Re: choking on RFEP

From: Ted Davis <>
Date: Thu Apr 01 2004 - 09:44:32 EST

Several times over the years, I have mentioned to Howard Van Till that his view on God's activity in creation (the RFEP view) is essentially that of Gottfried Leibniz, as seen in the famous correspondence he had with Isaac Newton's protégé Samuel Clarke in the early 18th century. In that correspondence, it has been shown that Clarke was really Newton's spokesperson---that is, Newton actually drafted significant parts of Clarke's replies, so that the correspondence can really be called the "Leibniz-Newton" correspondence instead of the "Leibniz-Clarke" correspondence as it is generally called.

Newton argued that God is *not* constrained to act in nature only through the established laws of nature; in short, that God is not a constitutional monarch. Leibniz on the other hand argued that God *is* so constrained--at least for the needs of nature, if not necessarily those of grace. In other words, salvation history might be different from natural history on the matter of God's activity.

My sense is that, perhaps 10 years ago and almost certainly 20 years ago, Howard's position was indeed Leibniz', that God acts in salvation history in "miraculous" ways from time to time; but God does not act in natural history in analogous ways. More recently, Howard apparently believes that God does not act "miraculously" in salvation history either. At least this is my analysis of his position. I INVITE HOWARD TO SPEAK FOR HIMSELF.

Newton's position, on the other hand, is that God acts as God wishes at all times; God is not constrained by "laws" in natural history or in salvation history. That is also my own position. I find Howard's language about the "giftedness" of creation very helpful, however, and have no problem with a science that seeks to discover how the creation unfolded in time, via processes that we call "lawlike." Nevertheless, I "choke" over the notion that God is somehow constrained not to act in any way that God pleases, both in salvation history and in natural history. Hence, I'm open to both special creation and evolution at both scientific and theological levels. I'm an agnostic when it comes to spelling out specific scenarios in which specific actions may have taken place; the evidence changes often, ruling out previously plausible scenarios and suggesting others.

But (again) I'm with Newton on this one, while Howard is with Leibniz. Theologically, I'm what we intellectual historians call a "voluntarist," while Howard is what we call a "rationalist" or "intellectualist." For more on these points, see the article whose abstract is found here:

Received on Thu Apr 1 09:46:39 2004

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