Saturday, November 21, 2015

How often does God intervene?

Back to the stable nature theodicy:

i) To take a comparison, it's like healing and prayer. If God always healed in answer to prayer, then medical science would be pointless–and if God never healed in answer to prayer, then prayer (for healing) would be superfluous. 

Occasional miraculous healing in answer to prayer doesn't make medical science useless. You don't know in advance which will do the trick, or whether either one will do the trick. Sometimes we pray for healing because medical science failed. 

The dilemma for the stable environment theodicy is that it can't explain why God intervenes in some cases rather than others. So that must be supplemented by skeptical theism. 

ii) I doubt it's possible to even guess at how often God prevents some natural evils. Physical events leave physical evidence in their wake, but nonevents leave no trace evidence of their nonoccurence. So what's the evidence that something didn't happen because God preempted it?

To take a comparison, consider those time-travel scenarios in which a Jewish scientist goes back in time to kill Hitler's granddad, thereby erasing Adolf from the space-time continuum. If successful, there will be no evidence that Adolf ever existed, because changing that one variable changes a host of affected variables. To be consistent, there must be corresponding adjustments. 

Of course we know that's unrealistic: hence time-travel antinomies. But I'm just using that an an analogy to illustrate a point.

In the case of divine intervention to preempt a natural evil, that doesn't change the past, but prevent that past from happening in the first place–in which case, there's no empirical evidence that God intervened. We have no basis of comparison. We just have what actually happened. 

It's not as if there's a gap or hole in the historical record or natural record when God prevents a natural evil. So in that sense, there's no direct evidence for divine preemption. Not like a missing folders in the filing cabinet between the As and the Cs where the Bs ought to be. All the "space" is filled.

So, from what I can see, there's no estimating the frequency of divine interventions in that respect. For all we know, divine intervention to prevent natural evils might be commonplace. It's imponderable. 

I'm not saying it's never possible to identify divine preemption. In some cases you have plausible answers to prayer. But in other cases, no testimonial evidence will be available.


  1. Can you explain to me, from a Calvinist perspective, why the answer to "how often does God intervene?" would not be "always."

    If the future unfolds in exactly the way God ordains it to the smallest detail, then, pretty much by definition, God is always intervening. It is a incessant stream of divine intervention bringing about infinitely precise predetermined outcomes.

    Or from another perspective, you might say God never intervenes, because he does not have to. God predetermined the future, so in what sense would he intervene with his predestination?

    Now that I think about it, what does "intervene" mean for a Calvinist? What is the Calvinist God intervening with?

    As you can probably tell, I have great difficulty following the logic of Calvinism.

    1. In the context of the post, divine intervention means God preventing or halting a natural evil. Obviously, God doesn't always do that. And predestination doesn't change that fact.

      You have great difficulty following the post, even though it's not difficult to grasp.

    2. Jeff D, in a previous comment you wrote:

      The Father raised the Son from the dead? I never thought about it in those terms. Why would you say that? I figure Christ raised from the dead because death had no hold over him, since "it was finished" the Friday before. Firstborn from the dead.

      Reading that comment I'm tempted to think you're a troll. You seem to claim to be a Christian, yet you don't know that the Father raised the Son from the dead? You don't know this even though that's repeatedly taught in the New Testament? If you really are a professing Christian, then maybe you should start with the basics. I recommend you familiarize yourself with the Bible first, before you dive into a deep theological tradition that's based on a thorough understanding of the Bible. One that also has had some advocates using deep philosophical arguments in its defense.

      Regarding your questions, it's probably a good idea that you search Triablogue's archives on the topic of Calvinism. Steve and other Triabloggers have addressed Calvinism in numerous posts. I recommend you start with this Massive Calvinism vs. Arminianism Debate that included contributions from people like:

      Steve Hays: Calvinist
      Paul Manata: Calvinist
      Victor Reppert: Arminian
      Dominic Bnonn Tennant: Calvinist

      Not that I'm a Calvinist expert, but I'll try to address your questions in a new thread. You can ignore it, or interact with it. I won't be offended either way.

    3. Here's a link to Curt Daniel's 75 lectures on the History of Calvinism (mp3 download to streaming)

    4. I'd also recommend Paul Manata's Free Will, Moral Responsibility, and Reformed Theology:
      A Contemporary Introduction

    5. steve, I thought you were literally asking "how often does God intervene?" I am sometimes misled by the title of your posts. The context of your post was also pretty easy to miss. I guess it was provided by "Back to the stable nature theodicy:"

      But thanks, ANNOYED PINOY, maybe I was assuming the Cheugian view of providence for all Calvinism

    6. But thanks, ANNOYED PINOY, maybe I was assuming the Cheugian view of providence for all Calvinism

      You're welcome. :-)) BTW, an occasionalist view of providence itself is not Hyper-Calvinistic. For example, there are times in Jonathan Edwards' writings when he seemed to advocate occasionalism and/or continuous creation (though, other times he could be interpreted to indirectly teach divine idealism, or panentheism [not to be confused with pantheism]). Occasionalism is within the bounds of Calvinistic orthodoxy. Though, nowadays only a minority of Calvinists specifically and intentionally/dogmatically hold to it. It was more popular in times past, but has lost favor among Calvinists because of developments in philosophy and theology. Cheung is considered Hyper-Calvinistic by some Calvinists for other reasons than occasionalism.

  2. On the other hand, all things work for good, to those who are called...All the "unseen' interventions that God invokes to make His will come to pass will never be seen by us. We only benefit from His compassion. The "entire story" may only be revealed when He returns. (If He feels we need to know!)

    1. Kent, that's very well put. There are times God protects his people when his people are unaware of his protection.

  3. Regarding your questions on Calvinism, you've asked the same type of questions before. Steve has addressed them before but you don't seem to get his answers. Before you ask more questions of Steve, maybe you should make an effort to try to understand and get a handle of his answers because you keep asking the same questions as if Steve hadn't addressed them. You don't take into account Steve's succinct answers when you repeat the same questions.

    Here's my meager attempt as a neophyte myself. Though, I hesitate to type it up because I've virtually typed this up before for you in the past. Maybe I can say it differently so it's more understandable. I'll probably make some mistakes. But even then, my response may help you think through some issues to greater clarity.

    In Calvinism, there is no one model of providence (i.e. how God brings about what He's ordained to come to pass). That is to say, there is no one way in which Calvinists explain the "mechanics" of how it is that what God foreordained will come to pass actually does come to pass infallibly and certainly. Some models are more traditional, others less traditional (so much so that some Calvinists would argue they are out of bounds). Your questions touch upon the deepest metaphysical and ontological questions. Most Calvinists believe that God is timelessly eternal (i.e. "outside of" time), while other Calvinists are willing to flirt with the idea that God is temporally eternal (i.e. "within" time). That has implications for how God interacts with the world and how directly or indirectly He does so. Along with God's relationship to time is the nature of time itself within creation (I'm speaking specifically of physical creation). Scientists, philosophers and theologians have posed two major views. Either a dynamic view of time (A-theory) or a static view of time (B-theory). When you combine God's possible relationship to space and time along with the nature of the universe's spacetime itself, there are various possibilities. The following are just some.

    The A-theory of time corresponds to the presentism whereby only NOW exists (while the past and future don't exist). The B-theory of time corresponds with eternalism. Eternalism is a term scientists and philosophers use since as Christians we'd reject the eternality of the universe. Nevertheless, the universe would be a kind of self-contained unchanging entity (hence the term "block view" of the universe). In this view, all of the physical universe, past, present and future already exists. There is no genuine change from past to present to future. There is no preferential temporal point of view. Every point in time is equally and actually real.


    1. Assuming the A-theory of time, one Calvinistic model that could work is occasionalism and/or continuous creation. In this model, God is continually creating and/or sustaining creation moment by moment and is in direct control over everything. To a greater extent than even a puppeteer has control over his puppets. Vincent Cheung is one professed Calvinist (whom some Calvinists consider Hyper-Calvinist) who pretty much holds to his view. You can read his defense of his view in his book Author of Sin. Your criticisms of Calvinism apply more to Cheung's type of Calvinism because you confuse (by combining into one) God's control of WHAT will happen, with the HOW of God's control. Even then, I don't think your objections actually do damage to it. Though, I don't hold to Cheung's version of Calvinism, I'm open to it. I'm not sure Cheung is consistent with his own views regarding God's and creation's relationship to time. Nevertheless, your impression of Calvinism more closely matches his version. There are a minority of other Calvinists who hold similar views. I cite Cheung because he's actually attempted to have a systematic articulation and defense of that type of Calvinism; along with the fact that his writings are freely available online.

      Whereas most Calvinists don't knowingly and intentionally take an occasionalist view on God's providence. Both simplistic Calvinists and more theologially and philosophically trained Calvinists. Such Calvinists make a distinction between God's 1. ordinary providence and 2. extraordinary providence (Calvinists like Cheung also affirm these two categories, but don't emphasize them because they are for all intents and purposes useful concepts, but there is no real ontological or causal difference between the two). For myself, I like adding a third category of (3.) special providence. For my views on the three types of providence I recommend my blogpost Three Kinds of Providence.

      All Calvinists affirm that God directly upholds into being and existence everything that does exist. So much so that creatures couldn't do what they do without God actually supplying the power (so to speak) for them to do what they do or have the properties they have. Believe it or not, even historic Arminians believe this too. However, at the same time most Arminians and Calvinists also want create some sort of 1. ontological/metaphysical and 2. causal distance between God and the world in order to avoid things like pantheism, avoid a denial or destruction of human responsibility, avoid a destruction of human wills, avoid making God directly responsible for evil and sin so as to make God culpable. There are various ways Calvinists have attempted to do this. One way is by appealing to compatibilism. Some appeal to certain theological and philosophical implications of the B-Theory of time. Recently, some Calvinists have appealed to middle knowledge (though, historically/traditionally it has been rejected by Calvinists).



    2. With the summary above, I have to say that your questions/objections/criticisms are confused (or asked in ignorance) since most Calvinists affirm a distinction between ordinary providence and extraordinary providence and/or special providence. Ordinary providence has to do with how things would naturally happen were God not to intervene. The latter two with how things happen in light of God's intervention. Given a Cheugian view of providence, yes, for all intents and purposes your criticisms apply. God is always intervening. Which would be the same thing as God not intervening at all since God is CONSTANTLY and EQUALLY in DIRECT control of everything that happens that such distinctions are meaningless.

      However, most Calvinists affirm that God has created the world with a kind of ontological inertia (so to speak) so that it operates in a law-like fashion without any special or extra-ordinary causal intervention other than God's normal or ordinary providence by which He upholds and sustains it via his omnipotent preservation, conservation, sustaining. So, for example, an ax head will naturally sink to the bottom of a body of water due to gravity and the mass and weight of the ax head. And all without God doing anything special or extra. But to make it float, God would have to do something special or extra for it rise to the top so that someone could retrieve it.