Re: [asa] intervention

From: George Murphy <>
Date: Fri Mar 06 2009 - 12:43:55 EST

Bill -

The best answer I can give to your closing question is that breaking &
violating physical laws seems inconsistent with the character of the God
revealed in Christ - in particular, with the hiddenness of God and the
divine self-limitation in the fundamental revelatory eevnt of the cross. is one article in
which I've argued this. I would quickly add, however, (a) that this does
not rule out all miracles (though it does mean that the only phenomena we
call miracles shoul;d be ones that are beyond the capacities of creatures) &
(b) as I noted in my earlier post, Goedel's theorem suggests that there are
limits on the comprehensiveness of any system of physical laws.


----- Original Message -----
From: "Bill Powers" <>
To: "George Murphy" <>
Cc: "ASA list" <>
Sent: Friday, March 06, 2009 12:28 PM
Subject: Re: [asa] intervention


I believe tht Nicholas Saunders in his book on Divine Action argues that
non-interventionist divine action does not appear promising presuming
a realist construal of modern physics.

Saunders never really addresses interventionist divine action. Why
object to interventionist divine action? Even if physical law is
equivalent to a physical necessity in this world (something I don't know
how we'd know), why prohibit divine breaking and violation of those

bill powers

On Fri, 6 Mar 2009, George Murphy wrote:

> 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.
> Shalom
> George

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Received on Fri Mar 6 12:44:37 2009

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