Re: [asa] intervention

From: Terry M. Gray <>
Date: Fri Mar 06 2009 - 18:39:43 EST


I don't really understand why "intervention" is contrary to
"hiddenness". What if God "intervenes" in ways that is
indistinguishable from "nature"? And, indeed, his "intervention" is
moment by moment. I'm not sure I like the word "intervention" here but
it makes the point. And this does not necessarily imply that God
directly causes everything. And furthermore, I don't really need to
come up with a physical explanation of how this works, i.e. appealing
to some aspect of quantum mechanics.

(And, yes, this is faith/theological claim and not a scientific one.)


On Mar 6, 2009, at 10:43 AM, George Murphy wrote:

> 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.
> Shalom
> George
> ----- Original Message ----- From: "Bill Powers" <>
> To: "George Murphy" <>
> Cc: "ASA list" <>
> Sent: Friday, March 06, 2009 12:28 PM
> Subject: Re: [asa] intervention
> George:
> 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
> laws?
> 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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Terry M. Gray, Ph.D.
Computer Support Scientist
Chemistry Department
Colorado State University
Fort Collins, CO 80523
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Received on Fri Mar 6 18:40:16 2009

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