Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Karl Barth's Rejection of Natural Theology, 2

My previous two posts were about . . .

1. A general question I have about the place of apologetics, or “Christian evidences,” in the mission of the church.

2. The Christian theologian Karl Barth and his rejection of “natural theology,” trying to establish the existence of God by reason.

That second post (just before the one you’re reading) gives an overview of what Barth said was the first dilemma of the Christian who tries to convert another person by means of natural theology. Now for the second half of what Barth calls the “double dilemma.”

In a debate about the existence of God, says Barth, if the unbeliever realizes that the believer has no intention of giving up his belief even if his arguments fail, the unbeliever may become angry, and understandably so. Feeling as though he’s being toyed with, he will be hardened against the only saving truth.

On the other hand, if the points made by natural theology should “succeed,” there is no guarantee that the unbeliever will then be prepared “for the decision of faith” (93). As things turn out, unbelief might simply “take up its abode” (93) and become satisfied in the sphere of natural theology. Thus, having come to know some god or the other, the unbeliever never comes to know God. [As an “Exhibit A” someone might point to the many people who confess their belief in some “higher power” but who are obviously not Christians].

Barth says that there are two roots from which the plant of “Christian” natural theology grows. And both of them are bad:

1. A “Christian” natural theology does not rightly regard unbelief. For unbelief is not the result of the natural man failing his course in the philosophy of religion. Rather, unbelief is “active enmity against God.” It is not “a hopeful and lovable inexperience which can be educated above itself with soft words and in that way led at least to the threshold of faith” (94). Rather, unbelief “is hatred against the truth and therefore the deprivation of the truth” (95).

2. Second, and even more important, a “Christian” natural theology does not rightly regard God Himself. For the believer, the real God in whom faith believes “must be taken so seriously that there is no place at all for even an apparent transposition to the standpoint of unbelief, for the pedagogic and playful self-lowering into the sphere of its possibilities.” No human being ever stoops down in that way, but only “the real God alone, in His grace and mercy” (95).

So ends Karl’s critique of natural theology. Again I ask, Is Barth on target? Is he wrong? Some of both? I’m curious about what you think and why.


Anonymous said...

Karl Barth in my opinion is right regarding what he said in youre qoutes .

bravemax said...

Thanks for this blog. I do not know how I can "know" for certain that I don't hate God but it sincerely feels to be a very false characterisation of my unbelief.
In fact it is this doctrine which strikes me as undermining belief itself by confusing disbelief with ingratitude. How can such faith be certain it is not just motivated by a primitive desire to avoid offence rather like the way children are guilted into belief in fairys.