Monday, January 23, 2012

Law and Divine Intervention

It is assumed by many people that religion should become accommodated to modern science, and that the best that can be hoped for from theology is that we have evidence that God created the world, and that the governing constants of the physical world are ‘fine tuned’ to make life probable. On this basis, we hope that thereby we can come to know that ‘we are wanted’, and that there exists a ‘plan for our lives’. In such a theology, divine intervention into the world is not strictly necessary, and may indeed be said to be ‘poor management’: as if God could not have set up the world to behave properly in the first place. Such ‘modern believers’ may yet admit that miracles were ‘once’ necessary, for example at the beginning of their religion in order to convince by means of miracles, but that now ‘we are mature adults’ and so miracles are no longer necessary. Divine intervention does not occur ‘in modern times, so they can follow with a clear conscience the principles and findings of those sciences which specify the causal closure of the physical world. This amounts in practice to deism, as distinct from theism.

Such a view misses the point of creation. We are not made for God either to ‘intervene’ or ‘not intervene’ in the world, but for God to reside in the world. The physical world provides the overall framework in which God can place his life, in order to infill and enliven us with the life (spiritual and mental) that comes only from God. It is like asking a resident: are you going to intervene in your house, or not intervene? Or asking a person, are you going to intervene in the world around you, or not intervene. In theism, it is not a question of intervention, but of presence and residence. And what is residence and presence, but constant contact; and how can there be constant contact except by persistence and bilateral causal connections. The purpose of the world, in theism by comparison with deism, is not just that we are in God’s plan (which is a thought), but that we are present and enlivened by God’s love (which, we have seen, means a substantial presence, and reciprocal causation). Presence in reality, rather than only in thought, is an essential part of our whole dynamic ontology, where, as proposed on Chapter 3, we follow the Eleatic Principle: that existence should only be given to that which has causal power. We lose nothing by applying this also to the Divine. We only have to then to reconsider science at the same time as theology, as science (especially empirical science) is concerned with whatever has effects in the world.

The reciprocal causation in theism, I have explained, is not equal on both sides. Rather, it follows the generation + selection pattern described in my book: on the side of God, it is generation; and on our side, it is selection. The result of this asymmetric conjunction is yet to render a workable whole, and yields an effective bilateral cooperation between God and the world. In this bilateral cooperation, both sides have important roles to play. God’s role is to produce and govern all the loves and life that comes from him. Our role is to select by our actions those loves and life that we wish to see become permanent within our own persons. There are many intermediate stages in this process, as will be explored in the next Part IV.

In the meantime, we might reflect on the role of physical laws in describing the processes that occur in the physical world, and whether the actions of God in that world might not after all be described as ‘divine intervention’. Do occasional interventions ‘suspend’ or even ‘violate’ those laws of physics? Think, for example, of conservation of energy and momentum in closed systems. Are those conservation laws in fact broken by God when there occur what some would call miracles?

To answer this question, we have to note that the true law that governs the world of theism is one that describes the multiple generative levels that start from God, and eventually end up with the definite physical actions that beings perform in the world. Any so-called miracle that actually occurred or occurs must follow that true law. Anything that appears to be ‘inexplicably miraculous’ means that we do not understand the true laws of the universe, or the true intentions of the persons (including God) who may be acting within the structure of those laws. Even given that understanding, however, what we still might not understand would be the occasion or speed of operation of those laws.

The other remaining paradox, however, is that many people today believe in physical laws (such as the conservation of energy), since they appear to be held without exception. Much of modern science is built in the assumption that these laws hold universally and without exception, but, according to theism, this is not correct. Rather, these (apparently universal) laws are held only locally within those physical systems whose purpose within theism is to provide an overall container or enduring structure that can persistently select a rather complicated set of internal dispositions. In theism, therefore, we should expect that there are complex organic bodies with a large amount of ‘physical autonomy’. The bodies are never entirely autonomous within theism - only to a large part - but have the purpose of sustaining (by corresponding generation + selection relations) equally-complex internal mental and spiritual bodies. The existence and dynamics of these internal bodies will be discussed in Part IV. Each kind of body (physical, mental or spiritual) is nearly autonomous, and purely-physical laws are nearly but not completely universal: that is the pattern that should be expected within a theistic universe.

Slightly edited from Section 20.5 of my book Starting Science From God

1 comment:

  1. science and religion are one, like love and wisdom, faith and charity, Good and truth,whoever separates science and religion belives in a fiat God, let there be this and let there be that,for science evolved for the purpose to show us how God created the world,not from word of mouth, but from substance which already was God. Good post