Science and Divine Action in Nature

by Max Andrews

The Enlightenment restricted knowledge to experience and the phenomenal. Post-Enlightenment thought sought to progress in knowledge while considering the advances the Enlightenment had made.  The Christian faith attempted to develop a new relationship between transcendence and immanence.  Transcendence has to do with God’s being self-sufficient and beyond or above the universe.  Immanence corresponds with God being present and active in creation, intimately involved in human history.  Newtonian physics did not permit God to be immanent in the universe.  This was brought into light by the unmistakable success of science.[1]

Einstein’s GTR permitted the possibility that God interacts with the created order without interrupting the physical cause and effect system.[2] According to Einstein, the doctrine of a personal God interfering with natural events could never be refuted, in the real sense, by science, for this doctrine can always take refuge in those domains in which scientific knowledge has not yet been able to set foot.[3]  But this isn’t so much of a god-of-the-gaps doctrine. Because of Einstein’s relativity the Newtonian and Laplacian models have been abandoned.  The present discussion of how God interacts with the world has shifted to quantum mechanics. There are over a dozen interpretations, which mathematically describe the quantum world.  Objections from the principle of conservation are moot in an Einsteinian universe because it is not causally closed.  Even so, certain quantum interpretations reject the principle of conservation such as the Ghirardi-Rimini-Weber interpretation.  In a theistic context, Ghirardi-Rimini-Weber makes sense of external causes having an ontological link, the mass density simpliciter, to the physical world without violating conservation.[4]  Einstein was at odds with Niels Bohr, the father of quantum mechanics, when Bohr suggested the notion of indeterminism on the quantum level.  This appalled Einstein, which brought the well-known response of, “God does not play with dice.” It is reported that Bohr’s response to Einstein was, “Don’t tell God what to do.”

The most important task for scientific theologians was how to avoid de facto deism—not merely by calling it unorthodox and expressing a dislike for the Newtonian theistic system, but by actually showing why it is an unnecessary conclusion drawn from science.  Christian theologians must be in the position to say what they mean by God’s activity in the world and how God’s activity can be consistent with the belief that God has created a finite order with a goodness and perfection of its own.[5]



 

[1] Clayton Philip, God and Contemporary Science (Edinburgh, Scotland:  Edinburgh University Press, 1997), 188.

[2] See Thomas Torrance, Space, Time, and Incarnation (Edinburgh, Scotland:  T&T Clark, 1969).

[3] Albert Einstein, Out of My Later Years (New York: Bonanza Books, 1956, 1990), 28.

[4] See Bradley Monton, “The Problem of Ontology for Spontaneous Collapse Theories,” Studies in History and Philosophy of Modern Physics (2004): 9-10.

[5] Philip, 192.


6 Comments to “Science and Divine Action in Nature”

  1. But it is impossible to progress logically, as science must, without realizing how the theological theory of Pandeism fully accounts for all of the proof presented, and so supersedes theism. Pandeism, coherently reconciling Deism and Pantheism to discover how our Creator has become the Creation itself, is the Copernican Revolution, the Newtonian mechanics, the E=MC2 of modern theological thought!!

  2. I don’t know that you’re making an argument as much as looking for a way to disguise question-begging :-) I acknowledge it is possible to concoct schemes where a god can be accommodated within the sort of universe we apparently inhabit, but that’s not really that controversial. I mean, your last paragraph sums it up – you’re starting with the “belief” and retrofitting things to allow that belief to remain intact, regardless of what we actually find in the world. I appreciate why theists find that necessary as a mechanism to salve cognitive dissonance, but it doesn’t amount to an argument, surely?

    • I’m not quite sure how it’s question begging. If I approach the argument abductively the conclusion will support the premises (avoiding an affirmation of the antecedent). This is a mix between natural theology and a theology of nature. I start with the doctrinal affirmation that God providentially acts within the natural world. Then, looking at science and the natural world, I see if the doctrine is compatible with the natural order. If it’s not then it would falsify the doctrine. If it is, I don’t see a convincing reason why it’s not possible, primarily the nature of agent causation, then I can continue to affirm the doctrine. So, the best explanation is what I said about the quantum level interaction, etc.

      I discuss the topic a little more here: http://arxiv.org/abs/1205.4278

  3. I’m not quite sure if you’ve actually responded to the argument; rather, you’ve made assertions. I’m not saying it’s God of the gaps arguments nor am I saying that everything cannot be accounted for naturally. Miracles can still have natural causes per God (through, efficient causality).

  4. I’m a proponent of falsification but it’s only a preference and not a requirement since the requirement itself cannot meet its own standards. If nature is completely deterministic and the nomic necessistarian is correct I think I’d be hard pressed to reconsider. Also, I actually prefer my physics to be deterministic but should the failure of agent causation fail I think that would be the crux of the argument. You seem to not see philosophy as a necessity from out discussions but it’s more important than science for if there were not philosophy we would not have science.

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