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Ellis, George F. R. “Ordinary and Extraordinary Divine Action: The Nexus of Interaction.”

In “Ordinary and Extraordinary Divine Action,” George Ellis intends to elaborate the conclusions reached by Tracy, Murphy, and others concerning the role of quantum indeterminacy in a contemporary understanding of divine action. He claims that some account of special divine action is necessary if the Christian tradition is to make sense. However, there are two important constraints to be reckoned with. One is that an ideal account of divine action must not conflict with a scientific understanding of nature; the other is that some explanation must be given of why a God capable of special action would not exercise that ability regularly to oppose evil and ameliorate suffering.

Ellis’ analysis focuses on the nature of bottom-up and top-down causation in hierarchical systems. It is predicated upon the assumption that chaotic dynamics does not provide the required openness in physical systems. Furthermore, his analysis of top-down causation convinces him that this concept alone does not provide for an adequate account of divine action. He distinguishes between generic top- down causation, in which boundary conditions produce a global effect upon all the entities in a system, and specific top-down causation, which involves local interactions with elements of the lower-level system. Special divine actions would seem to entail the latter. However, specific top-down causation seems to require, in turn, that there be an intrinsic openness or indeterminacy at the very lowest level of the hierarchy of complexity. Thus, a study of the possibilities for divine action via top-down causation leads inevitably to a consideration of divine action at the quantum level.

Ellis takes God’s action to be largely through the ordinary created processes. God initiates the laws of physics, establishes the initial conditions for the universe, and sustains the universe and its processes, which in turn result in the emergence of higher levels of order, including, finally, free human beings. Special divine action focuses on providing to human beings intimations of God’s will for their social lives. Thus, the problem of the mode of divine action is largely a question of how God might communicate directly with those who are open to revelation. Ellis speculates that quantum events in the brain (directed by God) might be amplified to produce revelatory thoughts, images, and emotions. If it is supposed that God has adequate reason to restrict divine action to a combination of ordinary action (in and through natural processes) and revelation (such as the Resurrection of Christ) then the problem of evil does not take on the same dimensions as it does when it is assumed that God might freely intervene in any sort of process at any time.

Finally, Ellis addresses the question of support for his view. He claims that while individual moves made in the paper (such as the focus on divine action at the quantum level) may not appear to be justified, the combined constraints imposed by the need to make sense of the Christian tradition and by science actually limit the possible acceptable positions quite severely; thus, the view herein presented is, in Ellis’ opinion, highly credible relative to the broad range of data.

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