The limits of Natural Theology

stanley-hauerwasFollowing up his book With the Grain of the Universe, Hauerwas adds a few more comments to his take on natural theology in Performing the Faith. In his previous work he forgot to reference his deep indebtedness to Preller’s Divine Science and the Science of God. The gist of Hauerwas’ appreciation of Preller is how the man is able to go on believing when our beliefs cannot ultimately be proved. Even if God can be proved, ontologically for instance, we are still unable to prove things about the character of God, which happens to be the most important thing in need of proof. Therefore, natural theology is unintelligible apart from a full doctrine of God. God is known by revelation in other words, not by nature and reason. Even though God cannot be proved, or at least it is shown to be unhelpful to do so here, that does not mean that speech about God, or making claims about the way things are, is unbeneficial. At this juncture Hauerwas moves onto Wittgenstein to show how our speech is action that makes connections between the contingencies of our existence that reveals its beauty; meaning philosophical inquiry has no end. For Wittgenstein, comprehending the world ultimately fails because theories dull us to the wonder of the particulars in life. Our explanations only go so far and we are left ‘wondering’ at a world that exists with or without explanations. Since we must learn a language prior to reflecting on the world, pride hinders our ability to see the world correctly because in doing so we deny our dependence and contingency on others who give us speech. Therefore, for reality to be known rightly the agent viewing nature must at least be transformed in a certain way. Hence, why ‘God talk’ is still beneficial even when it cannot ultimately be proved true.

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3 responses to “The limits of Natural Theology”

  1. breadandsham says :

    Without one leg of “revelation” all we are left with is deism, I think. It is rational to see the cosmos and deduce the existence of an intelligent designer, but we would be left guessing about the nature of that designer if we did not have the other half of revelation. This agnostic approach is very contemporary. It is merely Descartes played out.

    • Matt Cullen-Meyer says :

      I think that’s an excellent way of putting it. While it seems that philosophy is always incomplete without theology, the reverse is also true.

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