This post is part of a series on Process Philosophy. View other posts in the series here.
Perhaps the highest goal of Process Philosophy is the attempt to unite science and religion into a cohesive whole.
There are, according to David Ray Griffin (author of Reenchantment Without Supernaturalism, review here) two major sources of conflict between science and religion: 1) religion’s association with supernaturalism, on which the natural process can be interrupted for any reason by a deity, and 2) science’s association with atheistic, sensational materialism, on which God is methodologically rejected (Griffin, 23).
Process Philosophy seeks to eliminate these conflicts by proposing naturalistic theism, which seeks to be “supportive of the necessary presuppositions” of both “scientific and religious communities” (29). Part of this program is to appeal to our “hard-core commonsense notions”–our most basic assumptions under which we must function in order to make sense of reality. As such, anything which defies these notions is to be rejected, which means that “[a]ny scientific, philosophical, or theological theory is irrational, accordingly, to the extent that it contradicts whatever notions we inevitably presuppose in practice” (30, emphasis his).
This notion, according to Process Philosophy, builds the bridge to unite science and religion. Science, it is argued, cannot operate under the atheistic variety. It must, furthermore, assume mathematical and logical truths, which science cannot ground in sensory experience. This opens up the possibility, for one, of religious experience. This religious experience, which is nonsensational in nature (I’ll be writing on this in an upcoming post) is not to be ruled out, for the ground of all things, on Process Philosophy, is experience, not sensation.
Science also must allow the possibility of a naturalistic form of theism, for the “basic order of the world, the upward trend of the evolutionary process, the novelty that has appeared in this process, the world’s ‘excessive’ beauty, and the objectivity of normative ideals and other ideal (nonactual) entities, such as those of mathematics and logic…” must appeal to naturalistic theism in order to explain their existence (48, 169ff).
This relationship must, however, be mutually beneficial, and religion cannot operate without allowing modifications to come from science. There must be “mutual modification” (51, emphasis his).
Now, it is of vast importance at this juncture to explain exactly what naturalistic theism is, on Process Philosophy. The God proposed by Process Philosophy is in the world, not outside of it. As such, God is part of the processes of all things. God, as it were, is the prime mover and prime motivator. Because of the basis of all things in experience, God is seen as interacting with all things in a non-coercive way–God acts through persuasion to bring about good, and to bring order from chaos (129ff). Thus, God is, in some sense, natural–God is part of the order of all things.
Now I turn to the question I always ask of anything I read: What can the Christian learn from this?
Initially, it may seem the proper answer is “nothing,” however I do think we can learn some things from Process Philosophy here. First, it is important to note that the two problems which cause clashes between science and religion are real problems which need to be addressed by the thinking Christian. Second, God, on classical Christian theism, can be seen in some sense as working through nature to bring about those things which we call miracles. The parting of the Red (Reed?) Sea is often seen as one example of this–gale force winds which parted the sea are often cited. Similarly, the plagues on the Egyptians are often seen as having natural explanations, but these explanations do not exclude God from the equation. Perhaps the lesson Christians can learn here is that God does indeed utilize the physical process to bring about many of His goals. Christianity, however, must almost certainly reject any notion which says that God cannot interrupt the natural process, unless one argues that it is logically impossible so to do (the definition of God’s omnipotence is almost universally acknowledged to mean God can do what is logically possible). Thus, at best, Process Philosophy’s view of Deity can show how God generally works, but it oversteps its bounds in suggesting that God cannot do otherwise.
The idea of God acting persuasively rather than coercively has much to commend it, particularly in light of recent trends in Christian philosophy of religion. Namely, this idea is highly beneficial to the freedom of the will theodicy, as well as in versions of Christianity which are non-deterministic. This is one of the great interactions Christians can have with Process Philosophy–a dialogue about human freedom and divine interactions with the world.
What of science and religion in mutual modification? I must admit I am more friendly to this idea than some–perhaps even most–but I am wary of how Process Philosophy wields this idea. Process Philosophy explicitly denies any kind of special revelation in the form of Scripture (257), which Christians cannot accept, in my opinion, for it undermines the central beliefs of Christianity. I don’t think Process Philosophy is even capable of arguing for their denial of special revelation (and oddly enough, many process theologians argue for the uniqueness of the incarnation of Christ). Science cannot operate over and above religion, rather, the truths of God and His unique Revelation describe reality as such. Science serves to explain how this reality operates.
The Christian has much to learn from those who are outlining Process Philosophy and Theology. We learn to sharpen our intellect and better defend our beliefs. Process Philosophy offers some insights about how God works, though it also features many ideas about God that Christians explicitly reject. I think we have some things to learn here, but we must be careful to analyze these things in light of the truth revealed in Scripture.
Griffin, David Ray. Reenchantment Without Supernaturalism: A Process Philosophy of Religion. Cornell University Press. 2001.
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