I’m slowly wading through Russell’s Cosmology – From Alpha to Omega, in which, amongst other things, he covers his “quantum indeterminacy” hypothesis for NIODA (non-interventive objective divine action), as advertised in Ted Davis’ blogs at BioLogos. If I have a criticism overall, it’s that he seems to be playing a game that accepts science’s assertions about nature’s being (at the Newtonian level) a closed system. This being assumed, he seems to say, how can we assert God’s activity in the world without his interfering with natural law, which science won’t allow. To me, the obvious first move is to question whether there is adequate evidence for science’s deterministic assertion in the first place.
Be that as it may, the first thing that has struck me as worthy of note here is a discussion, in chapter 5, of the difference between bottom-up and top-down divine causation. God’s determination of naturally-undetermined quantum events is, for obvious reasons, “bottom-up” (since you can’t get much bottomer). He has already pointed out that, at least in some cases, macro-scale events can be determined by individual quantum events, rather than their just averaging out. For example, one photon can register a conscious impression in the human visual cortex, one DNA mutation could change a species and, in Schrödinger’s famous thought-experiment, one decaying atom can kill a cat. And a dead cat could make a butterfly’s wings flap on the other side of the world, maybe – or if it belonged to Ernst Stavros Blofeld of S.P.E.C.T.R.E. trigger a nuclear holocaust.
Top-down causation could be, for example, direct encounter with the human mind (“Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street…”), or the creation of the natural laws (underlying, as Russell assumes, deterministic physics). In describing the latter, he seems to cite, questioningly, the kind of position apparently taken by Darrel Falk and Dennis Venema, to name two, at Biologos. Affirming that the laws show God’s faithfulness and rational intelligibility, he asks whether:
…we can nonetheless adequately understand God’s action within the physical, astrophysical, molecular and evolutionary processes – out of which we arose – as expressing God’s intention in ways that go beyond that of maintaining the existence of these processes and allowing their built-in “potentialities” to work themselves out over time.
So far so BioLogos. But he then asks whether such top-down causation can give an intelligible account of God’s total action in Creation, and concludes it cannot:
Top-down causation is helpful when considering the action of conscious and self-conscious creatures that are genuinely open to God’s action and that have at least some capacity to respond to it. But it is hard to see what constitutes the “top” through which God acts in a top-down way when no conscious, let alone self-conscious, creatures capable of mind/brain interactions have yet evolved.
Until that time, he says, such creatures would be ruled only by the ultimately deterministic laws of classical science. Accordingly, there would be no mechanism for God to act thus in the first 12-15 billion years of cosmic history. In other words, the God who only sustains natural law as it meanders its way in “limited freedom” to what we see today is an incoherent concept. Which is exactly what Thomas Cudworth has been saying at length on Uncommon Descent and what I’ve been saying on BioLogos and here for many months, without the benefit of Russell’s erudition. But then it doesn’t require erudition – merely common sense.
Elsewhere in Russell’s book he describes the various options regarding divine action in relation to current science. The only one that really answers his objection here is Process Theology, because Process Metaphysics posits that there is a mental aspect to every event in the Universe, most limited at the non-living level but increasing, as God interacts with his world, until consciousness brings it to a climax. Russell doesn’t accept Process Theology, and neither do most Christians. Open Theism of the BioLogos type is much less defined in its idea of the Universe’s “freedom” (or openness, but this is a confusing use of words as they mean open to its own direction rather than, as in Russell’s writing, to the input of God). What Russell’s discussion shows is that Open Theism can only work in evolution if it adopts Process Theology. I’ve seen that asserted elsewhere, but to me the argument seems irrefutable on Russell’s analysis, though he doesn’t himself make it.
Last word to Russell:
Unless one returns to the quantum level, where holism and indeterminism are displayed everywhere and at all times since t=0, I see little hope that God’s action within the early stages of physical, astrophysical, and biological pehenomena can be described in non-interventionist ways using either whole-part constraint or top-down causal arguments.