An argument as to why God does not intervene in his creation in the popular understanding of "miraculous" ways

This series of posts is in response to a number of questions from boardies on this matter of miracles. The first two posts were originally posted further down the board in reply to a question from Silent4Bells yesterday. I have made slight adjustments to the text of those arguments and in the second, third and fourth posts added the final arguments. I would like to acknowledge that a large part of my own thinking in these matters has been encouraged by a series of interviews I conducted in August last year with Dr Gerald O'Collins SJ, who is Professor of Systematic and Fundamental Theology at the Gregorian University, Rome. He kindly provided me with a copy of perhaps the best study conducted on this whole area of theological thought in the last four decades. It is entitled Special Divine Action: Key Issues in the Contemporary Debate (1965-1995). It was conducted by Paul Gwynne and published by the Gregorian in 1996. In it he examines the thinking of more than 340 of the major theologians and philosophers who have been writing on this subject, particularly in the period in question, but also extending back to examine the thinking of the Doctors of the Church and great theological minds of earlier epochs.

I appreciate this is a long read. All I can say is firstly, enjoy! And secondly, as Grahame is often wont to write: please read it was it was written, praying!

Starting from the assumption that there is a God and that he was the creator and architect of the Universe, and also assuming that God has an ongoing part to the play in his Creation, we are confronted with a question, or series of questions.

It all depends on which way you look at these things, doesn't it?The principal question is did God set Creation up with some sort of plan at the outset that it will run to? And if He did, what evidence is there that he "interferes" in the ongoing outworking of that plan?

[Note: I use the term Universe as meaning the supernatural and the natural. The Cosmos is "the natural" or "ordered" part of creation. "Heaven" is a shorthand descriptor for "the supernatural".]

In ancient times when basically all knowledge of the universe was pretty much in the realms of mystery we had no way of really knowing. Today, and largely through science we can see that God doesn't "stuff around" changing the laws of science in some random or serendipitous way. There is simply no evidence in the really "Big Picture stuff" that God has "changed his mind" as it were, half way through the plan and decided to construct a couple of new galaxies over there, a few more stars down here, or put his "arm" into the whole brew and mixed 'em all about. There's still a heck of a lot that we don't know. But we do know enough now to be able to see that basically from the beginning of Creation the "Big Picture Stuff" has followed a series of well-defined laws that unravel in time.

I appreciate this is difficult because one of the surprising discoveries of the last half century, is that we have also discovered things like Chaos theory and Quantum fluctuations which are basically just random events. But even within Chaos Theory and Quantum theory there are still laws of probability that determine all these things. They are not "serendipitous" or random in the sense that the architect might have had a "bad hair" day, or that he might have woken up one morning and decided to take all the kiddies down the shop for an ice-cream or treat.

Science cannot talk about God. God is not in the lexicon of science. God is in the province of theology. This does not mean that the notion of God is foreign to science, or that science is trying to prove God does not exist. It's merely saying that science has a boundary. That boundary is basically studying things that happen within the ordered cosmos. It can assume there is a creator but it cannot prove absolutely there is a creator, or there is no creator, as it can all the things within its purview and bounds of reference, which are, basically, the extent of everything within the bounds of the cosmos - in other words the things we can see, touch, taste, smell, or hear with the five human senses.

We human beings "sense" by means other than the five core senses that there might be more than the Cosmos though. That is why we have a term like "the Universe" or a term like "the Supernatural". All that "stuff" which we can't "see, touch, taste, smell, or hear" is basically outside the purview of science.

While science cannot tell us anything about what is going on in the Supernatural, it can tell us with reasonable certainty if it appears as though God might be stuffing around with the rules of what does happen within the Cosmos. Basically the evidence is that it would appear God does not interfere with his Creation at the very Big Picture Level. He doesn't seem to be a person who made mistakes and then in 2005 decided to add a few billion new stars to the equation, or "zapped" a few billion stars out of the picture in some random way. The stars that are disappearing are doing so according to simple laws, in just the same way that human beings eventually die. There's no "magic" about the Cosmos at that Big Picture Level. It's friggin' awe-inspiring, and scientists have little orgasms when they find out new discoveries but, basically the further we travel on, all these new discoveries that are occurring are simply confirming more and more that the universe is supremely ordered and that "whoever" it was that thought the whole thing up must have been some "cool guy" or "cool dame". The "miracle" if there is a miracle in it all is in the original architecture (which we are still discovering). There is no "miracle" in the sense that on Saturday morning God puts his great arm down into creation and sweeps a great swathe of stars to destruction. Neither does he go "zap" with some "fairy powder" on Sunday morning and suddenly create a whole galaxy of new stars where there were none before.

The Beginning of Life, Ana Marshak, hairball.bumba.net/~sofiamar/media/The_beggining_of_live_pict.jpgCan you follow me so far?

There is more evidence for random events at the very, very small or Quantum Physics scale. For example the whole thing that led to the Big Bang is theoretically possible from what we now know in Physics. Something can literally be created out of nothing. This is happening at the very small level all the time. Very small particles of matter, sub-atomic particles and blobs of energy just seem to materialise literally out of nothing. But they never last long. They only last for nano-seconds or millionths of a second before disappearing back into nothing again. It takes a lot to understand this stuff because it is totally foreign to our macro way of seeing the world. I can assure you though that scientific experiments now are proving all these "weird" things. We still don't know much about this stuff but I'd suggest we do now know enough to be able to speculate that these weird behaviours are still explained by the laws of science rather than by having to resort to Mystery and theories that some "unseen creator" is sitting behind everything like some pyrotechnician "firing off the computer signals" that trigger these events to occur. They might be chaotic and random but they are happening "within the cosmos" rather than being manipulated or "caused to happen" from outside "ordered creation".

So, with a little less certainty than at the "Big Picture Level", but still pretty good certainty, we can see that the "Very, Very Small Picture" seems to be the same. The one thing science runs up into a brick wall with is what happened before the Big Bang? We don't know. There seems to have been "no time". Literally everything started with the "Big Bang" and particularly the four boundaries of the cosmos, length, breadth, depth and time began some infinitesimally small moment after the initial "explosion into life". The "trigger" MAY have been one of these random Quantum fluctuations but, just as likely it may have been "the Word" - someone, who for the convenience of description we'll label "G-O-D" said, or thought, "let the party begin"!

CONTINUED [use navigation below]...

©2005Tom Scott/Brian Coyne/Vias Tuas Communications
Posted: 22Mar2005

Tom Scott

"In spite of all that might be said against our age,
what a moment it is to be alive in!" James McAuley