Jerry D. Korsmeyer is Manager of Reactor Engineering for U.S.S. NIMITZ class aircraft carriers at the Bettis Atomic Power Laboratory, West Mifflin, Pennsylvania. Dr. Korsmeyer is a reactor physicist by profession.
The following article appeared in Process Studies, pp. 195-196, Vol. 6, Number 3, Fall, 1976. Process Studies is published quarterly by the Center for Process Studies, 1325 N. College Ave., Claremont, CA 91711. Used by permission. This material was prepared for Religion Online by Ted and Winnie Brock.
The author presents a process model for revelation, an approach that is in keeping with Whitehead’s extensive use of physical analogies in the formulation of his metaphysics.
Modern theologians, in keeping with recent biblical scholarship and an existential self-understanding, view revelation as a personal union in knowledge between God and a participating subject. The union is initiated by God but requires an individual response. They have difficulty, however, in relating such views to their metaphysical systems. This essay proposes a process model for revelation — an approach in keeping with Whitehead’s extensive use of physical analogies in the formulation of his metaphysics.
In keeping with Whitehead’s premise to start from human experience in the world, I propose as a model for revelation an analogy with the physical phenomenon of resonance. Resonance is a physical phenomenon shown by a vibrating system which responds with maximum amplitude under the action of a force applied with a frequency that is a natural frequency of the vibrating body. Consider the often cited example of marching soldiers crossing a bridge. If the cadence is close to the natural frequency of the bridge, each step feeds energy into an oscillation of the bridge, and at the resonant frequency the entire bridge begins to vibrate with ever increasing amplitude. Resultant disasters have brought the standing order for marchers to break cadence when crossing a bridge. The phenomenon of resonance is present in all types of physical systems. We tune our radios by adjusting the oscillatory characteristics of electronic components to resonate at the frequency of the broadcast signal. The resonant circuit amplifies the desired signal. The signal is strongest when “tuned in” exactly at resonance.
Consider now the stages in the formation of a new occasion. In each occasion God provides a spectrum of possibilities or aims for his creature. These are graded according to value. He confronts each entity with the ideal possibility for self-actualization, an initial aim. But he does not determine the creature’s choice. The new occasion prehends this initial aim and the multiplicity of data in the universe, including its past occasions, which may be considered to contribute their aims for it (CNT 182), and through successive decisions orders itself to a final subjective aim (PR 342). Insofar as each creature’s final subjective aim is in accord with God’s aim there is a resonance in which the effect of God’s presence is maximized. This phenomenon, I suggest, may be consciously felt as God’s initiative. When one responds to it, an interpersonal communion is formed which we call revelation.
This model is consistent with suggestions of Whitehead himself and others. “Every event on its finer side introduces God into the world” (RM 155f). The finer side of every event is the free introduction by a creature of God’s aim into the world. In fact one can argue that once Whitehead postulates a quantum-like occasion in analogy with physical systems, a natural frequency and hence a resonance phenomenon is a necessary corollary. As John Cobb has noted, “Those who affirm the presence of God may so form their subjective aims that God’s causal efficacy for them may be maximized. It may even impinge upon consciousness, to confirm the belief that facilitates the impingement” (CNT 233).
The resonance model for revelation also fits the peak-experience data of man’s religious experience (RVPE; TPB 71-114). It is a universal human experience, for people at some occasions in life, to prehend, to feel, to sense, the presence of God and his love when their own aims, thoughts, talents, and potentialities are lined up with, or tuned in exactly with, the aims and love of God. The universal nature of such experiences has been well documented by William James and Rudolph Otto.
Maslow defines these experiences as an episode or a spurt in which the powers of the person come together in a particularly efficient and intensely enjoyable way. In these episodes man more truly actualizes his potentialities and becomes more truly himself (TPB 97). These phrases remind one of Whitehead’s contention that religious truth must be developed from knowledge acquired when our ordinary senses and intellectual operations are at their highest pitch of discipline (RM 123). And, indeed, Maslow has suggested that these experiences were the beginning of the higher religions. For each of the revealed religions, it has been the private, lonely, personal illumination, revelation, or ecstasy of some acutely sensitive prophet or seer that provided the primal revelation that was later codified and dogmatized by his followers (RVPE 19f). The followers participated in the primal revelation and to the extent that it made life meaningful, to the extent that it explained their own depth experiences in life, they believed in the formulations of their community.
Revelation is a process, says Moran, which is now extending to all history and never to cease (TR 28). The resonance model safeguards the theologian’s insistence that the initiative lies with God but that the individual is sell-creating in forming the intersubjective communion that is revelation.
CNT — John H. Cobb, Jr. A Christian Natural Theology. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1965.
RVPE — Abraham H. Maslow. Religions, Values and Peak Experiences. New York: Viking Press, 1970.
TPB — Abraham H. Maslow. Toward a Psychology of Being. New York: D. Van Nostrand Co., 1968.
TR — Gabriel Moran, F.S.C. Theology of Revelation. New York: Herder and Herder, 1966.