Recent Transitions in Natural Theology:
The Emergence of a Bolder Paradigm
Hugh G. Gauch, Jr.
Crop and Soil Sciences
Ithaca, New York 14853-1901
|Natural theology pursues knowledge of God based on public evidence accessible to all persons by virtue of our shared human endowments of reason and sense perception. For millennia, natural theology has supported merely generic theism. However, five new projects in natural theology are more ambitious, pursuing distinctively Christian theism. They concern church witness, Bible prophecy, Bible narrative, Trinitarian metaphysics, and Christ's resurrection. These projects can be combined in a strong cumulative case, although it is also important to have individual projects that singly carry great evidential weight. The case for reported miracles, which are so essential in the Biblical worldview, is strategically strengthened by empirical evidence for testable miracles. Several open questions are discussed that merit further exploration. A bolder natural theology has important implications for Christian apologetics. The most pressing motivation for developing an enriched natural theology is to provide better support for Christian revealed theology.|
|Although the author is in agreement with the doctrinal statement of IBRI, it does not follow that all of the viewpoints espoused in this paper represent official positions of IBRI. Since one of the purposes of the IBRI report series is to serve as a preprint forum, it is possible that the author has revised some aspects of this work since it was first written.|
Recent Transitions in Natural Theology:
The Emergence of a Bolder
Definitions of Natural Theology
Projects in Christian Natural Theology
Comprehensive Worldviews and Cumulative Cases
In-principle and Empirical Verdicts on Miracles
Implications for Apologetics
Unless it seems very evident to the reader of the Gospels or the hearer of a sermon that those great things are true, we need reasons to believe them, despite the powerful objections by modern critics to the historicity of the Gospels, and the fact that there are other religions with rival messages which seem equally evident to their adherents. -- Richard Swinburne[i]
The recent literature in natural theology frames three watershed issues that go to the very heart of natural theology's strategies and prospects. One is whether it is harder for natural theology to offer strong arguments for distinctively Christian theism than for merely generic theism. Another is the structure and formulation of a cumulative case. The third issue is the proper roles of philosophical reasoning and empirical investigation in the case for miracles.
This recent literature frames these issues cogently and makes considerable progress. However, these new developments in natural theology are easily overlooked because they involve such diverse arguments published in such scattered places. Accordingly, this paper collects these scattered developments in one place in order to sketch the big picture. It also identifies several open questions meriting further development. Seeing both what has already been done and what yet remains can help to accelerate the emergence of an ambitious and bold paradigm.
Definitions of Natural Theology
The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy entry on "theologia naturalis" by A.P. Martinich begins by saying that natural theology is "theology that uses the methods of investigation and standards of rationality of any other area of philosophy," as contrasted with supernatural or revealed theology.[ii] The Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy entry on "natural theology" by Simon Blackburn begins with "Doctrines concerning God that are attainable by natural processes of reasoning, as opposed to those that require the assistance of revelation."[iii] And the Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on "natural theology" by Scott MacDonald begins with "Natural theology aims at establishing truths or acquiring knowledge about God (or divine matters generally) using only our natural cognitive resources," as contrasted with revealed theology.[iv] He further explains that "The phrase 'our natural cognitive resources' identifies both the methods and data for natural theology: it relies on standard techniques of reasoning and facts or truths in principle available to all human beings just in virtue of their possessing reason and sense perception."
Natural theology applies public methods to public data in order to deliver public knowledge of God.[v] Natural science and natural theology alike rely on reasoning and facts available to all human beings with their endowments of reason and sense perception, that is, they both rely on empirical and public evidence. Natural science seeks empirical evidence that bears on scientific hypotheses, whereas natural theology seeks empirical evidence that bears on worldview hypotheses.
The following consensus definition has been collated from the above definitions.[vi]
Traditional Definition: Natural theology is knowledge of God,
based on reason rather than revelation.
Unfortunately, this definition gives natural theology an unclear boundary. It combines a positive stipulation (reason) and a negative stipulation (no revelation). But it ignores the simple and crucial distinction that a revelation may have some content that is, and some content that is not, empirically verifiable and hence within reason's purview. What if some revelation includes evidence for God's existence that involves testable facts about physical things open to public examination, so the first stipulation is met but not the second? Would this definition include or exclude such evidence?
Well, a dogged, literal interpretation might exclude such evidence since the second stipulation is unmet. But one might plausibly think that what natural theology rightly foregoes from revealed theology is presupposed authority, not empirical evidence. Hence, wholesale dismissal of revelation as a potential source of theistic evidence might needlessly shrink and weaken natural theology. In any case, greater clarity is needed.
Consequently, a better definition is sought. The following clarified definition emphasizes the intended public accessibility of natural theology.
Clarified Definition: Natural theology is public knowledge of God,
accessible to all persons by virtue of their reason and sense perception.
The strategic advantage to be gained from this clarified definition is that it expands natural theology's boundary to examine any empirical and public evidence with worldview import, whatever the source, including the natural world and testable revelations. This adds new arguments, but removes no old ones. More data means more potential for big conclusions. Furthermore, as documented in the next section, current practice in natural theology has already outgrown the traditional definition, so only the clarified definition is accurate now.
The importance of this expansion can be highlighted by recalling the typical, meager deliverances of traditional natural theology. Traditional arguments deliver a quite limited view of God, even if presumed successful. For instance, the venerable cosmological argument concludes that "some being independent of the physical universe exists that brought that universe into being," but it does not show that this being is "a perfectly good being, or interested in human affairs, or worthy of worship."[vii] To show God's nature as fully as possible, natural theologians combine many diverse arguments in a cumulative case. The findings from a rather energetic rendition of natural theology are that God is "a person without a body (i.e. a spirit) who is eternal, is perfectly free, omnipotent, omniscient, perfectly good, and the creator of all things."[viii] But regrettably, conspicuously absent from even this exceptionally ambitious and optimistic version of generic theism are important Christian beliefs such as that God is involved in human history, raised Christ from the dead, and is worthy of worship. A growing number of contemporary natural theologians are not satisfied with this meager version of theism.
Projects in Christian Natural Theology
Five recent projects in natural theology are reviewed in this section that are diverse in the evidence they consider but unified in the goal they pursue. They are all projects in distinctively Christian theism. The first example emerged in 2001, the second in 2002, and the others in 2003.
As might be expected, all of these arguments have ancient roots in Christian apologetics, revealed theology, or most generally, Christian witness. What are new, however, are the old arguments that have been adequately reformulated and explicitly identified as exercises in natural theology, meeting the strict requirement for public accessibility.
Church Witness. First, consider the recent Gifford lectures on church witness by Stanley Hauerwas in 2001 at St. Andrews. He issued a vigorous call for natural theologians to deliver more. The "heart of the argument" that Hauerwas developed in his lectures "is that natural theology divorced from a full doctrine of God cannot help but distort the character of God and, accordingly, of the world in which we find ourselves. The metaphysical and existential projects to make a 'place' for such a god cannot help but 'prove' the existence of a god that is not worthy of worship. The Trinity is not a further specification of a more determinative reality called god, because there is no more determinative reality than the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. ... I must maintain that the God who moves the sun and the stars is the same God who was incarnate in Jesus of Nazareth."[ix]
What Hauerwas holds forth for the world to consider is the witness of the Christian church, especially the church's understanding of human suffering and redemption. "The attempt to develop a natural theology prior to or as grounds for subsequent claims about God cannot help but be mistaken to the extent such a project fails to help us see that there can be no deeper reality-making claim than ... [that] those who bear crosses work with the grain of the universe. ... In fact, the God we worship and the world God created cannot be truthfully known without the cross, which is why the knowledge of God and ... the church are interdependent. ... Christians ... can be no more than witnesses. And the very character of that witness is an indication not only of who God is but of why that which exists, that is, God's created order, cannot avoid witnessing to the One who is our beginning and end" (pages 17 and 16).
Incidentally, Hauerwas was keenly aware that his topic of church witness broke with tradition so radically that it might seem impolite, arrogant, and even foolish. But he simply disagreed with Lord Gifford's conception of natural theology, as stipulated in his will that endowed the noted lectures on natural theology in Scotland's four ancient universities, beginning over a century ago. Peter Ochs, on the back cover of Hauerwas's book, provides a concise summary of Hauerwas's project. "Natural theology will be the story of God's life as it is lived, visibly, in this world, as its meaning is disclosed to the community of those who inquire after it, and as its truth is displayed through its visible effects in transforming this world into the one it would be and will be." The visible, physical character of this project provides the public accessibility that is essential to natural theology as conceived and defined in the previous section.
Bible Prophecy. Second, consider the recent 2002 paper by Hugh Gauch, John Bloom, and Robert Newman on Bible prophecy, based on the paper that Gauch read at the Gifford conference in 2000 at Aberdeen.[x] The proposed clarification in the definition of natural theology -- including empirical and public evidence wherever found -- can expand natural theology's boundary to include Bible prophecy. But a clarified definition is not all that is needed for this expansion because Bible prophecy is customarily treated in a manner that is inappropriate or inadequate for natural theology, given its distinctive and exacting requirement for public evidence. Accordingly, that paper describes the needed upgrades for framing testable and meaningful hypotheses, identifying admissible and relevant evidence, and reaching weighty and robust conclusions.
The salient features of the proposed test of Bible prophecy are that (1) the evidence is wholly empirical and public and (2) competing worldviews have different expectations for the predictive success rate that this evidence will show. Accurately dated ancient parchments contain bold predictions known to predate the events predicted. Stones and other artifacts document the subsequent outcomes. Also, the antecedent improbabilities of correct predictions are quantified with adequate accuracy on the basis of objective logical or empirical considerations. Christian theism, following claims by Isaiah (42:9, 43:9--12) and other prophets, expects miraculous accuracy; whereas atheism expects merely occasional luck, as do some variants of theism, including deism with the view that God created the universe but that ended his involvement.
For several prophecies concerning different and essentially independent events, the cumulative probability of all being fulfilled equals their individual probabilities multiplied together. Consequently, the test is extremely powerful, the weight of the conclusion growing exponentially with the amount of data examined, so manageable effort can achieve definitive results. This test is impartial and objective, equally able to confirm or disconfirm the Bible's claim of miraculously accurate knowledge of the future revealed to prophets by God, depending on the evidence. And the test is robust, requiring respectable but not perfect data. The proposed methodology is public, counting across worldviews. Bible prophecy is a testable miracle, not merely a reported miracle, available for examination here and now: a preserved miracle.
These authors' papers analyze a representative sample of the data, which strongly supports the Biblical worldview and disconfirms the naturalistic or atheistic worldview. The prophecies concern God's involvement with Israel, the surrounding nations, and the Messiah, so this is decidedly an exercise in distinctively Christian theism.
This test of Bible prophecy could be of interest to naturalists as well. Naturalists ordinarily take theirs to be a meaningful worldview making some bold predictions that risk falsification. Consequently, any naturalist who denies that Bible prophecy constitutes a legitimate test of naturalism must instead offer some other valid test or else surrender all pretensions that naturalism is a falsifiable and scientifically respectable worldview. So, naturalists and Christians alike have good reasons for welcoming any objective and powerful test of these worldviews.
Bible Narrative. Third, consider the recent Gifford lectures on Bible narrative by Eleonore Stump in 2003 at Aberdeen. In this exercise in natural theology, Bible narratives are regarded simply as texts to be considered, rather than as texts presumed to be inspired and true as in revealed theology.
Stump combined analytic philosophy with Bible narratives in order to address the problem of evil, thereby responding to that major potential objection to theism. She argued, in a manner intended to count across diverse worldviews, that within Christianity there are rich resources for dealing with the problem of evil. This was done by appealing to things that are widely regarded as being good, particularly we humans becoming fully what we are meant to be, as well as refining and obtaining the desires of our hearts. She then argued that our greatest good and flourishing result from loving relationships with God and other persons. Furthermore, reaching this greatest good involves suffering that is ultimately purposeful and redemptive.
Trinitarian Metaphysics. Fourth, consider the recent 2003 paper by Sir John Polkinghorne on science and theology.[xi] He examined six general features of the natural world (including human experience and culture), such as the fine tuning of physical constants and several additional features of sustained interest in natural theology. He then compared worldviews, using four specific criteria of metaphysical excellence, to see how well they can explain these features.
His ambitious thesis is not only that theism surpasses naturalism in explaining the world's general features, but more specifically, Trinitarian theism surpasses generic theism. "I ... believe that what is ultimately persuasive in the case of theistic belief cannot satisfactorily rest solely on the thin account of a kind of general theism but it must depend critically for its explanatory power on the detailed insights afforded by more specific understanding. That is why the present discussion is unapologetic about recourse to trinitarian concepts." Indeed, from his perspective, natural theology's traditional challenge to naturalism, which has deployed a generic theism, has given naturalism an unfair advantage because Christian theism could offer a stronger challenge!
Christ's Resurrection. Fifth and finally, consider the recent 2003 book by Richard Swinburne on Christ's resurrection.[xii] Interestingly, in Swinburne's analysis, natural theology affects the fortunes of revealed theology. Indeed, "the probability of the existence of God ... on the generally accessible data of natural theology ... is crucially relevant to whether the historical evidence considered in this book shows that Jesus was God Incarnate or rose from the dead." He calculated that the probability that Christ rose from the dead, given traditional natural theology and careful historical inquiry, is about 97% (page 214).
Yet far more important than this supportive role of generic or "bare" natural theology, the Biblical testimony to Christ's resurrection is itself taken to be public evidence and hence within the purview of "ramified" natural theology. Swinburne observes that "it is hard to read the Gospels, Acts of the Apostles, and I Corinthians without seeing them as claiming that various historical events (above all, the Resurrection) occurred and that others can know these things on the testimony of the apostles to have seen them."[xiii] Gary Habermas and N.T. Wright have also emphasized the public accessibility and great weight of the historical evidence for the resurrection.[xiv] For natural theology's purposes, the Bible is read as historical evidence rather than authoritative scripture (whereas revealed theology does use the latter reading).
These five projects are representative examples of distinctively Christian natural theology, not a comprehensive list, because additional projects have been and soon will be developed.[xv] For present purposes, however, these five examples suffice to illustrate the unprecedented recent progression in natural theology from generic to Christian theism.
Comprehensive Worldviews and Cumulative Cases
The individual arguments used in generic natural theology are customarily collected and integrated in a cumulative case. Indeed, they are often packaged in boxed sets, such as Aquinas's celebrated "five ways" of proving the existence of God.[xvi] But regrettably, the arguments used in Christian natural theology have not yet been integrated, apart from one article by Douglas Geivett that uses a somewhat different collection than the five projects reviewed here.[xvii]
The reason for formulating natural theology as a cumulative case is often misunderstood or trivialized. It is commonly taken to be that each individual argument is rather weak, so a natural theologian is compelled to combine several weak arguments in hopes that their sum will be respectable, like a strong rope woven from many small strings. But this need not be so. Indeed, it is entirely possible, and quite desirable, that one individual argument (or one kind of data) within a cumulative case provides by itself exceedingly decisive evidence. Furthermore, the components of a cumulative case can be complementary in senses other than evidential strength as such. For instance, one of the several arguments may best capture a particular person's interest, given his or her training and background, so diverse arguments may together engage a broader audience. Likewise, one argument may primarily bolster evidential strength, whereas another may clarify practical importance.
The fundamental reason why a cumulative case emerges in natural theology is that the worldview-level hypotheses being compared and tested are extraordinarily comprehensive. God's existence, or else nonexistence, has implications for many aspects of life. For instance, the discrepant expectations from theism and atheism about the predictive success rate of Bible prophecies constitute but one difference. Additional differences regard whether creation shows signs of a Creator, whether prayers are answered, whether miracles occur, whether lives are transformed, and so on. Consequently, the evidence for (or against) theism is most naturally and suitably framed as a cumulative case. Every difference between atheism and theism that involves publicly observable physical things provides natural theology with one more possibility for testing these competing worldviews.
A particularly exciting feature of a cumulative case is opportunities for synergy. Lines of evidence are synergistic if their combined evidential weight is even greater than merely their summed weights. For example, if lines of evidence are related (more technically, informationally relevant) because of a comprehensive theory (such as theism), then their joint evidential weight is greater than their individual weights simply added together.[xviii] The equation for combining two different kinds of evidence has three terms: one for each kind, plus a third term that captures a comprehensive theory's extra credit for rendering diverse evidence to be informationally relevant (whereas apart from that theory, these diverse kinds of evidence would appear to be independent and unrelated).
For another example of synergy, the success of one argument may amplify another argument by expanding its range of admissible or respectable data, thereby strengthening its conclusion. Likewise, the defeat of an atheistic presupposition by one argument may lower the bar for reasonable evidence expected from another argument, thereby making the latter more influential.
Given that a cumulative case befits a comprehensive theory, and especially given the opportunities for synergy, it is imperative to better integrate Christian natural theology's currently rather isolated arguments. For the sake of brevity, just several possibilities for synergy are sketched here, admittedly in a very preliminary manner. All involve Bible prophecy.
Both Hauerwas's church witness project and Stump's Bible narrative project can be regarded as aspects of a broader topic, religious experience, which has been a standard item in natural theology.[xix] But inevitably, the evidence of religious experience is rather soft, even if for no other reason than that adherents of different and incompatible religions claim positive experiences and write poignant narratives. Therefore, arguments from religious experience are best located within a cumulative case with additional arguments bearing the brunt of the evidential task. They are deeply dependent on evidence that a particular witness is authentic.
The church witness and Bible prophecy projects are synergistic. Fundamentally, church witness is not a witness to its wondrous self, but rather is a witness to an invisible and glorious God. Accordingly, an intriguing element that could be added to the church witness project is the evidence of Bible prophecy, predicting that the Messiah would institute a world-wide church destined to survive and grow despite all obstacles. Significantly, Aquinas regarded the continuance of the church as "the greatest of miracles," all the more remarkable because "God foretold by many oracles of His prophets that He intended to do this."[xx]
Likewise, the Bible narrative and Bible prophecy projects are synergistic. Bible narrative supports the precious understanding that our greatest good and flourishing necessarily includes a loving relationship with God, but such a claim is pointless to anyone who doubts that God exists. Accordingly, future developments of the project on Bible narrative would do well to make prominent what the Bible narrative itself repeatedly makes extremely prominent, the evidence of fulfilled prophecy. On the other hand, the evidence from prophecy is much more meaningful when considered not in isolation, but rather in the rich and lively context provided by the Biblical narrative that is proclaimed through the church's witness.
Polkinghorne's project on Trinitarian metaphysics is also synergistic with Bible prophecy. A major theme in his paper is that nature exhibits "top-down effects of a pattern-forming causality" that he terms "active information." For instance, "While life only appeared when the universe was 11 billion years old, and self-conscious life when it was 15 billion years old, there is a real sense in which the universe was pregnant with carbon-based life from the very beginning, its physical fabric being of the precise kind that alone would allow this possibility to come about." Physical constants are finely tuned; there was a planning ahead. There was a knowing from the beginning of the eventual intended outcome, at least in some crucial aspects, though Polkinghorne is balanced in also insisting on real freedom and choice within the creation. This view of natural history has striking resonance with Bible prophecy's picture of human history. Both reveal a God who is transcendent above creation and also immanent within creation; a God who knows the end from the beginning; a God who truly is the Alpha and the Omega. However, Bible prophecy constitutes a testable miracle embedded in the Book of Scripture, which is inherently richer in worldview import than even the best reading of the Book of Nature.
The most strategic synergy is that between Bible prophecy and other Bible miracles. Christian revealed theology is based on the Bible, a book full of miracles from the creation out of nothing in Genesis to the resurrection of Christ in the Gospels to the return of Christ in Revelation. But are these miracles an asset or a liability?
Obviously, the Bible presumes that its reported miracles count as evidence in favor of its authority and truth. Indeed, the very words used for miracles, "signs and wonders," have this import of evidence. The word "signs" points from the physical event itself to its substantial theological import, and the word "wonders" points to great evidential weight. And transparently, in context, these signs and wonders were regarded as evidence for Jews and gentiles from many nations alike, so this evidence counts across worldviews, religions, languages, and cultures.
Indeed, for many contemporary persons, miracle reports elicit the exact opposite of the intended reaction, increasing skepticism. "The most formidable intellectual obstacle to accepting the historicity of the biblical documents in their reports of extraordinary events is of course the suspicion that the kind of universe depicted in these documents just does not exist. ... The suggestion that the Bible comes from a nonscientific age in which the universe was viewed as populated by strange beings or by people with strange powers is very difficult to reject for people reared in a context dominated by science."[xxi] It must also be observed that many Bible scholars are as entrenched in their rejection of Bible miracles as are any naturalists.
For some persons, miracles are "signs and wonders" indeed, supporting theism; whereas for others, miracles are unbelievable, showing the Scripture's prescientific and gullible mentality. How can this tension be resolved?
One strategic move is to prioritize those reported miracles with the strongest historical evidence and the greatest theological significance, principally the resurrection of Christ. Another strategic move is to also examine testable miracles. That is, investigate those Bible prophecies that can be assessed with empirical and public evidence, as the standards for natural theology require. If the case for the Bible's testable miracles fails, then its reported miracles merit breezy dismissal. But if this case succeeds, then reported miracles merit serious investigation.
That is, if an inquiry into reported miracles is so dominated by controversial presuppositions that all attempts to authenticate the evidence seem futile, then switch to testable miracles. If the testable evidence of Bible prophecy shows miraculous accuracy, then theism is established in a manner that counts across worldviews and any presupposed impossibility of miracles is undone, thus rendering the case for reported miracles more manageable. This advice is an instance of a general methodological principal, "with all claims about particular occurrences which are to be expected on one world-view but not on another, it is crucial to take into account the other evidence for that world-view."[xxii]
Another obvious liability of the Christian revelation is simply that many other religions also offer revelations. How can a purported revelation be tested and authenticated? And more pointedly, how can such a test be conducted with public evidence that counts across worldviews?
Swinburne has already provided a wide-ranging approach for testing revelations.[xxiii] Among these, prophecy provides a particularly valuable test. "Any significant revelation will contain information we are unable to verify. Therefore, truth in what we can verify will be evidence in favor of the truth of what we cannot. The best of this sort of evidence will be content which predicts something only God could know or do. That is, if a purported revelation contains a prediction that God will intervene in history or nature and that prediction subsequently proves true, this will be significant evidence in favor of the rest of the content of the purported revelation."[xxiv]
Finally, some intrinsic challenges of a cumulative case must be recognized. First, a cumulative case generates tricky issues about sequencing its components and controlling its presuppositions. For instance, does the cosmological argument presuppose the success of the ontological argument, and does evidence from revealed theology presuppose independent proof of God's existence from natural theology? In a complex case with numerous interacting components, it can be difficult to locate the real action. Second, a diffuse case with numerous individually weak components demands from its audience no small resources of leisure, patience, and interest. Third, one might suspect that, with a little luck, even a false worldview could produce several lines of apparent low-grade support. If so, a rambling case with several low-grade elements may not be particularly impressive.
Consequently, however natural a cumulative case may be for a comprehensive theory, a good question should be asked. Might not a true worldview be expected to have at least one source of decisive evidence? That is, might not a cumulative case include an individual argument that singly is impressive? A plausible claim that a worldview has even just one line of weighty evidence would make such a worldview more credible, interesting, manageable, and testable.
To identify just two or three principal kinds of evidence for Christian natural theology, a useful exercise is to consider the apostolic defense of the apostolic message, focusing on the evidence that the apostles took to be public. As F.F. Bruce observed, "The argument from prophecy and the argument from miracle were regarded by first-century Christians, as by their successors in the second and many following centuries, as the strongest evidences for the truth of the gospel. ... In the proclamation of the apostles the argument from prophecy and the argument from miracle coincided and culminated in the resurrection of Jesus."[xxv] Similarly, Habermas also noted that the apostles, particularly in Acts, deployed a "methodological variety" to engage diverse audiences with the evidence of prophecy and miracle, and most of all, the resurrection of Jesus.[xxvi] One of natural theology's greatest benefits could be crafting a context in which Bible miracles can have their intended effect of being signs and wonders that support the Gospel message.
In-principle and Empirical Verdicts on Miracles
Miracles are evidentially important for theism because "a miraculous event ... is the most conspicuous candidate for constituting possible confirmatory evidence in support of Theism."[xxvii] And they are spiritually important because the principal tenets of Christianity are none other than a series of miracles, including the creation, incarnation, and resurrection. Consequently, it is essential that the case for miracles be constructed correctly and effectively, which includes giving reason and evidence their proper roles and emphases.
Regrettably, natural theology has had a long and troubled contest between in-principle reasoning and empirical investigation as the principal determinant of verdicts on the reality of miracles. In-principle verdicts involve logical, mathematical, or philosophical reasoning, whereas empirical verdicts require physical evidence from detailed historical or scientific investigation. This section reviews three attempts to give in-principle reasons the primacy. But all are wrongheaded. Instead, empirical investigation has primacy.[xxviii]
Testimonial Evidence. The most famous and influential objection against reported Bible miracles is from Hume, that testimony to miracles cannot possibly overturn their antecedent improbability based on the observed uniform course of nature.[xxix] As Earman observes, Hume's novelty was "to launch an in-principle attack on the possibility of establishing the credibility of religious miracles."[xxx] The immediate implication is that no detailed examination of historical or other empirical evidence is necessary or even helpful for reaching a verdict on miracles, quite contrary to the tenor of the preceding literature on miracles. The appeal of in-principle verdicts, when appropriate, is that they can require less work and yet be more conclusive and comprehensive.
Earman delivers a magisterial case that Hume's attack is an abject failure. In essence, Hume's understanding of probability theory is simplistic and his consideration of multiple witnesses is inadequate. Hume's argument has fallen on exceedingly hard times indeed.[xxxi] So, it is a new day for evidence based on testimony. A verdict on reported Bible miracles, such as Christ's resurrection, must involve detailed, meticulous examination of historical evidence.
Dwindling Probabilities. Plantinga sees the assertion of a reported Bible miracle, particularly Christ's resurrection, as involving a conjunction of several premises. Even if each premise is highly probable, sadly probability theory says their conjunct suffers from "dwindling probabilities."[xxxii] Somewhat analogous to Hume's critique, Plantinga's argument reaches an in-principle verdict that testimonial evidence fails to support any exciting conclusions. As before, this in-principle verdict diverts attention away from any detailed examination of historical evidence. However, several philosophers have shown conclusively that Plantinga's argument is also an abject failure.[xxxiii]
It is instructive to realize that Hume and Plantinga's in-principle attacks on miracles fail for fundamentally the same reason. As Earman insists so clearly, in order to determine a contingent fact about the world, such as whether miracles occur, one has to look at the world and see what happens.[xxxiv] This constitutes an in-principle rejection of in-principle arguments either for or against miracles.
Scientific Naturalism. Many persons with a scientific outlook believe that science explains everything (or at least could do so, given sufficient time and development), so they believe in naturalism, that the physical world is the whole of reality.[xxxv] The perception that science is based on public evidence, whereas religion is based on private faith, creates an in-principle expectation that religion has no evidence worth examining. However, as a brief reply, two questions might be asked.
First, what about natural theology's empirical and public evidence, available to anyone here and now? Surely, this kind of evidence commands serious consideration from a genuinely scientific mentality.
Second, exactly what is this "everything" that has an ordinary, physical explanation? Most pointedly, is this "everything" a history of the world that includes or excludes Christ's resurrection? If Christ truly was resurrected after being dead for three days, that momentous event is surely outside the realm of natural explanation and instead requires a supernatural explanation. Hence, regardless whether science explains much, if the historical evidence for Christ's resurrection is strong, then naturalism is discredited.
Naturalistic presuppositions do not erase the relevance or value of a natural theologian putting Christ's resurrection on the agenda for discussion. Indeed, that is good leadership. Paul's audience in Athens included Epicurean and Stoic philosophers, who were sophisticated naturalists, but still the topic that Paul pressed most vigorously was Christ's resurrection.[xxxvi] Similarly, a recent exchange has been reported in Scientific American between Simon Conway Morris (an evolutionary paleontologist identified as a Christian) and Richard Dawkins (a biologist identified as "an agnostic leaning toward atheism").[xxxvii] Conway Morris "asserted that the resurrection and other miracles attributed to Christ were 'historically verifiable'."
In review, these three examples reinforce one lesson. Natural theology's prospects will be brighter if there is a thorough transition from in-principle philosophical arguments to detailed empirical investigations. To know about the world, look at it.[xxxviii]
This paper documents the recent emergence of a bolder paradigm for natural theology. Such rapid and dramatic change raises many open questions. Three are especially important.
First, is there a negative correlation between an argument's ambitiousness and persuasiveness, or not? More specifically, is revealed theology's ambitious conclusion that "God communicates" harder to defend than natural theology's smaller claim that "God exists" -- particularly since communicating entails existing, but not the reverse?
On the one hand, a negative correlation is the common perception. Menssen and Sullivan document this standard view, which they summarize by the presupposition: "One cannot obtain a convincing philosophical case for a revelatory claim without first obtaining a highly plausible case for a good God."[xxxix] That is, necessarily, natural theology prepares the way for revealed theology (as exemplified previously by Swinburne's natural theology being "crucially relevant" in his historical case for Christ's resurrection). And they acknowledge that "if one is trying to answer a complex question," such as whether God exists and communicates, then logical considerations seem to say that "one must first answer any embedded simpler questions." Obviously, were these valid considerations, then an ambitious revelatory claim is arduous because it requires all of the work of a successful natural theology plus the additional evidence for the revelatory claim itself. More generally, one might worry about Earman's dictum that "In philosophy, ... almost all ambitious projects are failures."[xl]
On the other hand, Menssen and Sullivan argue that the standard view does not survive scrutiny. Two of their concerns are that "even if an agnostic can assign a fairly high probability to the claim that there is a good God, that is a long way from endorsing a particular revelatory claim" and "a bit of reflection shows that for any complex question there is always at least one sub-question that cannot be answered before the complex question is answered, because there is no such thing as presuppositionless inquiry." Despair about the standard approach leads to a pivotal question: "an agnostic inquirer might well wonder whether a nonbeliever could find a philosophical case for accepting at once both the claim that God exists and the claim that God has revealed." That is, might the negative correlation be broken, with at least some arguments for Christian theism being as strong as even the best arguments for generic theism? They argue that such is the case. They also argue for the even stronger thesis that "a negative conclusion about the existence of God is unwarranted unless the content of revelatory claims has been considered."
So, which of these two opinions is correct? Is Christian theism much harder than generic theism for natural theology to defend with its public evidence, or not? This is a vital question for the community of natural theologians. All that I can express is one person's opinion, that "almost all" are the key words in the above Earman quotation. Indeed, I take finding those few ambitious projects that deliver big conclusions from modest work to be the hallmark of creativity and productivity in natural theology.
Second, how can one assess the evidential strength of a twice-told story -- of an event prophesied in the Old Testament and chronicled in the New Testament, such as Christ's resurrection? It is already abundantly clear that single and multiple witnesses to a reported miracle are hugely different cases.[xli] But what about an event foretold by prophets hundreds of years in advance and subsequently reported by eyewitnesses? This scenario is claimed in the New Testament repeatedly.[xlii] My intuition is that having testimony that is partly miraculous and partly ordinary transcends the present analysis of multiple witnesses. But how to assess a twice-told story's evidential strength and worldview import appears to be an open question.
Furthermore, Christ's resurrection might better be described as a thrice-told story because numerous recent witnesses also report that Christ is alive, as documented by Wiebe.[xliii] Hence, there are witnesses to Christ's resurrection located in time in that event's past, present, and future. This is quite a spectacular cloud of witnesses!
Indeed, witnesses spanning time are exactly what is to be expected on the basis of Christ's own claims that he himself spans all time. "I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End" (Revelation 22:13). "Before Abraham was born, I AM" (John 8:58). "And surely I will be with you always, to the very end of the age" (Matthew 28:20).
Third and finally, how do recent developments change the relationship between natural theology and revealed theology? This relationship has already been worked out for traditional natural theology, primarily by showing that the Old and New Testaments contain a substantial natural theology that can help to prepare the way for revealed theology.[xliv] But what about the newer, bolder natural theology that itself provides evidential support for several key Christian tenets, such as God's foreknowledge of, and involvement in, human history and Christ's resurrection from the dead?
How best to reformulate this changed relationship is an open question beyond this paper's ambitions. However, a brief comment may be offered. Christian revealed theology is inherently a package deal -- a combination of beliefs and attitudes and practices -- as is evident from texts such as the Ten Commandments, the Sermon on the Mount, the Lord's Prayer, the Nicene Creed, and ultimately the entire Bible. Clearly, even Christian natural theology's enriched content is still considerably less than the whole package deal of Christian orthodoxy.[xlv] But significantly, based on well-attested facts, Habermas presents a "resurrection theology that moves from this event to several other key Christian beliefs" along multiple paths "including historical, philosophical, counseling, and experiential" paths.[xlvi] Because a little truth can lead to much truth, a bold natural theology supporting key Christian tenets can be a good start.
Implications for Apologetics
Natural theology and Christian apologetics overlap somewhat, especially when natural theology delivers a distinctively and substantially Christian theology, rather than merely a minimal or generic theology. Consequently, prevalent approaches and attitudes in apologetics can influence objectives and expectations in natural theology. Likewise, accomplishments in natural theology can influence ambitions in Christian apologetics.
Recent trends have favored a "modest" or "humble" apologetics, such as the 2006 book by James Taylor.[xlvii] The evidence for Christianity is deemed respectable and yet rather ambiguous and unconvincing, at least for many or even most persons. Accordingly, Christian belief and commitment are attributed primarily to personal experience of God and the working of the Holy Spirit. Only modest claims are expressed for evidence and argument.
However, humble apologetics is not apostolic apologetics. It is a contrivance, outside the apostolic tradition. The apostles voiced a confident apologetics. The facts about what they heard and saw and touched -- including prophecy and miracle and preeminently the resurrection -- led them to a personal certainty about the truth of the Gospel message. Furthermore, based on their honest and reliable reports, they commended this same certainty to their readers. To be confident of the truth works with -- not against -- personal experience of God, the witness of the Holy Spirit, Christian commitment, and a kind and respectful attitude toward non-believers.
What are the A, B, Cs of apologetics? Christian apologetics should be apostolic -- not contrived; bold, not minimal; and confident, not modest. The chief function of an apostolic, bold, confident apologetics is the defense of the Gospel message, proclaimed in Scripture, as truly being a Word or revelation from God. The task of natural theology is to reach the most significant truths available to unaided reason evaluating public evidence, in contrast to the greater truths available only to faith through a genuine revelation from God. Reason's greatest challenge and offering is to discern which claimed revelation is truly from God so that reason and faith can flourish together. Scripture exemplifies precisely this objective, using the evidence of prophecy and miracle to support the claims that Christ is God and that the apostolic witness constitutes a real revelation from God. The apostolic defense of the apostolic message is the best model for Christian apologetics, across the nations and over the centuries.
Several recent projects in natural theology use public evidence to support Christian theism.[xlviii] It will be surprising if every project that is ever proposed stands the test of time. But it will also be surprising if all fail. If even just a few succeed, and especially if they are integrated in a powerful synergistic case, then natural theology's new support for distinctively Christian theism will be firmly established. To prioritize, develop, assess, and integrate various projects and synergies will take many scholars many years. But what just a few scholars have produced in just a few years shows some promise.
Natural science delivers knowledge, having substantial theoretical and practical value, by means of empirical and public evidence. Natural theology, in its bold contemporary paradigm, delivers the same. What can be discovered and known by looking at the world? The answer to that significant question emerges from a winning combination of empirical disciplines that includes both natural science and natural theology.
The most pressing motivation for developing an enriched natural theology is to provide better support for Christian revealed theology. Natural theology is important because revealed theology is really, really, really important. Aquinas explained that we need God's self-disclosure because "The human being is designed by God for a final purpose of a sort that is beyond reason's power," for according to Isaiah 64:4, "without you, O God, no eye has seen what you have prepared for those who love you."[xlix] And Swinburne said that "People are very different from each other, and they come to a belief that the Nicene Creed is true by many different routes; but some form of natural theology is, I suggest, quite important for quite a lot of inhabitants of the modern world."[l] A clearer definition and broader conception of natural theology, respecting empirical and public evidence wherever found, mean more evidence and richer conclusions.[li]
[i] Richard Swinburne, "Natural Theology, its 'Dwindling Probabilities' and 'Lack of Rapport'," Faith and Philosophy 21 (2004): 533-546. This article appears in a special issue on "The Continuing Relevance of Natural Theology."
[ii] Robert Audi (Editor), The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy, Second Edition (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 911.
[iii] Simon Blackburn (Editor), The Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy, Second Edition (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), 247.
[iv] Edward Craig (Editor), Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy (New York: Routledge, 1998), 6:707-713.
[v] McGrath identifies a particularly important debate as being "whether Christian theology offers an account of its own privileged insights, or whether it can be seen as engaging with publicly accessible resources," and he regards "Natural theology as discourse in the public arena." Alister E. McGrath, A Scientific Theology: Volume 1, Nature (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2001), 300. Trigg expresses this issue of public evidence in very concrete language. "Does the belief that there is a God have the same logical status as, say, the belief that there are elephants in Africa?" Roger Trigg, Reason and Commitment (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1973), 27.
[vi] Likewise, standard dictionaries reiterate the traditional definition of natural theology. For example, the Oxford English Dictionary (Second Edition, 1989) defines natural theology as "theology based upon reasoning from natural facts apart from revelation," and similarly the Mirriam-Webster Dictionary (Tenth Edition, 1999) says "theology deriving its knowledge of God from the study of nature independent of special revelation" (visit www.oed.com and www.m-w.com).
[vii] Victor Reppert, "Several Formulations of the Argument from Reason," Philosophia Christi 5 (2003): 9-33. This argument's premises concern the universe's existence, the principle of sufficient reason, and such. Necessarily, no more comes out from the argument's conclusion than what goes into its premises. Also see Stephen T. Davis, "The Cosmological Argument and the Epistemic Status of Belief in God," Philosophia Christi 1 (1999): 5-15.
[viii] Richard Swinburne, The Existence of God (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1979), 8.
[ix] Stanley Hauerwas, With the Grain of the Universe: The Church's Witness and Natural Theology, Being the Gifford Lectures Delivered at the University of St. Andrews in 2001 (Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2001), 15-16.
[x] Hugh G. Gauch, Jr., John A. Bloom, and Robert C. Newman, "Public Theology and Scientific Method: Formulating Reasons that Count Across Worldviews," Philosophia Christi 4 (2002): 45-88. I read a precursor of that paper, "Method in Public Theology," at the Gifford conference in May 2000 at Aberdeen. Subsequently, a sequel has appeared: Robert C. Newman, John A. Bloom, and Hugh G. Gauch, Jr., "Public Theology and Prophecy Data: Factual Evidence that Counts for the Biblical World View," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 46 (2003): 79-110. These two published papers are available by visiting www.ibri.org. Also, requests may be sent to Hugh Gauch at email@example.com to receive pdf files of these two papers by e-mail attachment. Negative and positive views of the evidence of Bible prophecy have been expressed by Evan Fales and Robert Newman, respectively, in Philosophia Christi 3 (2001): 22-26 and 63-67.
[xi] John Polkinghorne, "Physics and Metaphysics in a Trinitarian Perspective," Theology and Science 1 (2003): 33-49. Also see his Gifford lectures for Edinburgh in 1993-1994. John Polkinghorne, The Faith of a Physicist: Reflections of a Bottom-Up Thinker (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1996).
[xii] Richard Swinburne, The Resurrection of God Incarnate (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003), 210. This argument also appears in briefer form in his "Evidence for the Resurrection," in Stephen T. Davis, Daniel Kendall, and Gerald O'Collins (editors), The Resurrection (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997), 191-212. A review of Swinburne's book by Stephen T. Davis appears in Philosophia Christi 6 (2005): 169-173 and by Jerry L. Walls in Faith and Philosophy 22 (2005): 235-238.
[xiii] Swinburne continues: "St Luke tells us that in writing his Gospel, he was one of many who were putting into writing what they had been told by those who, 'from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the Word,' and he was doing so in order that the recipient of his Gospel, Theophilus, 'may know the truth concerning the things about which you have been instructed.' ... We have historical knowledge and expertise which puts us in a position as good as that of the second century to assess the detailed historical evidence (to be supported by the evidence of natural theology) for the historical claims of Christianity." Swinburne, "Natural Theology, its 'Dwindling Probabilities' and 'Lack of Rapport'."
[xiv] Gary R. Habermas, The Risen Jesus & Future Hope (New York: Rowman & Littlefield, 2003); Gary R. Habermas and Michael R. Licona, The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2004); N.T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003); and Robert B. Stewart, editor, The Resurrection of Jesus: John Dominic Crossan and N.T. Wright in Dialogue (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2006). A review of Habermas's book by Richard Brian Davis appears in Philosophia Christi 7 (2005): 231-234 and a review of Wright's book by William Lane Craig in Faith and Philosophy 22 (2005): 239-245. Significantly, having analyzed literally thousands of papers on Christ's resurrection, Habermas develops a "minimal facts" version of the resurrection argument using only those data that even highly critical Bible scholars tend to accept.
[xv] For example, Monti has applied Trinitarian natural theology to the arts. Anthony Monti, A Natural Theology of the Arts: Imprint of the Spirit (Burlington: Ashgate, 2003), including a foreword by John Polkinghorne. For another example, Dubay has produced a wide-ranging contemplation of the significance of beauty, including a distinctively Trinitarian perspective. Thomas Dubay, The Evidential Power of Beauty: Science and Theology Meet (San Francisco: Ignatius, 1999), especially 320-321.
[xvi] Thomas Aquinas in Raymond Martin and Christopher Bernard (editors), God Matters: Readings in the Philosophy of Religion (New York: Longman, 2003), 61-63.
[xvii] Geivett considers a different subset of arguments that omits some of the five examples reviewed here. But he sketches a vigorous cumulative case for Christian theism with eight steps that could readily incorporate additional elements. R. Douglas Geivett, "David Hume and a Cumulative Case Argument," in James F. Sennett and Douglas Groothuis, editors, In Defense of Natural Theology: A Post-Humean Assessment (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2005), 297-329.
[xviii] Wayne C. Myrvold, "A Bayesian Account of the Virtue of Unification," Philosophy of Science 70 (2003): 399-423. Also see Marc Lange, "Bayesianism and Unification: A Reply to Wayne Myrvold," Philosophy of Science 71 (2004): 205-215; Timothy McGrew, "Confirmation, Heuristics, and Explanatory Reasoning," The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 54 (2003): 553-567; and Tomoji Shogenji, "A Condition for Transitivity in Probabilistic Support," The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 54 (2003): 613-616.
[xix] Swinburne, The Existence of God, 244-276; William P. Alston, Perceiving God: The Epistemology of Religious Experience (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1991); Jerome I. Gellman, Experience of God and the Rationality of Theistic Belief (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1997); and Martin and Bernard, God Matters, 341-386.
[xx] Thomas Aquinas in Martin and Bernard, God Matters, 257. Regarding the threats to the church that make its continuance so amazing, Aquinas barely managed to mention "the violence of persecutors," instead emphasizing the small mindedness and self centeredness, found in everyone, that strongly oppose Christ's message and call.
[xxi] Phillip Wiebe, "Authenticating Biblical Reports of Miracles," in Robert A. Larmer (editor), Questions of Miracle (Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press, 1996), 101-120; a response follows by Robert A. Larmer, "Miracles and Testimony: A Reply to Wiebe," 121-131. Also see Raymond Martin, "Historians on Miracles," in Martin and Bernard, God Matters, 412-427. Some scientists attempt to provide a purely naturalistic explanation for belief in religion and the supernatural. See Jesse M. Bering, "The Cognitive Psychology of Belief in the Supernatural," American Scientist 94 (2006): 142-149 and George Johnson, "Getting a Rational Grip on Religion," Scientific American 294 (1; 2006): 94-95.
[xxii] Richard Swinburne, Revelation: From Metaphor to Analogy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992), 69.
[xxiii] Swinburne, Revelation.
[xxiv] Kelli S. O'Brien, "Kant and Swinburne on Revelation," Faith and Philosophy 17 (2000): 535-557, accurately summarizing Swinburne, Revelation, 88-89. Likewise, recall Christ's words, "I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things?" (John 3:12).
[xxv] F.F. Bruce, The Apostolic Defence of the Gospel: Christian Apologetic in the New Testament (London: Inter-Varsity Press, 1967), 11-12.
[xxvi] Habermas, The Risen Jesus & Future Hope, xv.
[xxvii] George Schlesinger, Religion and Scientific Method (Dordrecht: D. Reidel, 1997), 193.
[xxviii] Any argument reaching a conclusion about the world requires premises or inputs of three kinds: presuppositions, evidence, and logic (or reasoning). The evidence has primacy for discerning which hypothesis to assert as the conclusion. Hugh G. Gauch, Jr., Scientific Method in Practice (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 40-72 and 112-155, but especially 124-131 (and Chinese edition, Beijing: Tsinghua University Press, 2004).
[xxix] David Hume, "Of Miracles," reproduced in John Earman, Hume's Abject Failure: The Argument Against Miracles (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), 140-157. In his concluding paragraph, Hume claimed that "What we have said of miracles may be applied, without any variation, to prophecies." But again, some Bible prophecies can be tested by empirical and public evidence available for inspection here and now, with no reliance on testimony whatsoever, so these prophecies are wholly immune to Hume's (dubious) critique of testimonial evidence.
[xxx] Earman, Hume's Abject Failure, 5.
[xxxi] For instance, Earman judges that proper examination "reveals Hume's seemingly powerful argument to be a shambles from which little emerges intact, save for posturing and pompous solemnities." John Earman, "Bayes, Hume, Price, and Miracles," in Richard Swinburne (editor), Bayes's Theorem (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), 91-109. Also see John Earman, "Bayes, Hume, and Miracles," Faith and Philosophy 10 (1993): 293-310; Earman, Hume's Abject Failure and the reviews by Jeffrey Koperski in Philosophia Christi 4 (2002): 558-563 and by Robert Sloan Lee in Faith and Philosophy 20 (2003): 379-382; Joseph Houston, Reported Miracles: A Critique of Hume (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994); Robert A. Larmer, "David Hume and the Miraculous," in Larmer, Questions of Miracle, 26-39; Rodney D. Holder, "Hume on Miracles: Bayesian Interpretation, Multiple Testimony, and the Existence of God," The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 49 (1998): 49-65; Charles Taliaferro and Anders Hendrickson, "Hume's Racism and His Case against the Miraculous," Philosophia Christi 4 (2002): 427-441; Hendrik van der Breggen, "Hume's Scale: How Hume Counts a Miracle's Improbability Twice," Philosophia Christi 4 (2002): 443-453; and Shogenji, "A Condition for Transitivity in Probabilistic Support." In his recent A Defense of Hume on Miracles (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2003), Robert J. Fogelin attempts to revive Hume's argument. But see the critical book review by Timothy McGrew in Mind 114 (2005): 145-149.
[xxxii] Alvin Plantinga, Warranted Christian Belief (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), 272-280.
[xxxiii] Jason Colwell, "The Historical Argument for the Christian Faith: A Response to Alvin Plantinga," International Journal for Philosophy of Religion 53 (2003): 147-161; Timothy McGrew, "Has Plantinga Refuted the Historical Argument?," Philosophia Christi 6 (2004): 7-26; and Swinburne, "Natural Theology, its 'Dwindling Probabilities' and 'Lack of Rapport'."
[xxxiv] Earman, Hume's Abject Failure, 4.
[xxxv] McGrath critiques the often too quick and unjustified slide from evolutionary biology to atheistic philosophy. Alister McGrath, Dawkins' God: Genes, Memes and the Meaning of Life (Oxford: Blackwell, 2004). And Larmer is concerned that even some theists view nature and science in a manner that undermines the rationality of belief in God. Robert Larmer, "Theistic Complementarianism and Ockham's Razor," Philosophia Christi 7 (2005): 503-514.
[xxxvi] J. Daryl Charles, "Paul Before the Areopagus: Reflections on the Apostle's Encounter with Cultured Paganism," Philosophia Christi 7 (2005): 125-140. Also see Barr, Biblical Faith and Natural Theology, 21-38.
[xxxvii] John Horgan, "Clash in Cambridge," Scientific American 293 (3, 2005): 24B-28. Conway Morris emphasizes the importance of developing a metaphysic or theology of evolution. Simon Conway Morris, Life's Solution: Inevitable Humans in a Lonely Universe (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), especially 311-330. Conway Morris is to deliver the Gifford lectures at Edinburgh in 2007.
[xxxviii] Incidentally, yet another challenge that can divert attention away from theology's evidence is that the Christian worldview and lifestyle can seem unappealing or even morally repugnant to an outsider. But worldviews can feel very different from the outside and the inside. Hence, what philosophy - the love of wisdom - would enjoin is first to determine which worldview is true, and then to see if one can manage to like it as an insider. Conceivably, evidence leads to truth and truth leads to happiness. Terence D.Cuneo, "Combating the Noetic Effects of Sin: Pascal's Strategy for Natural Theology," Faith and Philosophy 11 (1994): 645-662; Swinburne, "Natural Theology, its 'Dwindling Probabilities' and 'Lack of Rapport'"; William T. Wood, "Reason's Rapport: Pascalian Reflections on the Persuasiveness of Natural Theology," Faith and Philosophy 21 (2004): 519-532; and Paul K. Moser, "Jesus and Philosophy: On the Questions We Ask," Faith and Philosophy 22 (2005): 261-283.
[xxxix] Sandra Menssen and Thomas D. Sullivan, "The Existence of God and the Existence of Homer: Rethinking Theism and Revelatory Claims," Faith and Philosophy 19 (2002): 331-347.
[xl] Earman, Hume's Abject Failure, 3.
[xli] Earman, Hume's Abject Failure, 53-59.
[xlii] For instance, the exceptional synergistic strength of prophecies plus eyewitnesses is emphasized in 2 Peter 1:16-21.
[xliii] Phillip Wiebe, Visions of Jesus (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997).
[xliv] See the Gifford lectures by Farmer in 1950 at Glasgow, Raven in 1951-1952 at Edinburgh, and Barr in 1991 at Edinburgh. Herbert H. Farmer, Revelation and Religion (Lewiston: Edwin Mellen Press, 1999); Charles E. Raven, Natural Religion and Christian Theology (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1953, two volumes); and James Barr, Biblical Faith and Natural Theology (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993).
[xlv] By Christian orthodoxy is meant the central Christian convictions, such as those famously called Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis (New York: HarperCollins, 2001). Packer and Oden present a more recent formulation. J.I. Packer and Thomas C. Oden, One Faith: The Evangelical Consensus (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2004). None of the projects reviewed here, and more generally none of the arguments that might be anticipated in Christian natural theology, adjucate doctrinal differences between Christian denominations.
[xlvi] Habermas, The Risen Jesus & Future Hope, vii.
[xlvii] James E. Taylor, Introducing Apologetics: Cultivating Christian Commitment (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2006). Also see John G. Stackhouse, Jr., Humble Apologetics (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002).
[xlviii] This paper on natural theology necessarily concerns public evidence. It must at least be mentioned, however, that Christianity also offers personal evidence. Christ claimed that "If any one chooses to do God's will, he will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own" (John 7:17). This test costs one's life, but is promised to deliver personal conviction and eternal benefit. By contrast, evaluating natural theology's evidence is a cheap test, requiring no more time and effort that that unhesitatingly given to planning a family vacation, yet it can deliver useful preliminary worldview insight. These cheap or costly tests, involving public or personal evidence, are complementary in their intellectual and spiritual roles.
[xlix] Norman Kretzmann, The Metaphysics of Theism: Aquinas's Natural Theology in Summa contra gentiles I (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997), 34; also see Norman Kretzmann, The Metaphysics of Creation: Aquinas's Natural Theology in Summa contra gentiles II (Oxford: Oxford University Press,1999), 11-12.
[l] Swinburne, "Natural Theology, its 'Dwindling Probabilities' and 'Lack of Rapport'."
[li] An earlier version of this paper was presented at the meeting of the Canadian Society of Christian Philosophers in May 2004 at Winnipeg by Robert Larmer in my absence and the formal response was given by Phillip Wiebe. I appreciate helpful suggestions from John Bloom, Gary Habermas, Robert Larmer, Robert Newman, and also from Dale Pleticha who is the editor for IBRI research reports. With much love and fondness, I dedicate this paper to my Godson, Jonathan Xavier, and his brothers, Joseph Anthony and Joshua Robert.