RE: Coercion

From: Gough, Joshua <>
Date: Thu Apr 08 2004 - 15:53:39 EDT

I'm joining this late, but it's a question on my mind lately. How does
God chose which method of intervention? Is this something we cannot
investigate by virtue of his unknowability, or can we look at events
described in holy texts, such as the parting of waters, or the
multiplication of food and discern certain patterns of invervention?

What about intervention via "agents" that are not agents in a
traditional sense at all, but are mechanical creations of other agents?
For example, would God intervene to prevent the launching of a nuclear
weapon against Israel? If God would, which method of intervention would
God choose? Would God take the path of least resistance and modify the
software instructions within the operational circuitry of the weaponry
such that a command to fire would result in a null operation, or would
God choose a more theatrical display of power more like those recorded
in the Bible?

Would it be possible for me to author a software program that iterates
within an endless for loop which does nothing but send packet bombs to
internet sites in Israel in attempts to disrupt their communications
networks and have this for loop interrupted by the miraculous
intervention of God? And again if so, how should we expect God to
intervene in this matter? Does he manipulate the executing program code,
recompile the code to do something different, modify the communication
signal after it enters the pipeline? All of these options are available
to God, so how do we make reasonable assumptions as to which option God
would choose to prevent communication network bombing of Israel? Or, is
this simply something outside of the realm of our inquiry and if that is
so, then what is the deciding factor in determining that it is outside
our realm of inquiry? If we have clear patterns of intervention recorded
in scripture, do we only have the ability to investigate those
interventions which strike one as being clearly the result of activity
that cannot be ostensibly attributed to mere natural factors alone?

For example, suppose a hacker launches multiple attacks from various
launching points all around the globe against Israeli communications
networks in the fashion mentioned above, but to his dismay the attacks
cease to reach their destination, but for no apparent reason. Does the
hacker give up and claim that God has thwarted his attempts or does he
investigate to look for a possible reason as to why the packets are not
reaching their destination. If the hacker finds that all packets sent
simply vanish from all locations, but when he attempts to bomb another
site, all operations occur as expected, can he then be justified in
claiming a miracle has occurred? If however, God chooses a different
path of threat-aversion and protection of Israel by recompiling the code
such that a run-time error is generated when each and every program
around the world is run, does the hacker then attempt to recompile his
code and try again, only to find that the exact same thing happens?

Or, should we expect a more theatrical intervention such as has been
recorded in the Bible?

I've never applied this type of thought to digital or mechanical
systems, but it applies to the question of where God acts and how. When
I think about some of the stories I read about disease researchers and
vaccination volunteers going to Africa and encountering stories from
local peoples that attribute disease to punishment from displeasing the
gods or some other superstitious event, I cannot imagine how those in
the field must feel. There is no easy way for them to prove that their
gods are not real or punishing them for bad deeds, though clearly they
can see the affects of medicine and cleaner water, healthier practices,

Are there any clues from scripture or our own thinking as to why God
would have chosen parting of waters rather than enabling the Israelites
to traverse the surface of the water and denying such ability to their
pursuers? But more importantly, are there any irrefutable witnesses to
miracles in our world today? Is there any evidence why a vaccination
volunteer should neglect telling a superstitious African that his gods
will more than likely not cure him of ailment?

-----Original Message-----
From: [] On
Behalf Of george murphy
Sent: Thursday, April 08, 2004 12:11 PM
Subject: Re: Coercion

bivalve 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.<
> I think my difficulty may be more with the perjurative association of
the term coercion than the concept. With regard to that, I think that
the question of God being coerced is important. If coercion is a bad
thing, it would seem to be bad for God to be coerced, too. I think this
problem is akin to George's comment about suggestions of dualism.
Either all of creation automatically does what God wants, or else there
is some imposition, with God causing something to act differently or
something making God go along with something He doesn't want (or some
mutual imposition).

    Saying that creation "automatically does what God wants" is IMO not
a good way to put it. It suggests that God acts _directly_ rather than
mediately in the world, and thus that creatures do not have any real

>>I also do not see how the problem of evil is solved by limiting God
to persuasive actions. It suggests that He's not very persuasive, and
in fact He seems irrelevant. In a process view, what is the definition
and origin of evil? I'm not clear on what basis one can identify
actions as "evil" or "virtuous". If there are grounds for defining
evil, other problems arise. If we are evil by nature, then good must
result from coercive action by another agent. If we are good by nature,
then what is coercing us into evil? If we are partly good and partly
bad, then part of our nature is coercing another part. <<

> >See George's comments on this.<
> His answer seems to indicate that God can't be blamed for evil in
process thought because he doesn't do anything. If, on the other hand,
He is seen as acting in good but not in evil, this seems little
different in culpability from the premise that He is working for good in
all things. However, this does not answer the specific questions.
Again, coercion seems inevitable, even if God is not doing it. How do
we distinguish between evil and personal distaste? How is God relevant?

No, process theology does not say that God "doesn't do anything." It
says that God doesn't do _everything_ in the sense I described before -
i.e., as the First Cause. In some situations (according to process
thought) God is not able to bring about the best possible result because
he is not able to overcome the effects of other causes. (I don't think
a process theologian would be happy with that way of putting it but it
conveys the point.)

Received on Thu Apr 8 15:54:28 2004

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