The Problem of the Divine Micromanager

If the creative activity of God, as Hugh McCann suggests[1], is alone responsible for the existence of the world and its entire history, then God becomes the ultimate micromanager. No detail is too small that it is left to chance or delegated to any subordinate agency or intervening mechanism. God’s absolutely sovereign is preserved in such a picture, but one wonders, at what cost? Questions quickly arise. What space is there for the operation of natural, or so-called secondary causes? Further, if God (a perfectly good being) is alone responsible for the entire history of the world then why is there evil and suffering? It seems that God is responsible for evil. Finally, how am I free in any meaningful sense on this picture? Call the problem raised by these questions and more like it, the Problem of the Divine Micromanager.

In this post, I’ll consider Hugh McCann’s solution to our first question: that is, how can this understanding of God as creator allow for genuine causation in the natural order. In a subsequent post, I’ll consider his discussion of evil and human freedom.

A common picture of creation, one that McCann rejects goes as follows:

In the beginning God created the world, along with whatever principles of operation it required for its continued existence, and then he rested. Thus, God is directly responsible for the world’s existence, but only indirectly responsible for its history, in the sense that he created the world with robust and independent natures that function on their own, and effect changes in other entities.

McCann rejects the common picture. Instead, he argues that the past is not responsible for the existence of the future, and God’s creative activity is directly efficacious throughout the world’s history. God’s creation and sustenance of the world and its history are “essentially one operation” (24). The world is not self-sustaining, it has “no capacity to persist on its own, independent of the creative activity of God” (27).

But if the world and its entire history are the sole responsibility of God, we are forced into the following dilemma: either Occasionalism is true or secondary causation cannot be understood as an existence-conferring operation. Occasionalism is the view that “the sole causal influence upon the world is divine agency, and that no natural phenomenon ever arise from natural causes” (30). Occasionalism is unattractive at best and at worst, as McCann argues, we lose everything (i.e., we lose a scientific account of natural phenomena, any interaction between us and the world, and, ultimately, the physical world itself). The second horn of the dilemma appears no better, for “it is easy to think of cause and effect as ontologically isolated, so that the only relation by which the former could explain the latter is one of existence conferral” (39). But, McCann argues, as long as causation is understood as existence-conferral, there is no workable division of labor between God and nature such that God is still an active participant in all the world’s operations (30-35).

McCann’s way out is to deny that causation in the natural order should be understood as existence-conferral, rather, causation is a process whereby conserved quantities of energy and momentum are transferred to produce new manifestations of what already exists. As the primary cause, God is responsible for the existence of all, even though the products of his creation genuinely interact and exert real influence upon each other. If successful, McCann’s account preserves God’s absolute sovereignty as well as the real powers and natures of entities in the natural world. There is no conflict between God’s activity as creator and the operations of secondary causes in nature—they are different kinds of processes.

After reading McCann, I am not convinced that there is no workable division of labor between God and the nature order even if causation is understood as existence-conferral. Still, if McCann is right, I think he has shown that, thus far, the problem of the Divine Micromanager is not a problem for the theist—the fact that God is the sole creator of the world and its history is compatible with a satisfying account of natural causation. Still, there are problems related to the reality of evil and human free agency, problems that we shall consider in a future post.

To see another post on Hugh McCann’s book Creation and the Sovereignty of God, click here.









[1] Hugh McCann, Creation and the Sovereignty of God (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2012).

One Response to The Problem of the Divine Micromanager

  1. Pingback: The Problem of the Divine Micromanager, Part 2 (sin, suffering, and freedom) | Paul Gould

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