Posted by: dacalu | 28 October 2014

Rhyme, Reason, and the Laws of Nature

Does God break the laws of nature?

If yes, can we detect these interventions and, thus, prove the existence of God?

If no, how can we say God cares for us as individuals?

I am beginning to think that both questions miss the forest for the trees.

Several authors have suggested that God acts at the quantum level.  The idea has never appealed to me because I viewed it in a particular way.

1) I saw it as an appeal to something we don’t understand well – quantum indeterminacy – to explain something else we don’t understand well.

2) I saw it as an appeal to ignorance; because we can’t predict what will happen at the quantum scale, God may be acting there invisibly.

3) I saw it as an “interventionist” approach to chance and miracles.  Step 1: God set up a universe with probabilistic laws. Step 2: At times, God intervenes with a hand on the roulette wheel, stopping the ball in a particular slot.  The rest of the time probability applies.

Today, for the first time, I thought of another option. We tend to emphasize the irregularities of chance, the unpredictability, but that’s only one side of the coin. Chance only gets interesting when it is somewhat regular. Think of our conviction that all six sides of a fair die are equally likely to end up face up.  Probability has to do with things that are regular and predictable, but only when you consider them in batches.  I really don’t know which number will come up when I roll the die, but I’m confident that if I roll it 6000 times, each number will appear about about 1000 times.  That is a regularity.

It offends against my scientific and statistical sensibilities to say that God first creates the distribution and second removes one event from it.  This is intervention and it goes against the regularity of the system.

There is another way.

What if God, existing outside of time, plans things at multiple levels? What if God orders the distribution of events while selecting, them, so that every event is chosen and the collection of events forms a regular pattern? Consider couplets in poetry. Most poets do not begin with pairs of rhymed words and then build verses around them. Instead they start with a theme and search for words that rhyme. So, step 1 has God providentially choosing an event and step 2 has God pairing the events up so that they have statistical regularity.

Personally, I think of God outside time, so neither step actually comes before the other, but seeing them in this order removes the conflict for me. It makes sense that God would harmonize the universe.  True, you cannot prove that God exists based on some inconsistency with the larger pattern – but I’m not sure I like what that opposition says about God anyway.  True, you cannot use the success of the righteous to prove either Providence or righteousness – but again, I’ve never noticed that the righteous are more successful.  That would be a strange sort of Christianity, where self-sacrifice, was always enlightened self-interest.

So, I’m okay with God acting at the quantum level, as long we think of God acting at every other level as well.  And, I’m okay with God acting (providentially) with care for individuals AND acting (as sovereign) to set the laws of nature, so long as we are careful to note that these are not different types of action. God rhymes while composing, a trait I associate with the better poets.



  1. I like this line of thinking. Can you say a little about, “What if God orders the distribution of events while selecting, them, so that every event is chosen and the collection of events forms a regular pattern?” and how this reflects on our free will and the existence of evil? It seems that if every event is chosen by God, then we don’t have free will, and evil is a product of God’s choices.

    • Thanks for asking. Check out my essay here:
      Or you can search this site for “agency.” I’ve written a good deal on the subject, partly because I’m still not entirely happy with the answers. In short, free will and evil are necessary concepts for day to day life, but they become problematic when modeling the world. Omnipotence and Providence must be asserted to avoid dualism and other serious problems. So we have some tension. And yet, I’m not willing to give up any of the four ideas. Hope that helps; feel free to share your own perspective, questions, or concerns. God is with you. -Lucas

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