Is science possible in a world where a god acts?



Consider a world equipped with a god; and this god from time to time at his convenience and no other, acts in the world; and then too, that those beings who live in the world see these acts as something they name a miracle.

Can science as an empirical and theoretical discipline be possible in such a world?

On the face of it, one might say - no, it cannot; for no law can be discovered which could not be overturned or disrupted at this god's whim were such whims possible in this world.

Still, one notes that in this world that, when one considers the genealogy of scientific theories, we see that they consider only a limited set of phenomena - for no theory can deal with everything all at once - and then that they idealise; thus, there is here a double exclusion:

The first exclusion excludes those phenomena which is not relevant to the picture that thought thinks on; for example a physicist will not be thinking of the history of the battle of Hastings, whilst reflecting on the meaning of gravity (unless his mind is drifting in a Joycean manner or interrupted by a scatalogical or sexual thought or even a scatological-sexual thought; or series thereof).

The second exclusion smooths out the rough; turns the unshapely to shapely; consider for example before friction can be considered one thinks on the frictionless; or the reduction of an unshapely stone to a perfectly spherical atom of stone.

Thus one might say that in that world where a god acts at exceptional moments, and then exceptionally; that one, when constructing scientific theories in the laborious task of constructing a theory of everything in so far as this is possible, must ignore the exceptions and the exceptional ...

Mozibur Ullah

Posted 2015-10-24T15:39:08.723

Reputation: 1

read my answer here

– sure – 2015-10-26T10:40:14.033



Science is completely possible in a world with an active God. This can be proven by analogy. Consider a role-playing game such as "Dungeons and Dragons." Most of the action of the game takes place in a highly structured and consistent manner, according to the rolls of dice, and a complex system of statistics. However, the "Dungeon Master" (an additional participant in the game, who moderates rather than plays) has wide latitude to create and discard game scenarios, tweak the statistics, and even ignore the results that the dice dictate.

From the viewpoint of a character within the game, the statistics are the science on which his world is founded, the actions of the Dungeon Master that contradict those statistics are the miracles. Both can certainly coexist, in fact it is a necessity for an entertaining game. However, the players tend to strongly prefer that departures from the statistical expectation be kept to an absolute minimum, in order not to endanger the realism (and sense of consequential import) of the game.

An accurate knowledge of the science of the game is valuable to a character or a player of the game to the same extent which that science is not customarily suspended.

Chris Sunami supports Monica

Posted 2015-10-24T15:39:08.723

Reputation: 23 641


Certainly, science is possible in a world where God acts.

After all, God can create such a world. And if this God is well-disposed towards scientists He may, deus absconditus, leave it at that, the "spring-loaded" God of Aristotle or Leibniz.

And if God insists upon acting in the world, contravening the laws of nature, it becomes largely a matter of aesthetic judgement whether we call such acts random events, singularities, or miracles. Science can only assign probabilities, whether to quantum measurements or instances of witnessed resurrections. If we admit a world of singular events and probabilistic measurements, there are infinitely many quantum gaps in which God might reside and be "mysteriously" acting.

To decide if some event is a "divine miracle" is a bit like sifting the airwaves for messages from extraterrestrial intelligences. Hard to rule out echo effects. If God acts ceaselessly, how would you distinguish Him from the constant hum of being? If He acts spontaneously, how would you distinguish Him from randomness? If He acts periodically in an intelligible manner, how do you distinguish Him from a probabilistic scientific law or some Kantian framework of the observer?

The real question is: Is science possible in a world where people insist that God acts? Here, the answer is no. Science is not possible without a suspension of "that hypothesis," as Laplace called it. Where such explanations can be introduced, the scientific method of explanation is completely subverted. Science works, for better or worse, by a strict division of explanatory labor and a conditional assignment of God to the inconsequential. The price is paid with finitude.

Nelson Alexander

Posted 2015-10-24T15:39:08.723

Reputation: 11 748

1Sure; I do think your last paragraph is a little too clear-cut: science arose in a context where religion was important; it does make me think whether one can construct a world in which god and the world is so inextricably linked that to get even partial theories one has posit the existence of a god... – Mozibur Ullah – 2015-10-24T16:40:22.963

I think these are endlessly interesting yet futile questions, as long as we maintain the crucial, self-limiting definition of "science." It helps neither science nor religion to blur the distinctions. I agree that science may have historically required a kind of monotheistic mindset, and that religious intuitions have been crucial to everyone from Newton and Faraday to Einstein. The necessity of Reason to move towards a rational "totality," as best expressed by Hegel, is the very character of science. But adding or subtracting God is and must be irrelevant to the scientific "method." – Nelson Alexander – 2015-10-24T16:51:52.263

1Religion in practice is an obstacle to the rise of science and reason. Religion is the outdated mode of existence of social organization. Religion still exists cause of social inertia. Computers and the internet are the last nails in this coffin. Einstein and Spinoza "pantheism" was just a shy atheism. – John Am – 2015-10-24T16:57:13.253

Much as I deplore patriarchal maxims and the Abrahamic traditions, I would not go that far. The place of God as a kind of absolute or a "open bracket" for questions of infinity, idealization, personhood, regeneration, higher purposes, and ends-in-themselves has been almost necessary to logical development. Even the computer, I think, is not a machine that can rid itself of the "ghost." I see value in religion as a form of "historical preservation" and aesthetic ends in the utilitarian calculus of Capital. – Nelson Alexander – 2015-10-24T17:13:39.030

If you still believe in ghosts you have a long way to travel ahead. Courage. I value religion only as an important part of humanity past and history. – John Am – 2015-10-24T17:22:37.363

@John Am I find your comment starting with "Religion in practice ..." very interesting and illuminative. Of course it is a provocing comment. Would you like to convert its content into a separate question? – Jo Wehler – 2015-10-24T17:31:18.343

I think the first 3 paragraphs are excellent. I'm unconvinced as to the truth of the last paragraph. Nevertheless, this gets my upvote. – Chris Sunami supports Monica – 2015-10-26T19:02:04.477

Thanks, but I'm curious to know your objections to last paragraph. Perhaps "in a world" made it unclear? How can science work if an acting God, capable of causal intervention, can be introduced hypothetically into scientific explanations? Has nothing to do with existence of God. Even Kant would strenuously object. – Nelson Alexander – 2015-10-26T19:38:36.173


Science has its roots in epistemology. It has oft dabbled in ontological truths about the world, but if you look at what it actually does, it is 100% epistemological. Accordingly, so long as god interacts with a world which supports epistemological thinking according to empirical analysis and mathematical models, science has its use. Remember, science, in 99.99999% of what it claims to do, doesn't have to be right. It just has to be right enough to be useful.

There are modern day examples where this sort of behavior occurs around a presumed omniopotent deity. Small children often develop the belief that their parents can do anything. Consider a small child is asked to predict the consequences of their actions before they do the action: there is precedent for humans trying to predict the consequences of their actions empirically in the presence of an actually omnipotent deity.

"All models are wrong, some are useful."

Cort Ammon

Posted 2015-10-24T15:39:08.723

Reputation: 16 681

Science strives for knowledge, e.g. it asks how do free-falling bodies behave (Galilei)? Epistemology lives on a metalevel. It asks how is knowledge possible? - Hence I cannot follow your statement that science is rooted in epistemology. – Jo Wehler – 2015-10-24T17:26:43.847

@JoWehler As I have been lead to understand it, science is considered to be tied to empiricism, which is an epistemological branch. It is a method of gathering knowledge with its roots in empiricism. – Cort Ammon – 2015-10-24T17:34:21.130


It is an interesting idea to turn the question "Can a god exist in a world of science" around into "Is science possible in a world with a god", and possibly a more correct way of looking at it.

Consider a world equipped with a god; and this god from time to time at his convenience and no other, acts in the world; and then too, that those beings who live in the world see these acts as something they name a miracle.

You may want to watch your terminology here. If these beings call some things a miracle, that implies they have somehow a sense of science: they call those things miracles that they cannot explain otherwise.

Also, you could consider probabilistic theories. In computing science for example, many kinds of greedy algorithms are used that do not guarantee an optimal result but attempt to approach it. Somewhat similarly, we could rephrase common scientific theories such as the gravity theory into things as "it is highly probable that an apple will fall from a tree", which does allow for miracles.

However, as far as I know, most people who attempt to reconcile science and religion take on a form of deism, or claim that the god(s) act(s) within the natural laws.


Posted 2015-10-24T15:39:08.723


1"However, as far as I know, most people who attempt to reconcile science and religion take on a form of deism, or claim that the god(s) act(s) within the natural laws." - Joseph Ratzinger who is not a deist, wrote about this at length. He is one example, but can also be seen in a long tradition of Catholic theologians arguing similarly. Of course, whether one agrees with them is a separate matter. – James Kingsbery – 2015-10-26T03:19:02.863

Incidentally, the theory of gravity already only says "it is highly probable that an apple will fall from a tree", since it's possible a rogue gravity wave could come along and shoot the apple in the other direction. – None – 2015-10-26T08:34:21.133

@Hurkyl so, "It is highly probable that an apple will fall from a tree even without a rogue gravity wave coming along". You get the idea. – None – 2015-10-26T08:35:42.503


A lot of these sort of questions lately - I'm fond of referencing Joseph Ratzinger, who before becoming pope and afterward often wrote about this.

  1. For many philosophers (one example being Aquinas, but you can see these ideas in many Platonists as well), God is among other things Truth itself. Science is a process for understanding Truth.

  2. What does science require to be possible? Science requires that the universe is intelligible. Because we can only observe 1 universe, you can never know whether the universe is intelligible as a matter of science.

James Kingsbery

Posted 2015-10-24T15:39:08.723

Reputation: 5 868


I usually scoff at mentions of QM in philosophy discussions. Most of the time they are a sign that the discussion is going to head into Deepak Chopra territory very soon.

But the question you asked might be the one case where it would be justified to invoke Quantum Strangeness: One might be able to reconcile a universe governed by the laws of science with a god having the ability to intervene at will in its course of affairs by allowing the deity to intervene via quantum indeterminacy. The randomness of quantum outcomes might be the one place where a deity could nudge the universe into the direction it wanted to move in.

A similar form of interventionism might be implemented via statistical mechanics and thermodynamics, with the deity intervening, Maxwell's demon like, to cause statistically improbable but still mathematically possible outcomes and stir the universe in that fashion.

Alexander S King

Posted 2015-10-24T15:39:08.723

Reputation: 25 810

Dude. Frijof Capra is deep in Deepak Chopra territory, and Roger Penrose cannot save him... All attempts to link God and Quantum Mechanics need some motivation that cannot be attained by sheer acknowledgement of experimental error. – None – 2015-10-26T17:17:18.730


The laws of science are implicitly probabilistic, or they would never change. Something can be disproven by a weight of evidence, if that evidence mounts up to a force that makes the original unlikely. This is because the existing science itself is taken up based on evidence collected in imperfect ways, and therefore limited as to how convincing it can be.

But no theory has ever fallen to a specific event. Before they can be accepted, paradigms put a layer of settled evidence around themselves that outweighs any single observation, at least for a while. (Lakatos gives a lot of documentation of this kind of thing.)

So miracles and science can coexist, as long as the miracles do not pile up and create contrasting predictions more reliable than the existing theories.


Posted 2015-10-24T15:39:08.723


What do you mean by "The laws of science are implictly probabilistic?" In general, the laws of physics are expressed as differential equations, a paradigm of deterministic development. Even the Schroedinger equation and other equations from quantum theory are differential equations. - The only way I can imagine how to reconcile a miracle with the laws of nature, is to consider the former an observational error. If that's not possible, the challenge remains until one finds a scientific explanation. A good example is the precession of the perihelion of mercury. – Jo Wehler – 2015-10-24T17:21:14.723

The odds those equations are actually accurate is only verifiable statistically. We know our predictions will occasionally be wrong, because we know there are conditions we have no modeled in the experiment. To that degree, all the predictions of science are always inexact. You can rule out 'angels' only by sheer bias, or by controlling for them in experiments. I am all for sheer bias, but that is my choice, not part of science. – None – 2015-10-24T17:46:39.103

@JoWehler The downside of the idea of falsifiability which is kind of the root of 'normal science', is that you can no longer prove anything false, you can only decide it is unreliable or offensive. Personally, a physics with angles would offend me. But that is just me. – None – 2015-10-24T17:51:25.240

(That is angels, physics without angles, or even Angles would create definite problems for me...) – None – 2015-10-26T19:55:45.447


Science proceeds by inference to the best explanation, which is an inference not exclusive to naturalism.

If two explanatia for the same explanandum are equally probable then, by virtue of lex parsimoniae, the less ontologically superfluous of the two is the better explanation. An example can help to illustrate how science has come to infer naturalist explanations as better than theist explanations of phenomena.

Lightning is more/less likely in places with higher/lower atmospheric convection than others yet, regardless of whether or not Zeus makes any lightning at all, it is most likely that there is lightning today if Zeus makes lightning whenever he is mad and if Zeus is mad today. Yet, it is implausible that "Zeus makes lightning whenever he is mad and he is mad today" truly explains that there is lightning today, because it is highly improbable that Zeus is mad today (regardless of how likely it would be that that there is lightning today if Zeus makes lightning whenever he is mad and if he is mad today).

A no less plausible explanation for the lightning today (than an argumentum ad Jove) is that today's lightning was the making of unintelligent natural phenomena, which is plausible because it probably is a fact due to it being true a posteriori on many prior known occasions (whereas "Zeus makes lightning whenever he is mad and he is mad today" is not and has never been known a posteriori).

Moreover, "unintelligent natural phenomena" makes for a better explanation than an argumentum ad Jove because, by virtue of Ockham's Razor, although Zeus might make lightning daily by increasing atmospheric convection daily, to include Zeus in an explanation (of how a natural phenomena caused the lightning today) is unnecessary to explain, sufficiently, today's lightning, which necessarily requires some mention of natural phenomena but does not necessarily require any mention of Zeus. It would be excessive to appeal to Zeus; argumentum ad Jove is not as ontologically parsimonious.

אהרן רובין

Posted 2015-10-24T15:39:08.723

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