It is often suggested that unless there are gaps in our ability to give a natural explanation for an event, we cannot attribute that event to God’s agency. We see this assumption working in the traditional view of miracles, by which a miracle is understood as a violation of natural law. The laws of nature say that one cannot walk on water; if someone walks on water, then this must be the doing of God, a supernatural agent.
Notice that belief in miracles, as violations of natural law, requires us to deny determinism. Determinism is the view that everything that occurs in the natural world is a function of the state of the world in the past, together with the laws of nature.
Some theologians are uncomfortable with this picture of divine agency. They want to say that God acts in the world, but are reluctant to admit that there are ever any violations of natural law.
Now this does not seem particularly difficult when it comes to God’s general agency, as that is represented by God’s creation and conservation of the universe. But things get a bit more complicated when it comes to special divine agency. What is that? We might say, with Alvin Plantinga , that it is any activity on God’s part that is not identified with his general agency. God’s special agency is represented in things that God does at particular times and for particular purposes, e.g. the parting of the Red Sea so that the Hebrews can escape the Egyptians. Miracles are an example.
We may notice a certain tension here. God’s general agency involves God’s conservation of the natural world, which must involve his conserving the laws by which that world operates. But if God’s special agency requires him to violate these laws, it also implies a failure on God’s part to conserve the order of nature. We might be forgiven for seeing a kind of contradiction here.
If this concern has any weight, then it would be nice to find some way of making special divine agency compatible with natural law.
To resolve this tension, some philosophers— I will refer to them as “quantum theologians”— have appealed to the principles of quantum mechanics. Some of the events that occur at the subatomic level are non-deterministic. For example, atoms sometimes emit light waves, but we can predict this behavior only probabilistically. There is some contemporary argument to the effect that the traditional miracles may not be violations of natural law at all, but may be manifestations of strange goings-on at the subatomic level .
Notice that the quantum theologians cling to the idea that special divine agency requires the world to be non-deterministic. They hope to exploit the possibility that a non-deterministic view of the world is compatible with science.
I think quantum theology is confused for a number of reasons, but space permits me only one objection here. I wish to deny that special divine agency requires us to suppose that the world is non-deterministic.
Let us suppose that determinism is true, and that everything that occurs in nature is a function of the state of the universe in the past, together with the (non-probabilistic) laws of nature. Let us then consider the implications of this for human agency. Many philosophers would say that humans cannot be held morally responsible for what they do in a deterministic world, but few would insist that determinism rules out the possibility of human action entirely.
So for example, if I intentionally light a cigar after dinner one evening, this is an instance of agency on my part. Furthermore it seems to fall under the category of what we are calling special agency. I am not capable of the sort of general agency that is attributed by theists to God, so it’s hard to see what else it could be. The lighting of my cigar is something done by an agent— me— at a particular time and for a particular purpose.
Now consider a purported instance of divine agency. Suppose, for example, a child in a toy motor-car is stuck on a railroad track with a train approaching. Because of a curve in the track, the engineer will be unable to see the child until it is too late to stop the train. The child’s mother sees what is about to happen and cries out to God to save her baby. At that moment, the engineer faints, releasing his grip on the control lever, and the train comes harmlessly to a stop . If determinism is true, then the fainting of the engineer, and subsequent stopping of the train, has been in the cards since the beginning of the universe. Yet there seems to be nothing standing in the way of describing this as an action on the part of God; the child’s mother may describe what has happened as an answer to her prayer.
Of course, the stopping of the train is in conformity with natural law. This might lead us to deny that it is a miracle. But that is not what is at issue here. Are there any grounds for the claim that, because this event was determined to occur, it cannot be an instance of special divine agency? I don’t see that there are.
It is true that this event has a natural explanation. But, under the deterministic hypothesis, my lighting of my cigar also has a natural explanation. Yet we still describe this as an action on my part. If human agency is possible in a deterministic world, then special divine agency is, too.
It is possible that the universe is not deterministic, and that subatomic phenomena of the kind that interest the quantum theologians are not determined to occur. But a commitment to special divine agency does not require either of these claims to be true.
Department of Philosophy
 Alvin Plantinga, Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion, and Naturalism; Chapter 3, Kindle p. 68, loc 1082; Oxford University Press, Oxford
 See for example Bradley Monton (2012), “God Acts in the Quantum World,” Chapter 7 in Oxford Studies in the Philosophy of Religion, Volume V; Clarendon Press, Oxford
 This example comes from R.F. Holland (1965), "The Miraculous," American Philosophical Quarterly 2:43-51 Holland hoped to argue that the stopping of the train can be described as a miracle. My argument does not require me to defend this claim.