AJ Roberts's Theology of Nature

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.


I agree that subjective doesn’t mean untrue or wrong. Religious experiences are subjective, yet everyone is encouraged to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. But subjective means that one cannot rationally discuss it nor demonstrate that whatever you experienced is inherent in nature itself. One person could claim that physics reveals that God is Triune, while another could say that it reveals God is Unitary. The only way we can ground the discussion is by resorting to propositions and pointing to specific examples that prove or disprove them. Similarly, even though religious experiences are subjective to a certain extent, one can judge them by comparing them to Scripture - which is expressing their perceived content in terms of propositions.

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I’m not sure that is how it works:

None of Plantinga’s arguments are inconsistent with what I say, I think. Certainly, you can accept the proposition

  1. God reveals himself in nature

as a rational, basic belief. But then I would want to know what is being revealed about God in nature. What qualities, characteristics, or actions of God are being revealed in nature? @jongarvey argues that the details of the revelation are non-propositional. Assume that is true. Then we would not be able to debate the details of those revelations. One person could adopt the following proposition as a basic belief:

  1. Physics reveals to us that God is triune.

and another could adopt the following proposition as a basic belief:

  1. Physics reveals to us that God is unitary.

Each person could be rational in their basic beliefs, but they wouldn’t be able to talk to each other. Am I missing something here?

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Or in the case of Islam, we can spend billions of dollars in security systems for airplane safety.

Recall that Science can fly you to the moon, Religion can fly airplanes in buildings. Subjective religious experiences can be harmful to mankind.

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I think that’s an unfair quote…science also helped to build those airplanes that are flown into buildings. You cannot make a comparison between science and religion in such a simplified way.