Science in Christian Perspective


Letter to the Editor


God's Action in Nature

Keith B. Miller, ASA Fellow
Kansas State University
Manhattan KS

From: PSCF 50 (March 1998): 75.

With the publication of several papers from the "Conference on Naturalism, Theism, and the Scientific Enterprise" in the September 1997 issue of PSCF, I thought it timely to express some of my concerns with the recent efforts to include arguments from design or hypotheses of God's "direct action" as part of the scientific enterprise. My first, and most serious, concern is that a truly biblical understanding of God's action in creation and human history will be lost. God actively participates in all the processes of nature, not only upholding creation in being, but directing it to his providential purposes. As Plantinga clearly stated in his article on methodological naturalism, " natural laws are not in any way independent of God, and are perhaps best thought of as regularities in the ways in which he treats the stuff he has made, or perhaps as counterfactuals to divine freedom."1 And further, "the whole interventionist terminologyˇspeaking of God as intervening in nature or intruding into it, or interfering with it, or violating natural lawˇall this goes with God-of-the-gaps theology, not with serious theism." Such interventionist thinking undermines the theology of God's continuously active involvement in all of creation.

The concerted efforts by many Christians to identify gaps in our causal explanations of natural events (especially in the history of life) seems to me to indicate a view of creation in which God is perceived as only distantly involved in secondary causes. God's immanent action through natural processes seems to be thought by many to be an inadequate expression of divine involvement in creation, and equivalent to deism. Any significant creative act is thus assumed to require God to break causal chains. Similarly, the identification of only specific well-defined events or structures as evidence of "intelligent design" in effect places all the rest of the richness, beauty, and power of creation into the category of the merely natural. The argument from design is thus weakened, not strengthened. The forcefulness of the testimony of creation is that the hand of the Creator is visible throughout the natural universe for those willing to see. Everything in creation gives glory to Godˇthe trees, the animals, the mountains and seas, the very rocks reveal God's majesty and power (Job 38˝41; Psalm 148). God is apprehended in creation by faith. If a person cannot see God in a sunset or a thunderstorm, he or she will not see him in a strand of DNA or a mitotic spindle.

My second concern springs from the nature of scientific exploration and our present level of scientific understanding. As Plantinga correctly observes, appeals to God's "direct action" are "science stoppers" that cut off any further scientific inquiry.2 He further states that this does not enable us to rule out that God did not "directly act" in such a way. This is also quite true. Plantinga, however, is incorrect in thinking that such explanations can be part of scientific description. Science can identify areas of inquiry in which no demonstrated cause-and-effect explanations presently exist, but that is all. To establish that a given process or event has, in principle, no possible causal explanation would require essentially complete understanding of all relevant factors and historical contingencies. Such knowledge has not been even remotely obtained in any field of scientific inquiry, nor is it likely in any foreseeable future. The danger in using presently inexplicable aspects of creation as evidence of intelligent design or direct divine action, is that future discoveries have the potential to fill those gaps and undermine the foundation of sand upon which the case for divine action was built.3

The proclamation of the Christian community should be that God is the Author and Sustainer of all created reality, and that he is no less active in a thunderstorm than in any miracle. Furthermore, God is presently creatively active in his creation (see Psalm 104: 27˝30) and in human history and human lives. Let us not compromise the theology of creation for short term, and probably fleeting, apologetic advantage.

Notes

1A. Plantinga, "Methodological Naturalism?" Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith 49 (September 1997): 149.

2Ibid., 152.

3See D.F. Siemens, Jr., "On Moreland: Spurious Freedom, Mangled Science, Muddled Philosophy," Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith 49 (September 1997): 196˝9.