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Divine Action in the World, Part 1

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September 1, 2012 Tags: Divine Action & Purpose

Today's entry was written by Alvin Plantinga. Please note the views expressed here are those of the author, not necessarily of BioLogos. You can read more about what we believe here.

Note: Earlier this year, we introduced a series by Professor Robert Russell that explored the nature of God’s action in the world. We are pleased to continue investigating this fascinating and critically important topic by featuring a recent talk by prominent Christian philosopher Alvin Plantinga, sponsored by the Biola University Center for Christian Thought.

In this talk, Professor Plantinga addresses the fact that many contemporary thinkers—including many theologians—believe that God cannot perform miracles, providentially guide history, or interact in the lives of people, as these activities would be contrary to science. Plantinga, on the other hand, makes the case that this popular view is mistaken; excluding divine action in the world is not a central feature of natural science itself, but a philosophical or theological preference that has been added on to science (and can just as readily be removed). Plantinga concludes that it is completely logical to accept the miracles of the Bible and support contemporary science.

In this four-part series, we provide the video of Professor Plantiga’s lecture as well as a written version of his presentation.

My talk is entitled “Divine Action in the World.” I want to talk about a certain kind of objection to Christian belief that some people raise. They claim that central thoughts, central doctrines of Christianity, are contrary to science, and therefore, are suspicious or incredible or such that one can’t sensibly hold them—can’t be rational in accepting them.

There are several different kinds of arguments that people bring along these lines; I want to talk about just one. So first… the Heidelberg catechism, one of the forms of unity of the church I go to (the Christian Reformed Church), says

Providence is the almighty and ever-present power of God, by which he upholds as with his hand heaven and Earth and all creatures and so rules them, that leaf and blade, rain and drought, fruitful and lean years, food and drink, health and sickness, prosperity and poverty. All things, in fact, come to us not by chance, but from his fatherly hand.

And part of the way it comes to us—not by chance, but from his fatherly hand—part of the way God has designed our world, is that there is a great deal of regularity and dependability in our world. Of course, if it were not for this regularity and dependability, we couldn’t do the things that we actually do. I mean, for example, if I just wanted to walk off the stage—if, for example, all the sudden those stairs over there suddenly turned into a ladder going up—well, that would make it really difficult.

If you are trying to build a house, for example, you have this hammer, but all the sudden the hammer turns in to a goose or a pigeon. Again, that would make things really difficult…or if the nail turned into a worm…or if you get in the car and turn the key and the car turns into a camel, things would be really hard, much harder than they are. This regularity and dependability in our world is an essential condition of our being able to live in the world in which we actually do.

If the world were irregular enough, we would not even be able to live in it, but there are also, according to classical Christianity here (the Heidelberg catechism, for example) there are also special divine actions; sometimes God does things specially. There are miracles in Scripture: the parting of the Red Sea, for example, Jesus walking on water, Jesus changing water into wine. There are miraculous healings: Jesus rising from the dead, Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead, and so on. And according to classical Christians, many of them, perhaps most of them, are special divine actions. God, for example, responds to prayers. He works in the hearts and minds of his children to effect sanctification. There is, what Calvin called, the internal testimony or witness of the Holy Spirit, and there is what Thomas Aquinas called the internal instigation of the Holy Spirit. So, these things are all special actions on the part of God. God constantly causes events in the world. Ok, so far fair enough—what is the problem?

Many theologians seem to think there is a science-religion problem here. I don’t think any of the theologians of Biola think this, (I don’t know, but I doubt it) but many theologians do. For example, Rudolf Bultmann says, “The historical method,” which of course he thinks that is the method we should use, “includes the presupposition that history is a unity in the sense of a closed continuum of effects in which individual events are connected by the succession of cause and effect. This continuum, furthermore, cannot be rent by the interference of supernatural, transcendent powers.”

That’s what he says. Alright, there is this continuum that cannot be rent by the interference of supernatural (that would be God) or transcendent powers. So, it is a little bit like the laws of the Medes and Persians. You probably remember Daniel. Daniel was a favorite of King Darius, and well, the other courtiers became jealous of Daniel (they didn’t like it that the king liked him so well). So, they came to the king and said, “Oh king, live forever, we think it would be a great idea if you passed an edict to the effect that you alone can be worshipped. Everybody has to worship you and nothing else.” Well the king thought that over for a minute, and that sounded pretty good to him so he said, “I guess that it is a pretty good idea.” So he made this edict; he made this declaration: “Only King Darius is to be worshipped—no one else, nothing else.”

These courtiers knew that Daniel worshipped God, and they thought probably Daniel would keep right on worshipping God despite this edict. So they were watching Daniel, and he was, in fact, worshipping God. So they came to the king. Now the penalty for worshipping something else was to be thrown into the lion’s den and they said, “Well, king live forever, looks like Daniel has been violating this edict. You have got to throw him in the lion’s den.”

Well, the king didn’t want to do this because he really liked Daniel. He thought this was a miserable way to proceed, and he didn’t want to do it, but then they said to him, “O king live forever, and remember a law of the Medes and Persians cannot be abrogated, even by the king himself.” So once it’s put in place, not even the king himself can change it or abrogate it or go against it.

That is sort of the suggestion that you get here from Bultmann. Bultmann thinks, “Maybe God created the world and set it up in a certain way, but once he did that, not even he can interfere in it”—he uses that word interference—“not even he can do anything in it. He just has to keep hands off.” It is like the law of the Medes and the Persians.

Another theologian who agrees is John Macquarrie, who says,

The way of understanding miracle (and that would be one kind of special divine action) that appeals to breaks in the natural order and to supernatural intervention belongs to the mythological outlook, and cannot commend itself in a post-mythological climate of thought. The traditional conception of miracle is irreconcilable with our modern understanding of both science and history. Science proceeds on the assumption that whatever events occur in the world, can be accounted for in terms of other events that also belong within the world, and if on some occasion, we are unable to give a complete account of some happening, the scientific conviction is that further research will bring to light further factors in the situation that will turn out to be just as imminent and this worldly as the factors already known.

Ok again, no room there for special action. And the third thinker here, Langdon Gilkey (still another theologian), says something similar, but I will pass. I will not read that one in the interest of saving a little bit of time, but these three theologians, plus many others want to assert that there is something wrong with the idea of God acting in the world, acting in the world in a way that goes beyond creation and sustaining, or creation and holding things in existence. So they think, “Ok, God created the world; God sustains it in existence”…that is ok with them, but anything beyond that, God performing any miracles, raising Jesus from the dead, or for that matter working in somebody’s heart and mind in a special way, that, they say, is a real problem. The question is, what is the problem?

Well, the next little bit here…according to the Christian and theistic idea, God is a person; he has knowledge, loves, and hates. He has aims and ends. He acts on the basis of his knowledge to achieve his ends. He is all-powerful, all-knowing, and wholly good. Thirdly (noted above by the Heidelberg catechism), God has created the world. Fourth is God conserves and sustains and maintains in being this world he created, but fifth, at least sometimes, God acts in a way going beyond creation and conservation in miracles, but also in his providential guiding of history, his working in the hearts of people, his internal instigation of the Holy Spirit, and so on, and it is with that fifth category that these people have a problem. It is God’s special action in the world—action beyond conservation and creation—and miracles would be an example.

So we might think of these theologians as endorsing what we could call hands off theology. God has got to keep his hands off. God could create the world. God conserves the world, sustains it in being, but he can’t do anything else—that is as far as he could go. It is hands off theology, and Bultmann, even in this context, even talks about interfering. I mean if God did something in the world that would be interfering, which, when you think about it, is a sort of strange thing to say—I mean if God created the world, he is the omnipotent, omniscient, holy, good creator of the world—when you accuse someone of interfering, you are saying they are doing something they should not be doing, right?

So Bultmann thinks if God did something in the world that would be interfering, and he should be ashamed of himself. Ok, now why is this a problem? Their suggestion is that somehow it is contrary to science. It is contrary to science the suggestion that God acts specially in the world. I didn’t read that bit, but Gilkey says, "The causal nexus in space and time which the enlightenment science and philosophy introduced into the western mind is also assumed by modern theologians and scholars. Since they participate in the modern world of science, both intellectually and existentially, they can scarcely do anything else.”

From a presentation sponsored by Biola University’s Center for Christian Thought, and delivered February 12, 2012 at EV Free Church, Fullerton, CA. Used by permission.

Alvin Plantinga is the inaugural William Harry Jellema Professor of Christian Philosophy at Calvin College, as well as emeritus John A. O'Brien Professor of Philosophy at the University of Notre Dame. He received his B.A. from Calvin College and his PhD from Yale. He taught at Calvin College for 19 years prior to his 28 years at Notre Dame. Acclaimed for his work on metaphysics, the problem of evil, and the epistemology of religious belief, he has written books such as God and Other Minds (1967), Does God Have a Nature? (1980), Warranted Christian Belief (2000), and most recently, Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion, and Naturalism. (2011). Dr. Plantinga is best known for his Christian epistemology that justifies belief in God without external evidence, his “free will defense” to the logical problem of evil and his evolutionary argument against naturalism.

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Jon Garvey - #72348

September 1st 2012

It’s good to have Plantinga’s words being posted here. I think he’ll pop a few balloons. To my mind, the most stultifying thing in the whole science-faith arena is the idea that God isn’t allowed to act, or would be wrong to act, in his own Universe.

wesseldawn - #72417

September 3rd 2012

How could this be God’s universe? The earth is the only place we can live…the rest of the universe is unfriendly to human habitation. God would have created perfection in the sense that it would “all’ be friendly to us. Is mass starvation also God’s plan? How about disease, wars, suffering? How can you possibly say that this is God’s world?

They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented; 38 (Of whom the world was not worthy they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. (Heb. 11:38)

This world is not our home as we strangers and sojourners here and destined for another place.

Of course God is active here but only in and through those that have His spirit. We are here to be lights in a “dark” world that is under the deception of dark powers.


Eddie - #72355

September 1st 2012

I, too, appreciated this piece by Plantinga.  He offers a balanced and historically orthodox account of divine action which endorses all the regularity that natural science needs to function, while maintaining the divine freedom to perform special actions whenever they are deemed fitting.

I think that a theistic evolution informed by Plantinga’s balanced account of divine action would serve Christians better than the near-deistic form of theistic evolution that is often advocated by TE/EC supporters.  It would allow for God to be sometimes involved in the evolutionary process in a direct way.  This would be compatible with the ideas of, say, Robert Russell.

With the appearance of columns by and about thinkers like Plantinga and Russell, BioLogos seems to have turned a corner and moved out into a more expansive world of discourse, in which not only modern theologies of nature’s freedom from God, but also traditional theologies of the sovereignty of God over nature, have a place in discussions of evolution.  Congratulations are in order, and let’s hope that BioLogos continues in this direction.

GJDS - #72360

September 2nd 2012

Professor Plantinga stated:

“The causal nexus in space and time which the enlightenment science and philosophy introduced into the western mind is also assumed by modern theologians and scholars”

It is worth noting that causality leading to the prime mover was taught as far back as Aristotle, and before him Platonic forms have been used to point to the originator ... I suggest that the causal nexis is more of a re-synthesis of pagan philosophies rather than a new idea resulting from the enlightenment science and philosophy.

I would welcome a move from this ancient view towards discussions of/on freedom. I agree that it is infantile to argue that God is restricted by His own creation, or that He needs to be justified in bringing about events that are of a specially significant nature or meaning. The view of scientific laws as being a way of ensuring regularity (clockwork view, or even stochastic world views) is imo a continuaution of this ancient simplisitc outlook carrried over from Helenic roots. The articulations science provides are communicated knowledge that we as humans have accumulated via the scientific method. The certainty that science brings with particular formulae and universal constants is a specific way to testify to the creation and creator. Instead of random events, however, we should ask questions about freedom that we as human being would understand it amongst ourselves, and also on ways we may comprehend the freedom we discuss, within nature.

It is our understanding of this interplay between a naturally determined world (ordered, regular, comprehensible), and our ability to add or take away from the world (human action and agency) that may enable us to progress towards a better understanding of divine action - whatever theological view people adopt, the attributes of God will always exceed the descriptive power of human beings and also our capacity to comprehend these attributes. 
Jon Garvey - #72361

September 2nd 2012


In “Where the Conflict Really Lies” Plantinga does some work on “freedom”, for example in relation to quantum indeterminism (p 119 ff). He does this in relation to God and “human beings and other persons” - ie “principalities, powers, angels, Satan and his minions”.

In other words, as Plantinga is suggesting in this first article, the closed causal nexus of classical science is inadequate to deal with the reality of freedom of action for God and for those personal agents he has (freely) created.

Is this the understanding you have of “freedom” in your post, as the word so often in these discussions seems to get attached loosely to non-personal entities like “evolution”? When that happens, the borderline between “choice” and “randomness” becomes unnecessarily confounded, whereas in Plantinga’s thought it is quite basic and clear: persons have freedom to make choices.

GJDS - #72363

September 2nd 2012

continued (I cannot get a handle on the word limit so ...)

The question can expand to include free will and predestination, but it is too large a topic. I take the view that the world is grounded on real entities which testify to the act of creation by God. Because human beings are physical, but are in the world, we are able to change the world by various activities while not ‘violating’ the laws of nature – we in fact use the knowledge of nature to change what is in the world.

As a humorous addition to these serious discussions – we can easily justify ourselves when we create miracles (e.g. able to fly without wings) but we cannot tolerate God doing His thing, so to speak. Miracles however, are by their very nature exceptions and are in the vast majority of cases known to us from third parties. While we may wish for them, and believe that God can and hope He would perform them, they are not so because of us, so serious discussions for God acting, or not, seem to me to be of a dubious nature.

The classical view as I see it can be traced to people like Aristotle who wanted to deal with cause and effect, but he tried to avoid the infinite regress, so he postulated an end to this regression by placing a prime mover as a beginning. I prefer to consider creation by God to encapsulate everything, including many dimensions and everything that is known and would be knowable, including simultaneously beginnings, ends, and everything in between. The act of creation is therefore grounded on a singular attribute of freedom, which God has imparted within our limitations, to the creation itself. If any of us have created something truly original, we would probable have a better idea of the meaning of freedom that I am discussing in this response.

... continued

GJDS - #72362

September 2nd 2012


I agree with you in that ‘freedom’ can be used with various meanings. I have not had the opportunity (or time) to read Professor Plantinga’s work so I cannot comment.

I make a distinction between, for example, liberty (a setting by which a human may choose to undertake various activities, or the relative absence of restraint for some human activities), from that of a singular freedom. The later meaning of freedom I am suggesting is equated with: (1) a human being (or God also if you wish to add a personal dimension) would maintain his self-identity while being in the world, with all of natural forces and conditions, and any or all activities he undertakes, and (2) an attribute that is consistent with ‘creativity’, or as I have stated state, the ability to add or remove from the world.

When we speak of science, we are discussing nature as autonomous and an assume regularity, but what we more often mean by this is comprehensibility. If we look at quantum indeterminism, my understanding is that we deal with probabilities (quantum mechanics) or with an inability to have total knowledge of a quantum event (the uncertainty principle). These mattes are nonetheless comprehensible and in principle, knowing this per se does not in itself change nature in a fundamental way. What have changed are our comprehension and understanding, and the sum of our communicated knowledge, which now includes quantum events and stochastic insights when we deal with random events.

... continued

GJDS - #72364

September 2nd 2012

( I am totaly confused by this reply action; the response has appeared in the wrong order .... the first is second, the second is first, and I can only guess where the third portion will end up)


On non-person entities such as the theory(s) of evolution, I cannot see anything distinctive at a high level with the exception of how life began. Biochemical and biological areas are still part of nature and can be studied via the scientific method. What is seen as random I think can be rendered comprehensible by looking at mechanistic aspects of bio-entities (in case Gregory objects, I use the term mechanistic within chemistry in which chemical routes are understood by established methods). In this context, nature is able to provide a variety of reaction routes, in any system, and the outcomes with higher probability may often be identified and the reason for this can be understood. You may see from this, that the term ‘randomness’ as often used in discussions on biochemical events may be meaningless to me. The other matters are based on the endless possible arrangements of genetic material, which is another topic. None of these matters have an impact on what I have stated is the meaning of freedom. 

I agree with the distinction made regarding choices that people make. The broader question is that Of how we understand God’s activity in the Universe and how the ‘laws of nature’ are often discussed. If these laws are derived form an autonomous nature, and we human beings are made of the same material other objects in the world, it would follow that human beings should be subjected to these laws in the same way as a stone or a tree. In which case, we are back to a problem – I think this is due to an inadequate understanding of these ‘laws of nature’.

Jon Garvey - #72366

September 2nd 2012


Why should anything in natural law raise any question of “autonomy”, unless nature itself decided what those laws should be?

One way of regarding “law” is the way God usually chooses to do things. Another, less “hands-on"would be that he sets the laws for nature to run on (obediently) unless and until he comes back and changes them, or acts apart from them.

In the latter case “Autonomous” (self-legislating) would be the wrong word - maybe “automatic” would better describe the relationship to the Creator.

GJDS - #72380

September 2nd 2012

Reply to Jon #72366


I do not like autonomous or automatic, but we are in danger of starting another terminology argument and I want to avoid that; instead I use the term ‘intrisic’ to indicate that neither science, nor nature, brings laws into the Universe. Nor I cannot see why we need to invoke God’s law in such a discussion. Nature would be what it is whatever science says or does not say, because the act of creation is an act of God. Science has provided sufficient information to help us understand this.

The topic presently discussed is divine action, and I am pointing out that human action occurs within the natural framework, but we can easily discuss it as ‘out of nature’ if we are so inclined, in that we create something original that nature cannot bring into being. On divine action, a simple response is that God as Creator may be understood from nature (i.e. we have that ability to understand this, as Paul shows in Romans), but that does not mean we can understand everything He has done and can do - the Gospel shows this in great detail since Christ walked amongst us as a human being and he was subject to nature as we all are, and also fulfilled God’s law in toto, and performed miracles (mainly to help people understand Faith). It is in the phrase ‘God’s Law’ that I think we can begin to understand Divine action within the created universe.

Joriss - #72365

September 2nd 2012

It is astonishing that Bultmann, who is a theologian, thinks it’s a problem if God does something special as an interference in the “normal” course of events, which always must be the results of scientifically understandable causes. But how can we know the exact difference between understandable and not-understandable, and even if there is a difference at all? Do we really understand the understandable to the very core?
God is not bound to natural laws that He has made Himself, so when is He acting “within” these laws and when does He act “beyond” these laws?
When Jesus walked on the water, did He do so by instantaneously changing physical laws, by no physical law at all, by a supernatural law? Again, how did he multipy bread and fish = creating matter, leaving out the little big bang, needed for such an operation? To make so much food out of nothing for thousands of people, the energy of a great number of nuclear bombs is needed.

How can we know that the scientifical explanation of the birth of the universe is correct, since God obviously works with the same ease with or without the natural laws we know? After all creating from nothing is a miracle by definition, so at what moment did the miracle become “natural”?
At t=0? t=100? t=87.400?
If we can’t know, how reliable science will be then, when it is applied to the origin of the universe?

How can we know if God, in creating the universe, used our natural laws from the very beginning? It is an assumption. God has not said He did so and did not promise his creation could be unraveled so far that we would discover all the secrets of his “recipe”.
The reason why we live and do all the things we do, included science, is to glorify His name and be good stewards of the earth.
Is the world glorifying His name, by art, by economy, by technics, by all the works and business that is done on this planet? By a number of people: yes, but generally spoken this world doesn’t care about the glory of God. Science is not an exception. Ofcourse there are scientists who want to glorify God with their lives and works, but for the vast majority it is not the rule.

Science should be, just like eveything we do, service to God, as one of the means by which we can maintain this planet and care for it.

It might be, if science is used only to satisfy our curiosity and our desire for knowledge, that it goes astray, and that we are doing some kind of phantom-science, thinking we got the clue of how the universe came into being, but that in fact we have not the faintest idea how He did it. And will we then call Him “a cosmic deceiver”, because we think His creation ought to be completely understandable to us?

But may be the door to really relevant knowledge is a science and scientists being dependant on Him for doing science and putting it in the right proportion to the other aspects of life, just as God meant it to be. I don’t expect this will soon be the case worldwide. So I will be careful not to accept too easily scientifical conclusions, when they are about things in the area between miracle and natural, especially when they have great consequences for our faith.
Nevertheless we may be grateful for all the undeserved blessings God has given to us through science, although it generally doesn’t glorify Him.

Merv - #72370

September 2nd 2012

The trouble, even with thinking most or even some things in the universe are “automatic” is that this still smacks of a deistic or absentee landlord, not one who is intimately present with creation and for whom not one sparrow alights apart from God’s care.  We tend then to parody this opposite extreme as being the “micro-managing”  God who is busy everywhere pushing things down lest they neglect to behave in gravitationally appropriate ways.  The problem with both these views is that they inevitably must draw too heavily on limited human experience.  We know how we want things managed or how we variously want to spend our finite attention on as much detail as we can and yet we also like it when things run smoothly without needing our constant labor.  Then we project these limitations onto an omniscient and omnipotent God.


Jon Garvey - #72371

September 2nd 2012

I agree with that Merv. Re your “micro-managing” I’m concerned how much of the debate on divine action, even at a high academic level, utilises ideologically loaded terms like that (witness Howard van Till’s description of God’s unilateral creative acts as “coercive”. For goodness sake, am I being autocratic if I create a picture??)

The term “micro-managing” refers to human governments or corporations failing because their leaders try to do too much for their own capacity, and fail to trust their underlings (who are equally human too) to be competent in their sphere .

That is simply not the case with God and nature, firstly because God does not have limitations, and secondly because inanimate nature is not a conscious entity (still less one equal to God) who can shoulder a share of responsibility. Without recognising these issues, using a term like “micro-management” is merely emotional manipulation, and one could equally term it “infinite care” - which is maybe how we’d prefer to view God’s ability to listen to, and respond to, the personal prayers of billions of human souls. How would we respond to learn that God doesn’t “micro-manage” our prayers but delegates them to a myriad of minor angel bureaucrats? Or worse still, leaves it up to natural law to answer them?

It may sound naive, but in the absence of personal knowledge of God’s working practices, I prefer to get my ideas of his degree of involvement from the way Scriptural revelation describes it, and work from there. What degree of activity would it take for God to deal personally with falling sparrows and the hairs on my head?

Merv - #72375

September 2nd 2012

Hear! Hear!  Bring on the Scriptural revelation, Jon—that’s where the theology is found and let the science be brought on board as it may.

Then we can begin to have fun discerning teachings such as God being compared to an ‘unjust judge’ or a crotchety master of banquet who will toss out any of the riff-raff if they don’t dress right.     And yet at the same time we are admonished to not multiply our words like pagans as if God was deaf or didn’t already know our desire, Or come to Him as we are.  So many N.T. teachings just brush right by our modern need to make journalistic rational order of everything, and exhort us just to enjoy a good story and pick up on some relational understanding instead.


p.s.  Maybe we could start a ‘hairs of our head club’.  (God doesn’t have much work to do in the case of my own head—at least not regarding what’s *on* it anyway.  Now what’s *in* it may be a whole nother matter.)

Jon Garvey - #72392

September 2nd 2012


“God doesn’t have much work to do in the case of my own head.”

I can think of some biologists who would take that as evidence that far from caring for the hairs of your head, he had allowed egregious trichological errors to build up in your genome. Ergo to suggest he numbers them is bordering on blasphemy!

(We then have to work out why Jesus bought into such an erroneous view of things, and conclude that he was following the science of his time…)

Roger A. Sawtelle - #72376

September 2nd 2012

IMHO you are confusing different types of history.

We have natural history which describes how the physical universe was formed.  The most important aspects of this seems to be the fine tuning which makes life on earth possible.  I do not think that is any disagreement among believers that God is responsible for this.

Next we have what I will call “organic history,” which is the history of life on earth.  This might be also be called the story of evolution, but the question is What is the nature of evolution?  Darwinists think of evolution as mechanistic.  I submit that since it involves living creatures that it is organic.  Ecology takes this into account much better than Darwinism.  This complex process gives God more ways to interact with God’s Creation.

Finally we have human history, which for theology is salvation history.  The Bible is the first history and salvation history is the real concern of theology and Christians, not natural or organic history.  Humans are rational and spiritual creatures and salvation history is a rational and spiritual story. 

We know that God is very much involved in human history, and yet to a large extent that involvment was indirect, except for Jesus Christ.  God raised up people like Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Miriam, Joshua, Rahab, Ruth, Samuel, David, etc. 

We know how God lead them, because we have the Bible.  We know how God has called us and led us.  We see how God called and led people like Abraham Lincoln, Martin L. King, Jr., and others.  However it is not clear that an “objective” observer would agree. 

Does it really make much difference if we can prove that God is involved directly with history?       

Merv - #72378

September 2nd 2012

Just to continue this theme, since nobody else is jumping on yet ...

The picture of God walking in the Garden in the cool of the day (apart from the fact that he was looking for a hiding Adam and Eve) is a picture of someone who is just enough detached from his creation that he wants to enjoy it as an observer, not merely a controller.  I know all these anthropomorphizations of God don’t really give us anything close to a whole picture of God, but they do give us glimpses of bits of Him.  And in this glimpse, I see somebody who, while involved in every intimate detail, yet still delights in the freedom expressed in each detail, whether we call it ‘randomness’  (that a hair would sprout where it does) or ‘freewill’ (that a sparrow would choose to land at a particular spot)  or ‘providence’ (that the sun comes up again this morning as it always has and always will).  I think God enjoys walking his garden still, even in its wrecked state.  And all these things get rolled together underneath that umbrella of sovereignty.


Roger A. Sawtelle - #72394

September 3rd 2012


You are right.  If God exercises total control of the universe, then we have pantheism, everything is divine and nothing is created or autonomous.  On the other hand we know that God is in control because the universe would not exist without God.  How God is in control, yet God does not micromanage is something of a mystery, a paradox, that we cannot understand using a dualistic model of reality.

This is the reason a trune universe works with a Triune God.  The universe is not one or monistic because this would allow for no freedom, everything would be determined.  The universe  is not dualist, because this leads to perpetrual unresolved conflict.

The best answer is triunity which allows for continuity (oneness) and change (diversity.)  This allows philosophy, science, and theology to get back on the same page, where they do not have to agree, but they need to speak the same language.  

Merv - #72395

September 3rd 2012

Roger, with you I believe in a triune God—and so am inclined along with you to be fascinated by “organizational trinities”  that we may find useful for apprehending creation.  And I also agree with you (for Scriptural reasons) that pantheism (as well as panentheism) are not options for the Christian.

You wrote:

How God is in control, yet God does not micromanage is something of a mystery, a paradox, that we cannot understand using a dualistic model of reality.

I’m with you on that too.  However, if you go on to imply that this mystery becomes ‘solved’  by simply adopting a trinity model over a dualistic model, then I’m not following.  I just don’t see how the mystery of God’s activity will ever be explainable in human terms and will be suspicious of folks who claim to have that answered.  We may have good and true answers in theological terms, but theology comes with its own embedded (accepted) mystery; so while that maybe religious explanation enough for us we shouldn’t pretend that it brings with it a comprehensive physical (scientific) explanation of the same.

You also have a couple other sweeping assumptions:  1. You state that monism leads to determinism which would not allow for freedom.   and 2.  that theology, science, and philosophy do not have to agree.

Your objection that freedom and determinism cannot coexist has echoes of C.S. Lewis in it, and considerable sympathy from me as a Lewis fan and a firm believer in free will.  But I’m not sure that argument still stands fully supported independently of our just latching onto it by faith. I’m fine with that, but I don’t expect nonbelieving skeptics to accept it.  I think of this as another one of those intractible mysteries that won’t ever yield up its secrets no matter what model of reality we adopt (be it monist, trinitarian, or whatever).  Science has stumbled right up near the edge of this mystery demonstrating apparent indeterminism.  I don’t forsee its being able to advance any farther on that front, however I don’t say that with certainty. And science can’t leave its own turf to make any convincing statements for or against freewill.  (I hold that as a definitional certainty.)

You still use the language of ‘oneness’ as part of the trinity, but if you still see reality parceled between theology, science, and philosophy, then I object and offer instead that all creation will be one seamless garment of truth when fully understood.  And since we can’t reach that point in this life, I just take this as a matter of faith.  Believing that all truth is God’s truth, any disagreement between theology, science, and philosophy are tensions awaiting resolution.  Disagreements may persist of course, and we may be fine with that for now.  But it does mean that our understanding of either (or more likely both) still awaits complete fulfillment.  So I would reverse your last statement and say, where they (science, philosophy, theology) happen to touch on the same things, they need to agree.  But the language they speak is functionally different—and necessarily (usefully) so.


Roger A. Sawtelle - #72399

September 3rd 2012


Science deals with the nature, while philosophy deals with knowledge, and theology deals with the spiritual.  All of these are rooted in God, which is why we are talking about a triune form of reality.

The Father is not the Son nor the Spirit.  The Son is not the same as the Father or the Spirit.  The Spirit is not the Father or the Son.  The question is not conflict, but diversity and a certain amount of tension. 

If all things were the same, if everything were white, there would be no basis for choice.  If everything were black or white, also there would be no real basis for choice.  We would make our decision, black or white and that would be it.

When we have a choice, not between white and white, or between black and white, but between red, blue, and yellow, which are the relational components of both white and black, then we have the real chioce and freedom that God has given to us.    

My argument is in part against non-believers, but more with believers who are also scientists, philosophers, or theologians.  We need to get our act together, before we blame others for our problems.

Merv - #72405

September 3rd 2012

These divisions of approach—- theology for the Spiritual, science for the natural, and philosophy for knowledge all sound good as far as they go and I have no argument with that other than that I just hold that all lightly; at arms length if you will instead of with the certainty that you seem to embrace.  Those divisions (useful and necessary as they are for us here and now) may turn out only to be artificial or not reflective of a larger seamless reality.  I.e.  I don’t think spiritual things can be seen as cleanly divorced from ‘natural’ things.


Roger A. Sawtelle - #72408

September 3rd 2012


What makes you think that reality is seamless?

We see seams everywhere.  past, present, and future.  We can’t have time without these “seams.” 

If you are going to say that only the One is real and true, I strongly disagree and call upon the Trinity as my proof.  I think we had this conversation before and you firmly disagree. 

I am saying that the spirit is related to the physical and the rational, the opposite of being divorced.  The rational mind is found in the physical brain and communes with the spirit.  There is no separation, but there is always differentiation.    

Merv - #72410

September 3rd 2012

It isn’t so much that I firmly disagree as it is that I remain “firmly uncertain” on this.  You may well be right, but my intuitive leaning is towards a future day when I imagine we’ll look back with the help of divine sight and see spirit and flesh, divine action and nature all rolled together as one glorious creation.  But since we can’t see that right now, we still do freely adopt a “spiritual” level and think of it differently than our fleshly existence —even following the Apostle Paul in doing so.  So I realize you could pull on any number of Scriptures that show the same separate regard for apparently “separate realities”.   I do like the idea of the spiritual, natural, and the philosophical that you propose as a kind of “triune system”, though if I understood you earlier to equate these respectively with the activity of the Father, the Son, and the Spirit—I would hold that as tentatively interesting.  It may yeild insights but these “clean separations” are too tidy—too limiting to be accepted with finality.  I’m more inclined to think of them like parables that give one glimpse while still leaving most of the reality untouched or awaiting other kinds of comparative understandings.  It may well turn out we aren’t really disagreeing over much here.  I could be misunderstanding details and then talking past you. I’ll keep digesting things I read here and elsewhere.  Thanks for your patience.


wesseldawn - #72456

September 5th 2012

I want to talk about a certain kind of objection to Christian belief that some people raise. They claim that central thoughts, central doctrines of Christianity, are contrary to science, and therefore, are suspicious or incredible or such that one can’t sensibly hold them—can’t be rational in accepting them.

Creationism (God goes “poof”) is contrary to evolution (time and chance, randomness and regularity) and will always remain so! That’s the reason why scientists with Christian leanings (BioLogos among others) had to come up with an alternative, Intelligent Design. It was a way for God to ‘save face’ and gain credibility in scientific circles!

It was a good attempt but as evolution does not need God to work (and is contrary to the way God would do things), then I.D. must also be questionable!

When was the last time you saw God interfering with nature? He can and does interfere at times but “in the lives of people” and only as a result of being asked to intervene. If this was God’s world, He wouldn’t need to be asked to right the wrongs as everything would be perfect, never-changing and peaceful.

Something happened at the fall and it was responsible for what we have now - evolution (mutation due to adaptation).

Christianity assumes that God made this mess. Yes, nature is complex and magnificent at times but that cannot conpare to God’s realm as our reality and Paradise are two very different things.





Roger A. Sawtelle - #72457

September 5th 2012


No, life is messy, but is not a mess or a disaster.  It is not perfect as you see perfection, but it is the perfect arena for our experiencing God and that is the way God made it.

We experience God through life.  We cannot expect God to just give us eternal life for no reason or purpose.

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