Book Reviews, philosophy

Book Review: Reenchantment Without Supernaturalism by David Ray Griffin

Reenchantment Without Supernaturalism: A Process Philosophy of Religion by David Ray Griffin (hereafter RWS) is a vast work. because of the nature of this book–namely, its place as, essentially, an outlining and explication of a religion–I feel it is necessary to continue discussion of this work past the present review. I’ll be doing a series on Process Philosophy.

RWS covers an incredibly broad range of topics. Summing up a work of this scope would take too much space, so I’ll give only a brief outline. The central doctrines of Process Philosophy are (quoted at length):

1) “The integration of moral, aesthetic, and religious intuitions with the most general doctrines of the sciences into a self-consistent worldview as one of the central tasks of philosophy in our time” (5)

2) “Hard-core commonsense notions as the ultimate test of the adequacy of a philosophical position” (5)

3) “Whitehead’s nonsensationist doctrine of perception, according to which sensory perception is a secondary mode of perception, being derivative from a more nonsensory ‘prehension'”(5)

4) “Panexperientialism with organizational duality, according to which all the true individuals… have at least some iota of experience and spontaneity (self-determination)” (6)

5) “The doctrine that all enduring individuals are serially ordered socieities of momentary ‘occasions of experience'” (6)

6) “[A]ll actual entities have internal as well as external relations” (6)

7) “[N]aturalistic theism, according to which a Divine Actuality acts variably but never supernaturally in the world” (6)

8 ) “Doubly Dipolar Theism” (7)

9) “The provision of cosmological support for the ideals needed by contemporary civilization as one of the chief purposes of philosophy in our time” (7)

10) “A distinction between verbal statements (sentences) and propositions and between both of these and propositional feelings” (7)

Whew! And that is just the introduction of a 425 page work!

These doctrines I’ll let speak for themselves, but it is immediately clear that Process Philosophy can be identified as a religion, either on its own, or in conjunction with another religion of the world. These doctrines are enough to support a robust naturalistic theism which differs in many ways from classical theism.

Process Philosophy affirms that sense experience is not primary (see esp. 55). It also rejects both physicalism and dualism, calling instead for panexperientialism, which is the idea that everything in the universe–down to the smallest entity, has experience of some sort. In other words, the basic units of “stuff” in our universe are neither ideal (as in some forms of dualism) or material (as in materialism and other forms of dualism), but experiential (94ff).

God, on Process Philosophy, is in the world. It is panentheistic as opposed to theistic or pantheistic. God is not supernatural, but is rather a necessary part of the universe (131ff). God created the world not ex nihilo, but out of chaos, which Griffin argues is the correct reading of the Hebrew Scriptures, particularly Genesis (I disagree strongly here, for it seems like there is much evidence for the use of bara to refer to creation ex nihilo).

I can’t resist veering off the summary path here and critiquing this view specifically. The problem with affirming that God created the world out of some existent finite entities (see 216) is that that leaves both God and these finite entities with no explanation for their existence. God, argues Griffin, exists necessarily, but there is no reason I could find given for this. Furthermore, there is absolutely no explanation of how these other finite entities came into being. It seems as though they are asserted to simply exist forever, but this runs into the many problems with an infinite past. I simply don’t think Griffin has adequately defended this doctrine of Process Philosophy, and most of it hinges around this idea. I’ll get into this more as I continue my series, however.

Not only that, but Process Philosophy upholds the idea that there are two distinct “ultimate realities” in our universe; namely, a personal deity, and an impersonal, “creativity”. This is one of the more interesting affirmations of Process Philosophy: that all major religions are true in a qualified sense (247ff). In affirming that all major religions are in some sense true, Process Philosophy also argues that they must all learn from each other to work towards a religion that more adequately reflects reality (more on this later in the series).

Process Philosophy affirms the possibility of an afterlife, but doesn’t seem to take it as terribly likely (204ff). Furthermore, it asserts that morality can be done from the point of an “ideal observer”, namely, God (314-316).

Thus, Process Philosophy is a religion distinct from the others I have read about in some very important ways. The affirmation of both naturalistic (but not atheistic) science and theism is very interesting. Furthermore, Process Philosophy, according to Griffin, can be allies with the major religions of the world. He favors Christianity as walking hand-in-hand with this philosophy.

I personally don’t think this is a live option for Christian theists, however, because it involves rejection of, among other things: creation ex nihilo, omnipotence in the traditional sense, the ability of God to interfere with nature, the primacy of Christ in world religions, the life after death–which entails a rejection of the resurrection (though, as above, Griffin says this is possible)… furthermore, it means Christians must accept, among other things: the idea that Christianity is true, but only in some sense compared to to other religions, that God is only the arranger, not the creator (in the traditional sense) of the world, an entirely different ultimate reality that is similar to the impersonal, immutable Brahma as existing alongside of and coequal to God.

So what can the Christian take from RWS? That is a question that will take me some time to think about and digest. I hope the further posts in this series will help outline this more. I think there are valuable insights in what Griffin has to say, but it is more probable, in my opinion, that the Christian will find, not a “Reenchantment” so much as a chance to sharpen their philosophical blades against arguments which undermine the central tenants of the faith.

That said, RWS is a fantastic read. Griffin covers a simply massive range of topics with clarity from the perspective of Process Philosophy. The book is a page-turner. Like a fantastic novel, it exposes new ideas and forces the intellect to work in new ways. It is a work that essentially outlines the creeds of a different religion, albeit a religion which is syncretistic by nature. It touches on nearly every area of philosophy of religion, from religious language to natural theology. I highly recommend this book, if one has a good background in classical theism. The reason is because the ideas are alluring, but faulty. One can expose the faults, but only if one is grounded in truth. It’s a thought-provoking book, but I regret to find it so off the mark.

Source:

Griffin, David Ray. Reenchantment Without Supernaturalism: A Process Philosophy of Religion. Cornell University Press. 2001.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author.

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About J.W. Wartick

J.W. Wartick has an MA in Christian Apologetics from Biola University. His interests include theology, philosophy of religion--particularly the existence of God--astronomy, biology, archaeology, and sci-fi and fantasy novels.

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  1. Pingback: Process Philosophy: The Unity of Science and Religion « - October 5, 2010

  2. Pingback: Process Philosophy and the Christian (Series) « - October 5, 2010

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