Open bible with grass and a way walking towards a cross (Photo by Olegkalina)
This article consists of a review of the book entitled, Manual of Natural Theology, by George Park Fisher (1827-1909). As we shall see, Fisher provides insight from God's creation to equip the Christian apologist to heed the apostle Peter's exhortation to be "prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you..." (1Pe 3:15). Fisher expertly accomplishes this task by confronting the major arguments of his day, which are still relevant for us living in the twenty-first century.
2. Summary of Contents
In the first chapter, The Nature and Origin of Religion, Fisher tackles the secularist's argument that religion is the answer to man's insecurities and fears invented by "shrewd statesmen"1 who wished to control the masses. He demonstrates the absurdity of this claim by observing that unless people first possess an inward longing for worship, their tyrannical strategy would undoubtedly fail. On the contrary, Fisher posits that the origin of religion is not the product of man's inventions, but emerges from his "consciousness of self as a finite spirit [which] includes a nascent consciousness of a Spirit Infinite..."2
In regard to the will of man he notes, "there awakes in the soul the consciousness of a moral law independent of the will..."3 In saying this, he is careful not to mislead the reader into thinking that a saving knowledge of God can result from nature when he explains, "Of course it is not pretended that faith in God is, at the outset, explicit. It is germinant, not developed."4 Fisher calls this a "natural faith."
In chapter two, The Cosmological Argument for the Being of God, Fisher shows how the effect of creation can only come from the cause that produced it. He writes, "Something must have existed from eternity. This is an unavoidable inference from the fact that something exists now."5 We call this "something" the cause. Secularists reason that a cause is not required, instead they posit an infinite series of events, rather than the Christian view of an infinite causal agent. Fisher responds, "The retreat from step to step is merely the repeated postponement of the question, What is the cause?"6
Thus far, Fisher has shown that the glorious effect of the natural world requires a cause. However, to complete the Christian's description of God requires that this cause also be personal. In this way, Fisher reasons that the next step is the realization that this cause has a will, hence making the cause a personal deity. He provides a marvelous illustration of the kind of will a deity must possess in order to be personal. He explains, "A man by an exertion of will raises his arm, clenches his hand, and strikes a blow. There is force in the arm and force in the fist. Yet the will initiates all, and were the exertion of the will suspended, the arm would drop powerless at his side."7
What about a host of personal gods? Fisher counters the idea of polytheism by showing: 1. we, who have a will, exert our desires in all different directions, 2. a multitude of causes would mean they are either in accord with one another or in conflict, and 3. since nature is one coherent system, their must also be one single cause governing it. He concludes, "The unity of the world proves the unity of God."8
In the third chapter, Fisher tackles The Argument of Design. Nature, he says, exhibits the "mark of design" which is analogous to the designs evident in human ingenuity. Fisher further elaborates using the argument of J.S. Mill, that in the instance of design, inductive reasoning is also employed from the stand point of a final cause. He uses the illustration of a spoke of a wheel which is fabricated to be used to support the rim of a wheel. This in turn is used to assemble a vehicle capable of using the laws of nature to move about in space and time.9 Human design, like the marvelous designs in nature, show us that "nature... is the embodiment of thought."10
The argument of a final cause is clearly visible in the natural order. For example, Fisher explains from the anatomy and physiology of the heart that since the heart is an organ which contracts, the designer had to use contractile tissue, rather than nervous or connective tissue. He further explains that since the heart is fashioned with hollow chambers, it was designed to hold a fluid whose end was to be ejected and carried throughout the body. Thus, we see how an efficient means of circulating blood first existed with a predetermined view of the final cause of the heart.11
Next, Fisher dives into the theory of Evolution, a method by which secularists attempt to explain the variety of life we see today. He explains that the theory does not account for the origin of the first organism, which had to already possess the genetic material required to provide a foundation for all proceeding life-forms. Fisher reasons that evolution does not negate the "evidences of design", since the "primitive forms of animal life, which contain in them potentially all the forms that are to spring from them, require to be accounted for."12 In this way, he masterfully notes that "the problem of origin is merely shifted back."13
Fisher also dismantles the idea of "natural selection" by saying that selection is a function of the mind and one's willpower. The evolutionist's complimentary phrase, "survival of the fittest", is also fallacious because, "the fittest is that which has been fitted with success to the end in view."14
Fisher concludes the chapter with a conception of God as one who works within nature and is "immanent in Nature. His power is exerted from within."15 He contrasts this with man who works outside of nature on things already made.
In chapter four entitled, The Moral Argument, Fisher reasons that the will of man is not subject to the law of cause and effect, rather, the will is itself the cause. He rebuts the idea that the freedom of the will leads to a uniformity in our choices. Take, for example, a person walking to the post office with a friend week after week who notices a predictable route to his destination. This observation might discount freedom of choice. However, just because he chose a certain path to the post office, does not prove that he could not have selected an alternate route if necessary.16
Fisher concludes the chapter by answering the question: why is sin allowed to defile creation? Could not God have created nature with an inborn resistance to moral evil? He answers by assenting to the wisdom of God saying, "not that God cannot prevent the evil that exists from occurring, but that he cannot wisely do so."17 Note that the presence of evil in the world does not compromise the power of God over evil, but that in his infinite wisdom it was not necessary to instill creation with anti-rebellious tendencies.
In the following brief and fifth chapter on The Intuition of the Infinite and Absolute, Fisher debunks the idea that, due to the fact that Christians claim that God is an infinite being, that he must therefore also be absent of any personhood. Personality does not imply finiteness. Fisher declares, "Infinitude is the possession of all conceivable perfections without measure."18 Hence, infiniteness must also necessarily include all that a finite being possesses (i.e., personhood), and more.
In the sixth chapter on Anti-Theistic Theories, Fisher discusses materialism. The primary assertion is that when the brain dies, the mind also dies with it. But their evidence is lacking. Fisher retorts with an insightful quote from Professor Tyndall, "They [the brain and mind] appear together, but we do not know why. The passage from the physics of the brain to the corresponding facts of consciousness is unthinkable."19 Furthermore, he shows that the law of conservation of energy does not give credibility to the materialist view, since "There is no transmission of physical energy from matter to mind."20 It is apparent then, that the physical brain and the non-physical mind are not connected, rather we deduce a separation of the two, where the mind is not held captive to the viability of the human brain.
In Fisher's final chapter, The Future Life of the Soul, we are treated to the subject of the necessity of the derived eternality of the human soul. Accordingly, he defines the soul as something apart from and independent from the physical body of the person. The soul must outlive mortal flesh since, "There is nothing... to prevent the soul from continuing to exist in other spheres of activity when it parts company with its material vesture."21 Fisher logically asserts that since man is capable of "indefinite intellectual progress", that it is impossible for man's inner being to ever resolve and therefore, cease to exist. He finds philosophical insight of this in the intuitive concept of reward and punishment of the noble and wicked, respectively. In other words, the noble never feel the satisfaction of their good deeds while living, and the wicked, after the pleasure of doing evil subsides and are unable to weather their feelings of guilt, yet expect to suffer justly for their evil deeds.
From a purely theological perspective, he notes that it is irrational to suspect that the infinite wise and eternal God would "fling away to nothingness the consummate work of his hands?"22 Man must survive death in order for God's creation to have a purpose. Why would God enter into a relationship with humanity with whom he intends to render extinct in a matter of decades?
Fisher's Manual of Natural Theology is a valuable resource for those in seminary who wish to supplement their Prolegomena coursework and come away with convincing talking points that he/she can use to defend God's general revelation from the challenges of a liberal society. The book is fairly easy to read and well organized. The chapters are ordered in a logical sequence that, in the end, forces the Christian to break out in doxology to our Most High and Almighty God and Savior, Jesus Christ, "for whom and by whom all things exist..." (Heb 2:10). Similar to how an owner's manual for your car instructs you on how to fix mechanical malfunctions, Fisher's book serves as a manual for Christians on their apologetic mission to correct the secularist's errors as they seek to conceal the glory and majesty in God's handiwork.
Fisher provides marvelous insight into and persuasive rebuttals against the deficiencies of secular thought concerning the limitations of God's creation in revealing the existence of a single, eternal, and personal Divine Being. The book gave me answers to questions I never knew how to answer before, such as: "Why didn't God create mankind with an inherent resistance to sinning against their Master and Creator (see chapter four)?" Even though the book was written in the nineteenth century, its contents are still relevant to the church today, as many of the same arguments have not abated from the minds of those who espouse a non-Christian world view.
This book, along with my studies in Prolegomena, gave me the confidence to engage in apologetics with non-Christians. For example, I was recently involved in a discussion with a former minister who claimed that science demonstrates that when we die, our existence is finished. Although I am not educated in all of the sciences, I nonetheless realize that our scientific knowledge is incomplete because it cannot go beyond the grave in order to invalidate our belief in life after death. Just because we cannot directly observe the afterlife does not mean that it doesn't exist, as Fisher explains in chapter seven. In the same way, secular scientists believe in the existence of Dark Matter/Energy, even though it has never been directly observed. Once more, we do not need scientists to provide proof of an afterlife, since according to our ultimate authority (i.e., Scripture), the afterlife will inevitably come down to us at the Second Advent (Heb 9:28). Furthermore, scientific theories frequently change over time. One can readily recall that before the early twentieth century, astronomers "thought the Milky Way was the sole constituent of the universe." Today, they believe there are about one hundred billion galaxies in the observable universe.
- Fisher, George Park. Manual of Natural Theology. New York: Scribner's Sons, 1893, p. 2. Retrieved from https://archive.org/details/manualofnaturalt00fish/page/n7
- ibid. p. 7
- ibid. p. 7
- ibid. p. 8
- ibid. p. 12
- ibid. p. 13
- ibid. p. 16
- ibid. p. 18
- ibid. p. 21
- ibid. p. 25
- ibid. p. 27
- ibid. p. 38
- ibid. p. 39
- ibid. p. 39
- ibid. p. 55
- ibid. p. 58
- ibid. p. 71
- ibid. p. 74
- ibid. p. 76
- ibid. p. 76
- ibid. p. 88
- ibid. p. 91
Sabz, S. (2019, June 2). Natural Theology. Retrieved from https://scienceandbibleresearch.com/natural-theology.html