Miracles and Science: A Third Way (Part 2)

(system) #1
The strange world of quantum mechanics may give us new ways of understanding how God works in creation.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://biologos.org/blogs/jim-stump-faith-and-science-seeking-understanding/miracles-and-science-a-third-way-part-2

(George Brooks) #2

I am very much inclined to think that the single-photon/multi-slit experiment shows that “natural law” is not quite what we would expect.

(Roger A. Sawtelle) #3


Here natural selection is at work, favoring those phenotypes with greater fitness in the competition for finite resources in changing environments. - See more at: http://biologos.org/blogs/jim-stump-faith-and-science-seeking-understanding/miracles-and-science-a-third-way-part-2#sthash.2bvnUTIV.dpuf

It says that Natural Selection favors those phenotypes who are able to best use the resources of a changing environment. If NS favors some phenotypes over others according to specific criteria as indicated here, then NS and evolution itself is NOT a random, purposeless process as is often claimed.

Now it seems to me that the most important aspect of this sentence is changing environment. This is the changing variable that gives NS and evolution its meaning and direction. Of course also it is God Who gives nature its form and direction, so God guides evolution through ecology.

(Dylan R) #4

What a wonderful post! I felt a foreshadowing of this idea from Alvin Plantinga’s posts. Here is an interesting meme that I find relates to this idea:

Robert Russel does an amazing job with the science in the post. I certainly can understand how God can use (indeterministic) QM to guide evolution to His will. Something I struggle with a little more is how God could use this same technique to raise Jesus from the dead. Do we believe that God uses this technique for some of His most important miracles such as the Exodus miracles and the miracles of Jesus’s ministry?


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(Christy Hemphill) #6

In the last blog post Russell said:

And today:

As Sarah noted in her second post:

As I understand it, avoiding a Deistic, anemic “hands-off theology of divine action” is the motivation for this “third way.” If the only categories available are “God miraculously intervenes” and “God lets the world run without tampering in any way with the natural laws and processes he has set in motion,” then you end up with a God who isn’t active in the world except when he is miraculously intervening. That doesn’t square with a theological commitment to a God who is intimately involved with his creation as the norm.

(Larry Bunce) #7

This was one of the best posts I have seen here recently. I finally have a good grasp of how God can act in the world. We who consider ourselves TE’s have always believed that God is involved in evolution, but always with the word ‘somehow.’ Russell’s idea gives a very specific means by which God can act, without even having to break natural law.



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(GJDS) #9

As I understand the options put forward in this post, the quantum world is given as indeterminate state(s), and given quantum events that produce changes in the classical world, may occur that may be due to a direct act by God - I assume that other events may also occur without direct intervention, but may be explicable by an appeal to law like behaviour in Nature.

If my understanding is correct (and I would like comments on this), would/could this outlook provide some means by which intervention may be identified, or separated, from non-intervention natural activities?

(Christy Hemphill) #10

He does, quite explicitly in fact:

Maybe in accord with natural laws, but not without intentional Divine action, if I understand what he is saying.

Where are you inferring this preference from? It seems to me the preference is for God to be intimately involved in the world. I don’t see where you get “tidiness” as a concern at all.


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Judging by the “black diamond” icon and the heft of discourse in the comments (not to mention my complete lack of scientific background), this all may be well over my head. Nonetheless, how is this not a “God of the gaps” explanation (albeit incredibly small, quantum-level gaps)? Doesn’t this theory hinge on the fact that the laws of quantum mechanics aren’t fully understood? Also, it seems to me that when Russell says “non-interventionist,” he simply means that God intervenes on a scale so small that no one would notice.

(Mervin Bitikofer) #13

I think Dr. Russell does succeed in filling a hole with a plausible scenario of how God’s general providence activity might look, and while I don’t have any better proposals to improve on his, I still feel some discomfort --and maybe its a permanent kind of discomfort that I need to just set aside as best I can and learn to live with it.

A good part of that is that it still smacks of letting our modern theological program and agenda be driven by the task of: “preparing speeches for our cultured despisers”. I.e. (also in echoes of some of Eddies thought’s I think) … the first order concern seems always to be to pass muster under the light of current science. And I do recognize that my sensitivity to this continues to be a reactionary impulse shared by so many because of our long conditioning in a culture that sets such things up as competitions. But how we continue to couch these discussions seems to highlight and embrace that situation at least as much address it. And it does need addressing –no arguments from me there.
Part of where I would go to address it is to simply state: “There will be no conflict between scriptures, properly understood and reality properly understood.” By replacing “science” with “reality” in that expression, I think it adds a more appropriate epistemic humility onto the science side of that which we equate all too easily with reality.

But then I recognize this leaves aside the details of how God acts in reality –the very thing so many are eager to see answered. That God does act in both “macro” and “micro” ways can just be accepted as a given – every bit the same way and more as agents with free wills (also mysterious) can act in the same environ. I know that Eddie and company continue to live in distress that TEs won’t commit to some specific scenario. But perhaps they have just learned to tolerate the mystery. To Russell’s credit, he lays out a scenario. I just wonder how much anybody gains after all these speeches reach their intended audience.

(Doug B) #14

Isn’t all Divine Action subjective from the perspective of faith? Many people witnessed the extraordinary Biblical miracles, and we are told that in seeing they did not see and in hearing they did not hear. And for those that sought (seek) a sign with a hard heart, they will: 1. not enter God’s rest; or, 2. not receive that sign.

I see Christian academics writing papers trying to quantitatively document modern miracles, and I am amazed at the theological presuppositions (chutzpah). He is not one to be cornered. God acts divinely for purposes of grace as Leibniz reminds us. That grace can only be received by those who desire it and are ready to receive it–as God grants them the ability to do so.

Perhaps I am treading Scheierchian waters myself.

(Dylan R) #15

What great insight and a great question. I’m no scientist, so someone else can probably answer this question better, but this is my understanding: it is not that we don’t fully understand quantum mechanics, but rather that quantum mechanics does not function the same way traditional physics functioned. To my understanding, QM is heavily based off of chaos theory. Therefore, QM does not predict exact actions, rather QM sets probabilities as to what is possible/likely to occur. This means that it’s impossible to accurately predict what will happen during a specific event, but we can understand a trend based on our understanding of the probabilities. The philosophical basis for this belief is that the particles truly do behave in a random or chaotic manner. No amount of further knowledge will make our predictions better (I mean this philosophically, we can always create better equipment and refine our techniques to get better data). This is what makes it different than a “God of the gaps” approach. This idea comes from current understanding of physics. That being said, of course a new discovery could come out proving this theory wrong, but we have to go off what we know right now.

I hope this helps! If someone can correct/expand on my reply, I’m sure we’d all benefit!


We start with God’s action at the quantum level in the context of molecular biology. Quantum processes are essential to the production of genetic variation, and genetic variation can lead to phenotypic variation in the populations of living species.

Quantum processes… like DNA recombination? Or base mis-incorporation during duplication? Are these really ‘quantum level’ processes?

The author’s mechanism is, effectively, injecting information. But what it the energy involved? Presumably zero? What is the wavelength of a zero-energy interaction? How precisely timed can a zero-energy interaction be vs. the ‘spread’ of probabilities?

I enjoy the overall speculation but it’s not something in which I would invest too heavily trying to work out. It’s a low probability explanation, IMO. It seems to presume that ‘indeterminism’ is a fundamental property of the universe that must be countered by some sort of interaction.


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It involves some statistical calculations but not chaos theory, per se. Quantum mechanics was formulated well before chaos theory congealed in mid-century.


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Eddie, great comments. But regarding your last point, I didn’t get from the article that Russell’s version of TE requires that God’s “steering” of evolution is deterministic of certain genetic outcomes. In your words from an earlier comment, that “God is ‘intervening’ to produce very specific outcomes,” and that “the selection of mutations is intentional.” If that were the case, then I think that would create moral problems - why give this person cancer and not another? My assumption here is that the world is already “designed” (if I can use that word generally) to leave such things to chance and not God’s agency.