Natural theology is the practice of philosophically reflecting on the existence and nature of God independent of real or apparent divine revelation or scripture. Traditionally, natural theology involves weighing arguments for and against God's existence, and it is contrasted with revealed theology, which may be carried out within the context of ostensible revelation or scripture. For example, revealed theology may take as authoritative certain New Testament claims about Jesus and then construct a philosophical or theological model for understanding how Jesus may be human and divine. Natural theology, on the other hand, develops arguments about God based on the existence of the cosmos, the very concept of God, and different views of the nature of the cosmos, such as its ostensible order and value. Natural theology is often practiced in the West and the Near East with respect to the theistic view of God, and thus the God of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. But natural theology has also been carried out by those who reject such religious traditions (e.g. Voltaire (1694-1778) endorsed theistic natural theology, but he put no credence in Christian revelation), and philosophers have employed natural theology to argue that God has attributes and a character that is either slightly or radically different from orthodox, religious concepts of God. The philosophy of God developed by Spinoza (1632-1677) is an example of a natural theology, according to which God is radically different from the theism of his Jewish and Christian contemporaries.
Plato (428-348 bce), Aristotle (384-322 bce), and their successors in ancient and medieval philosophy developed substantial arguments for the existence of God without relying on revelation. In the West, Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109), Thomas Aquinas (1225-74), and Duns Scotus (1266-1308) are among the most celebrated contributors to natural theology. Muslim philosophy has also been a rich resource for natural theology, especially for cosmological theistic arguments. This may be due, in part, to the immense emphasis by philosophers such as Ibn Sina (or Avicenna, 980-1037) on the necessary, noncontingent reality of God in contrast to the contingent cosmos.
Natural theology played a major role in early modern philosophy. Some of the classics in the modern era, such as the Meditations by Descartes (1596-1650), An Essay Concerning Human Understanding by John Locke (1632-1704), Three Dialogues between Hylas and Philonous by George Berkeley, the Theodicy by Leibniz (1646-1716), the Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion by David Hume (1711-76), and the Critique of Pure Reason by Immanuel Kant
The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology EditedWiOiamgaineCraig and J. P.Moreland © 2009 BkcWvoe PublishingLtd. ISBN: 978-1-405-17657-6
(1724-1804) all constitute major contributions to assessing reasons for and against theism, without making any appeal to revelation. The last two works are commonly thought to advance the most serious challenges to carrying out natural theology at all, but in point of fact, they still remain works in the tradition of natural theology, insofar as they reflect on the credibility of believing that there is a God, employing arguments that do not explicitly appeal to revelation. It is difficult to exaggerate the role of natural theology in the history of modern philosophy. The first substantial philosophical work published in English was a work in natural theology: The True Intellectual System of the Universe by Ralph Cudworth (1617-88).
In this chapter, I explore the prospects of employing natural theology in its traditional role of supporting a theistic understanding of God. In the first section, I bring together a series of arguments to the effect that a theistic natural theology is either unintelligible or, in principle, at a major disadvantage over against naturalism. These objections include critical arguments from Hume and Kant contra natural theology as employed to justify theism. I then address each of these, and bring to light reasons why today there is a renaissance in the field of natural theology in contemporary philosophy. I conclude with observations about the role of natural theology in addressing nontheistic accounts of God, along with a modest observation about the virtues of inquiry. The goal of this chapter is to address the general framework of natural theology in order to pave the way for the chapters that follow, which address specific strands in natural theology.
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