This distinguishes it from revealed theology, which is based on scripture and/or religious experiences, and from transcendental theology, which is based on a priori reasoning. It is thus a type of philosophy, with the aim of explaining the nature of the gods, or of one supreme God. For monotheistic religions, this principally involves arguments about the attributes or non-attributes of God, and especially the existence of God, using arguments that do not involve recourse to supernatural revelation.
Marcus Terentius Varro (116–27 BC) established a distinction between political theology (the social functions of religion), natural theology and mythical theology. His terminology became part of the Stoic tradition and then Christianity through Augustine of Hippo and Thomas Aquinas.
Besides Zarathushtra's Gathas, Plato gives the earliest surviving account of a natural theology. In the Timaeus, written c. 360 BC, we read: "We must first investigate concerning [the whole Cosmos] that primary question which has to be investigated at the outset in every case, — namely, whether it has always existed, having no beginning or generation, or whether it has come into existence, having begun from some beginning." In the Laws, in answer to the question as to what arguments justify faith in the gods, Plato affirms: "One is our dogma about the soul...the other is our dogma concerning the ordering of the motion of the stars".
Varro (Marcus Terentius Varro) in his (lost) Antiquitates rerum humanarum et divinarum (Antiquities of Human and Divine Things) established a distinction between three kinds of theology: civil (political) (theologia civilis), natural (physical) (theologia naturalis) and mythical (theologia mythica). The theologians of civil theology are "the people", asking how the gods relate to daily life and the state (imperial cult). The theologians of natural theology are the philosophers, asking about the nature of the gods, and the theologians of mythical theology are the poets, crafting mythology.
From the 8th century AD, the Mutazilite school of Islam, compelled to defend their principles against the orthodox Islam of their day, used philosophy for support, and were among the first to pursue a rational Islamic theology, termed Ilm-al-Kalam (scholastic theology). The teleological argument was later presented by the early Islamic philosophers Alkindus and Averroes, while Avicenna presented both the cosmological argument and the ontological argument in The Book of Healing (1027).
Thomas Aquinas (c. 1225 – 1274) presented several versions of the cosmological argument in his Summa Theologica, and of the teleological argument in his Summa contra Gentiles. He presented the ontological argument, but rejected it in favor of proofs that invoke cause and effect alone. His quinque viae ("five ways") in those books attempted to prove the existence of God in different ways, including (as way No. 5) the goal-directed actions seen in nature.
Raymond of Sabunde's Liber Naturae Sive Creaturarum, Etc. (or Theologia Naturalis), written 1434–1436, marks an important stage in the history of natural theology.
John Ray (1627–1705) also known as John Wray, was an English naturalist, sometimes referred to as the father of English natural history. He published important works on plants, animals, and natural theology, with the objective "to illustrate the glory of God in the knowledge of the works of nature or creation".
William Derham (1657–1735) continued Ray's tradition of natural theology in two of his own works, Physico-Theology, published during 1713, and Astro-Theology, 1714. These later influenced the work of William Paley.
In An Essay on the Principle of Population, published during 1798, Thomas Malthus ended with two chapters on natural theology and population. Malthus—a devout Christian—argued that revelation would "damp the soaring wings of intellect", and thus never let "the difficulties and doubts of parts of the scripture" interfere with his work.
William Paley, an important influence on Charles Darwin, who studied theology at Christ College in Cambridge, gave a well-known rendition of the teleological argument for God. During 1802 he published Natural Theology, or Evidences of the Existence and Attributes of the Deity collected from the Appearances of Nature. In this he described the Watchmaker analogy, for which he is probably best known. However, his book, which was one of the most published books of the 19th and 20th century, presents a number of teleological and cosmological arguments for the existence of God. The book served as a template for many subsequent natural theologies during the 19th century.
Professor of chemistry and natural history, Edward Hitchcock also studied and wrote on natural theology. He attempted to unify and reconcile science and religion, emphasizing geology. His major work of this type was The Religion of Geology and its Connected Sciences (1851).
The Gifford Lectures were established by the will of Adam Lord Gifford to "promote and diffuse the study of Natural Theology in the widest sense of the term—in other words, the knowledge of God." The term natural theology as used by Gifford means theology supported by science and not dependent on the miraculous.
Debates over the applicability of teleology to scientific questions continued during the nineteenth century, as Paley's argument about design conflicted with radical new theories on the transmutation of species. In order to support the scientific ideas of the time, which explored the natural world within Paley's framework of a divine designer, Francis Henry Egerton, 8th Earl of Bridgewater, a gentleman naturalist, commissioned eight Bridgewater Treatises upon his deathbed to explore "the Power, Wisdom, and Goodness of God, as manifested in the Creation." They were published first during the years 1833 to 1840, and afterwards in Bohn's Scientific Library. The treatises are:
In response to the claim in Whewell's treatise that "We may thus, with the greatest propriety, deny to the mechanical philosophers and mathematicians of recent times any authority with regard to their views of the administration of the universe", Charles Babbage published what he termed The Ninth Bridgewater Treatise, A Fragment. As his preface states, this volume was not part of that series, but rather his own considerations of the subject. He draws on his own work on calculating engines to consider God as a divine programmer setting complex laws as the basis of what we think of as miracles, rather than miraculously producing new species by creative whim. There was also a fragmentary supplement to this, published posthumously by Thomas Hill.
The theology of the Bridgewater Treatises was often disputed, given that it assumed humans could have knowledge of God acquired by observation and reasoning without the aid of revealed knowledge.
The works are of unequal merit; several of them were esteemed as apologetic literature, but they attracted considerable criticism. One notable critic of the Bridgewater Treatises was Edgar Allan Poe, who wrote Criticism. Robert Knox, an Edinburgh surgeon and major advocate of radical morphology, referred to them as the "Bilgewater Treatises", to mock the "ultra-teleological school". Though memorable, this phrase overemphasises the influence of teleology in the series, at the expense of the idealism of the likes of Kirby and Roget.
The Bridgewater Treatises
Charles Babbage (; 26 December 1791 – 18 October 1871) was an English polymath. A mathematician, philosopher, inventor and mechanical engineer, Babbage originated the concept of a digital programmable computer.Considered by some to be a "father of the computer", Babbage is credited with inventing the first mechanical computer that eventually led to more complex electronic designs, though all the essential ideas of modern computers are to be found in Babbage's analytical engine. His varied work in other fields has led him to be described as "pre-eminent" among the many polymaths of his century.Parts of Babbage's incomplete mechanisms are on display in the Science Museum in London. In 1991, a functioning difference engine was constructed from Babbage's original plans. Built to tolerances achievable in the 19th century, the success of the finished engine indicated that Babbage's machine would have worked.Cosmological argument
In natural theology and philosophy, a cosmological argument is an argument in which the existence of a unique being, generally seen as some kind of god, is deduced or inferred from facts or alleged facts concerning causation, change, motion, contingency, or finitude in respect of the universe as a whole or processes within it. It is traditionally known as an argument from universal causation, an argument from first cause, or the causal argument, and is more precisely a cosmogonical argument (about the origin). Whichever term is employed, there are three basic variants of the argument, each with subtle yet important distinctions: the arguments from in causa (causality), in esse (essentiality), and in fieri (becoming).
The basic premises of all of these are the concept of causality. The conclusion of these arguments is first cause, subsequently deemed to be God. The history of this argument goes back to Aristotle or earlier, was developed in Neoplatonism and early Christianity and later in medieval Islamic theology during the 9th to 12th centuries, and re-introduced to medieval Christian theology in the 13th century by Thomas Aquinas. The cosmological argument is closely related to the principle of sufficient reason as addressed by Gottfried Leibniz and Samuel Clarke, itself a modern exposition of the claim that "nothing comes from nothing" attributed to Parmenides.
Contemporary defenders of cosmological arguments include William Lane Craig, Robert Koons, Alexander Pruss, and William L. Rowe.Deism
Deism ( DEE-iz-əm or DAY-iz-əm; derived from Latin "deus" meaning "god") is a philosophical belief that posits that God exists as an uncaused First Cause ultimately responsible for the creation of the universe, but does not interfere directly with the created world. Equivalently, deism can also be defined as the view which posits God's existence as the cause of all things, and admits its perfection (and usually the existence of natural law and Providence) but rejects divine revelation or direct intervention of God in the universe by miracles. It also rejects revelation as a source of religious knowledge and asserts that reason and observation of the natural world are sufficient to determine the existence of a single creator or absolute principle of the universe.Deism gained prominence among intellectuals as a form of the natural theology widespread during the Age of Enlightenment, especially in Britain, France, Germany, and the United States. Typically, deists had been raised as Christians and believed in one God, but had become disenchanted with organized religion and orthodox teachings such as the Trinity, Biblical inerrancy, and the supernatural interpretation of events, such as miracles. Included in those influenced by its ideas were leaders of the American and French Revolutions.Deism is considered to exist in the classical and modern forms, where the classical view takes what is called a "cold" approach by asserting the non-intervention of a deity in the natural behavior of the created universe, while the modern deist formulation can be either "warm" (citing an involved deity) or "cold" (citing an uninvolved deity). These lead to many subdivisions of modern deism, which serves as an overall category of belief.Edward Feser
Edward C. Feser (; born April 16, 1968) is an American philosopher. He is Associate Professor of Philosophy at Pasadena City College in Pasadena, California. He has been a Visiting Assistant Professor at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles and a Visiting Scholar at the Social Philosophy and Policy Center at Bowling Green State University in Bowling Green, Ohio.
Called by National Review "one of the best contemporary writers on philosophy," Feser is the author of On Nozick, Philosophy of Mind, Locke, The Last Superstition: A Refutation of the New Atheism, Aquinas, Scholastic Metaphysics: A Contemporary Introduction, Neo-Scholastic Essay, and Five Proofs of the Existence of God, the co-author of By Man Shall His Blood Be Shed: A Catholic Defense of Capital Punishment, and the editor of The Cambridge Companion to Hayek and Aristotle on Method and Metaphysics. He is also the author of many academic articles. His primary academic research interests are in metaphysics, natural theology, the philosophy of mind, and moral and political philosophy.Feser also writes on politics and culture, from a conservative point of view; and on religion, from a traditional Roman Catholic perspective. In this connection, his work has appeared in such publications as The American, The American Conservative, Catholic World Report, City Journal, The Claremont Review of Books, Crisis, First Things, Liberty, National Review, New Oxford Review, Public Discourse, Reason, and TCS Daily. He is best known for his writings on philosophy, especially his works on neo-scholasticism, and The Last Superstition: A Refutation of the New Atheism.Fideism
Fideism () is an epistemological theory which maintains that faith is independent of reason, or that reason and faith are hostile to each other and faith is superior at arriving at particular truths (see natural theology). The word fideism comes from fides, the Latin word for faith, and literally means "faith-ism".Theologians and philosophers have responded in various ways to the place of faith and reason in determining the truth of metaphysical ideas, morality, and religious beliefs. A fideist is one who argues for fideism. Historically, fideism is most commonly ascribed to four philosophers: Blaise Pascal, Søren Kierkegaard, William James, and Ludwig Wittgenstein; with fideism being a label applied in a negative sense by their opponents, but which is not always supported by their own ideas and works or followers. There are a number of different forms of fideism.Gifford Lectures
The Gifford Lectures are an annual series of lectures which were established by the will of Adam Lord Gifford (died 1887). They were established to "promote and diffuse the study of natural theology in the widest sense of the term — in other words, the knowledge of God." A Gifford lectures appointment is one of the most prestigious honors in Scottish academia. The lectures are given at several Scottish universities: University of St Andrews, University of Glasgow, University of Aberdeen and University of Edinburgh. They are normally presented as a series over an academic year and given with the intent that the edited content be published in book form. A number of these works have become classics in the fields of theology or philosophy and the relationship between religion and science.History of plant systematics
The history of plant systematics—the biological classification of plants—stretches from the work of ancient Greek to modern evolutionary biologists. As a field of science, plant systematics came into being only slowly, early plant lore usually being treated as part of the study of medicine. Later, classification and description was driven by natural history and natural theology. Until the advent of the theory of evolution, nearly all classification was based on the scala naturae. The professionalization of botany in the 18th and 19th century marked a shift toward more holistic classification methods, eventually based on evolutionary relationships.John Ray
John Ray FRS (29 November 1627 – 17 January 1705) was an English naturalist widely regarded as one of the earliest of the English parson-naturalists. Until 1670, he wrote his name as John Wray. From then on, he used 'Ray', after "having ascertained that such had been the practice of his family before him". He published important works on botany, zoology, and natural theology. His classification of plants in his Historia Plantarum, was an important step towards modern taxonomy. Ray rejected the system of dichotomous division by which species were classified according to a pre-conceived, either/or type system, and instead classified plants according to similarities and differences that emerged from observation. He was among the first to attempt a biological definition for the concept of species.Leibniz–Clarke correspondence
The Leibniz–Clarke correspondence was a scientific, theological and philosophical debate conducted in an exchange of letters between the German thinker Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz and Samuel Clarke, an English supporter of Isaac Newton during the years 1715 and 1716. The exchange began because of a letter Leibniz wrote to Caroline of Ansbach, in which he remarked that Newtonian physics was detrimental to natural theology. Eager to defend the Newtonian view, Clarke responded, and the correspondence continued until the death of Leibniz in 1716.Although a variety of subjects is touched on in the letters, the main interest for modern readers is in the dispute between the absolute theory of space favoured by Newton and Clarke, and Leibniz's relational approach. Also important is the conflict between Clarke's and Leibniz's opinions on free will and whether God must create the best of all possible worlds.Leibniz had published only a book on moral matters, the Theodicée (1710), and his more metaphysical views had never been exposed to a sufficient extent, so the collected letters were met with interest by their contemporaries. The priority dispute between Leibniz and Newton about the calculus was still fresh in the public's mind and it was taken as a matter of course that it was Newton himself who stood behind Clarke's replies.Mythical theology
Mythical theology (theologica mythica) is one of three types of theology defined by the Roman scholar Marcus Terentius Varro (116–27 BC) in his lost work Antiquitates rerum humanarum et divinarum. The other two are political theology (theologia civilis) and natural theology (theologia naturalis).
Mythical theology is practiced by story-tellers, especially poets, based on narratives (mythoi) pertaining to divine matters. Divine revelation was claimed or implied by some of these story-tellers, or their disciples.
Theologians of civil or political theology are administrators, defining how the gods relate to daily life and the state (see imperial cult). Theologians of natural theology are philosophers, inquiring into the nature of the gods,
as evidenced by nature and reason.
"Mythical theology" should be distinguished from the theologia mystica of Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite.Natural Theology or Evidences of the Existence and Attributes of the Deity
Natural Theology or Evidences of the Existence and Attributes of the Deity is an 1802 work of Christian apologetics and philosophy of religion by the English clergyman William Paley (July 1743 – 25 May 1805). The book expounds his arguments from natural theology, making a teleological argument for the existence of God, notably beginning with the watchmaker analogy.
The book was written in the context of the natural theology tradition. In earlier centuries, theologians such as John Ray and William Derham, as well as philosophers of classical times such as Cicero, argued for the existence and goodness of God from the general well-being of living things and the physical world.
Paley's Natural Theology is an extended argument, constructed around a series of examples including finding a watch; comparing the eye to a telescope; and the existence of finely adapted mechanical structures in animals, such as joints which function like hinges or manmade ball and socket joints. Paley argues that these all lead to an intelligent Creator, and that a system is more than the sum of its parts. The last chapters are more theological in character, arguing that the attributes of God must be sufficient for the extent of his operations, and that God must be good because designs seen in nature are beneficial.
The book was many times republished and remains in print. It continues to be consulted by creationists. Charles Darwin took its arguments seriously and responded to them; evolutionary biologists like Stephen Jay Gould and Richard Dawkins continue to discuss Paley's book to respond to modern proponents with similar ideas.Natural religion
Natural religion most frequently means the "religion of nature", in which God, the soul, spirits, and all objects of the supernatural are considered as part of nature and not separate from it. Conversely, it is also used in philosophy, specifically Roman Catholic philosophy, to describe some aspects of religion that are said to be knowable apart from divine revelation through logic and reason alone (see natural theology and Deism), for example, the existence of the unmoved Mover, the first cause of the universe.
Most authors consider natural religion as not only the foundation of monotheistic religions such as Judaism, Christianity, and Islam but also distinct from them. According to some authors, aspects of natural religion are found universally among all peoples, often in such forms of shamanism and animism. They are still practiced in many parts of the world. The religions of Native American societies for example are considered as possessing some aspects of natural religion.Neo-orthodoxy
Neo-orthodoxy, in Christianity, also known as theology of crisis and dialectical theology, was a theological movement developed in the aftermath of the First World War. The movement was largely a reaction against doctrines of 19th-century liberal theology and a reevaluation of the teachings of the Reformation. Karl Barth is the leading figure associated with the movement. In the U.S., Reinhold Niebuhr was a leading exponent of neo-orthodoxy.A similar title has been given to the unrelated Eastern Orthodox theology of Christos Yannaras, John Zizioulas and John Romanides.Philosophical theology
Philosophical theology is both a branch and form of theology in which philosophical methods are used in developing or analyzing theological concepts. It therefore includes natural theology as well as philosophical treatments of orthodox and heterodox theology. Philosophical theology is also closely related to the philosophy of religion.Teleological argument
The teleological or physico-theological argument, also known as the argument from design, or intelligent design argument is an argument for the existence of God or, more generally, for an intelligent creator based on perceived evidence of deliberate design in the natural world.The earliest recorded versions of this argument are associated with Socrates in ancient Greece, although it has been argued that he was taking up an older argument. Plato, his student, and Aristotle, Plato's student, developed complex approaches to the proposal that the cosmos has an intelligent cause, but it was the Stoics who, under their influence, "developed the battery of creationist arguments broadly known under the label 'The Argument from Design'".Abrahamic religions have used the teleological argument in many ways, and has a long association with them. In the Middle Ages, Islamic theologians such as Al-Ghazali used the argument, although it was rejected as unnecessary by Quranic literalists, and as unconvincing by many Islamic philosophers. Later, the teleological argument was accepted by Saint Thomas Aquinas and included as the fifth of his "Five Ways" of proving the existence of God. In early modern England clergymen such as William Turner and John Ray were well-known proponents. In the early 18th century, William Derham published his Physico-Theology, which gave his "demonstration of the being and attributes of God from his works of creation". Later, William Paley, in his 1802 Natural Theology or Evidences of the Existence and Attributes of the Deity published a prominent presentation of the design argument with his version of the watchmaker analogy and the first use of the phrase "argument from design".From its beginning, there have been numerous criticisms of the different versions of the teleological argument, and responses to its challenge to the claims against non-teleological natural science. Especially important were the general logical arguments made by David Hume in his Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, published 1779, and the explanation of biological complexity given in Charles Darwin's Origin of Species, published in 1859. Since the 1960s, Paley's arguments, including the words "intelligent design", have been influential in the development of a creation science movement, especially the form known as the intelligent design movement, which not only uses the teleological argument to argue against the modern scientific understanding of evolution, but also makes the claim that supposed flaws in evolutionary science justify removing it from the educational curriculum.Also starting already in classical Greece, two approaches to the teleological argument developed, distinguished by their understanding of whether the natural order was literally created or not. The non-creationist approach starts most clearly with Aristotle, although many thinkers, such as the Neoplatonists, believed it was already intended by Plato. This approach is not creationist in a simple sense, because while it agrees that a cosmic intelligence is responsible for the natural order, it rejects the proposal that this requires a "creator" to physically make and maintain this order. The Neoplatonists did not find the teleological argument convincing, and in this they were followed by medieval philosophers such as Al-Farabi and Avicenna. Later, Averroes and Thomas Aquinas considered the argument acceptable, but not necessarily the best argument.
Contemporary defenders of the teleological argument are Richard Swinburne and John Lennox.Teleology in biology
Teleology in biology is the use of the language of goal-directedness in accounts of evolutionary adaptation, which some biologists and philosophers of science find problematic. The term teleonomy has also been proposed. Before Darwin, organisms were seen as existing because God had designed and created them; their features such as eyes were taken by natural theology to have been made to enable them to carry out their functions, such as seeing. Evolutionary biologists often use similar teleological formulations that invoke purpose, but these imply natural selection rather than actual goals, whether conscious or not. Dissenting biologists and religious thinkers held that evolution itself was somehow goal-directed (orthogenesis), and in vitalist versions, driven by a purposeful life force. Since such views are now discredited, with evolution working by natural selection acting on inherited variation, the use of teleology in biology has attracted criticism, and attempts have been made to teach students to avoid teleological language.
Nevertheless, biologists still often write about evolution as if organisms had goals, and some philosophers of biology such as Francisco Ayala and biologists such as J. B. S. Haldane consider that teleological language is unavoidable in evolutionary biology.The Varieties of Scientific Experience
The Varieties of Scientific Experience: A Personal View of the Search for God is a book collecting transcribed talks on the subject of natural theology that astronomer Carl Sagan delivered in 1985 at the University of Glasgow as part of the Gifford Lectures. The book was first published posthumously in 2006, 10 years after his death. The title is a reference to The Varieties of Religious Experience by William James.
The book was edited by Ann Druyan, who also provided an introduction section. The sixth chapter, The God Hypothesis, was later reprinted in Christopher Hitchens' anthology The Portable Atheist.Watchmaker analogy
The watchmaker analogy or watchmaker argument is a teleological argument which states, by way of an analogy, that a design implies a designer. The analogy has played a prominent role in natural theology and the "argument from design," where it was used to support arguments for the existence of God and for the intelligent design of the universe, in both Christianity and Deism.
Sir Isaac Newton, among other leaders in the scientific revolution, including René Descartes, upheld "that the physical laws he had uncovered revealed the mechanical perfection of the workings of the universe to be akin to a watch, wherein the watchmaker is God."The 1859 publication of Charles Darwin's theory of natural selection put forward an explanation for complexity and adaptation, which reflects scientific consensus on the origins of biological diversity. In the eyes of some, this provided a counter-argument to the watchmaker analogy: for example, the evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins referred to the analogy in his 1986 book The Blind Watchmaker giving his explanation of evolution. Others, however, consider the watchmaker analogy to be compatible with evolutionary creation, opining that the two concepts are not mutually exclusive. In the 19th century, deists, who championed the watchmaker analogy, held that Darwin's theory fit with "the principle of uniformitarianism—the idea that all processes in the world occur now as they have in the past" and that deistic evolution "provided an explanatory framework for understanding species variation in a mechanical universe."In the United States, starting in the 1960s, creationists revived versions of the argument to dispute the concepts of evolution and natural selection, and there was renewed interest in the watchmaker argument. The most famous statement of this teleological argument using the watchmaker analogy was given by William Paley in his 1802 book Natural Theology or Evidences of the Existence and Attributes of the Deity.William Paley
William Paley (July 1743 – 25 May 1805) was an English clergyman, Christian apologist, philosopher, and utilitarian. He is best known for his natural theology exposition of the teleological argument for the existence of God in his work Natural Theology or Evidences of the Existence and Attributes of the Deity, which made use of the watchmaker analogy.