Re: Coercion

From: Peter Ruest <>
Date: Fri Apr 16 2004 - 15:05:14 EDT

Howard J. Van Till wrote (15 Apr 2004 09:49:25 -0400):

>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.

And I don't like "coercion", not even "semi-coercion". Of course, here
we are outside of science's reach, and it is therefore a theological
discussion. And I don't see a theological reason, either, why God would
want to concentrate all of his creative action in the initial creation
(big bang) and then "keep hands off". Why should his loving guidance and
helping direction occasionally entering into the details of the lives of
his beloved creatures be labeled "coercion"?

Do you really think there is no significance at all to the biblical
text's use of the verb "create" [Hb. bara', Gr. ktizo] in some contexts
dealing with processes we would attribute to God's normal day-to-day
providential sustaining of creation? Examples are individual humans (Ps.
89:47; 102:18; Ecc. 12:1; Isa. 43:7; 54:16; Eze. 28:13, 15), Israel
(Isa. 43:1, 15; Eze. 21:30; Mal. 2:10), manifestations of human
spirituality (Ps. 51:10; Isa. 57:19; 2 Cor. 5:17; Gal. 6:15; Eph. 2:10;
4:24) and even individual (modern) animals (Ps. 104:30) and physical
manifestations (Num. 16:30; Isa. 4:5; 45:7; Am. 4:13), etc.

>>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

Unfortunately, you are right: we (still) lack the requisite knowledge to
compute a relevant probability. But the day may come when a very rough
estimate of an upper limit to such a probability can reasonably be
given. It may be sufficient to have such an estimate within a few orders
of magnitude. It may even be that origin-of-life researchers will come
up with a prediction of producing artificial biological life (_not_ an
engineered copy of existing life!) using such-and-such a setup - and fail.

However, my main point here is to say that we lack, by a huge degree,
the requisite knowledge to claim that a spontaneous natural origin of
life is plausible. Our huge lack of knowledge works both ways. And right
now, the odds of the doubt are still against spontaneous biogenesis (of
course, such a weighing of evidence doesn't work for an atheist, for
whom spontaneous biogenesis is the only game in town).

I agree with you that my proposal will have to be evaluated on the basis
of criteria outside of science - just as with RFEP.

>One of those other criteria will, I think, involve an exploration of the
>theological consequences of positing that God is both able and
willing, ...

I agree, but I would delete the words "both able and" (doubting his
ability contradicts my theological conviction).

>... 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
>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.

Agreed. And discussing and evaluating such differences will have to be
done on the basis of Scripture.

>>... 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,
>does God choose to use this form of power on some occasions but not
>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.

I dont' consider it to be vacuous or dodging the issue, as it accords
with the very clear biblical teaching of God's absolute superiority and
sovereignty, while its opposite would imply placing myself above God.

>>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

I let Terry answer this.
Thank you, Howard, for this discussion.


Dr. Peter Ruest, CH-3148 Lanzenhaeusern, Switzerland
<> - Biochemistry - Creation and evolution
"..the work which God created to evolve it" (Genesis 2:3)
Received on Fri Apr 16 15:05:52 2004

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