IEP on Hartshorne and Unchangeableness

A selection from the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy’s article Charles Hartshorne: Dipolar Theism. I’m a fan of process philosophy/theology. It’s been a years-long journey to fully understand what exactly is being proposed by Hartshorne, but I’m confident now in both my understanding and the value of process theology.

…some forms of value—aesthetic qualities in particular—do not admit of a maximum. Just as it is impossible to speak of a greatest possible positive integer, so it may be impossible to speak of a greatest possible beauty. The fact that Mozart’s music achieved a new level of beauty does not mean that there was nothing left for Beethoven to do. Another analogy is interpersonal relationships. It is a good thing to be flexible in one’s responses to others. The ideal is not unchangeableness; it is, rather, adequate response to the needs of others. It is true that stability and reliability of character are desirable. But this means, in part, that the person can be relied upon to respond in ways appropriate to each situation, and responsiveness is a kind of change. The analogy is particularly appropriate in the divine case since there are always new creatures to which God must respond and hence there is no upper limit to the values associated with these relationships, for each is as unique as the individuals with whom God is related.

On Process Theology

I’ve been reading a good bit about Process Theology lately. Lots of essays online, and John Cobb’s Process Theology.

I like Process Theology (and Process Philosophy) because I find it to be honest about our actual, real-world experiences, and to not depart from that honesty when hypothesizing about God and the nature of ultimate reality.

I was talking to friend about this last night. It’s hard to explain—I’m not sure he was following, though he’s one of the most intelligent and open-minded people I know.

In that light, I’m writing some points below. I haven’t had time to synthesize all of this yet—at least, not in writing. But there’s no harm in laying out pieces of the whole before I’m able to explain it all concisely and coherently.

  1. Our thinking about religion depends on our prereflective beliefs about ultimate reality. No one can honestly reference Scripture alone as the foundation for their entire metaphysical outlook. Our interpretations of Scripture (and other religious artifacts) depend, necessarily, on our prereflective beliefs about ultimate reality. In my view, process theology takes this more seriously than other theologies I’ve encountered. It unifies metaphysical speculations with theological speculations—for many process philosophers and process theologians, those two things are in perfect harmony and, some may even say, one in the same thing.
  2. We really have no mental apparatus for comprehending the claims we make about God’s omnipotence. We say He is “all-powerful,” but I think we often fall into the trap of anthropomorphizing that power and envisioning his omnipotence as what it might look like if a human being had omnipotence—that is, unemcumbered coercive power to enact anything that pops into our mind. This would be human omnipotence, maybe, but what is “power” in the context of infinity? What does “power” mean when one (God), supposedly, has no inhibitions whatsoever on the enacting of his will? God’s omnipotence is not just the pole of some power spectrum. It’s an entirely different sort of power—one that, in my view, invites a host of alternative interpretations of God’s power over the universe. Specifically, interpretations (like process theology) that don’t involve implicating Him in evil.
  3. God isn’t a male. God is not a human. God is not embodied. But we speak about “Him” (male) taking human-like actions (speaking) to influence our dimension (embodied). We aren’t mistaken in doing so—the fact is, we simply can’t talk about God without making drastic simplifications. Sometimes, I think, we end up drawing inferences from oversimplifications, forgetting that our claims about God are imperfect. Inferring new ideas from imperfect descriptors, and then inferring new ideas on top of those, causes confusion. It’s a form of imagination, not reasoning. In my view, process theology doesn’t make this error. It acknowledges that omnipotence plus omnipresence are attributes (or even the definition) of God, but acknowledges also our inability to comprehend the gravity of those ideas, or really to have any useful conception of them at all (ones that advance our understanding, rather than just confuse us).

More to come on this subject.

Hartshorne on God

From what I understand, Charles Hartshorne broke the first ground on synthesizing Alfred North Whitehead’s process philosophy into some kind of digestible theology.

The following selection comes from his book Omnipotence and Other Theological Mistakes (1984).

In Plato’s Republic one finds the proposition: God, being perfect, cannot change (not for the better, since “perfect” means that there can be no better; not for the worse, since ability to change for the worse, to decay, degenerate, or become corrupt, is a weakness, an imperfection). The argument may seem cogent, but it is so only if two assumptions are valid: that it is possible to conceive of a meaning for “perfect” that excludes change in any and every respect and that we must conceive God as perfect in just this sense.

Charles Hartshorne

I’ve been more or less obsessed with process philosophy/theology lately. I’ll explain why in a later post.