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Law, Chance and Divine Action

Law: Most accounts of divine agency within the Christian tradition are not content with God of the gaps, or with alternative strategies such as ‘God banished’ or with a God whose action is only ‘before’ the development of creation. Rather they regard God as actively sustaining the order of the physical universe, in some way or other maintaining the regularity of the cosmos. This is an important aspect of divine action, sometimes overlooked. So for example a theologian of physics such as John Polkinghorne would no longer regard the solar system as in need of ‘occasional reformation,’ as Newton did (see An Introduction to Divine action: Isaac Newton’s God), because physics no longer sees the problem he found with the stability of planetary orbits. Polkinghorne wants to assert:

a) that God continues to sustain the laws which govern the equations by which the planets move.

b) that God uses the interplay of law and chance to generate novel possibilities within the creation.As for example in Polkinghorne, J, Science and Providence (London: SPCK, 1989) pp38-40. There Polkinghorne uses the term ‘necessity’ to cover the implications of physical law.

Those scientist-theologians who wish to defend a theistic account are quite prepared to acknowledge the existence of chance, indeed to see it as a positive ingredient in an unfolding creation. Polkinghorne says: ‘The rôle of chance can be seen as a signal of the Creator’s allowing his creation to make itself.’Polkinghorne, J, Scientists as Theologians (London: SPCK, 1996) p47D.J.Bartholomew in his major study God and Chance wrote that ‘chance offers the potential Creator many advantages which it is difficult to envisage being obtained in any other way.’Bartholomew, D, God and Chance (London: SCM Press, 1984) p97

Click on different understandings of chance to understand the significance of this concept.

Email link | Feedback | Contributed by: Dr. Christopher Southgate
Source: God, Humanity and the Cosmos  (T&T Clark, 1999)

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