PLAUSIBILITY OF PANENTHEISM, THE
Towne, Edgar A
At the turn of the twentieth century, some theologians at the University of Chicago were thinking about how new developments in the natural and psychological sciences might affect theology. For one of them it was a long and unconsummated struggle to rethink what he termed the “God-idea.” In his lectures on philosophy of religion in the summer of 1918, George Burman Foster is reported to have said, “We have a God idea on our hands. And what are we going to do with God?”1 Just two months before his untimely death, Foster wrote, “we are witnessing the passing of theistic supematuralism. Mankind is outgrowing theism in a gentle and steady way. Theism now has no clear meaning.”2 Of course, Foster was wrong-in more than one way. Theism is thriving now in many forms, including its supernatural form and panentheism. These forms need to be made explicit in any discussion of theism and science.
Foster was struggling for a way to reconfigure his traditional Baptist faith with his understanding of the world. We can appreciate even now how his integrity as a believer required him to address the plausibility of theism. Because he perceived no split between his being a professing Christian and also a university professor, he pursued his inquiry into theism with passion and candor. Foster was working on a theology of culture and anticipated the sociology of knowledge when he recognized the existential significance of the natural and social sciences for theism. In a 1913 essay he writes,
A striking peculiarity of the psychology and sociology of religion is that, whereas other sciences leave intact the things that they explain, the former sciences destroy their object in the act of explaining it….Hence the destruction of the object is the destruction of religion. To reduce God to the idea of God is like reducing bread to the idea of bread. But it is bread, not the idea of bread, that is the staff of life.3
We see here that Foster well understood why his own theological work evoked controversy. He never completed the constructive synthesis of faith and knowledge that he sought so passionately.
Today Foster’s point could be made in the following way: The word “God” is an artifact of human culture. The reality of God is not an item in the inventory of processes and entities discovered by the natural and biological sciences. The reality of God for the believer is integrally related to the use of the word “God” by the believer. The use of the word “God” by the believer is also integrally related to the configuration of beliefs about the world with which it is combined in the believer’s believing. That is, the reality of God enjoys at least some minimal degree of plausibility such that the believer gives assent to the belief. Even with some dissonance, it is freely owned as his or her belief without sacrifice of integrity-intellectual or personal. The significance of this is that the problem of the plausibility of theism can be seen to involve not only the ontological status of the referent of the word “God” but also its ontic status for any inquirer or would-be believer. In Foster’s terms, bread is not reduced to its idea; God is more than the God-idea. God has both an ontological status and an ontic status that can be specified.
This is why the dipolar theism of the American philosopher Charles Hartshorne (1897-2000) will be considered the benchmark when considering the plausibility of panentheism in this paper. Dipolar theism is a panentheism, but there are other panentheisms not of the dipolar type.4 For Hartshorne the problem of theism is not a matter of demonstration by proof or persuasion. It is a matter of meaning. Unless this is understood, it is possible to talk about God in such a way that one is not talking about God at all. When this happens, inquiries into theism are confounded. To talk about God as if God might not exist5 is to launch theistic inquiry into a futile endeavor that cannot succeed because it already has begged the question. All talk about God is talk about a divinity as described by the talkers, whether or not they are aware of the description they have in mind.6 Hartshorne’s concern with the so-called ontological “proof of God’s existence is his way of combining the name “God” with a definite description, the meaning of the word. He adopts St. Anselm’s description in Proslogium 3 and 4: “no one who understands what God is can conceive that God does not exist.”7 With alternative terms such as “dipolarity,” “transcendent relativity,” and “dual transcenddence,” the ontological status of God as necessarily existing is specified in the description. But dipolar panentheism also specifies an ontic status of God. This ontic status is the universe in any moment up to and including the present, but not the future-as observed by persons in conformity to the conditions of Einstein’s special relativity. Hartshorne recognized a second type of God’s ontic status, though he did not concern himself with it: the ontic status of God as objectified in the awareness of persons who use or mention the word “God.”8 Recognition of this twofold ontic status of God is integral to any impartial investigation of the plausibility of belief in God.
In what follows, first, I will discuss the notion of plausibility in relation to the social sciences and the natural sciences. Contemporary attention to religious plausibility is precisely attention to the two types of divine ontic status. second, I will set forth Hartshorne’s dipolar panentheism. Third, I will compare other panentheisms with Hartshorne’s in regard to plausibility. Fourth, I will propose a model of theistic inquiry.
Plausibility and Human Influence in Inquiry
To consult The Oxford English Dictionary9 is to be reminded that plausibility is a function of human subjectivity attributed to a claim to be approved or believed. It is the claim’s quality deserving of applause. It is disconcerting, however, to realize that a claim in the form of a statement or an argument can be made to sound plausible when it is not really so. Nevertheless, plausibility in some degree seems to be a quality required by any successful truth claim, or at least a quality acknowledged by persons participating in any critical inquiry. There is a relation between subjective judgment and the objective qualities of the claim, but to be judged plausible is not to be judged true, in the same way rhetoric is not dialectic. As we will see, intelligibility is not plausibility.
The theoreticians of the sociology of knowledge have pointed out that “the plausibility, in the sense of what people actually find credible, of views of reality depends upon the social support these receive.”10 In any society knowledge is socially constructed as persons act in the world and adopt a language to communicate with each other. Groups with a common language are said to have a common “symbolic universe,” which is externalized in social action and internalized as belief. The group itself is a “plausibility structure,” conferring legitimacy or plausibility upon their belief and reality upon their way of life. This combination of social structure and symbolic universe is a process of interaction between individuals and the group. There is always a tension between equilibrium and change: “the relationship between knowledge and its social base is a dialectical one, that is, knowledge is a social product and knowledge is factor in social change.”11 Whether an individual lives in a symbolic universe and regards a truth claim as plausible depends, on the one hand, in part upon his or her own freedom of judgment. On the other hand, it depends in part upon the context in which the judgment is made. It is always a very dynamic situation, and change in belief and in social order is always possible.12
Sociologists of knowledge have provided interesting empirical data concerning the influence of plausibility structures in diverse social groups. Fundamentalists have been studied in order to discover ways their participation in politics is legitimated among those that do participate in politics.13 So-called mainline liberal churches have been studied to understand their failure to integrate traditional beliefs with scientific knowledge, their tendency to privatize faith, and their shift toward more traditional views. As contrasted with fundamentalists, for only some persons in liberal churches “the meanings derived from faith for any given believer are by comparison [with traditional doctrines] far more diverse and subjective.”14 That is to say, some believers today are self-conscious about their descriptions of God. Roof testifies to the dynamics of the religious situation when he writes, “Plausibility cannot be taken for granted in the modern world, as if all members in churches share equally in their normative commitments.”15
This dynamics has been studied in relation to the community of second Testament scholars who have been engaged with the way Israel is treated by St. Paul in his Letter to the Romans. The authors advocate scholarly rigor in interpretation while exercising moral responsibility for the effects of such interpretation upon believers who regard these texts as authoritative scripture and upon nonbelievers in their specific situations.16 They call for self-awareness of explicit interpretive choices and owned responsibility when interpreting texts. The theologian and the biblical scholar identify the criterion of plausibility of interpretation in this way: “scholarly integrity in any intepretation requires integrating a plurality of approaches.”17 In a similar way another theologian writes, “Plausibility is to be judged by what passes for consensus in as wide an inter-disciplinary, cross-cultural domain of intellectual debate as possible.”18 These studies, I believe, support the powerful dynamics in beliefs of any kind in general and theistic beliefs in particular.
More specifically, the sociology of knowledge is informative when questions of plausibility are raised both in the communities of theology and in those of science. The point George Burman Foster made in 1913, that sociological and psychological explanations deconstruct the reality of God by reducing God to the God-idea, is supported by the research recounted here. This is at least true with respect to those persons in the mainline churches whom Roof calls liberals or “cosmopolitans.” These folk reinterpret the meaning of traditional doctrines and in doing so redescribe God, as Foster did, in the light of new knowledge. Gordon D. Kaufman, the prominent Harvard theologian, has in the manner of Foster been quite candid about his own doubts when he realized that all talk and ideas about God as a transcendent being are products of human imaginative construction.19 Although he considered the traditional idea of God incoherent, he was not willing to let that God go.20 He said that for persons like him, who speak with the language of faith of some aspects of experience and the language of “unfaith” of others, the question arises “as a highly personal and important issue that must in some way be resolved if they are to avoid schizophrenia.”21
It may be that in the communities of science, as contrasted with those of theology, there is a lesser degree of personal risk and trauma when questions of plausibility are confronted for the reason Foster has stated. God’s reality seems to be a social construction more than nature’s reality is. I put this point delicately because it is not wholly clear how much of nature’s reality is also socially constructed. No community of scholars is exempt from scrutiny by the method of the sociology of knowledge. The natural and biological scientists and their scholarly journals constitute a system of plausibility structures. It is to the credit of their integrity and mutual respect in their employment of the canons of empirical inquiry that scientists, nevertheless, can be quite candid in their disagreements.
A case in point is puzzlement about how to interpret the reality of processes occurring at the microcosmic level before or apart from human observations on the macrocosmic level and the collapse of the wave function. Roger Penrose, who with Steven Hawking developed the concept of “black holes,” acknowledges that on the basis of experiments conducted on the macrocosmic level the so-called EPR phenomena of quantum entanglement involving mysterious action at a distance on the microcosmic level are beyond doubt. On the other hand, Penrose cannot accept the implications of Schrodinger’s imaginary cat based on the two-slit experiment that superposition of particles occurs on the microcosmic level. Penrose writes that events such as superposition have “such an implausibly paradoxical nature that we cannot really believe in them as being in any sense ‘actually’ true.”22 Physicist and theologian John Polkinghorne argues that the way the puzzle has been formulated is unsatisfactory “in the way in which it seems to speak dualistically, as if there were two physical worlds, one quantum, the other classical, that have to intermesh. In reality, of course, there is a single physical reality…”23 This shows that the distinction Foster made does not hold up anymore, that the reality of some entities and processes identified by empirical methods is also in part, at least, a product of social construction. In both science and theology, at important points interpretative responsibility and redescription cannot be avoided.
Hartshorne’s Brand of Panentheism
Fortunately for us, as we consider Hartshorne’s views from a theological perspective, we do not have to settle this or any dispute over interpretation in the natural and biological sciences. We do not have to take up sides. The reason is that he respects the methodological autonomy of the physical and biological sciences, relying upon them to provide reliable data for metaphysics based on responsible use of their methods. Hartshorne is a philosopher, not a theologian. His dipolar theism is content to live with unresolved issues in the sciences because it has no theological interest in prescribing to them. Nor does it seek from them proof of its claims. Ideally its claims, when willingly embraced, will provide the coherence and integrity for theological beliefs that persons seek for their living. The structure of dipolar panentheism-a species of dipolar theism-will now be set out more fully.
In its description of God, dipolar theism is attentive to the two types of ontic status already mentioned. This is integral to the plausibility of panentheism. The first type is the universe itself as described from our place within the universe; the actual universe in any moment, including all past moments but not future moments because they are not actual (as past and future are spoken of by observers in the present) is what Hartshorne calls the “strict identity” of God. Hartshorne asserts this strict identity of God and the world categorically and literally. The identity is “strict” because in the temporal process of the universe once an event has occurred it is always that event and not another. In the same way an individual is always that individual and not another. The predication is literal and categorical because it is Hartshorne’s view that God exemplifies in the divine self the meaning of the categories. The predication of the strict identity of God and the world is literal because literal statements express “the formal status of an entity, they classify propositions about it as of a certain logical type.” Hartshorne writes, “To say ‘God suffers’ is to speak analogically; to say God has all suffering as intrinsic to his own reality is to speak literally.”24 God can literally be said to have a second type of ontic status because this type occurs as a part of what Hartshorne calls the “strict identity” or “concrete aspect” of God. This second type of ontic status is the particular way God is understood to be or described intentionally as God in the awareness of any particular individual or community of individuals. This is what Foster called the “God-idea” and considered problematic. Diverse kinds of theism, the meanings persons bring to their understanding of God or their experience of God, the panentheism under discussion here, are examples of this second type of divine ontic status.
The description of God and the word “God” itself have emerged in the course of human culture on the planet Earth. So have the sciences and their descriptions of natural and social processes. Both are products of culture. We are discussing the plausibility of belief in God as this idea has been considered in the communities of scientists and theologians. Hartshorne approaches the idea of God as a philosopher and metaphysician. By generic intuition and induction, he writes, the metaphysician studies “the universal categories of all actual and conceivable worlds. Physics studies this actual world…The metaphysician studies the most utterly basic features of experience and thought which are presupposed by any world whatever and by any truth whatever.”25 He continues elsewhere, “no observations of natural science can guarantee the truth of a hypothesis over the whole metaphysical range. But they can discredit generalizations alleged to cover this range if these happen to be false of actual nature.”26 Respect for Einstein’s special relativity shows in this statement. Perhaps disappointing to theologians, Hartshorne goes on to say, “Even God’s relation to the human race is outside the province of metaphysics and must either be deduced from anthropological data, or from the depths of personal intuition, one’s own or someone else’s.”27 He does not dismiss data from purported revelation or the religions, nor does he accept them uncritically or support special pleading in their behalf. His work deals with “the mere essence of God, including the generic property of ‘having accidents,’ but not the accidents themselves. These belong to the special sciences…”28 Another philosopher, John J. Compton, put the matter in a way Hartshorne might approve, at least in part:
It strikes me that our chief difficulty lies not so much in inventing conceptual models as in giving them plausibility and applicability-that is in making them believable, both in terms of our common experience and in terms of the scientific world view. It is this test of plausibility and applicability-ultimately of coherence with the rest of our knowledge-that is the inclusive test of truth for religious affirmation.29
Hartshorne is proposing a conceptual model, but one that is firmly based in natural and historical processes. The concrete aspect of God, in its strict identity, is literally the cosmic process in any moment up to and including the present. Categorically, God is “modally coincident” with whatever is possible, whatever is actual, whatever is contingent, and whatever is necessary. In a complementary way, the universe has a genetic identity that is its divinity. The two identities, strict and genetic, complete Hartshorne’s description of God. This is the divine dipolarity. The strict identity is predicated categorically and literally; the genetic identity is predicated analogically. We do not know whether the universe has a personal order like a human being; empirically we cannot observe the universe as a whole, and it certainly cannot be said to have a brain. By analogy we reason from the more familiar-in this case, our own personhood-to the less familiar, the nature of a cosmic unity. The analogy lends plausibility because it relates God to the universe by a relation that is as intimate as the relation between our human selfhood to our bodies.
Hartshorne has constructed his dipolar panentheism by means of diverse types of arguments placed in myriad locations among his voluminous writings over a long lifetime. I have brought these together in Two Types of New Theism.30 Perhaps the best way to sum up his view is to say that God, defined in this dipolar way, is the “object for all subjects” and also the “subject for all objects.” All living creatures, conscious and unconscious, intuit God imperfectly in some manner appropriate to their neurological development. By contrast, all living creatures, as well as living and nonliving entities and processes, are perfectly known by God.
Plausibility and Other Types of Panentheism
Panentheism has been espoused and disavowed by several contemporary theologians. I will consider the views of a few who have been concerned to address the plausibility of theism in relation to the natural sciences. It is important to emphasize that the question of plausibility is a concern of scientists, philosophers, and theologians in their integrity as both believers and inquirers. A certain idiosyncracy is to be expected in the way beliefs are owned or disowned as an integral element of any person’s integrity and acceptance of responsibility in inquiry.3 There are further complications: some thinkers reject understandings of panentheism that Hartshorne would never accept (Arthur Peacocke and John Polkinghorne); others accept panentheism without metaphysical support under the influence of orthodox theism (Philip Clayton); and even some theists employ metaphors and analogies used by Hartshorne but fail to support them metaphysically (Richard Swinburne).
These theologians are inquirers as well as believers. The idiosyncracy in their views will exemplify their integrity in both respects, and will exemplify a dialectical tension between the authority of the method of inquiry and that of the plausibility structure supporting their beliefs. Hartshorne has written, “In philosophy no axioms have standing unless and until the possibility has been seriously considered that they are at best merely plausible, rather than genuinely self-evident and certain.”32 None of the persons discussed here, of course, believes God is only “merely” plausible-nor should they.33 Hartshorne has also written that the minimum mode of reality is “real ontological possibility.”34 In addition, he writes that the existence of God “does not actualize a prior possibility. Back of God there is nothing, not even a possibly actualized and possibly unactualized potentiality. God as existing is a necessary feature of any actuality or inactuality whatever; or he is less even than a possibility-a bare absurdity or contradiction.”35 Surely, all of the persons discussed here regard God as not only a real ontological possibility but also as an actuality. For example, Philip Clayton writes, “I cannot feel that the Christian explanation makes sense of my total experience unless I also believe that it is true of the world.”36 We are engaged in the difficult effort to understand the way the actuality of God is understood by these persons.
Clayton, now at the Claremont School of Theology, is deeply engaged in the science and theology discussion; he understands the panentheistic analogy to be closely tied to the issue of God’s relation to the world. It “suggests a model not of God ‘breaking into’ the world from outside but of God being organically related to the world as we are organically related to our own bodies.”37 Natural laws would be “roughly analogous to autonomie responses within an individual’s body”; they are “descriptions of the predictable regularity of patterns of divine action” representing “the intentionality of special divine actions.”38 Clayton appreciates the analogy and considers himself a panentheist. However, he goes on to make “theological corrections” to the analogy because, of course, God must be more than God’s body. Unlike Hartshorne, he asserts, “Beliefs about the nature of God prior to and apart from the universe can never be dictated by anything within the universe…”39 When he writes on the same page that “empirical data become illustrative rather than controlling,” he in effect rejects Hartshorne’s dipolar view and deprives the analogy of its ontological ground.
John Polkinghorne and Arthur Peacocke
John Polkinghorne and Arthur Peacocke are both renowned scientists and also Anglican priests and theologians. While they appreciate the panentheistic analogy, they ultimately disavow it. They discuss the science knowledgeably and in its depths of complexity. They speak of the empirical evidence in nature of what they call “dual-aspect monism” and “whole-part constraint,” respectively. They speak of the influence of God upon the universe, as does clayton, who considers panentheism a matter of “how to conceive God as an agent…since if that fails, theism fails.”40 These men clearly are exploring whether it is plausible to think of the world as a whole to have an influence upon its parts analogous to the way human and animal agents have an influence upon their bodies.
But the analogy does not support agency as conceived by Clayton. Without ontological grounding, in terms of physical causation, such an agency would be an intervention. Hartshorne’s dipolar theism does not claim this. In his view God does not act as a finite cause. God acts as only God can act, universally as object for all subjects and subject of all objects. “On some level,” Hartshorne says, “God is always directly given. To be simply unaware of deity I hold to be impossible, even for the lower animals….To experience anything whatever is already, in some sense, to have God as datum.”41 However, of divine knowledge of the universe he writes, “It is one thing to know what, in principle, we mean by divine experience as such; it is another to know the concrete fullness of an actual divine experience as it possesses the entire actual cosmos, with its inconceivably vast past and present. Here we have not even a clear analogy.”42
The whole-part constraint, of which Peacocke writes, pertains to the world-as-a-whole in relation to the parts of the whole where there is a two-way causal influence between them. In his mind plausibility is lent to this idea by science’s new awareness of self-organizing systems, such as in the Bénard phenomenon. He speaks of God “as a unifying, unitive source and centered influence on events on the world.”43 In all of this Peacocke approaches Hartshorne’s dipolar panentheism. He likes the analogy and seems to suggest that there might be empirical evidence of such influence by the world-whole because these phenomena have evolved in natural systems, that the universe might be evolving such a unity for itself. Of course, this is not Peacocke’s view, because special relativity prohibits any observation of the universe as a whole, and for him God eternally has a personal unity.
In a similar way, John Polkinghorne has espoused views almost entirely consonant with Hartshorne’s views, appreciative of the panentheistic analogy. He proposes that there is no longer talk of proving the existence of God, as theistic arguments are not logically coercive. Yet talk of God need not be naïvely anthropomorphic; analogy and metaphor are useful locutions in theology. Arguments from the law-like nature of the universe, as contrasted with specific events, contribute intelligibility, and theistic views can offer “an insightful account of what is going on.” Theism does not rival scientific explanation but complements it “by setting it within a wider and more profound context of understanding.”44 In this he appreciates the role metaphysics plays in the discussion. Physicalism informs metaphysics without excluding holistic insights. Self-organization in nonequilibrium physics, he writes, is no reason to treat agency as if it were physics. In proposing a “dual-aspect monism” Polkinghorne refers to the complementary influence of intentional and physical causation, even arguing that God has a temporal as well as an eternal pole.45 Like Peacocke, Polkinghorne sees the plausibility of dual-aspect monism in light of the evolution of consciousness and topdown causation. He writes,
Bearing in mind that all conscious knowledge, even of the physical world, is appropriated mentally, such an even handed treatment of mind and matter seems absolutely essential if we are to frame a credible account of our experience. That unconscious atoms have combined to give rise to conscious beings is the most striking example known to us of the hierarchical firuitfulness of our universe, in which there is a nesting and ascending order of being, corresponding to the transitions from physics to biology to psychology to anthropology and sociology.46
Also with Peacocke in respect for special relativity, Polkinghorne has asserted that there is “a single physical reality” while admitting with Penrose his perplexity about “how the cloudy quantum domain is related to the clear world of our everyday experience.”47
So for Clayton, Polkinghorne, and Peacocke the panentheistic analogy with human agency lends intelligibility to the notion of divine agency in the world; God acts in ways similar to the way human beings act upon their bodies. This is very much like Hartshorne, who argues that the organic-social analogy is the only informative analogy because we have no knowledge of what matter experiences and because we have experience on both sides of the social analogy: we know others and know we are known by others.48 This analogy has been informative also for Oxford philosopher Richard Swinburne, who speaks of “basic actions,” which are “something which an agent just does, does not do by doing anything else,” such as “[b]ringing about the motion of our arms or legs, lips, or eyes, or eyebrows, etc.”49 We all know what he is talking about; this is the value of the analogy. However, he is using the analogy in support of his commitment to traditional theism. He applies the analogy only in respect to some of the traditional attributes, and does not attempt to claim that God meets all of his own criteria of basic actions. In addition, he does not admit of any influence of the body on God. The divine omnipotence is such that the divine “simplicity” in the form of the divine perfect freedom as independence and power subverts the ontological basis of the analogy. Intelligibility is conferred by the rhetorical power of the body metaphor and its related panentheistic analogy, but its ontological basis in a specifiable actuality of God (the universe), and so its plausibility, is lacking.
So Swinburne, Polkinghorne, Peacocke, and Clayton are concerned with a type of panentheism different from Hartshorne’s dipolar type. Perhaps Polkinghorne’s is closest to it when he says of his dual-aspect monistic world that “God cannot touch our minds without, simultaneously and inextricably, in some way touching our bodies as well.”50 He writes, also, “In some sense there must be gaps in the bottom-up account which…top-down action fills in, but those gaps must be intrinsic and ontological in character and not just contingent ignorances of the details of the bottom-up process.”51 Hartshorne might say that the ontological gap is provided by culture, the historical matrix of the second type of ontic status of God’s actuality. Nevertheless, the process view is problematic for Polkinghorne: “God, in any case, is not embodied in the universe and there does not seem to be any reason why God’s interaction with the creation should not be purely in the form of active information. This would correspond to the divine nature being pure spirit…”52 Still, there is no basis in actuality provided for this transfer of information spiritually; no spatial or temporal relation is provided.
This is also the case with Peacocke’s view. He argues that to speak of God’s action is to speak metaphorically. In support of this he writes, “For, in a human being, the ‘I’ does not transcend the body ontologically in the way that God transcends the world and must therefore be an influence on the world-state from ‘outside’ in the sense of having a distinctively different ontological status.”53 Six years later he writes that this “ontological gap between the world and God is located simply everywhere in space and time.”54 Nevertheless, he embraces panentheism, writing, “God is best conceived of as the circumambient Reality enclosing all existing entities, structures and processes; and as operating in and through all, while being more than all. Hence, all that is not God has its existence within God’s operation and Being.”55 This is very close to Hartshorne’s view, in which genetic identity specifies the “more” than the world that is God; but in the strict identity of God there is nothing that is not God. The difference is suggested, as with Polkinghorne, when Peacocke does not “postulate” that the world is God’s body because “God’s Being is distinct from all created beings in a way that we are not distinct from our bodies.”56 In a similar way Swinburne writes, “God will have no body; he does not depend on matter to affect and learn about the world.”57 For Hartshorne the necessary existence of God with the world ontologically grounds the use of both the metaphor (the world as God’s body) and the analogy (the universe has a personal order that is divine).
In such a way these authors reject the mind-body analogy despite their use of it to elucidate their views. They have used the analogy to make their views intelligible, but they have not supplied the metaphysical basis of the analogy that makes them plausible. They do not affirm the ontological relation that attributes to God a strict identity, making their use of the panentheistic analogy incoherent and merely rhetorical. Their views provide no specifiable actuality of God.
A Sustainable Theism and Critical Inquiry
These brief concluding remarks about a method of inquiry into the meaning of claims made by believers who speak of God and gods, Goddess and goddesses, and into the truth of these claims, are, as might be expected, suggested by the views Hartshorne has expressed about God. Throughout his life he has pursued his own inquiry into theism in such a way that the question has not been begged but rather kept open. Hartshorne may be thought to have begged the question when he adopts Anselm’s proposal that God is to be conceived to be a being so great that none greater can be conceived, namely, a being (an actuality) who cannot be conceived not to exist. I suggest he has not begged the question when he argues, in effect, that to think of God as possibly not existing as actual is not to have conceived of God at all. For this has not proved God’s existence, as Hartshorne has granted, even in the form of the ontological argument. What this does is provide an understanding of God that can be a benchmark in the debate about theism. On one hand, it respects the claims of theists of all kinds without special pleading in behalf of any particular kind. Hartshorne’s theism is one among many kinds. No theist can espouse theism in general. Every theist must espouse a specific theism, one in which God is named and described. On the other hand, Hartshorne’s theism respects the claims of nontheists of all kinds because their arguments are dependent upon the kinds of theism they deny, the names and descriptions involved in them. Not every theist or nontheist may be capable of giving an account of the type of theism she accepts or rejects, but analysis can disclose the types involved and a critique can be made.
Hartshorne has discussed the word “God” as a name and has provided a description. The description is called by various terms: “dipolarity,” “transcendent relativity,” and “dual transcendence.” The description identifies God as necessarily existing in some actual world, though not necessarily in this world, which is contingent. This is the strict identity of God. This is the ontic status of God as actual. In the course of evolution some human beings have adopted god-talk, Hartshorne would contend, on the ontological basis of their intuition of God in the cosmic and terrestrial processes.58 So as a matter of meaning, his idea is coherent with the fact that human beings have intuited, in their several ways, the divinity of the universe. God has a second type of ontic status as actual in this god-talk by which God, with some description or other, is intentionally named as “God.” This is the use by believers, or mention by believers and nonbelievers, of the divine name with whatever description that may or may not be in their minds. Both name and description are required if any actuality of God is to be specified. With Hartshorne’s benchmark description in place, itself able to be criticized, theistic inquiry can proceed to subject all theistic descriptions-employed both in affirmation and in denial-to critical inquiry. In such a way, inquiry into theism becomes an ongoing and open-ended process.
Hartshorne, we should point out, thinks as a philosopher and is not committed to the traditional Christian theism of Clayton, Swinburne, Peacocke, and Polkinghorne. We may also conclude that these men think in terms of “faith in search of understanding,” as do several theologians who explore panentheism in In Whom We Live and Move and Have Our Being.59 They maintain an ontological dualism between God and the universe. Inquiry for them is not so open-ended.
Clayton, Peacocke, and Polkinghorne embrace the panentheistic analogy enthusiastically, and Swinburne less so. They discuss the mind-body relation similarly. Peacocke and Polkinghorne make very strong affirmations of an intimate God-universe relation. Polkinghorne espouses a method very similar to Hartshorne’s when the former writes, “theology will want to exercise its own autonomy. But in constructing the metaphysical backing for its discourse, theology will wish to take careful account of what science can suggest about the process of the world and the character of its causal nexus. Physics does not determine metaphysics, but it can certainly constrain it.”60 Peacocke recently has written, “we have to conceive now of God giving existence to all entities, structures, and processes ‘all the time’ and to all times as each moment, for us, unfolds. They would not be if God was not.”61 The panentheistic analogy lends intelligibility to theology informed by empirical investigation of complex systems. Yet I believe this is not to provide plausibility so long as there is an ontological gap.
Hartshorne’s dipolar panentheism differs significantly from that of the other thinkers discussed in this paper. How God is more than just the universe is an issue for his view that will require more discussion. I interpret this “more” to be the genetic identity of the universe as divine residing in the dimension of time. Analogically speaking, all events in the universe contribute to the divine life and awareness. This includes the puzzling events on the microcosmic (quantum) as well as those on the macrocosmic (classical) dimensions.62 Hartshorne considers these two dimensions as one physical reality, the universe, of which sentient and mental experience are parts. All cosmic, terrestrial, and historical events literally are the divine “strict identity” by means of what he terms the divine “modal coincidence” with the universe.63 In this way Hartshorne’s dipolar panentheism lends plausibility to belief in a personal God intimately related to us and to all creatures.
1 Charles Harvey Arnold, God Before You and Behind You: The Hyde Park Union Church through a Century 1874-1974 (Chicago: Hyde Park Union Church, 1974), 159.
2 George Burman Foster, “Professor George B. Foster on Dr. Ames’ New Book,” The Christian Century 35, no. 41, October 24, 1918, 17.
3 Foster, “Concerning the Truth of Religious Ideas,” The Biblical World 41 (1913): 65.
4 Gregory R. Peterson, “Whither Panentheism?” Zygon: Journal of Religion and Science 36, no. 3 (2001): 395-405. See also Edgar A. Towne, ‘The Variety of Panentheisms,” Zygon 40, no. 3 (2005): 779-86. See note 59.
5 Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, trans. Norman Kemp Smith (London: Macmillan and Company, 1958), 500-7.
6 Hartshorne’s treatment of the meaning of the word “God” is interpretable in terms of Bertrand Russell’s theory of descriptions because the divine dipolarity enables God to be considered the unique individual able to be identified by a name only. See Bertrand Russell, “Descriptions,” in Classics of Analytic Philosophy, ed. Robert R. Ammerman (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1965), 15-24.
7 St, Anselm, Basic Writings, trans. S. W. Deane (LaSalle, Ill.: Open Court, 1962), 10.
8 The “use-mention” language here derives from Gottlob Frege (see John Passmore, A Hundred Years of Philosophy [London: Gerald Duckworth and Co., 1966], 152-57). Perhaps this distinction may resemble the mention of the word “God” by unbelievers and its use by believers. But Hartshorne and Anselm require us to acknowledge that both believers and unbelievers may not be talking about God at all when they employ the word “God” in their speaking and writing, such as when they imply that God might not exist.
9 The Oxford English Dictionary (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989), 11:1011.
10 Peter Berger, A Rumor of Angels: Modem Society and the Rediscovery of the Supernatural (Garden City, N.Y.: Anchor Books, 1970), 34.
11 Berger and Thomas Luckmann, The Social Construction of Reality: A Treatise in the Sociology of Knowledge (Garden City, N.Y.: Anchor Books, 1967), 87.
12 There is always a potential struggle between orthodoxy and dissent in belief. It is only potential because any social order based on the equality of all persons participating, or an inquiring community based on critical-rational-empirical and ethical principles, should ideally be free of that struggle. However, when persons seek to control interpretation and belief, as distinguished from benign institutional maintenance, an “orthodoxy” of their kind is created.
13 Sharon Linzey Georgianna, The Moral Majority and Fundamentalism (Lewiston, N.Y.: Edwin Mellen Press, 1989). Georgianna interviewed the Rev. Gregory J. Dixon, who was then pastor of the Indianapolis Baptist Temple and active with the Rev. Jerry Falwell in the Moral Majority. In 1980-81 I participated in radio programs with Dixon. These are conserved in audiotapes and six hundred pages of transcriptions in the archives of Christian Theological Seminary. See Towne, “Fundamentalism’s Theological Challenge to the Churches,” in Fundamentalism Today: What Makes It So Attractive? ed. Maria Selvidge (Elgin: Brethren Press, 1984), 31-45.
14 Wade Clark Roof, Community and Commitment: Religious Plausibility in a Liberal Protestant Church (New York: Elsewein North-Holland, Inc., 1978), 150.
15 Ibid., 106.
16 Christina Grenholm and Daniel Patte, eds., Reading Israel in Romans: Legitimacy and Plausibility of Divergent Interpretations (Harrisburg: Trinity Press International, 2000), 6-10.
17 Ibid., 2.
18 Wesley J. Wildman, Fidelity with Plausibility: Modest Christologies in the Twentieth Century (Albany: SUNY Press, 1998), xviii.
19 Gordon D. Kaufman, The Theological Imagination: Constructing the Concept of God (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1981), 53.
20 Kaufman, God the Problem (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1972), 15, 14.
21 Ibid., 155n11. Kaufman has developed a creative and plausible combination of naturalism and pragmatism. See Towne, “Imaginative Construction in Theology: An Aesthetic Approach,” American Journal of Theology and Philosophy 19, no. 1 (1998): 77-103.
22 Roger Penrose, Shadows of the Mind: A Search for the Missing Science of Consciousness (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994), 236.
23 John Polkinghorne, “Physical Process, Quantum Events, and Divine Agency,” in Quantum Mechanics: Scientific Perspectives on Divine Action, ed. Robert John Russell, et al. (Vatican City State and Berkeley: Vatican Observatory Publications and Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences, 2001), 181.
24 Charles Hartshorne, “The Idea of God-Literal or Analogical?” The Christian Scholar 29 (1956): 134.
25 Hartshorne, Reality as Social Process: Studies in Metaphysics and Religion (Glencoe: The Free Press, 1953), 174-75.
26 Hartshorne, Beyond Humanism: Essays in the Philosophy of Nature (Chicago: Willet, Clark and Co., 1937), 292.
27 Hartshorne, Reality as Social Process, 172.
28 Hartshorne, Man’s Vision of God, and the Logic of Theism (New York: Harper and Row, 1941), 67.
29 John J. Compton, “Science and God’s Action in Nature,” in Earth Might Be Fair: Reflections on Ethics, Religion, and Ecology, ed. Ian G. Barbour (Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, 1972), 37.
30 Towne, Two Types of New Theism: Knowledge of God in the Thought of Paul Tillich and Charles Hartshorne (New York: Peter Lang, 1997), 204-53.
31 Towne, “Theological Education and Empirical Theology: Bernard M. Loomer at the University of Chicago,” The Journal of Religion 84, no. 2 (2004): 212-33.
32 Hartshorne, Aquinas to Whitehead: Seven Centuries of Metaphysics of Religion (Milwaukee: Marquette University Publications, 1976), 4.
33 With Anselm, Hartshorne holds that the necessary existence of God entails God’s existence in actuality-the universe, for example-and what ever exists in actuality is more than merely possible. See Towne, “Semantics and Hartshorne’s Dipolar Theism,” Process Studies 28, nos. 3-4 (1999): 231-54.
34 Hartshorne, “The Formal Validity and Real Significance of the Ontological Argument,” The Philosophical Review 53 (1944): 226.
35 Hartshorne, “Is God’s Existence a State of Affairs?” in Faith and the Philosophers, ed. John Hick (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1964), 27.
36 Philip Clayton, Explanation from Physics to the Philosophy of Religion: Continuities and Discontinuities (PhD diss., Yale University, 1986), 253.
37 Clayton, “On the Value of the Panentheistic Analogy: A Response to Willem Drees,” Zygon 35, no. 3 (2000): 703.
38 Clayton, “The case for Christian Panentheism,” Dialogue 37, no. 3 (1998): 206.
39 Clayton, God and Contemporary Science (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1997), 259; author’s emphasis.
40 Clayton, “On the Value of the Panentheistic Analogy,” 702.
41 Hartshorne, “Is God’s Existence a State of Affairs?” 31; author’s emphasis
42 Hartshorne, “Process as Inclusive Category,” The Journal of Philosophy 52 (1955): 99.
43 Arthur Peacocke, “God’s Interaction with the World: The Implications of Deterministic ‘Chaos’ and of Interconnected and Interdependent Complexity,” in Chaos and Complexity: Scientific Perspectives on Divine Action, ed. Robert John Russell, Nancey Murphy, and Arthur Peacocke (Vatican City State and Berkeley: Vatican Observatory and Center for the Study of Theology and the Natural Sciences, 1995), 285.
44 Polkinghorne, Belief in God in an Age of Science (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998), 10-11.
45 Polkinghorne, “The Metaphysics of Divine Action,” in Chaos and Complexity, 154-56.
46 Polkinghorne, Belief in God in an Age of Science, 50.
47 Polkinghorne, “Physical Process, Quantum Events, and Divine Agency,” 181.
48 Hartshorne, Man’s Vision of God, 204-5, 217.
49 Richard Swinburne, The Existence of God, rev. ed. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1991), 32, 33.
50 Polkinghorne, Belief in God in an Age of Science, 54.
51 Ibid., 59.
52 Polkinghorne, “The Metaphysics of Divine Action,” 155-56.
53 Peacocke, “God’s Interaction with the World,” 285.
54 Peacocke, Paths from Science towards God: The End of All Our Exploring (Oxford: Oneworld Publications, 2001), 110.
55 Ibid., 139. This is a strong statement, considering that Peacocke had earlier criticized process theology for a stress too near pantheism when it overemphasizes God’s total receptivity to all events (Peacocke, Theology for a Scientific Age: Being and Becoming-Natural, Divine and Human [London: SCM Press, 1993]; Peacocke, “Complexity, Emergence, and Divine Creativity,” in From Complexity to Life: On the Emergence of Life and Meaning, ed. Niels Henrik Gregersen [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003]).
56 Ibid., 109.
57 Swinburne, Is There a God? (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996), 10.
58 Hartshorne, Beyond Humanism, 122.
59 Clayton and Peacocke, eds., In Whom We Live and Move and Have Our Being: Panentheistic Reflections on God’s Presence in a Scientific World (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2004). See my review of this work referenced in note 4.
60 Polkinghorne, “Physical Process, Quantum Events, and Divine Agency,” 188.
61 Peacocke, “Complexity, Emergence, and Divine Creativity,” 198. Conceiving these processes to be the activity of God, Peacocke espouses a theistic naturalism (199). Nevertheless, he writes, “Although the world is in one sense ‘in’ God, as panentheistically understood, yet God is ontologically distinct from it-there being an ontological gap everywhere and at all times between God and the world” (199).
62 See Amir D. Aczel, Entanglement: The Unlikely Story of How Scientists, Mathematicians, and Philosophers Proved Einstein’s Spookiest Theory (New York: Plume, 2003), and Antje Jackelén, Time and Eternity: The Question of Time in Church, Science, and Theology (Philadelphia: Templeton Foundation Press, 2005), 149-59.
63 Hartshorne, The Logic of Perfection, and Other Essays in Neoclassical Metaphysics (LaSalle, Ill.: Open Court, 1962), 38.
Edgar A. Towne
Professor of Theology, Emeritus
Christian Theological Seminary
Copyright Christian Theological Seminary Summer 2006
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