by Tim Belben
from Signs of the Times No. 32 - Jan 2009

Is there a fallacy in Paul Smith’s thinking (Revelation, Signs of the Times, July 2008) that  Revelation implies God’s interference with the ‘physical processes’ of  thought? 

His piece suggests that thought  is entirely derived from the neurology involved, and leaves no room for the  uncertainty now accepted as a feature of modern physics.  But quantum uncertainty must somehow feed  through into the biology of thought – and everything else.  And this, in turn, affects what sort of  Creator we believe in.

If we accept that we have freewill (and which liberal  thinker doesn’t) then it is logical that   our ‘brain neurons’ are not all moved by ‘the physical processes’  – there must be room for will or intention to give impulse for thinking this rather than that.  If the will is  determined entirely by what has physically gone before, as Paul Smith seems to  suggest, then it is not free.

The God of our belief may be a Creator in whom we  live and move and have our being – infinite and without parts (i.e., the  whole God self-existent, I am that I am, present and inclusive). Or, God  may be conceived as being at arms’ length from his Creation (somehow external)  in which case he is not omnipresent.  But  in the latter case he is by definition not infinite, and therefore not a  self-existent God, but some sort of gnostic intermediate deity.

The infinite and omnipresent God of the Christian  faith must be able to influence – or even, on occasions, command – the thought  processes which he has created.  His  difficulty is that if he does so, he may defeat his gift of freewill.

There is room, surely, for us to hold the concept of a  God who could influence us directly, because our existence is within his: but  who usually doesn’t, because his infinite glory would not be augmented unless  we chose freely to praise him?   Charles Péguy’s poem about God teaching his children to swim comes to  mind: too much support, and they don’t learn; too little, and they swallow an  unhealthy amount of water.

One way to hold this paradox is to conceive of our  existence being within and of the Creator but less real.  In other words, a probable existence, not  actual: potency in act?  In  drawing his creation from less to greater probability, surely it is legitimate  (or, in other words, does not destroy freewill) for God’s perfect reality to be  a magnet to our imperfect, ungrown wills?   Even, in particular instances, for the ‘finger of God’ to touch the  ignorance or incomplete reality of man?

Indeed, this seems to be consistent with the way ‘the  physical processes’ may be observed to work.   Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle demonstrates that it is  impossible to measure both the position and the momentum of any particle.  Probability creeps in at the very foundation  of existence.  Nevertheless, what appears  to be the random movement of atomic particles resolves, at further remove, to  be the ordered structure of chemistry.   At a far higher level, the chaotic movement of people becomes the raw  material for the predictable behaviour of crowds.    Once, the disorder and panic of the  Disciples became the driving force for the Church.   Who is to say that an infinite God cannot,  or will not, influence human thought or behaviour without overwhelming his gift  of free will?

Imagine the alternative.  Some anonymous, unknowable Supreme Being  delegates creation to a Jehovah who, although maybe not limited by space-time,  must shape his creation by prodding and pushing, blessing and punishing – from  the outside. He then provides an instruction manual which seems, in places,  deliberately misleading.  His creatures  are given freewill on condition that it is exercised only in accordance with  the instruction manual.  Is this the  freedom which glorifies God?  Is this the  God we would choose to glorify?

Better, perhaps, to accept that if God is infinite,  then our existence is based on uncertainty and probability.  The question of how and why the wave packet  of any quantum occurrence is resolved into a particular choice of path for the  particle may not in any traceable way affect our freewill choices.  But the apparent irregularity of behaviour  which we see at the particle level of existence is an uncertain foundation for  any absolute theories of existence at what happens to be our level of  perception. 

Is the selection of one particle path rather than  another a sort of freewill by an inanimate object?  If the concept of freewill is only applicable  at our level of existence, why are we peculiar in creation?  And if we are thus peculiar, is this not  evidence that God can and does affect natural processes?  Or is there a hierarchy of freewill, so that  the particle’s path is entirely random, the amœba’s very slightly less so, up  through cabbages to kings?

It may be so, but we do not need to know.  For instead of an instruction manual which  must be correctly read and followed to avoid punishment, we have been offered,  have we not, a wonderful insight into the poetry and parable of the  divine.  The words of eternal life are  blazoned across the horizons of our feeble vision, often hidden in the mists of  glory lest we be blinded and overwhelmed as we struggle into the daylight.  The revelation of the word of God: indeed, of  the Word of God, gives form to our imperfect existence, and nourishes on the  long journey of adoption, rebirth and inheritance through which our probability  is made actual in the Body of Christ.

And I, for one, am not confounded or outraged at the  idea of being given the occasional nudge into the correct path, whether this be from the Almighty or from other members of the Body.