An interventionist God, or a hands-off God?

MIT professor Alan Lightman was interviewed on NPR recently (starts at 12:15 minutes into the audio file and goes to 13:36). He said something that I found particularly interesting about two different viewpoints about God. I transcribed part of his talk:

  1. There is a kind of religious belief that is completely consistent with science, and this is if you believe in God, and God can be all powerful, as long as God does not intervene once the Universe is created, as long as God can create the laws of nature and the design of the Universe, as long as God then “sits down” so to speak, then that kind of religious belief is completely compatible with science. What science requires is a set of laws of nature or rules that govern phenomena, that are repeatable, that are predictable, that follow cause-and-effect relations.
  2. If, however, you believe in a God that, from time to time, intervenes and violates the laws of nature, for example, a God that can perform a miracle at this instant, that can make this table start floating for no reason, then that kind of belief is completely incompatible with science because then science cannot then make predictions based upon laws of nature, there is some external agency that can act at will in an unpredictable manner, and that would put scientists out of work. Some people call this the interventionist version of religious belief.

One Response to “An interventionist God, or a hands-off God?”

  1. Kevin Says:

    Too bad an MIT professor can’t see the flaw in this argument. If God intervenes and “from time to time violates the laws of nature” then it only follows that science’s predictions based on those laws will be incorrect “from time to time”. That certainly doesn’t invalidate science, nor make it invalid to make predictions based upon the laws of nature. It simply means the universe isn’t entirely mechanistic. It means that while science is extremely useful, it does have a limitation. *Gasp*.

    What about that idea that the laws of nature might not be able to predict everything? This seems entirely reasonable even when you just take human free will into consideration. For example, science cannot use the laws of nature to predict whether the cup on my desk will be there tomorrow. My colleague might exercise his free will and take it. Or, I might exercise mine and take it home to wash it.

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