View by:  Subject  Theme  Question  Term  Person  Event

Tracy, Thomas F. “Creation, Providence, and Quantum Chance."

Uncertainty regarding the meaning of “the acts of God” pervades modern theology, according to Thomas Tracy. Critical historical and literary techniques have deepened the problem of interpreting biblical texts and the connection they make between story and history, while the natural sciences have changed the intellectual context of interpretation by offering an account of nature without appeal to transcendent causes. On the one hand, scientific methods do not rule out divine action, and scientific findings are not inconsistent with it. Ironically, theologians from deists to liberals such as Schleiermacher, Bultmann, and Kaufman, have worked with a closed causal picture of the world that they feel is authorized by science. They have taken this to be incompatible with divine action in the world, leaving either a God who only sets the world’s initial conditions or whose actions violate the laws of nature. But contemporary natural science does not necessarily lead to a deterministic metaphysics. Tracy cites two possible responses. First, a theologically sufficient account of God’s particular actions in history might actually be developed that still limits God to being the creator of history as a whole. Second, God can be said to act in particular cases without intervention in history if one can defend an indeter ministic interpretation of natural causes. It is here that quantum physics might be relevant.

Though Tracy’s focus is on the second response, he starts with an extended treatment of the first one since he does not want to underestimate its resources and since he explicitly assumes it as background for the second response. Here God’s fundamental action is the free intentional act of creating the world, which continuously gives being to the created world in its entirety but which cannot be understood by analogy with human agency. Moreover, God gives to created things active and passive causal powers, so that God’s action is direct in causing their existence, but indirect in acting through them and their powers to produce results in the world. Thus even though God acts uniformly in all events, we can affirm God’s objectively special action in two ways: particular events may reveal God’s overall purposes, and they may play a special causal role in shaping history. It is interesting to note that, in identifying this second way, Tracy is making an important addition to the typology developed in previous CTNS/VO publications and republished above, where only the first way, called “subjectively special action,” was discussed.

If, however, the structures of nature are on some level(s) indeterministic, God can act to determine the outcomes of natural processes without disrupting their intrinsic causal properties. Here God could be thought of as acting in all such chance events or in just some of them, though the latter generates conceptual puzzles. Moreover, the extent of ontological chance in nature will influence the extent of God’s action in nature. Indeterminism also plays a role in “incompatibilist” accounts of free human action. Here again God could be thought of as acting in all human acts, as John Calvin and Aquinas seemed to imply, or as empowering people to make their own choices. Both options raise further issues, including the problem of evil and the ultimate redemption of the world. Indeed, faith in God’s redemptive action in history provides “a compelling theological reason” to argue for a noninterventionist account of divine action and thus an indeterministic interpretation of nature.

A number of challenges, however, face any attempt to use quantum physics for such an account. First, quantum physics can be interpreted in a variety of different ways including the Copenhagen interpretation, Bohmian nonlocal hidden-variable determinism, many-worlds determinism, and so on. While it is legitimate, even unavoidable, to prefer one of these on theological grounds, we should stress that others are available and their theological use in each case is tentative and provisional. A second challenge is the measurement problem found in some of these interpretations. Does this overly limit the occasions of divine action, or is “measurement” more universal in nature than some interpreters suggest? And how do the worlds of quantum processes and observable objects relate? A third challenge is to show that indeterministic transitions associated with measurement can produce a difference in the course of the everyday world. Laboratory equipment, of course, involves precisely this sort of “amplification,” but so do natural processes, such as vision and genetic mutation. In conclusion, Tracy stresses the primary importance of God’s creating and sustaining the world, and within this, God’s indirect action through created causes and, possibly, God’s direct noninterventionist action at points of underdetermination in natural processes.

Email link | Printer-friendly | Feedback | Contributed by: CTNS/Vatican Observatory

Topic Sets Available

AAAS Report on Stem-Cells

AstroTheology: Religious Reflections on Extraterrestrial Life Forms

Agency: Human, Robotic and Divine
Becoming Human: Brain, Mind, Emergence
Big Bang Cosmology and Theology (GHC)
Cosmic Questions Interviews

Cosmos and Creator
Creativity, Spirituality and Computing Technologies
CTNS Content Home
Darwin: A Friend to Religion?
Demystifying Information Technology
Divine Action (GHC)
Dreams and Dreaming: Neuroscientific and Religious Visions'
E. Coli at the No Free Lunchroom
Engaging Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence: An Adventure in Astro-Ethics
Evangelical Atheism: a response to Richard Dawkins
Ecology and Christian Theology
Evolution: What Should We Teach Our Children in Our Schools?
Evolution and Providence
Evolution and Creation Survey
Evolution and Theology (GHC)
Evolution, Creation, and Semiotics

The Expelled Controversy
Faith and Reason: An Introduction
Faith in the Future: Religion, Aging, and Healthcare in the 21st Century

Francisco Ayala on Evolution

From Christian Passions to Scientific Emotions
Genetic Engineering and Food

Genetics and Ethics
Genetic Technologies - the Radical Revision of Human Existence and the Natural World

Genomics, Nanotechnology and Robotics
Getting Mind out of Meat
God and Creation: Jewish, Christian, and Muslim Perspectives on Big Bang Cosmology
God, Humanity and the Cosmos: A Textbook in Science and Religion
God the Spirit - and Natural Science
Historical Examples of the Science and Religion Debate (GHC)
History of Creationism
Intelligent Design Coming Clean

Issues for the Millennium: Cloning and Genetic Technologies
Jean Vanier of L'Arche
Nano-Technology and Nano-ethics
Natural Science and Christian Theology - A Select Bibliography
Neuroscience and the Soul
Outlines of the Science and Religion Debate (GHC)

Perspectives on Evolution

Physics and Theology
Quantum Mechanics and Theology (GHC)
Questions that Shape Our Future
Reductionism (GHC)
Reintroducing Teleology Into Science
Science and Suffering

Scientific Perspectives on Divine Action (CTNS/Vatican Series)

Space Exploration and Positive Stewardship

Stem-Cell Debate: Ethical Questions
Stem-Cell Ethics: A Theological Brief

Stem-Cell Questions
Theistic Evolution: A Christian Alternative to Atheism, Creationism, and Intelligent Design...
Theology and Science: Current Issues and Future Directions
Unscientific America: How science illiteracy threatens our future
Will ET End Religion?

Current Stats: topics: >2600, links: >300,000, video: 200 hours.