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Quantum-Based Proposals on Divine Action

The best way to compare theories of divine action in detail is to ask - what, for each theory, is ‘the causal joint’ at which God - as a transcendent, immaterial world cause - interacts particularly with causative factors in the material world?

One important approach to asserting particular providence through gaps in the causal order is to follow a suggestion first made by Pollard in 1958 and locate theologically-productive indeterminacy at the quantum level, rather than at the macroscopic level. This has the advantage that there is more general (though not universal) agreement that these systems are genuinely non-deterministic (see Shaking the Foundations: the implications of quantum theory).

So Thomas Tracy gives the following five types of divine agency, in addition to the initial creation:

  1. ‘God acts directly in every event to sustain the existence of each entity that has a part in it.’ [Conservation]
  2. ‘God can act directly to determine various events which occur by chance on the finite level.’ [Quantum-level intervention]
  3. ‘God acts indirectly through causal chains that extend from God’s initiating direct actions.’ [Amplification of effects at quantum level]
  4. ‘God acts indirectly in and through the free acts of persons whose choices have been shaped by the rest of God’s activity in the world.’ [Persuasion (presumably a function of 2. and 3.)]
  5. ‘God can also act directly to bring about events that exceed the natural powers of creatures, events which not only are undetermined on the finite level, but which also fall outside the prevailing patterns and regular structures of the natural order’ [Miracles - on these see also the question of miracle]The Tracy quotations and the basis of the titles of these different aspects of divine action are taken from Clayton, P, God and Contemporary Science [Edinburgh: Edinburgh Academic Press, 1997] p215

(The Tracy quotations and the basis of the titles are taken from Clayton 1997:215)

It is an interesting exercise to compare this list with the one given in An Introduction to Divine Action: Isaac Newton’s God. Note Philip Clayton’s comment: ‘all but the last of these five can be accepted without affront to natural law.’Clayton, 1997, 215

This seems at first sight a very promising way to combine the Christian belief in divine action with modern scientific perceptions of the world. But see criticisms of quantum-based proposals on divine action.

Email link | Feedback | Contributed by: Dr. Christopher Southgate
Source: God, Humanity and the Cosmos  (T&T Clark, 1999)

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