Every Sunday, I will share a quote from something I’ve been reading. The hope is for you, dear reader, to share your thoughts on the quote and related issues and perhaps pick up some reading material along the way!
The Beauty of Creation?
I’ve finished rereading The Open Secret by Alister McGrath. It presents a powerful picture of natural theology as touching every aspect of life.
One of the branches of evidence for the argument from design is the notion that the world in which we live is beautiful. However, many have rightly noted that there seems to be a disconnect between this picture of the world as beautiful and loving and the reality that nature is “red in tooth and claw.” Yet Christian natural theology has a more complete view of the world:
…[N]ature as presently observed, cannot be assumed to be nature, as orginally created… The creation stands in need of renewal from a God who will create all things anew… There is a profoundly eschatological dimension to an authentically Christian natural theology… The fading beauty and goodness of the world are to be interpreted in light of the hope of their restoration and renewal. (208; 206, cited below)
Christianity does acknowledge the notion that creation is “groaning” and that nature may show much disorder and vileness alongside beauty and transcendence. The former attributes are results of the fall, but as McGrath noted, Christian natural theology is eschatological: it looks ahead to a future where all things will be renewed and consummated God’s divine plan.
It seems to me this vision of the future is something which gives natural theology within Christianity a broader explanatory scope which may not be matched by other systems. By orienting this world as it is in between a broader historical scheme of creation, fall, redemption, consummation, this vision of natural theology allows for and even expects many of the observed phenomena.
What do you think? What is your view of how the beauty of creation may be balanced with some of its ugliness?
Sunday Quote– If you want to read more Sunday Quotes and join the discussion, check them out! (Scroll down for more)
“A New Vision for Natural Theology” A Book Review of “The Open Secret” by Alister McGrath– I review the book discussed in this post. It presents a vision for natural theology and apologetics.
Alister McGrath is a well-known name in Christian philosophy, science, and apologetics. His book, The Open Secret is his call to Christians to develop natural theology not just as philosophically, but as a system of theology which touches on all aspects of life.
Natural theology, according to McGrath, is not just a way to argue for the existence of God. Rather, “The enterprise of natural theology… is one of discernment, of seeing nature in a certain way…” (3). He argues that natural theology in fact should not be viewed as a system to prove the existence of God. Rather, it “addresses fundamental questions about divine disclosure and human cognition and perception. In what way can human beings, reflecting on nature by means of natural processes, discern the transcendent?” (5, emphasis his). Natural theology can be seen as an entire worldview, put forth to view the world in a certain way (17).
McGrath, after outlining his vision thus, turns to the human experience of the transcendent. He focuses on three thinkers- Iris Murdoch, Roy Bhaskar, and John Dewey (41ff). He then turns to various ways humans have accessed the transcendent (59ff) and includes an evaluation of the psychology of perception (80ff).
He once more emphasizes the need to see natural theology as a type of “seeing” (115) and turns to Jesus to demonstrate the approach McGrath favors. Jesus’ parables are a model for natural theology, argues McGrath. They are “open… the interpretation is generally left indefinite and imprecise… the imagery of the parables is readily grasped [but] their meaning is often veiled…” (120-121). Similarly, nature itself is easy to grasp, but it has hidden meanings which can only be perceived by viewing the world in a certain way (126ff).
The Enlightenment approaches to natural theology have been largely unsuccessful historically and are in need of modification (140ff).
A Christian approach to natural theology should focus on “seeing” God in the natural. God has chosen to “self-disclose in history and nature” (178) and natural theology can reveal God in nature (178ff). Christian natural theology is “eschatological… The fading beauty and goodness of the world are to be interpreted in the light of the hope of their restoration and renewal” (206).
Natural theology must also break out of its boundaries. It is not just the realm of philosophical reflection, but also opens many points of contacts with the world. It is “about perceiving nature in a certain way” (221). Beauty, goodness, and truth are all aspects of reality which can be drawn out through a Christian Natural Theology (222ff). Again,
“natural theology… cannot be regarded as ‘proving’ God’s existence. Rather, it insists that the existence of a God such as that proposed by the Christian tradition makes sense of what may be observed of the world. Such an approach holds that there is an accumulation of considerations which, though not constituting logical proof (how could experience prove anything in such a way?), is at the very least consistent with the existence of a creator God (233).
The goal is not proof but a demonstration of consistency, which will “reinforce the plausibility” of Christianity (234).
Beauty and goodness draw out the reality of the Christian vision of the world. Beauty must not be neglected in natural theology (262ff). Beauty “can… call us, seeking a response” (283). Goodness underlies the resonance with natural law and the moral truths that can be seen as built in to “the fabric of the universe” (293ff).
McGrath concludes by urging readers to see natural theology as a key to open the “mysteries” and “hidden meaning” of nature’s “open secret” (314-315). Natural theology is primarily a vision–a way of viewing the world. The goal of the natural theologian, therefore, is to show how the reality of the world resonates best with a Christian worldview.
There is little to find at fault in McGrath’s powerful work. The Open Secret has enormous depth and breadth. Few areas of development are left unexplored. As one who has great interest in natural theology and who frequently discusses it, this reader must agree with McGrath that the arguments of natural theology often don’t work as proofs so much as pointers. Few are willing to embrace Christianity due only to an argument from natural theology, but the arguments themselves can be used to show how Christianity touches and explains many aspects of reality. McGrath’s vision is really an expanded “cumulative case”; one which focuses not just on many arguments, but brings the beauty of the world and its inherent goodness (while acknowledging ugliness and evils) into the folds of natural theology.
Alister McGrath’s The Open Secret provides a vision for the development and integration of natural theology into the arts, the sciences; indeed, into every aspect of life. It is a vision that will resonate with readers and drive them to see Christianity as an integrated whole. The book is, without a doubt, a must read.
Alister McGrath, The Open Secret (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2008).
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