Re: Coercion

From: Peter Ruest <>
Date: Tue Apr 27 2004 - 08:54:24 EDT


I get the impression that, for the moment, some fundamental differences
in our approaches will remain, even if my proposal of God's "hidden
options" and your proposal of the RFEP ("robust formational economy
principle") apparently are formally compatible. For more details, see below.

Howard J. Van Till wrote:
>On 4/24/04 12:47 AM, "Peter Ruest" <> wrote:
>>When I proposed the stronger claim that God might sometimes select one
>>specific outcome for a quantum event, you agreed that "the
>>outcome-choosing divine action that you propose does not involve forcing
>>a quantum system to do anything in violation of its nature. Neither does
>>it demand capabilities that it was never given (by its Creator)." Now
>>that I am proposing a weaker form of this claim, by substituting the
>>specific selection with a mere selection probability function, you call
>>it "a divinely imposed and transient modification of the creature...
>>Still seems a bit coercive". I don't understand this change in your
>The change in tone here is simply a product of my continuing thought
on your
>proposal and how it might contribute to our reflection on some issues of
>divine action in the world to which science has empirical access.

Again, something in your formulation mystifies me. Aren't we discussing
issues of divine action to which science does _not_ have any empirical
access? RFEP refers to the initial act of God's creating the universe.
Of course, much of what resulted is accessible to science, but God's
acting is not. God's "hidden options" are hidden in the sense of not
being accessible to science, and miracles, which might in principle be
visible to historical-scientific investigation, are unique and require
theological interpretations, on which historians, starting with
different metaphysical axioms, will never agree.

>It now looks to me that there are two differing ways of making a
>between the "coercive" & "non-coercive" categories of divine action
that are
>relevant to much of our recent discussion.
>1. Strong sense: Coercive = divine action that forces some creaturely
>to do something contrary to, or beyond, what it could do by the
>of its (God-given) capabilities.
>2. Weak sense: Coercive = not coercive in the strong sense, but
>fully determinative of the outcome of some creaturely action.
>For the sake of discussion, would it help to use the
>language for the first (strong) sense and another distinction --
>"Determinative/contributive" -- for the second (weak) sense? Here the term
>"contributive" would convey the idea of divine action that is neither
>overpowering (coercive in the strong sense) nor fully determinative
>(coercive in the weak sense), but yet a factor that is able to contribute
>(within limits) to a real modification in the outcome of creaturely
>As I see it, your original proposal for divine choosing among possible
>quantum outcomes is not coercive in the strong sense, but is coercive
in the
>weaker sense of "fully determinative."
>What about your modified proposal? That's more difficult to
categorize. You
>are correct, I believe, to say that the application of a selection
>probability function is not coercive in the weak sense (the divine
action is
>contributive, but not determinative). Nonetheless, one could interpret the
>application of a selection probability function as being equivalent to
>forcibly imposing a modification in the nature of the system. If so, it
>would look like coercion in the strong sense once again.
>If, on the other hand, your modified proposal is your way of talking about
>divine action that is contributive (or "persuasive" :) but not
>determinative, then your model is consistent with what I'm looking for. So
>understood, your modification would be consistent with process theology's
>idea of divine persuasion that is (within limits) effective, but not
>coercive in either the strong (overpowering) or weak (determinative)
>Comments welcome.

My modified proposal of selective probability functions is meant to
generalize the way God may deal with (or do!) quantum events: instead of
the dichotomy of either strictly determining a specific outcome or
strictly leaving it to genuine chance, a selective probability function
covers, in addition, the whole spectrum of intermediate possibilities.

The question of whether this is just my "way of talking about divine
action that is contributive but not determinative" leads to our
remaining fundamental differences in outlook.

In my theological conviction, God is always fully able to determine, to
any degree he chooses, the outcome of any creaturely process, both in
quantum and in macro dimensions. I agree that this is in accordance with
your misgivings about theodicy. And I can't rationally resolve the
conundrum. To me, the "solution" of "process theology", i.e. limiting
God's knowledge and/or sovereign power, is no possible solution at all.

My reasons for this derive from theology. An I must emphasize that I am
not just following an "inherited" or "educationally implanted"
theological tradition, as I was brought up in an environment comprising
both idealist humanism and the most liberal possible "theology", both of
which I consciously rejected, but no knowledge of biblical theology.

For me, the only ultimate authoritative source of theological truth is
the Bible. In order to prevent misunderstandigs, I want to specify that
I fully recognize that the biblical texts are a secondary expression of
divine revelatory action (presented in various different genres); that
in this he used fallible human writers, redactors, copyists; that an
existential understanding on our part requires personal faith in Christ
as Savior, being born again and illumined by the Holy Spirit; that the
canon reflects a selection of writings made by fallible humans, but on
the basis of such existential understanding; that many writings of many
theologians also reflect such understanding. But any individual's
(theologians' and others') theological insights, any denominational or
other confessions, any scientific or allegedly scientific findings, any
translations and commentaries must take second place behind the received
biblical texts in the original languages.

Now, in connection with our discussion, some things I deduce from
Scripture are that God is allmighty, omniscient, all-loving, all-wise,
all-just (no priority sequence), and that in all this he is way beyond
any creatures. This also implies that any Bible interpretation is
patchwork, although some of the conclusions - those with multiple
support - are more reliable than others. Another implication is that,
basically, the entire Bible represents one single revelatory entity,
progressive in time, but also in principle non-contradictory within
itself and with external reality. Attempts at harmonizing perceived
contradictions are therefore the first reasonable approach to be taken.

It is clear that there is genuine prophecy in (some) biblical texts,
which implies that (at least some) biblical authors wrote about some
things they hadn't known before - or didn't even fully understand at the
time they wrote them. Occasionally (or even commonly?), a prophecy has
two (or even occasionally multiple?) correct interpretations, one for
the immediate or near future and one for a far future perhaps centuries
or millennia away. The question never is, what could the author know,
but, what did God want to reveal.

As far as God's creative activity is concerned, we learn from the Bible
that it clearly wasn't restricted to some initial moment (as I
understand the RFEP to imply), but that it continued to be operative
during God's ongoing providential activity. Definitely more than half of
all occurrences of the Hebrew verb "bara'" (to create out of nothing)
refer to events subsequent to any "original" creation, if not even to
future events. I agree with you that God is active in whatever natural
processes occur throughout time, and that this usual divine providential
activity requires no further "overpowering" or "determinative"
intervention by God. But this implies that there are many events,
biblically designated as "creative acts" by God, in which he definitely
provides something new and additional to what would have happened
otherwise. Such events include (at least aspects of) the bodily,
soulish, and spiritual constitutions of every human individual. Apart
from such "determinative" actions, or provisions of additional
information, the designation "create" would be void of any meaning.

This ties in very nicely with the scientific problems of missing
biological information which I have repeatedly talked or written about.
But of course, it doesn't prove it. I agree with you that, at present,
we are in no position to calculate the relevant probabilities. But that
works both ways, and your claim of no determinative action has no /a
priori/ higher plausibility. Finally, we have no scientific evidence at
all for a capability of animals (apart from humans) and even lower
entities to "respond" to non-determinative "persuasion" from God. I am
at a loss to make sense of this concept of process theology, either from
a scientific viewpoint or from a theological one, and to understand how
it could be "effective".


Dr. Peter Ruest, CH-3148 Lanzenhaeusern, Switzerland
<> - Biochemistry - Creation and evolution
"..the work which God created to evolve it" (Genesis 2:3)
Received on Tue Apr 27 08:55:18 2004

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.8 : Tue Apr 27 2004 - 08:55:19 EDT