Scientific Discovery & Process Theology

Scientific Discovery and Whitehead’s ‘Consequent Nature of God’ in an Integration Model

Over the course of a long life spent exploring the relationship of science and religion, Ian G. Barbour (1923-2013) mapped four models of interactions between scientists and theologians: conflict, independence, dialogue, and integration.[1] Conflict describes the epic clash of perspectives evident in media hype at least since John William Draper’s 1874 publication of the dramatic History of the Conflict Between Religion and Science, [2] coming as it did in the wake of the intellectual ferment surrounding Charles Darwin’s 1859 publication of the Origin of Species.[3]Indeed, versions of the conflict model date back the combative temperaments of the early Enlightenment, especially in France,[4] or perhaps even to Lucretius’ exclusion of active gods from De natura rerum.[5] More recently, irenic spirits have advocated an independence model, often in conjunction with linguistic theories that portray science and religion as separate languages with difference registers for the description of reality, with religion restricted to “God talk.”[6] More difficult, but also more productive, are the third and fourth options. Both dialogue and integration require scientists and theologians to exert themselves across the interdisciplinary boundaries, but the latter is most difficult because integration requires more than mutual respect and intellectual borrowing. True integration (as the name implies) involves building a place for science within the parameters of a specific theology, and vice versa. One stance that has from its inception sought to meld theism and science is process theology, and one of the most striking side effects of process philosophy North Whitehead’s notion of the consequent nature of God: in short, for a divinity identified with creativity, the consequent nature is the a posteriori preservation within the divine essence of all the events and ideas (even the unrealized hopes and only-ever-potentialities) occurring during time’s unfolding as the creative activity flowing from the divinity’s a priori primordial nature. As a sort of apocatastasis within linear time rather than a final eschaton, the consequent nature would seemingly safeguard the kernels of all the thwarted dreams of intellectual inquiry. In an intellectual environment in which pure science increasingly faces challenges both from hostile activists and from reduced public support, taking risky experimental steps vital to new breakthroughs becomes increasingly risky, an invitation to self-immolate and add one’s career to the long list of lost causes dotting intellectual history. Without actually committing myself to Whitehead’s schema, I want to conduct a bit of a thought experiment and ask: Within Barbour’s integration model, is there any psychological sustenance to be found in Whitehead’s notion that all creativity activity is preserved, inscribed within a receptive, preservative God?

But why bother with this notional at all? In recent decades, process theology has, for better or worse, been a key locus for interchange between science and religion.[7] Process philosophy as a movement began in the 1920s with Alfred North Whitehead (1861-1947) and his “philosophy of organism,”[8] but it was the unorthodox theologian John B. Cobb, Jr., (b. 1925) whose A Christian Natural Theology pioneered the application of process philosophy to theology proper.[9] Cobb’s reliance on Whitehead matters for science and religion because Whitehead spent the years 1914-1924 focused almost exclusively to philosophy of science;[10]. Whitehead devoted considerable effort to the geometry of physical space.[11] He even developed an alternative to Einstein’s theory of relativity.[12] While Whitehead’s scientific theorizing was as controversial as it was complicated,[13] Whitehead’s legacy to process theology is a readiness to engage with science. For scientists, finding a friendly theological partner can be difficult not only because of lingering hostility between some scientists and some theologians, but also because some contemporary theologians have chosen to participate in rather water-down, simplistic versions of the recent turn in the humanities against the Enlightenment rationalism that motivated much early science.[14] Process thought participates in the anti-Enlightenment critique, but not in the associated anti-scientific hostility. “[W]hereas the dominant traditions [in academic theology] see this critique [of the Enlightenment] as freeing theology to function as an independent tradition with little attention to the sciences, the process tradition sees this as an opportunity to reconstruct both theology and the sciences so as to bring them into a new synthesis.” [15] Since Cobb’s talk of a theology-science “synthesis” provides as close a fit to Barbour’s integration model as we are likely to find, in what follows Cobb’s process theology will provide the test case for an exploration of Barbour’s suggestion.

Putting rhetoric into action, Cobb and other process theologians have crossed the academic aisle and published on issues, such as ecology, that are fundamentally integrated within a scientific framework.[16] This appropriation of science for the purposes of theology begs for a writer to consider the converse: what does process theology have to offer the scientist who accepts a process version of the theistic hypothesis? Such theism need to compromise the quality of the scientists’ work; drawing on Barbour’s independence model, it is worth keeping in mind that religion deals with some things that science does not (such as the spiritual motivation for scientific research to which theistic scientists have been known to refer). This paper will take the form of a thought experiment exploring the implications of Alfred North Whitehead’s concept of the consequent nature of God for the significance of the ongoing process of scientific discovery.[17]

Methodological Assumptions

            Before continuing to the heart of this project, a note on methodology is in order. No essay on any theology of any sort can achieve empirical nor theoretical confirmation. The most that can be claimed with certainty for process theology is that it is an influential school of interesting metaphysical speculation informed by a historic faith tradition. This paper will make no attempt, therefore, to make an argumentative case for process thought; rather, I will simply state some of the tenets of process thought and see what the implications of those concepts would be for dialogue between science and religion. If the goal is to explore the implications of a system of thought, the reader must indulge in a philosophical als ob – an as-if “assumption” made so that “further assumption is possible.”[18],[19] Provisional exploration of a point of view “for the sake of argument” is simple mechanism for pushing that argument to its logical conclusions.

            A second preliminary task is a working definition of process theology. While a more complete description will be given below, for now it must suffice to note that process theology arose in the 1960s as a theistic model that situates God within the society of creation and denies the traditional theistic model of an omnipotent, transcendent deity. The intellectual underpinnings of process theology were articulated by Alfred North Whitehead in Process and Reality and elaborated by philosopher Charles Hartshorne and theologian John Cobb, Jr.

Traditional Western Christian theology, following Greek Aristotelianism and Neoplatonism, held that God was impassible: that is, God could not be influenced – emotionally, mentally, or physically – by the creation.   In contrast, the schools of theology influenced by Whitehead (including not only process theists but also open theists such as Jürgen Moltmann[20]) believed that God is passible. That is, God is affected by the creation. A corollary of passibilism is that God’s eternal nature does not preclude God’s experience of the passage of time. If God waits and experiences the passage of time just as do the creatures, then it follows that God is also capable of interest in the future, and, therefore suspense. This claim is controversial among theologians; impassiblist theologians accuse process passibilism of denying divine omnipotence and omniscience.[21] Nevertheless, if the process passibilist interpretation is assumed, it follows that God is interested in and affected by every field of human endeavor, including science.

It is, of course, completely possible (indeed, it is quite common) to do quality science without reference to theology. Yet the skeptics can still recognize that the role of science in religion carries more than academic import. In the Anthropocene, attitudes about science can have a practical effect on medicine, ecology, and intellectual freedom. With the publicity attending Pope Francis I’s 2015 encyclical Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home,[22] and with a burgeoning interest in seminary circles in the development of an “ecological theology,” new opportunities are available for science-religion dialogue.[23] Since process theologians are prominent in the burgeoning eco-theology literature,[24] their movement merits closer consideration to explain why process theology is so attractive to those seeking rapprochement between theology and science.  

 A full answer to the question is beyond the scope of this paper, so in what follows I will focus on the possible effects of process theology on the scientist whose intellectual quest is informed but process theology. Past scientists with theistic inclinations have been informed by concepts such as Robert Boyle’s two books theory, or William Paley’s clock-maker God.[25] These mental images necessarily influenced the way in which they framed their work, and provided key motivation to continue. As physicist Paul Davies argued in his acceptance speech for the 1995 Templeton Prize,

All the early scientists, like Newton, were religious in one way or another. They saw their science as a means of uncovering traces of God’s handiwork in the universe. What we now call the laws of physics they regarded as God’s abstract creation: thoughts, so to speak, in the mind of God. So in doing science, they supposed, one might be able to glimpse the mind of God-an exhilarating and audacious claim.[26]

This   identification of the universe as the Book of Nature, and thus fully known (“written,” as it were) by God a priori. In process thought, it seems plausible that God, even if he/she/it in some way already knows the entirety of the set of facts about nature, nevertheless might experience something new when absorbing the feelings of a human in the process of discovering something about that same fact of nature.

If Whitehead is correct about aesthetic and emotional feeling being among the actual entities eternally preserved within the consequent nature of a passible God, then among the actual occasion captured the satisfaction of every scientist who made a discovery, from the legendary Archimedes’ moment of εὕρηκα to the most recent winner of the Nobel Prize in Physics. In other words: given the assumptions of process theology, is the “mind” (an anthropomorphic figure of speech, of course) of God affected by the results of human intellectual inquiry?

Literature Review

Before continuing, it is necessary to distinguish process theology from process philosophy. Alfred North Whitehead, though a theist, could not be considered orthodox by the standards of any standard Christian creed; he was certainly not a theologian. The semi-retired mathematician who wrote Process and Reality was primarily interested in building a philosophy that could deal with the scientific phenomena of the age of relativity and quantum physics, as well as in answering challenges that had bedeviled philosophers since David Hume. “The fact is that Whitehead wrote relatively little about God and a great deal of his philosophy of organism resolves problems of metaphysics and epistemology inherited from a prior age.”[27]

Whitehead’s philosophical magnum opus is Process and Reality, but those interested in the application of his thought to science and religion would do well to extend their Whitehead reading to Science in the Modern World, Religion in the Making, and Adventures in Ideas.[28] Outside of philosophical circles, Whitehead is known for is collaboration with Bertrand Russell on the three volumes of Principia Mathematica.[29]

It has been suggested suffers that John Cobb’s thought suffers from an overreliance on a singular philosopher, namely Whitehead.  After all, his Christian Natural Theology is subtitled Based on the Thought of Alfred North Whitehead. In fact, however, Cobb represents Whitehead with a significant twist. The reader who takes the time to glass at the first mages will notice A Natural Theologys dedication to “Charles Hartshorne: To whom I owe both my understanding and my love of Whitehead’s philosophy.”[30] This dedicatory “understanding” is critical to understanding the subsequent development of process theology, because Cobb owed as much to Hartshorn as Whitehead. Hartshorne, a student of Whitehead’s at Harvard, confessed his intense appreciation of the older man, to the point of admitting “my primary aim has always been to arrive at truth through Whitehead…more than to ascertain or communicate the truth about Whitehead.”[31] Hartshorne further confessed, “In general I have tended to attribute to other philosophers as many acceptable ideas as possible.”[32]  Indeed, George Lucas, Jr., believes that Hartshorne attributed to Whitehead a great many ideas that were mostly Hartshorne’s.[33] However, there is epistolary evidence that Whitehead was aware of  his American protégé’s work and, while he had some small disagreements, the elder man did not object to the overall drift of Hartshorne’s work.[34] It is true that Hartshorne had the mental independence to reject some features of Whitehead’s thought, such as the concept of “eternal objects,” which he felt recycled Plato’s forms; in addition, he re-wrote some of the details of Whitehead’s “actual entities.”[35] In summary, it can be said while Hartshorne and Whitehead were intellectual allies, Hartshorne gives process philosophy a much more pronounced theistic component.

Rather than equate Cobb with Whitehead, it would be more accurate to say Cobb reflects and yet distorts Whitehead through the lens of Charles Hartshorne’s interpretation of the Whiteheadian corpus. God is an underdeveloped idea in Process and Reality, but Cobb takes the latent hints, mixes them with Hartshorne’s pronouncements, and develops a seminary-ready version of the process God. Looking for theological antecedents for process thought, John Cobb gives a nod to some Baptist theologians at the Divinity School of the University of Chicago whose process thought predated the process label.[36]

As far as philosophical predecessors are concerned, one excellent resource for tracing the origins of process thought is the afore-mentioned Hartshorne critic George Lucas, Jr., whose 1989 work The Rehabilitation of Whitehead provides a helpful counterbalance to the more theological bent of Cobb and his co-religionists. As a philosopher and ethicist with a background in physics, Lucas is at pains to show that Whitehead was not a one-off aberration in the history of philosophy. Cobb and Griffin had already invoked the names of Henri Bergson, Georg W. F. Hegel, and John Dewey[37] in a 1976 theology textbook, but Lucas locates a process tradition reaching from antiquity to the present day. Lucas considers Heraclitus of Ephesus the first process philosopher (and dismisses Charles Hartshorne’s speculation that credit belongs to the heterodox pharaoh Ahkenaton).[38] In the early modern era, Lucas cites Diderot, Schelling, Goethe, Jean-Baptiste de Lamarck, and Pierre-Luis Moreau de Maupertuis as Enlightenment intermediaries of incipient forms of process thought. Lucas and ends with a careful exploration of the thought of Samuel Alexander, Charles Sanders Pierce, and C. Lloyd Morgan. Each of these thinkers advocated evolutionary process schemes amenable to Whitehead’s future directions.[39]

Having established Whitehead within the philosophical mainstream, Lucas has no patience with attempts to drag Whitehead into the shallows of theology. Whitehead’s philosophy, in Lucas’ telling, “has been almost entirely lost in the radical idealistic and personalistic recasting of his philosophy by Hartshorne and by others with strong theological interests—most notably [Lewis S. Ford] and John B. Cobb, Jr.”[40] Lucas’s dismissal of Hartshorne, Cobb, and other religious interpreters reflects a fear common to Whitehead’s admirers among professional philosophers that religious interlopers are undermining Whitehead’s already-tenuous respectability amongst their academic peers. Johns Hopkins professor Victor Lowe agrees that process theologians’ tendency to emphasize Whitehead’s ancillary theistic speculations “may have the effect of lessening the chances that his thought will be appreciated” by mainstream philosophers.[41]

The break between Whitehead’s philosophy and Cobb’s theology is not so sharp as Lucas would like to portray. The roots of the theological rendition become more apparent when Whitehead is viewed through early interpreters such as Burgers,[42] Christian,[43] Leclerc,[44] Lowe,[45] and Hawthorne.[46]. Burgers, who omitted God from his interpretation of Whitehead, nevertheless found himself admitting that in doing so he was deviating from Whitehead.[47] Lowe notes “that Whitehead does not in fact often speak of theology”[48] and quotes Whitehead to the effect that “religion is the last refuge of human savagery.”[49]  Yet Lowe also describes Whitehead’s view of religion as the highest manifestations of love and aesthetic fulfillment.[50] It is with Hartshorne’s theological interpretation of creativity in process thought[51] that a coherent theology begins to emerge from Whitehead’s vague panentheism.[52]

The theology that arises from Hartshorne’s interpretation is deeply related to science. For Hartshorne, the key innovation of Whiteheadian theology is the connection of God to the world. The problem of previous Western theology, according to Hawthorne, was that the traditional interpretation of the transcendence of God created a gap between God and the rest of the cosmos. As a result, “the relation of God to the world was never really faced, because the universe, the whole formed by God and the world, was scarcely admitted as a topic for discussion.”[53] By reuniting God and the physical world, process theology incidentally reunited the realms of theology and science. If God is in the cosmos, then cosmology becomes at once an interdisciplinary effort between scientists and theologians. Given that process theology demands the contributions of scientists to fully understand its subject matter, that the Hartshornian interpretation of Whitehead makes process theology an interesting candidate for testing Barbour’s integration model.

Process Theology in Relation to Science

From its beginnings with Whitehead, process thinkers have looked to establish a common ground of understanding with scientists. Whitehead saw religion and science as springing from the same basic human needs of reconciling “conceptual experiences” with emotion (religion) and intellect (science), but focused on different “phases” of those experiences.[54] As Whitehead’s thought has evolved into process theology, the result has been a philosophical form of theism that downplays some features of classical theology that are difficult to explain in scientific terms. Doctrines such as personal immortality (although process thought does not preclude this belief, either), ex nihilo creationism, and an all-powerful God whose whim might make science and rationality moot can all be dispensed with.  Process theology does provide a naturalist species of immortality as an eternal object within the evolving universe, and it replaces a miraculous creation myth with an account of ongoing creativity within nature as the status quo of a scientifically-describable universe.[55] The resulting theological brew generates some theological conundrums of its own, but critique will be left for this essay’s penultimate section.

A Panentheist Process God

The science-process connection has been strengthened by process theologians’ denial of the traditional Thomist conception of God as an Unmoved Mover who works on the universe from the outside.[56] This Thomist conception leads to a God separated from the world. Process thought also rejects pantheism; the pantheist identification of the universe with God reduces the scientific study of the cosmos to a kind of magic. In contrast, Hartshorne called Whitehead’s compromise God panentheist; that is, God-in-the-world.[57] By embedding God within the cosmos and making the divine subject to causation, the process theologians propose a God-concept that is subject to the causes studied by science (even if the divine per se remains beyond scientific analysis). The Enlightenment Clockwork Creator ruled the creatures from a distance, his presence (barring supernatural revelation) deducible by implication from the divine fiat visible in the universe via natural law. The process God, in contrast, is caught in the warp and woof of the universe along with the creatures. God is at the mercy of the same natural laws as are his creatures, since both God and nature are generated by the underlying ground of creativity. Given that God and the universe form part of the same system, the universe assists in the creation of its creator. Whitehead’s student Charles Hartshorne explains:

Not only is each human being a “self-created creature” but every individual is, in some slight degree at least, self-creative, a maker of its own decisions, and so of itself… [Whitehead] combines this with the Socinian insight that a self-creative creature must also create something in God, for we who make something in ourselves make something in the knowledge of all those who know us, and so make them to a certain extent.… Since God knows all creatures, and a creature is merely an inferior case of what in God is supreme self-creativity, all creatures whatsoever are in part creators of something in God. Whitehead refers to God as Creature, or to the divine Consequent Nature—God as consequent upon or partly created by the world…To be is to create oneself and thereby to influence the self-creation of those by whom one is known, including God.[58]

Contra Aristotle, then, God is no unmoved mover outside the sphere of the world; rather God is moved within the world by the world. God’s role as the world’s initial creative entity is called the primordial nature of God by process theologians, while the subsequent effects of the world on God are known as the consequent nature of God. It is this consequent nature, and its consequences for that subset of creative creatures known as “scientists,” that will concern us.

Mechanics of Process: Subjects, Actual Entities, and Prehension

Per Whitehead’s own analysis, the four “notions” that are unique to his system are the concepts labeled actual entity, the ontological principle, prehension, and nexus.[59] “Actual entities”[60] are “the final real things of which the world is made up.”[61] Because Whitehead’s panpsychism, he needs no further explanation for mental reality. If the inherently sentient nature of matter is assumed, then God, the human mind, tigers, grass, rocks, mud, electrons, neutrons, and “the most trivial puff of existence in far-off empty space” can belong to the same category of reality.[62] The material reductionist will reject mind-imbued matter out of hand, but even an idealist might object that Whitehead’s basic substance leaves no space for the laws of science to operate among the various actual entities. Whitehead responds that this is a mistake; citing Locke, he lists “power” as an essential component of each physical “substance.”[63] One might think of a magnet, for example, which exudes electromagnetic force fields even as it remains a material lump, or the relationship between the dull mass of a planet’s rock and the attendant gravitational field. It is precisely to add this concept of power[64]  to his definition of matter that Whitehead coined the term “actual entities” to refer to the stuff of the universe.

This identity between the powers of causation and the basic stuff of things leads, for the sake of consistency, to Whitehead’s ontological principle: “the reasons for things are always to be found in the composite nature of definite actual entities.”[65] The phrase “reason for things” is clear enough, but “the composite nature of definite actual entities” may need clarification. Recall that everything, from a quark to a galaxy, is an actual entity. Obviously, an entire galaxy, which is made of many other entities — including an untold number of quarks — has more parts than a single quark. Whitehead is no Eleatic monist. Therefore, room must be made for thinking of entities of greater and lesser complexity. Complex actual entities are composite.  Among the parts of complex entities are the forces that cause them. Thus arises the ontological principle: “no actual entity, no reason.”[66] Chief among the actual entities, and therefore chief among the reasons, is God, but the smaller actual entities also have their own reasons, and these interact with and limit God. To posit an Almighty Actual Entity would deprive all the other entities of their inherent attribute of power, which would violate the ontological principle. Hence the denial of omnipotence in the process God.

As we have already hinted with the example of a galaxy, which is composed of an incredibly large number of ever-changing parts, and even of an atom, which is also complex and ever-changing (as illustrated by the electron dot diagrams drawn by every high school chemistry student), every actual entity must be accounted for in terms of his parts. These parts are added to the entities – or, put another way, the process of creating actual entities – is the process of prehension. Prehension does not build components in the manner of simple addition; the mathematics is more like the vector equations used to analyze the impact of two cars at high speed. Each trajectory had a “vector”[67] (Whitehead’s word, though my explanation differs) component; at impact, each car caroms off in a new direction, but that direction is determined by the combined vectors of the cars, plus considerations of the cars’ bumpers’ tensile strength, the friction of the road, and so on. Let the universe be a great complex of such vector interaction, and one gets a dim view of what Whitehead is hinting at. The actual entities of the universe carry a similar “vector character”[68] and the sum of their mutual interactions affects the future course of the universal process. This is Whitehead’s grand unified theory of the makeup of everything.

The crucial difference between my car crash illustration and Whitehead’s theory is that vehicle impacts suggest the billiard-ball model of causation that Whitehead rejects. To avoid confusion, it is worth insisting that the key component of the illustration is the vector nature of the cars’ motion, not the cars themselves. The actual entities in Whitehead’s universe do not simply bounce off each other; they share or exchange (that is, prehend) direction and components with each other. A composite actual entity Yabc prehends some part of its antecedent neighbor Xdef, (say, d), and in so doing creates the next link in the web of being, Zabcd, which is composed of Y+ a. I say web, not chain; for the process is not a linear sequence of X, Y, Z, but instead a deep interaction of all directions and all reality. Meanwhile, Xef, the part of X not prehended within Zabcd, does not disappear, but is instead preserved as an eternal object within the consequent nature of God by the ontological principle that every actual entity has a reason. God, the great actual entity, is the final repository of all reasons.[69] The significance of this feature of God (the consequent nature of God, in Whitehead’s theology) will become apparent in the next section.

Prehension is not a mechanical process that can be predicted in advance, but an organic process that leads to complexities that are rational (because all its elements are caused) but unpredictable (because of the enormous complexity of the causation involved). The complex meeting, or “togetherness” of any set of actual entities that have prehended each other is the meaning of the last of the four key Whiteheadian terms, the nexus.[70]

The analogy is to the complex growth of a new animal. In asking what an animal is likely to be like and to be doing in X years, there can be no simple cause-effect relationship. Rather, the organism affected by many interrelated factors from genes to nutrition. Nor can the analysis be confined to any single animal; each organic entity is related to all the others on a bewildering multiplicity of levels, just as the DNA are related to the cell, the cell to the other cells within an organism, that organism to others in its species, and that species to others in its habitat, and so on. Each cell affects, is affected by, and is contextualized within the entire universe.[71] The universe is itself evolving and interrelated, without any static reference point to interrupt the flux and flow of the organic process.

Process Theology and the Consequent Nature of God

With the key terms actual entity, ontological principle, prehension, and nexus defined above, it is time to consider the theological and scientific consequences of these ideas. One of the problems of classical theism, Oxford philosopher Thomas Nagel complains, is its hypothesis of an “interventionist” God whose actions “amount to a denial that there is a comprehensive natural order.” Nagel’s criticisms are all the more pertinent to the discussion between science and religion because, while a convinced atheist, he takes seriously the challenges posed by theism. A vociferous critic of current theories of the evolution of life (his 2012 book Mind and Cosmos is subtitled Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature is Almost Certainly False), Nagel shares with theistic philosophers such as Alvin Plantinga a deep suspicion that reductionist materialism cannot provide a complete accounting for the development of sentient life and consciousness.[72]

Despite his sympathies with making a place for mind in matter, Nagel remains convinced that the classical theist’s God is ultimately a literal deus ex machina whose explanatory power is limited by a disconnect between the supernatural and natural worlds.  In the classical view, “Theism pushes the quest for intelligibility outside the world…..[God] may act partly by creating a natural order, but whatever he does directly cannot be part of that order.”[73] The result, in Nagel’s analysis, is that no classical theist theory can truly explain the human-universe interface. True, theists have a species of explanation in the person of a creator who acts on the natural order from the outside, but “[t]he kind of intelligibility that would still be missing is intelligibility of the natural order itself—intelligibility from within.”[74] What, though, if an external God activating nature from outside could be replaced with a God who is related to creation from within?

Process Theology and Human Experience

 This is the point at which process theology tries a different hypothesis. Recall that both God and the smallest atom are, for Whitehead, equally actual entities. This implies an interdependence between God and each unit of nature; in other words, God is internal to the system. This is a form of theism that does not “push” (Nagel’s word) explanations all the way up to a first cause or Prime Mover, but instead embeds the Ultimate Actual Entity within the cosmos and makes God subject to the same natural order as the rest of us. “God is not to be treated as an exception to all metaphysical principles, invoked to save their collapse. He is their chief exemplification.”[75]  Whitehead will have neither: God is not an “exception,” and God is not an excuse. The scientist must include God within the warp and woof of the scientific system; by the same token, the theologian must not exclude the natural world observable by science from theology.  Process divinity is no more supernatural than process biology, and vice versa. The implications of this cannot be separated from practical results in theological and scientific life; witness the explosion of process theologians tackling issues of ecology in recent decades. Cobb, for example, connects ecology to theology by pointing out that the promotion of sustainability in human economic decisions depends on “a whole picture of the nature of reality” that offers “empowerment” to make hard choices about human relationships with the Earth’s environment.[76]

So much for the theologians; what implications can be drawn for scientists? The first hint lies in the fact that for Whitehead, experience is subjective. This in itself is not new; Descartes took subjectivism to an extreme when he doubted all that was not subjectively available to him en route to discovering, via personal subjective experience, cogito ergo sum.[77] Despite its subjectivist beginnings in a crucial personal experience, the six books of Descartes’ Meditations then embarked in a completely disembodied chain of cause and effect reasoning.[78] The result is a mind-body dualism that denies much that is common sense in human experience. For Whitehead, subjectivist experience never stops being dependent on the human body, emotion, and psyche. Indeed, Leclerc summarizes Whitehead to the effect that “‘feeling’ is essentially an act of experiencing.’…Whitehead wishes to stress ‘that the basis of experience is emotional.’”[79]

For Whitehead, the interdependence of God and the world is not limited an abstract, purely logical chain of cause and effect. Such human experiences as intellectual effort, curiosity, and the thrill of discovery are actual entities, and as such they are causable via prehension. All “actual entities,” Whitehead writes, “are drops of experience, complex and interdependent.”[80] What of the relationship between the two actual entities that concern us here, God and the individual scientist? They, too, share experience, Indeed, the sharing of drops of experience between humans and God lies at the root of process thought. In Whiteheadian parlance, God creates in part by “prehending” the physical, mental, and aesthetic “feelings” of other “actual entities” (including scientists).[81] Therefore, God and the scientist are indeed “interdependent”; without the individual scientist’s contribution of his or her feelings for God to “prehend,” God’s creative process would go on, but it would not be the same process. Stated in terms of the ontological principle, “no actual entity [the scientist], no reason [for the particular feeling prehended from the scientist].”[82]

To be sure, God is not dependent on scientists, or for that matter on any other actual entity, for the fact of his/her/its existence. This, Whitehead explains, is because as the ultimate substance-reason composite, the divine eternal actual entity exists as ontological necessity “in the nature of God for reasons of the highest absoluteness,” while the reason and entity-ness of all other “temporal” beings are dependent on “a particular environment.”[83] So, the question at stake in ontological interdependence is not whether God exists, but rather how God exists. For process theologians, God is both Alpha (starting point) of creativity and Omega (the destination of creativity, but both ends of the process continually impinge upon the other. God has a teleological role similar to Teilhard de Chardin’s Omega Point,[84] but the final τέλος is never achieved. The process goes on ad infinitum, with God being affected by the same things God affects. As Whitehead explains,

[A]nalogously to all actual entities, the nature of God is dipolar. He has a primordial nature and a consequent nature. The consequent nature of God is conscious; and it is the realization of the actual world in the unity of his nature, and through the transformation of his wisdom. The primordial nature is conceptual, the consequential nature is the weaving of God’s physical feelings upon his primordial concepts.[85]

The idea of God having “physical feelings” opens the possibility that God, like other sentient actual entities, could be affected by events in the physical world; not only does Whitehead believe this, he builds an deity affected by experience into his definition of the divine: “God is to be conceived as originated by conceptual experience with his process of completion motivated by consequent, physical experience, initially derived from the temporal world.”[86] How can this be? We must return to the definitions of primordial and consequent:

He is the beginning [primordial] and the end [consequent],” but this is not a chronological relation: “He is not the beginning in the sense of being in the past of all members. He is the presupposed actuality of conceptual operation, in unison of becoming with every other creative act. Thus by reason of the relativity of all things, there is a reaction of the world on God

[emphasis added]

(Sherburne 180-181).

This means that a scientist has the capacity to influence God by creative work in the physical world. This would be significant by itself, but Whitehead is not finished:

The completion of God’s nature into a fulness of physical feeling is derived from the objectification of the world in God. He shares with every new creation its actual world; and the concrescent creature is objectified in God as a novel element in God’s objectification of that actual world. This prehension into God of each creature is directed with the subjective aim, and clothed with the subjective form, wholly derivative from his all-inclusive primordial valuation. God’s conceptual nature is unchanged, by reason of its final completeness. But his derivative nature is consequent upon the creative advance of the world.[87]

These seminal paragraphs at the climax of Process and Reality have been appropriated by theologians for use in topics ranging from the problem of evil to the possibility of creaturely immortality, but I want to focus on the implications of an Ultimate whose “derivative nature is consequent upon the creative advance of the world” for the advances that occur within the mental sphere of the physical brain of a particular species of “prehended creature,” the scientist.

Simply put, the scientist’s work within the creative advance co-creates the world with God. In step A, the scientist’s work adds an actual entity to the world – a new theory, a new gadget, a new process. In step B, A is incorporated into the flux and process of ongoing organic creation. In step C, the entirety of the scientist’s work, which may now have been superseded by future discovery, is nevertheless immortalized within the consequent nature of God. This means that if scientists were not at work, neither God nor the world would be the same. Process theologians must recognize scientists as co-creators of the creation they study with God.

Process Theology and Human Creativity

            At this point, it might be objected that to include such human characteristics as curiosity and a sense of intellectual adventure is to read too much into Whitehead’s “creative advance.” Not so: Whitehead, the author of Adventures of Ideas, sensed that human endeavors in the sciences, the arts, and the humanities all contributed to the same creative process that explained the entire cosmos. Since creativity was fundamental to his understanding of process, he was concerned to ground all creative endeavor, including the sciences, ethics, and the arts, in an aesthetic sense that had value “for its own sake.”[88] Victor Lowe has explained the contrast to Kant by quoting Whitehead:

The metaphysical doctrine, here expounded, finds the foundations of the world in the aesthetic experience, rather than – as with Kant – in the cognitive and conceptive experience. All order is therefore aesthetic order is merely certain aspects of aesthetic order. The actual world is the outcome of the aesthetic order, and the aesthetic order is derived from the immanence of God.”[89]

Lowe further posits that Whitehead’s definition of aesthetic is wider than that traditionally accorded the term. A Cambridge-educated gentleman born in 1861 would have been aware of the wider classical Greek[90] sense of aesthetics, αισθητική, and its root αίσθησις, “feeling, sensation, knowledge, consciousness.”[91] In this sense, Lowe is right to subsume “art” and “morality” under the aesthetic heading, because the aesthetic “really is metaphysical; it applies to every bit of existence and to ideals in the universe.”[92] In Lowe’s reading, the aesthetic applies to ideals, then, which of course includes those realms associated with the common-sense (as opposed to Berkleyan-philosophical) definition of idealism: ethics and a higher purpose; but it also applies to “every bit of existence,” which would include a biology textbook. Again, the Greek that Whitehead would have learned in school comes to our aid; the ancient verb form of asthetic, αισθάνομαι, easily extends to include both the artistic and the scientific: “feel, perceive; notice, observe; know, understand” is the old word’s dictionary definition.[93] Observation with the goal of knowing and understanding provides an ethical-artistic model that seems amenable to science.

            The aesthetic appears in many forms within the human sensibility. Among these forms, Whitehead compares the creative process that occurs in the mind of the artist, poet, or scientist to the consequent nature of God. For process thinkers, God is not active ex nihilo or by instantaneous fiat; the key word for any creative individual is patience. Patience is required of not only of the scientist, the poet, or the artist, but also of God:

Another image which is also required to understand [God’s] consequent nature is that of his infinite patience. The universe includes a threefold creative act composed of (i) the infinite conceptual realization (ii) the multiple solidarity of free physical creations in the temporal world (iii) the ultimate unity of the multiplicity of actual fact with the primordial conceptual act. If we conceive of the first term and the last term in their unity over against the intermediate multiple freedoms of physical realizations in the temporal world, we conceive of the patience of God, tenderly saving the turmoil of the intermediate world by the completion of his own nature….God’s role…lies in the patient operation of the overpowering rationality of his conceptual harmonization. He does not create the world, he saves it: or more accurately, he is the poet of the world, with tender patience leading it by his vision of beauty, truth, and goodness.[94]

I mentioned the collective of “creatives” – poets, artists, and scientists – a moment before, but if the first two are have a privileged place within the “aesthetic” in Whitehead’s scheme, scientists are likewise important in the process of cosmic co-creation thanks to their role in elucidating, describing, and attempting to unify via rational scientific endeavor the “overpowering rationality” incipient within “the multiplicity of actual fact”, or natural phenomena. Creatures create the world; God “saves” this creation. The theory of the scientist in his or her lab contributes in some small way to the “conceptual harmonization” present in work of the poet of the world. Just as the Cambridge-trained Whitehead had recourse to the classical idea of aesthetics, he was aware of the Platonic concept of beauty,[95] which in Plato’s rudimentary proto-science extended to the basic forms underlying nature.[96] The classical connotation is confirmed by the invocation of the Platonic triad “beauty, truth, and goodness.”[97]

            So, emotion and understanding are equally properties of scientists and of God. The union of rationality (science) and emotion (intellectual satisfaction, but also all the other emotions) comprises Whitehead’s vision of the divine. Whitehead appreciated the appreciated the more-than-merely-mental sense of satisfaction that follows theoretical feats or scientific discovery at the moment of eureka. Indeed, satisfaction as almost as much a key component of Whitehead’s philosophy of organism as process itself. Explaining the mechanics of process of the formation of an actual entity, Whitehead wrote:

The final stage, the ‘decision,’ is how the actual entity, having attained its initial ‘satisfaction,’ thereby adds a determinate condition to the settlement of the future beyond itself. Thus the ‘datum’ is the ‘decision received’ and the ‘decision’ is the ‘decision transmitted.’ Between these two decisions, received and transmitted, there lie the two stages, ‘process’ and ‘satisfaction.’[98]

To be sure, the technical sense given satisfaction in the above process is not equivalent to the common-sense sense of the word as an emotion. Yet the technical term was chosen for a reason, and I would contend that given Whitehead’s notion of an aesthetic (including emotion) order that is fundamental for reality, the common-sense meaning of satisfaction remains implicit within the technical sense given by Whitehead.  

            Whitehead’s scheme purports to save not only the results of scientists’ study, but also the object of their study, this tentative, contingent, “intermediate” world that religious idealists have sometimes tended to scorn or subject to more “spiritual” concerns. For Whiteheadian scientist who is also a theist, no “nature-spirit” dichotomy is possible; the world, or cosmos, is as much a spiritual actor as it is scientific concern, and vice versa. The world is not only necessary for the scientist’s study; it is necessary for the completion of the divine nature, and to study the one is to study the other.

            All this sounds remarkably like Ian Barbour’s dialogue model. Nor is the proximity of process theology to Barbour’s dialogue model coincidental; at the end of his comprehensive overview of the various approaches to science and religion, Barbour concluded that “the process model…seems to have fewer problems than the other models considered here.”[99] Barbour appreciates the process concept of God as “a creative participant in the cosmic community.”[100] To Barbour’s suggestion may be added the theme of this paper, namely that if this cosmic community is extended to include scientists, and if the role of God in prehending all scientific discovery is accorded ample scope within theological discussion, then process theology does hold promise for future dialogue between science and religion. Of course, process thought, like any model, confronts certain own shortcomings. In the next chapter, we will consider some of the problems latent within process thought.

Problems in Process Theology

            Before attempting Barbour’s proposed integration of science and religion via process theology, there are multiple issues that may give pause to scientists, theologians, or both.

Theology and Science: The Inherent Pitfall of the Unwanted Interloper

            The first, and most serious for our purposes, concerns the advisability of having theologians jump in to give theological interpretations to recent scientific discoveries. There will likely always be scientists who object to theologians trespassing in their discipline (and vice versa), even when their aims are otherwise aligned. For example, some scientific Whiteheadians have seen in a use for process philosophy in some recent work on in quantum mechanics,[101] specifically to the application of Bell’s theorem to the question of whether causality affecting the vectors of the angular momentum of subatomic particles is limited by the speed of light, as is implied by Einstein’s theory of relativity.[102]  While Lucas sides with Whitehead against Einstein, Lucas also sides with physicist William Jones in heaping scorn on the theologically inclined Whiteheadian Charles Hartshorne’s interpretation of quantum mechanics as an illustration of “divine activity.” [103], [104], [105]


 Further complicating matters, the panpsychism apparently inherent in Whitehead’s system has lent itself to a wide variety of spiritual and pseudo-scientific interpretations that are outside the mainstreams of either science or religion.[106] Oxford philosopher Thomas Nagel defines panpsychism as the view that “everything, living or not, is constituted from elements having a nature that is both physical and non-physical—that is capable of combining into mental wholes.”[107] Whitehead died long before he could say yea or nay to Nagel’s characterization, but Whitehead’s statement that “the endurance of the mind is only one more example of the general principle on which the body is constructed”[108] comports well with Nagel’s classification, and Nagel does consider Whitehead a panpsychist of sorts.[109] Intriguingly, Nagel interacts only obliquely with Whitehead. In Mind and Cosmos, which poses problems of the origin of consciousness that process philosophy’s dipolar matter theory purports to solve, Nagel limits his discussion of Whitehead to a footnote on panpsychism. One might deduce from this paucity of interest that Nagel did not see in process philosophy a solution to the mind-body conundrum.

However, Whitehead may not be as worthless for scientific and philosophic cosmology as Nagel’s omission might suggest. Matthew T. Segall speculates that Nagel’s disuse of Whitehead was due to a mistaken interpretation of Whitehead as limiting himself to psychological account of reality.[110] Segall argues that physical science actually plays a much larger role Whitehead thought than Nagel gives it credit for; in Segall’s words, Whitehead’s “goal was to re-interpret the abstractions of quantum and relativistic physics so that physics might become the most general possible description of concrete experience.”[111] Here historians of process philosophy are inclined to agree, seeing in Whitehead’s interactions with Einstein (whether in agreement[112] or disagreement[113]) over the details of relativity theory a motivation for much of Whitehead’s later philosophizing.[114] If this is the case, then despite the empirical problems inherent in Whitehead’s panpsychism[115] and panentheism,[116] his system does not preclude productive engagement in science. After all, the metaphysical monsters of process thought did not prohibit scientific engagement in Exhibit A: Alfred North Whitehead himself.

Nevertheless, it remains the case that Whitehead – himself a mathematician –  has ironically often been interpreted by those who appreciate his  “radical view of nature and science that rejects the identification of nature with the mathematical tools used to characterize its relational structures.”[117] Take, for example, Whitehead’s idea of “extensive abstraction,” which rebels against the traditional mathematical idea of a point in space.[118] Part of the uncanniness of process thought is due to its rethinking of the nature of matter: at the most basic level, any system that interprets reality as process rather than material stuff or “objects” will conflict with common-sense Newtonian view of matter, motion, and scientific law.[119] The logical and scientific soundness of Whitehead has long been a matter of mixed opinion. On the one hand, in an age of relativity and quantum mechanics, the uncanny cannot be avoided when discussing atoms, space, and time. The logically fuzzy in Whitehead may reflect increased complication in physicists’ theories of ultimate reality. Further, whether in agreement with Whitehead or not, the man was a co-author with Bertrand Russell of Principia Mathematica;[120] he had to have sifted his thoughts through the filter of mathematics and logic. On the other hand, it is equally well known that Whitehead eventually broke with Russell on the role of logic in philosophy.[121] Whitehead even joked that Russell considered him “muddle-headed.”[122] Whitehead’s biographer Lucas is disappointed that Whitehead never quite disowned some (arguably) muddled mystical interpretations of his work.[123] Whitehead’s friend William Ernest Hocking recalls the late philosopher’s own assessment of the philosopher-mystic relationship: “If you like to phrase it so, philosophy is mystical. For mysticism is direct insight into depths as yet unspoken. But the purpose of philosophy is to rationalize mysticism.”[124]

Consequently, one of the challenges for any future interaction between process theologians and scientists is an account of matter that can deal with some of process thought’s mystical predilections. By subsuming reason and substance within the actual entity,[125] process physics appears to have resurrected the Aristotelian idea that each natural thing “has within itself”[126] some capacity for movement, and that this power[127] “in virtue of itself and not in virtue of a concomitant attribute.”[128]  Aristotle even considered the process-friendly possibility that “it is the immediate material substratum of things which have in themselves a principle of motion of change.”[129] How then is process thought not a reversion to pre-scientific thought patterns? Even assuming panpsychist theories of matter could be made respectable,[130] scientific interaction with Whitehead’s unification of mental and physical aspects of reality within a metaphysical framework would require extensive cooperation between science, philosophy, and psychology.

Process Philosophy and Personal Identity

In addition to some general problems of process theology in relation to science, the use of the consequent nature of God as a psychological spur for scientific creativity creates a more specific roadblock. The problem is one of identity. Upon close examination of Whitehead’s thought, process philosophy begins to look like an inadequate foundation both for the theologian and the individual scientific layman because – in its attempt to achieve a grand synthesis of God and the world – the individual interests that compose a person’s personal identity recede into the background.

Looking first at the problems for theologians, it becomes apparent that two recurring themes of individuality in religion  – personal ethics and personal immortality – find scant support in the father of process philosophy. In  A Christian Natural Theology, John Cobb had already sensed that Whitehead had problems accounting for personal ethics.[131] Whitehead “does not approach ethical inquiry of the perspective of the individual asking, ‘What should I do?’”[132] Likewise, as a philosopher Whitehead never offered a basis for a doctrine of personal immortality; Cobb had to concoct one of his own and insert it into his process theology.[133] Now, of course this lack of supernatural speculation would be redound to Whitehead’s credit in the eyes of Lucas and Burgers,[134] but the fact remains that this omission in Whitehead is a disappointment for the theologians. 

Now for the scientists: Simon Smith has pointed out that process thought, with its focus on a society of actual entities, fails to account for individual ownership and identity of individual actual entities.[135] After all, if reality consists of a process of  actual entities engaged not only in prehension but also in “perpetual perishing” [Whitehead’s own words, criticized even by his fervent disciple Hawthorne],[136] how can any individual conscious entity transcend this chain without violating the ontological principle that each actual entity requires its own reason? In mathematics, per the communicative property, a number to be multiplied can be extended across an entire set. Per the ontological principle, the same cannot be done with a single reason applied to a large set of actual occasions. If this critique is correct, this omission would tend to militate against religious scientists’ reception of process thought as a justification of their work in the face of traditionalist critiques. True, process thought gives the scientists a higher role in the Creator’s work than fundamentalist theologies held by hardliners suspicious of scientist.

The foundational process theologian, Cobb, is not unaware of the problems Whitehead presents for an account of personal identity.[137] He admits that on some readings of Whitehead, the philosopher’s attempts to account for personal identity smack of “desperation,” and that if readings such as Smith’s[138] are correct, then process philosophy “would be in serious trouble.”[139]  In response, Cobb develop a theology of personality he hopes corrects Whitehead’s inconsistency. As a theologian, Cobb has no problem employing the concept of soul to unite the various actual occasions that make up a person’s experience. After all, why actual entities are in one sense separate, they do connect and share some semblance of identity via prehension “[I]t is quite satisfactory for practical purposes,” then, to posit “that personal identity obtains whenever there is a serially ordered society of primarily mental occasions (a soul) which each occasion actually or potentially prehends unmediatedly the mental poles of its predecessors.”[140] Whether an individual scientist contemplating dialogue with a process theologian would find this account convincing is beyond the scope of this essay.

Theorizing Process Theology Within the Integration Model

The objections to process thought are serious. However, I will suggest that Whitehead need not be abandoned as a starting point for future interaction between scientists and theologians. First, process theology is evolving beyond the problems in Cobb’s and Griffin’s initial formulation. Second, a retreat from the details of Whitehead’s speculative metaphysics in Process and Reality to the more general insights of the philosopher’s thoughts on science and religion in Adventures of Ideas hint at possibilities for the future integration of science and religion.

Revising Process Theology for Science and Religion

At present process theology finds itself at a moment of great ferment. It has been subjected to critique for several decades now, and process theologians as a group have begun to learn from that experience. Kristien Justaert opines that the present Cobbs-Griffin version of process theology requires serious revision.[141] The process God has failed to break out of Western patterns of thought. This to say that there is an inconsistency between a rejection of classical Western theism and a failure to rethink the rest of the Western view of other cultural issues. Although Justaert does not say so, I argue that the logic of her position extends to those Western thought modes that have put science and religion at odds in recent centuries. With its roots in early twentieth-century United Kingdom and United States, much process theology remains ensconced in a “still very classical theological framework.”[142]

However, Justaert hopes that in crisis she will find opportunity. Theism need not be de facto either classical or Western; for Justaert, the path forward hides within the Near Eastern religious texts that ground the Jewish and Christian traditions. Such updated process proposals bring these texts into the twenty-first century via a new formulation of Barbour’s integration model that mixes biblical studies with recent scientific insights.  Justaert and Catherine Keller see a chance to go “beyond process theology”[143] by interpreting Genesis 1:1-2 in the light of chaos theory. Justaert and Keller not only seek to supersede ex nihilo creation theology, but furthermore point out that process theology’s concept of prehension can be re-interpreted with the help of Deleuze and Derrida as a relationship between matter and the transcendent.[144] This proposal contains elements friendly to science and religion. Justaert replaces Whitehead’s dipolar monism with a creative dualism between the matter familiar to scientists (no more problematic panpsychism). She also restores the traditional God familiar to Jewish, Muslim, and Christian theologians (transcendent above, but also active in, nature).

Despite these modifications, Justaert’s proposal remains a species of process theology. A union between transcendent theological speculation and careful scientific scholarship is not a new step, violating all process philosophy, but rather an exit from Whitehead’s legion interpreters and a return to Whitehead’s own thoughts on the relation of science and religion in Adventures of Ideas. By way of conclusion, we will review the applicability of Adventures to next steps in a prospective research program uniting a process theology and science.

Alfred North Whitehead and Theology in the History of Science

Alfred North Whitehead sensed that theology and science had something to learn from each other, especially when working through complicated questions of facts about the substances of reality, and he supported his thesis with a reinterpretation of the history of science. In Whitehead’s historical sketch, theologians and scientists had united before, in ancient Alexandria, when warring theologians called on Hellenistic natural philosophy for aid in their hair-splitting controversies over the Trinity, whether Christ be  homoousios (“of the same substance”) with the Father. In the early 20th century, an era of fierce dispute over the trinity of electron, proton, and neutron, Whitehead remarked, “the nearest analogues to the Alexandrian theological debates are the modern debates among mathematical physicists on the nature of the atom. The special topics differ slightly; but the methods and men are identical.”[145]

In identifying Nestorius with Niels Bohr, Whitehead’s point was not a suggestion of reincarnation, but rather both thinkers’ insistence on deciding whether a hypothesis is true or false, in theology as in science. through intense intellectual effort, a mode of thought common to the best thinkers in both science and theology in all ages.[146] Whitehead sensed that it mattered that while classical philosophers had indulged in speculation like that of Plato’s Timaeus, a flight of fancy which does not ask the reader to treat it as true or false, Hellenistic scientists like Euclid and Ptolemy, as well as theologians like Athanasius and Arius were either right or wrong.[147]

Here, without feeling all the way down to the nub of the issue, Whitehead anticipated Karl Popper’s identification of rigorous scientific thinking with “falsifiability, or refutability, or testability.”[148] What strikes the student of science and religion is that Whitehead did not contrapose scientific rigor with theological fuzziness; he commended the Alexandrians’ precision in science and theology alike. The cause of subsequent clashes between religion and science, Whitehead felt, was the medieval misinterpretation of the great empiricist Aristotle (we have already noted that Whitehead’s actual entity echoes Aristotle’s notion of telos inherent within substance). While Aristotle “introduce[d] into the sciences…the much-needed systematic practice of passing beyond theory to direct observation of details[,]


nfortunately, this was the one aspect of his life which never had any direct influence on any succeeding effort.”[149] The question is whether process thought meets Whitehead’s own standard as a shared platform for future fruitful collaboration between theologians and scientists.

The ground of the union, according to Whitehead, would be on the ground of natural (i.e., scientific) law. Whatever religion may be, it is in part the poetic attempt to interpret by myth and mystery the uniform yet startling laws of nature.

We inherit legends, weird, horrible, beautiful, expressing in curious, specialized ways the interweaving of law and capriciousness in the mystery of things. It is the problem of good and evil. Sometimes the law is good and the capriciousness is evil; sometimes the law is iron and the capriciousness is merciful and good. But from savage legends up to Hume’s civilized Dialogues on Natural religion [sic], with the conversation between Job and his friends as an intermediate between the two, the same problem is discussed. Science and technology are based upon law. Human behavior exhibits custom mitigated by impulse.[150]

Whitehead appears to have suggested that religion can help us understand human custom and impulse, while science helps us understand the world humans inhabit. The dialectic is not only between science and religion, but is mirrored within each field. Sober science has uncovered the crazy, weird worlds of subatomic particles and special relativity. Religion is ever choosing between between “custom” and impulse,” between ritual and spontaneity. As advances in both science and theology have bumped into the uncanny, while still attempting to account for reality in rational terms, new avenues may be opening to agreement.


Whitehead’s dipolar theory of matter can be taken as a conceptual metaphor for the dipolar interaction between scientist and theologians called for in Ian G. Barbour’s integration model.[151] Justaert’s modification of Whitehead’s dipolar monism with her own creative dualism preserves the possibility of integration via the “creative” element, while also updating process philosophy to give space to both theologians and scientists outside the narrow framework of Cobb’s initial system. Already, this synthesis has resulted in attempt to connect the results of chaos theory (among scientists) and biblical studies (among theologians).[152] Given the motivation inherent in process theology’s concept of the consequent nature of God, process theologians haver reason to continue their interaction with scientists. In looking for specific aspects of process theology that can related to science, the consequent nature of God is offered not as a definitive solution, but rather as a concrete proposal around which – whether in concord or controversy – future scientists and theologians can find space for productive interaction.

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Process and Reality. Corrected Edition. Edited by David Ray Griffin and Donald W.

            Sherburne. New York: Free Press, 1978.

Religion in the Making. A Series of Four Lectures delivered during February 1926,

            at the King’s Chapel, Boston, USA. Accessed

            15 April 2017.

Science and the Modern World. New York: Macmillan, 1925.

Whitehead, Alfred North, and Bertrand Russell. Principia Mathematica. 3 Vols. 2nd Edition.

            Cambridge, UK: University of Cambridge Press, 1968.

Wildman, Wesley J. Fidelity with Plausibility: Modest Christologies in the Twentieth Century.

            Foreword by John B. Cobb Jr. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1998.

[1] Ian G. Barbour,  Religion and Science: Historical and Contemporary Issues [Revised expanded edition of Religion in an Age of Science: The Gifford Lectures, 1989-1991. Copyright Ian G. Barbour, 1990.] (New York: Harper

Collins, 1997), 77.

[2] John William Draper. History of the Conflict Between Religion and Science (New York: Appleton, 1874).

[3] Darwin, Charles. On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection or the Preservation of

Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life (London: John Murray, 1859).

[4] John Hedley Brooke, Science and Religion, 206-260.

[5] Lucretius. De natura rerum libri sex (London: J. Brindley, 1749).

[6] James F. Harris, “Speech Acts and God Talk,” International Journal for Philosophy of Religion, Vol. 11, No. 3 (1980), 167-183.

[7] Samuel Powell, “The Promise of Process Theology,” In God Reconsidered: The Promise and Peril of Process Theology, (Kansas City, MO: Beacon Hill Press, 2010), 17-24.

[8] Alfred North Whitehead, Process and Reality. Corrected Edition. Edited by David Ray Griffin and Donald W. Sherburne (New York: Free Press, 1978), 18.

[9] John B. Cobb, Jr., A Christian Natural Theology: Based on the Thought of Alfred North Whitehead (Philadelphia, Westminster Press, 1965).

[10] Victor Lowe, Understanding Whitehead (Baltimore, Johns Hopkins Press, 1962), 59.

[11] Lowe, 62-71.

[12] George R. Lucas, Jr., The Rehabilitation of Whitehead: An Analytic and Historical Assessment of Process Philosophy (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1989), 180-183.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Cobb, “Process Theology and the Bible: How Science Has Changed Our View of God,” Lecture at the University of Calgary (4 February 2003) for the 2003 Benton Lectures in Theology. Accessible via (Accessed 19 April 2017).

[15] Ibid.

[16] John B. Cobb, Jr., Sustainability: Economics, Ecology, and Justice, (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2007).

[17] Whitehead, Process and Reality, 13.

[18] “Als Ob.” Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Merriam-Webster, n.d. April 25, 2017.

[19] See Hans Vailhinger. The Philosophy of “As If”: A System of the Theoretical, Practical, and

Religious Fictions of Mankind. Translated by C. K. Ogden. London: Kegan Paul, Trench, and Trubner, 1924.

[20] Jürgen Moltmann approvingly quotes Process and Reality in The Crucified God [Translated by R.A. Wilson and John Bowden from the German Der gekreuzigte Gott [Christian Kaiser Verlag, Munich, 2nd ed. 1973]. (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1993), 250.

[21] Rob Lister. God is Impassible and Impassioned: Toward a Theology of Divine Emotion (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2013), 29-122, 148-170.

[22] Laudato Si: On Care For Our Common Home. The Vatican: 2015

[23] For a short sampling of a vast literature, consult:

Dieter Hessel and Rosemary Radford Ruether. Ed. Christianity and Ecology: Seeking the Well-Being of   Earth and Humans. Harvard University Center for the Study of World Religions, Religions of the World and Ecology Series. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2000.

Wesley J. Wildman. Fidelity with Plausibility: Modest Christologies in the Twentieth Century. Foreword by John B. Cobb Jr. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1998.

[24] The observant reader of the above footnote will have noted that Wildman sought out the leading process theologian (Cobb) to introduce his book to the theological community. In addition, Cobb published his own book on the subject, Sustainability: Economics, Ecology, and Justice, (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2007).

[25] Hedley, 101-104, 261-262, 300.

[26] Paul Davies. “Physics and the Mind of God: The Templeton Prize Address” (August 1995).

[27] Viney, Donald, “Process Theism”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2014 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), 27. URL = <;.

[28] Alfred North Whitehead. Adventures of Ideas. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1933. Reprint

(New York: Free Press, 1967).

Process and Reality. Corrected Edition. Edited by David Ray Griffin and Donald W. Sherburne. New York: Free Press, 1978.

Religion in the Making. A Series of Four Lectures delivered during February 1926,

at the King’s Chapel, Boston, USA. Accessed 15 April 2017.

Science and the Modern World. New York: Macmillan, 1925.

[29] Alfred North Whitehead and Bertrand Russell. Principia Mathematica. 2nd Edition. Cambridge, UK: University of Cambridge Press, 1968.

[30] Cobb, Natural Theology, title page.

[31] Charles Hartshorne, Whitehead’s Philosophy (Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press), 3.

[32] Ibid.

[33] Lucas, 132.

[34] In the unpaginated front matter of Understanding Whitehead, Hartshorne prints a photocopy of a personal letter from Whitehead to Hartshorne that indicates Whitehead’s “interest” in Hartshorne’s interpretation.

[35] Hartshorne, Whitehead’s Philosophy, 2.

[36] Cobb, “Process Theology,” Religion Online (n.d.), http://www.religion title=1489 (Accessed 19 April 2017).

[37] John B. Cobb. Jr, and David Ray Griffin, Process Theology: An Introductory Exposition (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1976), 7.

[38] James N.  Jordan, Western Philosophy from Antiquity to the Middle Ages (New York: Macmillan, 1987), 16-19.

[39] Lucas 15-33.

[40] Lucas, 132.

[41] Lowe, 113.

[42] J.M. Burgers, Experience and Conceptual Activity (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1965).

[43] William A. Christian, An Interpretation of Whitehead’s Metaphysics, (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1959). See also Lucas, 166.

[44] Ivor Leclerc, Whitehead’s Metaphysics, (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press,1958).

[45] Lowe, 90-116.

[46] Hawthorne, Whitehead’s Philosophy, 63-110, 183-208.

[47] Burgers, 16-17.

[48] Lowe, 95.

[49] Ibid., 95.

[50] Ibid., 98, 111.

[51] Lowe, 108.

[52] Hartshorne, Whitehead’s Philosophy, 53, 189.

[53] Ibid., 43.

[54] Lowe, 96-97.

[55] Hedley, 457

[56] Etienne Gilson. Thomism: The Philosophy of Thomas Aquinas. A Translation of Le Thomisme, Sixth ed., by Lawrence K. Shook and Armand Maurer (Toronto, CA: Pontifical Institute of Medieval Studies), 55-73.

[57] Hartshorne, Whitehead’s Philosophy, 53.

[58] Hartshorne, Charles. “The Development of Process Theology.” Harvard Square Library. (Accessed 15 April 2017).

[59] Whitehead, Process and Reality, 18.

[60] Whitehead also called “actual entities” “actual occasions” to emphasize the process nature of their make-up. In keeping in Whitehead, I will shift between both terms depending on whether the substance or the changeableness of each thing is being emphasized in any given context.

[61] Whitehead, Process and Reality, 18.

[62] Ibid., 18.

[63] Ibid., 18-19.

[64] Since in Process and Reality Whitehead is writing philosophy, not science, he uses the term power in the traditional Lockeian sense of the word, not to the strict modern scientific concept measured in joules – although the latter could be included (although admittedly as an anachronism) within the meanings of the former.

[65] Whitehead, Process and Reality, 19.

[66] Whitehead, Process and Reality, 19.

[67] Ibid., 19.

[68] Ibid., 19.

[69] Ibid., 19-20.

[70] Ibid., 20.

[71] Christian, 163-166.

[72] Thomas Nagel, Mind and Cosmos (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2012), 13-33.

[73] Ibid., 26.

[74] Ibid., 26.

[75] Whitehead, Process and Reality, 343.

[76]  Cobb, Sustainability, 24.

[77] Leclerc, 124-125.

[78] René Descartes. Descartes: Meditations on First Philosophy: With Selections from the Objections and Replies. Edited by John Cottingham, with an introduction by Bernard Williams (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1996).

[79] Leclerc, 149.

[80] Whitehead, Process and Reality, 18.

[81] Ibid., 251.

[82] Ibid., 19.

[83] Ibid., 19.

[84] Eulalio R. Baltazar, Teilhard and the Supernatural (Baltimore: Helicon Press, 1996), 178. In this discussion of the Omega Point, neither Whitehead nor Baltazar make the comparison to Whitehead, but the parallel has been apparent to historians of philosophy (c.f. Lucas, 56).

[85] Donald Sherburne, ed., A Key to Whitehead’s Process and Reality (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1966), 181.

[86] Sherburne, 182.

[87] Whitehead quoted in Sherburne, 181.

[88] Whitehead, Religion in the Making, quoted. in Lowe, 111.

[89] Ibid.

[90] In Process and Reality (90), Whitehead alluded to the acquisition and loss of unused Greek, a common process familiar to not a few among the educated of his generation.

[91] James Morwood and John Taylor, “αίσθησις,” Pocket Oxford Classical Greek Dictionary (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2002), 9.

[92] Lowe, 111.

[93] Morwood and Taylor, “αισθάνομαι,” 9.

[94] Whitehead, Process and Reality, 346.

[95] Whitehead’s eternal objects have been said to resemble Plato’s ideal forms. Stephen Pepper, in his World Hypotheses, accused Whitehead of excessive Platonism on this basis (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1942), 106. Hartshorne answers this charge (Whitehead’s Philosophy), 153-154.

[96] Nickolas Pappas, “Plato’s Aesthetics,” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2016 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <;.

[97] Ibid.

[98]Whitehead, Process, 150.

[99] Barbour 322.

[100] Ibid., 331.

[101] Henry Pierce Stapp, “Quantum Mechanics, Local Causality and Process Philosophy,” Ed. William B. Jones, Process Studies 7, No. 3 (Fall 1977), 173-91.

[102] Lucas, 183-189.

[103] Ibid., 188.

[104] William B. Jones, Process Studies, 7, No. 4 (Fall 1977), 255-260.

[105] Hartshorne, “Bell’s Theorem and Stapp’s Revised View of Space-Time,” Process Studies, 7, No. 3 (Fall 1977), 183-191.

[106] Lucas, 130.

[107]  Nagel, 57-58.

[108] Whitehead, Process and Reality, 109.

[109] Nagel, 57-58. See Footnote 34.

[110] Matthew T. Segall, “Reflections on Thomas Nagel’s mentions of Schelling and Whitehead in ‘Mind and Cosmos,’” (Book Review on Segall’s blog Footnotes2Plato),

[111] Ibid., n.p.

[112] Dean R. Fowler, “Whitehead’s Theory of Relativity,” Process Studies, 5, No. 3 (Fall 1975), 159.

[113] Villard Allen White, “Whitehead, Special Relativity, and Simultaneity,” Process Studies, 13, No. 4 (Winter 1983), 275-285.

[114] Lucas, 181, cites the controversy between Fowler and White (see preceding footnotes).

[115] Lowe, 230, 312.

[116] Hartshorne, Whitehead’s Philosophy, 53, 189.

[117] Gary L. Herstein. “Alfred North Whitehead.” Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy: A Peer Reviewed Academic Resource. (Accessed 12 April 2017).

[118] Ibid.

[119] Whitehead, Adventures of Ideas, 103-111.

[120] Whitehead, Alfred North, and Bertrand Russell. Principia Mathematica. 3 Vols. 2nd Edition. Cambridge, UK: University of Cambridge Press, 1968.

[121] Lucas 109-120.

[122] Ibid., 109

[123] Ibid., 132

[124] William Ernest Hocking. “Whitehead as I Knew Him.” pp. 7-17 in Alfred North Whitehead: Essays on His Philosophy. Ed. George L. Kline. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1963), 17.

[125] Whitehead, Process and Reality, 18-19.

[126] Aristotle. Physics. In The Basic Works of Aristotle (p. 218-397). Edited by Richard McKeon. Text is the 1931 Oxford translation. New York: Random House, 1970), 236.

[127] Whitehead, Process and Reality, 18-19.

[128] Aristotle, 236.

[129] Ibid., 237.

[130] To make matters worse, process theology has been appropriated or promoted by individuals with questionable intellectual credentials. David Ray Griffin, one of process theology’s most prominent proponents, co-author with Cobb of an introduction to process thought, and co-editor of the corrected edition of Process and Reality, has demonstrated a unfortunate tendency toward conspiracy theories. Griffin has published three books offering alternative accounts of the September 11, 2001, terror attacks, and he has lectured on his fringe views on more than one occasion. The interested reader may consult the following works by Griffin:

Griffin, David Ray. Christian Faith and the Truth Behind 9/11: A Call to Reflection and Action.

                Philadelphia: Westminster, 2006.

The New Pearl Harbor: Disturbing Questions about the Bush Administration and 9/11. Gloucestershire, UK: Arris,


The New Pearl Harbor Revisited: 9/11, the Cover-up, and the Exposé. Olive Branch Press, Ithaca, 2008.

[131] Cobb, Natural Theology, 125.

[132] Cobb, Natural Theology, 125.

[133] Ibid., 63-70.

[134] See the extended discussion of Lucas in the Literature Review.

[135] Simon Smith, “The Age of Immanence: Whiteheadian Metaphysics from a Farrerian Point of View.” Process Studies Supplement Issue 13 (2009), 15-18.

[136] Hartshorne, Whitehead’s Philosophy, 2.

[137] Cobb, Natural Theology, 71-79.

[138] Smith wrote after Cobb’s book was published, so Cobb is not referencing Smith by name, but only the general train of thought that show that in an process thought’s theory of unending series of actual occasions it is difficult to find a place for enduring identity.

[139] Cobb, Natural Theology, 74.

[140] Ibid., 79.

[141] Kristien Justaert. Theology After Deleuze (New York: Continuum International), 2012.

[142] Ibid, 88.

[143] Ibid., 88-93.

[144] Justaert, 88-93.

[145] Whitehead, Adventures of Ideas, 105.

[146] Ibid., 105.

[147] Ibid., 105.

[148] Karl Popper, Conjectures and Refutations (Abingdon, Oxford, UK: Routledge, 1963), 48.

[149] Whitehead, Adventures of Ideas, 107.

[150] Ibid., 111.

[151] Barbour, 77.

[152] Justaert, 88-93.

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