Howard Van Till commented last week on my claim that since humans have
free will, we are capable of "supernatural activity," as is God, but in a
limited way. He wrote:
"John & Jon have been talking about the proper category label for human
decision-making. It's not "natural" in the same sense that the growth of
a tree is. Neither is it "natural" in the same sense as the particular
outcome of a quantum event or a chaotic process is. And, of course,
neither is it a wholly "divine" action."
So far, that seems unproblematic. Howard continued:
"Is it "supernatural"? I (and I presume Griffin also) would strongly
object to using that term here because it has such a long tradition of
association with a particular type of _divine_ action (the kind that
breaks the continuity of the universe's causal nexus)."
So what is "wrong" about the word seems to be its association with divine
action. OK. We are discussing word definitions then. Let me define four
new terms (ala Griffin's pattern) as:
Supernaturalism(d) Divine action, in the Christian orthodox tradition,
Supernaturalism(p) Divine action, in the Process Theology view, somewhat
limited; still >> human capabilities.
Supernaturalism(h) Some human action. Severely limited, of course, but
still sometimes creative.
Supernaturalism(a) Some animal actions.
Howard then writes:
"So, what's the distinction we're looking for? In the context of our
examination of the relative merits of naturalism(ns), naturalism(sam),
theism, process theology, deism, atheism, supernaturalism,
interventionism, supernatural interruptionism, and the like, It seems to
me that some of the central questions we are asking are these:
(1) When looking at the outcome of some process or event, is the cause of
this outcome divine action, creaturely action, or some combination of the
(2) And if divine action is a causal factor, does it function coercively
by overpowering creaturely action? Or, on the other hand, does it
function non-coercively (say as a "persuasion," or an "invitation," to
use the vocabulary of process theology) without breaking the continuity
of the universe's causal nexus to bring about one possible outcome rather
than some other outcome permitted by the creaturely system of cause and
(3) Does divine action function substitutionally by compensating for
missing creaturely capabilities? Or, does divine action function at a
wholly different level from creaturely action -- neither overpowering it,
nor substituting for it, but sustaining the being of the creaturely
system and "inviting & blessing" one course of creaturely action over
Question (1) is a proper one, I should say. But I don't like question
(2). I still have much difficulty seeing how a "persuasive" action by God
on inanimate matter can affect the universe's causal nexus in a way that
it is not also a "coercive" action. It is easy to see how a "persuasive"
action by God on a living being, particularly a human being, is a good
way to think of all this, for the living being then has the free will, or
supernaturalistic(h) capability, to make a free choice, and thus change
the universe's causal nexus.
I cannot unpack what Howard is saying with his question (3).
Howard finishes his post with:
"Although human decision-making may be neither "natural" (in the senses
noted above) nor divine, it is fully a creaturely action. Perhaps the
distinction between "divine" and "creaturely" action would be more
fruitful than the one
between natural and non-natural (or supernatural, or extra-natural)."
I think we are struggling here for proper word definitions. What do you
think of the four I have above? Descartes would say that the fourth is a
null set, but that's really a tangential thread.
(source data on issues of science/theology, quantum mechanics, ethics,
baseball, great cars, a story of God's intervention into the natural
causation of the universe, etc.)
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