Re: choking on RFEP

From: Howard J. Van Till <>
Date: Thu Apr 01 2004 - 13:38:03 EST

On 4/1/04 4:45 AM, "Don Winterstein" <> wrote:

> Last week Howard Van Till suggested that those who choke on RFEP (e.g., Peter
> Ruest and I) might profit from improved chewing habits.
Yes, I thought the choking metaphor that you and Peter employed was
unnecessarily crude. Disagreement need not involve choking on the position
of the other.

> I commented earlier that I couldn't say exactly why RFEP made me choke. Where
> evidence is inconclusive, people choose the scenarios they find most
> congenial, and their choices depend on the totality of their experience. So
> the problem is not one of chewing wrong but of being the wrong kind of person.
I disagree. I would not accuse either you or Peter of being the wrong kind
of person. Our disagreements involve differing ways of processing ideas and
critically evaluating options. Thatıs what I was calling ³chewing.²
> It may be useful to consider why I'm wrong for RFEP. In a nutshell, with
> respect to the totality of my experience, I see God as the great
> choreographer.
Here is one place in which I would process experiences, ideas, and options
differently. In the totality of my experience I do not see God as ³the
great Choreographer² -- as if God prearranged any of the details in my life
experience, but I experience God as the Sacred One who makes possible all
life-enriching experiences (whether those are pleasant or not).
> My life has been meaningful in fine detail, and all this meaningfulness had
> little to do with my own planning.
Agreed. But why should we think that meaningfulness requires any detail
planning at all? Cannot meaningfulness be a God-enriched response to
whatever happens?
> It is as if God prearranged in meticulous detail well before I was born to
> have the components of the world come together in just the right way to make
> my life as meaningful as possible. (NB: "meaningful" is not "pain-free.")
Hereıs a point of disagreement. I see no reason for thinking that
meaningfulness is in any way dependent on prearrangement. Tying
meaningfulness to divine prearrangement strikes me as a non sequitur of
major proportions.
> To say it's meaningful is to imply it's not random. My impression of the
> world is that, had it been acting on its own, my experiences would seem much
> more random.
I donıt have any idea what a world ³acting on its own² (without God) would
be like. I experience the world as permeated with the active presence of the
Sacred. But I have found it essential to distinguish two major categories of
divine action: 1) supernatural intervention (God overpowering nature; what
process theologians call ³coercive² divine action), and 2) non-coercive
divine action that can be effective (leading, within limits, to novel
outcomes) without needing to overpower the being of any creature. (Process
theology uses the term ³persuasive² action, something analogous to human
action that seeks to effect some outcome without resorting to overpowering
> I cannot believe the world on its own could have given me the life I have.
Nor can I. I see Godıs non-coercive, but yet effective, action as essential
to all of life and life-enriching experiences
> Instead, I believe God intervened in detail: always indirectly, always behind
> the scenes (i.e., apart from the purely spiritual interactions), but actively
> intervened nonetheless.
I think we may be using the word ³intervene² in different ways. I use it
only for coercive supernatural action in which God forcibly determines some
particular outcome. It looks to me like you may be using the term more
broadly for any effective divine action, independent of the
coercive/non-coercive distinction.
> So there it is. The world, if it were to act on its own, would produce
> randomness. One who loves gives meaningful experience. If God has intervened
> to make my life meaningful, surely he has intervened at other times and other
> places on behalf of other creatures.
If ³intervened² entails coercive divine action, I disagree. If it entails
only non-coercive divine action, we may be in agreement here.
> It is of course impossible for me to prove that God has intervened in the way
> I perceive; outsiders would see no evidence for such intervention. .....
Once again, we need to specify the exact meaning of ³intervention.²
> As Howard correctly acknowledged, science has made great strides under the
> assumption of RFEP, but that progress in itself does not establish the
> validity of RFEP.
Agreed. Thatıs why I never offer it as any sort of proof, just a relevant
factor that I think needs to be more candidly recognized.
Howard Van Till
Received on Thu Apr 1 13:38:25 2004

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