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Saturday, September 30, 2006

Does anything ever happen by chance? Nancey Murphy 2

For Isaac Newton and other architects of the modern scientific worldview, the "laws of nature" were a direct expression of God's will -- God's control of all physical processes. However, today they are generally granted a status independent of God, not only by those who deny the very existence of God, but also by many Christians, who seem to suppose that God, like a U. S. senator, must obey the laws once they are "on the books." Consequently, for modern thinkers, deism has been the most natural view of divine action: God creates in the beginning -- and lays down the laws governing all changes after that -- then takes a rest for the duration.
Not all modern theologians have opted for this deistic account, but in many cases the only difference has been in their additional claim that God sustains the universe in its existence. Those who have wanted (or who have believed Christianity needed) a more robust view of God's continued participation in the created order have been forced to think in terms of intervention: God occasionally acts to bring about a state of affairs different from that which would have occurred naturally. . . . It is an ironic bit of history: the laws that once served as an account of God's universal governance of nature have become a competing force, constraining the action of their very creator. Nancey Murphy, "Divine Action in the Natural Order: Buridan's Ass and Schrödinger's Cat," pp. 325 - 357 in Chaos and Complexity: Scientific Perspectives on Divine Action, edited by Robert John Russell, Nancey Murphy and Arthur R. Peacocke. Vatican City State: Vatican Observatory Publications, 1997. Quote is from p. 325.

Murphy goes on to say, and I agree, that any description of how God acts must include not just unfolding rules, created in the beginning, along with (presumably) the elements, but must allow for God to act specially. One reason for this, she says, is that we get to know a person by observing their actions. God's actions tell us about Him. Another is to allow for answers to supplicating in prayer. If God never does things specially, why should prayer be encouraged in the New Testament? Third, says Murphy, if God doesn't act specially in some circumstances, then God is responsible for all evil, too, because it must be the unfolding of the way He made things. There must also, she says, be room in such a description for extraordinary acts. (She avoids using "miracle" for these, but, to many of us, that is what she means.)

My previous post on Murphy and chance is here.

Thanks for reading.


Jeremy Pierce said...

Ah, but if God's actions are the unfolding of God's plan (via laws), how is that not still the result of a person' actions?

Also, an omniscient God (particularly an atemporal one) can respond to prayers by awareness beforehand (or atemporally) of the prayer, thus working the response into the providential plan.

The third argument just seems to me to be a denial of God's sovereignty in any remotely biblical sense. If God doesn't have the ability to be sovereign over evil, why worship and serve him? Why be sure he will win in the end? It's God's secure control over all things that makes out trust in him secure. This doesn't mean God is responsible for all evil in the same way the perpetrators of evil are, but it does mean that if God had truly wanted the plan of providence to include different things then God could have made it so.

Martin LaBar said...

OK. I see your point. I guess we can't know how God acts, which is one of the consequences of not being omniscient. He could act in our time, our outside of it, and still meet Murphy's conditions. Thanks.