#2: Back Up A Bit

Let’s back up and bit and look at Dr. Jones’ Introduction:

“RM is very much a book about the challenges that face dogmatic statement in both religion and metaphysics; it is also a book which itself challenges the construction of either religion or metaphysics around highly suspect networks of assumptions which act as truths but fail to accurately represent the world as experienced.” (p. xi)

W. is against purely dogmatic ideas—truth claims based on little evidence—in religion and metaphysics (and science). He wants to base claims on our experience of the world. To hazard an example, I don’t experience an omnipotent being controlling my every action, against my will. As a God worthy of worship should be all-good, this would mean I’d always be feeling forced to do good things…and I’d always be doing them. I’d never be coerced to walk into a liquor store with a shotgun and kill the clerk, and take the $130 in the register. But this happens every day. So, since our experience isn’t of an omnipotent God controlling things in that sense, then maybe God isn’t omnipotent in that sense.

Beginning on page xviii, Jude points out that RM is an excellent introductory process philosophy text. In order to explain a bit about W’s treatment of religion in RM, she has to explain a bit about W’s philosophy (metaphysics) first. This is because for W. metaphysics is the explanation about how everything, including religion, happens. Reality is a dynamic process and religion and everything else issues forth from that process.

Most metaphysics asks about the “nature” or “essence” of things in the world—as if each thing has or possesses a unique nature. Traditionally, the philosophical job was to crack that thing open and see the unique, diffeent, fundamental reality or essence inside. This analysis implies a substance ontology—it started with the ancient Greeks. W. rather posits that things are much more alike than they are different—all things share certain “characteristics” or “common features” at a fundamental level. If you crack something open and look at the core level, you see the same thing as when you crack something else open. Rather than analyzing different substances, he intuits that so-called “different things” are really inter-connected entities, all part of the same, large, holographic process that is in continual development. (W. never said “holographic” as he was writing in the 1920’s. )

“Being” implies a static situation at the fundamental level based on substance. And different “things” have different “beings.” On the other hand, “becoming” implies a dynamic situation based on a common flow of energy or data at the fundamental level. In other words, everything is connected in a sense. It’s easy to crack a thing open and try to see the fundamental reality inside, but it’s different if a “thing” is fundamentally a dynamic process interconnected with everything else:

Each moment, each thing (e.g. each person) pulls (or “prehends”) elements from the past and incorporates those things into its present self. The entity then makes a decision about which way to go, and goes in a new direction. As a result of this new direction, new and different possibilities are open to it in the future, and it considers those new possibilities, and then looks again to it’s past, and picks out, prehends again, the things it will need to arm itself for it’s new future, and takes another step into that new future. Thus the phrase “character of a process” describes this dynamism better than the phrase “nature of a thing.”

Next post, we’ll say a few more things about this metaphysics, then try to tie it to religion.

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