Revelation about God from Nature – Natural Theology

Coming now to the knowledge that man in Paradise would have of God, we must notice first of all that there man would be able to reason correctly from nature to nature’s God.[1] But the meaning of this fact should be taken in connection with what we have said when discussing the true theistic conception of physics. We may perhaps best bring out what we mean by saying that man could originally reason from nature to nature’s God by contrasting it to what is usually been meant by that statement. In the first place, when men say that we can reason from nature to nature’s God they usually take it for granted that nature as it exists today is normal, and that the human mind which contemplates it is normal. This is not true. Nature has had a veil cast over it on account of the sin of man, and the mind of man itself has been corrupted by sin. Accordingly, we must not, now that sin has entered the world, separate natural theology from theological psychology.[2] After sin has entered the world, no one of himself knows nature aright, and no one knows the soul of man aright. How then could man reason from nature to nature’s God and get anything but a distorted notion of God? The sort of natural theology that the sinner, who does not recognize himself as a sinner, makes is portrayed to us in the first chapter of Romans.

In the second place, when men speak of reasoning from nature to nature’s God, they do not usually recognize the difference between thinking of nature and man as proximate and derivative starting point and thinking of man as an ultimate starting point. It was this point that we sought to bring out under the headings of a Christian conception of physics and a Christian conception of psychology. Then man reasoned from nature to nature’s God in Paradise, he did not begin from nature as from something that was known to him independently of God in order thus to reason to God of whom he did not know. The phrase that we must reason from the known to the unknown[3] is in itself formal and misleading. The question is as to what is known and what is unknown. As Christian theists, we could certainly never allow that the universe was originally known to man before God was known to him. The cosmos-consciousness, the self-consciousness, and the God-consciousness would naturally be simultaneous.[4] To use a phrase that Hocking uses with an idealist meaning instead of a Christian meaning, we may say that the God-consciousness would have to come in at the level of man’s sensation if it was ever to come in at all. Man would at once with the first beginning of his mental activity see the true state of affairs as to the relation of God to the universe as something that was known to him in order afterwards to ascertain whether or not God exists.[5] He would know that God is the Creator of the Universe as soon as he knew anything about the universe itself.[6][7] – CVT, Introduction to Systematic Theology 2nd ed., 133-134

  1. [1]45. To begin the final series, we have revelation about God from nature. (C.1 in the outline), which Van Til calls “natural theology.” For many Reformed people the latter expression is a problem because of its Thomistic implications. Van Til is quite aware of the dangers of “natural law” and the kind of theology that attempts to build an edifice of preliminary truths on nature alone as revealer by means of unaided human reason. But he is quite comfortable asserting that nature is a source of revelation. In the lines that follow, he shows two flaws in what is usually meant by “reasoning from nature’s God”: (1) Because we are fallen, there is a veil cast over nature so that it is not clearly understood. (2) Because we are finite, we are dependent on God as the source of revelation, not on nature as an independent source. – Ed.

    Post author’s note: I disagree with Edgar’s assertion above that natural, or general revelation, is “not clear”, at least in a limited way; Van Til again and again affirms that general revelation is perspicacious. On the other hand, in a limited way, I agree that nature is not as clear as it once was, in a creation unmarred by sin. The issue does not seem to be that nature is unclear, albeit fallen – it seems to be that man’s faculties are faulty, and marred by sin – and that nature, along with man’s intellect, has been made “cloudy”, like water containing particulates that remain insoluble. These noetic effects leave man unable to properly process that revelation, and they instead suppress that truth in unrighteousness. Further, while they know God exists in a general sense, and while natural revelation leaves them without excuse insofar as their actual nature, and responsibility to God for it, they cannot “get there from here” insofar as salvific knowledge and proper understanding of the transcendent God as He truly is, without the transformed mind of a believer regenerated by the power of the Spirit. See the author’s Exposition of Romans 1.16-2.16 within In Antithesis V.1 No. 1, or in the cited volume, pgs. 50ff. for more explanation.

  2. [2]Emphasis in original
  3. [3]Emphasis in original
  4. [4]Emphasis in original
  5. [5]William Ernest Hocking, The Meaning of God in Human Experience: A Philosophic Study of Religion (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1912), 154-55, 204, 269, 286, 301-302, passim. -Ed
  6. [6] Emphasis in original
  7. [7]Post author’s note: Notice here that Van Til’s emphasis on an inability to “reason from nature to nature’s God” is one drawn from the necessary consequence of the noetic effects of the fall. This inability is part and parcel with that same man’s inability to keep the law of God, or to worship Him rightly. That is the driving force behind his apologetic, and behind this particular emphasis on man’s inability. It is involved in man’s ethical and intellectual endeavors – in fact, those two are well-nigh inextricable.

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