The Evangelical Universalist Forum

Theistic definition of "coincidence."

In my grief, I once asked myself a lot of questions about coincidences.

And in seeking answers, I asked others what meaning the word “coincidence” could have to a Theist who believes in an all knowing God with absolute foreknowledge.

A very kind, intelligent, and patient Anglican priest took the time to answer those questions, and often cited Thomas Aquinas.

And since I’ve asked how a Theist could define the word “coincedence” here on this philosophy forum, no one really answered the question then, and there is a reletively simple answer–I think I should share the knowlege I gained from that priest here (for the benefit of any individuals who may have been disturbed by the question.)

A simple definition of the word “coincidence” (that fits perfectly well with Theistic world view) is “extraneous circumstance.”

Aquinas basically said that everything is part of God’s Providence, but He wills some things “per se” (by or in themselves), and some things “per accidens” (by reason of a non-essential circumstance; contingently; indirectly).

As an example, let’s say the clock at the north end of the Palace of Westminster in London stopped at 2:30 to warn a member of parlament to take notice of something that would pass his dek at 2:30 the next day.

That really would be a sign to him, and because “2:30” would have particular significance to him, God really would have willed the clock to stop at that particular time (and for him to see it, or hear of it, or read of it) “per se” (in itself.)

But many other people for whom it was not a sign at all, and for whom “2:30” had no intended significance at all, would also see the stoped clock (or hear about it, or read about it), and in relation to them this would be an extraneous circumstances God willed only “per accidens.”

That may be a poor example, but it’s the only one I can think of now, and I would have appreciated such examples when I was asking my questions here.

(And this is just the kind of question that should be asked and answered on a philosophy forum.)

So in answer to my question: In any suficiently complex universe (even one where God knows all that will happen, and does sometimes choose to communicate to individuals through “signs”–as in the above example) there would have to be numerous extraneous circumstances that had no intended message for numerous individuals, and were willed by God only per accidens (and not pe se.)

I got posted twice. So look at the next entry. :smiley:

And we might wish to add to it, this question on Quora: Is it an accident or a coincidence that the God of modern theistic conception (e.g., Christianity, Islam) is untouchable by scientific investigation?. And in one of the answers, they do talk about the “straw man” term you bounced around - in another forum thread:

I wonder if the rationalist author Ayn Rand, ever used that term?

The only problem with “smoke and mirrors”, is you need to insure there’s an initial trick around - to produce the “smoke and mirrors” effect.

Anyway, I’ll leave Is it an accident or a coincidence that the God of modern theistic conception (e.g., Christianity, Islam) is untouchable by scientific investigation?, as an additional question to ponder. Let’s see which forum fish, come to take a bite. And I’m out for the afternoon, to visit a sweat lodge. In 2 weeks from now, it will be to visit a mosque open house. :exclamation: :laughing:

I believe Daniel Dennet is an atheist, who (by asking this question) is trying to infer something from the fact that we can’t understand everything about God and His plan–namely that this somehow proves that there is no God.

Am I wrong?

That is what he’s trying to infer, isn’t it.

So for a Theist, the answer to his question would be “yes”–if the God of modern Theistic conception is untouchable by scientific methods of investigation, that is a “coincidence” (an “extraneous circumstance”.)

It’s not something Theists have designedly built into a God of their own making, for their own convenience (and that is what Dennet is suggesting, isn’t it?)

But I’m not at all sure it’s true to say God is untouchable by modern scientific methods of investigation–I think it’s closer to the truth to say many materialists don’t want to see any evidence of God.

Down here at this hospital I met a seminary student who use to be a medical doctor, and when I asked him how he went from being a man of science to a man of faith, he said "how could you not?"

And he talked about some of the things he’s seen under a microscope, and how the human body is designed, and about how sickness, and death, and dying are a part of a fallen world.

But getting back on topic (and I’m only trying to address issues I raised in my grief that no one else sufficiently addressed here–call it my penance if you like), the point of the OP was that even an all-knowing God (with absolute foreknowledge) wouldn’t necessarily will everything that happens in this world “per se.”

A broken clock is right twice a day, and even if the time it stoped was meant to have some significance for the first one or two passerbys, it will be seen by others if it’s in a heavily travelled public place, and it will be seen having the same time until it’s finally fixed or removed from that place.

So even if the time the clock stopped were willed per se for one or more passerbys, it would only be willed per accidens for others.

Again, that may be a poor example, but the point is that in a sufficiently complex universe (even if such a universe were ruled by divine Providence) there would be extraneous circumstances that could be mis-interpreted as meaningful signs, but were really just “coincidental.”

I appreciated your post, Michael, and especially that sentence.

I appreciate your saying so.

I go along with Thomas Aquinas in that God wills everything by directly causing or permitting. He doesn’t cause evil and suffering but permits it. Nonetheless He is still in control. As the United States Catholic Catechism states,

Because I hold to this I also hold that there are no coincidences. As the Catholic Franciscan Friar, Fr. Benedict J. Groeschel states in his book -

"There Are No Accidents, In all Things Trust God.

This doesn’t mean that I try to figure out what God is doing or get into His business. I simply trust Him and help others by doing mercy and justice.

If God permits anything to happen (as opposed to directly causing it), He doesn’t will everything that happens to happen per se.

And if you’re trying to say that He does, you’re not going along with Saint Thomas here (and if that’s what Fr. Benedict J. Groeschel is saying, he isn’t going along with St. Thomas either.)

This is what Saint Thomas said in his Summa Theologica.

This is what a Franciscan Theologian (who pointed to Saint Thomas) said in answer to questions I had (and that were never answered on this forum), and this is what I was trying to say here (however poorly I may have said it.)

Pax Et Bonum.

I agree that God doesn’t will it but He does permit it. The above Catechism and Franciscan friar agree with Thomas Aquinas. Another one who is an expert on Thomas Aquinas and real theologian says God is in complete control but he permits evil and suffering. These views of providence and predestination were indeed held by Thomas Aquinas and St. John of The Cross (The mystical Doctor of Catholicism). They lay the foundation for contemplation and Christian perfection. For with God in control and my future in His hands I have hope. This leads to union with Christ. You can read more about this in the books, “Predestination”, “Providence”, and “Christian Perfection and Contemplation” by Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P. He was the teacher of Pope John Paul II.

Than they mustn’t really mean that there’s no sense in which coincidences occur, or that there’s no sense in which anything can be called an accident–because St. Thomas clearly said.

Perhaps you misunderstood the good friar, the Chatechism, or me.

Again, if there’s anything that God “permits,” He wills it only per accidens–not per se.

This is Thomistic Theology, have you read the Summa?

Yes and it says this:

Death and corruption are things under God’s Providence, but not things He directly causes (or wills per se.)

That’s why St. Thomas could say.

Saying all things are under God’s Providence is not the same as saying there are no accidents or coincidences, and you’re overlooking the distinction Saint Aquinas made between things that God wills per se, and things He wills per accidens.

And that’s a very important distinction for those suffering from greif in time of loss.

And if you, or your friar, or your Chatechism are saying there is no distinction, you are not following St. Thomas.

I agree that God doesn’t will evil and suffering in the sense you say. I agree with Thomas Aquinas that so called accidents are under God’s providence even though He doesn’t directly cause them. He permits them. Knowing that God is in control brings hope to a person. If He brings you to it He’ll bring you through it. Just ask the Franciscan Friar above who was in a car accident who says there are no accidents. God works everything according to the counsel of His will. Without God being in control and holding one’s future in His hands we are without hope. Your view brings despair to the lives of people. God is in control and will bring good out of evil and suffering. What hope I have being under the wings of my Mother Hen. You’re misunderstanding and not reading Aquinas correctly. Catholics hold to both sides of the paradox of predestination and free will. In the Catholic Handbook of Apologetics by Philosophers Peter Kreeft and Ronald K. Tacelli it states:

However, as Thomas Aquinas states God doesn’t directly cause evil and suffering but PERMITS it.

Then why are you arguing?

Then you agree that there are things He doesn’t will per se, but only per accidens–and that there are such things as “coincidences” (or, if you prefer, extreneous circumstances.)

That’s all I said in the OP, and it’s perfectly in line with Saint Thomas, so I fail to see what you’re arguing about here.

I never said God wasn’t ultimately in control, or that He didn’t have beneficent purposes.

On the contrary, the view that God directly causes everything that happens in this world, and that He wills all the evil that happens per se would bring despair into the lives of people–and if that’s not what you’re arguing, I fail to see why you’ve come here arguing.

All I said is that “extraneous circumstance” would be one definition of the word “coincidence” that could have meaning to a Theist, since there are Theists (like Thomas Aquinas) who believe that God permits things He doesn’t will per se, and clearly believe extraneous circumstances exist in this world.

Why do you feel compelled to come here and attack me for that?

No, you’re either misunderstanding me, or deliberatly trying to misrepresent what I’m saying.

**Yes, Saint Thomas did say that–and that’s all I’m saying.

So what was your point again?**

I’m not attacking you. I’m saying you’re wrong about Aquinas and the fact that God’s control and providence gives hope to people. You started the arguing. I see no coincidences. Just like the Friar above I have hope in my despair and have had hope in my despair knowing God is in control and everything happens for a reason. My God brings beauty out of ashes. But I’ll leave it at that. :smiley:

I’ve been saying (like Saint Thomas said) that there are things that God wills per se, and things that He wills per accidens–and that for a Theist (who believes in Providence) a “coincidence” could be defined as an extraneous circumstance that arises out of something God wills per se.

In other words, a “coincidence” could be defined as something God only wills per accidens (and “per se,” and “per accidens” are terms used by Saint Thomas BTW.)

Where exactly am I wrong about Saint Thomas?

It was Saint Thomas who said

Doesn’t that sound like he’d agree with me?

I don’t believe I did.

But I thought you agreed with Aquinas, that there are things that God permits (but doesn’t will per se)?

If so how can you fail to see coincidences (in the sense I’ve suggested the word be used)?

Or accidents (in the sense Saint Thomas himself used the word)?

All I said was that such things could be called coincidences.

Why does that make you angrey?

What are you arguing about?


If you read Aquinas you will see that he believes in God’s total sovereignty. Unlike Calvin though he believed God permits evil and suffering. There are no coincidences or accidents in God’s world. Per accidens as used by Aquinas means in accidental or nonessential character. The difference between essential and accidental properties has been characterized differently in different ways.

God causing corruption is an accidental property. An accident is a property which has no necessary connection to the essence of the thing being described

All this is saying is God doesn’t cause the corruption of things. He permits it. It’s “accidental”. An “accidental” property. An accident is a property which has no necessary connection to the essence of the thing being described

I am one that does not believe in foreknowledge and predestination in the sense that the future has already happened and God sees this. I would say that the future is generally known by looking at the past and present. I also believe in just plain old coincidence.To use Michael’s example of the stopped clock, I don’t think that God was stopping the clock for one individual or for a select group of people that may have also had something to do at 2:30. What about all the people who didn’t get a reminder and happened to miss their ten o’clock appointments? Coincidence pretty much boils down to probability and chance.

Please define what you mean here by “total sovereigny”?

If all you mean is that God is ultimately in control, you and I and Aquinas can agree on that.

But at times you seem to be saying that God wills everything per se, and that nothing could be considered only indirectly related to his purpose.

If that were the case, nothing would be willed per accidens, and the devil would only exist because God wants a devil.

Evil would only exist because God wills it per se.

That way of thinking would truly bring despair into people’s lives.

Now let’s take another look at what St. Thomas said regarding corruption and death.

"And thus God, by causing in things the good of the order of the universe (which He wills per se), consequently and as it were by accident, causes the corruptions of things (the corruption of things isn’t a property of the good order of the universe God wills per se, but God causes it accidentally by willing that order–and it’s not a property of that order because it’s not something God wills per se, but only per accidens), according to 1 Samuel 2:6: “The Lord killeth and maketh alive.” But when we read that “God hath not made death” (Wisdom 1:13), the sense is that God does not will death for its own sake (He doesn’t will death for it’s own sake–He doesn’t will it per se, but only per accidens).

I still don’t know why you’re arguing with me, but I know I’m not misreading Aquinas here.

Where exactly is your disagreement with me and the good Saint?