Part of the debate over the existence of God centers on questions about the possibility and “provability” of miracles. In this groundbreaking work, Dr. C. John Collins, a Discovery Institute Fellow, provides a thorough exegetical foundation for discussing God’s action in the world within the framework of biblical Christian theology.
Collins begins by presenting and contrasting the options within traditional Christian theism. Supernaturalism “affirms the reality of God’s action in both the “natural events” (created things upheld by divine preservation and concurrence) and the “supernatural” ones (qualitatively special divine action).” (pg. 123) God’s actions are typically not detectable until He performs miracles and expresses his “potenta absoluta or creative power.” Providentialism would be embraced by the “theistic evolutionist” who believes that God acted as a First Cause to set up the laws of nature to act and create, unbroken, throughout the history of the universe. Occasionalism views the laws of nature as the normal divine activity of God in the natural world, and a “miracle” simply implies that God intended something different to occur than He normally intends to occur.
He then explores the biblical passages that support a classically theistic foundation and relates these results to the philosophical, theological, scientific, and apologetic questions that this raises. Descriptions of events like the Virgin birth of Christ challenge both providentialism and occasionalism. For example, in the book of Matthew, Joseph is told in a dream, “Don’t be afraid to take Mary your wife; for what is begotten in her is from the Holy Spirit.” Such non-naturalist events clearly negate providentialism. And occasionalism is challenged here because “it is precisely because the miracles of Jesus are often emblematic of the coming of salvation that a supernaturalistic description of them is so suitable.” (pg. 125)
Collins also effectively takes on the God-of-the-gaps position and answers with a persuasive “yes” the crucial question of whether it is intellectually responsible to embrace the biblical view of God’s action in the world. Collins poses a difficult question: if supernaturalism is a correct view of God’s actions in the history of the human race, is it appropriate to similarly apply such a view to origins? From his biblical exegesis, Collins notes that humans are made in the “image of God” which implies a detectable discontinuity between humans and animals. As Collins explains, sometimes inferences to design are the best explanation for various aspects of nature which bear the marks of intelligence, for “[n]o one expects that knowing more about rocks will change that inference [that Stonehenge was designed].” (pg. 171) Given reliable methods from Dembski and Behe for detecting design in biology, perhaps it is naturalism which is inappropriately filling many gaps for many scientists.
This book is a necessary read for those interested in the questions of what God’s two books (nature and the Bible) have to say about if and when God acts in the world.