AJ Roberts's Theology of Nature

I agree. I don’t see tradition as immune from scrutiny. I see tradition and fresh Biblical exegesis as in a healthy dialectical tension. And of course nothing I said went against the idea of development in theology. Indeed, there is development between Augustine and Aquinas, and between Augustine and Luther and Calvin, and in many other parts of the tradition. My complaint is more against people who don’t see the history of Christian thought as worth knowing, on the premise that Biblical exegesis is all we need. On BioLogos the interest in the history of Christian thought (as opposed to merely quarrying Augustine and Calvin for a couple of set proof-texts about science and religion) has been minimal, and that’s why I recommend Christians interested in the history of ideas about Creation, Fall, nature, providence, chance, etc. to read the material written by Jon Garvey on Hump of the Camel. I’m a trained religion scholar, but that hasn’t stopped me from learning from Jon’s columns, which are very good.


Same here, and I appreciate your willingness to approach cautiously, yet productively, the “dialectic” of which you speak… humbly, I might add! : )

Article on revelation: Reveling in Revelation


Hi, @Eddie, didn’t realize earlier you prefer this diminutive. This is what I agreed with. The irony was in saying Americans needed to be less oriented toward American ways of viewing things (individualistic, etc) while your comparison of UK groups always emphasized the American organization BioLogos in the comparison. Just a little poking fun at an irony that said be less American-centric and more open to history and European thought while not IDing the FI and only IDing BL in the analogous comparison of the two groups…

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I’m not saying all of those specifics of God can be observed by a pagan looking over the created order/nature. For the specifics we need the prophets, the Scriptures, and the incarnation (and it’s immensely helpful to have the historical writings of the church as well to protect us from cultural and temporal biases). But a pagan can observe enough to know it’s not all by accident. A Creator of great power, insight, cleverness, and benevolence has provided an abundant and lavish place of beauty and life that any creature based account fails to explain.


Yes and no…its complex, right? This reference to the pagan reminds me of CS Lewis’ greatest novel, Till We Have Faces. Read the plot if you can. The gods are good to a pagan queen in revealing the true order of her world. Nature declares, but the gods still reveal.


Just promoted you, jumping you past the limits.

I think this what it is. If that is the only disagreement, I think we might not be at odds here. It is very likely that word choice could be refined. Perhaps more softly, they have high prior believe that scientific inquiry itself can reveal divine design (without calling divine) in the language of science according to the rules of science.

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Excellent point, and an excellent book! Lewis, ahhhhh.

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.