Divine action and quantum theory

Similarly, we should avoid the idea of quantum indeterminacy being the privileged place for divine intervention. This idea fails to correctly distinguish between physical and theological categories, and so is unsatisfying as much for the scientist as it is for the believer. Trying to fit divine action into the gaps in the scientific description clearly shows a confusion of primary and secondary causes: God is not an additional causal factor alongside the entities that populate the world. His action is therefore not in competition with the established natural order; it is manifested just as much in his providential sustaining as it is by a miracle, should one occur. Looking for "gaps" in the picture which science gives us, and invoking God to explain them, is more deistic than theistic: a solid understanding of creation allows us to reject any kind of idea of a “God of the gaps.”

Lydia Jaeger, What the Heavens Declare: Science in the Light of Creation (Eugene, OR: Cascade, forthcoming)
This is an extract from a forthcoming book by a very gifted scholar (a theologian, philosopher, and scientist fluent in several languages) called Lydia Jaeger. It is a very thought provoking set of reflections on the idea of laws of nature in connection with the theological concept of creation. Well worth a read, whatever you think of her basic thesis.

The quote above is more of an aside than the centre of a discussion but it does address a proposal from some (e.g., Keith Ward) that we can locate divine action at the quantum level.


Terry Wright said…
And what is her overall thesis? (I ask, because the quotation expresses sentiments that have been expressed before.)
Gavin said…
She spoke on this area (if my memory is right..) at the London Christians in Science conference last year.

Terry Wright said…
Thanks for the link, Gavin. If the abstract for her talk is an indication of what's in the book, it should be an interesting read.
Terry Wright said…
I've posted this on my own blog: http://christpantokrator.blogspot.com/2012/02/lydia-jaeger-on-divine-action-and-laws.html
I think that Keith Ward’s idea is significant for the following reason:

The physical sciences have shown beyond reasonable doubt that the physical universe is not deterministic (as previously believed) but probabilistic. Thus, the state of a physical system does not determine its future state, but a probability distribution of future states. Even so many people believe that this fact about the physical universe inhibits God’s power of special providence. For example, that if God had designed the evolution of the species or, say, the cognitive faculties of humankind, then the physical sciences would be able to detect God’s respective interference in the universe’s probabilistic machinery. But the sciences have not detected any such massive interference, and therefore the premise that God has interfered is falsified. But then science leaves space only for a deistic, absent landlord, kind of god.

This is I think a valid and powerful argument. Many atheistic beliefs, from Richard Dawkins claiming that theism is a scientific hypothesis about the universe, to Victor Stenger’s book “God: The Failed Hypothesis: How Science Shows That God Does Not Exist”, are based on this argument.

In this context it is I think remarkable that the structure of physical theory (and in particular of quantum mechanics) is such that it allows for God’s special providence (as well as for human free will). Indeed it can be demonstrated that it is possible for God to to freely and massively interfere with the universe’s machinery (as well as for humans to have free will) without affecting the universe’s physical closure. See here for a short exposition.

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