from David Ray Griffin, Reenchantment without Supernaturalism,
Cornell University Press, 2001, 165-166.
The Generic Concept of God
David Ray Griffin
. . . Antony Flew,
having equated Christian theism with the all-determining version of
traditional theism, argues that Christian theism is incoherent because it
holds that nothing happens without God’s consent while maintaining that
human beings sin by violating the will of God [God and Philosophy,
Dell, 1966, 47]. In making this argument, Flew is simply repeating the
charge made by many theists, including White-head and Hartshorne, who have
offered an alterna-tive form of theism in which this inconsistency no
longer exists. But Flew then claims that any doctrine that would suggest
that God cannot control all events would not be “true theism,” so that it
could be dismissed with the rebuke, “Your God is too small” [51-52]. In
the same vein, Roland Puccetti argues that “reflective theists” understand
that God, to be an “adequate object of religious attitudes,” must have
unlimited power, knowledge, and goodness [“The Concept of God,”
Philosophical Quarterly 15 (July): 237-45]. Then, while rejecting
this “reflec-tive” concept of God as incoherent, he dismisses all
coherent doctrines as not really reflective.
This strategy is also
employed by Kai Nielsen. Rejecting traditional, nonanthropomorphic
doctrines as incoherent, Nielsen then dismisses all other concepts as
anthropomorphic, “Zeus-like concep-tions” that speak of God “as if he were
some kind of great green bird” [God, Scepticism, and Modernity,
University of Ottawa Press, 1989, 2, 244] or “a sort of cosmic
Mickey Mouse” [An Introduction to the Philosophy of Religion, St.
Martin's Press, 1982]. The positions thus dismissed as “not really
theistic” by Flew, Puccetti, and Nielsen would include, by impli-cation,
those of such respected philosophers and theologians as Otto Pfleiderer,
C. Lloyd-Morgan, Frederick Tennant, Hastings Rashdall, James Ward, William
Temple, Charles Raven, William James, E. S. Brightman, and Reinhold
Niebuhr, as well as White-head, Hartshorne, Cobb, Schubert Odgen, Marjorie
Suchocki, Daniel Day Williams, and other process theists.
The credibility of such
dismissals in relation to process theism, in any case, can be examined in
terms of what I call the “generic idea of God,” meaning an idea of deity
that is widely shared by Christians, Jews, and Muslims as well as theists
in many other traditions. According to this generic idea, the term God
(or its equivalent) refers to a being that is:
A personal purposive
Perfect in love,
goodness, and beauty.
Perfect in wisdom and
Supreme, perhaps even
perfect, in power.
Creator and sustainer
of our universe.
in nature and history.
Experienced by human beings.
The ultimate source of moral norms.
The ultimate guarantee of the meaning of life.
The ground of hope for the victory or good over evil.
Whether all of these
features are necessary for a concept of God could be argued, but
that these features are sufficient is beyond reasonable debate. No
one believing in a being thus characterized could plausibly be said not to
believe in God. All these features are affirmed by traditional theism.*
They are also affirmed by process theism.
* At least most of
these features are included in the definition proffered by [Richard]
Swinburne of God as “a person without a body (i.e., a spirit), present
everywhere, the creator and sustainer of the universe, a free agent, able
to do anything (i.e., omnipotent), knowing all things, perfectly good, a
source of moral obligation, immutable, eternal, a necessary being, holy
and worthy of worship.” [The Coherence of Theism, Oxford
University Press, 1977, 2.] I did not, incidentally, include Swinburne’s
last attribute, “worthy or worship,” in my list because unlike the other
characteristics, it is an evaluation, not a description, and including it
would have rendered tautological my conclusion that the being described is
worthy of the name God.
David Ray Griffin Page