John Henry Newman on Design

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“I believe in design because I believe in God;
not in God because I see design.”

John Henry Newman was not only theologian, but also very well versed in science, and always acknowledged that he felt rather comfortable with Darwin’s “new idea’s”.

Newman felt more and more uncomfortable, though, with William Paley’s Natural Theology, mainly for two reasons: ‘First, natural theology lacks the evidential and argumentative rigor to establish such a belief in the first place. Newman famously rejected traditional arguments from design: “I believe in design because I believe in God; not in God because I see design.” (A) Paley’s natural theology, Newman suggested, was as likely to lead to atheism as to belief in God. Second, Newman raises concerns about the “God” disclosed by natural theology…. Such a notion of God is limited to a rational principle of interpretation, lacking any sense of transcendence, holiness, or majesty. Physical theology, Newman insisted, taught “exclusively” only three divine attributes: power, wisdom, and goodness; yet it remained silent concerning the real essence of the Christian vision of God – namely, the divine holiness, justice, mercy, and providence.‘ (see Alister E McGrath, Darwinism and the Divine, Evolutionary Thought and Natural Theology)

(A) J.H.Newman, letter to William Robert Brownlow, April 13, 1870; in Newman, John Henry, The Letters and Diaries of John Henry Newman, ed. Charles Stephen Dessain and Thomas Gornall. 31 vols. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1963–2006, vol. 25, 97.

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