Proofs, Pride, And Incarnation: Is Natural Theology Theologically Taboo? -- By: Douglas Groothuis

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 38:1 (Mar 1995)
Article: Proofs, Pride, And Incarnation: Is Natural Theology Theologically Taboo?
Author: Douglas Groothuis

Proofs, Pride, And Incarnation:
Is Natural Theology Theologically Taboo?

Douglas Groothuis*

In his Pensées, Blaise Pascal left us the memorable and often remarkable fragments of what would have been his systematic defense of the Christian religion had death not tragically intervened at age thirty-nine. Despite his apologetic ambitions Pascal was an ardent opponent of natural theology, or what he called the “metaphysical proofs”1 for God’s existence. He did not argue merely that natural theology is not required for Christian belief to be rational, as does Alvin Plantinga. Pascal’s claim was stronger: Natural theology is theologically taboo. Others such as Soren Kierkegaard, Karl Barth, Herman Bavinck and Cornelius Van Til have staked similar claims.

Christians and other theists have often disagreed on the role philosophy should play in relation to the claims of revelation. Surely the faithful should avoid any philosophical method that contradicts a central tenet of the faith they are laboring to defend. Therefore for reasons of theological integrity believers should scrutinize carefully how philosophy might help or hinder faith. This paper will examine Pascal’s understanding of the noetic effects of sin in relationship to theistic arguments, consider the three dimensions of pride antithetical to Christian belief, and consider whether any of the three classical kinds of arguments for God’s existence would, if successful, foster a pride hostile to the Christian message.

I will contend that none of these theistic arguments are conducive to an anti-Christian pride and that if any or all of the arguments are epistemically effective they could provide resources for an appropriate humility before the Deity for which they philosophically argue. If this is true, theistic arguments could be employed profitably in the apologetic and evangelistic endeavors in ways not normally considered. This paper is programmatic in

* Douglas Groothuis is assistant professor of philosophy of religion and ethics at Denver Seminary, P.O. Box 10,000, Denver, CO 80250.

that I will not make a case for the philosophical virtues of any of the theistic arguments I discuss, although I think such a case can be made for some versions of the arguments. My concern is to show that there is no a priori theological reason to abandon natural theology.

I. Noetic Impairment And Theistic Arguments

Pascal’s criticisms of this method of defending Christian belief are multifaceted.2 Yet one of his more interesting arguments attacks theistic pro...

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