Miracles and Science: A Third Way (Part 2)

Part of the wavefunction of any particular car extends across space. If one could select a few out of an essential infinity of possible states for the car then one could ‘teleport’ (or ‘tunnel’) that car to the surface of Mars. As long as energy is conserved – say, for example, by porting an equivalent mass of Martian soil to the car’s parking space at the same time – would that break any ‘natural laws’. It would be certainly be wildly improbable and not something you’d expect to see within the lifetime of the universe, but if someone could pick out particular states for a particular place and time, then it would be possible. Perhaps as easy as selecting when a particular atom’s nucleus should decay.

The question is: Can we really say that the ability to alter and direct the outcomes of quantum-level events comports with any definition of ‘natural laws’

The core problem is not with Russell’s proposal. The root issue is: How does God interact with His creation? What is the nature and mode of that interaction? That is a subject which has been discussed and argued over for millenia by philosophers and theologians. I’d suggest figuring that out first and then worry about any possible mechanisms.

Will do! And then what should we do with the rest of the evening once we’re finished with both of those tasks?

What if God just does things – macro, micro, and in the middle that will always confound the analytical-minded among us who keep wanting to be the “outer-most observers” looking in on everything including even God? What if they keep failing in that endeavour into perpetuity? Even in the midst of all their toil, at some points they hang up their lab coats and live a little. Trust a little. Relate a little. Stop running from their humanity in other words.

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On your last point, surely the problem is in suggesting that there is a thing called “random” which is independent of God’s actions, whereas it’s possible (and goes back to Aquinas and even the biblical Deuteronomic historian) to see randomness as merely the signature of God’s overall activity in sustaining and governing his creation.

Thus, the appearance of any particular letter in this post is random as far as Kolmogorov would be concernced, though the overall distribution would show a specific mathematical pattern (as do quantum events, hence the possibility of quantum physics) that corresponds to a piece of English prose, rather than Italian or Welsh. The only way to distinguish it as purposive, rather than as words chosen “randomly” from a dictionary by a computer, is to read it.

So there is a detectable monkeying with events (let’s assume we mean “quantum” events to suit Russell, but it needn’t be restricted to that), and it’s called the order, beauty, intelligibility, and purpose of reality. Which, like English prose, can only be perceived by assuming meaning, not by abstracting data scientifically.

Now such a conclusion would, I grant, demand that the whole of [quantum] reality, not some subset of “key” events, would constitute God’s activities - or else these would be distinguishable from “nature” - understood as something sitting apart from God’s governance. In other words, understood via the Enlightenment distinction between “God” and “Nature”, rather than the historic doctrine of “God’s creation”. Kepler did not seek to find the bits of nature that God determined, but how he determined nature.

You suggest that this conclusion means the problem is set up wrong, because it only fits with Calvinism. But with respect, I thought the project of both science and theology was to match our ideas to reality, not reality to some particular theoretical idea like “Arminianism” or “Kenoticism” - or “Calvinism”, come to that.

Otherwise one would have to say that evolutionary theory has been posited wrongly simply because it is incompatible with Young Earth Creationism, whereas BioLogos, at least, is arguing that science makes YEC a non-runner as an idea.

Some of us would argue that dividing creation up between “God” and “Nature” leads only to incoherence. Up to and including Arminius, the business of mainstream theology and theological philosophy was to explain how God was both sovereign over (ie, “willed” or “determined”) every detail of reality, and how that could nevertheless encompass the existence of evil, of genuine human choice, of secondary causes and so on.

I would argue it was only really the influence of Socinanism that began to insist on a stark dichotomy between God’s will and everything else. So the idea that “God cannot determine everything” is just as subject to criticism as “God created the world in 4004 BC” - the main difference being that the former has been part of mainstream Jewish and Christian doctrine for millennia, whereas the latter has only been a major issue for a couple of hundred years, in Western Protestantism.

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As I’ve said before, I completely accept that Calvinism is a legitimate Christian tradition, but it is not the only Christian tradition. I do not accept the understanding of sovereignty according to which everything in the universe happens exactly as God has willed and determined it to happen (and this for reasons that don’t have much to do with models of divine action). So perhaps a model of divine action that suggests every event is determined by God does not trouble you; I take it as a reductio.

I’m a little confused here. Russell’s is a proposal for how God interacts with his creation, viz., by determining the outcomes of (at least some) quantum events. My point was that Russell’s proposal seems to lead to conclusions that he meant to avoid.

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I invited him to, but CTNS is involved in a major legal migration right now to become part of the Graduate Theological Union at Berkeley. He is deeply involved in that, and probably won’t be able to keep up with the comments here.

I suspect it is because it confuses the categories and starts on the wrong side of the equation. We see design in nature because we believe God is the Creator; we don’t see God as the Creator because we see design in nature. Who said that? I think McGrath (though maybe he was quoting someone). And of course it’s not quite so linear as that, but that seems to me to be the basic impulse that keeps him from endorsing the ID approach.

I’m (this is me, not me attempting to speak for Russell) persuaded more than ever that even our most basic experiences are shaped by the concepts we bring to those experiences (I recommend John McDowell on this). We don’t sense patches of light and then perform some deductive operation to conclude that we are looking at a tree; we see it as a tree from the get go (or at least from as soon as we’ve been inducted into the language community of which we’re a part). So too, I see nature as God’s creation, not because I’ve deduced it from lots of little examples of design, but because those are the categories I bring to my observation of nature. Design is the “overlay” on my interpretation of nature. It is one of the categories that belongs to the personal discourse that I believe is an indispensable and accurate way of talking about reality. But it is not one of the categories that belongs to the scientific discourse (that I also believe to be an accurate way of talking about reality). Mixing the discourses does not bring greater clarity.


Nor is mine … in fact quite the opposite. My objection is in fact to the ivory tower academics who in fact think that they should be able to account for God’s activities (if in fact they haven’t already fancied that they can). In some ways I think those who you may refer to as the ‘simple folk’ may, with respect to theology, actually be intellectually ahead of the high-minded analytical types, paradoxical as that may seem.

You go on to say you also object to the same, but for different reasons. You object on the grounds that they claim to know God is involved, but then can’t or don’t back it up with satisfactory detail. I object at least partially on the ground to their having made the claim (even if just in the form of a promissory note) to be able to analyze such things in the first place.

It isn’t that I’m above making such attempts (or trying to understand the attempts of others, rather). But my (only half-flippant) repetition of Argon’s observation above that so many have been trying to do this for millennia – and here we are … still trying to complete the task; that should all be a signal to us that there should be no surprise if we never resolve this. In fact, our surprise (and skepticism) should be reserved for anybody who claims that they have.



Jim, that does not seem to be exactly true. For instance it seems to be the Greeks who came up with the concept that Nature has a rational design. They invented the concept of Logos, which is not based on God as we know God, bet as nature as they observed nature. John 1:1 “borrowed” Logos from the Greeks and transformed it from a rational concept into the Living Second Person of the Trinity.

Now it is true that when we live we do not go around reinventing physics, we walk around applying physics. If gravity would disappear, we would know it. If the sun would stop shining we would know it. The fact that these things do not change tell us that God’s universe is still working as God intended it and we know it. It does not say that we know the world is designed because the Bible tells us so. We know that the world is designed because that is what our experiences reinforced by science and faith all tell us is true.

Hi Jim. I agree with that assessment. My point is that it really doesn’t matter whether the interaction is mediated via quantum-scale interactions. You either reach in and redirect the flow of events in this universe or not.

Here’s a classic parable:
A man is stranded on the roof of his house which is surrounded by rising flood waters. He has faith that God will save him. At one point people in a rescue boat pull up to retrieve the man but he waves them off saying “God will save me.” Later, as the water rise a Coast Guard helicopter drops a ladder to the man. He waves it off with the same explanation. Eventually the waters overtake the man and he dies. In heaven, the man goes to God and asks 'Why didn’t you save me?" God replies, “I sent you a boat and a helicopter, why didn’t you use them?”

So the questions: 1) Does God reveal his hand and if so, in what ways? 2) Why does He act that way?

I wrote:

I’d suggest figuring that out first and then worry about any possible mechanisms.

Indeed! :wink:

That would include a sizable chunk of the apologetics field…

My father once took a mandatory religion course in college taught by a Jesuit philosopher. The Jesuit asked the class, “Can you prove God exists?”. My father answered “No.” Most of the other students thought "Yes’. The professor told the ‘yes’ students to provide their proofs and then he proceeded to demonstrate the flaws in each one of them. I think most of the ‘ivory tower academics’ have a pretty well balanced view of their fields and the status of various proposals. There are always outliers but the fact that these and other questions persist suggests that good solutions have not yet been found. And most philosophers know that.


Yes, but my point is that we do not appreciate how much our “experiences” are already shaped for us by prior commitments. We are not blank slates.


Hi Roger,

Hope this day finds you doing well and doing good. I disagree a bit with your view of the Greek philosophical enterprise. Heracleitus, and later the Stoics, did not observe nature with a tabula rasa worldview. They brought their religious views with them, and applied them to the observations of nature.

In fact, the Church identified the Greek perspective on the Logos as a form of revelation from God, not something that emerged from a careful scientific scrutiny of nature. “The Creator of the universe who revealed to you the Logos has now made Him fully manifest in the Christ,” the early bishops might have said, if they had spoken modern English and used my clumsy rhetoric.

Indeed. I should probably try to distinguish where God has revealed through Scriptural prophecy and such what the nature of Divine action looks like … (I.e. --what are we meant to know, and therefore told); and what we think we have revealed about God ‘under our own steam’ as it were --if there even is such a thing in any pure sense). The former is a top-down revelatory approach – infallible by definition though certainly not infallible in our reception and translation of it. The latter is fallible at every level, and possibly just a misguided program even in principle.

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Jim and Chris,

First of all I want to make clear that I do not make a sharp division between science and Christianity, and it is because of the Logos that this is true.

The Greek Indo-European religion were based on myths which explained the seasons, etc. Thar is nothing like that in Christianity, The Greek word for knowledge based on tradition is Mythos. The Greek word for knowledge based on rational exploration like philosophy and science is Logos. Christianity is based on Logos, while other faiths are based on Mythos.

Mario Livio points the impact of Pythagoras on math and philosophy. Geometry developed under the Greeks and demonstrated the enormous ability for humans to understand our world through math and logic. It also led to the emphasis of Logos over Mythos, which is why much of the ancient world became Christian.

Plate of course sits near the center of this convergence of math/science, philosophy, and theology Livio even makes a connection between Plato’s World of math, the physical world, and the world of rational concepts to Augustine’s Trinity. No we are not blank slates, but our philosophy, faith, and science must be in sync or we are in deep trouble. That is my point.

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