Re: [asa] Providence?

From: George Murphy <>
Date: Sat Sep 13 2008 - 14:41:04 EDT

Gregory -

Sorry I can't help with your opening query, knowing little of anthro- or theo- sophy. A woman in my internship congregation had a box of Steiner's books that she wanted to give away & even though I'm generally a book packrat I gave them to the seminary library - where, for good or ill, they're probably gathering dust. Vita brevis.

I will not again repeat the mantra "I am not a process theologian" but will add that I also see the difficulties with classical substantialist metaphysics. One might argue that while process philosophy is useful, a big mistake is made with Whitehead's claim that God must be the supreme exemplification of all all philosophical concepts (as a very free paraphrase of ANW).

Certainly process philosophy & theology in the modern sense is a western development but it has strong resonance with the things like the Buddhist concept of no self & related Buddhist ideas.

  ----- Original Message -----
  From: Gregory Arago
  To: George Murphy ; David Opderbeck
  Cc: ASA list
  Sent: Saturday, September 13, 2008 8:19 AM
  Subject: Re: [asa] Providence?

        Could someone here speak of the influence/position of theosophy or anthroposophy in relation to panentheism?

        There seems to be a trend of western theologians looking to the east for new ideas, which are consistent, though sometimes obviously quite alien categorically, with their western Christian roots. When I spoke with Arthur Peacocke about 'evolution,' the real sticking point was the field of psychology (and as a result his philosophy of anthropos reflected this). He didn't seem to come full circle with his conception of humanity as created in the image of God - that is, in a sense that this had any significant import on 'science' as he preached it.

        As it appears, the pressure of 'process philosophy' still reigns supreme over panentheism, though, as George notes, this does not mean a panentheist is necessarily a 'process theologian,' the latter which carries a prejorative label in the opinion of most western Christians. (As an aside, George has not been defending, but it seems in a way protecting process theology, e.g. saying that Christians can be panentheists, while I am instead challenging process philosophy, A.N. Whitehead et al. via the concept of 'evolution' in human-social thought.) One needn't hold an opinion of ideas 'going west' to acknowledge that 'process theology' is of a particularly western, american origin (cf. Hartshorne, Cobb Jr., Griffin).

        That Providence is no longer a relevant/popular concept in human-social thought is evidenced by its lack of citations in scientific publications. Nevertheless, Jews, Christians and Muslims believe in it and hold a world majority among citizens, if not among academic scientists. The view of some IDists, that Providence is 'not hidden,' but rather visible (i.e. capitalised Intelligence and Design), and I might add, audible, challenges the notion that science cannot approach the divine with open eyes, ears and hearts. This need neither be a throwback to Newton or Paley, but instead could include those forward-aspiring scientifically-minded Christians who would feign from defending a 'spiritual science' of the Steiner mould, yet who would welcome a view that embraces a beyond-scientific reference point that helps 'put science in its place' as merely one type of knowledge among many, and thus notably less significant than the Enlightenment mantle of Science with a capital 'S' would indicate. In any case, the importance of metaphysics and philosophy looms large, though it would seem a rare inclusion in the N. American 'science and religion' landscape (those such as C. Taylor excepted).

        Folks, this is why I often repeat the call for reflexivity (and 'thinking differently'); not to 'lower' the meaning of 'science' but to help put it in a context of what role Providence has in the Academy, which absolutely demands integration of natural sciences with social sciences and humanities. It is the holistic perspective which is being choked by disciplinary fragmentation and hyper-specialisation, for example, which demands 'age of earth' and 'origin of humanity' and 'life from non-life' be decided authoritatively before any 'progress' can be made in scientific and human (anthropic) understanding.

        Gregory Arago

        “He [or she] who calls what has vanished back again into being, enjoys a bliss like that of creating.” – Barthold Niebuhr

        --- On Fri, 9/12/08, David Opderbeck <> wrote:

          From: David Opderbeck <>
          Subject: Re: [asa] Providence?
          To: "George Murphy" <>
          Cc: "ASA list" <>
          Received: Friday, September 12, 2008, 12:53 AM

          George -- thanks, I think in my own mind I've been tying panentheism and process theology together perhaps too tightly.

          On Thu, Sep 11, 2008 at 4:46 PM, George Murphy <> wrote:

            From my review of Arthur Peacocke et al., All There Is, in the March 2008 PSCF:

            Panentheism is, Peacocke says, an "admittedly inelegant term for the belief that the Being of God includes and penetrates the whole universe, so that every part of it exists in God and (as against pantheism) that God's Being is more than, and is not exhausted by, the universe" (p.22). He quotes Augustine's image of creation as a finite sponge immersed in and pervaded by an infinite ocean to illustrate this. There is divine transcendence, for God is "Ultimate Reality and Creator" (p.23), but divine immanence must be given special emphasis.

            Note that nothing is said about God being dependent upon the world. In fact that is no part of the basic etymology of the word, that all is in God. Nor is it contained in the meaning often given the word, that God is in all things (vgl. Acts 17:28). The belief that God requires &/or depends on the world is a tenet of process theology & many panentheists hold to process theology but it's not just because they are panentheists. In response to Dave Siemens, it is those who insist that a dependence of God upon the world is intrinsic to panentheism who are "fudging definitions."

          & the question of whether or not panentheists are theists is purely a matter of terminology and not of great importance. The more important question should be whether or not Christians can be panentheists & no one has presented any reason - without fudging definitions - why they can't be. As Peacocke pointed out, Augustine could be considered one.

          Whether or not a panentheistic theology provides the best way of interpreting and presenting the Christian faith can, of course, be debated. Personally I have some problems with it and never use that term to describe my own theology. I do, however, believe that God is present to all things. If someone therefore wants to call me a panentheist I won't get upset unless that is used to imply that I'm a process theologian or something else I'm not.


        David W. Opderbeck
        Associate Professor of Law
        Seton Hall University Law School
        Gibbons Institute of Law, Science & Technology

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Received on Sat Sep 13 14:41:30 2008

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