Hi @dga471 and @PdotdQ,
Just a few quick responses.
Re how God does miracles: fixing the initial conditions of the cosmos might be one way of doing it, but only in a deterministic universe. As we possess libertarian free will, that’s not an option, unless the miracle relates to a remote system that humans have no power to causally influence (e.g. the Star of Bethlehem, assuming that there was one). It wouldn’t work for the miracle at Cana, for instance, because the very existence of the wine jars (let alone the wine), or even the occurrence of the wedding, are all undetermined events: there was nothing at the moment of Creation to guarantee that they would happen. (I should add that as regards Divine foreknowledge, I’m a Boethian, not a Molinist. If you’d like to know why, you might like to have a look at this article that I wrote, over a decade ago. Cheers.)
Incidentally, I should add that if God works miracles by tweaking the initial conditions of the universe, then angels and demons are both redundant.
Another way in which God could work miracles is suggested by the philosopher Alfred Freddoso, in a short article titled, Comment on van Inwagen’s “The Place of Chance in a World Sustained by God”, which is well worth reading.
Freddoso contrasts four positions:
(i) Strong deism (in which God’s causal role in nature is limited to creation alone);
(ii) Weak deism [a.k.a. mere conservationism] (in which God conserves entities in existence, but He is at most a remote or mediate [as opposed to immediate or direct] cause of the changes that the basic entities immediately cause in one another);
(iii) Concurrentism (in which God is an immediate cause of every effect brought about in the created universe, along with the basic entity bringing it about - so when the Sun heats you, it’s God co-operating with the Sun that heats you);
(iv) Occasionalism ( God is the only genuine efficient cause of effects, so that when a candle burns your skin, it’s really God, not the candle, that’s burning you).
Historically, most Christian philosophers have been concurrentists, with only one (Durandus) adopting the weak deist (or mere conservationist) position during the Middle Ages. Freddoso is a staunch concurrentist. So is Ed Feser, by the way. A few Christian philosophers (e.g. Malebranche and Berkeley) have been occasionalists, but this is a pretty rare position among Christians: it was far more popular with Muslim philosophers, in the Middle Ages. Aquinas thought occasionalists were stir-crazy; needless to say, he was an occasionalist.
So here’s how Freddoso explains the miracle of the fiery furnace in Daniel 3:
Think of Shadrach sitting in the fiery furnace. Here we have real human flesh exposed unprotected to real fire, and yet Shadrach survives unscathed–even though the fire is so hot that it consumes the soldiers who usher him into the furnace. How, on the weak deist view, can God save Shadrach? Only, it seems, by either (i) taking from the fire its power to consume Shadrach, which is inconsistent with the soldiers’ being incinerated but in any case amounts (or so the anti-deists all claim) to destroying the fire and in that sense overpowering it; or (ii) endowing Shadrach’s clothing and flesh with a special power of resistance, in which case God is opposing His creature, the fire; or (iii) placing some impediment (say, an invisible heat-resistant shield) between Shadrach and the flames, in which case God is yet again resisting the power of the fire. By contrast, on the occasionalist and concurrentist models, God accomplishes this miracle simply by withholding His own action . The (real) fire is, as it were, beholden to God’s word; He does not have to struggle with it or overcome it or oppose it. The fire’s natural effect cannot occur without God’s action, and in this case God chooses not to act in the way required. An elegant account, and one that does not in any way give any creature a power that God must oppose.
What do you think of this approach to miracles? It will be noted that God does not change the laws of physics, on the concurrentist picture: He simply withholds his normal co-operation with causal agents, but they retain the tendency to act in their accustomed way. Personally, I can see how this account would explain the case of Shadrach in the fiery furnace, but I’m not sure it would explain entropy reversals, such as a resurrection from the dead. I was, however, intrigued to read Daniel’s proposal that maybe “there is a mechanism that dumps the excess entropy somewhere else, such as into the surrounding environment, or into some parallel universe.”
Why wouldn’t this work for angels? Well, it’s entirely rational to suppose that all creatures have God-relative “back-end” properties - for instance, the property of having God as their Creator and Conserver. However, they don’t need to possess the additional property of being responsive to God’s will; since He is their Author, they cannot fail to be. (J.K. Rowling doesn’t need to create Harry with the additional property of being obedient to her wishes. To be sure, humans can defy their Divine Author’s wishes, which is something Harry can’t do, but that’s only when God lets us. If God decides that I’ll raise my right hand, then I will.)
But if you’re willing to suppose that angels can interact with bodies at will (as Daniel seems to be), then you have to suppose that bodies also have angel-relative properties: specifically, the psychic property of being responsive to an angel’s will. You also need to suppose that angels possess the physical property of being responsive to changes occurring in the cosmos - e.g. people’s comings and goings; natural disasters; and so on. Personally, I find the idea of bodies having psychic properties and angels having physical properties downright bizarre, as it blurs the distinction between physical and spiritual beings, and seems to entail that there’s nothing metaphysically impossible about wands that do their owner’s bidding (as in Harry Potter).
These are the three arguments I was referring to.
Angels and demons exist, but are powerless to affect us in any way. Occam’s razor can always be invoked against this idle supposition: using the same logic, one might as well say that elves or pixies exist.
Angels and demons exist, but they can only affect us indirectly , by asking God to act on their behalf. The obvious drawback of this hypothesis is that it would mean that God sometimes acts at the behest of demons, assuming they are still able to influence events occurring in the cosmos. (If they’re not, then we don’t need to worry about them.)
Angels and demons are able to causally influence material objects, because these objects just happen to have the basic, built-in property of being responsive to the wishes of an angel or demon (whatever those wishes may be), as God originally designed them that way. As I’ve remarked above, if you believe that, then it’s equally rational to believe in magic wands that respond to the wishes of their owners. It also means that material objects possess psychic properties - in which case, they’re not really material. Moreover, angels and demons would need to have the physical property of being responsive to changes occurring in the cosmos.
I should point out that the Catholic Church has never dogmatically defined that angels and demons are absolutely immaterial; all it has said is that they’re spiritual creatures (Lateran Council IV, canon 1). Perhaps they are in some way embodied, after all. But that would blur the distinction between angels and aliens. Or perhaps that’s not a clear-cut distinction, after all? What do you think?