Skip to ContentSkip to Navigation
About usFaculty of PhilosophyNewsEvents

What is at stake on divine action debates?

Historical and contemporary perspectives

Lecture by Dr Ignacio Silva (Faculty of Theology, Oxford University), organized by the GCMEMT

Discussants: Dr Han Thomas Adriaenssen (Groningen), Dr Jeroen de Ridder ( Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam)

The notions of providence and divine action, and in particular the metaphysical mechanisms by which God might be said to act within the created universe, have been discussed at large in the past two decades within the English-speaking philosophical and theological academic environments, in particular in relation to the ways in which nature works as described by science. Similar discussions are found throughout the history of philosophical and theological discourses in relation to the rational knowledge of the natural world.

My goal in this paper is to present a brief history of the discussions on divine action, in order to answer the ‘what’s a stake?’ question. What is on the table when we discuss these issues? What are we offering and what is on offer when we trade notions of divine action with those of natural action and causation?

Not only has modern science found issue with the idea of a God acting directly in the universe, as it happens since the seventeenth century. Christian and Muslim medieval philosophers and theologians have also raised concerns about the rationality and compatibility of natural causal powers and God’s activity in the world. Roughly sketched, it is possible to find at least four episodes within western intellectual history raising these anxieties: medieval Islam and medieval Christianity, early modern philosophy, twenty-first century theology and science debates. I will present these episodes and argue that there are four metaphysically desirable philosophical constants at stake in the debates. My main argument is that most discussions surrounding issues on divine action and the created order have attempted to embrace the most of the metaphysical principles or ‘desiderata’. These principles are: 1) God’s omnipotence, 2) God’s providential action, 3) the autonomy of natural causes, and 4) the success of reason and natural science.

Ignacio Silva

Ignacio Silva is a Research Fellow at the Ian Ramsey Centre for Science and Religion and Harris Manchester College at the University of Oxford. He received his D.Phil. from Oxford for his work on divine action. Silva has written several scholarly essays, including “Revisiting Aquinas on Providence and Rising to the Challenge of Divine Action in Nature” and “Thomas Aquinas Holds Fast: Objections to Aquinas within Today’s Debate on Divine Action,” which explore Aquinas’ account of divine action and analyse the arguments for and against it, and “John Polkinghorne on Divine Action: a Coherent Theological Evolution” and “Great Minds Think (Almost) Alike: Thomas Aquinas and Alvin Plantinga on Divine Action in Nature,” which examine Polkinghorne’s and Plantinga’s accounts of divine action. Silva’s doctoral thesis, “Divine Action in Nature. Thomas Aquinas and the Contemporary Debate,” highlights modern issues with divine action in contrast to the viewpoint of Thomas Aquinas.

Silva is the director of “Science, Philosophy and Theology in Latin America,” a three-year research project at the Ian Ramsey Centre that aims to promote and document inquiry on science-and-religion in that region and a member of the International Society for Science and Religion.

When & where?

Wednesday 4th May, 2016, 3-6pm
Room Beta, Faculty of Philosophy

Last modified:29 March 2016 10.23 a.m.