Re: Response to Howard on Tillich & Bultmann

From: Howard J. Van Till (
Date: Thu May 22 2003 - 08:36:17 EDT

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    First reminder: "To be candid, I don't have carefully crafted answers to
    all of these good questions, and that's OK with me. It means that my
    spiritual odyssey will continue to be a challenging and adventurous journey
    of discovery."

    >From: "Rich Blinne" <>

    > This whole situation begs a precise definition of supernatural and
    > particularly miracles. John Locke's definition is as good as any:
    > To discourse of miracles without defining what one means by the word
    > miracle, is to make a show, but in effect to talk of nothing. A miracle then
    > I take to be a sensible operation, which, being above the comprehension of
    > the spectator, and in his opinion contrary to the established course of
    > nature, is taken by him to be divine.

    Second reminder. I spoke only of my inclination to move from traditional
    supernaturalism toward naturalistic theism. Rich now introduces the term

    Brief comment on miracles: Locke's definition appears to define miracle
    entirely in terms of human perception and judgment -- a miracle is an event
    that: a) can be empirically detected, b) is beyond the comprehension of the
    observer, c) is judged by the observer to be contrary to the usual course of
    natural phenomena, and d) is therefore taken by the observer to be divine.
    (Interestingly, this reminds me very much of the way in which most
    proponents of ID argue their case for the need of non-natural
    form-conferring action by an unidentified & unembodied choice-making agent.
    At the same time, however, Dembski insists that this ID action is not
    necessarily miraculous. Curious indeed)

    But my concern was not to explore the topic of miracles, although that would
    be an interesting exercise. My concern was on the distinction between
    traditional supernaturalism and naturalistic theism. Let me try to get that
    distinction in place.

    1. I find it fruitful to distinguish two categories of divine action; a)
    coercive or "supernatural" and b) non-coercive or "persuasive."

    2. A coercive or supernatural divine action would be an action in which God
    exercises forceful power "over nature," an intervention that interrupts the
    world's most fundamental pattern of causal relations.

    3. A non-coercive divine action is a divine action that can variably
    influence outcomes of creaturely events but yet entails no forcible
    interruptions of the world's fundamental causal relations. A common analogy
    is made to persuasive human action -- action that can be effective without
    being forcible or overpowering.

    Using these terms, then, we scan say a number of things that might help to
    focus our conversation.

    4. Not all divine action need be considered as supernatural.

    5. If "miracle" is defined in terms of human perception (as in Locke's
    approach) them miracles need not be supernatural either. They can be events
    within the natural system that are, for various sorts of reasons,
    exceptionally significant to perceptive humans.

    6. Naturalistic theism rejects the concept supernatural divine action, but
    at the same time enriches the concept of "natural" action to include
    non-coercive divine action as an essential element in all events that occur
    in the world.

    Rich, I know that this does not engage all of the points you made (and may
    wish to pursue) but it appear to make possible our agreement on one of your

    > So, what does this mean for the scientific Christian? It means that the
    > choice between miracles -- properly defined -- and naturalism is a false
    > one. Belief in both is not at all inconsistent. It also proves your thesis
    > that it doesn't have anything to do with science but philosophy, or as you
    > put it, a worldview issue.

    Howard Van Till

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