Griffun #6

From: John W Burgeson (
Date: Mon Jun 11 2001 - 17:12:30 EDT

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    #6 of my Griffin notes.


    (source data on issues of science/theology, quantum mechanics, ethics,
    great sports cars, a story of God's intervention into the natural
    causation of the universe, etc.)


    Griffin Notes -- chapter 4

    Whitehead's Scientific and Religious Naturalism 25 pages

    Having argued, in chapter 3, that none of those alternatives succeed, Griffin turns to the philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead, naturalistic theism, which proposes a naturalism which can bring harmony. Griffin argues that theism need not require supernaturalism to be genuine and "robust."

    Iliff is a "liberal" seminary; students here are seldom evangelical, conservative or fundamental in their worldviews. The last class session will include eight of them defending their final term papers before the class. It will be interesting. Our professor, William Dean, makes no effort to suggest how anyone "ought" to come out on the subject; he hides his own views rather well.

    I shall not attempt to make notes here on just exactly what Whitehead's philosophy is. His 1925 lectures are available in book form; his later lectures on religion I've found on the web. For me, very tough reading. I cannot even imagine anyone LISTENING to those lectures and comprehending his thoughts. Apparently, however, those of an earlier day, not having been brought up on even radio, much less TV, were made of sterner stuff.

    Griffin first discusses Deweyan naturalism, as proposed in 1944, rejecting it. He then discusses the views of James Pratt, in his book published in 1939. In this view, which parallels Whitehead, and is inspired by Whitehead's thinking, naturalism can recognize "the reality of teleological, purposeful causation." (page 87). Pratt also held that teleology included both the living and non-living world, and that the mind and brain could, and did, interact.

    A quip by Whitehead is interposed (by Pratt) here. "Scientists animated by the purpose of proving that they are purposeless constitute an interesting subject for study." I like that one. Only it ought to be "Philosophers," not "Scientists." Or at least, "Scientists speaking as philosophers."

    Pratt, however, did not go far enough (Griffin asserts) and so Griffin takes up where Pratt left off. In the rest of this chapter, he argues against the supernaturalistic version of theism. Whitehead (and Griffin) really believe that the basic casual principles of the world are never interrupted. How, then, does he find a "genuine robust religion?" He disdains modern liberal religion, as toothless, insipid, superficial, because it denies divine activity in the world. Whitehead does not deny such activity, he does reconceive it.

    Griffin argues that there are 9 "generic ideas" of God, as follows:

    1. a personal, purposive being
    2. supreme in power
    3. perfect in goodness
    4. who created the world
    5. acts providentially in the world
    6. is experienced by human beings
    7. is the ultimate guarantee for the meaningfulness of human life
    8. ground of hope for the victory of good over evil
    9. alone worthy of worship

    He asserts that a Whiteheadian theism can retain all nine features by modifying the traditional understanding of some of them. The primary modification is to #2, from coercive power to persuasive power. This, in turn, modifies the traditional meaning of #4, #5 and #8. The Whiteheadian god ejects Creatio ex Nihilo. It is that philosophical assertion that stands behind the problem of theodicy. He does not believe that "the ultimate creativity of the universe is to be ascribed to God's volition." (page 93). His position is that God is one of the casual influences on every event. His position contains a "God shaped hole," as opposed to a "God of the Gaps"

    If all this sounds very weird, I agree. That's the best (so far) I can make out of it.

    end chapter 4. John Burgeson

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