Re: Coercion

From: Peter Ruest <>
Date: Fri Apr 23 2004 - 00:47:16 EDT

Howard J. Van Till wrote:
>On 4/20/04 12:48 AM, "Peter Ruest" <> wrote:
>>Yes, for me "coercion" has an inherently negative connotation. But why
>>are you looking for a more positive alternate term for a concept you are
>>rejecting anyway?
>So that we can discuss the concept itself without the negative
>that some attach to the terminology.
>>Would you consider the idea of God selecting a given one of several
>>physically equally possible outcomes of a quantum event as "overpowering
>>or superseding the system of creaturely causes" or as one of a "whole
>>spectrum of effective, variable, non-coercive divine actions"?
>Good question. It seems to fit in neither category comfortably. However,
>since it entails the idea of an outcome wholly determined by God, it seems
>to me to be closer to the "coercive" (God's action is "fully

How about a variant of the model: the outcome of a quantum event is
physically specified as a probability distribution of different possible
outcomes. Rather than fully determining the _exact_ outcome, God could
specify a _selection_ probability distribution, to be multiplied with
the _physical_ probability distribution to yield a resulting _outcome_
probability distribution. The integral area under this selection
probability distribution could be any value between 0 and 1. God's
creative action would be the specification of this distribution (valid
for the actual case only). And it need not always be "fully
determinative", maybe only rarely.

>>I chose the terms "loving guidance" and "helping direction" to
>>characterize divine actions on behalf of, e.g., individual humans, as a
>>means of "creating" something in them by his "hidden options" of
>>directing the outcomes of specific quantum events. Wouldn't this fall
>>into your category of "non-coercive divine action"?
>See above comments on the close relationship between "coercive" and "fully

"Fully determinative" is not a requirement of my suggestion, see above.

>>Such divine action would not add any missing capacity to a fully
>>functional creation. But it would certainly add some "guidance" or
>>"direction" in theological language - or information in scientific
>>language. If you grant this, my qualms about the sufficiency of the RFEP
>>might no longer be necessary. Are we coming closer?
>Yes, perhaps we are. But here is where I need to think this through
>I agree that the outcome-choosing divine action that you propose does not
>involve forcing a quantum system to do anything in violation of its
>Neither does it demand capabilities that it was never given (by its
>Creator). But that model still seems to place all of the emphasis on God's
>fully determinative action and leaves no space for any creaturely
>Process theology's metaphor of divine "persuasive action" suggests the
>of interaction that involves action by both parties God and
creature. The
>creature is able to respond to divine persuasive action. Or do you see a
>quantum system's making a transition to a particular final state as its
>response to the divine action of choice (or call, or persuasion)?

Any divine choice of a selection probability distribution with an
integral < 1 would _not_ be fully determinative. What, however, is the
rest? Is it "creaturely response", or is it a divinely provided,
genuinely undetermined possibility space? I don't have much sympathy for
a concept of "creaturely response" or "creaturely action" or attempts at
"persuading creatures" when objects or creatures without a divinely
given free will are under consideration. That looks to me like some kind
of unrealistic speculation, with no support from either science or
theology or logic (I would classify process theology as a philosophy,
rather than a theology).

>>If nothing would be added to an individual human baby who is growing out
>>of natural processes (deterministic and random ones, but under God's
>>providential care), but whom God is also "creating" in a very specific,
>>personal way, the biblical expression of "creating" would appear to be
>>empty. Similarly, natural and creative aspects can be suspected to occur
>>side-by-side in the evolutionary processes. In principle, natural
>>processes can be investigated by science, but the creative ones are, to
>>science, hidden behind randomness.
>This opens up another large territory. Should the term "natural" be
>restricted to "materialistic" (material action only), or should it include
>also the divine persuasion + creaturely response combination as well?
One of
>my complaints against typical ID rhetoric is that it employs a radically
>materialistic concept of "natural" action. In ID-speak it seems that
>"natural" action is inherently materialistic (Godless) and divine
action is
>inherently coercive. I am suggesting that the term "natural" must be
>enriched with a non-coercive divine contribution, and that coercive divine
>action is unnecessary (and, of course, that it invites the theodicy
>as well).
>Howard Van Till

I'd like to leave aside here what ID theory might say. For me, the term
"natural" means everything susceptible to scientific investigation. And
all of this I consider to be God's normal way of acting in providence,
i.e. in continually holding in existence the natural entities,
capabilities and processes he created. This may correspond to your
"non-coercive divine contribution", except that I don't see it as a mere
contribution (side-by-side with contributions of other actors), but as
the primary causation. In the case of creatures gifted with a conscious
will (and only in this case), the part of free agency granted by God can
be exercised by the creatures to participate in the causation. Up to
here it's all natural and non-coercive providence.

In some or many cases, God may want to exercise his "hidden options" of
applying selection probability distributions to quantum events (see
above). Now, the "coercive" moment (in your terminology) increases. But
I much prefer to call it "feeding in (procedural/structural)
information", reflecting his creative activity.

A still higher level of intervention (or "coercion" in your terminology)
would be reached with miracles, like those related in the Bible. Being
macro-events, these could, in principle, be investigated by science, but
as they always are unique events (even when there are several of the
same type), all that research has to work with are eyewitness accounts
and other indirect evidence. Conclusions can be drawn as plausible or
probable - and they can be believed, but they cannot be proven.

As far as the theodicy question is concerned, I don't think it's
meaningful to use it as a lever to dictate what God can or cannot do, as
others have already argued on this thread.


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 23 00:47:54 2004

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