Atheism II

Re. the post “Atheism” (below), Samuel said:


1) If you read Dawkin’s book he states that his argument applies against “all supernatural creators, no matter their number or attributes”.

  2) They are called the “new atheists” because they are against ALL religion. They just focus on the radicals because radicals kill people.  3) Religion equals supernaturalism… duh! […]  Taking a look at process theology reveals a belief in a God that is amazing similar to that of polytheism- he changes and grows. However, such a God has no more evidence than any other proposed God and is hence no more likely to exist.



Aliman Says:  Thanks for the comment, Samuel.  Your comments have spurred on my thinking….that’s great.  Let me say a few things:


Re. your point #3, it’s a logical fallacy (appeal to ridicule).  In order to carry it out, you’d have to argue a logically necessary connection between religion and supernaturalism.  However, to save you time, any such arguments have already been effectively countered many times over by Whitehead, Hartshorne, Griffin, et al.


In general, my point in the post is that the Four Horsemen’s discussion, while interesting and informative, doesn’t address process theism:


Re. your point #1:  The key word is “supernatural.”  Process theism is, among other things, a strong argument (some process thinkers say “the final argument”) against supernaturalism.  For example, David Ray Griffin sets out several regulative principles which must be adhered to in terms of both argumentation and theory development. One such principle is that a theory should be naturalistic and explicitly reject supernaturalism.  In addition, one should assume an unbroken causal nexus.  Given that the temporal structure of reality is contingent upon the causal relations between events (a relational view of time), it is impossible for there to be a break between the causal events as supernaturalism requires.  Such a break would also violate relativity theory, and depending on which interpretation of quantum mechanics one subscribes to, causal breaks could also violate quantum theory.  (Sorry, an unstated premise here is that A.N. Whitehead’s cosmological system is consistent with both relativity and quantum.) So, any argument against a supernatural god doesn’t address process theism.  (In fact, some fantastic arguments against supernaturalism come from process theologians.)  What Dawkins would have to do is argue specifically and directly against the process notion of divinity—not the classical notion.  This would be an entirely different argument than I’ve seen from him, but I’ve only read articles here and there by him, and don’t know his thought in detail, so maybe he has done this already (?)


Re. your point #2, yes, it’s a sad fact that people kill others unjustly in the name of religion.  It’s terrible.  Also keep in mind that people kill others unjustly in the name of democracy and many other ideas…it’s not religion or politics that cause these SICKOS to do what they do.  (I’m in psychiatric mental health so I have some insight here…)


Re. your comment on polytheism: There are no polytheistic ideas at all in process theology.  But I can understand why you say this. It’s the same reason that arguments against classical theology, again while interesting and informative, don’t address process theism.  Dawkins seems to argue primarily from a substance ontology (an Aristotelian ontology), while process is based on a process or event ontology (the same ontology upon which relativity theory and quantum theory is based).  Regarding your reference to polytheism, it’s only natural for someone who isn’t familiar with event ontology to see everything through the lens of substance ontology, and translate Whitehead’s notion of God into polytheism.  After all, whether we know it or not, our current worldview was shaped by the ancient Greeks, the modern period and the rise of science, and Kant & the postmodern view.   In order not to make that erroneous translation into polytheism, one has to understand that Whitehead’s “Category of the Ultimate” (where he defines “thing” “being” and “entity” in the process sense) replaces Aristotle’s “primary substance.”  (For those who don’t know much about process philosophy or process theism, this is probably the first idea to get clear on–understanding this idea is to understand we’re dealing with an entirely different worldview which requires different categories of what is real and not real–it’s much closer to relativity and quantum, etc.).


Further, but at the risk of too much of a digression: Many hold that Descartes did away with the ancient ontology, and thus we’re all protected in our worldview from the Aristotelian ideas, in the same way that Kant’s Copernican Revolution protects us from the epistemological difficulties of Hume and the rest of modernity.  However, while the Cartesian “substance” is not an Aristotelian substance per se, Descartes maintained the category of “quality” over “relatedness.”  (Spinoza is more about relatedness, but still doesn’t go far enough from the process point of view.)  From the process point of view, “relatedness” is paramount so Descartes really didn’t make huge strides over Aristotle.  Thus, other than some epistemological insight from Kant which does mitigate the ancient substance ontology somewhat, any non-process theologians or non-process philosophers/thinkers (like Dawkins) are really still operating with the Aristotelian ontology.  (Some would argue the closest worldview to process is that put forth by Heidegger–he also repudiates the substance ontology–see Olav Smith’s dissertation in my links to the right of this page, under the “Philosophy” heading.)  Again, as I pointed out above, Dawkins would have to drop the substance ontological assumptions and argue from the process ontological assumptions, or he’d have to argue against the process ontology (but I think this latter task is all but impossible now–it’s too complete and coheres too much with science and with what we know about the world).


(It’s a little complex, but the back-story to the two previous paragraphs may be found in the Preface to Whitehead’s Process and Reality, and also pp. 18-30.)


Hartshorne writes about the medieval synthesis, which is the meat and potatoes of the classical view, and that’s really the root of all the problems for classical theism–atheists attack classical theism based on the logical inconsistencies that result from the melding of Hellenistic thinking with the early middle ages.  Process thought isn’t susceptible to these classical theistic problems.


In summary, to really address process theology, there are two big deals here (neither of which are addressed in the Four Horsemen talk I saw):


A)  One would have to be well-steeped in the event ontology of process theism and either argue against it in general (extremely difficult), or argue specifically against the process notion of divinity;


B)  Most atheistic arguments are based on either supernaturalism, or on divinity being some kind of creator that has a special place in reality.  But, in order to effectively argue against process theism, one would have to deal with the fact that God isn’t supernatural, and has no special place in the ontological system—Whitehead’s ontological principle says that everything which exists has it’s reason in actual entities (“actual entities” are a non-substance/non-Aristotelian concept, one of Whitehead’s many neologisms), and thus isn’t miraculously created from outside or ex nihilo or in a way that it is different from any other thing.  Of course, because of this, many classical theologians call us process theologians atheists, but it makes little sense to argue with science and logic like many of the classical theists do.




3 comments on “Atheism II

  1. Yes, you’re right, in that for Whitehead the “consequent nature” of God is conscious–the realization of the actual world. But the “primordial nature” of God is not conscious; it’s the unlimited realization of potentiality.

    You said “a universe they [gods] make” but in process theology god doesn’t create the universe in that sense. God is not in the past of all enitites, god is already present with everything and doesn’t create in the sense that classical theology holds. The problem is the fusing of the Aristotlian notion of unmoved mover and the fully conscious God of Christianity. That has created a host of logical problems for all of theology.

    In W’s words: “The notion of God as the “unmoved mover” is derived from Aristotle, at least so far as Western thought is concerned. The notion of God as “eminently real” is a favourite doctrine of Christian theology. The combination of the two into the doctrine of an aboriginal, eminently real, transcendent creator, at whose fiat the world came into being, and whose imposed will it obeys, is the fallacy which has infused tragedy into the [history of religion].” (Process and Reality 342)

    So, the God of classical theology was formed (two ideas fused into one incoherent idea) in the middle ages, and thus it was doomed from the start.


  2. Hi Aliman, I was wondering if you had heard of Stuart Kauffman’s idea on God 2.0, a naturalistic god, that he describes as ‘the ceaseless creativity of the Universe through emergent, self-evolving systems.’ My current understanding, according to that definition, leads me to see similarities between that concept, and from what I gather from this post, the God of process theology. Perhaps I need to do more reading on the subject, since theology, process or classical, just isn’t my forte. Anyway, this discussion has sparked my interest, and I will definitely be poking around for a copy of Whitehead’s book. Thanks… and Aloha.

  3. Yes, this sounds familiar. I’ll look into Kaufman, too.

    Great that you’re even considering looking at Whitehead! The best way to do it is to get “Science and the Modern World.” (I would NOT recommend Process and Reality.) SMW is great because it’s short, fairly accessible, is designed for someone who thinks like us along the lines of science, and gives you the critical insight into Whitehead’s new “event ontology.” Once you see how that event ontology works, then you have a scientific framework to apply to questions of a naturalistic god. The way to understand process theology is to FORGET about the theology, and focus on the science. Then, the theology follows on it’s own.

    There’s an online version of SMW–I’ll try to find it.

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