Wednesday April 5, 2017

Student Profile: Martin Blay

German graduate student and visiting scholar Martin Blay spent three months this semester at the University of Dayton researching his doctoral dissertation on miracles. A native of Bavaria, Germany, Blay attends the University of Regensburg, where his main interests are divine action and analytic metaphysics. He hopes to publish his dissertation and become a Lay minister in his home diocese of Ausenberg by fall.

What made you leave Germany to pursue your research?

University of Dayton religious studies professor Dennis Doyle came to Germany several times. During his last stay, he invited me over for three months and I just now took the chance. My stay here is an opportunity to come to know recent discussions in U.S. theology and bring them back to German discourse.

Why study miracles?

I wanted to write about divine action in the world. What interests me especially about miracles is that miracles are really big events on the macro-level. This really doesn't leave you with any excuse, it is a question you really have to answer: Is it possible for God to bring about it or not? I think if you address the question like that it is more likely you develop a better understanding of divine action.

How are you studying miracles?

There is the basic question, does God intervene into the world or does he not? There are the interventionists. They say God creates the world but he is kind of a supernatural agent, so in particular cases he just interferes. Then there are the non-interventionists. They say God creates the world and what comes afterwards are powers; they develop throughout the history of the evolutionary process. I belong to the non-interventionist group. I would say that God creates the world and that there are ongoing processes and within these processes something new can appear so there can be higher stages of development.

What would you say is the viewpoint of an analytic theologian?

Analytic theology tries to answer questions of philosophy without using metaphors. I think a lot of our language about divine action is metaphorical language and analytic theology tries to break that down to metaphysically reliable concepts. We do not simply report what believers say, but we do also try to answer the questions of which causes are at work here. Was natural law violated? We go into these very deep, hard core, basic questions of natural philosophy and this is very significant for the analytic approach.

Would you say to study miracles in such depth, you have to believe in them?

I don’t think so. There are some analytic philosophers who talk about miracles who are atheists or agnostics.

Your research question is whether non-interventionism rules out any concept of miracles and in how far emergentism might give a hint for a possible solution of this problem. Can you explain what you mean by this?

When you are a non-interventionist many people think you want to say: God does not act at all. He creates the world and everything is finished when it comes to his actions. I think this picture is misleading. God creates the world but he gives all his dynamics to his world and is present in these dynamics. Therefore, it is possible that we have something like miracles — unexpected, unpredictable outcomes of natural processes when we are non-interventionist. Emergence is a theory that tries to explain how higher forms of being rise from the underlying material. The easiest way to think about that is the mind/body relationship. We are natural bodies, then at a certain point in our early life, our mind emerges and mind is a higher quality. Mind is not only there, but it influences the body again. The mental decisions I make have consequences on my body.

How do the historical accounts of St. Augustine correlate with your research?

When people think about Augustine, he seems to be this very radical Christian thinker at the end of the ancient period. When I studied his account of miracles, I was surprised how modern he is in his account. He says that God establishes creation and then he gives hidden energies to his creations. At a certain point of time, theses hidden powers emerge. God creates the universe in one instant then gives over his power to the universe so that at a certain period in its historical development something like human life may emerge from the existing material. This is pretty close to what people in the science/religion debate claim about divine action in the world. They have these models of how God might interact with the indeterminacies of quantum physics. This comes pretty close to Augustine. It is always worth investigating these old thinkers because they can inspire us for our research today.

What do you plan to gain from your research?

What I try to do is reintegrate miracles into theology and natural philosophy. Because what happened since the 17th and 18th century is a disintegration of miracles. There were these extraordinary events within nature which didn't make sense. Normally, God operates with his laws of grace and suddenly it turns to miracles. I think we try to defend such a view on miracles, which is very hard nowadays for believers. I also think with the help of emergentism we can develop a theory of miracles which re-integrates miracles both in the natural development of the universe and our account of divine action.

Have you run into something fascinating while studying miracles?

What fascinates me is how hesitant the Catholic Church is about miracles. When I saw how cautiously Church officials address the subject of miracles I was very impressed. I think this is something really significant for the sanctification process within Church. The Church is very careful when it talks about miracles and it does not claim direct divine intervention, but is open minded to a wide range of metaphysical and theological inquiries. This is really inspiring.

How has the University of Dayton benefited your research?

One thing I learned particularly from my stay in Dayton is that there are many people in American society who really take the questions of faith seriously. When it comes to questions of religions, American society is much more pluralistic than the European society. You have very many different viewpoints among religious believers and many different denominations and faiths. People who are a part of these denominations are quite eager to express their opinion and it is widely accepted in society. In contrast, the German society is much more uniform, especially when it comes for questions of religious beliefs. This was an inspiring atmosphere for me to see that religious beliefs are really part of the everyday life here.

Have you enjoyed your time here at UD?

I benefited a lot from my stay here. I could talk to so many people here and everyone was so open-minded. I got so many warm-hearted welcomes here; that was really amazing. In general, I would like to say that people in the Midwest U.S.A. are very open-minded and friendly to foreigners. I really appreciate that and I enjoyed my time here very much.

- Dawnn Fann ’19

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