Centuries

Not everyone, however, was persuaded that it was time to write the obituary for natural theology. In spite of criticisms, the argument from the observed character of the natural order remained for many decades a popular and, seemingly for numbers of people, a convincing case for the reality of God. Probably the most famous example of this argument is William Paley's Natural Theology, published in 1802. Starting from the evidence that a watch gives of its being the product of 'an artificer or artificers who formed it for the purpose which we find it actually to answer' (Paley 1837: IV, 2), Paley holds that the structures of animals and vegetables provide an analogous argument for the being and attributes of God. Implicitly responding to some of Hume's criticisms of earlier (and generally cruder) forms of the argument, he maintains that the argument from artefact to artisan is not overturned by our ignorance of how certain things are made and of what some things are for, nor by what seem to us to be imperfections in the artefacts, nor by the ability of artefacts to reproduce themselves. On the grounds that the works of nature show to 'a degree that exceeds all computation' all the characteristics of 'contrivance' and 'design' that are found in human artefacts and are combined in a connected system, Paley concludes that everything has been planned by one 'stupendous Being' on whom our happiness as well as our existence depends. Nevertheless, although 'Natural Theology' can show a great deal about God, it does not rule out revealed disclosures of further aspects of the divine. Instead it facilitates them by providing reasonable grounds for accepting them (ibid: 12, 355f).

In 1829 the Earl of Bridgewater bequeathed eight thousand pounds for treatises to be written on the Power, Wisdom, and Goodness of God, as manifested in the Creation; illustrating such work by all reasonable arguments, as for instance the variety and formation of God's creatures in the animal, vegetable, and mineral kingdoms; the effect of digestion, and thereby of conversion; the construction of the hand of man, and an infinite variety of other arguments.

The eight Bridgewater Treatises, published between 1833 and 1840, present, however, a way of justifying natural theology that had soon to be modified significantly, even if not wholly abandoned. The publication of Charles Darwin's study of the evolution of species meant that particular structures and adaptations could no longer be convincingly regarded as evidence for the reality of a powerful, wise and benevolent creator.

In 1885 Adam Gifford made a will in which he left funds to the four Scottish universities for lectureships promoting, as was mentioned earlier, 'the study of Natural Theology'. The universities were to appoint people who would treat the knowledge of God and God's relationship to the world 'as a strictly natural science. without reference to or reliance upon any supposed special exceptional or so-called miraculous revelation' (Jaki 1986:72, 74). The first Gifford Lectures were given in 1888 and the series has continued ever since. Among the more important treatments of natural theology that have been given as Gifford Lectures are William Ritchie Sorley's Moral Values and the Idea of God (1913-15), Samuel Alexander's Space, Time, and Deity (1916-18), Alfred Edward Taylor's The Faith of a Moralist (1926-8), Alfred North Whitehead's Process and Reality (1927-8), William Temple's Nature, Man and God (1932-4), John Macmurray's The Self as Agent and Persons in Relation (1952-4), Charles Arthur Campbell's On Selfhood and Godhood (1953-5), Henry Habberley Price's Belief (1960-2), John Baillie's The Sense of the Presence of God (1961-2—given posthumously), and lan Harbour's Religion in an Age of Science and Ethics in an Age of Technology (1989-91).

Since the Enlightenment, then, in spite of justifiable criticisms of earlier arguments and an often unsympathetic intellectual environment, attempts to develop a rationally credible and theistically significant form of natural theology have continued to be made. Some of them have explored relatively fresh lines of thought. For example, one early challenge to both the eighteenth-century approach to natural theology and to its critics is made by Friedrich Daniel Ernst Schleiermacher's On Religion: Speeches to Its Cultured Despisers and his later, more systematic The Christian Faith. Schleiermacher considers that those who seek to develop natural theology as a kind of metaphysical knowledge or, with Kant, as kind of moral understanding fundamentally misapprehend the nature of religion. Religion preserves its integrity 'only by completely removing itself from the sphere and character of speculation as well as from that of praxis' and by understanding itself as a third, 'necessary and indispensable' dimension of human being (Schleiermacher 1988:102). 'God' is 'the co-determinant' of what Schleiermacher identifies and analyses as 'the feeling of absolute dependence'. Thus 'to feel oneself absolutely dependent and to be conscious of being in relation with God are one and the same thing'. What are regarded as attributes of God are correlates of this feeling (Schleiermacher 1928:17; cf. 194). It is a mistake, however, to consider that Schleiermacher's location of religion in self-consciousness reduces it to the self's consciousness of its own isolated subjectivity. The consciousness to which he refers involves an awareness of that to which the self thereby discerns itself to be fundamentally related. Schleiermacher thus implies the possibility of a kind of natural theology that bases religion on and looks to the knowledge of God in a distinct mode of human intuition. It is a line of enquiry that has been pursued in very different ways—as is illustrated, for example, by the studies of religious experience presented by William James, Rudolf Otto, Martin Buber and John Baillie—and that raises critical questions about how far some such mode of intuition or experience can reasonably be claimed to provide reliable information about the ground of being, whether theistic or not (see Hepburn 1958; Davis 1989).

Since the time of Kant, and particularly between the end of the nineteenth century and the middle of the twentieth, one aspect of the argument from experience has attracted considerable attention and a variety of forms. This argument attempts to derive a natural theology from moral experience. Kant himself holds that the reality of God, together with that of freedom and immortality, is a 'postulate' that is necessarily required for the coherence of the categorical demand of the practical (i.e., moral) reason (see Kant 1909:226f). Among other forms of the argument from morality to the reality of God are Sorley's argument that the reality of the world of nature can only be harmonized with the moral order in an intelligible way through 'the acknowledgement of the Supreme Mind or God as the ground of all reality' (Sorley 1924:504); Hastings Rashdall's idealist argument that the existence of God is 'essential to the logical justification of that idea of objective validity which is implicit in the moral consciousness' (Rashdall 1924:2, 250); and Taylor's arguments that the 'complete unification of personality in ourselves, the very goal of all...moral effort', is only real if God is real as 'the concrete unity of all good in its one source' (Taylor 1932: I, 101), and that conscience's witness to the authoritative demand of right and wrong is factual evidence of 'the active reality of the living God' (Taylor 1961:135; see 133). The significance of the demand of morality has, however, declined as psychological and sociological studies have drawn increasing attention to conditioning factors that are considered to relativize not just particular moral judgements but also the notion of morality itself.

Awareness of earlier criticisms has not prevented some twentieth-century thinkers from attempting to develop forms of the teleological, cosmological and ontological arguments. Frederick Robert Tennant, for example, seeks in his Philosophical Theology to construct 'a philosophy of the soul, the world, and God' through 'a sustained application of the empirical method' (Tennant 1956: II, 247). Recognizing that evolutionary theory has fatally flawed arguments from specific 'cases of adaptedness in the world', he argues that the strength of a teleological interpretation 'consists rather in the conspiration of innumerable causes to produce.and to maintain, a general order of Nature' (ibid: 79). He particularly draws attention to five factors: 'the mutual adaptation of thought and things', the 'directivity in the process and plan in the primary collocations' of the evolutionary process, 'the continuity of apparent purposiveness' between the inorganic and the organic realms, the fact that 'the world is a bearer of values' and so shows affinity with beings that appreciate beauty, and the way in which 'the whole process of Nature is capable of being regarded as instrumental to the development of intelligent and moral creatures' (ibid.: 81-103). His case is that when these factors are put together, the most reasonable hypothesis for understanding the fundamental character of the world as we observe it empirically is the theistic one.

In the final decades of the twentieth century some theologians have interpreted certain current theories in physics about cosmogenesis as indicating that the world is fundamentally a product of intelligent, deliberate and divine design. While those who pursue this line of argument do not deny that the processes of cosmological development in the first jiffies after the hot big bang are the result of chance interactions within the structure of certain necessary conditions imposed by the cosmic constants, they are impressed by what seems to be the immense unlikelihood that an evolutionary cosmos would emerge from what happened in those very first jiffies. For example, lan Barbour in his Gifford Lectures cites various considerations that have led some physicists to suggest that there may be 'evidence of design in the early universe' (Barbour 1990:135f). While, however, these results are intriguing and while David Bartholomew, for instance, argues that stochastic considerations show that the chance-character of the physical order could nevertheless be known to have a generally predictable outcome (Bartholomew 1984), the kind of divine 'design' indicated by them is so hugely remote from justifying claims about a benevolent God interacting with the world in which people exist that it is debatable whether it could provide the foundation for a religiously satisfying natural theology.

A modern version of the traditional cosmological argument from contingency to the necessary existence of God is presented by Eric Lionel Mascall in He Who Is. Starting from the question of why things continue in being rather than 'collapse into non-existence', he argues that the contingent nature of finite things presents us with the dilemma that either we consider the series of contemporary contingent dependencies to be inexplicable, or we 'admit the existence of a Cause which does not require a cause for itself (Mascall 1943:46; see 72f). Mascall's view is that to 'perceive finite beings as they actually are' (i.e, to have a proper appreciation of their finitude) brings us to 'perceive them as creatures of God': hence 'in perceiving them' we 'recognize the existence of God whom we cannot perceive' (ibid.: 74). It is a conclusion that rests upon considering the continuing existence of contingent things to be a problem. Is it, however, problematic?. In a debate with Frederick Copleston SJ, Bertrand Russell maintains that it is not. He is content to 'say that the universe is just there' and to regard 'the notion of the world having an explanation' as 'a mistake' (Russell 1975:140f). Furthermore, it may be held that the argument from contingency begs the question. This is on the grounds that it is only possible to consider the contingent nature of things as posing a problem by presupposing the existence of a necessary being—and so by presupposing what the argument is intended to show.

In the middle of the twentieth century, studies by Norman Malcolm and Charles Hartshorne drew attention to a modal form of the ontological argument, claiming it to be immune from standard challenges to that argument. This modal form of the argument uses the distinction between necessary existence and contingent existence to maintain that the definition of God as 'that than which a greater cannot be conceived' entails that God's existence must be considered to be necessary rather than contingent (for necessary existence is intuitively recognized to be superior to contingent existence). From this the conclusion is reached that since God has necessary existence, God must exist (see Hartshorne 1965:301; Pailin 1968:109ff). This modal form of the ontological argument (as is also the case with other forms of the argument) is, however, subject to the fundamental objection that the reality of something cannot validly be inferred simply from the concept of it. This applies to the concept of the divine as to that of anything else. What the modal form of the ontological shows is that if God exists, then God must exist as one whose mode of existence is that of necessary rather than that of contingent existence.

Hartshorne's major contribution to theological understanding, however, is his independent development of ideas also put forward by Whitehead. In Process and Reality: An Essay in Cosmology and other writings, Whitehead seeks to apprehend the fundamental and universal nature of actuality as temporal and social. God is conceived as the ground of its processes. What Whitehead calls the 'primordial nature' of God is the source of all novelty, the 'consequent nature' preserves all that occurs, and the 'superjective nature' draws the processes of reality towards the actualization of further and valuatively richer experiences. He also develops a concept of God which rejects the notion of God as 'the ruling Caesar, or the ruthless moralist, or the unmoved moved' in favour of the notion of one who saves the world by leading it in 'tender patience.by his vision of truth, beauty and goodness' (Whitehead 1978:342f, 346).

Hartshorne's especial insight has been to identify and analyse the 'dipolar' nature of the theistic concept of God and thereby to solve fundamental problems concerning its coherence. According to the dipolar understanding, it is possible to speak coherently of the material attributes of God as absolute, necessary and unchanging in certain respects, and as relative, contingent and changing in other respects (see Pailin 1989: ch. 4). On this basis Hartshorne has developed a 'panentheistic' understanding of the relationship between God and the world which, without denying the relative autonomy of the divine and the non-divine, considers that all that occurs contributes to God's experience (cf. ibid: ch. 5). The resulting understanding of reality as 'creative synthesis' (Hartshorne 1970) provides the basis for Hartshorne's understanding of a 'natural theology for our time' (Hartshorne 1967).

Although the views of God advanced by 'process theologians' (see Cobb 1965 and Ogden 1967) are often hotly disputed by the supporters of classical concepts of deity (e.g., as timeless, unchanging, and impassible), they do indicate that it may be rationally justifiable to speak of the divine as properly ultimate, sympathetically aware and intentionally active in relation to the world, and to overcome the traditional understanding of the distinction between God and the world that makes any significant relationships between them impossible. In this respect process theology offers an understanding of theistic faith that suggests that natural theology may at least be possible in principle as a way of understanding the relationship between the world in which we find ourselves and the God who, as transcendent and immanent, is both internally and externally related to the world and is to be worshipped as the proper object of religious faith.

The Marketers Success Affirmation

The Marketers Success Affirmation

Learning How To Be An Internet Idol And Using Affirmations Can Have Amazing Benefits For Your Life And Success! Utilizing affirmations and some tools is a way to restrict criticism of yourself and other people. Affirmations help you in training your brain to be more about final results and to a lesser extent about quibbling. How we talk to ourselves really does regulate the type of energy we vibrate and what that draws into our life experiences.

Get My Free Ebook


Post a comment