Re: Coercion

From: Don Winterstein <dfwinterstein@msn.com>
Date: Wed Apr 21 2004 - 06:42:17 EDT

Re: CoercionHoward wrote:

"[I] ... wonder if the Christian community needs to do a better job of recognizing, or building a way to recognize, the reality and effectiveness of non-coercive divine actions. Is it possible that traditional Christian theology has an inadequately developed concept of non-coercive divine action? Perhaps people on this list could contribute to a menu of examples of non-coercive divine action. If that were done, perhaps my saying "no coercive action" would no longer be heard as "no divine action, period."

For non-coercion or persuasion (as I understand it) to work requires entities that are at some level conscious and able to will. It's easy to imagine that God could persuade a human being, but to my knowledge traditional Christian theology has never acknowledged that beings other than humans and angels (and therefore demons) are conscious. Therefore it would be impossible for God to directly persuade such non-spiritual beings; instead, to accomplish his will with them he must either force them (as Balaam's ass) or influence them indirectly through God-generated natural phenomena.

I can explain my own experiences most satisfactorily only by assuming that all entities are conscious at some level, so I imagine God can persuade even an electron or a quark. But persuading is one thing; getting a particle to act in the way you want is another. Particles as we understand them have very limited capabilities. So if you persuade them of anything, they still cannot do very much for you very quickly. For example, Jesus could not have turned water into wine by persuading O atoms to become C and the rest. Not in his lifetime. Such transmutations would require forcing, because even if you succeeded in persuading an O to become a C, you'd get only O-frustration, because you'd be asking the O to do something outside its normal range of capabilities.

At the moment the only way I can envisage God's having an effect through persuasion at the micro scale is through quantum probability distribution functions. If electrons, for example, are conscious and can will, I can speculate that an electron once persuaded by God to do so would be able to respond in a different part of its PDF than it would have in the absence of any divine persuasion. All other kinds of responses, I think, would violate our laws of physics. Whether God would be able to build a world through such mini-acts of persuasion is not clear, but at the very least such creation would be an extremely slow process.

Persuading large animals such as birds or mammals should be much easier, because even if they are not conscious in the way humans are, they clearly are not far from it.

For a concrete example of God's non-coercive action, take my own experience. When God first appeared to me, he changed my life radically; but if he was trying to get me to do anything specific, he totally failed, at least, in the short term. He did not force me to do anything in particular, but in response to him I did many different things that I would not have done otherwise. So he had a major effect, but my responses, as people say, generated far more heat than light. So God was persuading me all right, but I didn't know until much later of what I was being persuaded.

But I'm human, and as I said, it's easy to imagine how God could directly persuade humans, provided you believe the human psyche can detect him. Or he could persuade humans indirectly through God-generated natural phenomena, which would involve God's first persuading electrons, atoms and molecules at the quantum level.

I conclude there are two kinds of divine persuasion: Direct persuasion, where God's spirit interacts directly with an entity's consciousness, and indirect persuasion, where God's spirit interacts directly with elements of nature at the quantum level in such a way as to influence an entity.

For God to rely solely on persuasion would seem to rule out any quick and "miraculous" acts. Persuasion would be a blunt instrument that could get desired results, if at all, only over very long time frames. So in the end, to accommodate my perception of God and the world, I have to conclude that God not infrequently intervenes by force.

Howard: The last part of your response was: "As for me, I believe God can and does intervene when he wants, he does not always intervene when people think he should, but he is nevertheless an attractive person."

Well, that may work for you, but it sure doesn't work for me. I wonder how well it worked for the victims, family and friends of the 9/11 tragedy.

Emotional responses to events are very real and can be very compelling, but our theology should not depend on them. If our faith in God is strong enough, it can carry us through any disaster without questioning God's basic beneficence.

Don

  ----- Original Message -----
  From: Howard J. Van Till<mailto:hvantill@sbcglobal.net>
  To: Don Winterstein<mailto:dfwinterstein@msn.com>
  Cc: asa<mailto:asa@calvin.edu>
  Sent: Monday, April 19, 2004 6:47 AM
  Subject: Re: Coercion

  On 4/17/04 5:38 AM, "Don Winterstein" <dfwinterstein@msn.com<mailto:dfwinterstein@msn.com>> wrote:

      Howard: I know of no one on this list who posits that the world operates independently of God.

      Don: Well, I believe that the world acts independently of God in some respects. I believe that God knows the world in detail and is immanent in that he is always available for it. In some way unknown to humans he maintains its existence. However, the world operates independently of him in that he does not control everything it does. If you do not agree on this last point, I'd appreciate hearing what you believe and also how you then deal with the theodicy problem.

  Howard: Three comments:

  1. We seem to be using different definitions of "independently." I am using it in the sense of "non-interacting in any way," while you are using it in the sense of "not everything is controlled by God; only some things are)." I believe strongly in God's active immanence, with the understanding that God's action is never coercive. (Perhaps "coercive" could be replaced by a term like "fully determining of some particular outcome by superseding or overpowering the natural causal system" to avoid the negative connotations that many on this list associate with the word "coercive," but that seems overly cumbersome.)

  2. I do not claim to have the solution to the theodicy problem. What I have been trying to say is that the theodicy problem seems unavoidable (and thereby demands recognition and attention) as soon as one posits that God is able and, on some occasions, willing to act coercively. However, it is clear that most folk on this list would be wholly unwilling to give up (perhaps even unwilling to re-examine) the traditional concept of supernatural intervention (another term for coercive divine action). When I suggest that God never acts coercively, the most common reaction is something like, "then you must be a deist." When I say "no supernatural intervention" or "no coercive divine action" it seems to me that people must be hearing "no divine action, period."

  3. This leads me to wonder if the Christian community needs to do a better job of recognizing, or building a way to recognize, the reality and effectiveness of non-coercive divine actions. Is it possible that traditional Christian theology has an inadequately developed concept of non-coercive divine action? Perhaps people on this list could contribute to a menu of examples of non-coercive divine action. If that were done, perhaps my saying "no coercive action" would no longer be heard as "no divine action, period."

  In an earlier post I had asked something like "If God was able and willing to intervene (coercive divine action) to add a rotary outboard motor to E. coli bacteria (incidentally, thereby making them more dangerous to my health), then why would God not intervene to add supplemental rotary motors to steer the hijacked planes away from the WTC towers?

  The last part of your response was: "As for me, I believe God can and does intervene when he wants, he does not always intervene when people think he should, but he is nevertheless an attractive person."

  Well, that may work for you, but it sure doesn't work for me. I wonder how well it worked for the victims, family and friends of the 9/11 tragedy.

  Howard Van Till

       
       
Received on Wed Apr 21 06:41:03 2004

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