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God s Action in the World 1d: Miracles – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: God

Gods Action in the World
1d Miracles
  • Modern thinking about the Action of God in the
    world must involve a dialogue between theology
    and science.
  • What we believe about God is the proper concern
    of theology. If God is the Creator and Sustainer
    of the world, it is reasonable to look at what we
    know about the world and to ask what, if
    anything, this says about God.

Approaches to knowing about God
  • Christian theology has often distinguished
    between Special and General Revelation.
  • Special Revelation refers to what we can know
    about God from Scripture in particular.
  • General Revelation refers to what we can know
    about God from what he has created.

Doctrine of God
  • As a result of theological deliberations,
    thinkers arrived at a doctrine of God. This
    represents, at any one time, the best attempt
    using the language available to describe what God
    is like and what He might do in relation to the
    world in general and humanity in particular.
  • All attempts to speak of God are inevitably
    provisional and subject to change. We have a
    best available model of God in our doctrinal
    formulations at any one time.

A contribution from science ?
  • If theology makes assertions about God and his
    relationship to everything, it could well be the
    case that what we discover about the world that
    God has supposedly made, can and should inform
    our understanding about God.
  • In particular we must ask the question How does
    God relate to the world and does He act in the
    world in any way other than to keep it in being?

A link between science and theology
  • Science involves the making of hypotheses,
    theories and models of reality. These are tested
    and rejected, retained and modified, in
    conformity with reality as it is.
  • In theology, models of God should conform to the
    reality of God. Models of God can be revised too.
    How we test them is of course more difficult
    than it is in science.
  • Both disciplines make models and both respect the
    control of reality on them.

Good fit?
Model of God
Reality of God
Model of the world
Reality of the world
Good fit?
Back to the doctrine of God - 1
  • Christian theology wants to affirm two things of
    God, namely
  • God is transcendent
  • God is immanent
  • In other words there is an simultaneous
    affirmation of Gods otherness and difference
    from His Creation alongside an affirmation of His
    closeness to all that He has made and keeps in

Back to the doctrine of God - 2
  • In theory, therefore, it is possible for
    theologians to speak of an all-powerful God who
    could run the universe and interact with it in
    whatever way he chooses.
  • In practice the key question is how does God act,
    and in particular, does God ever do anything
    which is different from the normal regular
    behaviour of the universe that we observe?

Key questions
  • Is it the case that the universe always behaves
    in a regular way?
  • Are there any sufficiently well documented
    exceptions to this apparently law like behaviour?
  • If there are exceptions, do they have religious
    significance? What do they tell us about God?
  • Is it a problem for science if God occasionally

Some theoretical models of God and the world
God created the universe and sustains it moment
by moment. The universe is observed to usually
run in a law-like manner. This is understood to
be Gods way of creating a stable environment in
which creatures can develop and live. God may
choose to work in unusual ways if there are good
reasons to do so.
Some theoretical models of God and the world
There is no God. The universe is observed to run
in a law-like manner. Miracles are impossible.
Some theoretical models of God and the world
God made the universe which He chooses to
leave to run according to the laws of nature He
put within it and which we observe. We should
therefore not expect anything miraculous
Some theoretical models of God and the world
The universe is in God but not to be identified
with God. The universe is observed to run in a
law-like manner. In theory God could choose to
act in unusual ways.
Choosing between worldviews
  • A choice of this kind will not rest on one single
    factor or issue. Most of us arrive at conclusions
    in the light of many things, not least our own
    personal journey.
  • There will be theological considerations
    independent of scientific questions.
  • There will be concerns about which best fits with
    what we understand science to be saying.

A key empirical issue
  • Let us restrict the use of the term miracle to
    something similar to that used in the classical
    discussion by David Hume, namely A miracle is a
    violation of the laws of nature.
  • Is it the case that there have been any instances
    of such violations?
  • If there have been this is presumably bad news
    for Atheism and Deism.
  • Is it necessarily a problem for science?

Are miracles a problem for science?
  • Some say yes and some say no!
  • There are scientists who have very different
  • An atheist who is also a scientist has no place
    for miracles. They are not expected.
  • A theist who is a scientist can accommodate
    miracles, indeed often expects them. Laws of
    nature express how God normally runs the show,
    but do not forbid God from doing things

Are miracles a problem for theology?
  • Some say yes, others no!
  • Theologians who happily accept miracles still
    face the question of why God chooses to do the
    miracles He does and not others, which He could
    presumably have done.
  • This is a major reason why some theologians would
    prefer God not to do specific miracles at all,
    even to the point of denying the traditional
    understanding of the incarnation and resurrection
    of Jesus in the Christian tradition.

Historical Developments
  • Isaac Newton was not a Newtonian!

Newtons physics rapidly led to a view of the
universe as a mechanism which could in principle
be fully understood as running according to the
discovered Laws of Nature. Newton himself
believed that it was God who directly mediated
the force of gravity. Not only this, but God
occasionally needed to modify the system, intrude
into human affairs using such things as comets
and epidemics and do miracles as well!
Historical Developments
  • In succeeding years a view began to emerge which
    effectively removed God from the everyday
    management of His world. Newtons belief in
    Divine Action began to be replaced by a view that
    the universe, even if it was a Creation of the
    Divine Being, was essentially autonomous in its
    functioning. God became, to all intents, the God
    of Deism. It would be a short step to Naturalism
    - atheism in other words - where God no longer
    had a role to play in our understanding of the
    day to day operation of the world.

Historical Developments
Hume wrote that it was unreasonable to believe in
Laplace reckoned that in principle the world was
completely determined by Newtonian mechanics.
  • Darwins work provided an account which removed
    the need for divine design of individual

God of the Gaps
  • It would be easy to see this historical trend as
    slowly removing God from the scene. Scientific
    accounts rely on the sorts of causal explanations
    that have no room for talk about God. If God is
    seen as competing for the same explanatory
    territory as science, the success of the latter
    looks like it squeezes God into the gaps - gaps
    in our understanding that, once filled, make God

God of the Gaps - 2
  • As Chris Southgate has written, It was seen how
    difficult it was to sustain descriptions of the
    physical world in which God acted as a cause
    complementing physical causes - filling the gap
    left by scientific narratives.
  • But God-of-the-gaps thinking can lead to bad
    theology. It removes God from the picture to be
    replaced by the presumption of naturalism.

Conceptualising the options
God is banished.
1. Atheism
God is before - the First Cause only.
2. Deism
3. Different levels of cause
God is behind - operating at another level
behind the observed system of causation.
4. God and an open system
God is acting through the system in gaps left in
quantum systems and chaotic systems.
God can and maybe does act at many levels
before, behind and through the system, but can
also change the normal way the system operates.
5. God is not limited
The question of miracles
  • There are a number of reasons why the term
    miracle should not be restricted to David Humes
    well known definition
  • Miracles are violations of the laws of nature
  • In Biblical language what we translate as miracle
    has a wider sense which could include, in our
    modern jargon, violations of laws of nature but
    can also refer to events which do not violate
    anything but which are unusual events pointing to
    the work of God.

Humes argument - 1
  • The essence of Humes argument as to why we
    should remain incredulous of claims to the
    miraculous reduces to this
  • a We have uniform experience that the laws of
    nature are not violated.
  • b no testimony is sufficient to establish a
    miracle, unless the testimony be of such a kind,
    that its falsehood would be more miraculous, than
    the fact, which it endeavours to establish.

This rather begs the question - what if there are
Does he simply refuse to believe any report with
evidence of miracles?
Humes argument -2
  • C.S. Lewis is worth quoting here
  • Now we must of course agree with Hume that if
    there is absolutely uniform experience against
    miracles, if in other words they have never
    happened, why then they never have. Unfortunately
    we know the experience against them to be uniform
    only if we know that all the reports of them are
    false. And we can know all the reports to be
    false only if we know already that miracles have
    never occurred. In fact we are arguing in a
    circle. (Miracles, 1947, 123)

Humes false premise
  • Science has moved on since Humes day and few
    today accept that our current understanding of
    the laws of nature is unchangeable. Moreover,
    even a strongly determined natural order does not
    necessarily allow for totally comprehensive
    scientific explanations. In the light of what we
    know of unpredictability at the quantum level and
    unpredictability in non-linear dynamic systems,
    it seems even more unlikely that we can speak
    with any confidence of violations of laws of

A theological definition of miracles
  • Southgate offers the following as a possible
    definition of miracle
  • an extremely unusual event, unfamiliar in terms
    of naturalistic explanation, which a worshipping
    community takes to be specially revelatory, by
    dint of the blessing it conveys, of the divine

Introducing John Polkinghorne and Arthur
Dr. Polkinghorne is the former Professor of
Mathematical Physics at Cambridge University. He
then became an Anglican minister. He has written
widely on science and religion and received the
2002 Templeton Prize.

Dr. Peacocke began his life as an academic
scientist at Birmingham University. He later
served as Dean at Clare College, Cambridge. Like
John Polkinghorne he is an ordained Anglican
minister and well know writer. He was also
awarded the Templeton Prize in 2001.
Polkinghorne and Peacocke on Miracles
These are two of the Big Names in the field of
science and religion.
John Polkinghorne has a more positive view as to
the possibility of miracles.
  • Arthur Peacocke tends to be far more cautious
    about whether miracles happen.

The Resurrection and Virgin Birth of Jesus
  • Note that the term Virgin Birth is probably less
    helpful than the more informative term virginal
  • Historically these are two pivotal miracles in
    the Christian understanding of who Jesus is. The
    creeds affirm that Jesus was born of a virgin
    mother having been conceived by the Holy Spirit
    and that he was raised from the dead three days
    after being crucified.
  • Polkinghorne and Peacocke have somewhat different
    understandings of these doctrines.

Polkinghorneon Virginal Conception
  • Polkinghorne defends an essentially traditional
    view the dual origin of the X and Y chromosomes
    ... seems a possible physical expression of the
    belief, in the words of the Nicene Creed, that
    Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit became
    incarnate of the Virgin Mary and was made man.

Peacocke onVirginal Conception
  • Peacocke really does not wish to accept the
    virginal conception of Jesus. For him, the notion
    of God supplying the Y chromosomes is strange. He
    wishes to separate stories of virginal
    conception from the doctrine of the incarnation.

Polkinghorneon Resurrection
  • Polkinghornes view is more traditional than
    Peacockes. He writes, The empty tomb is of
    great importance with its proclamation that the
    risen Lords glorified body is the transmutation
    of his dead body.

Peacocke onResurrection
  • Peacocke is reluctant to accept either that the
    tomb was empty or that the resurrected Jesus
    needed the atoms of his previous body. He is not
    convinced of the theological need for an empty
    tomb. It is our bodily pattern that is
    important, not the bits we are made of. Jesus
    resurrection body was of a different order -
    transmuted in God.

A footnote on Peacocke is he saying God cannot
or does not do miracles?
  • Consider these extracts from Peacockes Theology
    for a Scientific Age (1993, p183)
  • ...we cannot rule out the possibility that God
    might intervene... to bring about events for
    which there can never be a naturalistic
    explanation ... such direct intervention is
    (not) normally compatible with and coherent with
    other well-founded affirmations concerning the
    nature of God and of Gods relation to the world.
    The historical evidence that such an intervention
    has happened will therefore have to be especially
    strong and the event in question of a kind that
    renders it uniquely revelatory in its particular
    context of Gods purposes ... there are in the
    end very few events that pass through this seive.

More on Polkinghorne and Peacocke
  • You can find out more about these two key
    thinkers on the Counterbalance website which has
    biographical information about both and video
    clips where they talk about their beliefs about
    various issues in science and religion.
  • http//www.counterbalance.net
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