God as the Future: On Not Taking Time Seriously

by George Allan

George Allan is Associate Professor of Philosophy and Chairman of the Department at Dickinson College, Carlisle, Pennsylvania, having been educated at Yale. He is a coordinator of the Society for the Study of Process Philosophies.

The following article appeared in Process Studies, pp. 64-77, Vol. 27, Number 1-2, Spring-Summer, 1998. 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 shows that Lewis Ford’s attempt to solve the dilemma between Whitehead’s creativity and eternal objects is not solved but simply relocated.

Lewis Ford has recently been developing a fresh new interpretation of God,1 one that he thinks resolves a crippling incoherency in Whitehead’s metaphysics and in any theology based on it. I shall begin by explicating that dilemma and Ford’s way of escaping the prick of both its horns. I will then attempt to show that Ford has not resolved the dilemma but only relocated it. I go on to suggest that this dilemma is so recalcitrant because neither Whitehead nor Ford — nor, it would seem, most theologically inclined philosophers — are willing to take time seriously. I conclude that they — and if not they, then certainly you and I — should.

What is it to take time seriously? It is to insist not only on the primacy of becoming but on its absolute imperium. All things come to be and perish. What does not is an abstract expression of the features of what does. But more of this anon. Let me begin with Ford and his theory of “God as the future.”

I. The Dilemma: God as Irrelevant or as Uncaring

Ford’s critique of the idea of God in Whitehead’s philosophy takes the form of a dilemma. If God is personal, if the primordial actual entity has subjective immediacy, then God cannot be known and hence can have no influence on the world. But if God influences the world and is knowable, then the divine creature must be already completed and so must lack subjectivity. The problem is epistemological: only what has reached determinate satisfaction can be prehended by another subject. To be known is to be an object for knowledge, and to be an object is no longer to be in the process of becoming but to have fully become. Concrescence is radically interior, closed to all but the concrescing subject itself, an actualizing entity available for appropriation by other subjects only with the perishing of its own subjectivity. An actual entity is either a subject for itself or an object for others, but each only once: first only as subject, then no longer as subject but only as object.

If we affirm, on the one hand, that God is everlastingly a subject, then obviously there can be divine knowledge of the world. The subjective form of God’s prehension of the world, moreover, can be thought of as compassionate: God loves the world, loves its creatures each for their own individual uniqueness, rejoices in their joy, even suffers because of their suffering. But such feelings can be only a private matter, aspects of the interiority of the divine becoming. They cannot be known by the world because God never reaches a determinate satisfaction of which they would be features. But if God’s feelings are not known then they are without influence, for to influence another’s becoming is to be an object of knowledge for it, to be prehended by it as a datum for integration within its own new-forming determinateness.

If we affirm, on the other hand, that God has an influence on the world, then God must be objectified for the world’s occasions. God’s subjectivity cannot be what is objectified, however, since that would mean that God had perished. The object for prehension has to be independent of God’s subjective development: a primordial feature of God as the primordial entity. God can only be present for the occasions’ prehensions as the totality of all possible combinations of valuational features, as an unalterable plenum of objects for prehension the origination of which is prior to that of any created object, a plenum of eternal objects ordered in all possibly relevant ways for any possible occasion. But the price for this sort of influence is indifference. If what is objectified for the creatures is prior to whatever difference creaturely strivings might make, then God’s influence can in no way be based on those strivings.

Timelessly available, any particular configuration of eternal objects can be relevant to a particular situation only passively. The possibilities are all always there; the specific character of each changing situation then spotlights the ones which happen to be relevant to that situation. God’s influence on the world cannot be the sensitive creative response of a fellow-sufferer to the feeling of another’s suffering. Such feeling there may well be, but God’s response, insofar as it is relevant to the world, cannot be fashioned in the light of that feeling because whatever is available to the world cannot be fashioned at all.

Hence the dilemma. As a result of the epistemological constraints in Whitehead’s metaphysics, either God’s love is without influence or God’s influence is without love. But God should be understood as the cause of worlds and of the worlds’ creatures, the supremely determining power in the universe. And God should be understood as good, as caring for what has been caused to be, seeking the best for individual creatures and for the whole creation. Neither quality alone gives us an entity worthy of our worship. A worshipful God, the God we all thought we were getting in Whitehead’s process theology, must be both influential and lovingly responsive — influential, indeed, because lovingly responsive. But Whitehead’s God fails to satisfy this necessary condition for any entity to be genuinely divine. We ought therefore to reject this God as an idol of the philosophers. It is no God at all.

II. The Dilemma Resolved: The God in Ford’s Future

Although I won’t rehearse his arguments here, Ford demolishes the various attempts by Whiteheadians to solve this dilemma from within Whitehead’s system. The primordial nature of God cannot be sensitized to the changing contingencies of temporal achievement and the consequent nature of God cannot be an object for worldly prehension. Impassive influence and uninfluential compassion, bifurcated into separate natures, is an incoherent way to portray the divine — no matter how much the friends of Whitehead fine-tune the details of his metaphysics or attempt to fill in its lacunae.

According to Ford, the only solution is to abandon two key assumptions in the philosophy of organism: (a) deny that the only way any reality can influence a concrescing occasion is by being an objective datum for that occasion to prehend; and (b) deny that the indeterminate possibilities relevant to a subject’s concrescing synthesis must be timeless rather than the result of some creative process, must be determinable as recurrent features of new achievements but never themselves newly achieved.

Ford’s rejection of (a) allows him to conceive of God’s influence on the world as sensitive to its contingent differences without having to involve the notion of an objectifiable consequent nature. That there is feedback to the world from God’s consequent nature is an idea, claims Ford, that Whitehead hastily introduced at the end of Process and Reality. But this sort of feedback simply isn’t possible. Within Whitehead’s system, there is no way in which God’s experience of the world at any moment can be fully objectified.2 Yet unless it is, it cannot be prehended by any actual occasion. Ford is willing to retain the consequent nature, but only as God’s private enjoyment of the world. If we are ever to arrive at a coherent theory of divinity, he argues, there can be no objectification of God’s enjoyment available to the world’s creatures for the enrichment of their own enjoyments. God, Ford insists, is “totally imprehensible” (DAF 314).

Having privatized God’s consequent nature, Ford is left only with the primordial nature as a source of influence. God as primordial is devoid of concrete actuality and subjective immediacy: such a God can be the indeterminate Ground of the being of the creatures but not their creator, companion, or redeemer. The major difficulty with God’s radical indeterminacy is the absence of purpose it entails. God may be the source of the creatures, but though no creative act, for no particular reason, for the sake of no particular end. Origins and outcomes are contingent achievements which can make no difference to what is already unchangingly complete. And what makes no difference can have no value. Ford recognizes, therefore, that God must be thought of as having an inherently teleological aspect in order to give meaning to the temporal processes of becoming and perishing. There must be something important, even if not something ultimate, about the lives and deaths of finite creatures; otherwise it would be better were there only God and God’s indeterminate endless plenitude.

So Ford rejects the (b) assumption of the philosophy of organism: the necessary link between what is indeterminate and what is impersonal and purposeless. He wants God to be understood as non-objective but also purposive and personal, indeterminate but caring and redeeming. To accomplish this goal, Ford introduces two new theses to replace the two Whiteheadian ones he has rejected. His new theses are: (c) that Creativity can be qualified, and (d) that eternal objects can be temporalized.

In order the better to follow Ford’s argument, let me first clarify what I take to be the ontological difference in Whitehead’s thought between Creativity and the eternal objects. Both have to do with indeterminacy. Creativity is pure transformative power, the vector force at the foundation of reality, a drive from indeterminacy toward determinacy. The eternal objects are constraints on that vector, limitations with which it must work in effecting its transformation. They are the functions through which Creativity runs its course, the conditions of the shape of the vector.3 Creativity and the eternal objects are each a necessary condition of meaningful order, but neither alone nor both together are a sufficient condition. Without the eternal objects to give it a form, Creativity would be a wind blowing endlessly from nowhere toward nowhere, a vectorless force, a power that never empowers. Without Creativity, the eternal objects would be empty forms, ordered in arrays because of their systematic similarities but never providing the order for anything, forms that never inform. Together, however, these two kinds of reality provide the dynamic, time-making conditions for meaningful processes and valuable products.

(c) Ford makes a simple but strikingly insightful adjustment in Whitehead’s theology. He associates God’s primordial nature with Creativity as well as with the eternal objects. The passivity and vacuity of the primordial nature immediately vanish. God becomes a transformative power and the eternal objects instruments by which that power influences the processes of concrescence. God as creative power is a vector force, a power oriented toward a goal, and God as home of all relevant possibilities is the repository of the functional ways for attaining that goal, for realizing the vector. Ford is too acute a Whiteheadian to undercut the irreducibility of the creatures, however. It remains they, not God, who effect the transformation of potency and potentiality into the determinacy of actualized occasions. God is the power required for the transformation and the relevant ways for accomplishing it, but the various occasions, each in the uniqueness of its own subjective immediacy, are the ones who alone use the power and the tools made available to them by God, using them for whatever finite outcome they happen to achieve.

Ford thus departs considerably from Whitehead’s concept of Creativity. Whitehead, as I understand him, insists that Creativity, like Aristotle’s Matter or Spinoza’s Absolute, is “without a character of its own” because it is the “ultimate notion of the highest generality” and so only “capable of characterization through its accidental embodiments, and apart from these accidents is devoid of actuality [i.e., of character]” (PR 31, 7). Each concrescing actual occasion is an immediacy of integrative power roaring through transformation functions from an initial pure indeterminacy toward some concrete synthesis. Why there should be a new rush toward closure supervening upon each achievement of closure, the perishing of vector power always concurrent with a fresh upsurge of that power, Whitehead leaves unexplained. It is the category of the Ultimate: such is just the way things are. Creativity is the fact of this recurrent vectoring power and of the fact that it is the same power in all its recurrences, understanding that only these recurrences are that power. There is no Creativity over and beyond its particularized expressions.

A concrescing occasion for Whitehead is Creativity characterized, a rush not toward closure as such but toward a particular kind of closure. This character is the contribution of the eternal objects uncovered by the occasion’s rush, eternal objects found in and broken off from the physical prehensions which are the initial characterization of the occasion’s vector power. For Whitehead, the reason the sort of closure aimed at is in part novel is due to the occasion’s prehension, not only of its physical past but also of God, of God’s primordial envisagement of all possibilities as relevantly ordered with respect to the occasion’s initial character. Without God there could be no novelty of aspiration, no reach for a richer kind of closure than the past discloses, and no fresh resources for determining how to realize that aspiration.

But we’ve seen that Whitehead can permit the occasion’s prehension of God to be only of functions primordially envisioned; novel functions based on God’s experience of the contingent achievements of prior actual occasions are impossibilities. Ford therefore proposes that Creativity be characterized by such novel functions in advance of its pluralization into the subjectivities of the many concrescing occasions. By identifying God with Creativity, God is no longer a creature and so no longer accessible only by becoming an object for prehension. God’s aim, argues Ford, is conveyed “by the subjective form of the appropriate portion of [C]reativity” (DAF 441). And reciprocally, by identifying Creativity with God, Creativity gains a teleological character not reducible to the accidental characterizations variously wrought by the various actual occasions.

God has particular purposes for the particular creatures, present for them in the transformative power of Creativity at the moment of its becoming the powers of the creatures. The creatures do not prehend their initial aim; it is already present as the character of their initial creative power. Ford contends that by giving Creativity a contour in advance of its pluralization into the becoming of the occasions he has resolved the theistic dilemma: the bestowal from the future of a function uniquely qualifying each occasion’s creativity “constitutes a genuine divine response, articulating the personhood of God as a responsive source of value” (DAF 441).

But for these initial purposes to be original, to be uniquely fitting for each new occasion’s unique particular situation, Ford must make a second move. He must appeal to his second thesis: (~ that eternal objects need not be eternal. The functions by which God influences the character of the closure sought by occasions need not all be pre-assembled. They can also be made on demand, fashioned to frame, enhance, or alter the consequences of prior and impending vectorings. Ford lets the approach of the moment of pluralization be one in which the growing specification of the possibilities of each occasion’s situation triggers the creation by God of new appropriate functions which are then available to the occasion as a characterization of its initial aim. Thus Ford wants to call possibilities “primordial objects” rather than “eternal objects”: they are functions the reality of which precedes the transition from the perishing of an occasion’s predecessors to the emergence of its initial phase but which need not be prior to the origination of any and every occasion’s initial phase. Possibilities, for Ford, are not absolutely but relatively primordial, not unmade and necessary but made in the accidental course of things, and made and remade because of that course.

Thus in Ford’s ontology, Creativity is a function as well as a power. Whitehead gives no function to Creativity: it is purely a vector force, the endless drive toward actualization. He gives no power to the eternal objects: they are purely functions, pathways for canalizing power. In breaching this separation, however, Ford, insists that a purposeful Creativity, a constrained vector, does not entail particularity and hence does not require pluralization. Creativity itself, not just the occasions expressing it, is characterized by a purpose. Its purpose is the fashioning of novel purposes. The function of Creativity is to make new functions. As a tool designer makes new kinds of tools for others to use in making new kinds of things, Creativity develops new complex (or, perhaps, even new simple) primordial-object functions which a nascent occasion can then use to give novel shape to the further characterization of creative power that is its concrescence.

Because Creativity has this purpose, this function within the context of the complex of functions which permit the creative advance of cosmos, Ford is justified in calling it God. God is no longer the first creature expressive of Creativity but rather Creativity as firstly characterized. No longer the first becoming of a present actuality, God is rather the shape of the future as it first presents itself to the becoming of each nascent actuality. Purposeful, sensitive, meliorative: Ford’s God loves a world that can feel the effect of that love and so respond to it worshipfully and prophetically.

Unfortunately, Ford’s notion does not make sense.

III. Source of the Dilemma: Not Taking Time Seriously

A God who is the future constantly transforming its relevance to the ever freshly emerging present must interact with it. In the cosmos as Ford depicts it, Creativity is always qualified relative to the opportunities for determination available for a nascent occasion, contoured so as to disclose the best form of determination possible given the existing conditions. So, according to the logic of Ford’s argument, Creativity must be constantly making and unmaking the functions which give it the shape by which it is constantly relevant to the ever-changing repertoire of possibilities for each possible occasion’s eventual realization. These functions characterizing Creativity are made in response to the achievements of actual occasions. It is because the world is changing that the features of Creativity must change.

If this is so, however, then Creativity is as much a creature as are the actual occasions, for both are constrained — contingently characterized — by the achievements of past occasions. Creativity is a creature of the world’s past because the physical data and functions present occasions have inherited from their predecessors, and those which its possible successors are likely to inherit, limit the range of the possible functions relevant to each new present. So what new functions God can usefully make and what functions, old or new, God can recommend for present use are constrained by the actual achievements of actual occasions. In order constantly to take the shape of relevance, God must acquire the resources for that shape from the perished work of the creatures. The boundary conditions of relevance are the determinate facts, from the implacable rule of which not even God is exempt.

For both Whitehead and Ford, God’s primary character is to be the dynamic function of a telos. God’s aim is to provide each new creature with the newly. made novel possibilities it needs in order to optimize value outcome. In the philosophy of organism, this provision of a special providence for special occasions means that interactions must take place between the present concrescence and the past achievement of creatures as objectified in God’s consequent nature. In Ford’s modulation of Whitehead, the interactions are between present concrescence and the future possibilities contouring God’s future-constituting primordial nature. But Ford’s shift from God’s consequent nature to God’s primordial nature as the intercessor between past achievement and its reiteration, bringing fresh possibilities for the improved achievement, is insufficient to resolve the theological dilemma.

In Ford’s ontology, God is sensitive to what the world is likely to be, knows it as not yet objectified; contrarily, for Whitehead, the world knows God as not yet objectified. In both cases, there is prehension of a less than objective datum. Either the world’s achievements are reflected in the dark glass of a ghostly future, God’s teleologized primordial nature busily adjusting its possibilities to those achievements so as to be able to influence their successors. Or the works of the world cast a shadow into a ghostly past, God’s consequent nature busily reconciling their incompatibilities so as to be able to influence their successors. God, possessing an evanescent image of the world, and the world, somehow influenced by God because of that image: two distinct realities necessarily interacting. Yet the interaction makes no sense: requiring an impossible kind of knowing, it posits an impossible kind of reality to know or be known. Ford and Whitehead alike end up with an incoherent dualism between God and the World. In ways similar, ironically, to Descartes’ inability to explain how mind and matter can interact, they posit a mode of connection they cannot justify. It’s more a matter of mystery than metaphysics.

One way in which Ford attempts to make his analysis look plausible is by reifying the temporal modes. He argues that past, present, and future are “modes of actuality,” each with its own primary “species of actuality.” Thus “in the present mode only concrescences primarily exist. In the past mode only concrete determinants primarily exist” (DAR 326). Creativity, which is God, is the primary species of actuality indigenous to the future mode of temporality. God exists, for Ford, but in a way appropriate to future existence: as a monistic imprehensible indeterminate purpose. According to Whitehead’s ontological principle, only actualities can be the reasons for things. Ford undercuts the force of this principle, however, by rejecting a univocal sense of actuality. He denies that actual entities, as functions or as powers, are the only actualities there are. Instead he equivocates, proposing three species of actuality — concreta, concrescences, and Creativity — each of which provides a reason for the things appropriate to its mode.

The Future, in Ford’s description of things, is a region of the cosmological landscape, occupied by two kinds of fauna: Creativity and primordial objects, a power and its functions. This diaphanous landscape has a contour. It is fairly smooth, an undifferentiated aesthetic continuum at its farthest horizon, but increasingly differentiated in the direction of its near-side boundary with the present. The more that boundary is approached, the more it becomes ridged by functions that sort primordial objects into relevant packages available to the occasion-structures which are continually bubbling up in the present region that lies just beyond the boundary. These contours are not static, however, but are like an inversion of ripples created when an object is thrown into the water: initially indistinguishable amid the undisturbed placidity, they grow more distinct until at the very edge of the future they are almost indistinguishable from the actuality to which they are about to give way.

This Future seems uncomfortably like Newton’s space, a container in which Creativity and primordial objects are located, its contents an environment to which they can adapt and which they can alter. But although the contours of Creativity are constantly changing, and although new primordial objects are constantly being made and perhaps unmade, the Future remains constantly the region where all of this goes on. And if the Future is real, in however obscure a sense, then so are its contents. And the same for the Past: its vast silent fields are an archeological delight of layer upon layer of the objectified remains of former concrescing processes, each of which is as actual in its mode as the actual occasions which made them.

This regionalizing of time, however, is an instance of the fallacy of misplaced concreteness. Ford reifies the concrescing of the creatures, treating both their indeterminate and determined aspects as actualities locatable, vaguely or precisely, within a landscape itself a reification of the togetherness of the brief lives of those creatures. Instead of activities of actualization exemplifying features which are analyzable genetically and coordinately into patterns of inheritance and influence, Ford gives us transcendental regions: one a fluffy cloud, another a mausoleum, the third a device for making stone statues from gossamer. Ford in his Future reforms process philosophy into just another substance ontology.

IV. Source of the Dilemma

Process philosophers, oddly enough, always seem reluctant to take time seriously. They should be celebrating the primacy of becoming over being. They should be insisting that whatever entities are actual are therefore temporal accomplishments, analyzable into their component data, vectors, and functions, but themselves the only actualities. They should be denying the very possibility of eternal or any other non-temporal realities, of substances and all other endlessly enduring realities. They should be arguing that there can be no region of reality except that made in the emerging of finite perishing events. But process philosophers are always slipping in by the back door what they say they have booted out the front door. They keep discovering, with great yelps of joy, some sort of entity independent of and more important than the momentary temporal achievements of which they had just a moment ago been proclaiming all else are only features,

Why these persistent efforts to multiply entities beyond necessity? Substance ontology and the notion of a realm beyond time are resilient errors, but why should they plague even those ostensibly committed to their denial? The reason might be simply because the foundational character of process is obscured by the residues of old metaphysical beliefs, including those embedded in our most archaic habits, in our languages, maybe even in our genetic structure. Perhaps. But one reason substance thinking never seems to go away is because too many thinkers fear the consequences of taking time seriously. It’s not just that process is obscured but that process philosophers are too often obscurantists, purposefully attempting to hide the full force of their ontology’s implications.

Charles Hartshorne, for instance, insists that there is no reason to create value unless one is assured it will not be lost: “what does our being definite matter if the universe has no way to retain the definiteness?” (IOGT 360).4 Either created value is preserved forevermore or making it is a meaningless activity. The old metaphysical view was that genuine value lies outside of time, in eternity, and enters time only to its detriment. Whenever temporalized, value is corrupted, its worth diminished, its good fallen or even lost by being transformed into evil or dissipated into undifferentiated chaos. Our aim ought always to be upward, away from time and toward the timeless: the flight of the alone to the Alone, of the soul to God, the replacing of the kingdoms of earth by the Kingdom of God. To the old metaphysics, created value was indeed not worth much.

Hartshorne repudiates this metaphysics. He gives time a new status, agreeing with Whitehead that only in time, only in the becoming of occasional satisfactions, is value made. But once made, says Hartshorne, its value is dependent upon its never being unmade. It will be unmade in this world, of course; for all things perish. The price of the creation of value is that the achievement must perish as a temporal process in order to become fully made. It can be remade by another occasion, but that making would be a new value different from the earlier one, retaining it at best under a limited aspect. However, says Hartshorne, fear not, for behold: each value made is secured against ultimate perishing by its presence to God, by its objectification as a feature of what never perishes. The achievements — of actual occasions, like the souls of Christians, saved and damned alike, are once made but everlastingly preserved.

For Hartshorne and so many other process philosophers, there may be no hands but our hands to do God’s work, but what is important is not the temporal world where that work is done but the divine world where it is preserved and woven into an ultimate harmony, our values become God’s Value. Ford, acknowledging that God’s consequent nature cannot be of benefit to the world, and so trying to find a way to reassign that role to God’s primordial nature, nonetheless retains the consequent nature for reasons identical to Hartshorne’s. Even if for Ford God’s enjoyment of the world is God’s alone, just knowing that our –creations, their objective values, are cherished forever is enough to give these efforts meaning. Ford retains the consequent nature for that reason and no other: not that the temporal world might be redeemed but that our pitiable words and deeds might live forever as elements in a Value beyond all values.

We would suffer our finitude, according to Hartshorne and seemingly to Ford as well, only if we are assured it is not the final truth about ourselves. So the becomings and perishings of the creatures, their living immediacies and their-soon-forgotten influences, lack intrinsic value. Their efforts are meaningful only if their accomplishments, or rather the good to be found in their accomplishments, serve to enrich a divine becoming that never becomes in time. Temporal value is instrumental; everlasting value alone is intrinsic. The flowers of the field wilt, the empires crumble, the mountains are brought low, the stars flicker out, but God endures. And because that’s true, only because it’s true, all else is good.

So process philosophers join with substance philosophers in taking God more seriously than time, preferring permanence to the flux of becoming, praising the achievement more than the struggle to achieve — even at the cost of metaphysical incoherence.

V. Dissolving the Dilemma: Taking Time Seriously

The temporality of things, their occasionalness, can only be taken seriously by affirming that all there is to reality is the recurrent vectors of transformation running from indeterminacy to determinacy. This is the plain, and I think univocal, meaning of the ontological principle, and we should resist the temptation, even if Whitehead himself failed to do so, to construe it as permitting realities that do not become and perish.

There can be no actual entity other than the actual occasions because to be actual is to become a determinate harmony. Every actual entity is a vector expression of Creativity, and this means to be a product that is neither more nor less than its process, the two inseparably and immediately. The functions qualifying temporal realities recur, to be sure, but they recur only because the features of perishing realities can be appropriated by their successors. But a feature has no independent reality, no actuality. It is a contribution to the shape of an event, a condition in the contouring of its trajectory. There are no shapes as such, only shaped events; no functions as such, only vectors functioning in certain ways. Process, vector, function, product: one occurring event, distinguishable for analysis but not distinct in actuality.

I agree, following Neville, that value is the quality, the character, of the unity of each achieved determinacy as it is carried over into succeeding vectors.5 But since this unity is the unity of an event, it takes place and then it is no more. To be valuable is the process of creating something of value which then perishes. The value, not the vector, is what is carried over, and its carryover is effected only if the new vector finds the functions it needs for its own achievement in those rather than other features of the past it had prehended.

We need to account for how functions make value outcomes possible, and how functions emerge which make improved values possible or previously attained values no longer replicable. If providing such an account requires identifying a special creature, a primordial actual occasion called God, then fine. Such a God would have a specific function: to assist in making it possible for actual occasions to aim beyond the limitations of mere repetition, to aim beyond the good to the better and the best. But the best is as fleeting as the worst. The main question is always how to secure a repetition of the best or to improve on it, how to prevent a repetition of the worst or to mitigate its influence. That there might be a benefit to God in these efforts should be at most a secondary question, for God’s primary good is as instrumental: a resource in the struggles of worldly occasions to achieve the intrinsic good they alone make and are.

There’s a moral grandeur to the notion of finite creatures fashioning values valued for their intrinsic character, for the content, intensity, and mode of the harmony they have made. There’s a moral grandeur to these finite creatures recognizing the contributions others make to what they achieve, thus recognizing the ways their achievements might contribute to what others make, and shaping their own efforts in the light of these interoccasional dependencies. There’s moral grandeur to a God whose role is as a contributor to these makings, aiding in the deepening of harmonies by luring the creatures toward a widened sense of the other harmonies thought relevant.

How different such a world and such a God are from a world in which the creatures aim at the preservation of whatever good they may have done and God’s good is to fulfill their aim. The latter world is essentially selfish; the former, essentially self-transcendent. So if there is a metaphysical reason for believing in God, let that God not be God the Creator or God the Preserver, but God the neighbor present to us in our self-creation, exemplifying for us how self-creation need not be selfish but can be compatible with other-creation through mutual influence, anticipation, and coordination, through mutual accommodation and surrender. Let our God be the poet of the world, luring us also into a life of creations made possible through zestful mutual interactions and enjoyed for what they intrinsically are: fragile, momentary, once-only glories of contingent accomplishment.

Ford’s arguments teach another lesson, however. For despite the attractiveness of a metaphysics in which God functions as a co-creator with the other creatures of the value only vector determinations make possible, that metaphysics would nonetheless still be incoherent. Ford has shown that the extant process notions of God are as plagued by unresolvable dilemmas as those of the traditional theism they claim to have superceded. Ford’s reformed Whiteheadianism, with its emphasis on God’s role in the presentation of novel possibilities rather than on God’s role as preserver of achieved value, merits our close attention and should be celebrated for its creative vision, its bold willingness to look beyond the familiar horizons of Whiteheadian truth. But, as I have argued, Ford fails to exorcise the dilemmas of theism. God cannot be the neighbor of actual occasions without becoming an actual occasion, and yet no actual occasion can be every other occasion’s neighbor. We can all be poets of our worlds, but the world as such can have no poet.

This theistic impasse doesn’t bother me. We can do without God and still account for value. The aspiration beyond inherited value to greater value, the temptation of immediate values which undermine that aspiration, the lure of the familiar values repeated which also undermine it, even the attraction of aspirations which, too exuberantly embraced, undermine past achievement quickly rather than slowly: these world-making and world-destroying functions of the vectors of Creativity require no God. In order to get about these tasks of making value, remaking it, resisting false lures, and all the rest of the busyness of reality, we must learn to take time seriously. We must focus on the creaturely tasks of vector determination and come to recognize that it is this process, not some extraneous putative preservation of its remains, that is the living value for which there is no substitute.

We need to immerse ourselves in the adventure of seeking the intrinsic values found in temporal accomplishment and we need to learn the delight which comes from realizing that, because of us, such value can be. We need to recognize, therefore, that our own value — our dignity, our joy, our excellence as creatures — is found only in the processes of these makings and unmakings. Our good we make together here and now, amid an inheritance of achievements and methods for effecting achievement, an inheritance of dreams and methods for more effective dreaming. Making and made, perishing and perished: our worlds, time-filled and time-bound worlds without end, amen.



MEA George Allan, “The Metaphysical Axioms and Ethics of Charles Hartshorne,” The Review of Metaphysics 40 (1986).271-304.

TSRW James Bradley, “Transcendentalism and Speculative Realism in Whitehead,” Process Studies 23 (1994), 155-191.

CFK Lewis Ford, “Creativity in a Future Key,” New Essays in Metaphysics, edited by Robert C. Neville. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1987, 179-197.

DAF Lewis Ford, The Divine Activity of the Future and Other Forms of Process Theism. Albany, NY; State University of New York Press, forthcoming.

GSF Lewis Ford, “God as the Subjectivity of the Future.” Process Studies 11(1981), 169-179.

IOGT Charles Hartshorne, Insights and Oversights of Great Thinkers: An Evaluation of Western Philosophy. Albany, NY; State University of New York Press, 1983.

WIG Charles Hartshorne, “Whitehead’s Idea of God,” The Philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead. edited by Paul Arthur Schilpp. New York; Tudor Publishing Co., 1941, 513-560.



1Ford has been addressing this topic in one way or another since “God as the Subjectivity of the Future” (GSF) and “Creativity in a Future Key” (CFK). He has forcefully pulled his arguments together and deepened them in a forthcoming book, The Divine Activity Of the Future (DAF). My concern is with the main contours and underlying logic of Ford’s argument, however, so I will make little use of specific citations; those I make are to the pages of the unpublished DAF manuscript.

2Ford dismisses Hartshorne’s argument that God can be a society of occasions — e.g., in “Whitehead’s Idea of God” (WIG) — by arguing that “This option reduces the transcendence of God to the abstract features of this society, which all too easily coincide with the most general features of the world” (DAF 314).

3My interpretation of eternal objects and subjective forms as conditions of actualization, calling them its “functions,” owes much to James Bradley’s use of that term in “Transcendentalism and Speculative Realism in Whitehead” (TSRW).

4 For my own critique of this argument, see part LV of “The Metaphysical Axioms and Ethics of Charles Hartshorne” (MAE).

5Robert Cummings Neville, Axiology of Thinking, published by the State University of New York Press in three volumes: Reconstruction of Thinking (1981), Recovery of the Measure (1989), and Normative Cultures (1995).