Tallis - The Strange Idea that What Happens Has to be Made to Happen


Additional Information

Category Lecture
Speakers Tallis, Raymond
Year 2014

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The talk will examine an embarrassment shared by both theological and scientific approaches to the intelligibility of the world and highlighted for theologians by Special Divine Action (SDA).

I will suggest that a serious, perhaps the central, problem presented by SDA is that of understanding a local event being brought about by an agency or force that is, by definition, absolutely general. The commonly expressed worry that SDA requires of God that he should violate His own laws reflects only the most obvious manifestation of what is a deeper difficulty; namely, finding an adequate explanation of the local, and actual, in the general.

The scientific endeavour to make the universe entirely intelligible - culminating in a putative Theory of Everything – encounters similar problems. I shall examine the Principle of Precedence in its various guises (inertia, laws of nature, probability) and different approaches to causation. They all prove profoundly unsatisfactory for different reasons. The difficulty common to various naturalistic responses to ‘Why’ is that of establishing an adequate connection between the explanandum and the explanation given that the former inevitably sets out general possibilities and the latter is composed of singular actualities.

The goal, or regulative idea, of science – namely finding a sufficient reason for singular events in the general properties of the universe to which they belong - is analogous to the theological aim of making sense of SDA by connecting and reconciling such action with fundamental characteristics of God. I shall argue that theists and atheists both need to look critically at the very idea that things happen because they are made to happen, typically by what has preceded it characterised in most general terms; at the notion of ‘becausation’.

In the final, and most speculative and least-developed, part of the paper, I shall ask whether the search for an explanation of events in something that makes them happen is prompted by a felt need to reconnect items of an intrinsically seamless universe pulled apart into distinct elements by the irruption of self-consciousness into Being. This last idea is offered up tentatively for dissection.