Re: Coercion

From: Howard J. Van Till <>
Date: Thu Apr 08 2004 - 11:40:18 EDT

On 4/8/04 10:02 AM, "George Murphy" <> wrote:

> 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
> things.
> 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.

But to be the "First Cause" of everything, as I understand it, is to be the
Ultimate Source of everything's existence, an idea often reinforced by a
strong emphasis (with minimal support from the canon) on creatio ex nihilo.
That is seldom a matter at issue in our engagement of the episodic
creationist scenarios of the universe's formational history advocated by YEC
or ID. In that engagement, the focus shifts to whether or not coercive
form-conferring divine action is ever exercised as an essential means of
bringing about the actualization of some novel structure (usually some
biotic structure).

> This is, as I have pointed out, the classical meaning of "omnipotence."

OK, but in the contemporary context the focus is on that part of omnipotence
that applies to Godıs ability and willingness to perform supernatural
(non-mediated) interventions.

> 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 God.

... without, in the framework of a theology that assigns God as the First
Cause of the entire universe, having first been given being by God, where
their ³being² includes their ability to act.
> 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.

Once again, this may be true, but in the context of what is awkwardly called
the ³creation/evolution debate² in North America, the question at issue is
whether or not God, in addition to the sort of action you are here talking
about, also occasionally performs form-conferring supernatural
> 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.

Or we could speak of divine action ³superceding² the nexus of creaturely
(secondary) causes.

> 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.)

Good. We can end this discussion on the same page.

Received on Thu Apr 8 11:41:11 2004

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