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Stoeger, William R.. “Describing God’s Action in the World in Light of Scientific Knowledge of Reality.”

The approach to divine action taken by William Stoeger is to accept with critical seriousness our present and projected knowledge of reality from the sciences, philosophy and other disciplines, including theology which has already developed in response to the sciences. By “critical seriousness,” Stoeger means that this knowledge, though critically assessed by the disciplines themselves, by philosophy and by the other human sciences, does indeed indicate something about the realities it talks about. Stoeger then integrates these results into a roughly sketched theory of God’s action. Implicit here is the methodological problem of how the languages of science and theology are to be integrated.

Next Stoeger employs a philosophical presupposition which he calls a “weakly critical realist” stance. Included are elements of Aristotelianism and Thomism, particularly the notions of primary and secondary causality. These seem to him more adequate to both the scientific and the theological data. They also lead to fewer difficulties in explicating the essential differences between God and God’s cre ation, the relationships between them, and the ideas of divine immanence and transcendence. Stoeger uses the term ‘law’ in the context of both physical processes and free human actions to mean any pattern, regularity, process, or relationship, and its description. ‘Law’ is thus used to describe or explain order. It does not necessarily imply determinism.

Stoeger concludes this section by saying that there are aspects of divine action which we are able to understand better by letting science and theology critically interact. There are other aspects which seem thoroughly resistant to our understanding, particularly the nexus between God and the secondary causes through which God acts, or between God and the direct effects of divine action, such as creatio ex nihilo. The analog of human agency is of some limited help here. However, the principal barrier is that we could only know the critical nexus if we ourselves were divine, or if God revealed such knowledge to us.

Turning to the problem of God’s action, Stoeger argues that if God acts through secondary causes it would seem to require the injection of information, and therefore energy, from outside the physical system. Though we cannot rule out such injections, they have never been observed and are unattractive from many points of view. Some scholars try to evade this problem by allowing God to influence events at the quantum level. Stoeger admits that this is a solution, and may in fact be the case, but he finds it unattractive. God’s working through secondary causes is almost always a function of God’s invitation, or response, to persons. To locate such divine action at the quantum level removes it from the level of the personal. It is also unclear whether its intended effects can surface at the level of the complex and the personal.

Stoeger provides no answer to this issue, but he believes that the framework he has established may move us in the right direction. Either there is some injection of information and energy at the level of personal relationships, or God works within what is already given to make the recipient more receptive to what is available. Stoeger prefers the latter, though something of the former may be involved as well. The difficulty with higher regularities subsuming those at the lower-level is that we usually experience the lower level laws as constraining what can be done on a higher level while not being supplanted by them. Nevertheless there is a great deal left under determined by the lower-level constraints within which agents, including God, can function.

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