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"Rational Scientific Theories from Theism"


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20.6 Law and divine intervention

It is often assumed that religion should become accommodated to modern science, that the best that can be hoped for from theology is 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 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 even be said to be poor management, as if God could not have set up the world to behave properly. Such modern believers might even admit that miracles were once necessary, for example at the beginning of a religion in order to convince by means of miracles. However, now ‘we are mature adults’ and miracles are no longer necessary. They do not think divine intervention occurs 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 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. We are made for God to reside in the world in order that we may live. The physical world provides the framework in which God can place his life and infill and enliven us with the life (spiritual and mental) that comes only from God. It is as senseless as 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. What is residence and presence but constant contact? How can there be constant contact except by persistent 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, but that we are present and enlivened by God’s love. Presence in reality, rather than only in thought, is an essential part of our dynamic ontology. As proposed in Chapter 4, we follow the Eleatic Principle: existence should only be ascribed 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 because science (especially empirical science) is concerned with whatever has effects in the world.

The reciprocal causation in theism is not equal on both sides. Rather, it follows the generation + selection pattern described in subsection 6.1.1. On the side of God it is generation, and on our side it is selection. The result of this asymmetric conjunction is a workable whole. It 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 come from him. Our role is to select by our actions those loves and life that we wish to become permanent within our own persons. There are many intermediate stages in this process, as will be explored in the next Part.

We might ask about the role of physical laws in describing the processes that occur in the physical world and on whether the actions of God in that world might not be described as ‘divine intervention’. Do occasional interventions suspend or even violate the laws of physics? Think of conservation of energy and momentum in closed systems. Are those conservation laws broken by God when what some would call miracles occur?

To answer this we note that the true law that governs the world of theism describes the multiple generative levels that start from God. They eventually end up with the definite physical actions that beings perform in the world. Any so-called miracle that occurred or occurs must follow that true law.20.5If anything appears to be inexplicably miraculous, it 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 (or both). Even with that understanding, however, we still might not understand the occasion or speed of operation of those laws.20.6

The remaining paradox comes because much of modern science is built on the assumption that physical laws (such as the conservation of energy) hold universally and without exception. However, according to theism, this is not correct. Rather, these apparently universal laws are held only locally and approximately 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 we expect that there are complex organic bodies with a large amount of ‘physical autonomy’. The bodies are never entirely autonomous within theism. The bodies 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 the next 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 expected within a theistic universe.

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