“Natural Theology” and the Natural Sciences: A Prologue

“Natural Theology” and the Natural Sciences: A Prologue March 22, 2020


The site of Axe's postdoc work
A scene at the University of Cambridge in England, where molecular biologist, intellectual historian, and theologian Alister McGrath delivered his Hulsean Lectures in 2009.
(Wikimedia Commons public domain photograph)


Over the next few weeks, probably, I’m intending to read gradually through Darwinism and the Divine: Evolutionary Thought and Natural Theology (Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011), by the astoundingly prolific Anglo-Irish theologian Alister McGrath, who holds Oxford doctorates in both divinity and intellectual history — which he earned after he had first received an Oxford doctorate in molecular biophysics.  Darwinism and the Divine emerged from the 2009 Hulsean Lectures, which he delivered by invitation at the University of Cambridge.  From time to time, I will share at least some of my notes from the book.  Here are the first of them:


The natural sciences throw up questions that insistently demand to be addressed; unfortunately, they often transcend the capacity of the scientific method to answer them.  The sciences raise questions of the greatest interest and importance, which by their very nature often go beyond the realms in which science itself is competent to speak.  One group of such questions is traditionally addressed by what is generally known as natural theology.  Might the natural world be a sign, promise, symbol, or vestige of another domain or realm?  Might the world we know be a bright shadow of something greater?  (1)


Natural theology is enjoying a renaissance, catalyzed as much by the intellectual inquisitiveness of natural scientists as by the reflections of Christian theologians and biblical scholars.  It offers an important conceptual framework for the exploration of Christian theology as a rational enterprise, and a clarification of how the inner logic of the Christian faith relates to scientific rationality.  Natural theology, in the full sense of the term, mandates a principled engagement with reality that is rigorously informed, both theologically and scientifically.  (xii)


I’m an admirer of the writing of Dr. Dr. Dr. McGrath, who is currently affiliated with King’s College, London, not only for his remarkable productivity but for the quality of his thinking and the range of his expertise.  It’s perhaps unsurprising, therefore, that I’ve written at least four columns for the Deseret News that are either about him or at least cite him:


“With Christianity, nature’s ‘fine-tuning’ makes sense”  (10 January 2013)


“Finding God through the history, philosophy of science” (2 November 2013)


“The supposed ‘war’ between religion and science and its casualties”  (17 May 2014)


“Six evangelical ‘convictions’ and Latter-day Saints”  (4 June 2015)



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