Torrance on Natural Theology

“Torrance explicitly critiques the notion of analogia entis – the idea, especially associated with Thomas Aquinas, that there exists some intrinsic likeness between creator and creation arising from the creative action of God. The fact that there exists some form of correspondence between the creator and creation is not due to an inherent relation of likeness, but to the free and gracious decision of God that some such correspondence shall exist. We are thus dealing with an analogia gratiae rather than an analogia entis. There is no intrinsic capacity on the part of nature to convey God, nor is the created element as such part of the content of revelation. For Torrance, revelation must be understood to be self-revelation of God.

“It will thus be clear that Torrance considers a ‘natural theology’ which regards itself as independent of God’s self-revealation as a serious challenge to Christian theology. Natural theology has a place under the aegis of revelation, not outside it. In its improper mode, a ‘natural theology’ is an approach to theology which leads to the introduction of ‘natural’ or ‘commonsense’ concepts into theology without first establishing the warrant for doing so on the basis of revelation. In this sense of the term, Barth was entirely justified in critiquing natural theology…

“In this sense, ‘natural theology’ must be regarded as a serious threat to responsible Christian theology.” (190)

“It will be clear that Torrance’s careful discussion of the manner in which the creation can be said to have revelatory potential opens the way to some very significant developments. Torrance insists that creation can only be held to ‘reveal’ God from the standpoint of faith. Nevertheless, to one who has responded to revelation (and thus who recognizes nature as God’s creation, rather than an autonomous and self-created entity), the creation now has potential to point to the creator. The theologian who is thus a natural scientist (or vice versa) is thus in a position to make some critically important correlations. While the neutral observer of the natural cannot, according to Torrance, gain meaningful knowledge of God, another observer, aided by divine revelation, will come to very different conclusions.” (192) Alister McGrath, Thomas F. Torrance: An Intellectual Biography (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1999).

(The above quotes were read and taken from

The text above shows in a broad sense the main point of contention in the debate on the validity of natural theology, and expounds a bit on the issue of a ‘point of contact’ that I delved into in a previous post. Obviously, Torrance doesn’t hold that there is such an inherent or ready-made point of contact, and as such apart from faith, nature cannot reveal God. Someone of say a Thomistic frame of mind would deny this point. This is, in my mind, one of the few areas in theology where both sides have equally powerful and persuasive arguments.

For my part, as I noted in an earlier post, I generally end up favoring the Barthian position (sometimes more in spirit than in actual fact), while not going as far as Barth in a wholesale rejection of natural theology. Again, as noted before, philosopher/physicist Fr. Stanley Jaki presents a concept of natural theology that I find myself agreeing with. His position is as strong as Torrance or Barth’s– I would be interested in what Torrance would have to say to someone like Jaki. I actually imagine that as being one of the most fascinating conversations one could listen in on. (For those not familiar with Jaki:      )


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