Some objections to natural theology

[An old and beloved professor of mine put up five objections to proving God’s existence at Strange Notions. I formulated some objections on the comment thread but then started fiddling with them and expanding them here. My intuition about the last three objections is that they are pointing to how metaphysics has a different mode of proof than physics or math. The first objection, I think, is a way of seeing that our proofs for the existence of God require our conceptualizations of creatures to be theophanic from the start, i.e. as Augustine would put it, when we see a good thing, God is just the good, and nothing more.]

Thesis: we prove the existence of God from creatures:


1.) If one proves the existence of God from creatures, he has to negate something from his conception of the creature. This negation is either total or partial. But it cannot be total, for then he would have no concept at all and so be thinking of nothing; and it cannot be partial because then something that is by definition of a creature is being transposed to a non-creature. (cf. Edouard LeRoy, Dogme et critique or a summary by Rousselot in Théorie de concepts par l’unité fonctionnelle…etc tr. in “Essays on Love and Knowledege” p. 87-91).

2.) When we prove God’s existence from nature, God’s existence must be taken as a theoretical entity explaining facts in nature (N.B. this would be true even if we take the theory as being somehow logically necessary to accept) But the theoretical as such does not provide information about its real existence but requires additional information, which is called verification in science and which is unknown in mathematics (see ¶ 2 in #3 below)

3.) If one proves the existence of God from creatures, he appeals to the same data (e.g. moved movers, natural regularities) when proving that God exists as when proving he has certain properties. But some of the properties proved by these data are deeply paradoxical and even inconceivable (sc. a definition/ essence which, if known, would provide us information that such a thing existed; or a being that is not a being; or an intelligence that is not distinguished from or perfected by what it knows, etc.) Given that both are proved by the same data, we don’t know whether to take the existence proof as showing us that the paradoxes are to be accepted, or to take the paradoxes as as showing us that the existence is to be denied. But proving existence requires us to know that we should do the former rather than the latter. Therefore, proving the existence of God from creatures is impossible.

Compare our situation in proving the existence of God to our situation in proving the existence of other things with paradoxical qualities (black holes, non-computable numbers, fractal infinities) since in these cases the proof that such things exist is either taken from sensation (the things astronomers point to as evidence of black holes are different from the paradoxical elements which arise from theory) or else, like mathematicals, when we get a proof for existence of something we do not get information about whether it exists in reality (cf, the Pythagorean theorem does not decide the question between Platonic realism and Abstractionism).

4.) The only criterion in natural theology that something is not true of God is that it admits of a formal contradiction, and so for natural theologians, if something is not true of God, then it admits of logical contradiction. Contrapositively anything within the subject of natural theology that is free from logical contradiction is true of God. But logical possibility differs from real possibility in that the latter requires reference to the real order to be known. Therefore, we do not need reference to the real order to know what is true about God, and so a fortiori we do not need to have reference to creatures.



  1. September 11, 2015 at 3:29 am

    The first one seems fair. We ‘transpose’ something creatural. How do we do it? Perhaps by analogy. But also, we infer that the created and the uncreated have something in common. They are not incommensurable. We admit a continuity of some sort, in some respects.
    Also, why do we put forward an analogy (why does it even look like a valuable move)? Perhaps because our own thought while thinking through these consists of more than the logical tools, other workings are at work.

  2. September 11, 2015 at 6:10 am

    A metaphysician can hold that the supreme being he thinks about is also the God of the revelation (in which case, he is a natural theologian), or isn’t (in which case he is a Deist).
    This will influence the basis he uses for his thesis.
    Further, even as a theologian, he might wish to ‘show that the image proposed by the revelation’ is also rationally true, or reasonable, or rationally plausible; or he might wish to research, to find out, to explore, to find results not given before.
    One may believe that the world and God can’t have anything in common, or common traits. Sometimes, he also believes it is revelation that teaches him so. Yet the Bible denies the radical discontinuity, because it affirms that the created, and moreover the sensible world, and God have in common the goodness: the goodness of the world, and the one in the mind of God (‘The Book of Genesis’, 1:10, 1:18, 1:25, 1:31, and of course 1:27); the revelation is one of continuity (between the Creator and the created order), they are not absolutely dissimilar. But, as thought in what syntax?
    So, back to the 1st objection: how do we know that God must be wholly unlike the created? Absolutely dissimilar, and beyond any analogy? The idea that what natural theology finds by its reasoning may be real, but can’t be God (it is, e.g., the energies …) has already been forwarded, traditionally. So, the idea that reasoning may be reliable, yet only about something distinct from God’s being. It can be supposed that natural theology has genuine results, leads conclusively to knowledge, but this doesn’t reach God, because the gap can’t be bridged, crossed. Why is this an indisputable premise? (For B. Pascal, it was an experiential direct certitude.)
    A further topic could be how is the natural theology practiced, performed? As a way of reassuring, of proving that which is already known and hold (by faith, and also by the general way of one’s thought, or by trust, or by affective experience, etc.), or as a free inquiry, a research, from a desire to know more (and in a syntax other than of the revelation’s)?
    Another angle is not the unlikeness of God and the created, but the incommensurability of God and the created reasoning mind.
    Is ever God an object for thought? What does it mean to ‘think a being’, be it a finite one? Here we might allude to the wisdom that meeting God is better than knowing theology. But this is true also of created beings: if you at least like someone, or enjoy his/her presence, this is more satisfying than reading an essay about that created being, the ‘thinking about’ can’t replace or prove a better alternative to the experience of meeting, etc.. So, the soul has requirements, innate or educated, or both.

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