The Trouble With Natural Theology

[Written by John W. Loftus] I love the way Dr. Jaco Gericke describes the reformed philosophy of Alvin Plantinga as fundamentalism on stilts. The stilts metaphor pictures Plantinga as rising above the mire of Biblical criticism without actually dealing with the basis of his faith.

William Lane Craig repeatedly says he does not intend on debating the reliability of the Bible. Of course not, because he can't. Recently he turned down a debate against Jaco Gericke on whether Yahweh of the Old Testament exists. Yep, that's right. He said it wasn't his specialty. But wait just a minute. He's going around debating whether or not God exists, right? Then that means he believes Yahweh exists. So why can't he defend the existence of his God? It's because he can't do it. It would require him to get down off his stilts and wallow in the mire of biblical criticism which completely undermines his faith.

Which brings me to Bill Craig's specialty, Natural Theology.

When I was in school back in the 80's Natural Theology was in a state of disgrace. Not that there weren't people working in that area, because there were. Catholics have always espoused it since the time of Aquinas, and the Gifford Lecture series based on the desire to "promote and diffuse the study of Natural Theology in the widest sense of the term" has been going on uninterrupted since the late 1880's. It's just that Protestants and evangelicals didn't think that much of it for the most part. The consensus seemed to be that Christians could not argue for a theology based in reason and science. Karl Barth's voice as the greatest theologian of the past century might perhaps have been the most significant among Protestants to argue that natural theology was doomed from the start.

But a revival has taken place. Norman Geisler and his student William Lane Craig, who has become the leading voice for natural theology, have made their voices heard loud and clear in works like Geisler's Christian Apologetics, Bill Craig and J.P. Moreland's The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology and in other works like James F. Sennett and Douglas Groothuis's In Defense of Natural Theology: A Post-humean Assessment, along with the revival of intelligent design proponents like Michael Behe and William Dembski.

But let's not forget that the reason why Natural Theology fell into a state of disgrace was due to the onslaught in the 19th century with Biblical criticism. Because of Biblical criticism defenders of the faith had to resort to faith not evidence. The evidence from Biblical criticism undermined the reasons to believe. That's why Barth called upon a his generation of believers to simply preach the Bible for God will speak through it. The Bible was a witness to God's revelation not that revelation itself. It was an existentialism that derived from Kierkegaard in the midst of reasonable arguments that the Bible contained myths, legends, and forgeries that other similar cultures in ancient times shared.

The fundamentalists were put on notice and they fired back with several replies to these critics called Fundamentals but those arguments didn't win the day for a growing number of believers who became Barthians. Others like Rudolf Bultmann argued for demythologizing the New Testament to discover the kerygma, or gospel proclamation, by stripping it of elements of the first-century "mythical world" that had the potential to alienate modern people from Christian faith.

What I see as the rise of Natural Theology in recent times is based on a complete ignorance of critical Biblical studies. It's like these people never open a book published by Fortress Press, or an Anchor Bible Commentary, or a Cambridge Bible Commentary, or the many monographs published by the Society of Biblical Literature. With archaeology in the past few decades it's even worse than what Barth himself knew. Now we know ancient people shared similar views of cosmology as seen in this book by Wayne Horowitz: Mesopotamian Cosmic Geography, from which Ed Babinski argues for in a chapter for my new book, "The Christian Delusion."

These recent Natural theologians continue to act as if they know what they're defending and that it has a historical basis to it. It reminds me of the emperor who had no clothes on. They act like they have the arguments on their side and strut around like they have clothes on when in reality they're naked. Biblical criticism completely destroys the historical foundations for their faith. They are naked as jaybirds. Hello? You're naked. Get some clothes on and stop embarrassing yourselves.

Natural theology will not last long. That's my prediction. It's a passing fad. And evangelicalism is on it's way out. Evangelicals will have to get down off their stilts and see what it is they're wallowing in.

There's something else. It seems odd these authors never speak about how they came to believe in the first place. Victor Reppert didn't come to believe because of the Argument From Reason, nor did Bill Craig come to believe because of the Kalam Cosmological Argument. What they have done is to defend what they were led to believe because of an initial commitment, usually in their youth, which controls how they approach these arguments. Now they find themselves defending an Anselmian conception of God arrived at by a long process of theological gerrymandering. But they have never taken seriously the scholarship that Barth did.

There are some evangelicals who recognize the results of biblical criticism though, like Kenton Sparks, John Walton and Peter Enns. Sparks, for instance has embraced Barth. More and more will be forced to do so. Then as history moves on they will become liberals and many of them will become agnostics. It's a really slow process but it's been taking place ever since the enlightenment and reflected in how new seminaries and new publishing houses have to be started by conservatives every decade as these seminaries and publishers become more and more enlightened.

This is why I focus my critique of the Christian faith on Biblical criticism. I intend to undermine the whole basis for natural theology. My goal is to knock these natural theologians off their stilts to see the basis for their faith is not there, and in so doing show them as much as I can that they're naked. Naked as jaybirds. It's laughable to me. In my opinion that's the best way to debunk their sophisticated attempts at natural theology. And it doesn't require an immersion in that kind of philosophical literature. While it is important and I do engage them in it, I think it's not actually an undercutting defeater to what they argue for. The really true undercutting defeater is Biblical criticism.