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What can we learn about God from nature?

Posted By Randall D. Isaac, Friday, June 3, 2016

While the two-book model helps us understand how the two very different types of revelation of God are related to each other, there remains the long-standing question of whether a study of nature can reveal something to us about God that is not known through revelation. About 35 years ago, while teaching a Sunday School class about science and faith, I asked this question about what we could learn about God from nature. I expected answers that would support my perspective of the consistency and faithfulness of God through the trustworthiness of the laws of nature. Instead, the first hand that went up from an eager young man brought his observation that we learn that God is unpredictable. I stammered a bit but of course a teacher is always supposed to say something positive about comments from a student. It threw me off a bit but I recovered though I never forgot that response. It was burned in my memory when a few months later this young man committed suicide, jumping from the top of a cathedral in Waterbury, CT. It turns out he had schizophrenia. I was stunned. It indicated to me that we see characteristics of God in nature that reflect what we feel inside or that we have learned elsewhere.

Is there anything we can learn about God from the book of God's works that we do not first learn from his book of words? Should we be able to?

What do you make of Neal deGrasse Tyson's comments in the attached 88 second video clip? If I didn't attach it correctly, you can find it here:

Essentially, he says he is agnostic about the existence of God but seems to say that he does not see benevolence in nature, implying that if there is a Creator, that Creator might not be benevolent either. What do you make of it? I would think that we can see any attribute in nature that we want, simply by choosing what phenomena we wish to study. In other words, we only find what we want to find. Maybe we can't learn anything about God from nature unless we already know it.

Tags:  natural theology 

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David E. Singer says...
Posted Saturday, June 4, 2016
What I take from God’s book of Words is that His Holy Spirit can communicate to us from either book, as He chooses. We are also cautioned to be looking and listening; God’s message is for those who have ears to hear and eyes to see. Your example of the student’s unexpected response to what nature tells him about God serves as a good illustration. Given his frame of mind, the student saw randomness (chance) as a prevailing quality. Randomness is certainly one pervasive aspect of nature. However, reading the Psalmist may have lead him to see, instead, God’s steadfastness and reliability as paramount. Tyson’s doesn’t see nature as benevolent whereas some might see the Grizzly’s care for her cub, or the Good Samaritan’s care for the victimized stranger, or Merkel’s welcoming of refugees as model’s of benevolence, even in the context of suffering.

You ask, can we learn anything from God’s book of works that we do not first learn from his book of words? Well, if we learn of God, we’ve already made an assumption. Tyson takes the cheater’s way out; he doesn’t deny the existence of God outright, he says we can’t prove God’s existence one way or the other, and I think that’s right. But once you “see” God and look for His handiwork, it’s difficult to not see Him at work everywhere. I think it was Francis Collins who first saw God in nature and then turned to Scripture to understand more about what he “saw.” Both the Psalmist and the Apostle Paul say nature testifies to God’s character. It’s like asking what came first, the chicken or the egg?

So Randy, I agree that we only find what we want to find. Perhaps we don’t learn anything new from nature—but we certainly can be awed in new contexts and wonder at the ingenuity and beauty of God’s creation. As a believer, I’m already blinded by God’s presence. I can’t not see Him everywhere.
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Sara J. Miles says...
Posted Saturday, June 4, 2016
In my paper on "Asa Gray and Charles Darwin Discuss Teleology and Design," I point out that the reason Gray saw evolution as being teleological and Darwin couldn't was that Gray started FROM faith and saw evidences of God and Darwin was trying to start from nature/evolution and see God. David's comment is correct, I believe, that we learn of God if we've already made an assumption.

What I think we can learn about God from nature are examples of characteristics spoken of in Scripture in generalities or abstractions. God is creative. From nature we begin to see the vastness of that creativity. God is powerful. As we begin to understand the hugeness of our universe, we understand more concretely what that power must be like. God is wise. As we learn more and more about how supposedly unrelated and far-distant items are really connected, we understand more how God's creative and powerful acts of creation required a mind totally different from ours. And that learning leads us to worship with a greater sense of awe and a better sense of who God is and what God is like.
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