Panentheism.  Revisionism.  Anarchocapitalism.



Essays by Me

Essays by Others


A Natural Theology

for Our Time

The Open Court Library of Philosophy

Eugene Freeman, editor, 1967


Charles Hartshorne




To the memory of Fausto Sozzini (Socinus), Italian theologian, and his brave Protestant followers in Poland and elsewhere, who in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries were able to see and—in spite of persecution, scorn, and ridicule—to say, that the eternity or worshipful perfection of God does not imply his changelessness (or self-sufficiency) in all respects.

Also to Gustav Theodor Fechner, German physicist, psychologist, and natural theolo-gian, and Jules Lequier, French philosopher—who, in the nineteenth century, to nearly as heedless a world, gave lucid expression to the same or related ideas.

Finally, to some philosophers writing early in the twentieth century of whom similar things could be said—for instance, Iqbal in what is now Pakistan and R. K. Mukerji in India, Varisco in Italy, Berdyaev in Russia (and Paris), James Ward in England, and W. E. Hocking, E. S. Brightman, W. P. Montague, and A. N. Whitehead in the United States.  These men broke with a tradition of more than a thousand years.  Yet they were not mere iconoclasts; they did not fall by reaction into an opposite extreme.  Seeing beyond the sterile alternative inherited from the Greeks, “finite God or infinite God,” they envisaged the God finite and infinite, each in suitable and clearly distinguishable respects.

Their reward for this achievement? The nearly complete silence or noncomprehension of historians, encyclopedists, and textbook writers. Nevertheless their example may give comfort to those who would rather come as close as possible to difficult truths than enjoy facile half-truths in the best of company.  But are not such men, scattered through history, for one another the best of company?


“He will endow our fleeting days with abiding worth.” Jewish ritual.




The following chapters are somewhat extended and revised versions of four Morse Lectures given at Union Theological Seminary in New York, 1964.  The discussions which took place after the first two lectures and a brief version of the third were very stimulating and encouraging.  A new day seems to be dawning in religious thought, which for several centuries has been struggling to free itself from the intellectual chains in which Aristotelian and so-called Platonic or neo-Platonic influences have long held it confined.  Some bad guesses of early secular reason, often accepted by theology as part of its own message, have been increasingly subject to criticism, both theological and philosophical.  From now on, the religious idea may at last have a good chance to be judged on its merits, not on those of a spurious substitute.  The philosophical “absolute”—which Barth correct-ly terms a “pagan” idea—can no longer pose unchallenged as the Worshipful One of religion.

At the same time, it begins to appear that the God of religion is in a sense more absolute than most philosophers have been prepared to admit, or most theologians to claim.  For, as Anselm tried, but in part failed, to convey to scholars, the mere eternal existence of God (though not his full actuality) is, as Plato said of his Good, “above being”—in the usual form of contingent existence.  From this it follows that “empirical” arguments for or against the divine existence are logical monstrosities.  Perhaps logic is not yet ready to formulate “exists necessarily”; but if this is the case, so much the worse for that logic’s claim to completeness—should it make such a claim.  A technique of reasoning which will not allow the religious idea even to be expressed is also one which cannot adjudicate the validity of that idea, except on the assumption that the adequacy of the technique for all rational purposes is to be assumed, rather than the significance and coherence of the essential idea of religion.  To take that position is at best a personal hunch, not a rational result.

The possibility of natural theology, or a theory of divinity appealing to “natural reason”—that is, critical consideration of the most general ideas and ideals necessary to interpret life and reality—is often said to have been thoroughly discredited by Hume and Kant.  I do not share this trust in the ability of these men—whose climate of opinion was not ours—to settle for us, or for all time, the relations of theoretical reason to religion.  Not details only but first principles are being reconsidered today, in natural science, logic, mathematics and theology.  Had they not better be reconsidered in philosophy of religion also?  How “cause,” “substance,” any universal or a priori conception you please, including that of deity (which in final analysis is the a priori conception, summing up all the rest), should be viewed today seems to me to be our problem, not that of the giants of the 18th century.

The question of rational or natural theology, I hold, is open, not closed.  Once this is granted, I am not much worried about the eventual outcome.  For at least the “path of inquiry” will no longer be “barred.”

Charles Hartshorne

March 5, 1965

The University of Texas


Chapter One:

Philosophical and Religious Uses of “God”


Chapter Two:

The Theistic Proofs


Chapter Three:

Why There Cannot Be Empirical Proofs


Chapter Four:

Theism, Science, and Religion


Chapter Five: Epilogue:

Abstract and Concrete Approaches to Deity and the Divine Historicity


Posted April 5, 2007


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