Divine vs creaturely action

From: John W Burgeson (burgytwo@juno.com)
Date: Tue Jun 12 2001 - 18:23:20 EDT

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    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
    some other
    possible course?

    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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