It sounds like some kind of New York Times Best Seller’s list political thriller – perhaps a massive conspiracy by former Soviet KGB officers backed by financiers and powerbrokers on the Trilateral Commission to create a new world government. But “A regime unknown to us,” in the language of John Polkinghorne, is not talking about a political intrigue, but something even more intriguing: the idea of an unknown (and, maybe, unknowable) realm of science: the science of God.
To approach this idea, it is helpful to start by asking what a miracle is. This is a deceptively simple question, for at the basis of it stands the entire issue of science and faith, including the issue of creationism versus evolution. Must a miracle violate the laws of nature? Philosopher David Hume thought so, but many today are questioning whether it is necessary to give up on science to accept miracles. This is where the idea of an “unknown regime” comes in — it is theoretically a way God might do miracles without breaking the science's laws.
Perhaps there is some law of nature that God can use for His miraculous interaction with the world that would allow the miracles to occur without breaking the laws of nature (Hanson 97-98). This serves as a potential answer to the major deistic objection to miracles, namely, that it seems odd for God to design a system and then willfully “break” it every so often. Why would He do that? Indeed, this objection seems to present at least a potential problem, but so too does completely removing God from the picture of the world. If God is the basis of existence, as most who believe in God would affirm, one must ask how that can be if God is restricted to the laws of nature as we know them. That seems to make the world's existence more of the basis for God.
Hanson, Bradley C. Introduction to Christian Theology. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1997.
Urwin, Stephen D. The Probability of God: A Simple Calculation that Proves the Ultimate Truth. New York: Three Rivers, 2003.
Clearly, it must be admitted that science has not, and will not, be able to explain everything. Even outside of God, there will never be a meta-theory that could explain everything, simply because of the limitations of the human perspective both physically and temporally. As Stephen Unwin notes, we cannot even precisely determine the status of an electron within a set moment of time, because attempts to determine its location rule out determining its speed, and vise versa, per the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle (199). If we cannot even fully analyze with physical particles, it seems reasonable enough to suggest that God could very easily leave a “backdoor,” as it were, in His creation to do as He pleased completely outside the realms of our scientific knowledge.
There are, of course, other ways of looking at miracles. For example, modern day philosopher John Hick suggests the “experiencing-as” model, which suggests anything one experiences as being from God is miraculous; that is, whether something is a miracle or not has more to do with how one perceives the occurrence than the occurrence itself. This approach may be helpful on events that people cannot clearly agree on as a miracle or not — events that at least seem to be open to subjective interpretation. Maybe in such cases the miracle really is something more internal than external. But this approach is much less helpful on physical events, such as resurrection or creation.
The regime concept, though only one possible understanding of a difficult subject, is a useful way to understand these much larger, more puzzling types of miraculous events. For example, rather than viewing God as actively breaking His natural system He created during the resurrection of Lazarus, it might be helpful to imagine an additional “regime” that allows the regeneration of life. Perhaps God is the only one with the “password” to the backdoor, but it could be a backdoor within the laws of nature nonetheless. Creative workers have long been known to leave hidden access in their works, be those works physical buildings, works of ideas or, in recent times, computer software.
Timothy R. Butler is editor-in-chief of OFB. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.