Thanks to Carol McPhee for her brief summary of Process Theology.
In dialogue, science and religion share insights from each field which can enrich or correct the other. Ian Barbour’s Integration takes dialogue a step further, by seeking to create a synthesis of scientific ideas with religious belief.
As examples of integration, Elizabeth Johnson refers to Teilhard de Chardin and Process Theology (see ‘Ask the Beasts’, pages 10-12).
Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955) was a Jesuit priest and paleontologist who worked to understand evolution and faith. His scientific field work explored the early origins of the human race; his imaginative, mystic writings explored the evolutionary nature of the world and the cosmos.
• Teilhard’s scientific and religious passions came together in his conviction that God works in and through the evolving world. He believed the world is always pressing forward towards its final convergence, in the ‘Omega Point’ – the final resolution of time and space, over which Jesus Christ reigns in love. All human efforts to move toward the Omega Point are holy acts.
• Teilhard’s work has been criticized for giving the evolutionary process an almost linear sense of direction (instead of the messy way evolution lurches forward). He has also been criticized for giving more importance to human destiny than to the future of the whole world. However, his work made a lasting contribution to integrating science with faith in a time when the two existed in watertight compartments.
Process theology has been shaped by fundamental insights from both evolutionary science and Christian religious thought. It developed from the process philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead (1861–1947), Charles Hartshorne (1897–2000) and John Cobb (b. 1925). Today process theologians continue to debate the nature of God, the relationship of God and the world, and immortality.
• God’s immanence: Process theologians understand God to be immanent within the world, rather than directing the world from beyond.
• God in relationship: Process theologians stress God’s continuing, dynamic relationship with all created beings.
• God is the source of novelty in the world: Process theology might be understood to refer to all forms of theology that, for the foundation of existence, look to creative activity rather than passive substance, and to evolutionary becoming rather than changeless enduring.
• God’s power is the power of love and persuasion: God does not control the world or dominate its creatures – including humans – but God’s process works to lure us into the future.
Now let’s look more deeply at how Process Theology tries to integrate
religious thought with evolutionary science:
• Human knowledge is regarded as an “organically integrated self-sustaining whole.” No one field is to dominate others. (Rescher, p. 1) *
• The idea of solid and separate things in nature is an illusion. Material objects are made up of energy “in an ongoing state of flux and motion.” What we see as a thing is no more than a momentary stability within endless change, endless process toward something else. (Rescher, p. 30) *
• Since things change, their very nature must include some force or impetus toward internal growth and development. Whitehead suggested that creativity is the fundamental reality.
• A process is a set of related changes. A process is “an organized family of occurrences that are systematically linked to one another either causally or functionally.” It combines what exists in the present with what has come from the past and passes this on into the future. ( Rescher p. 38) *
• But other processes interacting with the first process may bring new possibilities to bear, so the future is not determined by the past, but always indeterminate, in the way that a jazz solo is dependent on the past, but moves on with each note to something new. (This is the novelty Johnson mentions.) Mutations are an example of random occurrences that make the future indeterminate. People have choice and free will or creative spontaneity.
• The world (universe) is one entire unified process (theologians identify this with God) consisting of multiple millions of subordinate smaller processes. These subordinate processes influence each other, they interrelate, have an impact on the development of other processes. Process is not confined to living entities, but to every entity.
• Even the natural laws are in process, because ways of order change as nature evolves. The only permanence is change itself.
Whitehead’s hope was to include every part of human knowledge in his cosmology, and so he concluded his book Process and Reality with a chapter on God. It’s from this chapter that process theology emerged.
• Creativity is the fundamental reality. God is an expression of creativity, containing on the one hand all the possibilities that could come into existence, and on the other all the processes as they become, each moment, actual.
• As possibility, (Whitehead calls this the primordial nature of God) God may have neither feeling nor consciousness, but is the “lure for feeling, the eternal urge of desire.”
• As actuality, (called by Whitehead the consequent nature) God is conscious and present, realizing the entire created universe, entity by entity, with all the beauty, ugliness, joy, suffering, boredom, indifference, love and hate within.
Whitehead says, “ The image under which this operative growth of God’s nature is best conceived is that of a tender care that nothing be lost.” (Process and Reality, p.346) *
* Nicholas Rescher, Process Metaphysics: An Introduction to Process Philosophy, State University of New York Press, 1996
* Alfred North Whitehead, Process and Reality: an Essay in Cosmology, Corrected Edition, The Free Press, 1978.)
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