There are typically four ways a theologian may speak of “God’s revelation.” The first two pertain to some kind of special revelation: (a) A revelation or manifestation of God through the person Jesus Christ or (b) God’s revelation through written scripture. The latter two pertain to some kind of general revelation: (c) God’s general revelation through nature in created things or (d) God’s imprint on the human mind/heart to recognize they were created in His image. I think for (d) the great female philosopher Ariel from The Little Mermaid said it best:
Look at this stuff
Isn’t it neat?
Wouldn’t you think my collection’s complete?
Wouldn’t you think I’m the girl
The girl who has everything?
Look at this trove
How many wonders can one cavern hold?
Looking around here you think
Sure, she’s got everything
I’ve got gadgets and gizmos a-plenty
I’ve got whozits and whatzits galore
You want thingamabobs?
I’ve got twenty!
But who cares?
No big deal
I want more
Now, for those who have not seen this movie (though few of you there may be), this gets the point across pretty well don’t you think? In fact, so do books like Peter Kreeft’s Heaven: The Heart’s Deepest Longing (1989), Thomas Dubay’s Faith and Certitude (1998), and even C.S. Lewis’ Suprised by Joy.
Thomas Dubay spends much time in his book arguing and analyzing man’s inner or “empty ache” from the mere observation that man is bored. Existential boredom, of course. This boredom means that one may participate in certain pleasures, such as sex, drinking, gambling, listening to or playing music, and so on, but being nonetheless pessimistic with life. Life is dreary, life is hard and loveless, life is uninteresting. Such a person, says Dubay, may experience periodic pleasures but never a filling of true joy.
Cows are satisfied being cows, mermaids are content (well, except Ariel I guess) being mermaids, and plants are satisfied being plants. Man is different since he may not be ever satisfied as man or woman. This presupposes that Man’s Spirit (that which transcends Matter) has an ability to reach out beyond mere flesh. Or, that a man must be more than what he thinks he really is.
For one, man is greater than the beasts. We share similarities due to our so closely related upbringing (or “beginning”, if you prefer). Like the beasts we too came from the earth, however, man was given the role of being stewards of nature as well as dust of the earth (Gen. 1:27-28). Man, unlike the cow or the plant, may reason. Here we have come to the road of ancient Greek optimism: human reason can actually come to know things about the world.
The natural theology of Plato and Artistotle (for serious and further examinations into this, please see Etienne Gilson’s little book, God and Philosophy) was utilized by early Christian thinkers for a various number of reasons. Thomas Aquinas, for instance, is well known for his Aristotelianization of Christianity whereas Augustine is known for having a more Platonic approach to Christianity, yet the two are almost 98.99% in agreement with one another (at least, by Aquinas’ admission). Whatever the use, they proved beneficial as well as insightful for defending as well as articulating Christian doctrine.
My point with these two philosophers (as is Gilson’s) is that we can see how far natural reason can take us even within the minds of individuals 300-400 years before the birth of Christ. How can these men come into a knowledge of God withthout sacred scripture, religious traditions or practices? With such a question we are now stepping away from (d) and now more towards (c) – God has revealed himself through nature in created things.
John Calvin gives some attention to this in the beginning of his Institutes, arguing that all men have been endowed with the sensus divinitatis (“sense of the divine”). However, Aquinas gives us a summary of 5 good arguments (what are commonly known as the Five Ways) for believing a being which we call God to exist. The fifth argument is what’s called the teleological argument (teleology comes from the Greek telos, meaning “end” or “goal”). Contemporary literature typically calls the teleological argument the argument from design, but Aquinas’s fifth way was stated a little different than this traditional and popular argument.
I think both observations from Calvin and Aquinas give us good insight (go read both mentioned sections soon) for thinking that the light offered to us through human reason to discern between chance, purpose, design and order in nature that points to an Excellent Creator. John Paul II, speaking of finality in the universe once said, “This finality which directs beings in a direction for which they are not responsible or in charge, obliges one to suppose a Mind which is its inventor, its creator.” Research the mechanisms of evolution and then come back to this statement to see if this makes sense (my advice).