Re: Coercion

From: George Murphy <>
Date: Thu Apr 08 2004 - 10:02:07 EDT

Howard J. Van Till wrote:

> In the distinction that I have suggested for further exploration, the
> question is not whether or not God is coerced by some other independent
> power to do something, but whether or not God's action coerces any member of
> the creation to do something. To put the question another way, Does God
> overpower any creature in such a way as to become the sole cause of some
> particular outcome? To put the same question even more succinctly, Does God
> ever perform supernatural interventions?

Howard -
        It seems to me that stating the matter in these ways conflates several different

        You ask, "Does God overpower any creature in such a way as to become the sole
cause of some particular outcome?"

        Let me refer to traditional doctrines of providence and what Barbour calls
the Neo-Thomist view of divine action, not to claim that they are beyond chgallenge but
to point out the distinctions that need to be made. In that view God is the "sole cause"
- as the "First Cause" - of everything that happens in the world, and not just of some
particular outcomes. This is, as I have pointed out, the classical meaning of
"omnipotence." But with the Neo-Thomist view God cooperates with created agents and
does not normally act immediately without them. When I write with a pen I am of course
not literally the first cause but at least an anterior cause of the writing. But I
don't write without the pen. Created agents are real causes of things that happen in
the world, acting in accord with their own natures, but they would not so act without

        Thus God could be said to be the "sole cause" because all actions can be traced
back to God. But that is really an inaccurate way of speaking, for God acts through
other (secondary) causes. And as long as God acts in accord with the natures of those
created agents, it doesn't seem accurate to say that God "overpowers" them.

        Then you ask, "Does God ever perform supernatural interventions?" This is an
important issue but is not the "same question" as the previous one. Now we are asking
whether God ever acts in a way different from that described above - i.e., in
cooperation with created agents and within the limits of their natures. Traditionally
such divine action beyond the capacity of created agents has been what constitutes a
miracle. It could legitimately be called an "overpowering" of creatures. I agree with
you that there is no good reason to think that God does act that way, at least in the
formational history of the universe. (And I would add that even many "miracles" in
salvation history need not be understood in that way.)


George L. Murphy
Received on Thu Apr 8 10:04:49 2004

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