[asa] intervention

From: George Murphy <GMURPHY10@neo.rr.com>
Date: Fri Mar 06 2009 - 11:08:17 EST

Since there's been discussion here of the idea of "intervention," it may be helpful to say something about a good-sized (33 pp) article by Alvin Plantinga that appeared in the November issue of Theology and Science. The title is "What is 'Intervention'?"I think someone on the list mentioned this previously but I've just gotten around to reading it. He notes that many theologians & especially those involved in the "Divine Action Project" object to the idea of divine "intervention" & adopt what he calls "hands-off theology." Plantinga then does several things which are, IMO, of uneven quality.

1) He argues at some length that classical physics does not rule out the possibility that something which is not predicted by the laws of physics could take place. A number of historical distinctions are made here & he presents a formal proof of his claim, the point of all being that the laws of classical physics themselves do not require that the world be a closed system. This is really quite obvious & the extensive discussion is overkill. Nor do I think that a great deal is added by his discussion of quantum theory. If classical physics doesn't rule out intervention then a fortiori quantum physics doesn't either.

Missing here is any discussion of the implications of Godel's theorem - i.e., that it may not be possible for any system of physical laws to describe all phenomena.

2) Plantinga then examines the philosophical & theological objections that have been presented againt divine intervention, miracles, &c. Most of these are in the category of philosophical theism & Plantinga, I think, shows them to be not very substantial. But he does not consider distinctively Christian arguments to the effect that the character of the God revealed in Jesus Christ suggests that such events be at least kept to a minimum.

3) Then Plantinga gets to he title question. Can we define events as "interventional" in a unique way - i.e., distinguish unambiguously between interventions and "normal" events. It isn't as simple as one might think. The obvious way of doing this is to say that if God causes an event E to occur at time t2 which the laws of nature (i.e., the true laws, not just our approximations to them) together with the initial conditions at t1 < t2 wouldn't have predicted then E is an intervention. But as Plantinga points out, this would also imply that God's preservation of an entity created in such an intervation at all times t > t2 would also have to be counted as interventions, which we don't want to do. I think this is correct and that it's probably very difficult to specify precisely whether a given event is an "intervention." The best we can do in the above case is to say something like "Intervention occurred at some point in the interval t1 < t =< t2 (where the latter =< means "less than or equals). & that seems to me to be adequate.

4) Finally he argues for some version of what he calls DCC, "divine collapse causation," in connection with the idea that God acts by causing the collapse of the wave function. I think this is a promising idea but there are some problems with it - in particular, it may amount to just reintroducing the idea that God does everything in the world directly, as in Barbour's "classic" model of divine action. Plantinga suggests that human beings, created in the image of God, have a similar (though of course much more limited) ability to influence what happens. That doesn't seem to me to get at the heart of the problem.


To unsubscribe, send a message to majordomo@calvin.edu with
"unsubscribe asa" (no quotes) as the body of the message.
Received on Fri Mar 6 11:09:05 2009

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.8 : Fri Mar 06 2009 - 11:09:05 EST