Re: Coercion

From: Howard J. Van Till <>
Date: Thu Apr 15 2004 - 09:49:25 EDT


Thanks for your reply. I'll make a few comments in response.

On 4/15/04 12:48 AM, "Peter Ruest" <> wrote:

> Although, obviously, this situation is a serious problem for me on the
> personal side, it is none of the theoretical problem you seem to suspect
> behind it. I never claimed God is choosing the outcome of all or even an
> appreciable fraction of quantum events, just that he may do such
> choosing if and whenever he wants to, and that this might be involved in
> some, many or all of those of his actions the bible labels as "creating"
> during the normal course of his providential sustaining of the creation.

Yes, I understand that this is your proposal. It is similar to something
that Bob Russell at CTNS has posited as well. One of its interesting
features is that, on a technical level, it does not entail God coercing
quantum systems to do things contrary to their natural capabilities. It
simply entails God's choosing that they do one particular thing among many
options. But, as you know, I've never felt comfortable with this sort of
"semi-coercion by over-riding choice" proposal.

> Although this idea cannot guide our scientific research, it does
> liberate us from any fixed idea that life and all of evolution _must_,
> in principle, be explainable by means of processes having reasonable
> natural probabilities.

Yes, your proposal does indeed provide such a liberation. I do think,
however, that we must acknowledge that we lack, BY A HUGE DEGREE, the
requisite knowledge to compute a relevant probability. Consequently your
proposal will have to be evaluated on the basis of criteria outside of
science. That's not necessarily a bad situation, but it needs to be
acknowledged openly. (That's one place where the typical ID rhetoric fails.)

One of those other criteria will, I think, involve an exploration of the
theological consequences of positing that God is both able and willing, on
occasion, to "do such choosing if and whenever he wants to." That makes your
next comments very relevant.
> You also seem to be hinting at the question of theodicy: how can God
> permit that my friend has ALS? Of course, God would be able to prevent
> it. He is also able to heal him in a moment - or by some lenghty
> process,

IF, that is, God's actual character/nature is as you posit. Statements of
this sort are not self-evidently true; they are theological propositions
that you hold to be true. As such, they stand alongside of differing
theological portraits of God posited by other persons.

> ... although in this case I would be very hard pressed to imagine a
> series of quantum events that would have to be guided, and I would
> prefer to just call it a miracle (and we have been praying for such a
> miracle). But I think the problem of theodicy can only be dealt with in
> a personal, existential way of submission to God in faith and trust.
> Surely, we are not in a position to tell him what is good and right in a
> given situation.

OK, but the problem of theodicy is present in full force as soon as you
posit that God is able and willing on occasion to "do such choosing (or
perform a miracle) if and whenever he wants to." The hard question is, "Why
does God choose to use this form of power on some occasions but not others?"

One solution that you here propose is to say something like, "since the
question is impossible for us to answer, let's just posit that God does have
an answer and it's a good one." Some people obviously are satisfied with
that; others are not. Some might see it as a clever way to give the
appearance of dodging the issue, but it is nonetheless vacuous.

> To again move to the theoretical side for a moment, a creation in which
> God would direct every quantum event in a predetermined way would not
> allow for a freedom of decision by humans. It would therefore contradict
> the biblical revelation of human freedom to love, have faith, bear
> responsibility, show creativity, etc. Such a creation, which I certainly
> don't believe to correspond to reality, would really fall under your
> epithet of "coercion".

Agreed. This is why I find it impossible to make any sense out of Terry's
both/and hypothesis -- God controls all, AND creatures act freely. In his
words, "God always gets His way, i.e. He is fully in control, but
creaturely-actions are authentic, according to their created

Howard Van Till
Received on Thu Apr 15 09:49:50 2004

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