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Coffee & Wisdom 02.42: It’s a Process! Part 3

David Breeden is speaking all week about Process Theology and Process Philosophy.


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Hello, I’m David Breeden, I’m the senior minister at First Unitarian Society of Minneapolis, and this is Coffee and Wisdom.

This week we’ve been looking at Process Philosophy and Process Theology and what all of that means now. And this is all based on one book, Alfred North Whitehead’s Process and Reality, which was published in 1929. It was based on a series of lectures he gave in the late 1920s at Harvard. He was British but came to Harvard and then one of his grad students was Charles Hartshorne. We’ve also looked at in terms of what he did with going into something called Process Theology. Whitehead himself was a deist, probably. He was very vague about as theism if he had it one. But Charles Hartshorne was very much involved in the idea of finding a God in the process. Now, Hartshorne did not pretend to be Christian. He was a theologian and he was a theist and did go to Unitarian Universalist congregations. So what we need to look at today, first off, is the idea of process for philosophy itself. Yeah, there’s a lot of words here. This is from a Stanford Encyclopedia of philosophy, one of the real central online things that you can look up and pretty well get just about anything in terms of philosophy.

I’ll show you another source of the best process philosophies. As the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy is based on the premise that being is dynamic and I’ve mentioned that before, being is becoming being as dynamic and that the dynamic nature of being should be the primary focus of any comprehensive philosophical account of reality and our place within it, even though we experience our world and ourselves, is continuously changing. Western metaphysics has long been obsessed with describing reality as an assembly of static individuals whose dynamic features are either taken to be mere appearances or ontologically secondary and derivative. We’re going to run into that term ontological several times today. That is the study of being itself. That’s a Greek term, ontose for being. But you get the idea. Here is what we’re looking at is a way to talk about a new way of talking about objects in the world. Are they solid objects? And should we deal with them as solid objects or should we deal with them as processes? And that’s a scientific explanation. And if it works, so let’s see what they say.

For process philosophers, the adventure of philosophy begins with a set of problems that traditional metaphysics marginalizes or even sidesteps altogether what is dynamic or becoming. If it is the way we experience reality, how should we interpret this metaphysically?

Now, I would quickly mention that in terms of of serious philosophy, the term metaphysics means that which does not change. It’s not about supernaturalism or anything of that, but which we kind of in popular use of the term we kind of used. But in serious philosophy, metaphysics simply means that which does not change. So what is DII and dynamicists? You’re going to see very weird uses of words in Process Philosophy because they’re trying to express something that has not been expressed before. Now, given its current role as a rival to the dominant substance geared paradigm of Western metaphysics Process Philosophy has the overarching task of establishing the following three claims. So if we’re going to talk about it seriously, these things must be established. Number one, the basic assumption of the substance paradigm, i.e. metaphysics based on static entities such as substance’s objects, states of affairs or instantaneous stages are dispensable theoretical presuppositions rather than laws of thought. Now, if you know some philosophy, if you’ve studied it in college and that kind of thing, you know, that substance has been one of those endless discussions in Western philosophy. What is a substance? Does it have extension? Does it have to have extension, meaning 3d’ness in the world, etc. So this is very much a part of the Western philosophical tradition. So claim to process based theories performed just as well or better than substance based theories in application to the familiar philosophical topics identified within the substance paradigm. And three, there are other, important philosophical topics that can only be addressed within a process metaphysics. That’s a fairly high bar to prove for Process Philosophy itself, and it’s still debatable whether or not Process Philosophy will be able to meet those criteria, although there are lots of people out there trying to do that even as we speak. It is the cutting edge of Western philosophical and scientific thought as sort of the science or the philosophy of science, rather.

So process effects fall into two principal camps. And this is absolutely important when we switch over into Process Theology, two camps. On the one side is the teleological. Now teleological is again is a Greek word. It means the end. Does something have an end? Does it go towards something or is it random? So on one side is the teleological and often theological wing that sees nature’s process cruelty as a matter of teleological directness toward a positive destination. In other words, does the arc of the universe bend toward justice, or is there something out there that is that is directing everything in our reality towards some kind of end? On the other side is the naturalistic and generally secularist wing that sees nature’s process. Soulsby as a matter of an inner dynamic. They dynamicists that without any direct bias or at least without any directness towards a specified or definite destination. That, of course, is the position of natural selection. For the most part, that this is random. There is it’s going nowhere. It’s completely accidental. So you don’t think about or don’t try to deal with what the good of it is. There’s no good. It just happens. So those are the two camps that we’re talking about in terms of process, theology and philosophy. So both agree. And according a central road to the inherent DYI nature, sorry, these are tough to read, but the one naturalistic wing sees this in terms of randomness that leads in an arbitrary, arbitrary ways away from the of formulations of an established past.

While the other teleological wing sees this in terms of a goal directed purpose must be established by some value gear directive force. In other words, is there a God? Is is the basic idea here? Is there something that’s driving this bus or is the bus just careening down the road? Now back to Charles Hartshorne and theism. Charles Hartshorne really creates the idea of Process Theology. And he, again, was a theist, but he was trying to figure out what kind of theism could be logically proven. And so he goes back to Anselm and what is known as the ontological argument or ontological truth, a proof of ants who live from 1033 to 1109. Anselm was British. He the proper name is Saint Anselm of Canterbury. So this is his idea. Try to follow along. I know it’s a little complicated, but you’ll get the point. By definition, God is a being then, which none greater can be imagined. Nothing that bigger than God. All right, that’s step one. A being that necessarily exists in reality is greater than a being that does not necessarily exist. You get the idea there. A real squirrel is is greater in terms of its reality than a stuffed squirrel. You get the idea. That’s by definition, if God exists as an idea in the mind but does not necessarily exist in reality, then we can imagine something that is greater than God. All right. If there weren’t a God, we could imagine the cosmos, the universe, all that is, and that would be greater than God.

So but we cannot imagine something that is greater than God, because the definition is that God is the absolute greatest thing by definition. Thus, if God exists in the mind is an idea, then God necessarily exists in reality. God exists in the mind as an idea, says Anselm and Hartshorne. Therefore, God necessarily exists in reality. Now this is from the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. That’s the other one that is online that is peer reviewed by trained philosophers. So you can kind of trust it. So you get the idea here. If we have an idea of God, therefore it must exist. That’s the ontological the from being the definition is in being, therefore God must exist. Now, here are the objections to that ontological argument. The concrete cannot be derived from the abstract as the first one. Therefore, the ontological argument establishes God as abstract only. That is that I can certainly from being say there is a squirrel as we see in the noun’s concrete and abstract here. All right, I can establish that. But I can’t establish the idea that the squirrel has a soul because that is not concrete, that is abstract. Can’t put my finger on it. You get the difference. So the concrete cannot be derived from the abstract. Therefore, the ontological argument establishes God as abstract. Only even the statement something exists must be defined. In order to be true, you got to be able to define your terms. What do we mean by exists and why do we mean by something? So we have to figure that out before we can go forward.

And of course, this is one of the central problems. Yes, six is greater than two is true, but that does not imply that X is greater than two is also true. Now, it could be, and this is what’s known as the moral argument. This is an argument that can be removed from any discussions of squirrels and souls and taken out as a fairly abstract, logical argument. So it’s a modal argument. Yes. Something else exists that is greater than two is a true statement, but the property of X are bounded. You can’t put nine in there for X. In other words, you would fail arithmetic if you did that. So you get the idea that we can say these certain statements with this unknown X, but when we say X, we have to define what its limits are. Therefore, the ontological argument proves that it is possible for God to exist, but not that God exists. That’s the fairly definite conclusion of most philosophers when they when they wade into Anselmo’s argument, our children claimed. Furthermore, after establishing what he thought was a proposition that proved God, our children claimed that the only God worthy of existing is the God of love. Why else would we want to God? We don’t want a god of hate. Why would we want that? So it must be a god of love. But what are the properties of love? Good question.

And Charles Hartshorne worked on this idea. Does the statement imply an ability of God to experience emotion? God is love. So does God feel love? Good question. That is a presupposition that is very difficult to prove. Does the statement imply an ability of God to act out of the emotion of love? In other words, say, poor little Kitty, don’t walk across the road just now. You’ll be hit by a car and stop the cat from actually crossing the road and being killed? Is does God have that ability? If not again, what’s the point? If the answer to both of these questions is no, then what is the point of God’s love and why should we humans care? God can love all that. But if it has nothing to do with humanity, what’s the point Process Theology at minimum claims that God is in and affected by processes. That’s why it’s Process Theology. The other teleological wing, as I read earlier, sees this in terms of a goal directed, purpose filled, have messed established by some value geared directive force. It’s going somewhere right. But God is process is exactly like the statement God is love in that. The question is, does the statement imply an ability of God to affect process? And again, this is the entire question. Is there a Chelios? Is there an end? If there is a God that exists and all this process, what is that God doing? And does that do any of us any good? Good question.

Of course, you’re going to see lots of Internet memes say trusting God through the process is what you need to do. But, yeah, where are we going with that? So after all of this and I’m trying to lay out the groundwork of really the cutting edge of Process Theology, because Hartshorne really never got at the actual proof, although some people do think that that is a proof. So where does all of this lead to? Well, we always go back to Frederick Ohlemacher, 1768 to 1834 and his great book on Religion from 1799 in which he said all religious feelings are supernatural, for they are religious only insofar as they are produced directly by the universe, whether they are religious in oneself self, each person must judge best. You’ve got to decide what this reality means. And if you have a religious response to it and with Schleiermacher, it all comes back to you feel it or you don’t. So that’s really where Process Theology is going. You feel it or you don’t. And we’ll be looking at some more ideas from this tomorrow, trying to process process theology. Thanks for listening. Tonight at seven p.m. Central Standard Time, we will be looking at Jacob and the boys. That is an examination of the patriarchs in the Hebrew scripture. Who are they? What are they? What are they doing out there? And how does it fit into a larger understanding of Judaism and ultimately Christianity? Thanks for listening and we’ll see you tonight.

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