Some Steps in Learning Process Thought

Alan Anderson

Where we begin

We begin with our senses, being aware of our bodies and the world around us. Soon we learn that appearances are deceiving. People do not get smaller as they walk away; a straight stick partly in water is not bent, although it appears to be. That may be about as far as our own observations will take us. But we know that scientists have discovered that our bodies are not solid, at least in the sense of being undividable wholes. Our bodies are made of a great many cells; the cells (and everything else that we call material) are made of atoms, and atoms are made of smaller parts, which turn out to be bursts of energy, rather than solid things.

The often overlooked obvious

Our feeling, wanting, thinking, willing, and other sorts of "internal" or "mental" or "psychic" occurrences are so obvious that we may overlook them, as a fish might overlook water, if the fish were capable of thinking about it. However, when we turn to philosophical thinking-which is an attempt to understand things as basically as we can-we cannot afford to overlook our apparently nonphysical side. If we seek to understand the essential nature of everything (which endeavor is one way of defining metaphysics), we have to begin somewhere. But where; is it with our external or our internal observations? As Charles Hartshorne says,

In thinking comprehensively about reality one may generalize either from [1] things very different from ourselves or [2] from those conscious animals that we are. . . . to take as primary samples of reality [our] own minds or experiences. . . . However special the human mind may be, it is only mind that puts philosophical or scientific questions and finds answers; also it is only as appearing in experience, which is mind in its concrete form, that air, fire, or water can confirm or falsify theories. Moreover, there is only one part of nature that we know in all possible cognitive ways: by the senses of sight, sound, smell, touch, pain, pleasure, as well as by introspection or memory of our own thinking, feeling, perceiving, and the rest. This part of nature is the part each of us is, and we know it by being it; other natural things we know from without, by our external senses of sight, sound, touch, smell. These senses exhibit also ourselves and our human fellows. Thus, though we are highly specialized and hence, it may seem, unrepresentative samples of reality, these samples are, for our knowledge, uniquely accessible to direct as well as indirect awareness and understanding. To this extent they are privileged samples. There are still other reasons for stressing them (Insights and Oversights of Great Thinkers: An Evaluation of Western Philosophy, pp. 13-14).

If we decide to begin with mind (experience) as the way to go in entering metaphysics, do we have any grounds for supposing that mind (rather than mater) might be that in terms of which everything can be explained?

Hartshorne suggests that it is wise or "unnaive to leap to the conclusion that the form of mind to which we have special accessibility is the only form [of mind]." He notes, "Nonhuman forms of mind are difficult for us to interpret or clearly imagine, and the more so the more widely their physical structures differ from our own; but this falls short of proving that there are no such forms of mind" (Ibid., p. 14).

Atomism not necessarily materalistic

Some ancient Greeks believed in innumerable invisibly tiny material particles called atoms, meaning that which cannot be cut, divided. Charles Hartshorne asks:

"What has atomism, Greek or not, to do with materialism?" The two ideas are not obviously the same. Atomism meant: (a) the real, pervasive structure of the world, by which its changes are to be chiefly understood, is on too fine a scale to be directly apparent to sense perception and (b) the imperceptibly small constituents of the world have permanent sizes and shapes and interact only push-pulling one another. If materialism is the denial that the most pervasive processes of nature involve any such psychical functions as sensing, feeling, remembering, desiring, or thinking, this denial hardly follows from assumption (a) (Ibid.).

Where does Alfred North Whitehead enter this picture? Whitehead accepted the quantum physics view that quanta of energy are the basic units of nature. But he went on to ask whether they are, as science assumes, lifeless. In this, science is materialistic. Materialism has been defined as "the denial that the most pervasive processes of nature involve any such psychical functions as sensing, feeling, remembering, desiring, or thinking" (Hartshorne, Ibid., p. 17) Strange as it may seem to us (although many ancient people believed in the livingness of nature), he concluded that the quanta of energy are alive, meaning that they are characterized by creative activity, aim (purpose), and enjoyment of their process of choosing-none of these having to be conscious.

Individuals and aggregates

Some things, such as rocks, do not show any signs of life. How is that to be explained? They are collections, aggregates, of living experiences, and aggregates do not necessarily have the same qualities that their parts have. It is possible to accept a nonmaterialistic form of atomism.

The rest of our exploration is devoted to considering the possibility that there is nothing but mind, which, as Hartshorne suggests, is a name for experience, in the sense of whatever feeling or more refined occurrences we discover in introspection.

Some ancient and modern thinkers have maintained that there is only one mind, but that claim lands us in formidable problems of how, if the claim were true, there could be the appearance of manyness and freedom of choice, which most of us find indispensable for explaining the world.

Modern science believed in solid atoms until nearly the dawn of the twentieth century. Now we know that matter and energy are equivalent, that atoms can be split and that, as quantum physics emphasizes, energy comes in the form of momentary bursts, or quanta, rather than as a steady stream. The great question is whether this is the final word or whether by philosophical thinking we can go beyond it in figuring out what would make most fundamental sense in explaining how all reality works.

A staggering possibility--or necessity in interpreting everything

Metaphysics, speculative philosophy, seeks whatever it is that is so utterly basic that it lies at the bottom of everything, whatever can explain everything. Many philosophers have given up this search, but Whitehead and his followers have not. They believe that experience, or mind, is the key to everything. They interpret the quanta of physics as experiences apart from which there is nothing. Very briefly put, what experiences do is feel, prehend, earlier experiences, including the guidance provided for them by God, and very quickly blend these often conflicting influences to produce a new experience that will influence all later experiences in some degree.

Drawing on other introductory writings

The rest of this site contains excerpts from some introductory writings about process thought, in its various forms known as process philosophy, process-relational philosophy, process theology, panexperientialism, the philosophy of organism (as Whitehead called it), panexperientialism, psychicalism, neoclassical theism, and a form of panpsychism, a type of pluralistic idealism.

Judy Casanova

Perhaps the simplest introduction to process thought is an article, "Surprise and Celebration" by Judy Casanova. In it she maintains:

The most basic concepts of process thought . . . are fairly simple, even though they go contrary to much of popular wisdom. These simple ideas are: 1) that the whole of everything is not made up of things, but of events becoming, as opposed to being and 2) that every event, however small, affects every other, that events are related. These are not terribly new ideas, but they are central to process thinking, and if taken seriously, change just about everything.

Things are changing:

Process thinking means . . . I can't put labels on you, for at any moment, you have the right and the ability to surprise me, and I don't want to miss the surprise. Every day is filled with newness sometimes delightful sometimes not, but fresh. Maybe I can see something that I couldn't see yesterday; maybe there is something within my experience that never was before. . . .What God is growing into, and what I and you are growing into is not yet. That doesn't mean that God doesn't exist any more than it means you and I don't exist. . . .

With regard to practical implications:

Process thinking allows me to walk among "those who seem to be something" (St. Paul's phrase) without being over impressed and among those of no repute without writing them off. It means that I can never write off any series of events anyone or anything. Not only is that series (person) part of me and I a part of that person, but what I become through knowing another and what that other becomes by knowing me goes on and on through all time and influences everything that is to come. There is no us and them, no sheep and goats. We are all becoming, and the final chapter isn't written on any of us. I don't have to become what I'm not to impress somebody or win their approval. Process thinking means that I can rejoice in my particularity. I'm glad I'm not you and I'm glad you're not me. We are, each of us, unique in all the universe, in all that is.

Sheela Pawar

According to the Center for Process Study's Basic Synopsis of Process Thought, "What Is Process Thought?" by Sheela Pawar:

Whitehead departed from traditional philosophy by conceiving of individual entities as series of moments of experience instead of as masses of static substance. Within each moment, an entity is influenced by others, creates its own identity and propels itself into further experiences. Because of the involvement of all moments of experience with each other, Whitehead conceived of the entire cosmos as an organic whole. Just as all the cells in our bodies are interrelated, all elements of the universe -- from the light waves of a distant star to a human being living in Boise, Idaho -- are interrelated. These relationships are not all equal: a single skin cell on a person's toe does not affect his or her life as much as does a nerve cell in the brain. Complex groups of cells, such as the nervous system, have a greater influence on the person than single cells. Analogously, social groups are more effective than single individuals, and individuals are more effective than single cells. People living in the United States are affected by particles released from a volcano in the Philippines. Business practices in Japan affect the global community. Individual elements that have little effect in themselves, such as a molecule of carbon monoxide, are often greatly effective in large numbers, as ecological effects of large amounts of carbon monoxide pollution attest. Relativity is descriptive of sub-atomic particles, social groups, as well as planetary systems.

Whitehead's philosophy is grand in scope. It provides a metaphysical system applicable to all aspects of our lives. It has been utilized to provide insights into aesthetics, biology, economics, education, interpersonal relations, physics, physiology, political theory, psychology, the relationship among the world's religions, social law, and theology. As a holistic metaphysical system, process thought is intrinsically inter-disciplinary.

American philosopher Charles Hartshorne (b. 1897) has developed and systematized Whitehead's way of thinking about the Divine. Just as the systems of the human body are guided by the human mind, Hartshorne conceived of the Divine as the guiding principle of the cosmos. Thus, the cosmos is the very body of the Divine. As the human mind is something more than the human body, the Divine is not simply equal to the sum of the ingredients of the universe. God is affected by the elements of the universe, living the joys and sorrows of every created entity, yet God is not overcome by this multitude of feeling. God's vision of the perfection of the created universe remains as an eternal vision of hope. God gently persuades all entities towards this perfection by providing each of them with a glimpse of the divine vision of a better future. And yet all entities retain the freedom to depart from that vision. . . .

Peter Farleigh writes in his Whitehead's Even More Dangerous Idea:

From Substance-thinking to Event [Process]-thinking:

Events, as we commonly refer to them, are happenings in certain places, at certain times, for particular durations - everything from the fall of an autumn leaf, to the fall of the Roman Empire. We can discuss such events by starting with concepts of matter in motion, but such an approach is a limited case of a more general view that regards matter, itself, as aggregates of sub-atomic events, as modern physics has shown. Sub-atomic events are instances of the fundamental types of events that Whitehead takes as the basis for his ontology.

Bertrand Russell felt the force of this idea. In 1914 Whitehead convinced him "to abandon Newtonian absolute time and space, and also particles of matter, substituting systems of events" and this "fitted in well with Einstein". (Ushenko 1949) He further elucidated the Whiteheadian concept of matter when he later wrote: "An event does not persist and move, like the traditional piece of matter; it merely exists for its little moment and then ceases. A piece of matter will thus be resolved into a series of events. Just as, in the old view, an extended body was composed of a number of particles, so, now each particle, being extended in time, must be regarded as composed of what we may call 'event-particles'. The whole series of these events makes up the whole history of the particle, and the particle is regarded as being its history, not some metaphysical entity to which the events happen." (Russell 1969) [See the original for these and other references.] . . .


It is a dangerous thing to change our mode of thinking—from looking at the world in terms of substances, to thinking of it in terms of events. All, and not just some, of our old Cartesian images have to go. Mind and matter are not separate. Mind is not rejected in preference for matter, and mind does not arise from matter that initially has no mind. This is because both concepts undergo a radical change within Whitehead's philosophy of organism and are replaced by the single concept of relational events. These events have characteristics that can be considered matter-like in some respects and mind-like in others. . . .

Charles Birch

Biologist Charles Birch concludes his article, "Process Thought: Its Value and Meaning to Me":

Let me end on a more personal note. For me what is important is whether I care or don't care. Process theology lifts the richness of human experience to a level that gives me a new perspective of care for all creation. The world is more like a life than a mechanism. It is feeling through and through, from protons to people. There is a sense of newness with which the world, of process, imbued with Life, is viewed, a new feeling of possessing, being possessed, and of participation. At its heart it is A. N Whitehead's "Peace" which, for him, was an individual experience including within itself the harmony and integrity of the universe.

Earlier he gives some background:

The evolution of the subjective is precisely the problem Whitehead had laid out so clearly when he wrote:

A thoroughgoing evolutionary philosophy is inconsistent with materialism. The aboriginal stuff, or material, from which a materialistic philosophy starts is incapable of evolution. The material is in itself the ultimate substance. Evolution, on the materialistic theory, is reduced to the role of being another word for the description of the changes of the external relations between portions of matter. There is nothing to evolve, because one set of external relations is as good as any other set of external relations. There can merely be change, purposeless, and unprogressive . . . . The doctrine thus cries aloud for a conception of organism as fundamental for nature. (SMW, 157 [Abbreviations are explained at the end of the linked original.])

The conception of organism as fundamental for nature involves a radical break with a mechanistic or substance concept of nature. It involves what David Griffin calls "the reenchantment of science" (RS). There are no substances. What exist are relations and these relations involve subjectivity--that is, some form of sentience--at the heart of all entities from protons to people. The individual entities of the universe are occasions of experience.

Radical indeed is the proposition that when you pursue your feelings down the evolutionary line you come to the conclusion that a feeling is a feeling of a feeling.

Mind cannot arise from no mind. Subjectivity cannot emerge from something that is not subjective. Freedom and self-determination cannot arise from something that has no freedom. Instead of feelings being epiphenomenal side-effects, they become central in process thought. This central proposition is put succinctly by Cobb and Griffin (PT 13) when they say that process philosophy sees human experience "as a high level exemplification of reality in general." All individual entities such as protons, atoms and cells have in common with human experience that they take account of their environment, without being fully determined by it. This "taking account of" is technically called an internal relation. The phrase is useful as a contrast to an external relation. Most Western thought has focused on external relations (that push or pull). An external relation does not affect the nature of the things related. The billiard ball is unchanged when it is hit by the cue or another billiard ball. An internal relation is different. A deep conversation between two friends may mean little to an outside observer. But it changes the people involved. I experience my friend and am different inwardly as a consequence. An internal relation is constitutive of the character and even the existence of something. As Tennyson put into the mouth of the adventurous Ulysses, "I am a part of all that I have met."

For me this has been the most enlightening concept in process thought, but for most of my scientific colleagues it is not a stepping stone to understanding but a stumbling block. Why?

One reason why my scientific colleagues find process thought a stumbling block is that they suppose one is attributing consciousness to all individual entities. Dobzhasky asked me, "How can you believe atoms have brains?" The notion that sentience is proto-consciousness (or whatever one may call feeling that is less than fully conscious) is indeed difficult to grasp for those committed to mechanism. A second difficulty my scientific colleagues create is their supposition that process thought attributes sentience to everything, including rocks and solar systems. A distinguished astronomer told me he was attracted to process thought but rejected it because he couldn't see how the solar system could be an organism! Nor can I.

An individual entity or organism is something that feels and acts as one. The process proposition is that everything is either such an occasion of experience or is made up of entities that are occasions of experience. Things such as rocks, solar systems, and computers are not individual entities that feel. They are aggregates of individual entities, the atoms and molecules that compose them. Hartshorne's paper (PP) is very helpful in making the necessary distinction. As David Griffin points out, the great successes of science have come from studying aggregates, such as balls on inclined planes and solar systems, where Newtonian mechanics or the Cartesian system applies (RS 24). For all practical purposes prediction is possible here at least in principle. Hence, the success in the intricate guiding of space vehicles to Venus and Mars.

The great success of the Cartesian method is largely a result of following a path of least resistance. Those that yield to the attack are pursued with vigor because the method works there. Other problems and other phenomena are left behind, walled off from understanding by commitment to Cartesianism. The harder problems are not tackled, if for no other reason than that brilliant scientific careers are not built on persistent failure. So the problems of embryonic and psychic development, the function of the nervous system, and the evolution of mind and consciousness remain in much the same unsatisfactory state they were in fifty years ago, while molecular biologists go from triumph to triumph in describing and manipulating genes.

Nothing can be more confusing than to regard Newtonian mechanics as the exemplar of science. Quantum physics has gone well beyond the completely mechanistic analysis of reality. If there is to be any exemplar of science it should be biology. Unfortunately biology is still trapped in a very mechanistic analysis of living organisms (PE Chaps. 2 and 3). When biology snaps out of this restriction it will become the basic science because it will be studying those individual entities where feelings exist at the conscious level. It will then be seen to be ridiculous to suppose that we could understand what the universe is without taking into account what the universe produces in its evolution: namely, conscious, purposing human beings. Hence, the rhetorical question of quantum physicist J. A. Wheeler, "Here is a man, so what must the universe be?" (quoted in AU, p. 112). A reenchanted biology would take into account all experience, all subjectivity, and not exclude whatever cannot be weighed and measured. We shall then realize what Whitehead saw long ago: that biology is the study of large organisms, and physics is the study of smaller organisms.

I have mentioned two stumbling blocks in process thought for scientists, namely, the meaning of mind in nature and, second, the failure to distinguish between individual entities and aggregates of individual entities. There is yet a third related problem. Mechanistic science assumes that the world is made of unchanging building blocks--call them protons, atoms, or what you will. All that happens in cosmic and biological evolution is rearrangement of the building blocks. Process thought proposes instead that in the course of cosmic and biological evolution the individual entities change as they find themselves in different environments. For any entity is what it is by virtue of its internal relations to other entities. Cosmic and biological evolution involve change in structures--as, for example, when electrons and protons form hydrogen atoms. The electrons and protons now find themselves in a different environment and have therefore different internal relations from what they had before hydrogen atoms existed. A proton in a stellar mass is different from one in a hydrogen atom. A cell in my brain is different from a cell not in my brain but, say, in a culture of cells in a dish. This is ecology at the most fundamental level.

There is a reason for respecting the individual entities of nature, be they frogs or humans. It is because they are subjects and not just objects. The emphasis that all living (as well as non-living) creatures are subjects has, for me, been a wide-open gate for the development of a non-anthropocentric ethic. This is probably the most important issue in the development of eco-philosophy for the conservation of nature. "Man" is not the measure of all things. If every living creature is a subject, then each has intrinsic value to itself and to God, in addition to any instrumental value each may have in the scheme of things. The clear implication of this recognition is the extension of compassion, justice and rights to non-humans. They should not be treated merely as means but as ends in themselves. Each has a life to enjoy and fulfil.

In the next section of his paper, Birch writes:

A stumbling block in religion for me, when I early embraced a more traditional theism, was the existence of mishaps, accidents, suffering, and the agony of nature. Later I came to see process theology as a theology that took these issues seriously in its concept of God. Others seem to leave them as mysteries, inexplicable events or the activities of a tyrannical God. Hartshorne emphasized the importance of accepting accident and chance as a part of nature, and indeed as necessary in a universe that is not completely determined, but whose individual entities have their own degree of self-determination. I vividly recall the great importance he attached to a genuine recognition of chance and accident by his response to one of the clearest statements on the subject ever made by a biologist. . . .

In a deterministic [Birch might better have said God-dominated, since determinism generally is used to refer to a godless universe mechanically, purposelessly, run by natural forces] universe God is supposed, to manipulate entities. In a universe where accidents are possible and entities have some degree of freedom and self-determination, God is not coercive but is persuasive. It was this understanding -of the relation between accident, chance, self-determination, evil and suffering, and a persuasive God that was the light I needed. in order to escape from the omnipotent God of classical theism. That Hartshorne brought these ideas together in one book (OTM) recently has been a great help to many. Self-determination in the world on the one hand, and the persuasive activity of God on the other is, God's action in the world. Evil springs not from providence.

There is a certain frustration in the creation. We cannot claim that any part of the cost can be dispensed with earthquake, plague virus, or tiger. It is not that the devil or Eve upset the divine plan. God made the world subject to frustration. Without that possibility there could be no freedom in the creation at all at any point. The cross pattern is woven into the whole fabric of our world. There seems to me to have been an evolution in the thought of Saint Paul in this respect. He came Corinth humiliated by his failure to present God as power at Thessalonica, or in terms of wisdom at Athens, and resolved that he would no longer accommodate the faith to his audience. He would be content to know one thing and only one thing; only. So writing to the Corinthians he could say, the Jews seek after miracles, they are beset with an idea of God as a God of power, a miracle worker. The Greeks are crazy for wisdom, they think of God in terms of the supreme philosopher and mathematician. But we are not satisfied with a picture of God in terms either of power or wisdom. We see God in terms of a man on a cross, of love that suffers, and of suffering that redeems. We see God in terms of persuasive, outgoing, and transforming love.

There is a second aspect of God's nature recognized by process theology which traditional theism neglects. It is the feelings of God for the creation. It is the idea that God feels and saves the feelings of all creation, its joys and its sufferings, as it evolves. God is no mere spectator of the ocean of feelings which is nature at any moment. God is the supreme synthesis of these feelings. I have come to see, particularly from Hartshorne and Cobb, that unless we recognize God as responsive beneficiary as well as benefactor, it is illusory to talk of God as a God of love. Saint Paul (or whoever) seems to have made this discovery in the letter to the Romans (Chapter 8) where he writes, of creation groaning, in agony in its sufferings. It is the creative agony of childbirth. Furthermore, he adds God comes alongside creation "with groanings unuttered" (verse 26). God is not the spectator of existence but the one who feels all the joys and groanings of all creation.

There are the two aspects of divine love as of human love. Love gives and love receives. There is the divine eros and the divine passion. If we and all creation have no value for the cosmos, we have no value. To pretend we have is self-delusion. This is the ultimate meaning of process thought to me (PE 98-103). . . .

Whitehead was very effective in invoking the poets. We can do that with contemporary poets. Process thought uses its key words not unfamiliar in ordinary speech-words such as "event," "process," "organism," "sentience," and "internal relations." Can these be worked into images more than they have been?

I have used the conductor of an orchestra and the players as a model or metaphor of the persuasive ordering of creation by God (PE 43). In the process model of God the persuasive ordering principle coordinates the creativity of a multitude of creative agents, each with its own degree of freedom. Each player in an orchestra interprets the score in his or her own way. But all are coordinated by the conductor.

A brilliant documentary film was made in 1984 of Leonard Bernstein conducting an orchestra and singers during rehearsals of his own composition, "West Side Story." Those who saw this documentary were struck by the way in which musicians, composer and conductor became one. Bernstein originated the score. Each player was making an interpretation from both the score and the grimaces on the conductor's face. Sometimes the orchestra seemed not to come up to the conductor's expectations of it. At other times it seemed to exceed the conductor's expectations. He responded with intense delight.

The individual entities in nature, like the musicians in the orchestra, have their own degree of freedom to respond or not to respond. This may be tiny at the level of the proton. It is highly significant at the level of the human person. God is like the composer-conductor who is writing the score just a few bars ahead of the orchestra, taking into account their harmonies and disharmonies while proposing the next movement of the music. God does not determine the outcome. That is open-ended. The power of God is the power of persuasion to harmonize the whole. The great conductor never feels that he or she has got it quite perfect. He or she keeps on trying to bring out the best. Is this not also true of God? And when some creative advance is achieved, be it small or large, there is joy "in heaven." . . .

A. N. Whitehead said that we may never fully understand but we can increase our penetration. Did not Newton do just this within the constraints of the physics of his time? The fall of the apple and the movement of the planets were encompassed in one great scheme. Somewhat later Lord Rutherford said that no physical theory is worth much if it cannot be explained to a barmaid! I think he meant that the mathematical model is for the mathematician, but for others there can be other more appropriate models. Even more recently quantum physicist J. A. Wheeler has given a life-long message to his fellow physicists: "What is deep is also simple." Cosmologists in physics today speak of searching for one formula to encompass the laws of the physical world so precise that it could be written on the back of a t-shirt. Theology can be just as bold as it contemplates the bold images of the bible and of those church founders who managed to find a great coherence between their religious faith and knowledge from the Greek world.

William Stegal

Much of the essence of the above material is summed up in William Stegal's "A Guide to A. N. Whitehead's Understanding of God and the Universe", here slightly edited:

Original disclaimer: There are numerous 'types' of process [philosophy and] theology and many divergent agendas for process theologians. Here we present a single, basic understanding of process theology as an example. The example is not meant to be all inclusive but it does illustrate many of the principles adopted by most process theologians.

I. All reality is energy, being composed of a complex combination of energy events. There is no such thing as spiritual matter versus physical matter. God and our spirits are energy [mental] events, just as is everything else.

II. The building blocks of the universe are bursts of [living] energy, each coming into being and fading away in a split second. Whitehead calls them energy events or actual occasions of experience.

A. Each energy event [momentary experience] has a physical pole and a mental pole.

1. The physical pole is that aspect of it which is purely a repeat of past energy events.

2. The mental pole is an element of subjectivity [awareness] and, therefore, of limited but genuine freedom that enables the energy event, in the process of becoming, to have some determination over the shape it will take, and to receive new possibilities from God, the initial aim (#IV).

B. Rock, water, flesh, air, are all incredibly complex combinations of these energy events (societies of occasions [of experience]).

C. God and our spirits or souls are each a series of these energy events that are highly developed in complexity, especially in regard to the mental pole.

III. Process is the becoming (or "taking shape") of energy events and is determined by three factors.

A. Past energy events (cause and effect) influence present energy events (at the physical pole) as they take shape.

B. God, through the giving of the initial aim, influences the shaping of present energy events at the mental pole, which is the pole that receives and considers novelty.

C. The subjectivity (and therefore freedom or partial self-determination) of the mental pole of energy events in the process of becoming significantly effects [affects] the shapes these events take.

The result of these three factors is the emergence of the subjective aim (or guiding principle) of the energy event, which finally determines how the energy event in the process of becoming shall shape itself.

IV. God's role in this continuing creation lies in God's giving of the initial aim to each energy event as it begins to create itself.

A. The initial aim is a series of eternal objects (or "possibilities"; presented in graded relevance, from the ideal at that given moment downward. (God offers novelty and also limits, thus making growing complexity possible). The ideal is that possibility for this energy event at this moment that will lead it (and reality as a whole) to greater complexity and intensity of feeling, which Whitehead defines as beauty or enjoyment.

B. God is the One Who Calls, the energy event who calls all other energy events forward to greater complexity or beauty. Beauty equals variety and intensity. "The pure conservative is fighting against the essence of the universe."

V. God never creates alone! Past energy events (cause and effect) and the subjectivity or freedom of present energy events in the process of becoming also effect [affect] the shape reality is taking.

VI. Therefore, there are limits on Divine power, as God has to work with what is given and is unable to exclusively determine the outcome at any given moment. God is the supreme, but not the exclusive factor, influencing the process or forward movement of reality.

A. This is not a limitation God has chosen to place upon Godself in order to allow us to have some freedom.

B. God's limitation and our freedom are simply "givens" in the process of reality that neither God nor we asked for, but in fact find to be inherent in our situation.

VI. Consequently, God has no master plan that is slowly but surely being put into effect.

A. The future is genuinely open, and neither God nor we nor anything else can know with definiteness what tomorrow will be like.

B. But God, nevertheless, is always at work seeing to create greater beauty.

VIII. It follows that God has a circumstantial will.

A. That is, God must constantly readjust God's will to meet the changing circumstances of the rest of reality, seeking at every moment to influence (through the initial aim) energy events to choose options that will lead reality toward greater beauty.

B. In God, the physical pole is that aspect of God that is continually affected and influenced by the world.

C. God's mental pole is that aspect dealing with novel possibilities. God's circumstantial will arises out of God's mental pole, and is circumstantial because God's physical pole is constantly being modified by the world, thus affecting God's decision as to which possibilities are relevant at any given moment and place.

IX. Creation (including humankind) is never the absolute ideal, from God's perspective, because God is often defied in the direction God desires energy events to take. Thus, reality at any given moment is simply the best possible situation (from God's perspective) given the circumstances with which God has to work.

X. The power of God is persuasion (calling energy events forward through the initial aim) and not force. And, because that persuasion has been able to bring forth this magnificent creation, it is evident that God has the necessary power to profoundly affect and shape the universe, and to inspire awe and worship in us.

XI. All energy events are subjects, with some measure of control over their own destinies. God and our spirits, as extremely complex energy events, are capable of self-consciousness and the emotions that accompany self-consciousness.

XII. Process always has been; meaning there never was a start, a creation from nothing. And, there is no final end to creation; it shall go on eternally [forever].

XIII. Given Whitehead's thought, evolution can be seen as a helpful guide to understanding God. Some possible implications:

A. It documents the growing complexity and richness. This points to some "power" that has introduced novelty (initial aim) and yet given limits (graded relevance of possibilities).

B. The fact that the trend of evolution is toward the incredible complexity of self-consciousness would seem logically to point toward a God who is also self-conscious and calling as much of physical reality as possible to join God at that level of richness.

XIV. There is ground for hope, because God is constantly at work seeking to lead all of reality toward a better tomorrow. But there is no room for sweeping optimism, for God's will can be frustrated by the events of the rest of physical reality.

Philosophical and Other Resources

Process Philosophy and the New Thought Movement, with links to many process sites.

Created Feb. 9, 2000, by Alan Anderson, Contact Info.

Latest update Aug. 17, 2000