Natural Theology, Old and New
The terms of the Gifford foundation leave the lecturers free as to the manner in which they deal with their subject, but the subject itself is clearly defined. It is to be natural theology. This is a term with a recognised meaning, and I intend to keep as close as I can to what the term signifies. It signifies a discussion of the existence and attributes of God, carried on by the exercise of human reason in application to the facts of common experience, but without appeal to authority in the shape of any revelation alleged to have been made by God to men. It is thus clearly distinguished from revealed theology, which is what most people understand by the world ‘theology’ today. Revealed theology either begins by assuming that a divine revelation exists, or makes it its first business to persuade the reader that it exists. It then explores the content of this revelation, setting it forth clearly and systematically and drawing out all the consequences which can be shown to follow from it. Revealed theology is the intellectual side of a revealed religion. Natural theology on the other hand is an exercise in free thinking. In real life, indeed, the natural theologian may be a believer in some revealed religion, but his business as a natural theologian is to set that belief aside and try how far he can get without it. For such a thinker, natural theology must be a sustained exercise in irony. He must continually say less than he believes, in order not to say more than he thinks he can prove.
KeywordsStandard Conception Natural Theology Existential Question Ultimate Question Sustained Exercise
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