process theology

This tag is associated with 3 posts

Microview: “Searching for an Adequate God” edited by John Cobb Jr. and Clark Pinnock

sadg-cobbpinnockSearching for an Adequate God (how’s that for a provocative title?) is a dialogue between process theists and open theists (aka free will theists). Process theism is most basically the notion that God is fully involved in and impacted by temporal processes like the free actions of creatures, the changing of nature, etc. (for a good summary of process thought, see here). Open theism (aka “free will theism” in this volume) is essentially classical theism, but with the notion that the future is “open”–that is, that some aspects of the future are yet undetermined and unknown (in that they are unknowable, because there are no facts about these open aspects of the future to be known).

Given the major divergence between these positions, this book provides a fascinating dialogue and real insights into points of division between two radically different concepts of God. Intriguingly, the two positions also share many basic premises (as is emphasized by every author) such as an emphasis on human free will as a way to handle theodicy, the notion that God is temporal and impacted in some way by creation, and so on.  The essays herein revolve, therefore, around these dual notions–the radical differences between the groups and the shared insights they argue they provide for theology.

The essays by David Ray Griffin (process) and William Hasker (open), along with their rebuttals to each other, frame the debate in an extremely interesting fashion, as their essays truly show the great differences between the positions. In between, essays by the other contributors (and their responses to each other) offer frequently autobiographical reflections on the two positions.

Perhaps most enlightening is the way that both positions show their distance on various points from classical theism and Christianity. Each of the Process contributors (and David Ray Griffin in particular) blithely dismissed or redefined the Trinity as a tertiary (as Griffin described it) doctrine for Christianity. This astounding claim demonstrates how vast the chasm is between the process view and Christianity. The open position, particularly as represented by Hasker, is highly critical of views of providence which entail God being even a secondary cause of evil.

The Good

+Fascinating interaction between two radically different yet frequently similar non-standard theistic positions
+Solid lineup of major representatives on both sides of the debate
+Good format
+Interesting insight into two positions which challenge classical theism

The Bad

-Too frequently autobiographical rather than topical in the middle essays


The value of Searching for an Adequate God is found in its many areas of clarification and insight: distinctions between process thought and classical Christian thought, clarifications on the meaning and extent of open theism, areas of mutual engagement between these divergent views, and more. It is a wonderfully fascinating book, even if I as a reader am deeply critical of both positions. I found it quite excellent.


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John B. Cobb, Jr. and Clark Pinnock, eds. Searching for an Adequate God (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2000). 


Process Philosophy and Nonsensationalism

This post is part of a series on Process Philosophy. View other posts in the series here.

Process Philosophy is meant to be appealing due to its integration of science and religion. This, in some ways, means concessions on both sides. Process Philosophy sacrifices some truths of religions in order to make it more appealing to science, while also denying some of the dogmatics of materialism in order to allow for religious truth.

One way it denies materialism is through its adherence to nonsensationalism. Nonsensationalism is the view that the kind of experience which is most basic to our human existence and knowledge is not that which we know through our 5 senses. Whitehead, for example, wrote that “science conceived as resting on mere sense perception, with no other source of observation, is bankrupt” (quoted in Griffin, 54). Furhtermore, philosophy “went wrong epistemologically… in holding that all… perception had to be sensory perception” (Griffin, 55).

Process Philosophy favors a “more fundamental mode of perception” (Griffin, 60). This form of perception is, to put it simply, experience or”prehension.” Part of this experience is being able to perceive causal links around us, despite not having sensory data to confirm the causal chain (60). One example of this nonsensory perception is the perception of one’s own body. There is a kind of immediacy to the awareness of one’s hands which does not involve any of the senses. Rather, one simply knows they are there and is able to experience them nonsensationally. We get sensations from the parts of our body, but this is not what grants us awareness; that which grants us awareness is more fundamental than, for example, touch (61-63).

Another example is the awareness of one’s own past. This is a continual problem with materialistic naturalism, and Process Philosophy presses this problem home. How does one use sensation to “remember” their past? The answer is that they don’t; rather, one is aware of the past with a kind of immediacy not provided by sensation. Yes, there are sensations which accompany memories, but they do not provide sense data to justify memories epistemically (64ff).

This doctrine of nonsensationalism is perhaps one of the most friendly parts of Process Philosophy to the Christian. While Process Philosophy explicitly denies substance dualism, I think its ideas about nonsensational awareness of things provides solid evidential basis for dualism. Furthermore, this doctrine of nonsensationalism as the more fundamental aspect of reality allows for religious experience to be a very real and evidential experience, for people perceive many of these religious experiences without sensation, but with the kind of immediacy that overcomes sensation totally (Griffin, 76ff). Therefore, it seems to me that at least this aspect of Process Philosophy is worth adopting by the classical theist. Next time, we’ll examine a doctrine which is not so friendly.


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


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Process Philosophy: The Unity of Science and Religion

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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