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1.2 General Revelation and Science
General Revelation is knowledge of God that is readily available to all mankind through creation and providence. We all know the “negative” perspective of general revelation: it leaves all men without excuse:
For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. (Rom. 1:20)The flip side is this: if creation leaves men with no excuse for their dismissal of God, then it must, in fact, make a convincing though presumably incomplete case for God’s existence. Indeed, there are five major arguments for the existence of God based on General Revelation: 20
- Cosmological Argument (Cause and effect). The universe is the effect of a greater cause, an intelligent Creator. The universe cannot create itself or come from nothing, therefore must have come from something else. God then, is the single uncaused cause.
- Teleological Argument (Order/Intelligent Design). The universe displays an amazing amount of order in its chaos. But even more, it exhibits design which necessitates a Designer.
- Anthropological Argument (Humanity reflects deity) – Man’s extraordinary abilities, superiority over creation, and his “mannishness” (Schaeffer) reflect a greater personal Creator. Some stress man’s rational abilities, while others see the relationships with the Trinity as key to man’s personality.
- Moral Argument (Common Grace) – All men have some sense of right and wrong and some set of common behavioral code. Man’s sense of morality reflects the divine image of a moral God.
- Ontological Argument (God’s definition requires existence) – Anselm first set forth this powerful and difficult argument. It argues that the definition of God as the greatest of beings necessitates His existence. 1) The idea of a thing is greater if it exists in reality, rather than only in the mind. 2) Man conceives the greatest being – God. 3) For the idea to exist in the mind as “greatest” it must exist in reality or not be the greatest.
Some argue that the Fall has somewhat lessened the power of General Revelation. For example, B. B. Warfield writes:21
Only in Eden has general revelation been adequate to the needs of man. Not being a sinner, man in Eden had no need of that grace of God itself by which sinners are restored to communion with Him, or of the special revelation of this grace of God to sinners to enable them to live with God.As we did with Special Revelation, we shall adopt a working definition:
General Revelation: information concerning God available to all men through observation of creation.
We quoted Rom 1:20 above. Another well-known and relevant passage is:
The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. (Ps. 19:1)
In reading just these two passages we get a sense of awe—that creation is a form of revelation substantive enough to declare God’s glory. We also get a sense of both responsibility and approval, that the study of creation is a godly endeavor that will be profitable to us and acceptable to God.
What we do not get is any sense whatsoever that the study of creation is a kind of intellectual trap—that it is a test of faith. There is no biblical support for the idea that we are to study creation just to overcome what we learn in some bizarre exercise designed to strengthen our faith in the unseen. It will be what we learn buy studying creation that is glorifying to God, not the denial what we learn.
Although General Revelation glorifies God, at this point things get a little murky. At this point science enters the arena. What is science? Later we will look at a more precise definition. For now, however, we will simplify its meaning to:
Science: A human intellectual activity that seeks to appreciate and understand the wonders of creation.
Science is the imperfect way that humans examine the handiwork of God. That science is imperfect almost as easy to demonstrate as the fact that theology is imperfect. The landscape is littered with discarded theories, and at any given moment there will be competing and incompatible theories attempting to explain the latest data. Scientists would argue that these imperfections are part of the process and that science, given time, is self-correcting, and that’s true. But nevertheless just like a group of intelligent, well-meaning theologians will look at the same book (the Bible) and reach vastly different conclusions, some intelligent and well-meaning scientists will look at the same data concerning the same aspect of creation and still produce opposing theories.
Our point, as we conclude this section, is that while we have a reliable laboratory (creation), we have a powerful demonstrably imperfect method of interpreting and understanding the data. We believe there is an important ramification of this. When we have a collision between one scientific theory and another, or between theology and science, we should be willing to examine the possibility our erroneous scientific theory is the source of or contributes to the conflict.
20 Taken from http://www.basictheology.com/definitions/General_Revelation/
21 Article "Revelation," from The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia,
James Orr, General Editor, v. 4, pp. 2573-2582. Pub. Chicago, 1915, by the Howard-Severance Co.