Re: choking on RFEP

From: Howard J. Van Till <>
Date: Thu Apr 01 2004 - 13:38:44 EST

On 4/1/04 9:44 AM, "Ted Davis" <> wrote:

> 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.

Correct. The RFEP, as I have usually stated it, does not categorically rule
out miraculous divine action in any way. It posits that supernatural divine
intervention (God overpowering nature, one form of miracle) was unnecessary
for the actualization of any animate or inanimate form that was a part of
the universe¹s formational history, but the RFEP does not entail the
categorical rejection of miracles. For this reason I still think that it
deserves serious consideration in orthodox Christian circles, even if I find
value in exploring other theological strategies for myself.

> 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.

We have a peculiar sort of agreement here. I, too, believe that God is able
to act in any way that God would, by God¹s own nature, be pleased to act. I
presume that God will act only in ways that are consistent with God¹s own
character/nature. So, our question is not about God being limited by
constraints imposed by any other party (or imposed ³constitution²), but with
the range of divine actions that are consistent with God¹s very being. I see
nothing here to choke over. :)

> 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."

Ah, labels.

Received on Thu Apr 1 13:38:48 2004

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