30.4 Divine immanence
Theism has always maintained that the universe does not exist in its own right,
but is sustained (every moment of every day) by the continuing power of God. The
question is: does God do this ‘at a distance’, or is the divine more closely involved
in the universe and even present (immanent) within it? We would like to compare
this ‘general Divine action’ with the less frequent ‘special divine action’ that
occurs when God acts specifically in the world in a manner not consistent with its
regular behavior. Religions have always insisted on the possibility of special divine
action, Saunders (2002) reminds us, as only in this
way do divine revelation, incarnation or intercession become possible. If special
divine action is at any time possible, what does that mean for the ‘sanctity’ of
One common argument follows Leibniz30.4,
who claimed to Clarke that “if God had to remedy the defects of His creation, this
was surely to demean his craftsmanship”, and that “when God works miracles, he does
it not to meet the needs of nature but the needs of grace."30.5This
argument has often been used to support Darwinian evolution when talking to the
religious: it must have been possible to arrange the details of evolution in advance.
The response to Leibniz is to remember that all human life, whether
moral, rational or spiritual, must in fact come from the grace of God. We have to
insist, with Aristotle, that action (grace, in this case) comes about only from
power and presence. This means that all human life depends on the (closer or further)
presence of God. Since God must be constantly making changes to the spiritual and
mental worlds, the physical world must also be frequently affected by God’ actions.
Leibniz’s mistake is to think that material creation is the only objective
of God’s actions in the world. It is not. The natural laws of the physical world
are only approximate and valid subject to ceterus paribus (other things
being equal). When God is present, other things are not equal.
God is therefore immanent everywhere in creation and especially active where
there are mental beings. This implies that there is no strict distinction between
general divine action and special divine action. The laws of nature were never strictly
and uniformly adhered to in the first place. The only laws that are strictly
followed are the multilevel generative laws, which is why theistic science concerns
itself with knowledge of them.