scientists”, the people who do science.
  3. “Nature” is different than “Science”, one effort to study Nature.

With those distinctions in mind, I would not say:

  1. God is hiding Himself in science and nature.
  2. Science explicitly demonstrates God exists.
  3. God is not revealed in science.

I would rather say:

  1. God is usually hidden from view, usually because we are not looking for him.
  2. Science brings us into close contact with Nature, where we are confronted with something of God.
  3. Science is blind and mute, without language of God, but the Scientist might clearly see what science cannot.

@AJRoberts I think is your view too. It seems we just a had a miss in the language. Do you agree?

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I agree with all of this, which leaves me wondering where the disagreement you indicated lies. The traditional understanding of natural theology was that it could take us as far as the insights you have indicated, but not to the specifics of Christian revelation. But if natural theology can take one even that limited distance, it would be sufficient to refute Dawkins, etc.when they claim that the facts of nature have shown that God does not exist.

A case in point is former atheist Antony Flew. He was converted by design arguments to belief in a God; but he did not take the step to Christianity. But that makes perfect sense, since design arguments can’t speak about Christianity. They can’t speak about the Fall, Trinity, Incarnation, Redemption, etc. They point to the doctrine of Creation, but about the rest of Christian theology they are powerless to speak.

Yup, which is why I find Jesus to be so much greater than nature. Amen?

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A pagan king who reads the Biblical accounts of things like kings being brought to naught by worms, or turning into raving beasts who eat the grass for a few years, etc., is, in fact, being confonted with the hazards of ignoring or opposing God.
Loved the blogpost, @AJRoberts , and always appreciate your beautiful and poetic prose and sensitive portrayals of vital theological topics!
One wonders how much cynicism within the hard sciences could be overcome with mandatory daytime or starlight hikes away from the laboratory being made a matter of mandatory professional practice! : )

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The whole of Christian theology is going to be richer and fuller than the part. The doctrine of Creation, while very important, is only part of Christian theology. If one believes in Creation, one might be many things other than a Christian – a Jew, a Muslim, a Deist, or a generic Theist. The Christian affirms additional things beyond the doctrine of Creation. So neither traditional design arguments nor modern ID arguments could ever serve as a substitute for Christian belief. That has always been my position, so we agree.

My only objection has been against those who think that design arguments to a mind behind nature are theologically forbidden or inherently anti-Christian. Augustine, Aquinas and Calvin never thought so. And outside of Barth, who is an outlier among classical Christian theologians for his extreme view on the subject, I never encountered any widespread hostility toward such arguments in my academic reading on theology. I never found it in popular Christian writing, either, until I became involved in ID/TE debates. Then I noticed that it was a common motif in comments and articles coming from TEs, and that it was usually brought up in the context of an attack on the alleged bad theology of ID folks. My campaign to defend natural theology from those who would impugn it began at that point. Otherwise, I would never have said a word about it.


The way I see it is this. Do not pick on my language too much. I’m speaking with archetypes.

The New Atheists said science demonstrates God does not exist, tacitly invoking a false natural theology.

Intelligent Design responded that science demonstrates an Intelligent Designer exists, tacitly invoking natural theology with science.

Evolutionary Creation responded that science does not demonstrate God exists, and became suspicious of natural theology.

Peaceful Science responds that science is neutral on theology, and we need a good explicit theology of nature and natural theology to make sense of all that science uncovers.

I hope our bet on this is right.


The advantage of traditional “design arguments” over modern ID in this respect is that traditional design arguments moved from nature to God, not from “science” to God. They never needed to speak of “science” at all. I was a supporter of natural theology long before I ever heard of ID.

I agree, but this is because they conflated natural theology with ID. Desirous of rebuking ID, they went too far in some cases, and denigrated all of natural theology. But the classic works of natural theology long predate the existence of ID, TE, etc.; they were written when the term “scientist” as we use it did not yet exist. That’s why I’ve tried to disentangle the terms, indicating that “design arguments” is a much broader term than “ID” and doesn’t need to be tied up with “scientific arguments.”

In short, if one is an ID proponent, one automatically accepts the legitimacy of design arguments, but if one accepts the legitimacy of design arguments, one is not necessarily an ID proponent. I would not call Calvin an ID proponent, for example.

And yes, both natural theology and theology of nature are valid enterprises which Christians need not be afraid to investigate.


This is really interesting. I want you to expand on this. It sounds like an approach to natural theology very resonant with my understanding. It sounds actually to be language to explain what I am endorsing.

I see this. You seem to be right. That is why its good for us to break with that pattern and find a better way. Something better than ID and than rejection of natural theology…

AJ, I enjoyed reading your article. I get similar feelings when I hike as well. Here is an article by Michael Shermer about whether an atheist can be in awe of the universe. Seems like similar feeling to what you wrote.


This experience you and the article are describing is very similar to what we as Christians describe as “worship.” Nature, we believe, calls us into worship, by bringing us into clear view of the immutable qualities of God. This is nature’s “declaration.” We also are convinced that atheists hear this declaration too, as this article is explaining, you are guided by nature into awe and wonder too.

For me, the puzzling thing is that I am drawn into wonder at images like this:


I am drawn into awe in wonder at mathematical the formulas underlying my work all the time too. Even though these feelings are prompted by science, I can’t give a good scientific account of how this awe and wonder arises. Certainly, our proclivity to respond this way to the universe exists before we even know the universe exists…very curious…


@AJRoberts, I thought you might like this quote from a Veritas Video…

See the video in the link here: What are Veritas Forums?

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We may disagree here… They can tell us that God is powerful, providential, benevolent, perhaps even loving, perhaps even longing for those who possess rational capacities to seek for him.


Love this ^^^^^^^

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I’m all for recovering natural theology as a distinct enterprise from ID.



One might argue from nature that God is “providential” in the sense of providing food for all species, etc. I don’t know of a natural theology argument for particular providence – for God’s care for specific individuals. And again, God’s love, from the point of view of natural theology, seems to be a general love that sustains the various types of things – stars, mountain, rivers, elephants, roses, etc. – but of loving relationships with particular human individuals, e.g., Abraham or David, natural theology is silent. At some point, then, revelation is necessary to move one from natural theology to Christian theology proper. Natural theology may give hints of parts of Christian theology, but it can never replace it. But that’s all right, because natural theology was never meant to replace it.

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Picking up an overnight (and very good) thread once more, just a few minor points:

Let me be picky about this, to move the theology of nature (rather than natural theology) on. “Jesus is so much greater than the gospel. Amen?”

That statement would be iffy, because we know Jesus through the gospel, and the gospel is his work. But not his whole work, since nature is too, and we know him, though to a lesser extent, through it.

Eddie will answer this, but one place to start is Aquinas’s Five Ways. It addresses the matters that materialists tend to take for granted because they have inherited the debased version of the Baconian theology of nature.

For example, one good critique of the ID design argument used by Thomists is that ID uses empirical argumentation for design, which (as you in particular know) may be overturned. But the Fifth Way says that the very fact that even simple things in our world tend towards specific ends gives grounds for belief in God: my take on that here, and a piece on the “Third Way” that moves on to summarise the “Five Ways” is here. No empirical knowledge is necessary, other than living in the world.

Lastly, on the discussion about “individual” v “corporate” theology, since my own name came up I’ll sketch my position. Steeping myself in Bible long before I started reading theology widely, I came to realise that most flashes of insight I had turned out to be what Augustine or someone said centuries before.

Conversely, if I found an idea contradicted by most of the tradition - or even completely unmentioned - I had grounds to think I may have it wrong. Yet the effort of thinking afresh - especially in new contexts like deep time or the “post-scientific” age (anyone like that usage? :grinning:) - was worthwhile, as often one still found in the tradition the seeds leading to similar arguments.

For example, Irenaeus, within a young earth understanding, separates the divine goals in creating mankind in Gen 1 from the higher purpose of calling Adam into Eden - exatly what many of our understandings of Genealogical Adam imply.

One huge advantage of a grounding in historical theology is that it cuts through the spirit of the age: classical teaching on providence casts a spotlight on how much the modern denial of universal providence depends on the cultural infiltration of Epicureanism.

But Eddie is absolutely right - Christ’s project was the Kingdom, and its human aspect the Church - he did not come to create inspired individuals.

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Hi @AJRoberts, thanks for sharing your post “Reveling in Revelation.” I was particularly struck by this passage:

I see God’s revelation in nature as explicit in every new scientific discovery. I think Dr. Hardin sees it as more implicit in the order and law-like governance of all of creation. I agree it is seen in the order and law-like governance—in God’s sustaining and providential processes of secondary causes—but it’s more than just that.

Initially I would say I agree with you that God reveals himself in every new scientific discovery, but only to the extent of “order and law-like governance.” It’s surprising to me that you think it is more than that. For example, what would be the explicit revelation of God found in the discovery that the Higgs boson exists and that it has a mass of 125 GeV?


Just got round to reading @AJRoberts piece. My own take on this is that one needs to think of “natural revelation” in supra-scientific terms. That is, rather than look for some piece of information about God in Higgs boson (which is the business of science) we’re gradually building an holistic understanding of the meaning of what he has made.

This was Goethe’s approach to science - contemplating a plant to see the unity of its “meaning” instead of dissecting it to analyse its parts. But a less esoteric example is, perhaps, an aficionado of Mozart, or Yes, or John Coltrane. You buy all their records, and find something new about the composer or performer’s soul in each one. But you’d be hard put to it to say “The 2nd Horn Concerto revealed X about Mozart”, because that’s not how meaning and understanding work.

Equally, that music lover will have a different kind of knowledge of him than a historian sifting through all the documents concerning his life. Pre-scientific theologians appreciated this, seeing each creature as a reflection of a small facet of God’s character, but not necessarily in a propositional way.


But in order to rationally justify your holistic understanding of God (after all it is an understanding, not merely a feeling or emotion), you would still have to resort to using propositions, and I would ask what led you to pick certain propositions over others. To justify that you would have to point to certain examples, in the same way that a Mozart aficionado could point to certain moments, melodies, or chord progressions in Mozart’s music to explain at least part of their reactions to his work. Otherwise I think your understanding would be subjective and personal, instead of something inherent in nature itself.

We are part of nature. Just because something is subject and personal does not necessarily mean it isn’t true or warranted.