Academic journal article Logos: A Journal of Catholic Thought and Culture

Understanding the Creator from the Things That Are Made

Academic journal article Logos: A Journal of Catholic Thought and Culture

Understanding the Creator from the Things That Are Made

Article excerpt

IN A WELL-KNOWN PASSAGE in Romans, St. Paul writes: "For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of men who by their wickedness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. Ever since the creation of the world his [God's] invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, have been clearly perceived in the things that are made" (Rom 1:18-20). This doctrine is also found in the Hebrew scriptures, especially in the Wisdom literature. Psalm 19:1 reads: "The heavens are telling the glory of God, and the firmament proclaims his handiwork." And Wisdom 8:1 affirms: "She [Wisdom] reaches mightily from one end of the earth to the other, and she orders all things well."

These scriptures became the basis for the Christian teaching that God could be known by reason from the things that were made. This argument remained persuasive throughout most of the Christian tradition, down to the twentieth century. And yet today it is widely regarded as unconvincing. Very few theologians resort to arguments from nature to God--what is known as natural theology. Generally, the philosophy of nature has been turned over by default to natural scientists. (1) If theologians advance arguments for God's existence at all, they are likely to begin not with the external world, but with an analysis of the human subject, as in the theologies of Karl Rahner and Bernard Lonergan, or with a kind of revelational positivism in which the revelation of Christ in the Christian scriptures becomes the starting point (rather than the natural world). My query in this article is: Can we still claim that God can be known from the things that are made by reason and apart from revelation? In considering this claim, I will first look briefly at the Christian tradition. Second, I will consider modern atheistic interpretations of nature, especially that of Richard Dawkins. Finally, I will argue that we can, indeed, know something of God from the things that are made.

I. Christian Tradition

The comparison of what has been called the "Book of Creation" with the "Book of Scripture" seems to go back at least to the fourth-century writer St. Ephrem the Syrian:

The keys of doctrine which unlock all of Scripture's books,
have opened up before my eyes the Book of Creation,
The treasure house of the Ark, the crown of the Law.
this is a book which above its companions has in its narrative
made the Creator perceptible and transmitted His actions;
It has envisioned all His craftsmanship,
made manifest His works of art. (2)

Ephrem's comparison of the two books through which God is made known is not shared by Paul, for he seems to think that God is made known in the Book of Creation only by "the keys of doctrine." So the knowledge of God in creation is not open to unaided reason, but only to reason enlightened by revelation. This is a point to which I will return at the end of the article.

Writing somewhat later than Ephrem, Augustine argues in many places that the created world points beyond itself to its Creator. He offers one example in the Confessions:

  See, heaven and earth exist, they cry aloud that they are made,
  for they suffer change and variation. ... They also cry aloud
  that they have not made themselves: "The manner of our
  existence shows that we are made. For before we came to
  be, we did not exist to be able to make ourselves." And
  the voice with which they speak is self-evidence. You,
  Lord, who are beautiful, made them for they are beautiful.
  You are good, for they are good. You are, for they are.
  Yet they are not beautiful or good or possessed of being
  in the sense that you their Maker are. In comparison
  with you they are deficient in beauty and goodness
  and being. (3)

In his five proofs, or demonstrations for God, Thomas Aquinas also begins with the world, the things that are made, and argues from there to the existence of God. …

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