Classical Theology vs. Process Theology

Process Theology is a different way to think about God. It is very different from Classical Theology, and it makes much more sense than Classical Theology. I’m not trying to convince anyone of anything, just trying to make people aware that there is another way to look at reality:

Classical Theology is what we’re all familiar with: God created the world from nothing, controls most things (“What did we do wrong to deserve this…?”), judges souls and sends them to damnation or paradise, is all-powerful (omnipotent), is all-knowing (omniscient), is all good (omnibeneficent), knows the future, in fact, God DETERMINES the future, etc. God runs the whole show, and our role is to try to figure it out God’s will, and hope God is on our side in the end, and hope that God doesn’t have a bad road in store for us in the future. God puts huge obstacles on some people’s paths, while God lets others sail along smoothly. We can’t know or figure out why. That’s just how it is.

But Classical Theology leaves an entire universe of questions unanswered, and even worse, leaves these questions unanswerable even in principle.

One such example is the “Problem of Evil:” It’s a LOGICAL CONTRADICTION to believe that there is an omnipotent and omnibeneficent God, and that evil befalls innocent people in the world. If God was all-powerful and all-good, there’s no way God COULD LOGICALLY permit evil things. And when we say God could not “logically permit” such a thing, and when we say it’s a “logical contradiction,” we mean it in an absolute sense. God cannot logically create a square circle, regardless of God’s infinite power, infinite intelligence, infinite ability and skill, etc. It’s illogical and simply can’t be done by God or anything else. It’s the same with the “problem of evil;” it’s logically impossible for evil to occur, given the meaning of the words “all-good,” “all-powerful,” and “evil.” But clearly evil does occur.

There are a dozen or more fundamental problems like these. These problems are the main cause of atheism today.

Process Theology, on the other hand, conceives God differently from the start, and thus the problems in Classical Theology aren’t found in Process Theology. Alfred North Whitehead and Charles Hartshorne (and some others throughout history) set this theology out most clearly. The basic idea is that God is not omnipotent. Rather, God genuinely “surrenders” some power to creatures. And because of this, God thus “co-creates” reality along with creatures. This means that God and creatures determine reality together; God doesn’t solely determine someone’s fate. So when someone gets into a car wreck it’s not God’s fault. God is all-good, and all-knowing, and thus God knows you have to replace your windshield wipers. Thus God bombards you with guidance (“replace your windshield wipers…”) and the person ignores it, thus eventually the distorted visibility in the rain causes an accident. God didn’t cause the accident.

God communicates with creatures through what Whitehead called “the divine lure.” At the base of reality, at the sub-sub quantum level if you will, God is continually “feeding” God’s perfect vision of the world to creatures (humans, animals, etc.). We have the ability to pick up on this lure or guidance. “Replace your wipers…Take that job…Don’t take that job…Eat healthy food…Take Elm Street…Treat your co-workers with respect…” Each creature is free to tune into God’s will or to tune God out. In my opinion, the latihan is a way to tune directly into this guidance that Whitehead and Hartshorne talk about.

God isn’t “a being,” but like everything else God is “a becoming.” God is ubiquitous and not locatable in spacetime. God is everywhere, all the time, at the base of reality. This is not Pantheism, BTW. The closest theological view is called Panentheism.

On Process Theology, God didn’t create the universe. The “stuff” of existence (whatever that is) has always existed. Science is a good explanation (although a very limited explanation) of what happened. Our current universe big-banged into existence 15 billion years ago. The wider stuff, “before” our universe was born, and “after” our universe finally dies out, has always existed. Nothing was ever ultimately “created” thus God doesn’t create from nothing (again, it’s entirely illogical and impossible for anything or anyone or any God to create a thing without something with which to create it). There’s no damnation or paradise model, and God doesn’t sit in judgment. God doesn’t control things but guides things and it’s up to creatures to respond to the guidance or not. God is the source of Order and Value in the process. That’s why it’s called “process” theology and “process” philosophy, because there are ultimately no “things” and no “beings” but only “processes” and “becomings.”

God doesn’t know the future because there IS no future to even know. “The future” as an actuality doesn’t exist. All that exists is past and present. God and creatures, together, create the present. The word “future” is just a word and doesn’t point to any kind of reality.

On Process Theology, our task is to be fully in the moment, feeling the divine lure, and dealing with the elements in our experience that work against us actuating that Divine vision. What a HUGE task!!!

Technically speaking, what human beings call “God” is what Whitehead called the three “Formative Elements:” Creativity, Potentiality, and God. The Formative Elements can’t exist apart from each other. But they are not “actual” thus they don’t “exist” like a chair or table exists. (Thus, arguably, there is no issue or dispute about “whether God exists” like there is in Classical Theology.) The Formative Elements are non-actual and non-temporal. Again, I can’t argue this here, but when you do a deep logical analysis of what is actual and temporal, you see there must be something which is non-actual and non-temporal. Whitehead does most of this analysis in a small book called “Religion in the Making.”

Just some thoughts this Saturday night.

Aloha!

“The God Delusion”

Dawkins’ “The God Delusion” was disappointing.  Not because I’m a theist.  The book never came close to criticizing any of my theological ideas.  Rather, it was disappointing for at least four reasons: 1) There is little actual theology in the book so little substantive theological critique, 2) He’s attacking a silly caricature of religion using fundamentalists like Pat Robertson so again no substantial argument (it’s also hard to tell when he’s joking and when not), 3) He doesn’t address any type of revisionist theology (thus from the process theism point of view the book is irrelevant), and 4) He has a radical, dogmatic, unsophisticated, and uncompromising attitude and thus can’t truly engage his subject.

First, Dawkins has written a book ostensibly about theology and science, but clearly there is little theology in this book.  He quotes Luther, Aquinas, etc., but has NO CLUE of the context.  It’s as if he hasn’t even read the material he’s quoting.  Analogy: commission Benny Hill (I think he’s dead now, but never mind) to write a book on theology, and then read it.  You say, “But Benny Hill knows nothing about theology!”  Exactly.  The discussion that pushed me over the edge (in chapter seven) was one wherein Dawkins was relating how ignorant religion is because of Pat Robertson’s view that hurricane Katrina was caused by God because a lesbian comedian (Ellen DeGeneres) lives in New Orleans.  According to Roberts, God hates lesbians.  Dawkins then thinks this is a nail in the coffin of religion.  Dawkins is good at talking about science, but his arguments about theology are seriously uninformed.  Speaking of arguments, the book is light on actual arguments but heavy on rhetoric.

Second, he has a comedic writing style in this book, and yes it’s engaging, but it’s hard to tell when he is joking because sometimes when he’s clearly not joking he makes ludicrously funny statements.  In chapter two he claims theology isn’t even a discipline.  Anyone, a scientist, a gardener, a chef, can comment on theology just as authoritatively as any “theologian” because it’s all commentary about silliness anyway. He can’t be taken as a serious intellectual when he makes claims like this.  In chapter three a discussion of Pascal’s Wager shows Dawkins entirely misses the mark as he argues it’s better to bet God doesn’t exist, because then you don’t have to “squander your precious time on worshipping him, sacrificing to him, fighting and dying for him.”  The problem with this is, he’s serious.  Oh yes professor, the four or five billion religious persons on the planet are all deluded, running around sacrificing calves and virgins to God, and fighting in wars.  By the way, I’m pointing out specific chapters wherein he mentions these ludicrous ideas, but these same ideas infect the entire book.

Third, the book is shallow in that it addresses only classical theism and leaves revisionist and natural theology untouched.  The focus is clearly and exclusively on supernaturalism.  Take his definition of God from page 52: “A superhuman, supernatural intelligence who deliberately designed and created the universe and everything in it including us.”  I almost fell off my chair.  From a process theology point of view, this definition is ludicrous.  Every idea in the definition, other than “intelligence,” is false.  Talk about the ULTIMATE straw man!  With a definition like this, it’s fairly easy to then go ahead and rip classical theology to shreds.  Dawkins’ entire book is directed at classical theism, and worse, at radical religious fundamentalist classical theism.  Why doesn’t he address more sophisticated revisionist theologies?  Because, he says on p. 15, they are “numerically negligible.”  Sorry professor, you can’t ignore an entire branch of scholarship which addresses the main points of your book and expect to be taken seriously.  Thus, from the point of view of any natural theology, and certainly from the viewpoint of process theology, his argument against religion is irrelevant.

Finally, throughout the whole book we see that Dawkins has a strange friendship with the radical religious fundamentalists he criticizes.  The commonality he shares with them is the same radical, dogmatic, unsophisticated, and uncompromising attitude.  The difference is he’s at the other end of the spectrum by promoting atheism rather than fundamentalist classical theism. For Dawkins, all of religion is simply “wishful thinking,” God is equated with an “orbiting teapot” (from Russell), a “tooth fairy,” and a “Flying Spaghetti Monster.”  Like the religious fundamentalists, Dawkins employs an unsophisticated and even crude approach that is quite disappointing.

Next Read:  “The Dawkins Delusion” by McGrath.

Evidence: Raw sense data?

Troy, nice job on THIS BLOG ENTRY about whether or not to dismiss or evaluate a claim, and if evaluation is merited, then how many resources should be used and to what extent it should be investigated (if at all). You lay out a good approach. Rejecting out of hand illogical claims and non-verifiable anecdotal claims makes good sense. To go into a little more detail: You perspicuously point out, regarding your approach to dismissing or evaluating claims, that there must be “…some sort of evidence obtainable that will meaningfully demonstrate the truth or falsity of the claim.”

First, I submit we take another step back—the interest level of a claim is more important than its truth or falsity. Logicians tend to think that truth/falsity of a claim is paramount, but our experience in the world says otherwise.

Second, exactly what kind of evidence is required? In sensation-based empiricism (Hume’s work is the quintessential example), the only elements admissible as evidence are sense data. However, the sensationist theory of perception and its accompanying epistemology don’t permit causality or induction. Hume’s arguments are clear, cogent, and forceful on this score. However, we have to know that the same process happens today as happened a billion years ago when two hydrogen atoms combine with one oxygen atom (production of water), and on the sensationist epistemology, we can’t know that. Further, it’s more than just causality and induction which are in question. The status of the continuity of time, the status of mathematical objects, and the status of truth itself are also in question on the sensationist ontology (but never mind as there’s plenty of grist for the mill to simply focus on induction and causality!).

A.J. Ayer and others have simply thrown up their hands and say we just have to assume it’s rationally possible to conduct science in the way we’re doing it now, and can’t sit around and wait for the logical problems to be solved! The irrationality coming from such an otherwise amazing mind is—well—mind-blowing. Isn’t there a good REASON that logic dictates major problems on this score?!?!

Anyway, one answer is Whitehead’s theory of perception, which combines Hume’s sensationism with modern science’s view of the human nervous system and its visceral/kinesthetic modes of operation. Thus Whitehead’s theory of perception is holistic and doesn’t succumb to the logical problems of a purely sensationist/empirical theory of perception. Rather than the constituents of reality being hard material stuff which hits our sense organs and activates them in an externally-based sense, reality is actually internally related to itself and data is passed directly through it from moment to moment. As our brains and nervous systems interact with reality there’s a lot more going on than just photons hitting the body and causing (woops—there’s that logical snafu again) reactions on the skin, eardrum, etc.

But therein is the problem for the materialistic, atheistic, reductionistic, sensationistic ontology and accompanying epistemology: The Process ontology explains how real causality and real induction are possible and the exact same set of arguments also show how time, mathematical objects, and universals are real, and how the correspondence theory of truth makes complete sense. And they don’t want to hear about realism.

Talk about Bass-Ackwardness! The process philosophy and theology requires realism, while so-called objective, scientific empiricism has to deal in coherence and pragmatic theories of truth, and has to argue for ultimate relativism and anti-realism! Post-modern science has really gotten itself into a terrible snafu.

However, my guess is as science, especially neuroscience, gets deeper and deeper into the details of the operations of the brain, that the neuroscientists will be among the first to admit that spatiotemporal events which are actually internally related to each other are at the base of reality rather than material stuff. Once there’s scientific energy put in this direction, Whitehead and others will be re-discovered and their work hailed as visionary. (This is for another post, but this is the reason Heidegger, the phenomenologists, and the Existentialists probably won’t experience the same kind of re-discovery, because they didn’t take on science and accept science qua science like Whitehead did.) Aloha

Core Doctrine of Process Philosophy #1 (of 10)

Over 10 blog entries, I will set out the 10 Core Doctrines of process philosophy (of Alfred North Whitehead and Charles Hartshorne), as given by the process philosopher and theologian David Griffin.

Core Doctrine #1:  Process integrates “…moral, aesthetic, and religious intuitions with the most general doctrines of the sciences into a self-consistent worldview [and considers this] as one of the central tasks of philosophy in our time.”  From: Griffin, David R.  “Reenchantment Without Supernaturalism” (p. 5)

Another way to say this is the integration of science and religion; to be able to put religion in a context that someone who takes science seriously may countenance, and to be able to put science in a context that someone with religious beliefs can countenance.

#2: (MOS) Breif Summary

Chapter 1 deals with Immanuel Kant.  It “…presents Kant’s philosophy as a foundation for understanding…Heidegger and Whitehead.” (MOS 2)  Smith then delineates his new way of reading Kant as a postmodern thinker, which we’ll get to when we look directly at chapter 1.

Chapter 2 sets out Heidegger’s project.  Heidegger rethinks the analysis of a knowing, substantial subject, as it has been taken for most of western history, and transforms it via an existential analysis of “Dasein.”  This summary of Heidegger I’m sure readers will find complete-but it is very compact (but this is Heidegger-there’s probably no way around this).

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#1: (MOS) Let’s Begin: Myths of the Self (MOS)

This series of posts is about Dr. Olav’s Smith’s famous (or should be famous) book: Myths of the Self: Narrative Identity and Postmodern Metaphysics (called MOS here).  (Click here for partial text at Google Books).  Dr. Smith is a lecturer at California State University, Chico.  The book is based on Smith’s doctoral dissertation under David Ray Griffin at The Center for Process Studies at Claremont in Los Angeles, CA.

William Desmond, Director of the International Philosophy Program at  KU Leuven says:  “This is a very intelligent and engaging essay in constructive postmodern metaphysics.  Olav Smith brings Whitehead into provocative and fruitful dialogue with the philosophies of Kant, Heidegger, and Ricoeur.  The diverse discussions are marked by many illuminating and surprising connections.”

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Fun Introduction to Whitehead & Process

Written by Richard Lubbock, this intro. is fun:

“…..Once you have allowed Whitehead’s powerful engine of hope to transform your attitude to life you will never again need to consult another philosopher. Those sinister philosophical miseries of the 20th century–you know who I mean: malignant Heidegger, disjointed Wittgenstein, cross-eyed Husserl, sour Sartre–you can consign their jeremiads to the fire. They failed to salute the quantum and relativistic earthquakes of our century and so they’re dust, history, trash. Forget ’em…..”

CLICK HERE