Entering into the world

In my previous posting, I suggested that any possible divine action (and, indeed, any possible human action) cannot be at a mechanical level.  The other side of the coin is the Senecan insight, that all that happens is natural.
Natural and Supernatural, so beloved of modern writers, and so redolent of medieval thought, need a little explanation here.  These words refer properly to agency, the power of some agent to make something happen. Birds have the natural agency to fly; adult humans the natural agency to speak.  When something does something that is above or beyond its own natural abilities, one may say that it does so supernaturally.  For example, it is not in the natural abilities of a chimpanzee to fly into space; but they can do so supernaturally with a bit of assistance from human astronauts.
Ham, the first chimp in space, shakes hands on his return.
Ham, the first chimpanzee in space, shakes hands on entering into the world again...
I accept that this is not a normal, dare I say natural, use of the word supernatural. Still, that is a reasonable understanding of it.  When people normally talk about the supernatural however, they mean something slightly different from this; not the generalised case of agents achieving things they cannot do off their own bat, but of things happening in the universe that are in principle outside the normal regularities of natural law, and thus involving a perturbation of how the universe normally works.  As it follows that any such perturbation by something within the universe would be natural, it follows that such events, as defined, must be effected by something outside the universe, and that thing is normally considered to be God (or for more specific and gothic cases, ghosts, and so on). Here, the supernatural means something that happens that the universe cannot as a whole naturally bring about - whatever that might mean precisely.
The question, then, is if we should naturalise everything as a matter of course.  And this where the problems start of course. For a theist might want to say that everything that happens is sustained by God.  What we really want to do is to create a separate category of 'what can happen in the world without divine assistance' and compare it with what can happen in the world where there is a God.  After all, we can see what chimps can do without human assistance, so why not the world without God's assistance? But this is of course impossible, because we have no way of untangling the two.  If the theist is right, then in some sense, everything that happens is not natural but supernatural - the universe has no legs at all without God.  As Kant realised, we simply cannot abandon our normal scientific perspective and view the world 'from the outside', to see how it 'really is'.  From a theist perspective then, the whole distinction at a universe level between natural and supernatural seems suspect.
However, it seems that such a distinction seems suspicious from an atheist perspective too - for, just like the theist, the atheist also cannot get "behind the scenes".  All anyone can do is observe regularities in the world, and generate general laws that cover them.  Kant would probably say that this is indeed the only possible kind of experience that we can have - things that fall into one or more general categories.  However, laws can still be laws even if only approximately obeyed - one does not need to have such a rigourist view as Kant.
The real issue, it seems to me, is the danger of "reifying" scientific laws, ie by making them into something concrete - something actually observable in the world.  We can, conversely, only deduce or induce laws from things we see.  To put it another way, scientific laws are not backed up by some sort of remorseless logic that we know from sort of analysis (as opposed to empirically) cannot be broken.  Indeed, as laws are just generalisations of "what actually happens", the whole talk of them being broken seems very misleading.  What, after all, is it that is actually being broken?  And this leads me to ponder a more subtle problem.  We do not need to worry about divine action and how that enters into the world as much as our own acts.  How is it, after all, that I as an agent act in the world?  At one level, this is extremely easy to answer (at least in principle) - it will involve neurotransmitters, muscles, blood pumping and so on.  But at another level, this problem seems misguided.  If I decide to go to Stockholm this evening, and do so by catching a train, no physical laws seem to have been violated - how could they be?  But I have still intervened in the world, and made something happen that would not have happened if I had not decided on this course of action.  We normally hold these thoughts in our minds simultaneously the whole time without concern - that we are responsible for our acts in some way, and everything that happens is natural.  It is as if the attribution of intention - I went to Stockholm because I intended to - is not a description of the physical world, but rather, a commentary on it.  Again, a comparison, as usual, with aesthetics, might be useful.  One can technically describe Tristan as a (long) series of sound waves; but one can also comment on it as a moving and tragic love story.  Similarly, one might technically describe a certain set of events in a scientific way, but also feel moved to comment on it as a divine action.  Just as we afford ourselves the luxury of having our cake and eating it when we think about our own acts (agents in a natural world), why not give God the same benefit as well?  Why is divine action any more problematic than our own?
Vague glimmerings of the problematic nature of such a dialectic has made some philosophers of the mind try to eliminate one or other of these two perspectives: either by eliminating intention; or by eliminating the material world (e.g. Berkeley); or indeed by reducing both (the stance of "neutral monism", that mind and matter are both aspects of something else). Everyone else, even as they might fret about how God might act in the world, go about their daily business without any qualms at all.
I want to close by looking at a hypothetical example.  Suppose one was at a New Testament such as the lovely Wedding at Cana, the first miracle in John's gospel.  All necessary scientific equipment is present.  What might one see?  Would one see a set of unusual but (in retrospect) explicable events, or would one see some amazing sudden switch that no science can or could explain?  Why is it that only the latter might be considered to be a divine action - after all, with care, a human chemist could attempt to turn water into wine as well, and after long labour succeed.  It is the intention of the chemist to make wine - he does so, and we know how he does it.  Isn't it still his act?

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