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



Chapter One: Philosophical and Religious Uses of “God”


What is a philosopher to mean by “God”—assuming he uses the word?  There are three ways of reaching an answer to this question.  One is to ask theologians.  But there are important disagreements among theologians as to the connotations of the central religious term, and these disagreements have if anything increased during the past century or two.  Thus we cannot find an answer to the terminological question in this way.  A second approach is the following.  If the philosopher’s system or method leads him to formulate a conception having at least some analogy with the central operative idea in the practices, not simply in the theological theories, of one or more of the high religions, he may call his conception by the religious name.  If the analogy is weak he may with some justice be accused of misusing the word.  Spinoza has been called “God-intoxicated” and also “atheist.”  There is a fairly strong case for both descriptions.  But this, in my view, constitutes an objection of some force to Spinoza’s system.  It seems odd to think that an idea so essentially religious should be so mistakenly conceived by all the great religions concerned with it as the religious idea must be if Spinoza is correct.  Contrariwise, it is an argument in favor of a philosophy if it can make more religious sense out of the theistic view than other philosophies have been able to do.

A further consideration is the following.  Basic ideas derive somehow from direct experience or intuition, life as concretely lived.  Moreover, it is demonstrable from almost any classical conception of God that he cannot be known in any merely indirect way, by inference only, but must somehow be present in all experience. No theist can without qualification deny the universal “immanence” of God. Even Aquinas did not do this. And if God is in all things, he is in our experiences and also in what we experience, and thus is in some fashion a universal datum of experience. But then it seems reasonable to suppose that religion, whatever else it may be, is the cultivation of this aspect of experience. Hence what it says about “God” deserves to be taken seriously, at least so far as the meaning of the term is concerned. The burden of justification is upon those who would use the word in a drastically nonreligious sense. So our first question is, what is the religious sense?

In theistic religions God is the One Who is Worshipped.  This is in some sort a definition.  We have, therefore, only to find out what worship is to know the proper use of the name “God”.  This is the third approach to the definitional problem.  But here, too, a difficulty arises.  Are there not many sorts of worship—noble, ignoble, primitive, sophisticated, superstitious, relatively enlightened, idolatrous . . . what you will?  And does not divinity take on a different apparent character with each form of worship?  Spinoza claimed to have the noblest and most enlightened form of worship, the “intellectual love of God”; hence to require him to refrain from using the word because other, perhaps less enlightened, people worship differently may be to rule against enlightenment and in favor of vulgar superstition.  Moreover, the mere fact that many, or even most, people (at least in certain cultures) have worshipped God in a certain way is nothing but a contingent empirical fact.  Should we allow our view concerning the essential nature of the eternal deity to depend upon any such facts?  All classical meanings treat God as in some sense eternal.  How can there be valid inference from a mere temporal fact to truth about eternal things?  Much less could counting noses determine such truth.

If worship is to be definitive of deity, it must be worship as more than a mere fact of terrestrial human culture.  The definitional problem has a clear solution only if there is a rationale, an inner logic, to the idea of worship such that inferior forms violate or fail adequately to express this logic.  And it cannot be a rationale of worship as a mere terrestrial phenomenon, but must concern an a priori possibility for rational animals generally, on no matter what planet, and even in no matter what possible world.  Indeed, we do not have to say “animal”, for there is a sense in which God can worship, that is, worship himself.  But only God can in the full sense be worshipped.

To obtain a broad perspective we may remind ourselves that subrational animals, below the level of language, can scarcely be thought to worship, unless in some radically deficient sense.  Only man, among this earth’s inhabitants, is a “religious animal.”  This suggests that consciousness, in the sense requiring language (or else, if God is conscious, something superior to language), is part of the definition of worship.  To worship is to do something consciously.  To do what?  That which all sentient individuals must do, at least unconsciously, so far as they are sane and not in at least a mild neurosis or psychosis.  Worship is the integrating of all one’s thoughts and purposes, all valuations and meanings, all perceptions and conceptions.  A sentient creature feels and acts as one, its sensations and strivings are all its sensations and strivings.  So are its thoughts, if it has them.  Thus one element of worship is present without worship, unity of response.  The added element is conscious-ness: worship is a consciously unitary response to life.  It lifts to the level of explicit awareness the integrity of an individual responding to reality.  Or, worship is individual wholeness flooded with consciousness. This is the ideal toward which actual worship may tend.

If this account is correct, worship is in principle the opposite of a primitive phenomenon.  The more consciousness, the more completely the ideal of worship can be realized.  Those who pride themselves on transcending worship may only be falling back to a more primitive level.  Of course, as many are fond of reminding us, one can live without worship.  Why not, since the lower animals do so?  And we are all animals; the animal way is partly open to us still.

However, there are two possible theories of worship, the theistic and the nontheistic.  According to the former, the conscious wholeness of the individual is correlative to an inclusive wholeness in the world of which the individual is aware, and this wholeness is deity.  According to the nontheistic view, either there is no inclusive wholeness, or if there is one, it is not what religions have meant by deity.  Perhaps it is just The Unknown, or Nature as a Great Mystery, not to be thought of as conscious, or as an individual in principle superior to all others.  Perhaps it is even Humanity.  Or (more reasonably) it is all sentient creatures.

My view I shall put bluntly.  It is the lower animals for whom the Whole must be simply Unknown, sheer Mystery, and their own species practically all that has value.  The difference between agnostics (or “humanists”) and the nonspeaking creatures is that, whereas the mere animal simply has integrity, the agnostic feels the need and possibility of raising integrity to the conscious level, but does not quite know how to do so.  Thus he is in some degree in conflict with himself.  However, animal innocence is there to fall back upon.  God is the wholeness of the world, correlative to the wholeness of every sound individual dealing with the world.  Note that this has no peculiar connection with the human race, “father-images,” the parental function, or anything of the sort.  Any sentient individual in any world experiences and acts as one: the question is if its total environment is not therewith experienced as, in some profoundly analogous sense, one.  An individual (other than God) is only a fragment of reality, not the whole; but is all individuality (in other than the trivial sense in which a junk pile, say, is an “individual” junk pile) similarly fragmentary?  Or is the cosmic or all-inclusive whole also an integrated individual, the sole nonfragmentary individual?

Note, too, that our question is definitely not the question, “Are all wholes or individuals “finite,” “limited”?  For it is at best a leap in the dark to assert the nonfinitude of our total environment (or “all with which we have to do”—as W. E. Hocking puts it).  This totality is vastly more than, and includes, ourselves; but it may for all that be finite in certain respects.  Indeed, it must be so!  Fragmentariness, not finitude, sets the problem of worship.  Here countless theologians long ago made an initial mistake for which the full price has yet to be paid: they began the idolatrous worship of “the infinite.”  Cosmic wholeness, not infinity, is the essential concept.  Infinity comes in if and only if—or in whatever sense and only that sense—we should view the whole as infinite.  And this is to be determined by inquiry, not taken for granted.

The reader may feel that we have not followed our own injunction to look to the religions for the meaning of “God.”  Is “cosmic wholeness” a religious conception?  My reply is, by fairly clear and direct implication, yes, it is such a conception.  I shall now try to show this.  Three religions, if no more, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam would, I think, agree with the conception of worship embodied in:  “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and with all thy mind and with all thy soul and with all thy strength.”  I ask, how more plainly could the idea of wholeness of individual response be stated in simple, generally intelligible language?  The word “all” reiterated four times in one sentence means, I take it, what it says.  It does not mean, nearly all—or, all important—responses, or aspects of personality.  Simply every response, every aspect, must be a way of loving God.  That the God correlative to this integrity of response is Himself “One” or individual is also a Jewish-Christian-Islamic tenet, at least apart from the subtleties of the Trinity, which are surely not intended to contradict the divine wholeness or integrity.

But, perhaps you say, the God of the religions mentioned is not the cosmic whole:  he is only the cosmic creator.  This “only” suggests that there could be more than God!  Or is God more than the all-inclusive reality?  Yet this is nonsense.  Thus we seem to have a severe paradox or dilemma.  Are the basic religious writings responsible for this paradox?  True, the Bible, for instance, nowhere says in so many words that God is the whole of things, but no more does it say that he is not the whole.  The “pantheistic” issue had not arisen, and so the wrong solution could not yet be given.  (We so easily forget that our sophistication is a danger as well as an opportunity.)  Of course “no graven image” of God was permitted, but what sculptor knows how to image the whole of things?  What is there in the Bible to show that the word “God” refers to less than, or even other than, the all-inclusive reality—except a few passages which would discomfort traditional theists as much as they would any pantheist, e.g., “God walked in the garden.” And Paul says that we live, move, and have our being “in” God.  Precisely.

Ah, you say, but the religious God is creator, and “X creates Y” contradicts “Y is in X.”  Does it indeed?  In that case no man can create his own thoughts, and a poet does not create the verbal images which constitute lines of his poem before he writes them down.  And if you say, but of course divine creating has nothing in common with human creating, then I ask how the word “create” can be a human word?  Or, if you say, but God creates free, self-active individuals other than himself, and this the human thinker or poet does not do, I am still not greatly impressed.  For one thing, a human child grows new nerve or brain cells for a time after birth, and even an adult perpetually grows new cells of many kinds; and these cells are living individuals which remain in the child or adult. (That they have some slight freedom of action I cannot empirically prove and the reader cannot disprove.)  For another thing, either a poet does ultimately create something in other individuals, or he writes in vain.  Still more obviously, a teacher, parent, or friend creates important elements in the personalities of pupils, children, or friends.  Is there an absolute difference between this and divine creating?  If you say that God—and he alone—creates the entire personality of a man, you seem to leave nothing for the man to create in himself, and then when we say, as it is good idiom to say, that a man “makes” a decision or an effort, we do not know what we are talking about.  Not much is left of personality if we abstract from all the past decisions and efforts which the individual has himself made.  Sartre’s phrase for man, causa sui, needs qualification, but is not wholly wrong.  And, once more, if no human making has relevance to God’s making of the world, the latter phrase is mere equivocation, indeed gibberish.

But now probably you are about to overwhelm me with an inconsistency.  For what the poet, teacher, parent, or friend makes in another human being does not become a constitutive element within the first human being, the maker.  And I have been saying that what God makes in us does become a constitutive element in him.  My defense, however, is not so difficult.  For is it absolutely, or only relatively, true that what we make in others fails to become part of our own reality?  If only relatively true, then it is not absolutely false to say that it becomes such a part.  And then the corresponding affirmation need not be false at all of God.

Let us consider this further. If a pupil listens in silence to a teacher, absorbing valuable ideas but never communicating the changes in himself to the teacher, who never learns the results of his teaching, then indeed it seems that what is created in the pupil remains outside the teacher. But suppose the latter intimately follows the pupil’s mental growth and personality changes. Can we then say that these, his own creations in the pupil’s mind, in no degree become constitutive of the teacher’s mind? For instance, the teacher shares sympathetically in the pupil’s excitement over ideas new to him, enjoys the nuances of his emotional and intellectual responses to the ideas. Is not his own life thereby enriched?

Consider also that when we speak of the teacher’s “following with sympathetic understanding” the pupil’s responses we are talking about fallible human operations.  The teacher does not entirely understand or altogether sympathetically follow.  By contrast, if God knows the results in us of his creative actions upon us, he knows and shares them with a completeness, an intimacy, compared to which our knowledge is always partial and external.  The pupil remains indeed outside the human teacher, and by the same token much in the pupil remains hidden from the teacher.  It even remains more or less hidden from the pupil, much of whose reality can be said to be outside his own clearly conscious experience.   Omniscience, if the term is to have human meaning, must not be absolutely different from our knowing; but still, it must somehow differ in principle from ours.  The clue to this likeness and this difference is in our hands: God is the all-inclusive reality; his knowing, accordingly, must likewise be all-inclusive; ours, by contrast, is fragmentary, as our whole being is fragmentary; much remains outside us as knowers.  Strange that men should think to exalt God by putting everything outside him as knower.  Almost everything is outside us and our knowledge; that is why we are not God!   But nothing can be outside God, in his total reality.  Thus when God creates, he creates additional contents of his own awareness, enriches the panorama of existence as his to enjoy.

The idea that worship is love with the whole of one’s being is correlated, in many high religions, with the idea that what we thus wholly love is itself also love, the divine love for all creatures, and for God himself as including all.  And this in my opinion is not simply a pretty sentiment but is, in cold logic, the most rational way to view the matter.  Two reasons among many for this belief:

(1) It seems impossible to love an unloving being with all one’s own being.  For instance, if we cannot entirely avoid self-love (and we cannot), then in loving the object of all our love must we not somehow be loving ourselves?  The same is true of love for our friend or neighbor.  But how can these loves be elements in our love for God?  Only if the inclusive referent of our concern Himself cherishes all creatures, only if he loves all-inclusively, is the puzzle solved.  Only supreme love can be supremely lovable.

(2) What is concrete knowledge, knowledge inclusive of the actual concrete feeling of creatures, if not some kind of sympathetic participation or love?  Must not God, as the well-integrated whole of things, have such knowledge?  Mere intellect cannot know concrete qualities of feeling, for they are not concepts, abstract forms or patterns, and no mere form or pattern can contain them in their fullness.  If God knows but does not love, this means either that he is indifferent to, or that he hates, what he knows.  But the first is an impossible psychology.  One knows only that in which one takes some sort of interest; we, for instance, know the actual feelings of others because we have at least an unconscious, or even instinctive and animal, sympathy with these feelings.  What reason is there to suppose that to speak of purely non-emotional knowledge of particular emotions in their concrete uniqueness is anything but gibberish or contradiction?  One may classify emotions relatively unemotionally, but classification is precisely not knowing the concrete in its concreteness.  And only those who feel some emotions can even classify them and know what they are doing.

If God cannot be indifferent to creaturely feelings, he also cannot hate them.  For God is inclusive and hate is exclusive.  It is saved from complete blindness only because there is, as subtle psychologists have long known, an element of love in it.  There is also an element of self-conflict in hate which would contradict any classical religious idea of God.

If I am right, is it not odd that the Greeks were so nearly unable to conceive love as a divine quality? Plato almost managed to do it, in saying that God created because he was not jealous or stingy, and was willing to have others enjoy the blessings of existence. But he put it strangely negatively. Why? Apparently because he was partly trapped (as Aristotle was wholly trapped) in the verbal confusion:  God is worshipped because he is complete, perfect, free of any defect, hence he is immutable and incapable of wishing for any good not already possessed; “love”, on the contrary, means desire for the not yet attained. Hence, Plato thought—and a fortiori Aristotle thought—the ultimate object of love must be quite other than love.  It must be absolute beauty, sheer excellence, stilling all longing for anything further.  But neither Plato nor anyone else has been able to show us how there can be a beauty or excellence inclusive of all value whatever, unless it be the beauty of a love which cherishes all valuable, beautiful, or loving creatures.  Beauty as a value is actualized only in experience.  However, the concrete beauty of the cosmos—and a mere abstraction cannot be the inclusive object of interest—could not be adequately appreciated by our fragmentary kind of perception and thought.  There can then be an all-inclusive beauty only if there be an all-inclusive appreciation of beauty, and what could that be if not a cosmic sympathy?  Cosmic beauty as a value must be actualized in cosmic experience, and this, as we have shown, can only be a cosmic love.

If such a love must in some sense be incomplete and mutable, so much the worse for the identification of the One Worshipped with the complete or immutable.  Our love for God is not immutably complete and should not be; for it includes new responses to neighborly needs which are changing from moment to moment.  Also our total environment, that with which we have to deal, is mutable.  It is complete, finished once for all, only if it be correct to view future events as no less determinate than past events—a view which is at best paradoxical.  Should religion be saddled from the outset and by definition with this paradox?  I think not.  The idea of worship as conscious integrity, achieved through an inclusive integral object of love, does not of itself commit us to the immutable completeness of the One Who is Inclusively Loved.  If anything, it conflicts with this idea, for who knows what love could be, combined with immutability?  Were the Greeks not right as to that?

Not completeness, but all-inclusiveness, is what is required.  And here nontheistic theories of worship fail.  “Humanity” leaves a vast world outside.  Consider for example, the quintillions of singing birds which have lived and died where no man heard them sing, or the other habitable planets, the nonexistence of which we have no right to assume.  If God, or the One Worshipped, does not include these, then in being even slightly interested in them we are doing something besides loving God.

It is not enough to say, “But we thank God for creating them.”  God, qua creator-of-X, either does or does not include X.  If he does, my point is granted.  If he does not, then in thinking this very thought I have gone beyond loving God to loving (or being mildly interested in) certain individuals outside him.  But then my total interest is not in God, but only a part of my interest.

I conclude that the wholeness view of worship and of the divine correlate of worship makes good religious sense and is more obviously relevant to the religious documents than the identification of deity with the infinite, absolute, unconditioned (pace Tillich), immutable, uncaused cause, most real being, or kindred philosophical objects.  If Spinoza had asserted only that all things are in and constitutive of deity, he would not have been an “atheist” at all.  But he also asserted the absolute infinity, impassibility, and noncontingency of deity, and these ideas (not merely these terms) are not religious.  He identified the all-inclusive divineness with sheer infinity, necessity, or nonreceptivity, and this, so far as religion is concerned, is at best a leap in the dark.

There is another way, besides using the ideas of all-inclusiveness and universal love, to define the One Who is Worshipped.  This third way was Anselm’s discovery (though Philo and others almost anticipated him)—a stroke of genius even apart from its use in the ontological argument. God is the not conceivably surpassable being.  For, if God could be surpassed by a greater or better, should we not worship the one who would surpass him—even were this but a conceivable not an actual being?  Also, in merely thinking about the better possible being our interest would go beyond God to something else, and we should not be able to obey the Great Commandment of total devotion to the One Being.

But Anselm spoiled his formula by his way of construing it.  He supposed that it was equivalent to the standard definition in terms of immutable perfection.  It is indeed so equivalent if, but only if, we take “unsurpassable” to mean “by any being, even the being itself.”  For there are two ways of being surpassed:  by another, and by self.  An individual can be or become superior to itself, without—so far as anyone has shown—this necessarily entailing, even as a possibility, that another than itself should surpass it.  Anselm’s mind, however, was full of the Greek glorification of the immutable; he accepted the Platonic-Aristotelian argument that what is worshipful must be self-sufficient and perfect in the sense of complete, and that what is complete cannot change—obviously not for the better, and surely not for the worse.  Change is a sign of weakness, it was thought, and its only value must be to remedy a prior defect.  But there is nothing in the religions (unless in Hinduism or Buddhism) to indicate that change simply as such is a weakness; and the only sense in which “perfection” is used biblically is the ethical sense.   “Be ye perfect” does not mean, “be ye immutable”!  Nor is any immutability attributed to deity in the Scriptures save what the context implies is purely ethical.  A fixity of ethical principles is one thing, a fixity of a being’s whole perceptive-conscious reality is another, and worlds apart from the first.  I hope this seems as clear to the reader as it does to me, that is to say, very clear indeed.

Perfection taken as an absolute maximum does exclude change, as well as any possibility of being surpassed by another.  But the converse deduction, of the absolute maximum from unsurpassability by another, succeeds only if we assume that what is unsurpassable by another must be unsurpassable by self as well.  And this assumption is not self-evident; if anything, it is clearly false, as we shall see.  Granted that what can be surpassed, even if only by self, is not an absolute maximum of value or reality.  Granted further that if such a maximum is conceivable, then any self-surpassing being must fall short of this maximum, and so it could be surpassed by a being which possessed the maximum.  On that basis the self-surpassing must also be conceivably surpassable by another.   But is an absolute maximum-conceivable?  The truth is that our ancestors had not yet learned our hard modern lessons concerning the ease with which grammatically smooth expressions—class of all classes, for example—can fall into implicit contradiction or nonsense. “Greatest possible number” is grammatical, but it is sheer nonsense if it means “greatest finite number”; it is also, according to some mathematicians, nonsense if it means “greatest infinite number”; and it is at best problematic, according to any mathematician.  Why then should “greatest possible value” be regarded as safe?  It is vaguer, but perhaps only because it has no definite meaning at all.

Since it is at best doubtful that “X is in all respects maximal” expresses a coherent idea, we cannot infer ‘surpassable by another” from ‘surpassable by self.”  Moreover, our idea of wholeness throws a clear light on how ‘selfsurpassing” can be combined with “unsurpassability by another.”  For, if a being is in principle, or without possible failure, all-inclusive, then any possible rival could only be one of its own possible constituents, and so not a rival after all.  For this to hold, God must be viewed as necessarily all-inclusive, incapable of a genuinely “external” environment.  Anselm, rightly, I hold, argued that the very existence of the unsurpassable being must be necessary.

A being necessarily all-inclusive must be one whose potentiality for change is coextensive with the logically possible.  I call this property “modal coincidence.”  All actual things must be actual in God, they must be constituents of his actuality, and all possible things must be potentially his constituents.  He is the Whole in every categorial sense, all actuality in one individual actuality, and all possibility in one individual potentiality.  This relatively simple idea was apparently too complex for most of our ancestors to hit upon.  They did not reject it, they failed so much as to formulate it.  (Exceptions are relatively little-known figures in the history of philosophy and theology, and even they were not too explicit about it.  Plato, with his World Soul doctrine, is the nearest to an illustrious exception.) 

Modal coincidence implies that the traditional identification of deity with infinity was a half truth.  All-possibility—which is indeed infinite if anything is—coincides with divine potentiality.  Thus, God is infinite in what he could be, not in what he is; he is infinitely capable of actuality, rather than infinitely actual.  Not that he thus lacks an infinity which some conceivable being might have, but that an “absolutely infinite or unsurpassable maximum of actuality” makes no sense.  Possibility is in principle inexhaustible; it could not be fully actualized.  Actuality and finitude belong together, possibility and infinity belong together.  (This may not be quite all that needs to be said about their relations, but it is a good part of what needs to be said.)

We have so far justified our explication of “God” or “deity” with reference to religions other than those of East Indian origin.  Is not Buddhism atheistic, and yet a way of reaching individual wholeness?  And does not Hinduism admit God only as an inferior manifestation of the mysterious Ultimate?  These are subtle questions.  There is no doubt that Buddhism, at least in the Northern form, aims at and claims to reach an experience of oneness with all things.  How close this comes to theism varies indifferent sects.  Suzuki once said that it comes very close in Zen.  My contention is simply this:  Buddhism does not offer an explicit alternative to the theistic version of the all-inclusive reality; rather the Buddhist refuses to rationalize what is given in “satori” or salvation.  His doctrine is an intuitionism, not a speculative account of the Whole.  (To identify this intuitionism with Western “scientific naturalism” is, I should think, arbitrary in the extreme.)  Buddhism is rather a renunciation of theorizing than a theoretical rival to theism.  (And it certainly is not natural science.  Supernatural overtones are pervasive in Buddhist writings, even though one cannot readily articulate them conceptually.)  Metaphysics, being an attempt to theorize about first principles, does not face a choice between theism and Buddhistic nontheism.  The only clear-cut metaphysical theory in Buddhism is its analysis of ‘substance” into unit-events or momentary states.  This analysis Western metaphysics may well take seriously and even in large part accept.  But the question of deity is not thereby answered. Whitehead, granted a rather simple correction of his analysis, has shown how God can be conceived in these terms.

As for Hinduism, it tends, like Buddhism, “when the chips are down” to renounce theory for sheer intuition.  The contrast between Maya, correlative to ignorance, and Reality, correlative to true knowledge, resists conceptual analysis.  Is Maya a form of being (and what form?), a form of nonbeing, a mixture of being and nonbeing, neither being nor nonbeing?  The question is put, but orthodox exponents are coy with the answer.  The analogies, such as the rope seeming to be a snake, are not concepts but extremely vague suggestions.  We are told that, as a dream is cancelled by waking and finding it was but a dream, so Maya is cancelled by waking to True Reality.  But in sober truth dreams, like ropes, are not cancelled.   They remain just as real events as waking experiences.  True, what they seemed to reveal concerning the rest of the world may have been largely (though never, as could be shown, wholly) mistaken, but if so the mistakes were really made.  It will never be true that they were not made.  And the rope was also really there.  Press any statement by the followers of Sankara and you find, I am convinced, that the semblance of conceptual definiteness and logical structure is itself Maya.  Or, if there is an intellectual doctrine other than the renunciation of intellect, it is the familiar Western doctrine (as in Plotinus) of “the absolute”, the formless “infinite”, viewed as superior to, but manifested in, all definite, finite actuality, even divine actuality.  This doctrine I hold is an intellectual as well as religious mistake.  Only potentiality can be strictly infinite, nonrelative, and immutable; actuality, which is richer than potentiality, is finite, relative, and in process of creation.  God as actual is more than the absolute (which indeed is a mere abstraction), not less.

I am open to conviction in these matters, but my trouble can hardly be a result of not having read enough Hindu philosophy.  For there have been and are learned thinkers in India who have said much the same thing as I have just done.  Eventually we may all, in East and West, hope to reach better understanding concerning the role of logic in religious thought.  Intuition is valuable, and indeed indispensable; but I have a certain faith in the rights and duties of rational metaphysical inquiry, and I shall give up this faith only when the inevitable failure of rational metaphysics has been shown in some more conclusive way than by arguing ad nauseam from the difficulties of certain traditional forms of metaphysics whose failure I admit from the outset.

In what kind of philosophy is the religious idea of God most at home?

(1) It must be a philosophy in which becoming is not considered inferior to being.  For the self-surpassing divinity is in process of surpassing itself, and if the supreme reality is thus a supreme process, lesser individual realities will be instances of an inferior form of process.  Being can then be no more than an abstraction from becoming.

(2) It must be a philosophy which avoids declaring all individual existence to be contingent.  For God, to be unsurpassable by others, must exist necessarily.  Yet at the same time all actuality must indeed be contingent, even divine actuality, for the latter includes all contingent things.  It follows that we need a philosophy which distinguishes between the bare or abstract truth that an individual exists and the how or actual concrete state in which it exists.  Individual self-identity must be granted a certain independence from concrete actuality.  Philosophies which clearly provide for this are of the Buddhist-Whiteheadian type, according to which the most concrete mode of reality is not existing substance, thing, or person, but actually occurring event, state, or experience.

(3) A theistic philosophy must be in some sense indeterministic.  It must admit (as Hume and Kant would not) that process is creative of novelty that is not definitely implicit in the antecedent situation.  For otherwise only ignorance would make self-surpassing seem real; while for God past, present, and future would form but a single perpetually complete reality.  And this, we have seen, is not the religious view.  Also a deterministic theory of temporal process implies theologically either a denial of all contingency, as in Spinoza, or an absolutely mysterious nontemporal freedom (at least for God), as in Kant.

(4) A theistic philosophy must take “create” or “creator” as a universal category, rather than as applicable to God alone.  It must distinguish supreme creativity from lesser forms and attribute some degree of creativity to all actuality.  It must make of creativity a “transcendental,” the very essence of reality as self-surpassing process.  This is precisely what Whitehead does in his “category of the ultimate” (Chapter 2 of Process and Reality).

(5) A theistic philosophy must have a theory of internal relations and also a theory of external relations.  Of internal relations, for a whole logically requires its constituents and God in his concrete actuality being the inclusive whole requires all things; moreover, the creatures require God as the correlate of their own integrity.  In some deficient sense the creatures include God, as well as God the creatures.  Finally, any creative act requires its antecedent data.  Of external relations, for though God in his particular or contingent actuality includes all actuality, yet in his bare individual existence as the divine being and no other he—and he alone—is necessary, and what is necessary cannot include, or be constituted by, relation to anything contingent.  Only the contingent can be relative.  Hence the abstract necessary aspect of God does not include the actual world, and is not relative to it. (In addition, the antecedent data of a creative synthesis are independent of the synthesis.)  Both types of relations are provided for by Whitehead’s theory of “prehensions” and “the two “natures” of God.

With these requirements in mind I ask you, Was it any such doctrine as this “neoclassical theism” (as I call it) which Hume and Kant evaluated in their alleged refutations of all natural theology?  Or were they—and especially, perhaps, Kant—as unaware as any child that such a doctrine could be formulated and seriously defended?  I confess I find the latter view to fit the known facts.  Kant, at least, did not so much as dream of neoclassical theism, or the metaphysics which can adequately express it.  If then he refuted the doctrine, this was indeed a stupendous achievement, an amazing piece of luck or feat of divination.  But did he refute it?  I fail altogether to see that he did.

Perhaps there is one qualification:  the first Antinomy might be thought to be such a refutation, provided one accepts the finitistic trend in mathematics as authoritative.  In the present work this matter must remain unfinished business.

There seems to be no equally clear religious alternative to theistic metaphysics, defined as, belief in the modally all-inclusive or nonfragmentary being, surpassable only by Himself.  These characterizations spring much more directly from the ideal of worship than terms like “absolute,” “infinite,” “immutable,” “unconditioned,” and similar legacies from Aristotle, Philo, Plotinus, or Plato badly understood.  How different intellectual history might have been had we not been saddled so long with these pseudo-platonic simplifications!  However, as a politician once remarked, “the future is before us.”  In the next chapter I shall give some indications of the manner in which the theistic proofs can be reformulated to fit the new situation in the philosophy of religion, a situation—to repeat—of which Hurne and Kant were scarcely able even to dream.


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Chapter Two: The Theistic Proofs


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Dedication, Preface and Contents


Posted April 5, 2007


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