|Cover of the book|
Divine action & modern science
by Nicholas Saunders
As I mentioned in previous posts, neither the existence nor the non-existence of God can be proved by science. God, if He exists, cannot be the object of scientific knowledge. Consequently, from the rational point of view, the problem of the existence of God is philosophical rather than scientific. Several solutions have been proposed for this problem:
- Atheism: According to this solution, followed today by many, God does not exist and the existence of the universe would be a consequence just of chance. An additional problem, suggested by this theory, is that we really don’t know what chance is (see this post). Like dark matter and dark energy, it is just a name that tries to hide our ignorance.
- Pantheism: According to this solution, proposed by such distinguished names as Spinoza and Einstein, God is the universe. In other words, there is something in the universe that we cannot discover through scientific analysis, which explains in some way its own existence and ours. The contrast of this theory with the previous one is clear in Einstein’s words against the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics: God does not play dice. With those simple words, Einstein declared his disbelief regarding the concept of chance, used by many atheistic solutions to the problem. In this theory, the action of God in the world would take place only through natural causes, without any alteration (by means of compatibilist action).
- Deism: According to this solution, God exists and created the universe, but then He left it evolve alone. Originated in the eighteenth century, many French thinkers of the time (and a few later on, until today) adopted this theory. From this point of view, the problem of the action of God in the universe does not arise, because it denies that God acts in the universe.
- Providential Theism: According to this solution, God exists and created the universe, but then He doesn’t forget about it, but interacts with it in some way, directing its evolution. The problem of divine action only arises in the framework of this theory.
Traditionally, Christianity has considered two types of divine action in the world: general (which keeps the universe in existence and its laws in action) and special, where God acts by means of concrete actions. In turn, this second form of action is divided into two different types: interventionist through miracles, to which I have dedicated two previous posts of this blog, and non-interventionist, through Providence. Here we are going to consider just this type of divine action, which is essential so that petitionary prayer can make sense.
From the scientific point of view, God’s action on the world through Providence is undetectable. How then can it be carried out?
- From a deterministic view of the world, such as that formulated by Pierre Simon de Laplace based on Newton’s physics, the universe, once created, would have no degrees of freedom, so it would have zero dimensions and could be represented by a geometric point. Even so, seen from the outside, there would still be a foothold for divine action and Providence: the initial conditions of the universe. Thus, C.S. Lewis proposes that, as God is outside of time, He could have answered from the beginning to the prayers of all thinking beings in the universe by adjusting those conditions appropriately. In his own words:
He, from His vantage point above Time, can, if He pleases, take all prayers into account in ordaining that vast complex event which is the history of the universe. For what we call ‘future’ prayers have always been present to Him. (The Laws of Nature, 1945).
- From the Copenhagen interpretation of of quantum mechanics, an indeterministic dimension is added to the deterministic dimension of the universe, which means that the universe would have several degrees of freedom, and could be represented by means of a line in one dimension, with one side deterministic and the other indeterminist. The action of God could take place through random quantum events and be totally imperceptible, by controlling the result of quantum collapses without modifying their relative frequency. Several theologians (Nancy Murphy, Robert Russell, Thomas Tracy, John Polkinghorne, William Pollard, Arthur Peacocke...) have widely different theories, none of which is totally satisfactory.
- If we believe in human freedom, from the apparition of man there was a third way through which God could act in the universe: by inspiring concrete actions to human beings. Human freedom would be a bridgehead of divine action into the material world. Of course, since God doesn’t want to force our freedom, in this case divine action can fail (for we can fail). With this third vertex of divine action, the world becomes two-dimensional, representable by a triangle, as indicated in the attached figure. We can say, therefore, that the apparition of man (or of any other hypothetical thinking endowed with freedom) introduced a new dimension into the universe.
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