Consider a thought experiment. Imagine that it has pleased God to create a universe quite different from ours. In fact, this universe consists of one large clock. This clock looks amazingly like one we might see on the wall anywhere in town. It is round, with numbers 1-12, with two hands that rotate around a center point, one marking the hours and the other, minutes. One big difference, though, is the fact that this clock has no clockwork. So how does the clock work? The answer is quite simple. God intervenes into this universe thousands of time every second to manually move the hands to the proper position. What would the clock look like to an observer, if there were one? Well, it would look like a very accurate clock. Would it be a problem for God to intervene like this? It would seem not, since He is infinite in His capabilities. He would have no more problem keeping 10 (to the 80th power) clocks operating than one, for that matter. That would be one clock in this universe for every particle on ours! But it still seems that there is something wrong with this universe. It is not elegant.

That was the problem with Newton's idea of a universe that needed constant fine-tuning, as Laplace saw it – it was not elegant; not worthy of God. But as Newton's ideas filtered down to the Christian world, God seemed more and more like an All-Mighty clockmaker. It caused people to be struck by the awesome creation, but it also gave the idea that God is not involved. Maybe the clockwork universe was running by itself. It took away from belief in His immanence, or the concept that God is really present with His people.

It perhaps can be said as a general rule, that modern thought has progressively eroded the concept of the immanence of God. Some have drifted off into Deism, which suggests that God has no interaction with His creation. Secularists have followed this trend, also– to more and more push the concept of a deity out of their philosophies. In other words, the tendency of Modernists was to push God further and further from any immediate contact with creation to a point that approaches Deism. Alvin Plantinga makes this point, reacting to suggestions that God does nothing to interfere in the operation of the world. He said:

The suggestion seems to be that God does nothing immediately (Immediately means without the use of an intermediary; directly.) in creation; everything he does, he does mediately, indirectly, by way of having some creature do the immediate acting. And the suggestion seems further to be that if God did act immediately in creation, he would be assuming the role of a creature; the divine role is to act only mediately and indirectly.1)

Plantinga quickly and accurately points out that this idea fails in two obvious ways, which must be quickly clarified. First, God must continuously uphold the universe by the word of His power, as Hebrews 1:3 tells us. This is sometimes called conservation. Secondly, God exercises His providence by what is called concurrence in that nothing that happens in the universe happens without God being a part of it. For example, the weather happens at the command of God. See Psalm 148:8. So God is active in many ways, seen and unseen, by conservation and concurrence.2) And, of course, God intervenes in the case of miracles and especially in the Incarnation of Jesus Christ. This is not to say that God does not intervene in non-supernatural ways, also.

To that, of course, we must add that God intervened when He created all things. But having said all that, there must remain a sense in which God gives some autonomy to even the created inanimate universe. Yes, God must sustain it. Of course, God's hand is in every raindrop that falls. But the universe where God must move the hands of the clock lacks elegance, and that is why Laplace argued that God designed better.

Autonomy, Human and Otherwise

So let us look at the question of autonomy. Does the universe or anything in it act in any way independently from God? We can quickly see that the atheist must say that the universe is totally autonomous. The atheist must say that God neither created the universe, nor does He sustain it. The deist seems to offer little more. Deism apparently says that the universe was created by God in the beginning, but that He is no longer involved in the matter. Deism is suspicious of any idea that God is involved in conservation or concurrence. The deist universe seems to be a blind, mindless machine, undirected by God, except that presumably God instituted the natural laws that govern everything. We will come back to the one-clock universe, but before we do. let us consider a thought that was expressed very well by a theologian-philosopher named John Hick. We must hasten to point out that John Hick, before the end of his life, parted company with most of what could be regarded as Christianity toward a kind of omni-religious pluralism. Still, his early book, Evil and the God of Love, has some interesting insights. A Wikipedia article on his thoughts concerning the problem of evil says this:

Hick has identified with a branch of theodicy that he calls "Irenaean theodicy" or the "Soul-Making Defense". A simplification of this view states that suffering exists as a means of spiritual development. In other words, God allows suffering so that human souls might grow or develop towards maturation. For Hick, God is ultimately responsible for pain and suffering, but such things are not truly bad. Perhaps with a greater degree of perception, one can see that the "evil" we experience through suffering is not ultimately evil but good, as such is used to "make our souls" better.3)

This is a thought that is really quite similar to that expressed by Leibniz. This is perhaps because both views have been associated with the Irenaean theodicy. But Hick understands sin to be the cause of much pain and suffering and feels a necessity to explain why God allows autonomy to His creatures. Clearly if there were no autonomy, no freedom of the will, then God could simply ordain that His creatures would be incapable of sin. Hick believes that love is the answer. It is love that causes God to give freedom to his creatures. He put it this way:

For human freedom vis-à-vis God presupposes an initial separateness and a consequent degree of independence on man's part. In creating finite persons to love and beloved by Him God must endow them with a certain relative autonomy over against Himself. But how can a finite creature, dependent upon the infinite Creator for its very existence and for every power and quality of its being, possess any significant autonomy in relation to that Creator? The only way that we can conceive is that suggested by our actual situation. God must set man at a distance from Himself, from which he can then voluntarily come to God. But how can anything be set at a distance from One who is infinite and omnipresent? Clearly spatial distance means nothing in this case. The kind of distance between God and man that would make room for a degree of human autonomy is epistemic distance.... God must be a hidden deity, veiled by his creation. He must be knowable, but only by a mode of knowledge that involves a free personal response.... Such a need for a human faith-response will secure for man the only kind of freedom that is possible for him in relation to God, namely cognitive freedom, carrying with it the momentous possibility of being either aware or unaware of his Maker.4)

Hick, in a previous discussion, explained what he means by cognitive freedom, which is essentially the same as the concept of “free will.” Hicks insists that cognitive freedom means something different than a kind of random indeterminacy. It would certainly mean the ability to choose on the basis of something that grows out of one's own character. Scriptural free will certainly does have that concept, with the idea that our character can impel us towards a choice, and when one's character becomes quite fixed, can even compel our choice. A downward spiral is shown in Scripture of human beings choosing wickedness, which so inclines their very character so as to compel them to sink into even more detestable wickedness, to the point that God will give them up.5) Hicks recognizes this influence of our very character, yet he also insists that the volition that God has given us includes yet another dimension. He defines this kind of freedom as a limited creativity. This recognizes that when we exercise volition, we can rise above (or fall below) our character, and that our volition is not simple randomness. There is an “aliveness” to our decisions that is not simply foreordained by our character, since our decisions help form our character – the two are interactive.6) Hick says that this kind of volition is no accident. It grows out of a loving God that wants His creatures to be able to freely show unforced love in return. Expressed in this way, human volition is a beautiful gift from the hand of a loving God. The rewards flowing out of this gift are awe-inspiring. Apparently they are worth far more than the evil that comes when His creatures choose the path of sin and death.

As opposed to atheists and deists, some theists resist the idea that the universe has any autonomy at all. Some Islamic scholars are said to maintain that there are no natural laws. Everything that occurs is a miracle, and if most miracles seem to be uniformly produced, that simply shows the regularity and order in the mind of God. But when we consider that the universe shows that God determined to create something outside Himself, we have to accept that the universe must have some autonomy, if that is defined as otherness from God.

Therefore, to exist is to have a certain minimal autonomy. But we need to go a bit further than that. The one-clock universe has that minimal autonomy implied by existence in space and time, but everything in it is moved (as Plantinga would say) immediately by God. However, we see intuitively that there is something deficient in a universe that lies like an inert lump unless prodded into motion by the immediate action of its maker. Surely, said Laplace, God has done better than that!

So, if the one-clock universe shows that a measure of autonomy is more elegant, even for the inanimate part of the universe, and even more so for living things, an extra measure of autonomy seems to be especially implied by the fact that God created humans in His image to forge a loving relationship. This autonomy derives from the will of the Creator and does not mean that humans are independent from God, but rather that He desires humans to exercise choice in a way that animals and inanimate things cannot. We humans also make things happen, and we are responsible for the choices that we make, and are accountable for our decisions. This is part of what God describes as love, and ultimately is aimed at His creatures freely giving glory to Him.

A Designer Universe

Let us consider the matter of design by using our imagination. Imagine a 12-year old boy building a model airplane in his bedroom. He begins with a pattern or blueprint, which is normally on paper, but could only be a design in his mind. He builds it out of balsa wood, which he carefully cuts to shape from the pattern, and then glues it together. He covers the balsa struts and spars with a thin fabric, which is then varnished. Finally he adds plastic parts, paint and decals, and the result is quite a lifelike miniature of a real airplane. The first question we might ask is, “Why does he do this?” If we were to ask him, he might say, “Because it's fun!” Or perhaps, “Because it's a challenge.” Or, “Because I like to do it!” Or, with perhaps with a bit more insight, “Because I like to imagine what might be possible.” Clearly, even though he might not be able to express it, we gather that the boy enjoys being creative, solving problems, and using his imagination. These are the sort of thing that Abraham Maslow considered to be the highest needs of any person, which he called “self-actualization” needs; related to achieving one's full potential.7)

We recognize that God did not create the universe out of a sense of need. He was fully complete before the creation. We do not presume to have special insight into the mind of God. But He created us in His image. Perhaps our poor attempts at creation provide an analogy to God, and give a glimpse at why He chose to create. No doubt one answer is: He created to bring glory to Himself. Perhaps another answer is: He created because it gave Him pleasure to do so.

Augustine argued something similar to this. He saw God as the creator who willed the universe into existence from nothing 8) yet prior to the creation He had ordering patterns and Ideas in His divine mind, which found expression through His Word, the Logos. 9) So Augustine saw a design phase as logically preceding the creation, itself.10) This is an integral part of my own concept that I call the Chosen Contingency Model.11)

Let us look at a human author named Daniel Silva. He has written several books, including The Fallen Angel.12) An article about the author revealed the following:

But even Silva gets attached, and killing off the characters he likes can reduce him to tears. "I wept when I wrote that chapter," Silva confesses, referring to the finale of his new book, the bestseller "Portrait of a Spy." Even though "I knew it was coming from the beginning," the novel's death scene rattled him almost as much as it rattled his hero Gabriel Allon -- who, as art restorer, assassin, Israeli spy and scourge to terrorists, is a Renaissance man for the dangerous 21st century.13)

Even though an author and his character comprise only an imperfect analogy, it is not a trivial analogy. As we can see with Silva, an author can develop a relationship with his characters, even though they are entirely works of the imagination. How much more can God be seen as having a relationship with His creation, which has actually been brought into existence! We can easily see that the universe shows evidence of such design.

So is there autonomy in the universe? Yes. But not so much as to make God irrelevant. Not even so much as to deny that God controls all things. But enough to say that all creatures have some autonomy, and that autonomy shows the glory of God.

Christianity | Theology

Plantinga, Alvin. Evolution, Neutrality, and Antecedent Probability. In: Intelligent Design Creationism and Its Critics: Philosophical, Theological, and Scientific Perspectives. Robert T. Pennock, ed. 2001. A Bradford Book. MIT Press. Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA. p. 221.
Plantinga, Alvin. Evolution, Neutrality, and Antecedent Probability. p. 222.
Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. “John Hick.” <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Hick>
Hick, John. Evil and the God of Love. 2010. Palgrave Macmillan. Basingstoke, Hampshire. p. 281
See Romans 1: 21-32.
Hick, op. cit. p. 276.
Maslow, Abraham H. (1943). “A Theory of Human Motivation,” Psychological Review 50(4): 370-96.
That is, ex nililo.
See John 1:1-18.
Tarnas, Richard. The Passion of the Western Mind: Understanding the Ideas That Have Shaped Our World View. 1991. Ballantine. New York. p. 106
Fox, Harry James, CrossCurrents: Making Sense of the Christian Life. 2013. Foxware Publishing, Las Cruces, NM. pp. 185 ff.
Silva, Daniel. The Fallen Angel. 2012. Harper.
Ogle, Connie. Spymaster Silva Reveals a Caring Side for Characters. The Miami Herald. Published: Sun-News. Las Cruces, NM. Sun Life. Sunday, August 5, 2012. P. 2E.

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