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Systematic Theology - Volume I
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§ 2. The Facts of Nature Reveal God.

Those who deny that natural theology teaches anything reliable concerning God, commonly understand by nature the external, material universe. They pronounce the ontological and teleological arguments derived from the existence of the world, and from the evidences of design which it contains, to be unsatisfactory. The fact that the world is, is a proof that it always has been, in the absence of all evidence to the contrary. And the argument from design, it is said, overlooks the difference between dead mechanism and a living organism, between manufacture and growth. That a locomotive cannot make itself, is no proof that a tree cannot grow. The one is formed ab extra by putting its dead parts together; the other is developed by a living principle within. The one necessitates the assumption of a maker external and anterior to itself, the other excludes, as is said, such assumption. Besides, it is urged that religious truths do not admit of proof. They belong to the same category with aesthetic and moral truths. They are the objects of intuition. To be perceived at all, they must be perceived in their own light. You cannot prove a thing to be beautiful or good to the man who does not perceive its beauty or excellence. Hence, it is further urged, that proof of religious truth is unnecessary. The good do not need proof; the evil cannot appreciate it. All that can be done is to affirm the truth, and let it awaken, if possible, the dormant power of perception.

A. Answer to the above Arguments.

All this is sophistical. For the arguments in support of the truths of natural religion are not drawn exclusively from the external works of God. Those which are the most obvious and the most effective are derived from the constitution of our own nature. Man was made in the image of God, and he reveals his parentage as unmistakably as any class of inferior animals reveal the source from which they sprung. If a horse is born of a horse, the immortal spirit of man, instinct with its moral and religious convictions and aspirations, must be the offspring of the Father of Spirits. This is the argument which Paul on Mars’ Hill addressed to the cavilling philosophers of Athens. That the sphere of natural theology is not merely the facts of the material universe is plain from the meaning of the word nature, which, as we have seen, has many legitimate senses. It is not only used to designate the external world, but also for the Forces active in the material universe, as when we speak of the operations and laws of nature, sometimes for all that falls into the chain of cause and effect as distinguished from the acts of free agents; and, as natura is derived from nascor, nature means whatever is produced, and therefore includes everything out of God, so that God and nature include all that is.

2. The second objection to natural theology is that its arguments are inconclusive. This is a point which no man can decide for other men. Every one must judge for himself. An argument which is conclusive for one mind may be powerless for other minds. That the material universe began to be; that it has not the cause of its existence within itself, and therefore must have had an extramundane cause; and that the infinitely numerous manifestations of design which it exhibits show that that cause must be intelligent, are arguments for the being of God, which have satisfied the minds of the great body of intelligent men in all ages of the world. They should not, therefore, be dismissed as unsatisfactory, because all men do not feel their force. Besides, as just remarked, these arguments are only confirmatory of others more direct and powerful derived from our moral and religious nature.

3. As to the objection that religious truths are the objects of intuition, and that intuitive truths neither need nor admit of proof, it may be answered that in one sense it is true. But self-evident truths may be illustrated; and it may be shown that their denial involves contradictions and absurdities. All geometry is an illustration of the axioms of Euclid; and if any man denies any of those axioms, it may be shown that he must believe impossibilities. In like manner, it may be admitted that the existence of a being on whom we are dependent, and to whom we are responsible, is a matter of intuition; and it may be acknowledged that it is self-evident that we can be responsible only to a person, and yet the existence of a personal God may be shown to be a necessary hypothesis to account for the facts of observation and consciousness, and that the denial of his existence leaves the problem of the universe unsolved and unsolvable. In other words, it may be shown that atheism, polytheism, and pantheism involve absolute impossibilities. This is a valid mode of proving that God is, although if be admitted that his existence after all is a self-evident truth. Theism is not the only self-evident truth that men are wont to deny.

B. Scriptural Argument for Natural Theology.

The Scriptures clearly recognize the fact that the works of God reveal his being and attributes. This they do not only by frequent reference to the works of nature as manifestations of the perfections of God, but by direct assertions. “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handy-work. Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night sheweth knowledge. There is no speech nor language, where their voice is not heard. Their line is gone out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world.” (Ps. xix. 1-4.) “The idea of perpetual testimony,” says Dr. Addison Alexander,88Comm. on Psalms, in loc. “is conveyed by the figure of one day and night following another as witnesses in unbroken succession. . . . . The absence of articulate language, far from weakening the testimony, makes it stronger. Even without speech or words, the heavens testify of God to all men.”

The sacred writers in contending with the heathen appeal to the evidence which the works of God bear to his perfections: “Understand, ye brutish among the people: and ye fools, when will ye be wise? He that planted the ear, shall he not hear? He that formed the eye, shall he not see? He that chastiseth the heathen, shall not he correct? He that teacheth man knowledge, shall not he know?” (Ps. xciv. 8-10.) Paul said to the men of Lystra, “Sirs, why do ye these things? We also are men of like passions with you, and preach unto you that ye should turn from these vanities unto the living God, which made heaven and earth, and the sea, and all things that are therein: Who in times past suffered all nations to walk in their own ways. Nevertheless he left not himself without witness, in that he did good, and gave us rain from heaven, and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness.” (Acts xiv. 15-17.) To the men of Athens he said: “God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that he is Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands; neither is worshipped with men’s hands, as though he needed anything, seeing he giveth to all life and breath, and all things; and hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation; that they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find him, though he be not far from every one of us: for in him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said, ‘For we are also his offspring.’ Forasmuch then as we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and man’s device.” (Acts xvii. 24-29.)

Not only the fact of this revelation, but its clearness is distinctly asserted by the Apostle: “That which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them. For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse: because that when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful.” (Rom. i. 19-21.)

It cannot, therefore, be reasonably doubted that not only the being of God, but also his eternal power and Godhead, are so revealed in his works, as to lay a stable foundation for natural theology. To the illustration of this subject many important works have been devoted, a few of which are the following: “Wolf de Theologia Naturali,” “The Bridgewater Treatises,” Butler’s “Analogy,” Paley’s “Natural Theology.”


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