What are the essence, strengths and weaknesses of natural theology?
Written By Ffion Allcock Date:24/10/2018
Natural theology tries to explain and prove the existence of God, the purpose of God, through nature and the use of human resources. It can be split into two types of knowledge: natural and revealed. ‘Natural’ is based on the existence of God and the traits that he/she had through natural power of sense and reasoning, looking at the power of God, his/her purity and existence based on the focus of the appearance of Earth. ‘Revealed’ is information about God, revealing some kind of divine truth or knowledge and passed through communication. This is set down in the Bible or Christian Scared Writings e.g. the word of God.
Bringing the two forms of thought together is the essence of Natural Theology.
Understanding the need for purpose.
Natural Theology aims to prove God exists through order, complexity, and purpose. To do this, philosophers looked at objects to understand their purpose and why they may have it. This they believed, produced evidence that God existed and his influence on the object. Philosophers included Thomas Aquinas, William Paley, and Michael Behe, each looking at the world and items in it, trying to determine purpose, complexity, and order in the Universe, on Earth or with God.
Thomas Aquinas created the ‘The Archer’. This was his fifth theory to prove the existence of God and uses an archer with arrow as the basis of the thought. The archer fires the arrow and it goes flying through the sky. Therefore, the archer has given the arrow a purpose. Aquinas believed that everything in the universe had a purpose and the purpose has been given by the designer, God.
This theory can then be put into an argument. (investigations, 2012) The argument of Natural Theology. “Premise 1 – there is order and complexity in the universe e.g. the changing of the seasons or the working of the human eye. Premise 2 – a thing that exhibits order and complexity has a designer. Conclusion -The universe has a designer referred to as God” (investigations, 2012).
This argument can be classed as an inductive argument, as the premises follow through to the conclusion supporting it in the end. Other scholars that follow the same argument are William Paley and Michael Behe.
William Paley created the ‘Watchmaker’ to demonstrate that each object has an element of the designer in it – good and bad. This is reflected in the purpose of the object, a watch is complex and has a purpose of telling the time, which means the designer is the watchmaker. He creates the purpose as he/she is the designer, creating the object, in this case, the watch and time. According to Paley the world is complex and has a purpose, to sustain life. The world, therefore, must have had a designer – God- and must have an element of God in its creation, to sustain life. (investigations, 2012)
Michael Behe is different – an argument to contradict evolution as items like the human eye and bacterial growth are too complex to just appear out of nowhere. So they must have been designed by someone or something, so there has to be a designer, which he concludes is God (investigations, 2012). So this theory is beyond the simple purpose and tries to determine that objects or some objects will require additional knowledge beyond the object’s normal state – therefore evolution is not complete, the Designer applying additional knowledge to the purpose.
Strengths of the argument.
As an inductive argument, its premises provides the reasons supporting a probable truth or conclusion. These are so compelling that, if true, then the conclusion will not be false. Order, complexity, and purpose are the basic elements of the theory and can be seen, experienced and understood through everyday actions of a person, an object or elements of the Universe – many things have an order from atoms to random patterns in snowflakes. Complexity exists in design and interaction and things do exist to have a purpose. When looked at, it can seem as everything has the perception of design.
The concept also evolves with change. It can be seen that there is order and complexity in the world through the human eye. The vision seen cannot be denied but it can be reinterpreted by each using the basic three criteria. So experience enhances it – it does not have to rely on fixed definitions accepted precisely by everyone. It also permits the argument to change if new evidence is found.
It explains life and its objects, is easily understood and examples easy to create. It demonstrates a range of explanations e.g. the ‘Watchmaker’ relates to our experience and tries explaining the complexity of life or the creation of the Universe. It makes a connection between objects, Earth and Universe – the relating vastness of the universe and its purpose through the argument with the individual – all being connected by the same three elements and being designed by a designer. It, therefore, supports the ideas of God existing, the power involved and intelligence – he/she described as the designer of the Universe and supporting ideas that God was involved in the history of the universe, being ‘all powerful and all knowledgeable’.
Weaknesses of the argument
The argument is based on three elements that have no precise definition – purpose, order, and complexity. What is one to one is not to another? So the premise cannot lead to a predictable conclusion as their strength will vary. For example, what is the purpose of stone? To hold up earth and soil above it, erode to sand once exposed to rain or wind, provide shelter through its holes and caves. Is this its divine purpose or application by use or experience?
Yes, the elements are strong but the relationship between them can be challenged. Equally, personal experience or interpretation may lead to a probable conclusion based on that experience Descartes ‘suppose that I do not have hands or even a body’, Descartes is doubting a dream he is having but he goes on to say that the dreams must come from real thing ‘things like eyes, heads, hands, and bodies are not imaginary, but real’ showing his internal conflict of whether to believe it is real or not’ (John Perry, 2013).
The whole theory of a single interface with the three elements assumes that the three elements may be applied to all arguments in the same way but circumstances will change – ‘people have experienced houses being designed and built but people have not experienced a world being designed and built’ Philosopher David Hume. Paley’s argument demonstrates this further, as one example may be greater or more complex than and therefore cannot be considered using the same basic principles as complexity in one out ways the other.
It also implies that there is one creator without definition or characteristics and that he/she leaves an element of themselves in the object created that cannot be identified and everything has to be created. So if a person then creates an object is the process different to that of God’s? If not, then if everyone creates there must be more than one designer, not one and not everything created is unique. Hume ‘the universe is unique and people cannot make assumptions about the creation of unique items’ implying anything is possible when something is unique and that there is not a single designer by saying ‘the world may be designed, but there may be more than one designer’. (Richetti, n.d.) (Humes, n.d.)
If purpose is to be considered, all purpose comes from God. Good and bad actions are elements of purpose – whether applied or implied. God is portrayed as a caring yet, in the world, there is suffering and hatred. So if God created the Earth and all objects, why apply evil purpose and cruelty? Is this an element of him/herself the creator or not. The theory does not seem to offer an explanation to an object’s behavior that may not be in harmony with another. Indeed, the theology does not really tell people about the designer of the Universe.
Natural theology tries to prove that God exists, an argument can be formed and be broken down simply and easily, changed to fit more than one consideration. However, it appears to require the acceptance of God first rather than the proof later, trying to demonstrate how God’s power stems down to all things in the universe. It seems to convey that there is only one designer who creates everything leaving little option for additional designers and doesn’t describe Gods characteristics. It does try to show the interrelationships between the world and universe through the elements of complexity and order but doesn’t explain the laws between them as this is the power of God rather than the directions of the objects themselves.
It doesn’t explain the beginning of how did it all start. As a benefit, the theory does make an understandable argument of where an individual may exist in relation to the world if a single creator applied their power and knowledge to an object or planet but doesn’t explain whether this is the knowledge of God or their own for instance cruelty.