Natural theology

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Natural theology is a branch of theology based on reason and ordinary experience. Thus it is distinguished from revealed theology (or revealed religion) which is based on scripture and religious experiences of various kinds; and also from transcendental theology, theology from a priori reasoning.

Marcus Terentius Varro (116-27 BC) in his (lost) Antiquitates rerum humanarum et divinarum established a distinction of three kinds of theology: civil (political) (theologia civilis), natural (physical) (theologia naturalis) and mythical (theologia mythica). The theologians of civil theology are "the people", asking how the gods relate to daily life and the state (imperial cult). The theologians of natural theology are the philosophers, asking for the nature of the gods, and the theologians of mythical theology are the poets, crafting mythology. The terminology entered Stoic tradition and is used by Augustine of Hippo.

Natural theology, thus, is that part of the philosophy of religion dealing with describing the nature of the gods, or, in monotheism, arguing for or against attributes or non-attributes of God, and especially the existence of God, purely philosophically, that is, without recourse to any special or supposedly supernatural revelation. Physico-theology is the term for a theology based on the constitution of the natural world, especially derived from perceived elements of "design", which gave rise to the argument from design for the existence of God, beginning with the "fifth way" of the Summa Theologica by Thomas Aquinas (d. 1274).


Key proponents

Besides Zarathushtra's Gathas, Plato gives the earliest surviving account of a "natural theology", around 360 BC, in his dialogue "Timaeus" he states "Now the whole Heaven, or Cosmos, ...we must first investigate concerning it that primary question which has to be investigated at the outset in every case,--namely, whether it has existed always, having no beginning of generation, or whether it has come into existence, having begun from some beginning"[1]. He continues in his Laws establishing the existence of the gods by rational argument, stating "...which lead to faith in the gods? ...One is our dogma about the soul...the other is our dogma concerning the ordering of the motion of the stars"[2]. Aristotle in his Metaphysics argues for the existence of an "unmoved mover", an argument taken up in medieval scholastics.[citation needed]

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