For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. (Romans 1:20-21)
A number of modern believers debating with scientific materialists attempt to prove the existence of God from the order they perceive in the universe. Church historian Robert Wilken notes, however that this wasn’t the logic or method of early Christian Apologists and evangelists. Early on, the Christian teachers first believed in God as their Creator and only then saw the order in the universe. They did not try to prove the existence of God from creation but rather because they knew God, they accepted that the created order emanated from God. Creation was the result of God’s love, not proof of God’s existence. They hoped to understand God’s will and purpose from the creation rather than using creation to prove there must be a Creator. The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night declares knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words; their voice is not heard; yet their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. (Psalm 19:1-4)
As much as the apologists were convinced that God’s fullest self-disclosure was in Christ they also recognized that God was known through creation. Athenagoras, a contemporary of Justin, wrote that “heaven and earth are filled with God’s beauty” and from what is made people can know that God “must be one.” But early Christian thinkers offer no philosophical argument for the existence of God drawn from the world of nature. When speaking of the revelation of God in creation they cite the Scriptures, usually Romans, “God’s invisible nature . . . is clearly perceived in the things that have been made” (Rom. 1:20), sometimes the psalm, “the heavens declare the glory of God” (Ps. 19:1). They did not argue that there is a God because there is order; rather, they saw design in the universe because they knew the one God. God was not a principle of explanation. In seeking God they sought to understand the God they already knew. (THE SPIRIT OF EARLY CHRISTIAN THOUGHT, p 16)
Contemplating creation can help us understand God, but only if we already believe in God. And without faith it is impossible to please God. For whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him (Hebrews 11:6). Looking to creation to somehow ‘prove’ God’s existence can turn God into a part of creation rather than the source and ground of our being. God is not part of the created order and cannot be known by our reducing God to something that can be studied or proven by the created order.
We must avoid static, objectifying language, as if the Creator and his creature existed side by side. Creatures exist only in God, in that creative will which is precisely what distinguishes him from his creation. (Olivier Clement, ON HUMAN BEING, p 25)
We do believe that without the Creator God life is barren and meaningless. A faith in God comes because we believe life and created universe have some meaning and source beyond themselves, beyond a merely material existence. We begin to see the created order as not being purely empirical but as pointing to something beyond and outside the limits of material existence. We study creation not to prove God but to discern God’s purpose in creating things as they are.