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Natural Theology Developed

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul
The Truth Network Radio
April 30, 2022 12:01 am

Natural Theology Developed

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul

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April 30, 2022 12:01 am

It is impossible for something to be true in the sphere of science but false in the realm of religion. Today, R.C. Sproul explains how Thomas Aquinas can help Christians understand the harmony between reason and faith.

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Is the Bible our only source of revelation from God? There are certain truths that we discover through a study of this world, an inquiry into the arena of science, that we can learn things by examining the world around us that we'll never learn by reading the Bible. Bring up the idea that God communicates through nature, and some Christians begin to get uncomfortable.

It's been a point of disagreement since the time of Thomas Aquinas in the thirteenth century. Today on Renewing Your Mind, Dr. R.C. Sproul continues his series on apologetics, and he argues that Thomas had it right. God's revelation in nature is just as truthful as God's revelation in Scripture. Here's R.C.

with more. We've been looking at the concept of natural theology as it relates to general revelation, and as I mentioned when I introduced this section of the course, that natural theology, though it's taught by Paul in Romans 1 and was explained in depth by St. Augustine early on, nevertheless tends to be identified almost exclusively with the theology of Thomas Aquinas. And many people, particularly among Protestants, have an antipathy or an allergy against natural theology as a consequence, as they see it as something inherently and uniquely Roman Catholic and therefore incompatible with Protestantism. I differ with that view, and I also see that St. Thomas has suffered from severe attacks in the twentieth century about his contribution, particularly in a negative vein, to the problems that we have in secular philosophy today. I counted Francis Schaeffer as a very close personal friend, and we did many things together. He had a tremendous influence on me, and we agreed on just about everything in the world in theology and philosophy, but the one point where we really disagreed was over his assessment of Thomas Aquinas, because Dr. Schaeffer made the statement repeatedly that it was St. Thomas Aquinas who separated nature and grace.

Now, I want to explain that a little bit today. The idea that Schaeffer talked about was that grace or supernature is up here, and nature is below it, and in between there is some barrier where the supernatural realm is somehow cut off from the realm of nature, and that's why reason and faith are seen as being opposed to one another, the natural and the supernatural, grace and nature, and so on. And my defense of St. Thomas Aquinas is this, that the last thing that ever entered Thomas's mind when he was writing his summas, his summa contra gentilis and his summa theologica, his great works on theology and apologetics, is that the last thing he was trying to do was separate nature and grace. In fact, what he was trying to do in his philosophical inquiry and defense of Christianity was to show the ultimate union between nature and grace. And so, I think to accuse him of separating them involves a serious misunderstanding of his actual teaching and his motives. And in order to understand Thomas, I think we have to ask the fundamental question, what problem was Thomas Aquinas trying to solve?

And in order to answer that question, we have to go and examine the historical circumstances in which he labored as a Christian apologist. And St. Thomas Aquinas was writing at a time when the greatest threat to the church was the onslaught of the religion of Islam. And Muslim theology was being advanced at this time in history in the Middle Ages by some powerful and potent Muslim philosophers. And these philosophers introduced a philosophy called integral Aristotelianism. Integral Aristotelianism.

Now, that may sound a little bit technical for us, but when we integrate something, we see that it fits in with other things. And so, what Averroes and Avicennes were doing as Arabic philosophers was an attempt to create a synthesis between Muslim theology on the one hand and the philosophy of Aristotle on the other, trying to merge Aristotle with Islam. And hence, they were called integral Aristotelians. And one of the central theses that they added to the philosophy of central theses that they advocated passionately was called the double truth theory. The double truth theory.

Now, I'm going to take the time to go over this, not just because we're interested in past historical controversies, but because what Aquinas was wrestling with in his time with the Islamic philosophers is so closely parallel to what we encounter in the world of contemporary thought in our own times. The double truth theory, simply stated, taught this, that something could at the same time be true in philosophy, but false in religion. Or conversely, it could be true in religion, but false in philosophy. Or to put it another way, it could be true in science, but false in theology. Or true in theology, but false in science.

Now, if I could take that idea and transfer it to our own day, it would be like this. We have people in this world who believe in macroevolution, who believe that the origin of the human race and of the universe has come to pass through the gratuitous collision of atoms and that man has emerged from the slime as a result of a cosmic accident with no definitive purpose in view and is destined to annihilation, so that the origin of humanity is in meaninglessness and the destiny of humanity is meaningless. Now, Christian theism, Judaism, Islam, all the rest, all the rest teach that we are the result of the purposive act of an omniscient, eternal, self-existent being, that God, through His wisdom and power, intentionally created human beings His own image for an eternal purpose.

Now, those two views of the origin and the destiny of human beings, I can't imagine could have any greater difference than those two approaches to human significance. Now, if we adopted today the double-truth theory, it would look like this, that as a Christian on Sunday, I believe in the divine creation of the universe and of the human race, that I am made in the image of God and that I have come into being because of His purposeful action. But then Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, I believe that I'm a cosmic accident that's emerged from the slime. I'm a grown-up germ with no significance whatsoever, and that I believe both of those.

It just depends on which day of the week I'm living. Now, the double-truth theory of the Islamic philosophers said that you can believe in creation in terms of faith and theology and at the same time as the scientists deny that affirmation. And from whichever perspective you're coming, they're both true. That's what is meant by double-truth. Even though the two sides are philosophically absolutely antithetical and irreconcilable, nevertheless, they're both true depending on whether you're looking at it scientifically or looking at it from the viewpoint of faith or of religion. It was against that idea of pure relativism that was threatening Christianity and science in his day that St. Thomas developed his apologetics of natural theology.

In order to refute the relativism of the double-truth theory. And what he did in order to address this problem was to distinguish between nature and grace, or to put it another way, to distinguish between reason and faith, between religion and science. Now, it's one thing to distinguish between two things. It's quite another to separate them. I tell my students in the seminary that one of the most important distinctions they will ever learn as students of theology is the distinction between a distinction and a separation. As I've said in our radio program many times, that if I distinguish between your body and your soul, I've brought no harm to you. If I separate your body from your soul, I have killed you.

So, I hope that we see a clear difference between distinguishing and separating. Now, Aquinas said, you can and you must distinguish between nature and grace. And what he meant by that distinction between nature and grace is this, that there are certain things that we can learn from nature that we don't learn from grace. Now, what he meant there is that there are certain truths that we discover through a study of this world, an inquiry into the arena of science, that we can learn things by examining the world around us that we'll never learn by reading the Bible.

The Bible doesn't teach us anything about the circulatory system of the human body. The Bible doesn't teach us anything about molecular biology. Those are things that we discover through a careful examination of the world around us, through a study of nature. And that study of nature produces things that we can't learn from the Bible. At the same time, there are things that we learn from grace or from the Scriptures that we'll never learn in a laboratory. You can study nature all you want, and you'll never come up with God's way of salvation.

That comes to us from His revelation in sacred Scripture. That is a body of knowledge that is found in the Bible that's not found in the scientific laboratory. So, do you see how he's distinguishing here between what you can learn by studying nature by itself and what you can learn by studying the Bible?

Now, it's in the third category that so much of the controversy exists. Aquinas says, in addition to that knowledge that can be garnered through a study of nature and that which can be learned from the Bible, there is a third category, which he called the articular mixedness, or in some cases, which he called the articular mixedness, or in simple English, the mixed articles. And the mixed articles refer to those truths that can be known or learned, either from the Bible or from a study of nature. And chief among those articles that can be known, either from a study of nature or from a study of the Bible, is the existence of God. In other words, he's saying you don't have to read the Bible to know that God exists.

Why do you think he would say that? Because he was already a proponent of natural theology. He was saying that the Bible itself teaches us that there's another way to know that God exists, namely through a study of nature. And by the same token, you can learn of the existence of God, certainly, by opening up the pages of the Bible. Now, what happens when you open to the first page of the Bible? The very first sentence in the Bible reads, In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.

Now, some apologists make a big thing out of that. They say, look at here. On the first page of Scripture, God is announced. God is proclaimed. God is virtually, tacitly assumed. There is no attempt by the author of Genesis to prove the existence of God before he sets forth an expression and revelation of the work of God. But rather, it's just assumed that there is a God, because all it says in the beginning is, in the beginning God. And some people believe that is the death blow to apologetics, saying we shouldn't even be arguing for the existence of God, because the Bible doesn't argue for the existence of God. The Bible assumes the existence of God. And my answer to that, as well as St. Thomas's answer to that, is for the Bible to argue the existence of God would be like carrying coals to Newcastle, because it's completely unnecessary, because the God of the Bible has already, before one word of the Bible was ever written from the day of creation, has proven His existence conclusively through nature. So that when anybody comes to the Bible and picks up the Bible that tells us a whole lot more about God than we can ever learn through the study of nature, are people who come to it already having received the general revelation of God that He gives to us in nature. And so, there's no need for God to prove Himself twice, as it were.

He's already displayed Himself to every human being before they're even able to read. They can read nature at that point. And so, Augustine is saying is that the existence of God is demonstrated both by nature and by grace, and that these two spheres of inquiry, religion and science, so far from being separated and opposed to one another, are actually in agreement. And following Augustine, Aquinas taught this, that all truth is God's truth, and all truth meets at the top. That if something is true in science, then it must also be true in theology. And if it's true in theology, it must also be true in science. Now, do we ever see conflict between the scientific community and the church? We've seen it with a vengeance. We saw it in the Galileo episode.

We saw it in the Scopes trial in Tennessee. And we see this ongoing conflict between so-called scientific inquiry and so-called theological inquiry. Now, if God reveals Himself in nature and in the Scripture, and that the principal textbook of the theologian is the Bible, and the principal textbook of the physicist or the astronomer or the biologist is nature, and if God has both of these spheres as His spheres of revelation, and if God is a God of truth, then in an ideal world, there would never be a conflict between science and religion, between reason and faith, between nature and supernature, between nature and grace. This is the point that Thomas Aquinas was making.

But Thomas also understood that we don't live in an ideal world. We have the theologians over here reading the pages of Scripture and making mistakes in understanding what the Scripture says. In the second chapter, we have the theologians over here reading the pages of Scripture and making mistakes in understanding what the Scripture says. In the 16th century, virtually everybody believed in geocentricity, that the earth was the center of the solar system. Not just the pope and his bishops in Rome, but it was a point of faith for Martin Luther and John Calvin, who saw Copernicus as the center of the solar system of the earth. And what Copernicus did was he not only proved that the Ptolemaic system of astronomy was wrong, but he also proved conclusively that the church's understanding of astronomy at that point was wrong. And there's a clear case where the scientific community corrected the church. What they didn't correct was the Bible.

They corrected the Bible. And it shows the theologians can be wrong when they're studying the Scriptures. On the other hand, that doesn't mean that every time there's a conflict between the scientific community and the ecclesiastical community that it is the theologian that's wrong. When the scientists over here start talking about things coming into being out of nothing, he's not only talking bad theology, folks, he's talking terrible science because he's talking nonsense. And it's at that time you need a philosopher and a theologian to say, no, no, no, no, no.

Don't you be peddling that stuff around here. And so the church has to correct the scientists from time to time, although they get up in arms if you suggest that ever should happen. But again, what Aquinas is saying is you don't have two different spheres. And yet the culture today says if you want to believe religion, that's fine.

You go into your house and you go into your cupboard and you say your prayers and sing your hymns. And if you get some kind of emotional satisfaction out of it, that's fine. But don't call it science. Don't call it knowledge.

Don't call it truth. You're free to indulge yourself in this subjective experience that you call religion. But intelligent people don't acquiesce to that sort of thing. You see, that's what Thomas Aquinas stood up to say, you know, wait just one minute here. If you're going to be rational and if you're going to be scientific and if you're really going to be intelligent, you will be driven to the conclusion compellingly of the existence of God. And only a fool would run into his closet and say there is no God. And so he's saying that not only the Scriptures but science itself together proclaim the same truth and they support one another because God's revelation in nature is just as much the truth of God as God's revelation in the Scriptures. They are united, distinguished but united. That's why I would say about my dear friend Dr. Schaeffer, he did a disservice by saying that Thomas separated the two.

The culture separates the two. But please don't lay that at the door of Thomas Aquinas because that's exactly what Thomas Aquinas did not do. He was trying to show the harmony between reason and faith, between science and religion, between nature and grace, again with the affirmation that all truth is God's truth and all truth meets at the top. That's why Augustine before Aquinas made this challenge to his students. He told his students they ought to learn as much as they possibly could learn about as many things that they could study because wherever they found truth, they were discovering the truth of God. We see in Psalm 19 that the heavens declare the glory of God.

And Romans chapter 1 tells us that God's attributes are clearly seen through what He has made. It's good to know that Scripture and the natural world aren't fighting each other, isn't it? You're listening to the Saturday edition of Renewing Your Mind, and I'm glad you could be with us today. Each week we're making our way through Dr. R.C. Sproul's series, Defending Your Faith.

In 32 messages, R.C. looks at the history of apologetics and helps us defend the historical truth claims of Jesus. We'd like to send you the 11 DVD set of the series when you contact us with your donation of any amount.

You can reach us by phone at 800-435-4343 or online at Renewing Your Mind is just one part of Ligonier Ministries. We produce, publish, and distribute discipleship resources in multiple languages around the world. For example, Dr. Sproul's series, What Did Jesus Do?, is now available in Hindi, a language spoken by 600 million people. And we do all of this so that more people in more places may be awakened to the holiness of God. That's why we thank you for your generous donation. Next Saturday, Dr. Sproul takes a look at an intellectual battle that took place hundreds of years ago, but the ripple effect of that skirmish can be felt today. Join us next Saturday for a message titled Aquinas vs. Kant, here on Renewing Your Mind.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-04-24 19:50:10 / 2023-04-24 19:58:07 / 8

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