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Coffee & Wisdom 02.43: It’s a Process! Part 4

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


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Hello, I’m David Breeden and the senior minister at First Unitarian Society of Minneapolis, a historically humanist congregation. And this is Coffee and Wisdom. This week we’ve been looking at process theology and process philosophy, looking at ways that this impacts liberal religion in general, Unitarian Universalism specifically, and the interface between that and humanism. We’ve been talking about the central book in this particular way of thinking, Alfred North Whitehead’s process and reality. I have mentioned before that it is a fairly unreadable book, so I don’t encourage people to read it unless you’re very into this. But there are lots and lots of scholars and theologians who have read the the book think they understand it in some way that’s always debatable and then drawn some conclusions from it. It was published in 1929 based on lectures that Whitehead gave in Harvard after he came here from the United Kingdom. And Charles Hartshorne was Whitehead’s graduate, a student student. And of course Whitehead becomes the his mentor. But then Hartshorne takes this idea and goes in a very different direction, introducing it into theology. And again, it’s quite debatable whether or not Whiteheads ideas and hard Seans ideas are really in the same ballpark. But that’s all part of the fun of process, philosophy and theology. Now, yesterday, we looked at a proof of God that Charles Hartshorne undertook based on Anselm’s proof of God called the ontological argument and some Saint Anselm of Canterbury live from 1033 to 1109.

A very brief, this is skipping some points if you saw this yesterday. But just to give you the broad outlines of this argument, God is that being then which no greater can be conceived. Right. That’s a definition of God within this ontological this argument for being it is greater to exist in reality than merely as an idea. All right. Just an idea is just an idea. But it’s so it’s greater to exist. If God does not exist. We can conceive of an even greater being. That is one that does exist. So that would violate proposition one, that God is the being which has no greater. Therefore, God must indeed exist in reality. As we discussed yesterday, there are some rather difficult things about this proof. One of the interesting things is that a contemporary Gaunilo of Marmoutiers in the 1100s offered a counter argument. Now we think of the Middle Ages as being a time when nobody disagreed with anybody in the church. But this is really not the case as as exposed by this very famous argument. So he said this. The lost island is that island then, which no greater can be conceived. All right. It is greater to exist in reality than merely as an idea. OK, if the lost island does not exist, one can conceive of an even greater island that is is one that does exist and therefore the lost island exists in reality. Now, we mentioned Bertrand Russell’s teapot when we were talking about faux religions and those kinds of ideas.

And so this is very much like Richard Russell’s teapot that you can’t see it. But I’d say it’s there. Therefore, the problem with these kind of arguments is that from the from Anselm’s point of view would be that, wait a minute, but God does exist and the lost island doesn’t exist. So you’re trying to prove something that doesn’t exist and we know it does it again, a very debatable place to be when you start talking about this. But the fact is, it all comes down to Schleiermacher, as I mentioned yesterday, who lived from 1768 to 1834. His great book on religion was published in 1799. 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 one’s self, each person must judge best. His argument is that all religious feelings are completely subjective. That is pretty well where liberal religion has gone over the last years. But Schleiermacher, you feel it or you don’t is basically the idea here. It’s all subjective. But reason and logic cannot establish particular sorts of gods or established foundations for particular types of religion. So this idea has been around for a very long time. But wait, I want my religion to be true and provable, says the “Startled Emoji”. How can I have a religion that is both true and provable.

Well, the answer is that’s not real likely. As a matter of fact, unless you want to become a religious naturalist or a humanist in which we say that material reality is the only thing we’re really going to talk about. There you have it. But that’s not going to stop others from trying all things, says Charles Hartshorne about this. In all their aspects consist exclusively of souls, that is of various kinds of subjects or units of experience, of experiencing with their qualifications, relations and groupings or communities. So if we can’t prove that God exists by the ontological argument, which seems to be the last one that is even remotely possible, Hartshorne is going to take a fallback position that all things have some kind of consciousness in them, and that then feeds back into not only metaphysics, but also a very philosophical ideas. Leibniz published a book called Monadology back in 1714 in which he talks about monads. Monads nowadays we would call atoms. That term was around when Leibniz was alive, but it was when all the way back to the Greeks with Democritus. So he decided to use monad instead. But the real question for Leibniz is, do atoms have feelings, emotions, desires and consciousness? And Leibniz said, heck, yes, they do. That’s where this this very philosophical idea feeds right back into an old idea called Panpsychism. One of the major proponents of Panpsychism was John McTaggert, Ellis’ McTaggert, an English idealist metaphysic metaphysician at Oxford, who was one of the teachers for Bertrand Russell, not much known today.

Back in his day, he was quite the curmudgeon. He also proved that time doesn’t exist. If you want to read that logical argument about why time doesn’t exist, well, go for it. It’s kind of interesting, but unfortunately, sort of like the ontological argument for God, a little bit debatable as you go on. But McTaggert said this religion may be best may best be described as an emotion resting on a conviction of a harmony between ourselves and the universe at large. So you see how he’s going to use it, sort of wiggle terms in weasel words, you might call them, to get at why he was a religious person. But let us look at Panpsychism for a moment. You can take a peek at this picture here and you will see Whitehead on the left and on the right on Reedsburg, Soane. We’ll get back to it a moment. And you can probably recognize the little graph between them. That is the concept of relativity from Einstein. And of course, they’re writing it at the time when Einstein’s ideas are new and everyone is trying to wrestle with the philosophical and mathematical implications of what it meant. This is from the Oxford bibliography. It says, Broadly speaking, Panpsychism is the view that everything has a mind or at least some mind like quality or aspect. Such a definition is naturally open to a wide variety of interpretations, owing, if nothing else, to the ambiguity involved in such terms as everything and mind.

We’ve run into that problem before, too. If you get to define these things all by yourself, then usually you can prove them. Well, it goes on to say the word dates back to the late 1500s derived from Pann meaning all and psyche, which in Greek meant mind or soul. But the concept itself is much older being found in the indigenous animism of most ancient societies. In a sense, then we have never been without Panpsychism. It has a long and noble philosophical legacy in both Western and Eastern civilizations. It really is probably the oldest human idea about how the world works. But late do. The bananas that I have for breakfast actually have a consciousness? That’s a good question. Well, Oxford Bibliographies. Griffiths goes on to say this. Having been subsumed for much of the 20th century by a dominant analytical philosophy, Panpsychism is currently experiencing something of a revival and is once again the subject of serious philosophical debate. Its string’s largely derives from the implausibility of the emergence of mind from a non mental reality and from the various problems with conventional materialism, although a number of other arguments have been advanced in its favor. And yes, there are lots and lots of books coming out at the moment on Panpsychism that you can read up on this particular idea. But you see what’s happening here.

Where does consciousness come from? If all material things are not in some way conscious is a question, and it’s a fairly good question that we really don’t know the answer to. Sorry about that. So the question that Panpsychism answers is, where does consciousness come from? Where does it come from? Well, and we’re going to take a look now at on Reedsburg Sohne. Eighteen fifty nine to nineteen forty one. His most famous book is Creative Evolution. This he was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature, not in science, right after this particular book was written. He has three central ideas. One is duration. That is what time is. And again, as we were talking about with McTaggert, this was a very alive question in the early 20th century because of Einstein’s new theories. He also has a goes to town on the idea of intuition and what it means, basically creativity. And that is most famous, which is usually not translated. Elon v. Tao. That is the spirit of uplift that we’re going to use in order to explore reality and be creative in the world. So Audrey Brookstone, very famous in the early 20th century, kind of fallen out of favor now. But when you talk about Sikhism, he has his ideas will always come up. His most famous quote, and I’m sure you’ve run into it, is the eye sees only what the mind is prepared to comprehend. The eye sees only what the mind is prepared to comprehend. This appears to be a kind of postmodern statement about how we explore reality and find reality.

And it’s often quoted. He also said, for a conscious being to exist is to change. To change is to mature. To mature is to go on creating oneself endlessly. And there you go. That’s a central process idea. If you’re a conscious being, you have to change in order to exist and can exist in order to change. And as you change, you create yourself endlessly. So this idea of of endless creativity by through intuition of of reality. He also said this the pure present is an ungraspable advance of the past, devouring the future. In truth, all sensation is already memory. This may be scientifically true. As a matter of fact, it still is one of those debatable things that we don’t really know. But the pure present is an ungraspable advance of the past, devouring the future. In truth, all sensation is already memory. Yes, he was getting that from his readings of Buddhism that were coming into the France of his particular day. Very, very Buddhist idea. One last word from him. It is astonishing that like children trying to catch smoke by closing their hands, philosophers so often see the object they would grasp fly before them. So we can’t get at. We can’t get out. We can’t get out reality. So what we’re what we need to do instead is think through Elon v. Tao, through the spirit, into a creative mode of being.

That’s the idea anyway. So there we have a bunch of ideas that are fitting together. If we can’t prove the existence of God, maybe we’re going to back up a little bit and go to some other ideas that we haven’t yet solved through science or through logic and see if those can get us back to some kind of idea of a soul and a supernatural effect in the world. And again, debatable, but highly possible. We just don’t know. Tomorrow I’ll end up by reviewing and also talking a little bit more about what art seans major ideas Panentheism, the other God of the philosophers, and as this book says, from Plato to the present, Hartshorne dug back through a philosophical thinking to find what he saw as the step beyond pantheism and Panpsychism into pantheism. The idea that all of the parts in being a whole lot more than the parts the whole is bigger than the parts. And we’ll talk about that tomorrow as we look back this month. Our theme is commitment. And this Sunday I’ll be talking about the Ten Commandments or how can I help? Where does that come from? Well, it comes from an idea from the American Humanist Association going with the Ten Commandments of humanism. And that’s what I’ll be talking about on Sunday. So thanks a lot for joining us today. I’ll see you tomorrow with a kind of wrap up of what process philosophy and theology is at, or I’ll see you Sunday. Thanks a lot.


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