In my view, natural theology is an essential task for Christian theology. It is an anticipation of the eschatological theology of glory in and for nature.
Jürgen Moltmann, Science and Wisdom, p 53
In 2012, Jürgen Moltmann gave a lecture entitled “From Physics to Theology: A Personal Story” for the Faraday Institute for Science and Religion (it’s well worth a listen!). Following his lecture was an extended discussion about science and theology which included the likes of John Polkinghorne and Richard Baukham. Below is a short exchange on the topic of natural theology. You can read the entire transcript for this discussion here. Enjoy!
Nicholas Lash: Jürgen, someone mentioned natural theology. I take it that we can agree on excluding what I call “Loch Ness Monster” theology. This is where human beings explore the oceans and deep down there somewhere, this cannot be God that they find, but there may be other models of natural theology such as one can reflect on, irrespective of whether it’s Judaism or Christianity. Human beings might be able to learn that all things are contingent, they might be able to learn something to the effect that we are addressed.
Now those would seem to me to be possibly coherent candidates for a pattern of natural theology. Would you agree?
Jürgen Moltmann: Well, I came from the Barthian camp and was against natural theology because Karl Barth said “No”, but when I looked more deeply into that situation in 1934 in Germany he was saying “No” to the political theology of the Nazis, not to natural theology, as it was a tradition. The tradition said natural theology makes you wise, but not saved; revelation theology makes you saved but not wise. Therefore you would need the two.
This was always the case, so natural theology was for wisdom to deal with nature and all the rest of it, but not to salvation because every recognition shapes a community with the object or the subject and the natural community with God is an indirect community, while the revelation forms a direct community with God; therefore this one is for salvation, the other is for wisdom.
Whether this is a good distinction, that’s another question. But this is only what I say to convince Karl Barth (if he can hear me!) that he should think in a different way about natural theology and he did at the end of “The Church Dogmatics [IV/3]”. But of course he worked in a situation before the ecological catastrophe.
Did we need nature to understand God? We need God to understand nature, so it’s not a revelation of God; but if I believe in God then I have a positive standpoint over against nature and this is different because nature is so much jeopardized with human destruction that we need God to defend nature over against human beings whose knowledge is power.