The Thomistic (Thomas Aquinas, 1224-1274) approach to apologetics makes its appeal to natural theology. Aquinas employed the empirical tradition in philosophy which can be traced back to Aristotle. Apologetic thinkers who subscribe to the Thomistic approach do not deny the doctrine of original sin, but they seldom question the basic competency of human reason in philosophy. Of all the apologetic groups, clearly those who are of the Thomistic (natural theology) group have the most “cheerful” view of human reason (A. T. Hoover, “Apologetics” Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, Walter A. Elwell, Ed., p. 69).
Aquinas claimed that God’s existence could be established philosophically. His famous “five ways” of proof (teleological, cosmological etc.) are a posteriori arguments based upon God’s effects in the world. The “five ways” represent a natural, rational preamble. Aquinas saw a sharp distinction between nature (data open and accessible to all men), and grace (derived from revelation). A key feature that distinguishes Aquinas from presuppositional apologists is as follows: Aquinas saw the religious conclusions derived from revelation to be the perfecting, not the repudiation of the conclusions of human reason (Paul Helm, “Thomas Aquinas” The New International Dictionary of the Christian Church, J. D. Douglas, Ed., p. 61).
In 1 Corinthians 1:20-22; 2:1-6, Paul emphatically declares that the knowledge of God through Christ does not rest upon the methodology followed by the philosophers (see Bernard Ramm, “Apologetics, Bible” ISBE, 1:191). The person who knows God is one who has “become as a little child.” His starting point is the Bible’s “declaration of God.” He has presupposed the existence of the God of Scripture and consequently he believes in the infallibility of God’s Word.
The arguments for the existence of God that are used by the natural school of theology assume that man’s reason is neutral. By contrast, Scripture states that human reason is corrupted by depravity (see lessons in this syllabus on The Myth of Neutrality and The Nature of Faith).
I. The Creator’s relationship to the creation.
“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). The Bible teaches that God created the universe in six days.
A. (Gen. 1). God created the universe out of nothing. He did not use any pre-existing material or energy.
1. God did not create the universe because He was lonely or because He had to.
2. The work of creation was a free act of His will for His own good pleasure and glory (Rev. 4:11).
3. Time, space, matter, energy, spiritual beings (e.g., angels) and earthly creatures (e.g., mankind) were all created by God and owe their existence to Him. All created reality is totally and utterly dependent upon God at every moment (Heb. 1:3; Col. 1:17).
B. After God created the universe He declared it to be very good (Gen. 1:3). Therefore death, calamity, sin and evil were not original to God’s created order.
C. God’s creation of the universe teaches us that there are two completely different and separate forms of being: uncreated Being (God), and created being. There is a Creator-creature distinction. There is an inseparable gulf between created and uncreated reality.
1. God is uncreated, independent and self-sufficient. He is in need of nothing outside of Himself. Man was created. He is a creature. Man is totally, continually and always dependent upon God for his existence.
2. God is infinite, eternal, all-powerful, all-knowing and immutable (i.e., God being perfect, cannot change.) Man if finite, temporal (i.e., a creature in time), limited in power, limited in knowledge and mutable (i.e., man grows and develops; man learns; and man can sin and do evil).
D. Because God is perfect, unchanging, infinite, and all-knowing, He cannot make mistakes. He is infallible. Therefore, God must be man’s source for all truth, knowledge and ethics.
1. “In Your light we see light” (Ps. 36:9). What is true, what is good and what is right is what God says is true, good and right.
2. God’s creation of the universe teaches us that God is the sovereign Lord of everything that exists.
3. God created the universe from nothing; therefore, God owns and has absolute authority over all reality. God owns every human being. God has absolute authority and total jurisdiction over all mankind. His claims upon His creatures are absolute.
E. God’s moral authority over all mankind is expressed in His commands. Therefore, obedience and service to God are not voluntary, trivial or unimportant.
1. God commands mankind to study, believe and obey His divine revelation, the Bible. The God who created, and who sustains all creatures every moment will some day judge all men (Rev. 20:11-15).
2. God’s creation of the universe shows His kindness and goodness. God created the earth and proclaimed it to be very good (Gen. 1:31). The beauty of the world God made for us to enjoy is intended to move us to thanksgiving for His incredible creation.
3. Those who know God thank Him every day for His fantastic and glorious creation. The antitheist attributes the bird’s song, the seasons and the stunning wonders of creation to nothing more than atoms floating randomly in the void. The natural man subscribes to the absurd notion of a chance universe where unthinking particles somehow formed galaxies, stars, planets, fish, birds, animals and people.
F. The concept of a universe based upon chance is a concept formed by the fallen intellect of man.
1. “Pseudo-science” believes in much more incredible miracles than any Bible-believing Christian does. It’s just that the world view of evolutionary naturalism postulates that their “miracles” occur very slowly (over billions of years).
2. Evolution is a religious faith without empirical evidence. It is a philosophical absurdity (that chance and chaos can produce order, complexity, purpose and meaning).[i]
3. Why is evolution so popular today? Because people love their sin and do not want to make peace with God. They prefer to retain their imagined autonomy, they refuse to submit to their Creator.
II. Male and female are created in the image of God
The Bible teaches that man and woman were created in the image of God (Gen. 1:26-28).
A. To be created in the image of God is to be as much like God as a creature could possibly be and yet remain a creature.
1. As the image of God, man is able to reason, to feel, to solve problems, to interpret his environment, to reflect upon his own behavior, to create and to relate.
2. Man the “namer” of things, man the researcher, man the lover of beauty and man the fashioner of culture are all a function of bearing the image of God.
B. Being made in the image of God has comprehensive holistic implications. The meaning and purpose of the human race is grounded in the truth that man is made in the image of God.
1. Thus, mankind’s existence as the image of God is inseparable from the answer to every ultimate question. (Ultimate questions concern man’s origin, purpose and destiny – “Why are we here? Where did we come from? Who are we? etc.”)
2. Man as the image of God is inseparable from man’s origin and destiny. (Carl Sagan, representing the evolutionary world-view, expressed great optimism that the discovery of extraterrestrial intelligence would answer the ultimate question, “Who are we?” Isn’t interesting that Sagan, who rejects the Creator’s authoritative revelation, would submit his intellect to the mind of an E.T.?)
3. Being made in the image of God explains who we are. The image of God first and foremost defines man’s constitution, purpose, significance and existence.
4. The image of God is the source of man’s dignity. Man’s honor and worth are a function of man having been formed in God’s image. It is this image that establishes man’s uniqueness, setting him apart from the animal kingdom (Jer. 9:23,24).
C. Man’s purpose and significance are bound to his identity as the image of God.
1. The meaning of man flows from God’s definition of man. Why does man matter at all? Does man make a truly lasting contribution besides passing on his genetic code to the next generation? Is it possible to make a contribution that can never be lost? The answer lies in man’s created purpose.
2. Man’s design and purpose belong together. Man is a “covenant” being, designed by God to fulfill purposes that are both physical and spiritual. Man’s role and task under God is that of a steward, a subduer, a laborer, an inventor and a builder. As prophet, priest and king, man not only rules over the works of God’s hands, he also interprets all things by the Word of God and dedicates all things to the glory of God (Ps. 8).
3. The image of God is the reason why man cannot be accurately designated an advanced animal. (Man is qualitatively not quantitatively different than the animals.) [ii]
4. As the image of God, man is to reflect the divine attributes – Lev. 11:44ff; 1 Pet. 1:15,16 (e.g., attributes of love, righteousness, truth etc.).
a.) Man only functions as a faithful steward of the world and a truthful interpreter of the universe when he is thinking God’s thoughts after Him (that is by Scripture dominating exceptionally in his intellect).
b.) Man’s ability to carry out this cultural calling and divine mandate is a function of his submission to God’s revelation, the Bible.
D. Man’s privilege and responsibility are a function of bearing the image of God. It is an inestimable privilege to be the only order of creatures made in the image of God. God’s condescension is seen in His crowning of man with dignity and honor and in His placement of man over the works of His hands (Ps. 8).
1. But man’s greatest responsibility is seen in the fact that the image of God is a moral image. Man is designed to reflect the righteous character of God.
2. Man’s effectiveness in reflecting the character of his Creator depends upon his willingness to obey God’s commands. God’s commandments form a fence or barrier that mark out man’s moral path on earth (Jer. 6:16; 18:15).
III. Redemption restores man’s ability to glorify God as His image-bearer.
As the image of God, man was created to receive God’s revelation. This is the only way that he can know truth with certainty.
A. Apart from God’s authoritative Word, the Bible, man is set adrift on a sea of epistemological uncertainty that leads to despair (i.e., apart from the Bible, man has no hope whatsoever of finding absolute truth).
1. The Bible stresses that God can only be known through His authoritative Word, the Holy Scriptures.
2. Since God is perfect in holiness and righteousness, He cannot permit man’s fallen nature to be the ground of acceptance before Him.
3. Fallen man is totally incapable of generating a righteous work that is recognized by God as meritorious. God’s standard of righteousness is His own absolute holiness (Rom. 10:1-3).
B. God’s plan of redemption reveals His righteousness, compassion, love and justice. God’s gracious character is revealed in His provision of a perfect Substitute who acts in the room and place of fallen man.
1. The divinely appointed Substitute supplies the perfect righteousness God law requires. The Substitute gives His life to satisfy the justice demanded by the law of God.
2. The key is that the Substitute for fallen man is God’s only begotten Son. He is the perfect, unfallen image of God – very God and very man. The second Person of the Godhead took on human nature in order to become our Substitute. In that redemptive role, He restored the broken image of God that was lost in Adam’s fall. (Those who put their faith in the Substitute are set right with God and restored as reflectors of His righteousness and truth.)
VI. The cruelty of evolution’s lie is seen in its attempt to overturn the truth of man’s identity as the image of God.
A. By denying that man is made in the image of God, evolution denies man’s only hope. For God’s plan of redemption involves the restoration of sinful, fallen man by a perfect image-bearer, the Lord Jesus Christ.
1. The divinely appointed Substitute came to restore what was lost in Adam. If evolution is true and man is only an accidental product of mechanistic determinism, then redemption is unnecessary.
2. By rejecting the truth that man was created in the image of God, evolution contradicts the Person, character and commission of the divinely appointed Substitute.
B. Evolutionary naturalism is religious in nature.
1. Naturalism may be broadly defined as the world-view which states that nature or the material world is all there is. The origin of life is attributed to impersonal, natural laws and mindless processes.
2. Naturalism embraces evolution as its universal. In other words, evolution is seen as the unifying “truth” by which the numerous particulars of our existence may be interpreted. (Everything from quasars to ladybugs is attributed to evolution. Evolution is also the interpretive “grid” through which the relationship of all things to one another is viewed. )
C. Naturalism is the wholesale rejection of God’s revelation (“wholesale,” because naturalism rejects the testimony of God’s wise design in nature and it rejects God’s witness in Scripture of man’s sinful condition and need of redemption).
1. Naturalism views man’s mind as ultimate (thus able to answer ultimate questions without divine assistance).
2. By rejecting God’s truth about the creation of man and the universe, naturalism posits a radically different “reality” that is materialistic. [iii]
D. As a consequence of denying God’s revelation, man must find counterfeit sources of dignity, purpose, significance, responsibility and ethics.
1. As man looks to material sources for his ontological needs, he inevitably worships and serves the creature and the creation (Rom. 1:25).
2. When man gives credit to nature for creating itself, the processes of the physical world are “deified.” Chaos, time and chance become the pagan trinity responsible for all existence.
E. The Bible exposes naturalism as a lie chosen by men seeking to give intellectual credence to their rebellion against God.
1. Those who seek refuge in naturalism are attempting to nullify the Creator’s claims upon their lives (Rom. 1:18-23).
2. The foundational issue in the debate between creation and evolution is not about vast ages, mutations or natural selection. The real issue in the conflict concerns the nature of reality. Naturalism contradicts the whole idea of a theistic universe ruled by an almighty personal God. The actual crux of the debate is, “God is” versus “God isn’t.”
3. Naturalism’s proponent’s often hold to an agnostic or soft form of atheism. This entails an acknowledgement that a god exists, but his deeds are inconsequential. He never did anything that really matters. He is not creator, nor is he intimately involved with mankind. The god of naturalism is finite and merely a part of the universe.
V. Naturalism has left mankind a legacy of immoral fallout.
A. Man in charge of his own meaning, morals and significance has left a terrible legacy. A number of oppressive regimes have expressed their gratitude to Darwin for providing an ideology to sanction their butchery (e.g., Stalin, Hitler and Pol Pot among others). When God is dead, “Survival of the fittest” as a credo can be a deadly bludgeon in the hands of the state, history has proven it so.
B. Naturalism’s approach to morality is the polar opposite of biblical theism. The God of the Bible asserts that His moral code is universal and eternal. Naturalism views morals as merely social convention.
1. Public opinion becomes the source of ethics, not God. The Ten Commandments are not regarded as God’s moral authority, but are viewed as a tribal or cultural custom of the Jews. By way of example, naturalism would see marriage as a human invention, not as a universal institution ordained by God.
2. Since moral values are viewed as inventions, they can evolve. Pragmatism or expediency provides the test of viability for a moral value. Naturalism sees law and ethics as a way of protecting people from each other as they seek to get what they want. (A world full of individuals with competing self-interest must be governed by law.)
3. Having eliminated the sovereign Creator (and the purpose of life as living unto Him), naturalism is left with nothing but the creature’s wants. Naturalism is a philosophy that extols human independence from God. “What people want” is the guide. Naturalism vaunts itself as true freedom when in reality it is a prescription for paganism.
C. Naturalism was central in Enlightenment thinking. The goal of the “age of reason” was to set free the culture from religion and tradition. Philosophers sought a scientific understanding of reality. Enlightenment thinkers hoped to usher in an age in which science could solve the greatest problems and answer the toughest questions faced by mankind.
1. The legitimate role of true science is to investigate and explain physical/material phenomena. When science arrogates to itself the mantle of philosophy, ethics and theology, it is no longer empirical.
2. In seeking a “scientific” understanding of all things, naturalism constructed a whole new view of reality. Morals were regarded as merely social mores. With the loss of the absolutes and categories that flow from theism, naturalism was left with moral relativism.
D. Moral relativism, the corrupt fruit of naturalism - Relativism states that truth is relative to the individual and the time and place in which he acts. Without universally applicable truth, knowledge and ethics are different for each individual under different situations (i.e., situation ethics). Values are only cultural – based upon personal interests. All value systems are equally valid.
1. Under relativism, values come from commonly expressed needs, not from God’s universal laws. The classroom teacher is then shouldered with the task of teaching the new morality of relativism (i.e., “value clarification”).
2. In the cultural/moral vacuum produced by naturalism, students are to be imbued with the new morality of relativistic tolerance, pluralism and inclusivism. (e.g., Homosexual couples have as legitimate a relationship as married heterosexuals. Atheists are the moral equivalent of Christian leaders).
3. Naturalism comes in the disguise of tolerance, but is filled with intolerance. Naturalism has its own categories of bigotry, evil and oppression. Those who would teach sexual morality are viewed as authoritarian and dangerous. Those who subscribe to a universal moral order that issues from God’s moral authority are seen as backward enemies of human freedom. Those who affirm that God’s absolute truth is true for all are labeled intolerant bigots.
4. Christianity asserts that sexual morality is connected with the will of the Creator. The Bible affirms that the knowledge of absolute right and wrong issues from the authority of God.
VI. Naturalism is tantamount to a declaration of war upon God and His rightful authority.
A. Naturalism is seeking to erect an understanding of reality that makes man’s mind ultimate (i.e., man becomes the measure of all things and by autonomous reason he shapes and determines reality apart from God). [iv]
1. Naturalism is patently anti-God. It seeks to replace God (the omnipotent, omniscient, purposeful designer) with man. If there is no personal, all wise, purposeful Creator, then there are no sexual absolutes.
2. Naturalism is not simply pressing for scientific terminology. It promulgates an agenda of moral relativism.
3. God is ultimate reality. He determines all truth and all categories. He holds the future and He holds the definition of all things. “The beginning of wisdom is the fear of the LORD” (Prov. 1:7).
4. In the 1st century, Christianity was hated because it contradicted man-centered emperor worship and idolatry. In the 21st century, Christianity is hated because it dethrones man and enthrones God the Creator.
5. Because we are created in God’s image, we have rationality. Man’s faculties, including the laws of logic, are planted by God that man may be able to receive His revelation and interpret all things by His revelation.
B. When man uses his reasoning faculties as a final authority instead of as the tool of divine revelation, he descends into futility and irrationality (Eph. 4:17-19).
1. The issue is authority in the realm of truth and knowledge. God has declared His authority. He has announced that creation testifies to His power and wisdom so clearly that men are without excuse (Rom. 1:18-20).
2. When men use their God-given intellect to reject God’s testimony, their willful misinterpretation of God’s witness in creation renders them guilty before Him.
3. The truths of the Bible are not simply religious ideas held in the heads of religious people. They are the truths by which the universe is to be interpreted. They are absolute universal truths that are constantly in force. They constitute reality because they are God’s thoughts and God is ultimate reality.
C. Naturalism hides behind the disguise of empirical science, but it is shot through with the presuppositions of an anti-theistic universe.
1. The theory of evolution masquerades as science. Its philosophical purpose is to legitimize the anti-God assumptions of naturalism.
2. Wearing a lab coat as its costume, naturalism’s real intent is to give man permission to govern by his own will rather than by the law of God. When man denies the claims of God upon the creature, his bondage to sin is strengthened. True freedom is to know God and enjoy Him forever. “And you will know the truth and the truth will make you free” (Jn. 8:32).
[i] Phillip Johnson, Teaching Children the Truth about Science, audiotape of lecture by Phillip Johnson, (Focus on the Family), tape # CS999/17515.
[ii] James F. Stitzinger, Apologetics and Evangelism TH 701, (Syllabus from The Master’s Seminary, Sun Valley, CA, copyright 1999) 34.
[iii] John D. Morris, “Things You May not Know about Evolution,” in Acts and Facts, (Back to Genesis, Apr. 2002, 31:4)d.
[iv] Robert C. Newman, ”Scientific Problems for Scientism” in Evangelical Apologetics, Michael Baumen et. al eds. (Christian Publications, 1996) 245.