Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Process Theism

It strikes me as manifestly obvious that the position of theism has been by the ever mounting critique of skepticism reduced to such a significant extent that what is now left is hardly anything more than a faint wisp of belief.

That is, essentially, the history. Of the once overwhelming, omnipotent, omniscient deity – or deities depending on the culture – so portrayed, there now exists, due to the ever expanding library of human knowledge, only the vague, vestigial conception of a deity surrendered to the last boundaries of as yet unattained human knowledge.

So, for example, restricting myself to the religion of Christianity, god was once and in fact continues to be seen by vast populations as an invisible-super-intelligence capable of, among other things, intentionally physically altering the nature of the universe on a large scale – possibly wiping up a hurricane in response to an increased acceptance of homosexuality or dissolving a tumor residing in a child’s brain, while at the same time allowing thousands more to be born with painful deformities and dying of vicious diseases – whereas now, in articulate circles, the conception has been reduced to a god limited in power and ability; as process theology says: “Not even divine power can guarantee that accidents will never happen or that tragedies will never occur.”

It appears to me that process theism is something a bit like an amalgamation of neo-Hegelian pantheism, where god resides within or is the entirety of the ever expanding and unfolding universe and reality. However, there remains no serious or definitive explanation of the nature of god outside of the claim that god is “a cosmically all-inclusive being-in-becoming” whose attributes include being “supreme in power, knowledge, and goodness,” while also embodying “other-relatedness” and “dual transcendence.” With such vague descriptions of the invisible and conscious entity-force we are to accept as god, process theism appears to have reduced the concept to a thin specter of virtual nothingness; although, to be fair, it is as coherent a definition of god as any. Furthermore, the evidence of such a god is effectively nonexistent while the logic, as Hartshorne concedes, does not prove such a god exists.

The fundamental flaw in process theology, in the final analysis, is that it strives “to frame a coherent, logical, necessary system of ideas in terms of which every element of our experience can be interpreted,” claims Whitehead. Process theology must necessarily accept that human nature is as such that it will be possible for humans to accurately and completely interpret “every element of our experience;” a position for which I can find neither an historical precedent nor any indication that the future shall prove to be different.


melloncollie said...

Whenever I believed in God in the past, it was always the more distant, limited-power God of Harold Kushner and other non-Orthodox rabbis. That God always gelled with my personal feelings more than the God of Orthodoxy because the concept stems from collective personal feelings instead of supposed revelation. I liked it when they talked about their ideas of God, but I always resented it when they talked about what God's power is and what God can do as if they have special knowledge when they were really just sharing their opinions.

I know that's not exactly what your blog post is about, but process theism definitely influenced these rabbis. The problem I have with their ideas is that they're almost as arbitrary and planned-out as traditional theology. When I believed in God, it was because I just did. I didn't need people to come up with all these definitions of spirit and soul and all these examples of what God can and cannot do.

God was a mystery. I liked it that way. Process theism might be more sophisticated than more traditional forms of theology, but it's still just theologians talking about things they can't possibly know.

melloncollie said...

I love what you wrote, btw!!

JDHURF said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
JDHURF said...

You are entirely correct when you point out that the rabbis who discuss god’s power and ability, as though they were had any more special information on this subject than everyone else, are doing nothing more than experssing their opinion; an opinion based upon faith, of the sort that is not so humble or modest, rather than reason.

Thank you for stopping by and commenting, it is always appreciated.

Renegade Eye said...

What a great hook shot; if God is a mystery, how is it that you know so much about it? What a great argument.

Paul said...

Another possible way of describing this same phenomenon might be to say that the world views of atheists and religious progressives are growing closer together, with more in common than either of these groups has with fundamentalists.

JDHURF said...

I agree with you Paul. While there is no evidentiary or compelling logical basis for accepting process theism, it is far and away more respectable and tolerable than fundamentalism of any sort. I can get along just fine with people who believe in a sort of process theism. In fact, many of my comrades are religious and their religiosity usually never poses a problem. It is primarily the fundamentalists, and the liberal theists and secularists defending the taboo against religious criticism, who wish to impose their dogmas on others who pose a threat to any open and free society. In many cases I find that my religious comrades stand in solidarity along side me in such cases, excellent.

renegade eye:
To give credit where credit is due, the argument is a classic one; going back, off the top of my head, at least to Freud's The Future of an Illusion. It is a rather solid argument and I have never seen even an attempted response to it.

Thank you both for stopping by and commenting.

melloncollie said...

Also, I like your observation that where direct democracy has existed, peoples' moral behavior has been admirable.