natural theology

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volume II: Synopsis

page 8:


The Christian Churches found their claims to be the exclusive channels for contact with God on the Bible. They believe that the Biblical texts are specially inspired by God to reveal himself to them. This notion is expressed most formally by the Roman Catholic Church, and has been recently reaffirmed by the Second Vatican Council in its Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation. Dei Verbum. Bible, Second Vatican Council - Dei Verbum

Traditional theology explains the Biblical data using hypotheses developed by ancient Greek philosophers, the 'Fathers of the Church', and their successors. The Catholic Church believes that it is guided by God in its interpretation of the scriptures. In the face of doubts expressed by nineteenth century scholars about the credibility of Catholic doctrine ('Modernism') the Church declared itself infallible at the First Vatican Ecumenical Council. Vatican I, Modernism (Roman Catholicism) - Wikipedia

Christians believe that the Bible is true revelation guaranteed by God. But is it truly divine revelation, or simply a creation of its authors, first in oral and then in written form? This question is very hard to decide on any objective evidence, and so both Jewish and Christian belief and practise is largely a matter of faith. In the case of the Catholic Church, faith is bolstered by the weight of a very large and ancient institution and strong sanctions against those members of the church who deviate from official doctrine. Faith - Wikipedia, Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith - Wikipedia

Thousands of the most acute thinkers in the world have turned their minds to the elaboration of Christian doctrine, filling in gaps in the biblical story, ironing out contradictions and translating ideas expressed in ancient languages into more modern terms. Christianity began as a variant of the Jewish religion. Later, in the 'Patristic' phase it relied heavily on the Platonic tradition of ancient Greek thought. Jacques-Paul Migne, J. P. Migne

Later, in the early middle ages, Christian theologians became involved in the rediscovery of Aristotle. Aristotle's work was transmitted to European Christianity through the early Islamic philosophers. The most important Christian student of Aristotle was Albert the Great. Albert's student Thomas Aquinas remains the most important theologian in the Catholic Church. Thomas Aquinas, Holy See: Canon 252 para 3, Early Islamic philosophy - Wikipedia, Albertus Magnus - Wikipedia

Aristotle was rather more empirical and closer to the modern idea of science than Plato. Following Aristotle, Aquinas and his contemporaries viewed the Universe as autonomous system, each element of it having a fixed nature which moved it to act in a way consistent with the overall scheme of things. This contrasted with the Platonic ideas of earlier Christian thinkers who saw the world as a shadow of another invisible world. Platonism - Wikipedia, Aristotelianism - Wikipedia

This attitude was fertile ground for science, since if the natures of things are fixed, they can be known with certainty. Gradually people began to see the Universe as an autonomous entity rather than as a puppet whose every move was determined by a God outside it. After a few hundred years of slow development, we come to Galileo (1564-1642) a pioneer of modern natural science. Galileo Galilei - Wikipedia, Natural science - Wikipedia

Here we make the assumption that the Universe, as its name implies, is everything. There is no God or world of ideas outside it. The Universe itself fulfills the role of the traditional Christian God, a position we emphasize by the statement "the Universe is divine". Given this assumption, every human experience, including the Bible and Christianity, is experience of God and so revelation in the theological sense. Given a divine Universe, Theology can become a science in the modern sense of the term.

The principal feature of science is its methodical approach to learning how the Universe really works. It proceeds by collecting data, imagining explanations for these data, and attempting to devise tests to decide which explanation lies closest to the truth. The God of science is not an arbitrary old man in the heavens, but an immense consistent system of interactions which are intelligible and predictable. The fixed properties of this system are the foundation upon which we build such things as sewerage and clean water supplies, aeroplanes, the internet, surgical techniques, effective drugs and all the other technologies that follow scientific discovery. Popper, Fortun & Bernstein

By modern standards, contemporary theology still resides in the dark ages. Our hope is that with the weakening of the institutional powers that pervert theology, it will break free and take its place among the other sciences, yielding comparable benefits for our health and welfare.

(revised 26 March 2013)

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Further reading


Click on the "Amazon" link below each book entry to see details of a book (and possibly buy it!)

Aquinas, Thomas, Summa Theologica (translated by Fathers of the English Dominican Province), Tabor Publishing 1981 'Brother Thomas raised new problems in his teaching, invented a new method, used new systems of proof. To hear him teach a new doctrine, with new arguments, one could not doubt that God, by the irradiation of this new light and by the novelty of this inspiration, gave him the power to teach, by the spoken and written word, new opinions and new knowledge.' (William of Tocco, T's first biographer) 
Canon Law Society of America, Holy See, Code of Canon Law: Latin-English Edition, Canon Law Society of America 1984 Canon 252: 3: 'There are to be classes in dogmatic theology which are always to be based on the written word of God along with sacred tradition, in which the students may learn to penetrate ever more profoundly the mysteries of salvation, with St Thomas as their teacher in a special way; there are likewise to be classes in moral and pastoral theology, in canon law, liturgy, church history and other auxiliary and special disciplines; all these classes should be in accord with the prescriptions of the program of priestly formation.' 
Fortun, Mike, and Herbert J Bernstein, Muddling Through: Pursuing Science and Truths in the Twenty-First Century, Counterpoint 1998 Amazon editorial review: 'Does science discover truths or create them? Does dioxin cause cancer or not? Is corporate-sponsored research valid or not? Although these questions reflect the way we're used to thinking, maybe they're not the best way to approach science and its place in our culture. Physicist Herbert J. Bernstein and science historian Mike Fortun, both of the Institute for Science and Interdisciplinary Studies (ISIS), suggest a third way of seeing, beyond taking one side or another, in Muddling Through: Pursuing Science and Truths in the 21st Century. While they deal with weighty issues and encourage us to completely rethink our beliefs about science and truth, they do so with such grace and humor that we follow with ease discussions of toxic-waste disposal, the Human Genome Project, and retooling our language to better fit the way science is actually done.' 
Haight, Roger, Jesus Symbol of God, Orbis Books 1999 Jacket: 'This book is the flagship of the fleet of late twentieth century works that show American Catholic theology has indeed come of age. Deeply thoghtful in its exposition, lucid in its method, and by turns challenging and inspiring in its conclusions, this christology gives a new articulation of the saving "point" of it all. ... Highly recommended for all who think about and study theology.' Elizabeth Johnson CSJ, Fordham University. 
Pais, Abraham, 'Subtle is the Lord...': The Science and Life of Albert Einstein, Oxford UP 1982 Jacket: In this ... major work Abraham Pais, himself an eminent physicist who worked alongside Einstein in the post-war years, traces the development of Einstein's entire ouvre. ... Running through the book is a completely non-scientific biography ... including many letters which appear in English for the first time, as well as other information not published before.' 
Popper, Karl Raimund, Conjectures and Refutations: The Growth of Scientific Knowledge, Routledge and Kegan Paul 1972 Preface: 'The way in which knowledge progresses, and expecially our scientific knowledge, is by unjustified (and unjustifiable) anticipations, by guesses, by tentative solutions to our problems, by conjectures. These conjectures are controlled by criticism; that is, by attempted refutations, which include severely critical tests.' [p viii]  
Albertus Magnus - Wikipedia Albertus Magnus - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia 'Albertus Magnus, O.P. (1193/1206 - November 15, 1280), also known as Saint Albert the Great and Albert of Cologne, was a Dominican friar and priest who achieved fame for his comprehensive knowledge of and advocacy for the peaceful coexistence of science and religion. . . . Albertus' writings collected in 1899 went to thirty-eight volumes. These displayed his prolific habits and literally encyclopedic knowledge of topics such as logic, theology, botany, geography, astronomy, astrology, mineralogy, chemistry, zoology, physiology, phrenology and others; all of which were the result of logic and observation. He was perhaps the most well-read author of his time. He digested, interpreted and systematized the whole of Aristotle's works, gleaned from the Latin translations and notes of the Arabian commentators, in accordance with Church doctrine. Most modern knowledge of Aristotle was preserved and presented by Albertus.' back
Aristotelianism - Wikipedia Aristotelianism - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia Aristotelianism . . . is a tradition of philosophy that takes its defining inspiration from the work of Aristotle. . . . Aristotelianism became a major part of early Islamic philosophy. Although some knowledge of Aristotle's logical works was known to western Europe, it wasn't until the Latin translations of the 12th century that the works of Aristotle and his Arabic commentators became widely available. Scholars such as Albertus Magnus and Thomas Aquinas interpreted and systematized Aristotle's works in accordance with Christian theology.' back
Bible Search, Read, Study the Bible in Many Languages 'Our mission is to increase the visibility and accessibility of the Scriptures online by providing free access to Bible study tools in many languages.' back
Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith - Wikipedia Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith - Wikipedia, the fre encyclopedia 'The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) (Congregatio pro Doctrina Fidei), previously known as the Supreme Sacred Congregation of the Holy Office, and sometimes simply called the Holy Office is the oldest of the nine congregations of the Roman Curia. Among the most active of these major Curial departments, it oversees Catholic doctrine. The CDF is the modern name for what used to be the Holy Office of the Inquisition.' back
Early Islamic philosophy - Wikipedia Early Islamic philosophy - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia 'Early Islamic philosophy or classical Islamic philosophy is a period of intense philosophical development beginning in the 2nd century AH of the Islamic calendar (early 9th century CE) and lasting until the 6th century AH (late 12th century CE). The period is known as the Islamic Golden Age, and the achievements of this period had a crucial influence in the development of modern philosophy and science.' back
Faith - Wikipedia Faith - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia ' Faith in religion is a belief in a transcendent reality, a religious teacher, a set of teachings or a Supreme Being. Generally speaking, it is offered as a means by which the truth of the proposition, "things will turn out well in the end," can be enjoyed in the present and secured in the future. This faith appeals to transcendent reality, or that reality which is beyond the range of normal physical experience (e.g. the future). back
Galileo Galilei - Wikipedia Galileo Galilei - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia 'Galileo Galilei (. . . 15 February 1564 – 8 January 1642), commonly known as Galileo, was an Italian physicist, mathematician, astronomer, and philosopher who played a major role in the Scientific Revolution. His achievements include improvements to the telescope and consequent astronomical observations and support for Copernicanism. Galileo has been called the "father of modern observational astronomy", the "father of modern physics", the "father of science", and "the Father of Modern Science".' back
Holy See Code of Canon Law: Canon 252 para. 3 '§3. There are to be classes in dogmatic theology, always grounded in the written word of God together with sacred tradition; through these, students are to learn to penetrate more intimately the mysteries of salvation, especially with St. Thomas as a teacher. There are also to be classes in moral and pastoral theology, canon law, liturgy, ecclesiastical history, and other auxiliary and special disciplines, according to the norm of the prescripts of the program of priestly formation.' back
J. P. Migne Patrologia Graeca Index 'This page lists the authors of Patrologia Graeca, without the actual texts, some of them to be found online in various web sites. Links refer to select online resources, regardless of PG. Feel free to suggest more.' back
Jacques-Paul Migne Patrologia Latina Database 'The Patrologia Latina Database is an electronic version of the first edition of Jacques-Paul Migne's Patrologia Latina, published between 1844 and 1855, and the four volumes of indexes published between 1862 and 1865. The Patrologia Latina comprises the works of the Church Fathers from Tertullian in 200 AD to the death of Pope Innocent III in 1216. The Patrologia Latina Database contains the complete Patrologia Latina, including all prefatory material, original texts, critical apparatus and indexes. Migne's column numbers, essential references for scholars, are also included. back
Modernism (Roman Catholicism) - Wikipedia Modernism (Roman Catholicism) - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia 'Modernism refers to theological opinions expressed during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, but with influence reaching into the 21st century, which are characterized by a break with the past. Catholic modernists form an amorphous group. The term "modernist" appears in Pope Pius X's 1907 encyclical Pascendi Dominici gregis.' back
Natural science - Wikipedia Natural science - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia 'The natural sciences are branches of science that seek to elucidate the rules that govern the natural world by using empirical and scientific methods. The term "natural science" is used to distinguish the subject matter from the social sciences, which apply the scientific method to study human behavior and social patterns; the humanities, which use a critical or analytical approach to study the human condition; and the formal sciences such as mathematics and logic, which use an a priori, as opposed to factual methodology to study formal systems.' back
Platonism - Wikipedia Platonism - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia 'Platonism is the philosophy of Plato or the name of other philosophical systems considered closely derived from it. In a narrower sense the term might indicate the doctrine of Platonic realism. The central concept of Platonism is the distinction between that reality which is perceptible, but not intelligible, and that which is intelligible, but imperceptible; to this distinction the Theory of Forms is essential. The forms are typically described in dialogues such as the Phaedo, Symposium and Republic as transcendent, perfect archetypes, of which objects in the everyday world are imperfect copies.' back
Prophecy - Wikipedia Prophecy - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia 'Prophecy is a process in which one or more messages that have been communicated to a prophet are then communicated to others. Such messages typically involve divine inspiration, interpretation, or revelation of conditioned events to come . . . as well as testimonies or repeated revelations that the world is divine.The process of prophecy especially involves reciprocal communication of the prophet with the (divine) source of the messages.' back
Science - Wikipedia Science - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia 'Science (from Latin scientia, meaning "knowledge") is a systematic enterprise that builds and organizes knowledge in the form of testable explanations and predictions about the universe.' back
Second Vatican Council - Dei Verbum Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation 'Dei Verbum' SOLEMNLY PROMULGATED BY HIS HOLINESS POPE PAUL VI ON NOVEMBER 18, 1965, 'PREFACE 1. Hearing the word of God with reverence and proclaiming it with faith, the sacred synod takes its direction from these words of St. John: "We announce to you the eternal life which dwelt with the Father and was made visible to us. What we have seen and heard we announce to you, so that you may have fellowship with us and our common fellowship be with the Father and His Son Jesus Christ" (1 John 1:2-3). Therefore, following in the footsteps of the Council of Trent and of the First Vatican Council, this present council wishes to set forth authentic doctrine on divine revelation and how it is handed on, so that by hearing the message of salvation the whole world may believe, by believing it may hope, and by hoping it may love.' back
Thomas Aquinas Summa Theologica Thomas Aquinas: The medieval theological classic online : 'Because the doctor of Catholic truth ought not only to teach the proficient, but also to instruct beginners (according to the Apostle: As unto little ones in Christ, I gave you milk to drink, not meat -- 1 Cor. 3:1-2), we purpose in this book to treat of whatever belongs to the Christian religion, in such a way as may tend to the instruction of beginners. We have considered that students in this doctrine have not seldom been hampered by what they have found written by other authors, partly on account of the multiplication of useless questions, articles, and arguments, partly also because those things that are needful for them to know are not taught according to the order of the subject matter, but according as the plan of the book might require, or the occasion of the argument offer, partly, too, because frequent repetition brought weariness and confusion to the minds of readers.' back
Vatican I Pastor Aeternus Chapter IV: On the infallibility of the Roman Pontiff . . . 9. Therefore, faithfully adhering to the tradition received from the beginning of the Christian faith, to the glory of God our savior, for the exaltation of the Catholic religion and for the salvation of the Christian people, with the approval of the Sacred Council, we teach and define as a divinely revealed dogma that when the Roman Pontiff speaks EX CATHEDRA, that is, when, in the exercise of his office as shepherd and teacher of all Christians, in virtue of his supreme apostolic authority, he defines a doctrine concerning faith or morals to be held by the whole Church, he possesses, by the divine assistance promised to him in blessed Peter, that infallibility which the divine Redeemer willed his Church to enjoy in defining doctrine concerning faith or morals. Therefore, such definitions of the Roman Pontiff are of themselves, and not by the consent of the Church, irreformable. So then, should anyone, which God forbid, have the temerity to reject this definition of ours: let him be anathema. back is maintained by The Theology Company Proprietary Limited ACN 097 887 075 ABN 74 097 887 075 Copyright 2000-2018 © Jeffrey Nicholls