More ground clearance for theology of nature

Having written last time about the weaknesses of views of nature that are entirely “frontloaded”, a related topic is worth revisiting: that it would be inappropriate to regard God as acting in the world.

I’ve handled this three times before, so my best ploy is to direct you here, here and here¬†rather than repeat myself too much. The idea that God cannot be “just another cause in the universe” is refuted there in various ways, of which I believe the strongest is that Jesus, as the Son, is by his very nature the Person of the Trinity who mediates between God and his creation.

And even if that sound too complicated, the position is refuted by the many hundred of instances in which God acts, or speaks, in the world. The most significant are perhaps those where God sets off a “natural “chain of efficient causation, such as causing Jonah’s gourd to grow, or causing the damming of the Jordan to enable Israel to cross.

In such cases, God is exactly “another efficient cause in the world” whether that offends us or not. Only he’s not actually, because he is in Thomist terms “a cause in the world analogically” – he may be an efficient cause just as other things are efficient causes, but his causation is not like theirs.

Even if God acts in this way only one, it undermines the argument, which is a principle based  on the very nature of God. It would be as if one discovered God were guilty of one sin Рthe whole nature of God would be destroyed, for the exception becomes the rule.

One possible defence still occurs to me – suppose God always acted through other agents, and in particular the myriads of created angels at his beck and call, rather than directly. I will grant that as possible, but if true it destroys the way the argument is generally used in theology of nature, which is that we must only expect natural secondary causes to operate in nature, rather than supernatural causes. Angelic action would, of course, be as supernatural to current science as direct divine action would.

So my last post denies the sufficiency of a theology where God only acts by sustaining natural laws, and todays, I hope, moves one theological objection to that. I will not address objectiuons from science such as inviolability of natural laws, particularly things like the conservation of energy “forbidding” God to, for example, raise the dead without plugging into the mains, because these have been well addressed by philsophers like Alvin Plantinga.

We are left with the view that the Christian God can act contingently in the natural world, and that to achieve his stated ends he must do so. It remains at some stage to say something about the “how”.



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About Jon Garvey

Training in medicine (which was my career), social psychology and theology. Interests in most things, but especially the science-faith interface. The rest of my time, though, is spent writing, playing and recording music.
This entry was posted in Creation, Philosophy, Science, Theology, Theology of nature. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to More ground clearance for theology of nature

  1. Avatar photo Mark says:

    Amen. No one has said anything against it, and I am not sure there is anything to be said. God is not constrained to act only by the natural laws which He Himself established. They do what He wanted them to do in creation, but not necessarily what He wants to do Himself in creation.

    • Avatar photo Jon Garvey says:

      Amen indeed. I think the reason for doing this was that, because people don’t think things through, they tend to say, “Well, one possibility maybe that God just set up the laws…”

      If that proves impossible, then you’re constrained to consider the alternatives… coming up, all being well.

  2. Avatar photo GD says:

    Hi Jon,

    I wish I had the time to read, as you do – nonetheless I have stated on occasions that TE/EC/ID and BioLogos discussions lack the solid theological foundation needed when we discuss creation in the context of our current understanding of the natural world. I just came across a review of a book that may go some way to provide the theological grounding. It is on my lengthy to do list; in any event, you or others interested may find the time to read it before I am able to do so…. it is at

    and titled: Engaging the Doctrine of Creation: Cosmos, Creatures, and the Wise and Good Creator, by Matthew Levering

    (I hope the link works)

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