Category Archives: Theology of nature
Writing on the gender differences in the account of the Fall in the garden prompts me to reflect on a factor in the modern (or actually, postmodern) zeitgeist that profoundly affects our reception of the whole biblical doctrine of creation, let alone Adam and Eve. This arises from my old bogey of Promethean thinking, spelled out at length in God’s Good Earth but in brief here, but which has its own peculiar manifestation only in our times.
My wife was preparing for a Bible study yesterday, and we were discussing whether “blessed” or “happy” is the better translation in the beatitudes of Matthew 5. It turns out to have some relevance for the understanding of the theology of nature.
A commenter on Peaceful Science told how his school science teacher used to demonstrate student inattention in physics classes by saying that flies can walk on the ceiling because they are too small to be affected by the law of gravity. That’s actually quite a good introduction to this piece on the universality of providence, for the lawlike processes of nature have, theologically speaking, been historically referred to as God’s general providence.
Something odd happened during the history of the mechanical philosophy that, in effect, gave us the theology of nature which now forms our default thinking. Bacon and his chums dispensed with teleology within nature (inherent teleology) with the aim of removing Aristotelian superstition and glorifying God as the only will operating in nature. And God’s purposes for nature (extrinsic teleology) were excluded from scientific study because they were considered intractable. Science would deal only with an entirely passive nature operating under efficient causes only.
At the end of his 2018 Gifford lecture series, N T Wright tells us that the coming of Christ not only unlocks the coming new creation, but enables us to understand the present creation. The cross is at the centre of any theology of nature. I think he’s right, but this needs some careful unpacking to contribute to our theology of nature.
At the end of this section of the series on the theology of nature, a section in which I have looked at modes of divine action, I want to say a word about an alternative concept called “continuous creation”, usually put in Latin as creatio continua.
Indirectly critiquing , perhaps, the positions I’ve stated in this series, Josh Swamidass over at Peaceful Science opts for a model of creation as God’s “call and response”, exemplified by Genesis 1:11, in which God says, “Let the earth bring forth vegetation…”, and it obediently does. I think he has in mind a natural process of evolution, and/or biogenesis, set in train by God’s command or invitation.
At this point, in looking at the theology of nature, I thought it would be good to recap and refocus on where we’ve got to. A special opportunity arises from a piece on his blog by our own Sy Garte. The piece involves his very personal testimony, and in our brief conversation in comments, we mentioned the dangers of “dissecting” nature and missing its point. I’m very aware that the same danger – perhaps even more so – exists in “dissecting” his experience. But I hope he’ll forgive my using it as an example, since my aim is to broaden our view of, and wonder in, nature as God’s work, … Continue reading
If a word means everything, it means nothing. “Creation” is in danger of becoming such a word in evolutionary accounts of origins. When I asked for people’s own working understandings in a post on BioLogos not long ago, one atheist suggested it means no more than “efficient causation,” as in “the tree’s fall created mayhem.” And it’s not uncommon amongst TEs to find the word “creative” applied to truly random mutations that happen to lead to functionality – but clouds are not creative when they happen to resemble faces.
Special providence is a huge subject, both because there is a lot one could say about it, and because according to Scripture it pervades the operation of everything in the cosmos.