Immanence or Intervention?

Ok I decided that I really wanted to post on this subject so I have decided to just go ahead and do it while I am thinking about it. I will try to simplify this as much as possible:

During the 18th and 19th centuries, many modern scientists were starting to believe the idea that the universe was a gigantic machine. Proponents and theorists involved were Isaac Newton and Pierre Simon de Laplace among others. What developed from this is what today is commonly referred to as the laws of nature. The laws of nature were based upon many ideas concerning matter: one theory is what is called atomism (everything comes down to atoms and this guides the actions of the universe). This led to the general view of reality (a metaphysical theory) to the effect that in any system the functioning of the parts account for the characteristics of the whole. This is called reductionism. When combined this leads to the assumption that deterministic laws apply to all of the universe. This has huge implications on human free will and the relationship between mind and body (is there such a thing as a soul?). Concerning all the sciences, this marked the beginning of “bottom-up” causation, meaning that we must begin (as scientists) to study the biological sciences that will in turn move upward and teach us how the psychological, social, philosophical, and other sciences relate to each other and to the basic theories of determinism to begin with.

So how then does God act in the world? This question led to a polarization of the two camps in American Protestantism : the liberals siding with immanence (God is immanent in the laws of nature but does not break them) and conservatives who embraced intervention (God can and will break his natural laws from time to time to intervene on man’s behalf). We can see how this played out as liberals believed less in miracles and more in empirical science while conservatives stood by the idea of miracles being literal in the Bible. Problems are implicit in each one. For immanence, many questions abound quickly: Has God made the universe as a machine that can never be tampered with? Is there such a thing as free will? For intervention the problem lies in the laws themselves: Does God make laws that are meant to be broken later? Were they not perfect enough that he must change them? How does he suspend these laws to act in the world? Some conservatives acknowledged immanence in the laws of nature but still held on to intervention as a mode of action taken by God. Liberal theologians have barely budged on their stance in the recent decades and thus both camps are still very strong today.

So where do I stand? Even though I tend to side with intervention there is a part of me that is intrigued by immanentism. I tend to lump the argument on predestination and free will onto these theologies. I wonder if there is any room for some sort of compromise? I think Forrest Gump mentions something like this when talking to Jenny’s grave near the end of the film!
What are your thoughts?

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Immanence or Intervention?

  1. Rob

    You should get “20th Century Theology” (or borrow it from me).

  2. That is a book I have wanted to read for some time, I will have to borrow that. Also, I looked at the forum and there is some good stuff, way to go. I will comment soon.

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