Natural Theology Is Incomplete but True
Nature clearly demonstrates the existence of God, but nature doesn’t show us everything God has revealed about Himself. In this brief clip, R.C. Sproul examines the teaching of Thomas Aquinas on the purpose of natural theology.
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Let’s look at the word, now, “incomplete.” What Thomas Aquinas means by that is that the knowledge of God that we gain through the creation is not a complete and comprehensive knowledge of God. It is incomplete; nevertheless, it’s true. And this was the point he was trying to make: The knowledge of God that we get from nature, though it is not as vast or as deep as the knowledge of God we get from Scripture, nevertheless it is true as far as it goes. Now, why is that significant? Well, it’s significant particularly in the light of today’s debates about natural theology. Many of the things that are said about natural theology is that not only is it inadequate and worthless, but many see it as positively harmful, because any knowledge of God that is gleaned from nature remains stripped of so much of the important content of our understanding of God that is given to us in the Bible. And so, it can give us, perhaps, Aristotle’s first cause. But there’s a long way from an abstract, first cause to the personal, redeeming Father of Jesus Christ who is revealed in Scripture. As I’ve already mentioned, what was significant for Thomas was, those who had attacked the Christian view of God leveled their attack chiefly at the doctrine of creation. And that’s true today: If one is an atheist, the most important item of Christian doctrine that needs to be demolished is this item of creation. Because if creation can be denied, then the very first teachings of the biblical record, with respect to the character of God, would fall with it. Genesis 1 begins with the affirmation, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” So, if you can attack the idea of a first cause, or of a creation altogether, then you demolish the very foundation of Christian thought. Aquinas is saying simply this: While nature may not prove the full content of God that we get from sacred Scripture, at least what does yield us, through a rational treatment of the created realm, is enough truth to stop the mouths of the atheists and of the skeptics. Because natural theology, according to Aquinas, clearly demonstrates that God is the author of the universe. And though that doesn’t tell us everything we need to know about God, it tells us something that is true as far as it goes. That’s what he means when he says that natural theology is incomplete but true. And that “true as far as it goes” is vital to the historic philosophical debates that have gone on between various forms of theism and various kinds of atheism.