Natural Theology and Apologetics (Groothuis)

One debate that arises in the area of apologetics is the role or place of natural theology in defending the faith.  By “natural theology” I mean the apologetic method that uses logic to derive rational arguments for God’s existence from nature.  Natural theology goes hand in hand with general revelation, the fact that God reveals himself in creation (albeit in a non-saving way; see Ps. 19 for example).

There are some objections to using natural theology for defending the faith.  For one example, Douglas Groothuis lists nine objections in Christian Apologetics (see chapter 9).  I appreciate his summary of the various objections and I also appreciate how he defends the use of natural theology in light of the objections.

The ninth point of criticism against natural theology for apologetics is that theistic arguments from nature cannot compel belief.  Since they can be resisted by rational people who are not Christians, they are of little apologetic value.  Here’s Groothuis’ response to this objection:

“…Human reasoning is a complex thing.  Theistic arguments may be quite strong in themselves ….yet not be recognized as such by people for a variety of reasons.  First, if an argument cuts sharply against an individual’s worldview, the person will be (at least initially) reluctant to give up or significantly modify his or her beliefs.  Second, someone may find such arguments threatening and simply avoid them for the sake of personal comfort in maintaining previously held beliefs.  Third, a person may (for no good reason) raise the logical bar so high that no theistic argument can reach it.  That is, he or she may insist that unless there is a deductively valid argument for God’s existence that relies on clear promises known to be true by everyone, there is no good evidence for God.  Yet that is no reason to cease arguing entirely.  Many surgeries fail to accomplish their ends, but that is no argument against surgery.  More to the point, many evangelistic overtures are declined, but that is no argument against evangelism.  As in all things, even after diligent labor, Christians leave the results in God’s hands.

In the end, the proof of the theistic proofs lies in proving, that is, in their validity and soundness, and not in theoretical musings about what they can and cannot or should and should not do.  We must simply discover whether the arguments, singly and taken together, make belief in God more credible than otherwise” (p. 184).

This is a helpful response.  The Christian apologist has a toolbox full of various tools to use in defending the faith and presenting the truths of it.  Just because one tool may not always work doesn’t mean we should throw it away!  After all, “…Since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made…. (Rom. 1:20 NIV).

The above quote is found in Douglas Groothuis’ Christian Apologetics, (Downers Grove: IVP, 2011).

Shane Lems