Thursday, November 11, 2004

Before reporting on Tuesday lecture by Alistair McGrath, let me make a few comments about what Alvin Plantinga said yesterday. I should first mention that the general theme of his five lectures is that there is a superficial conflict and deep concord between science and religion, and superficial concord and deep conflict between science and philosophical naturalism. The first three lectures cover science and religion while the last two will deal with naturalism.

Yesterday's lecture was entitled 'Divine Action in the World' and asked whether special intervention by God was possible in a scientific universe. Many theologians, Prof. Plantinga explained, thought that miracles could no longer be believed in by someone who participates in the scientific world view. Some of these theologians are just trying to be modern and 'with it' while not really understanding the limitations of science. Others have serious theological problems with the idea of God breaking the natural laws that he ordained himself, in order to perform a miracle. It is the former group to whom Prof Plantinga aimed his arguments.

Under the old Newtonian picture of the universe, determinism only prevails if we assume that not only the laws of physics hold, but also that the system is closed. In other words, God has to be assumed to shut himself out of the universe if he is to be forbidden to perform miracles. With modern quantum mechanics, Newtonian determinism is replaced by probabilities and hence simply closing the system is no longer enough to determine all future (and past) occurrences. But this does not seem to have much effect on the question of whether or not God can intervene.

I must say that I am rather confused about theologians who reject the possibility of divine intervention. Are they saying, as Prof. Plantinga suggests they are, that once God has set up the laws of nature even He can't break them? To a Christian, this is absurd as the laws of nature are only maintained by God actively keeping them going. They have no independent existence beyond being God's will upheld. So it hardly makes sense to say He cannot change them as and when He sees fit. Other theologians claim to know the mind of God and say that He would not change them as that would show He had made a mistake. Here, I have more sympathy with Prof. Plantinga's opponents. I do maintain that the laws of nature are usually maintained and that miracles are very uncommon. I disagree with the picture of God fiddling around (for instance) with genetic mutations and also believe God respects the integrity of the universe. However, this still leaves room for miracles as long as we believe them sufficiently uncommon not to undermine the constancy of nature.

Tomorrow, Prof Plantinga will talk about evolutionary psychology. I cannot attend but will try to get a copy of the handout and see what he has to say.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

You mention about miracles likely being uncommon. But what of the many miracles performed by Jesus' followers even after Jesus was no longer around. I'm not aware of anybody in contemporary times who was/is able to perform the kind of miracles (done by other than Jesus) alluded to in the New Testament writings. Of course there's lots of pretenders like Benny Hinn.
Something is fishy here.

Anonymous said...

How can God changes the laws if they are so finely-tuned? Would that not have disatrous consequences for life itself?

Anonymous said...

In the Bible there are only three major clusters of miracles happening: With Moses and the conquest of land, with Elijah/Elisha, and with Jesus and the apostles. In each of these cases it was a major point in redemptive history. This seems to indicate that while miracles happen, we souldn't expect them to be the norm (and especially not on demand, contrary to what people like Hinn would have us believe).

As far as changing the physical laws, one possibility is that God doesn't actually change or violate the natural laws when He peforms a miracle, but that He "interferes" with natural forces (though I guess technically they would be "supernatural" forces since they would come from God, but the point being that these forces don't change or violate the natural laws; just that they're strong enough to yield a particular result in accordance with the natural laws).

jason_r

Bede said...

Remember, though, that the empirical question of whether or not miracles happen is totally separate from the logical question of whether or not they are possible. Plantinga was not giving us evidence miracles happened, just explaining it is false to say that science means they are impossible.

Anonymous said...

Do you agree with Plantinga that evolution should *not* be taught in schools?

Bede said...

Where does he say evolution should not be taught in schools?