Why Can’t God Intervene?

The advance of science doesn't threaten the idea of a personal and active God.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://biologos.org/blogs/jim-stump-faith-and-science-seeking-understanding/why-cant-god-intervene

Key quote:

"What we should think of special divine action, therefore, doesn’t depend on current science. The sensible religious believer is not obliged to trim her sails to the current scientific breeze on this topic, revising her belief on the topic every time science changes its mind. But where Christian or theistic belief and current science can fit nicely together, so much the better. Who knows what the future will bring? But we can say at least the following: at this point, given this evidence, this is how things look. And that’s as much as can be said for any scientific theory.

We noted that many theologians, philosophers and scientists object to the thought that God acts specially in the world. At least some of their objections have to do with science: special divine action, they say, goes contrary, somehow, to science. As we’ve seen, however, none of these objections is even remotely cogent; there is nothing in current or classical science inconsistent with special divine action in the world. "

The classic dispute over whether ALL of God’s interventions are considered natural and lawful … vs. God’s “lawfulness” is sometimes over-ridden by some divine interventions…

OK, has Plantinga dissolved the problem of divine action?

This is a welcomed addition to BioLogos discussions, and there is a great deal of “food for thought”.

I also start with, “According to Christian and theistic views of God, he has created our world.” (previous post) and He did this from nothing - thus I find the comments concerning “laws of science” and God somehow breaking these to be an unconvincing statement. The main reason for this is that such thinking assumes a disconnect between nature and the laws of nature. It is incorrect to argue for matter and energy, time and space, as objects that are somehow subject to something we call laws of science/nature. The universe is described and understood within the language of science and maths - we cannot arrive at something that would bind God; we may argue for regularities, and the closed universe, or similar outlooks, is one way we may discuss our observations.

I will not labour the point, but @jstump mentioned an interface - I suggest that it may be appropriate to consider a model in which human intellect assesses the world of objects, but it cannot transcend these - this may cause us to consider a closed, or a regular and comprehensible system. The “interface” may be that of knowledge derived by us, and knowledge provided to us through revelation.

Closing sentence of today’s post:
Therefore, we have found no conflict between Christian or theistic belief and current science.

Point well made I think but, with respect, to what end? Even if this point — that science and religion are not in conflict — is universally accepted, what will it change? Non-believers will still demand evidence of divine intervention. Believers will still struggle to provide it.

For those of us who believe in God’s ongoing work of creation, must we not acknowledge that God has not equipped us to provide the evidence that is demanded via the tools of science? In the past, some believers used seemingly inexplicable natural phenomena as evidence of divine intervention. Those days are behind us now. Doesn’t the Bible make it clear that the evidence of divine intervention is to be our very lives if we allow it? To me, the real problem isn’t within science or any perceived conflict between science and belief. So the solution is not there either.

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Hi Tom. I think Plantinga would claim there to be an important difference between providing positive evidence for God’s existence on the one hand, and combating claims from atheists that they have provided evidence for God’s non-existence on the other. He’s not claiming to have done the former. But there is a line of argument against theism that says, “you Christians claim to believe in a God who interacts with the world; that is just incoherent, and therefore you shouldn’t believe in such a God.” What Plantinga has tried to do is to show that that line of argument is not effective.

In the future posts in this series, we’ll see other ways of countering the incoherence claim.

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Hi Tom - Yes, it seems that at the end of the day, we’ll always be able to simply assert some sort of independence model in science and religion. People on both sides of the theistic ‘aisle’ will always be able to claim that Christian belief and scientific realities each ‘work’ on their respective levels. As you’ve pointed out, that approach will probably not convince the unconvinced, especially those seeking actual evidence of divine action in support of God’s very existence. I wonder, do you think the science and religion conversation is more well-suited for ‘convincing’ non-believers, or rather providing plausible frameworks in a ‘faith seeking understanding’ manner? This is an interesting and pertinent question about the science and religion field as a whole: should it be in the business of doing apologetics? You seem to be making a similar point.

One issue that remains has to do with explanatory redundancy - if we say that theology is not to be supported by the tools of science, it can be a struggle to articulate why, exactly, we should bring divine action into the picture at all. If science provides an explanation for something, is it not superfluous to attribute that same event to divine action? There are good arguments against this objection, of course… As Jim mentions, future posts will tackle the broader ‘metaphysical framework’ questions brought up here!

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Ever since science has presented us with single photons “interfering with themselves” … the idea that the Universe has to “be logical” does seem rather moribund.

The human mind now and then finds inspiration for FAITH. It is by FAITH that we claim God’s involvement in our lives and in the Universe. I do not find this to be a problem.

Faith should not force us to DENY the testimony of the natural world. Would someone who believes in the message of the Bible INSIST that the single photon experiment is FALSE? I would hope no, never.

And yet YEC’s perform a similar denial each day.

My remarks are directed to how we may comprehend creation by God “from nothing”. I do not mention anyone else, nor refer to YEC’s, TE’s, atheists or any particular group. Perhaps I should add to my remark concerning “laws of science” and “nature” for the sake of clarity.

The act of creation by God is knowledge that is given as revelation - so we take that as teachings of the Christian faith. This act is in toto - as John 1 shows, and so I am suggesting that when we through science, discuss nature (or the world of objects, matter, energy, space, time), we may communicate this as some type of category (this is stuff for philosophers); to simplify my remarks (and I emphasise simplify), our discussion may be taken (incorrectly) to consist of laws of nature, and then objects of nature (mass, energy and so on). This clouds our understanding, in that we now have made up a category of “laws” that somehow are “imposed” on objects. It is from this fallacy that discussions adopt a “God cannot break His laws” and similar nonsense. If we were able to transcend the world, we are likely to comprehend it as it is, and those things that we (for convenience and to generate communicated knowledge we refer to as science) may include things we call laws, in point of fact are not things, but a limited way to get us closer to what is intrinsic to nature. Kant talks of things in themselves, while others prefer analytics when discussing how we come to know things we call science.

Thus, theologically, we need to be fully aware that (a) human beings cannot transcend what we term the universe, (b) human knowledge cannot be taken as equivalent to revelation of the attributes of God (in this case as Creator), and © human language and perception of things is intrinsically that of the self (some term this as tacit knowledge, others refer to it as subjective, or internal. dialectics - once again stuff for philosophers and perhaps only of interest to scientists).

In all of this, I am suggesting that we cannot properly talk of how God may act and how the laws of nature get an airing in discussions on this subject. We can understand however, that God transcends His creation, and He ensures it is so, by the fact of divine act of creation, that includes what we term beginning, ends, and all else (is totally at the behest of God).

As far as “The Divine Consistency Objection” goes, I see this as a mission/purpose issue. If God’s purpose for this universe is for it to obey the natural laws without exception, then God is being inconsistent. If God’s purpose for this universe is, let’s say, to bring glory to Himself, then God should use the natural laws and whatever other means necessary to fulfill that purpose. If God’s purpose is the latter, then miracles actually make God more consistent since they fulfill his purpose.

An example of this idea in a simpler context would look like this: my stated purpose for eating food is to give my body healthy energy, yet I spend the day eating chocolate. I am acting inconsistent with my stated purpose. If my stated purpose for eating food is for my own (short-term) enjoyment, there is no inconsistency with my purpose. Personal consistency (probably better defined as integrity) always depends on purpose.

So, what is God’s purpose, and what role do the natural laws play in that purpose?

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I’m with you, Dylan.

If we accept the Two Books point of view, the purpose of God through the Bible and Nature is to reveal God’s Self. That is what the miracles in the NT do along with everything else through Jesus Christ and the Bible. The laws of nature also reveal God’s Self, when we take the time to understand them.

I appreciate your willingness to engage on this. No, I don’t think the science-religion conversation is well suited at convincing the ‘unconvinced’. When theistic philosophers and scientists suggest that divine action might be hiding within the uncertainties of quantum physics, they are indirectly acknowledging that their hand is pretty weak. Even the tremendous evidence of fine-tuning of the natural world is readily dismissed (eg. via multiverses) since it can’t be proved. And as one who is convinced that divine action is ongoing and ever-present in the natural world and in our lives, this ‘hiddenness’ appears intentional. Could it be that God doesn’t want to be ‘outed’ by the tools of science? You brought up the question of ‘why’. I would love to see this explored. Perhaps the main value of the science-religion conversation is as a support to all truth-seekers who are struggling and have honest questions. Biologos has provided this type of support so well I think.

This is an interesting point of view - God’s purpose is the salvation of humanity through Christ - the NT shows that everything is done to serve God’s will and purpose. To include purpose in “laws of nature” would, I suppose, be made reasonable by arguing the entire universe was created for that purpose. However, if people take a point of view such as, for example, Hume, we are back to some humanly disscovered regularities that have a hold over the creation, and these are termed laws that determine the way the creation is and continues. It is this error that I think we may fall into; in a humorous way, it may be said that “laws of science” are deified and are worthy of worship, so much so, that God is somehow put in His place. It is even more humorous when we realise that these laws are also without purpose, but everything must be subject to them; yet it is all accidental, random, non-reproducible etc etc, and yet they regulate the entire show. Illogical by any measure.:persevere: I suggest that error is derived from this illogical view, be it a view of a determined/clockwork creation, or one of a purposeless pointless accidental nature.

Could it be that God doesn’t want to be ‘outed’ by the tools of science?

I happen to agree that that is exactly what is going on… God intentionally “hides” in the sense that He ensures that our public evidence remains ambiguous. But we can’t simply stop there because it is very reasonable to think that God would want to supply us with as much evidence for His existence/actions as possible. But clearly He has not done that. So we do need a counter-reason, some plausible explanation for why He has not in fact supplied us with overwhelming evidence for His existence/actions. I think the answer must lie in a special value of coming to know God from within an ambiguous evidential condition. This value may be hard to specify, but we can glimpse it when we contemplate the apparent dis-value of believing when our evidence is overwhelming. Blessed are they who have not seen, yet believe.

You’re absolutely right that this should be explored further.

@tom, @John_T_Mullen

I appreciate the discourse between you two. I actually think that the science and religion discussion can be suited for apologetics. Remember Romans 1:20, “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.” The immediate context is not seeing God science, of course, it’s seeing God in nature. However, some people think that God can be seen through science. Visit Richard Dawkins’ home page some time, his followers go on and on about the utter joy it brings them in discovering the beauty and complexity in nature, - to the point that their discourses are almost, if not literally, acts of worship. Dawkins says that he basically worships nature and said Einstein (both including science) did as well (The God Delusion). They just at this point can’t see, for some reason, the one who created this wonderful creation. I agree with Tom’s point that that looking for God’s actions in the uncertainties in quantum mechanics is lame (I studied quantum mechanics in undergrad and I find it hard to see any other reaction than being laughed out of the classroom had tried to suggest that). But Tom I think you let the multiverse off the hook way too easily. What Dawkins and other popular skeptic writers fail to mention is that the multiverse, if it exists, is not guaranteed to produce universes with different physical constants and laws. The multiverse to do that would have to be in 9 dimensions, and they would have to be, “fine tuned” (simplified) for it to have the characteristics of producing an unlimited number of universes, each with a new set of laws and constants that would produce life in a few of them. Considering that, and the fact that there is literally no physical evidence of other universes, we can present intellectually curious people with 3 real options: That the beauty and wonder of this universe appeared out of nothing, that we got lucky with a fine-tuned multiverse (of course this calls for an explanation) or an intelligent creator initiated the creation. We don’t need magical acts (I’m not arguing that there isn’t) to show people God’s presence. In summarization, for myself, even a, “naturalistic” creation, taken in it’s proper context is more than enough have apologetic value.

Very well put. By ‘dis-value’ you lead me think of persons with fame, fortune or power who can never truly know who their friends are… and even of their friends who can never be completely sure even of their own motivations. How could this ever be avoided? Perhaps an intentional ‘ambiguous evidential condition’ is an absolute necessity. Perhaps ‘perfect humility’ demands it as well. Thank you!

I actually agree with you. You used the word ‘lame’ in reference to using the uncertainties of quantum physics to point to divine action. And I would use the same word in reference to using multiverses in an attempt to avoid the powerful evidence of design. For believers, the apparent design of the universe is convincing scientific evidence of a Creator. It is to me. However, for those who are ‘unconvinced’, ‘multiverses’ readily allows them to remain unconvinced because ‘luck’ is an acceptable, rational alternative. And this is what I was acknowledging. So God continues to be hidden for all intents and purposes.

Seems to me this might hinge (at least in part) on whether one believes God to be temporal or not. If God exists outside of space and time, which the singularity of the Big Bang suggests must be the case, then every action within space and time, must by definition be an intervention.


Unless of course you consider God to be within space and time as well as outside.