Monday, December 15, 2014

Natural Theology and the Reformed Objection

Laura L. Garcia, "Natural Theology and the Reformed Objection." In Christian Perspectives on Religious Knowledge, eds. C. Stephen Evans and Merold Westphal, 112-133. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1993.

Laura Garcia's essay, "Natural Theology and the Reformed Objection" is a response to an influential paper presented by Alvin Plantinga, "The Reformed Objection to Natural Theology." Garcia defines natural theology as "the attempt to demonstrate certain truths concerning God's existence and nature, operating from premises that are knowable by any rational person independently of divine revelation" (112). This tradition goes at least as far back as the thirteenth century with Thomas Aquinas if not earlier. The Catholic faith have argued for the compatibility of faith and reason since its beginning.

Garcia notes that Plantinga gives at least four reasons for rejecting the project of natural theology:

" (1) Philosophical proofs are not the actual source, for most believers, of their assent to God's existence and his natural attributes; (2) such proofs are unnecessary for believers to be rationally justified in their beliefs about God; (3) the project of natural theology succeed (or, less contentiously, has not succeeded to date); (4) philosophical proofs are an improper source of religious belief, since they will lead to a faith that is unstable and wavering" (112). In a surprise move, Garcia claims that those who argue for natural philosophy do not necessarily disagree with Plantinga's assertions. She states that in this essay she will try to show how Thomas Aquinas "would accept both (1) and (2) without hesitation" (112). She thinks that Aquinas would think that (3) has succeeded in some sense. An example would be the writings of Aristotle. This seems even to be supported from Romans 1 where Paul says that the divine is seen in what has been made.

In addition, she notes that "it is a dogma of the Catholic faith that the existence of God can be known with certainty from created things" (113).

She thinks the real objection lies in (4).

She shows how the proponents of natural theology is not the adversaries in this dispute. Garcia writes:

"I believe the crux of the Reformed objection to natural theology can be found in item (4), the claim that it leads to an unstable and wavering faith, that it will leave the believer susceptible to doubt and to the fluctuating tides of human opinion. Instead, believers are supposed to hold fast their faith, to resist temptations to doubt, to believe with a kind of assurance or certitude" (113). She goes on to say that the true adversaries to the Reformed objection are the evidentialists and positivists. She believes that Plantinga's project is "an attempt to preserve this assurance of faith and to show how it can be rationally justified even in the absence of compelling evidence for what believers hold" (113). Not everyone will agree with Garcia's conclusions. However, I think it is good to understand the other side in disagreeing with them. Protestants have misinterpreted Thomas Aquinas for a long time. It is good that Catholics and Protestants are talking to one another.

Garcia does a good job in addressing the objections of Alvin Plantinga. I do not know if he would necessarily agree with her that his objections are addressed. She does show that there is common ground between Aquinas and Plantinga. It seems to me that one can be both Reformed and a Thomist. The important thing is that both sides accept that faith is rational. As she says, it is the positivists and the rationalists that disagree.

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