RE: Response to Howard on Tillich & Bultmann

From: Debbie Mann (
Date: Thu May 22 2003 - 11:30:32 EDT

  • Next message: Dick Fischer: "Re: Response to Howard on Tillich & Bultmann"

    Re: Response to Howard on Tillich & BultmannI've thought for years of
    writing a book "The Robot Maker" or something - A programmer starts with
    virtual life, and actually is getting individual thought and action. So he
    transfers this life to little robots and works to help them develop things
    like self preservation and a sense of values. he runs their lives in very
    short increments. Every time they do something that he thinks will be too
    painful for them, he stops the program, fixes the damage, erases their
    memory and sets them up to go again. They make no progress. He runs the same
    'day' for them over and over again. Finally, he keeps the day. There is
    great mourning for a damaged robot who will never have a full life again.
    But the behavior which caused the damage is reduced. Experience by
    experience he has to choose whether to repair the damage and replay the day,
    or let the day stand and have them learn from the experience. It is most
    difficult for him when there are innocent victims. But, again, if he does
    not let the damage stand, the day is replayed ad infinitum. Finally, he
    becomes involved in their lives. He sets up a receiver in each of them so
    that he can give them little commands. They have lousy reception, every
    action of their bodies and minds causes interference. They can only hear
    when they are both still and activated. When they are most at risk, they are
    least likely to hear his guidance. ANd again, he must make his painful
    decisions. Finally, he tries to make a robot which he can transmit directly

    If angels rescued every child who ran in front of a bus, all children
    everywhere would run in front of buses just to get the angels to come.
      -----Original Message-----
      From: []On
    Behalf Of Howard J. Van Till
      Sent: Thursday, May 22, 2003 8:41 AM
      To: Dr. Blake Nelson;
      Subject: Re: Response to Howard on Tillich & Bultmann

    >From: "Dr. Blake Nelson" <>

    > I am interested in Howard's take on something he
    > promised to get back to me about probably over a year
    > ago (if he did, I missed it)

      No, you didn't miss it. You have a frightfully accurate memory.

    > and that is what sort of
    > eschatological hope is offered by the sort of deity
    > that is posed by Griffin and PT. As I understand (and
    > I could well be wrong since I am not that well read
    > vis-a-vis Griffin), Griffin has come around to the
    > position that the continuation of the person as a
    > subjective center of experience after death is
    > necessary (a position he earlier rejected), but
    > doesn't that involve supernaturalism on some level?

      I certainly don't know all of Griffin's perspectives, but this sounds

    > If God is able to act in a redemptive manner in that
    > way, why isn't "supernaturalism" (however poorly
    > defined) legitimate otherwise? (Isn't communication
    > between God and creation as a persuader or lure in
    > itself supernatural?)

      No. In process theology, non-coercive divine action can be effective (and
    variable) without needing to be supernatural. (See my comments to Rich B)

    > Is a god that can only persuade and lure creation a
    > proper source of eschatological hope if he is not the
    > Creator of the universe?

      Griffin retains the reference to God as Creator (the Giver/Chooser of the
    Creation's particular character), but strongly rejects creatio ex nihilo for
    theological reasons.

      On eschatological hope, I can only say that I have no doubt that I am
    privileged to experience life in the active presence of a loving God. I work
    daily to find better ways to experience that loving presence 24/7, an active
    presence not limited to or focused on occasional supernatural interventions.
    I find life to be good, and I am at peace.

      What I have long found difficult (impossible) to understand, or rest
    comfortably with, is the concept of an omnipotent God who "can do anything"
    (several on this list have used language of this sort) but then chooses not
    to exercise supernatural intervention and thereby allows unspeakable human
    suffering that could have been prevented. For me, no amount of clever
    theologizing can undo the theodicy problems introduced by the doctrine of
    divine omnipotence. W. H. Vanstone's book, Love's Endeavour, Love's Expense,
    rings true for me.

    > (of course I am also ignorant
    > as to why there should be or necessarily is a
    > relationship between a self-existing god and an
    > eternally (self?) existing universe; is this an
    > accurate characterization Griffin's view that both are
    > eternally existent?)

      As I understand Griffin on this, a) it is essential to God's nature to be
    in a loving (non-coercive) relationship with a world, b) this relationship
    to God is essential to the existence/being of any world, c) the world's
    freedom from coercive divine action is essential to its character, d) hence
    God and a world have always been, and their loving relationship excludes
    coercive, or supernatural, divine action.

    > Second (which I have not asked Howard about before),
    > as I recall, Griffin has defended as legitimate,
    > "natural" phenomena lots of areas that most scientists
    > reject, including a wide variety of parapsychological
    > phenomena. I would presume that this is a way of
    > naturalizing stuff that normally gets lumped into the
    > supernatural.

      Yes, as I noted somewhere else, Griffin's concept of the "natural" goes
    far beyond the more familiar materialist concept; it is enriched by
    non-coersive divine action as an essential aspect of all natural events.

    > However, I am curious on what Howard's
    > take on these phenomena are. It seems to me that
    > Griffin alternately suffers in this position depending
    > on one's view in one of a couple ways. By naturalizing
    > things that are generally thought to be in the realm
    > of the supernatural, Griffin is admitting that we
    > don't have a comprehensive understanding of what is
    > "natural".

      Right. As noted above, Griffin calls for a radical modification of what
    the term "natural" signifies.

    > How then is he in a position to say that
    > the supernatural is out of bounds for God? He doesn't
    > accept mainline definitions of natural (most
    > scientists seem to think parapsychology is bunk and/or
    > hocum), and admits that we don't have a complete
    > definition of what is natural in order to make
    > categorical distinctions that he tries to make. It
    > seems that either he is wrong in expanding
    > naturalistic explanations to include the phenomena he
    > wants to include, or he artifically excludes phenomena
    > he defines as supernatural.
    > What is Griffin's current position on
    > parapsychological phenomena? How does it fit into PT?

      For all of these questions you will simply have to read Griffin. I suggest
    either his _Religion and Scientific Naturalism_ or _Reenchantment Without

      Howard Van Till

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