Special divine action (SDA), the idea that God causes specific events to happen in the world, is nowadays often rejected as implausible by scientists and silently bypassed by theologians. Yet the idea that God is actively involved in the affairs of this world is basic to Christian theism, and the idea that God has intervened in the past and perhaps still intervenes in history is fully in accordance with biblical scripture. So what is so problematic about SDA that it has become almost an embarrassment for the Christian faith?
As I will argue in this lecture, the problems surrounding the plausibility of SDA are mainly theological and philosophical in nature. The main problem is what I will call "theological naturalism" and that depicts the tendency to conceptualize theological ideas using ideas and ways of thinking taken from the natural sciences, which results in a distortion of the theological concepts involved. Rather than defending a particular view or even "theory" of SDA, this lecture aims at a philosophical diagnosis that aims at clarifying some of the conceptual confusion surrounding the concept of SDA. Perhaps SDA remains a problematic concept, but not for the reasons that are so often given.
DR TAEDE A. SMEDES (Drachten, the Netherlands, 1973) is a philosopher of religion and a theologian. He studied theology in Groningen (the Netherlands), earned his PhD in 2004 from the University of Groningen, and has since worked as a research fellow in Leiden, Leuven (Belgium) and Nijmegen. He is also active as a journalist and freelance writer. His specialty is the area of science and religion and he has published about divine action and modern science, about theological problems concerning creationism and intelligent design, about technology and theological anthropology, and about methodological issues in relating science and religion. He has published several Dutch books on science and religion. With regard to the issue of divine action, he published Chaos, Complexity, and God: Divine Action and Scientism (Leuven: Peeters 2004). He lives in Nijmegen with his wife and their two children.
DR TOM SIMPSON is Associate Professor of Philosophy and Public Policy at the Blavatnik School of Government, University of Oxford, and a Senior Research Fellow at Wadham College. He was educated at Cambridge (BA, MPhil, PhD), where he was also previously a Research Fellow at Sidney Sussex College. Between degrees he served as an officer with the Royal Marines Commandos. His research is focused on trust, both its theory and practical applications, including implications for religious epistemology. His work in applied ethics has been principally on the ethics of information and computing technologies, and of war.