Panentheism.  Revisionism.  Anarchocapitalism.


David Ray Griffin

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From Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences 950:191-205 (2001).  Abstract: “Addressing the title’s question from the perspective of Whitehead’s process theology, fourteen basic notions of which are explained, I argue that the universe is not designed in six common senses of that notion:  It was not created out of nothing, all at once, through punctuated creationism, from a blueprint, solely for humans, or even with humans specifically in mind.  But it is designed in two looser senses of the term:  It reflects a divine aim at richness of experience, and it involved a divine establishment of this cosmic epoch’s fundamental contingent principles—an idea that is consistent with process theism’s view of divine power as purely persuasive.”

Is the Universe Designed?

Yes and No

David Ray Griffin


I have been asked to address the question “Is the universe designed?” from the perspective of process theology, which is based on the philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead (1861-1947).  The name “process theology” is derived from the title of Whitehead’s major work, Process and Reality,1 which he wrote in the late 1920s after coming to Harvard to teach philosophy.  Whitehead had been educated at Cambridge University in England, where he wrote a dissertation in 1884 on Maxwell’s Treatise on Electricity and Magnetism and then taught mathematics, including mathematical physics, until 1910.  In some circles, Whitehead is best known for the major work of this period, Principia Mathematica, which he co-authored with his former pupil, Bertrand Russell.  In the next period of his life, spent in London, Whitehead increasingly devoted himself to the philosophy of nature.  After coming to Harvard in 1924, he turned to metaphysics, which, as he understood the term, differed from the philosophy of nature by including the human subject within the scope of that which is to be explained.  The most important task of metaphysical cosmology, he came to believe, is to reconcile our scientific intuitions with our religious, ethical, and aesthetic intuitions, which can only be done by developing a world view that is equally satisfactory for the scientific and the religious communities.2

Whitehead had been an atheist, or at least an agnostic, during most of his adult life.  But shortly after beginning to develop his metaphysical cosmology, he came to the view that, if we are to give a fully rational account of the universe—meaning one that is both coherent and adequate to all the relevant facts, including the various dimensions of human experience—it is necessary to posit a non-local actuality.  Although Whitehead used the term “God” for this actuality, the divine reality to which he referred, unlike the deity of traditional theism in the West, did not possess omnipotence as traditionally understood.  Whitehead’s turn to a form of theism did nothing to lessen his antipathy to the idea of a divine being who, while having the power to prevent evil, refuses to do so.

If faced with our question “Is the universe designed?,” Whitehead’s answer, like the answer to most Yes or No questions about complex issues, would have been Yes and No.  This ambivalent answer reflects the fact that the notion of a designed universe has many connotations, not all of which imply all the others.  I will deal with eight possible meanings of this notion, suggesting that, from the perspective of Whiteheadian process theology, the answer to six of them is No, but that there are two senses in which we can speak of the universe as designed.


Some Basic Whiteheadian Notions

To explain the Whiteheadian position on these issues, I will need to presuppose many of the fundamental ideas in the system.  Unfortunately, to explain these ideas would take several hours, if not days.  All I can do here is briefly sketch them, hoping that this sketch will be sufficient to make the ensuing discussion at least somewhat intelligible.  Another problem for my assignment arises from the fact that Whitehead’s position involves a rejection of many of the ideas of modern philosophy, some of which have been widespread in scientific circles, so that Whitehead’s alternative notions may strike many of you as implausible, if not outrageous.  Unfortunately, to defend these notions would take days, if not weeks.  So, although I have argued elsewhere that all of these ideas can be defended as more plausible than their alternatives,3 I can here only ask you suspend incredulity, granting these basic Whiteheadian notions as premises for the sake of discussion.  I will briefly discuss fourteen of these notions.

1.          The most fundamental units of which the universe is composed are momentary spatiotemporal events, rather than enduring things.  This notion, which Whitehead shares with Buddhism, fits with the discovery that some of the so-called elementary particles exist on the order of a billionth of a second, so that they would more appropriately be called events.

2.           Each momentary event is an embodiment of creativity, from which the physicist’s energy is an abstraction.  By enlarging the notion of energy to include all that Whitehead meant by “creativity,” we could say that the universe is made up of energetic events.  This is true even of so-called empty space, which means that Whitehead’s ideas here are consonant with recent thinking about the (“virtual” or “false”) vacuum.

3.           One respect in which this more inclusive energy, this creativity, goes beyond energy as usually conceived in physics is that it includes an element of internal determination, or self-determination, so that no energetic event is wholly determined by the forces acting upon it from without.  The epistemic indeterminacy of the world at the quantum level reflects an element of ontological self-determinacy.

4.          The energetic events are, of course, not simply embodiments of raw, unformed energy, but of in-formed energy, with the different types of things being different because they contain different forms, different in-formation.

5.          Each event prehends aspects of prior events, and thereby aspects of their informed energy, into itself.  The term “prehend” is simply “apprehend” without the prefix, meant to indicate that this response to other things need not be a conscious process.  The crucial point here is that each event is internally related to prior events.  That is, rather than being a solid piece of stuff, or a Leibnizian monad devoid of windows, each event is internally constituted by its relations to prior events.  Here Whitehead’s view seems virtually identical with some Buddhist understandings of the “dependent origination” of all things.

6.          Enduring things, such as electrons, protons, and photons, exist because a particular form of energy is repeated by a long series of energetic events, perhaps dozens, hundreds, thousands, millions, or even billions of times per second.  That is, although each event is influenced by all prior events to at least some slight degree, an event in an enduring individual is primarily constituted by its prehension and thereby internalization of the form of energy that was embodied by its predecessors in the enduring individual to which it belongs.  The proton endures, in other words, because each of its protonic events essentially repeats the form of its predecessors, with this repetition going on, not quite endlessly, but for many billions of years.  (I illustrated this point with protons, because they seem to have an especially high degree of tolerance for monotony.)

7.          Low-grade enduring individuals can, in certain combinations, give rise to higher-level enduring individuals, as quarks and gluons give rise to protons and neutrons, and these latter individuals combine with electrons to give rise to atoms and molecules, with still higher forms of enduring individuals perhaps being macromolecules, prokaryotic cells, organelles (which may be captured prokaryotic cells), eukaryotic cells, and the psyches of animals, from gnats to human beings.  These higher-level enduring individuals are, by hypothesis, not simply complex arrangements of lower-level individuals.  Rather, they involve higher-level energetic events, with their own unity of response to their environments.  This emergence of higher-level units is possible because of internal relations.  That is, because each event is internally constituted out of the things in its environment, a more complex environment can provide the basis for more complex events and thereby more complex enduring individuals.4

8.           The most complex enduring individuals on our planet, evidently, are the psyches of human beings.  Although there is no ontological difference between the psyches of humans and those of other animals, as some dualists hold, or between animal psyches and lower-level enduring individuals, as other dualists hold, or even between living and non-living individuals, as vitalists hold, there are enormous differences of degree in terms of capacities for prehension and self-determination.  Because our own existence is not entirely different from that of lower-grade enduring individuals, there are some features of our existence that can be generalized all the way down, to the simplest types of enduring individuals.

9.          The most general of these features is experience, this feature being presupposed by the two features already mentioned, namely, prehension and self-determination.  I call this position, accordingly, panexperientialism.  This notion is one of the features of this position that is often thought to make it self-evidently subject to one-word refutations, such as “implausible,”5 because we all know that sticks and stones have no experience and exercise no self-determination.  The “pan” in panexperientialism, however, does not mean all things whatsoever but only all true individuals—the things I have been referring to as energetic events and enduring individuals.  Even then, the power of the modern worldview, which was adopted in the seventeenth century in opposition to views suggesting that matter involves sentience and spontaneity,6 is such that most philosophers, scientists, and theologians refuse to entertain this idea seriously.  One result of this refusal is that dualism and materialism, the two positions allowed by the modern worldview, have made little advance on the mind-body problem beyond the stand-off between Descartes and Hobbes three and a half centuries ago.  I have recently shown that Whiteheadian panexperientialism can, at long last, resolve this problem, incorporating the strengths of dualism and materialism while avoiding their weaknesses.7

10.      Another of these generalizable features, both presupposed and implied by experience, is time, or temporal process.  Because each event prehends into itself aspects of prior events, irreversible time obtains even for the most elementary individuals.  Time as we know it—that is, as an asymmetrical, irreversible pro-cess—did not have to wait for the emergence of human experience, as some think, or for life, as others think, or even for aggregations of atoms subject to entropy, as still others think.  Rather, time is already real for individual atoms, even for their constituent electrons, protons, and quarks.8

11.      Indeed, time is real even prior to the existence of enduring individuals.  For Whitehead, the ancient idea that the origin of our universe involved the emergence of a particular form of order out of chaos—an idea that was suggested by Plato, the book of Genesis,9 and many other ancient cosmologies—is essentially correct.  For Whitehead, the chaos would have been a situation in which extremely trivial energetic events happen at random, meaning that none of them would have been organized into enduring individuals, not even individuals as simple as quarks.  Since by a “thing” we usually mean an enduring thing, which retains its identity through time, the chaos prior to the creation of our world was a state of no-thing-ness.  In this sense, we can say that our world was created out of nothingness.  But, as Russian Orthodox philosophical theologian Nicholas Berdyaev put it, this was a state of relative nothingness, not absolute nothingness.  In any case, in this chaotic situation, there would still have been time, or temporal process, because each random event would have prehended prior events and been prehended by succeeding events.  (It should not be surprising, of course, that a position known as “process theology” would consider temporal process to be ultimately real.)

12.      In addition to all the local events constituting the universe, there is an enduring individual comprised of an everlasting series of nonlocal, all-inclusive events.10  Rather than existing outside the universe, in the sense of existing independently of any realm of finite entities, this nonlocal individual is essentially the soul of the universe, providing the unity that makes it a universe.  This everlasting individual is the home of all possibilities.  By virtue of being prehended by all local events, it is the primary source of both order and novelty in the universe.  Being good, in the two-fold sense of having friendliness and compassion for all sentient creatures, as well as being ubiquitous, everlasting, and the source of the world’s order, it can be considered divine.

13.      The influence of this divine individual, rather than ever involving supernatural interruptions of the world’s normal causal processes, is a natural part of these processes.  The fact that process theology regards the God-world relation as a fully natural relation is due in part to its panexperientialism.  One of the reasons for the decline of theism since the seventeeenth century has been puzzlement as to how a cosmic mind could influence nature, understood in mechanistic or materialistic terms.  The God-world problem was to some extent simply the mind-body problem writ large. Panexperientialism, by showing how our minds can influence our bodies, simultaneously shows how a Cosmic Mind could influence the physical world.

14.      Although this divine individual, being ubiquitous, exerts influence on all finite events, it cannot fully determine either the inner constitution or the external effects of any of them.  Although creative power, which is the two-fold power to exercise self-determination and then to exert efficient causation on others, is embodied by this divine individual, this two-fold power is also embodied by all finite events.  The power of the divine individual in the world, accordingly, is the power to evoke and to persuade, never the power to coerce, in the sense of the power unilaterally to determine.

As this brief summary indicates, Whiteheadian process theology is not simple.  But, as Whitehead observed, all simple theologies “are shipwrecked upon the rock of the problem of evil.”11  This point is central to our topic, because the decline in the belief that our universe is in any sense designed has surely resulted from the problem of evil as much as from any scientific developments.  In any case, given these fourteen notions of process theology, I turn now to the question of whether our universe is designed.  I will begin with six senses in which, from a Whiteheadian perspective, the universe is not designed.


Six Senses in Which the Universe Is Not Designed 

1. Not created out of absolute nothingness:  Sometimes the idea the our universe is designed means that it was brought into existence ex nihilo, with the nihil in this phrase taken to mean absolute nothingness, so that even the mere fact that there are finite actualities and temporal processes is due to divine design.  Process theology rejects this view, holding instead that our universe, with its contingent laws of nature, is a particular instantiation of the universe, which exists eternally, embodying necessary, metaphysical principles.  So, with reference to the papers by Jaroslav Pelikan and Anindita Balslev, we can say that the idea that the universe had a beginning, associated with Jerusalem, and the idea that the universe has always existed, associated with Athens and India, are both correct.

2. Not created all at once:  Sometimes the idea that the universe is designed means that it, with all its present species of life, was created all at once, or at least virtually so.  Process theology rejects this idea, agreeing instead with the consensus that the present form of our universe has come about through a long evolutionary process.

3. Not progressively created out of nothing:  Sometimes, as in the thought of Alvin Plantinga and Phillip Johnson,12 the idea that the universe is designed means that, although our present world came about over billions of years, each new species along the way was created ex nihilo.  This view, known as “progressive creationism”—or, more fashion-ably, “punctuated creationism”—is rejected by process theology, which accepts the evolutionary view that all new species have arisen through descent with modification from prior species.  With regard to the common questions as to why God created the world in such a simple state and then took so long to bring it to the present state, process theology’s answer is that this is the only way that God could create a world.

4. Not preprogrammed from the outset:  Some theists, such as Rudolf Otto early in the twentieth century, have held that, although God has never intervened in the world since its creation, every detail of the evolutionary pro-cess is designed, because every evolutionary sequence was preprogrammed.13  Even the thought of Charles Darwin, with its deism and determinism, was not free from this implication, although this implication of Darwin’s thinking existed in strong tension with his belief in the contingency of evolutionary developments.14   Process theology rejects this notion of deistic design, holding more consistently than did Darwin to the contingency of every development in every evolutionary sequence, grounding this ubiqui-tous contingency in the doctrine that all individual events involve an element of self-determination.  Evolutionary developments thereby involve chance in an ontological, not merely an epistemic, sense.  Because the self-determination that exists at the quantum level is magnified, rather than being canceled out, in higher-level individuals, the contingencies increase in the later stages of evolution.  The present world cannot be considered, even approximately, as simply the inevitable outworking of the Big Bang.15

5. Not created solely for human beings:  Sometimes the idea that the universe is designed means the anthropocentric notion—held by William Paley, the utilitarian theologian studied by Darwin—that the universe was designed solely or at least primarily for the sake of human beings.  According to this notion of design, the value of other species is their utility for human beings.  Process theology rejects this anthropocentrism, holding instead that every individual of every species has both intrinsic value, meaning value in and for itself, and ecological value, meaning value for the ecosystem.  These two forms of value would have existed if human beings had never appeared and will continue to exist after we have departed.

6.  Human beings not inevitable:  Sometimes the idea that the universe is designed means that it was designed to bring forth our own species, just as it is.  Process theology’s rejection of this connotation is implied by its insistence on contingency, rooted in the self-determination that has pervaded the evolutionary process.  In the evolutionary sequence that led to Homo sapiens, there were countless contingent developments.  If a different possibility had been actualized in any of these cases, beings exactly like us would not exist.  If a different possibility had been actualized in any of the more crucial cases, no beings even remotely similar to us would exist.

Now, having clarified several senses in which process theology does not think the universe is designed, I turn to two senses in which process theology thinks that it is.


Two Senses in Which the Universe Is Designed

The idea of divine “design” is not one that process theologians naturally use, because it suggests that the creation of our universe came about in accordance with a detailed blueprint, prepared in advance.  But if we understand the term “design” in a looser sense, to mean that the universe reflects some sort of purpose, then process theologians can speak of the universe as designed in two senses.  First, the evolutionary process is viewed as reflecting a divine aim at increasing richness of experience, a directionality that is reflected in the rise of life and then the more complex forms of life.  Second, the fact that our universe was able to bring forth life presupposed a basic cosmological order that can, with less qualification, be described as designed. I will discuss these two types of design in order.


Design in the Sense of a Divine Aim Towards Richness of Experience

Physicists, we are told, think of the universe as a physics experiment.  Whitehead came to regard it as an aesthetic experiment, with the physics experi-ment being simply an aspect of this larger project.  To explain: Experience is the only thing that is intrinsically valuable, meaning valuable in and for itself.  Every individual, by hypothesis, has at least some slight degree of experience and thereby some slight degree of intrinsic value.  But the intrinsic value of the simplest individuals, judged in terms of the aesthetic criteria of harmony, complexity, and intensity of experience, must be extremely trivial, compared with the intrinsic value of a human being, or even a bat.  If, as Thomas Nagel has emphasized, we cannot imagine what it is like to be a bat,16 far less can we imagine what it is like to be at atom, or even an amoeba.  The divine aim, by hypothesis, has been to bring about conditions that allow for the emergence of individuals with more complex modes of experience and thereby the capacity for greater intrinsic value.  This aim is reflected in the increasing complexity that, even allowing for all necessary qualifications, clearly characterizes the evolutionary process.17

The slowness of this process reflects the fact that the power behind this aim is not omnipotent in the traditional sense, not essentially the only center of power.  Each event, having its own power of self-determination, can either adopt or resist divinely proffered novel possibilities through which the present situation could be transcended.  And this present situation is supported by the power of the past, which weighs heavily on the present.  Charles Peirce and William James had suggested that the so-called laws of nature are really its most long-standing habits,18 which would mean that any type of enduring individual, such as a proton, a DNA molecule, or a living cell, would be a more or less long-standing habit.  Peirce held that the longer a habit persists, the stronger it tends to become.  This idea led him to the conclusion that the universe would become increasingly deterministic, as the habits of nature became stronger and stronger, thereby imposing themselves more and more heavily on the present.  Whitehead, while endorsing the idea that the laws of nature are habits,19 avoided the idea of increasing determinism partly by means of his doctrine of the divine reality as constantly presenting alternative possibilities.  This divine influence, however, cannot unilaterally determine either what new possibility, if any, will be evoked or when this development will occur, because the divine evocative power is always competing with the power of the past embodied in the habits of enduring individuals.  It may take, accordingly, hundreds, thousands, or even millions of years for an alternative possibility to be evoked into existence.

Although this hypothesis is consistent with both the tempo and the direction of the evolutionary process, it might be thought that it goes against a scientifically established randomness in the process.  But the idea that all variations are random has more than one meaning.  I have already endorsed one possible meaning, which is that variations involve chance in the ontological sense, an idea that Darwin himself and some neo-Darwinists have rejected.  A meaning that many neo-Darwinists do insist upon is that variations are random in every other possible sense, which would exclude their being due even in the slightest to any sort of aim that would give a bias toward variations of a particular sort, such as variations that lead to greater structural complexity and thereby greater richness of experience.  But the neo-Darwinian insistence that evolution is random in this sense is simply philosophical dogma, not grounded in any empirical discovery.  The random-ness that is central to neo-Darwinism as a scientific theory is randomness in a third sense,20 according to which there is no tendency for variations to be adaptational, that is, advantageous for survival in the environment in which they occur.  And the kind of tendency that process theology posits is not in conflict with randomness in this strict sense, because there is no necessary correlation between increased richness of experience and success in the struggle for survival.  To give a human example:  The emergence of the capacity to do higher mathematics, while it may have increased the satisfaction of some early human beings on the savannas of Africa, would not have increased the likelihood of their sowing their wild genes.  The criterion of greater richness of experience is not in tension with neo-Darwinian randomness, except insofar as this randomness is used as a pseudo-scientific front for antitheistic bias.

The divine aim towards greater richness of experience means that there is, in spite of what I said earlier about the contingency of human beings, a sense in which we can regard ourselves as intended.  That is, insofar as human experience involves dimensions that give it the capacity for greater intrinsic value than that enjoyed by our evolutionary predecessors, we can say that we reflect the divine aim.  Although human beings as such were not intended, human-like beings were, insofar as they were possible.  This would mean that, on some other planets in the universe with the conditions for life to emerge and to evolve for many billions of years, we should expect there to be creatures that, no matter how different in physical constitution and appearance, would share some of our capacities, such as those for mathematics, music, and morality, or, more generally, truth, beauty, and goodness.

These capacities, however, imply the capacities for lying, for ugliness, and for immorality, as exemplified, say, by genocide and ecological destruction.  Must we not conclude, therefore, that the divine individual of process theology is as responsible for evil as was the deity of traditional theism?  It is true that process theology’s deity is responsible for evil in one sense, namely, that if human beings had not been evoked into existence, the world would have been free from all the evils caused and experienced by human beings.  The question of theodicy, however, is whether the divine reality is responsible in such a way as to be indictable, that is, blameworthy.

With regard to this question, process theism differs from traditional theism in two crucial respects.  In the first place, given the omnipotence attributed to the deity of traditional theism, that deity could have created beings who were identical to us in virtually all respects, having the capacity for realizing most of the values we enjoy, differing only by having much less, or even no, power to bring about evil.  Because this traditional deity created our world ex nihilo, all the principles of our world were freely chosen.  There were no metaphysical principles lying in the nature of things, beyond divine volition.  In process theology, by contrast, such principles do exist, and one of these principles is that an increase in the capacity for richness of experience is impossible without a correlative increase in freedom and the power to affect other beings.  This principle means that every increase in the capacity for good entails an equal increase in the capacity for evil.  Any being with our capacities to experience and create good, therefore, would necessarily have our capacities to experience and cause evil.  Insofar as we think of the divine individual as confronting a choice with regard to the existence of human-like beings, the choice was only between having beings approximately like us, with our capacities for evil as well as for good, or no human-like beings whatsoever.  The deity of process theology can be indicted because of human evil, therefore, only by those who can honestly say that our planet would have been better without human-like beings altogether.21

A second crucial difference between the two types of theism is that, according to traditional theism, every instance of evil that has occurred could have been unilaterally prevented by God.  One version of traditional theism, to be sure, says that God gave us genuine freedom, so that we can freely choose to do evil.  It remains the case, however, that the deity of traditional theism could always intervene either to determine our decisions or to cancel out the natural effects thereof—hence the anger of virulent antitheists such as Stephen Weinberg.  In process theism, by contrast, the divine power cannot do either of these.  Although the human degree of freedom would not exist if the divine power had not led the evolutionary process to bring human beings into existence, now that we do exist, the divine power cannot cancel out our power to make our own decisions and to inflict them on others.  The sense of meaning that comes from seeing the evolutionary process as divinely influenced is not, therefore, undermined or rendered horrible by the conclusion that the “divine” influence is actually demonic, or at least indifferent.22


Design in the Sense of the Establishment of the Most Fundamental Contingent Principles of Our Cosmic Epoch

I will conclude by briefly explaining the second sense in which process theology can regard our universe as designed.  This second sense involves the much-discussed idea that our universe from the outset evidently embodied a number of “cosmic constants” that give the impression of being finely tuned in relation to each other, because if any of them were slightly different, life could never have evolved.  And they do not seem to be simply “habits,” as usually understood—that is, to be modes of behavior that have developed gradually and are only usually, rather than always, followed.  Some traditional theists have used this fact as new evidence that our universe is the product of Omnipotent Intelligence.  Such theists might argue that, even if process theism, with its non-omnipotent deity, can do justice to the world’s evil, it cannot do justice to the best scientific account of how our universe originated.  A divine being whose power can be resisted by the creatures could not, they might argue, have imposed all of these mathematical values with sufficient precision to pull off an initial creative event, such as a big bang, that would bring about all the conditions necessary for life to be possible in portions of the resulting universe.  Although that conclusion might at first glance seem to follow from what I said earlier, I argue that it does not.

My argument is that, in a chaotic state prior to the beginning of our cosmic epoch, the two reasons why there is usually so much resistance to divine ideals would not apply.  One of these reasons is that, as the evolutionary process increasingly brings forth more complex individuals, the world thereby has creatures with increasingly greater capacity for self-determination and thereby increasingly greater capacity to resist divine influence.  In a chaotic state between cosmic epochs, however, the events would be extremely trivial, with a vanishingly small capacity to exercise self-determination.

The second reason why divine influence usually encounters so much resistance is that the divine intention to instill new ideals, meaning new possible modes of being and interacting, is usually in competition with the power of the past, the modes of being that constitute the essence of enduring individuals.  However, in the postulated chaos between the running down of one cosmic epoch and the starting up of another, there would, by definition, be no enduring individuals, and therefore no entrenched modes of being to force themselves upon present events.  The chaos would not be absolute, to be sure, because events would still exemplify the necessary, metaphysical principles, which by definition obtain in all possible worlds, including the relatively chaotic periods between cosmic epochs.  But there would be no contingent cosmological principles constituting well-entrenched habits.  In this situation, therefore, the divine influence, in seeking to get a set of contingent principles embodied in the universe, would have no competition from any other contingent principles.

In the first instant of the creation of a particular universe, accordingly, divine evocative power could produce quasi-coercive effects.  A divine spirit, brooding over the chaos, would only have to think “Let there be X!”—with X standing for the finely-tuned set of contingent principles embodied in our world at the outset.  To say this is not to suggest that this effect would necessarily have occurred immediately.  It is also not to deny the possibility that our universe might have been preceded by a number of brief universes, which were not sufficiently fine-tuned to last very long.  But it is to suggest an alternative to the three major ways of thinking of the laws of physics of our universe: that they are necessary, that they exist purely by chance, or that they are the product of an Omnipotent Designer.  This alternative possibility is that a creator without coercive power could, in a chaotic situation, produce quasi-coercive effects.  From then on, however, the divine persuasive activity would always face competition from the power embodied in the modes of being reflecting these contingent principles, so that divine power would never again, as long as the cosmic epoch exists, be able to produce quasi-coercive effects.  In this way, process theism, while maintaining that God’s agency in our universe is always persuasive, can nevertheless account for the remarkable contingent order on which our particular universe is based.  This suggestion, I should add, will not be found in Whitehead’s writings.  But it does seem consistent with his position.

In sum:  Although Whiteheadian process theology shares with late modern thought the rejection of many of the senses in which the universe had traditionally been thought to be designed, it can speak of our universe as designed in two significant senses.  In doing so, furthermore, it can arguably do justice to the best scientific evidence about cosmic and biological evolution without being undermined by the horrendous evils that have resulted from the creation of life, especially human life.


Notes and References

1 Alfred North Whitehead, Process and Reality, corrected edition, ed. David Ray Griffin and Donald W. Sherburne (New York: Free Press, 1978 [original ed. 1929]).

2 Ibid., p. 15; Science and the Modern World (New York: Free Press, 1967), p. vii.

3 For my most extensive recent defenses, see Unsnarling the World-Knot: Consciousness, Freedom, and the Mind-Body Problem (Berkeley & Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1998); Religion and Scientific Naturalism: Overcoming the Conflicts (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2000), and Reenchantment without Supernaturalism: A Process Philosophy of Religion (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2001).

4 See the discussion of “compound individuals” in chapt. 9 of my Unsnarling the World-Knot.

5 I have discussed the allegation that panexperientialism (usually discussed under the term panpsychism) is implausible in chapt. 7 of Unsnarling the World-Knot.

6 I have discussed the theological and sociological motives behind the modern notion of matter as inert and insentient in chapt. 5 of Religion and Scientific Naturalism.

7 Unsnarling the World-Knot, especially chapts. 6, 8, and 9.

8 On this issue, see my “Introduction: Physics and the Ultimate Significance of Time,” [actual title: "Time and the Fallacy of Misplaced Concreteness.--A.F.]  David Ray Griffin, ed., Physics and the Ultimate Significance of Time: Bohm, Prigogine, and Process Philosophy (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1988), pp. 1-48, or my “Time in Process Theology,” KronoScope: Journal for the Study of Time, Vol. 1/1-2 (2001), pp. 75-99.

9 For extensive discussions of the fact that the doctrine of creation ex nihilo is not a biblical doctrine, see Jon D. Levenson, Creation and the Persistence of Evil (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1988), and Gerhard May, Creatio Ex Nihilo: The Doctrine of “Creation out of Nothing” in Early Christian Thought, trans. A. S. Worrall (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1994).

10 For arguments for the existence of a divine reality as conceived by Whiteheadian process theology, see chapt. 5 of my Reenchantment without Supernatural-ism. For the argument that this reality should be understood, with Charles Hartshorne, as an everlasting temporal society of events, rather than, with Whitehead himself, as a single everlasting actual entity, see chapt. 4 of that book.

11 A.N. Whitehead, Religion in the Making (1923; New York: Fordham University Press, 1996), p. 77.  I have offered a Whiteheadian solution to the problem of evil in God, Power, and Evil: A Process Theodicy (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1976; 2nd edition with a new preface, Lanham, MD.: University Press of America, 1991) and Evil Revisited: Responses and Reconsiderations (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1991).  I have explicitly discussed the connection of this theodicy with the rejection of creatio ex nihilo in “Creation out of Nothing, Creation out of Chaos, and the Problem of Evil,” in Encountering Evil: Live Options in Theodicy, 2nd edition, ed. Stephen T. Davis (Philadelphia, PA: Westminster/John Knox, 2001), pp. 108-125.  [An earlier (1981) version of this essay is available elsewhere on this site as “Creation out of Chaos and the Problem of Evil.”—A.F.]

12 I have discussed Johnson’s position in “Christian Faith and Scientific Naturalism: An Appreciative Critique of Phillip Johnson’s Proposal,” Christian Scholars Review, Vol. 28/2: 308-328 (1998).  A modified version of this critique, dealing also with Plantinga, is contained in chapt. 3 of Religion and Scientific Naturalism.

13 A discussion of Otto’s position is included in chapt. 3 of Religion and Scientific Naturalism.

14 Darwin’s deism and determinism are discussed in chapt. 8, “Creation and Evolution,” of my Religion and Scientific Naturalism.

15 In A Brief History of Time: From the Big Bang to Black Holes (New York: Bantam, 1988), Stephen Hawking, while giving up the older ideal of a completely deterministic science, still says that the goal of science should be “the discovery of laws that will enable us to predict events up to the limits set by the uncertainty principle” (p. 173). He evidently holds, furthermore, that those limits are purely epistemic; as he suggests we can “still imagine that there is a set of laws that determines events completely for some supernatural being, who could observe the present state of the universe without disturbing it” (p. 55).

16 Thomas Nagel, “What Is It Like to Be a Bat?” in his Mortal Questions (London: Cambridge University Press, 1979).

17 For recent discussions of whether we can speak of progress in the evolutionary process, see Matthew H. Nitecki, Evolutionary Progress (Chicago & London: University of Chicago Press, 1988). I have discussed this issue in chapt. 8 of Religion and Scientific Naturalism.

18 See William James, The Principles of Psychology (1890; New York: Dover, 1950), I: 104-105; and Peter Ochs, “Charles Sanders Peirce,” in David Ray Griffin et al., Founders of Constructive Postmodern Philoso-phy (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1993), pp. 43-87, esp. pp. 67-68, 73-75.

19 A. N. Whitehead, Modes of Thought (1938; New York: Free Press, 1968), p. 154.

20 I have discussed these different meanings of randomness in chapt. 8 of Religion and Scientific Naturalism.

21 I have discussed this point in my three discussions of the problem of evil mentioned in note 11.

22 Antitheists sometimes charge that revisionary theists can overcome the problem of evil only by revising the conventional understanding of theism so drastically that the resulting position is no longer intelligibly called “theism,” because the resulting referent of the word “God” has been redefined out of all recognition. That charge does indeed apply to many modern theologies. But, by showing that the deity of process theism embodies all the features of what can be called the “generic idea of God” in cultures primarily shaped by biblically based religions (Evil Revisited, pp.10-12), I have shown that this charge does not apply to process theism. [See also Griffin’s summary elsewhere on this site.--AF]


Posted April 16, 2007

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