Re: Coercion

From: Don Winterstein <>
Date: Mon Apr 12 2004 - 05:28:20 EDT

Terry Gray wrote:

"I'm dying to jump into this "Coercion" thread....I do want to make a reference to my paper presented at the ASA
meeting on Hodge, providence, concurrance, and "non-coercion". It can
be found at<>...."

I agree that this is an important thread, one crucial to the science-Christianity interface.

In this life we may never know how God interacts with and governs creatures, but it's useful to have models of his interactions that are consistent with everything else we know, especially the facts of science. If we don't have such models, in moments of weakness we may be tempted to go over to prevailing atheistic models. If we have our own models that are in every respect just as consistent with observation, then we can readily dismiss the ones that attack the foundations of our beliefs. That's why I found Howard's RFEP valuable: not that I accept it in detail, but it provides a basis for seeing as a manifestation of God the same world that atheistic scientists assume is godless. It establishes a foundation for faith below which a believer in God need never sink when confronting atheistic models.

Perhaps Hodge said things compatible with RFEP; but judging from the quotes in your referenced paper, I would have a hard time seeing their relevance to atheistic propaganda.

At first reading I thought I disagreed vehemently with your paper, because it seemed to be promoting a contradiction: How could God be in complete control at the same time his creatures act freely? On second reading I think I generally agree with that part of the paper. The reason for the change was a realization that God's control need not be in minute detail in order to achieve his purposes. If God controlled in minute detail, of course, his creatures would have no freedom and he would be fully responsible for evil.

As I see it, the problem of evil disappears as soon as one can accept that the world was created with a certain amount of independence from its creator. If the world is independent of God, you should blame it, not God, for evil. At the same time, those who know God know also that he is responsible for the good things we experience, so we can give him thanks for every good thing. God's responsibility may trace back through several levels of mediation--e.g., bread doesn't come to us like manna from heaven, but he is nevertheless ultimately responsible.

God can coerce as often as he likes and still stay free of blame as long as the world remains to some important degree independent of him.

Does God coerce? Yes, if the resurrection happened. Yes, if Jesus actually turned water into wine. Etc. If you take the Bible literally, God has coerced nature many times in recorded history.

How does God control anything? Previously I said I strongly prefer that God nudge (or persuade) rather than force; but the more I thought about it, the less I was able to make the distinction--for physical entities, at least. For example, if God desired to cause a particular genetic mutation via cosmic radiation, if the ray were not headed in the right direction, presumably he'd redirect it, making it do something it could not have done on its own. But that would be forcing, not persuading. And if he used another particle to do the redirecting, he'd still have to force that other particle. In other words, at some point in the chain he'd have to force. So coercion seems unavoidable.

RFEP would eliminate such forcing. RFEP is consistent with scientific data and so offers an acceptable solution, but as of this moment it does not fit my perception of God or the world.


  ----- Original Message -----
  From: Terry M. Gray<>
  Sent: Thursday, April 08, 2004 10:03 AM
  Subject: Re: Coercion


  I'm dying to jump into this "Coercion" thread (as it seems to be
  waning), but with my daughter's wedding last weekend and Easter
  worship preparations this weekend, I'm swamped.

  I do want to make a reference to my paper presented at the ASA
  meeting on Hodge, providence, concurrance, and "non-coercion". It can
  be found at<> (Yes,
  Howard, I know I still owe you a response!) I think the paper also
  addresses some of the issues raised in the recent "Hodge" thread.

  Then, a separate thought on this matter:

  In the Reformed (and not necessarily exclusively Reformed) doctrine
  of regeneration God takes a human will that is dead to Him and in
  bondage to sin and gives the individual a new (or renewed) will that
  is not dead to Him--one that now is able to respond with faith to His
  saving work. The Westminster Confession (X,I) puts it like this:
  "...taking away their heart of stone, and giving unto them a heart of
  flesh; renewing their wills...effectually drawing them to Jesus
  Christ" and then it's quick to add "yet so, as they come most freely,
  being made willing by his grace".

  Perhaps bringing this conversion business into the picture is
  inappropriate since we might regard this activity to be outside the
  categories of God's ordinary governance. But it seems to me that the
  theological formulations here speak of a decisive act of God (removal
  of heart of stone, giving a new heart of flesh, renewing wills,
  enlightening, etc.) but really tries to avoid the spectre of coercion
  and divine puppeteering. Now in the Reformed view, God always has his
  way (irresistible grace), but it's a caricature of the Reformed view
  to say that God has coerced the individual or has made him/her do
  something contrary to his/her nature (contrary to the sin nature,

  Perhaps similarly we should view God interaction with the world. God
  always gets His way, i.e. He is fully in control, but
  creaturely-actions are authentic, according to their created
  natures/properties. All language of coercion or overpowering or
  puppetering is inappropriate.

  While I know that Howard disagrees with me here, in my view there's
  no need to "choke on RFEP" at the place where Don did. God's
  orchestrating our lives (which I believe He does) does not
  necessarily stand against RFEP or the authenticity of my own choices
  and the happenstance circumstances that surround me. This, of course,
  is the age-old debate between divine sovereignty and human
  (creaturely) responsibility. Reformed orthodoxy has always affirmed
  both. Both hyper-Calvinism and Arminianism (in the Reformed debates)
  and Pelagianism (in the Augustinian debates) have forced a choice
  between the two. Process theology and open theism in the modern scene
  do the same thing.

  Hopefully this is not a hit-and-run post, but I may not be able to
  reply until after the weekend.

  Terry M. Gray, Ph.D., Computer Support Scientist
  Chemistry Department, Colorado State University
  Fort Collins, Colorado 80523<><>
  phone: 970-491-7003 fax: 970-491-1801
Received on Mon Apr 12 05:27:23 2004

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