Re: Coercion

From: Howard J. Van Till <>
Date: Wed Apr 28 2004 - 14:49:35 EDT

Peter Ruest wrote:

> 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.

OK, we're talking here about a form of divine action that is variable,
effective (within some limits), non-coercive (strong sense) and not fully
determinative (non-coercive in the weak sense).
> 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.

We must here agree to disagree.

> 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.

... which demonstrates that what appears to one person as a possible
solution appears to another as wholly unacceptable (because it is
inconsistent with certain presuppositions or theological conclusions based
on presuppositions).
> My reasons for this derive from theology. And 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.

OK, but the viewpoint that you reached appears to be essentially the same as
what could well be called the "received view" of Christian supernaturalism.
> For me, the only ultimate authoritative source of theological truth is
> the Bible.

Again, we must agree to disagree here. I find the Bible very informative,
but not authoritative beyond the sense of the Christian community's choice
to declare it to be the authoritative canon that will function to define
that community and to settle theological disputes within that community.
This is, as I see it, the same sort of authority that has been ascribed to
the US Constitution.

> 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.

You have the right to proceed on that basis, and I have an equal right to
proceed from differing presuppositions and beliefs.

What you say from here on follows from this starting point that you have
chosen, plus your particular reading of what you take to be a text having
divinely guaranteed authority. I disagree with much of what follows, but I
see no reason for me to point that out in detail now. We've done plenty of
that already.

> 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.

Sorry, but I do not see any problem of "missing biological information."
What I see instead is the problem of incomplete understanding of just how it
all happened.

> 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.

Agreed. We must each work out our plausibility arguments and see how they
are judged by others.

> 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".

And it may well be the case that most people on this list are just as much
at a loss to make sense of your proposition that God can (and selectively
does) apply a "selection probability function" on quantum events to modify
the outcomes of some creaturely processes and events.

That's life.

Received on Wed Apr 28 14:59:09 2004

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