This lecture explores some concerns about the notion of Special Divine Action (SDA) within mainline English religious circles from about 1650 to 1800, focussing on three interconnected developments. In the first place, the increasingly rational culture of this period appears to have created a prejudice against the idea of SDA. Second, the growing emphasis on the “lawlike” behaviour of the natural world created anxiety about the notion of SDA, partly because this appeared to contravene the frameworks of regularity that were coming to be valued around this time.
SDA was something that had indeed happened in the primordial act of creation; yet many now regarded God as governing the world not through “signs and wonders”, but through the laws of nature. Third, many theologians of this age were apprehensive about the rationality of the doctrine of the Trinity, and tended to think of God in non-interventionist terms. These trends will be discussed in the writings of theologians from Newton to Paley, and their mutual relationship and significance assessed. Finally, their relevance for contemporary discussions of the question will be assessed.
ALISTER MCGRATH is Andreas Idreos Professor of Science and Religion at Oxford University. He holds three Oxford doctorates: A DPhil from the Faculty of Biological Sciences in molecular biophysics, a DD for research in historical and systematic theology from the Faculty of Theology, and a DLitt for research in science and religion from the Division of Humanities. His specialist interests include the philosophy of explanation in science and religion, the theological application of a “critical realist” epistemology, and the development of natural theology as an interface between theology, sciences, and the arts. His most recent book Emil Brunner: A Reappraisal (2014) is a critical study of the development of the theology of the Swiss theologian Emil Brunner, focussing especially on his approach to natural theology, and the interface between theology and the natural sciences. Following the huge critical and popular success of his recent biography of CS Lewis (2013), McGrath is also researching the origins and development of Lewis's distinct views on the relation of science and faith.