Chapter 15: Divine Persuasion and the Triumph of Good by Lewis S. Ford
From The Christian Scholar, L, 3 (Fall 1967). Used by permission of the National
Council of the Churches of Christ and Lewis S. Ford. Lines from Archibald MacLeish’s "J. B." by permission of Houghton Mifflin Company. Lewis S. Ford holds undergraduate and graduate degrees from Yale University. He is Associate Professor of Philosophy and Religion at Pennsylvania State University.
In Archibald MacLeish’s J. B., Nickles hums a little tune for Mr. Zuss:
I heard upon his dry dung heap
That man cry out who cannot sleep:
"If God is God He is not good,
If God is good He is not God;
Take the even, take the odd,
I would not sleep here if I could. . ."
These words epitomize the unyielding difficulty confronting classical theism, for it cannot seem to reconcile God’s goodness with his power in the face of the stubborn reality of unexplained evil. The process theism of Alfred North Whitehead and Charles Hartshorne was clearly designed to circumvent these persistent difficulties. The time has now come, perhaps, to probe the adequacy of this solution. While it may handle the problem of evil, does not process theism’s critique of classical omnipotence open up a Pandora’s box of its own? If God lacks the power to actualize his own ends in the world, how can we be certain that the good will ultimately be achieved? In a recent article, Edward H. Madden and Peter H. Hare contend that process theism lies shipwrecked in the very same shoals it sought to avoid.1 If God’s power is curtailed in order to absolve him of responsibility for evil, they suggest, then the guarantee for the ultimate triumph of good has been undermined. The process theist may say that natural events do not thwart [God] but are the occasions for his exercise of creative power, but he still must admit that on his view of the matter God is still limited in the sense that he neither creates nor wholly controls actual occasions. Moreover, if God does not wholly control actual occasions, it is difficult to see how there is any real assurance of the ultimate triumph of good. The two elements of traditional theism reinforce each other. The unlimited power of God insures the triumph of good, and the latter requires the notion of God’s unlimited power. The mutual reinforcement, however, is wholly lacking in Whitehead’s system. The absence points up a fundamental difficulty with his quasi-theism.2
Madden and Hare implicitly construe divine power to be coercive, limited by the exercise of other coercive powers in the world. We contend that divine power is neither coercive nor limited, though we agree that God does not wholly control finite actualities. This means we must recognize their contention that process theism does preclude any necessary guarantee that good will triumph on the stage of worldly endeavour. Yet should there be such a guarantee? Far from being required by theism, we shall argue that such a philosophical guarantee would undermine genuine religious commitment, and that the ultimate redemption from evil moves on a very different plane. With respect to any such guarantee we find, as Kant did on another occasion, that it becomes "necessary to deny knowledge, in order to make room for faith."3
Now clearly, if power is exerted only to the extent that control is maintained, then Whitehead’s God is limited. But power may be defined more broadly as the capacity to influence the outcome of any process of actualization, thereby permitting both persuasive and coercive power. Coercive power directly influences the outcome, since the process must conform to its control. Persuasive power operates more indirectly, for it is effective in determining the outcome only to the extent that the process appropriates and reaffirms for itself the aims envisioned in the persuasion. Thus the measure of control introduced differs; coercive power and control are commensurate, while persuasive power introduces the additional variable of acceptance by the process in actualization. That God’s control is in fact limited by the existence of evil would signify a limited coercive power, but it is compatible with unlimited persuasive power.
Whitehead’s thesis is that God possesses no coercive power at all. Whether limited or unlimited, such power is incompatible with divine perfection. In the official formulation of Christian doctrine, Whitehead complains, "the deeper idolatry, of the fashioning of God in the image of the Egyptian, Persian, and Roman imperial rulers, was attained. The Church gave unto God the attributes which belonged exclusively to Caesar" (Process and Reality, An Essay in Cosmology 520). The concept of divine coercive power, both in its pure and modified forms, has led to grave difficulties.
Consider the extreme instance in which God is conceive’ as exerting unlimited coercive power, thereby controlling and determining all things. God is the master potter, moulding the clay of the world by the force of his creative activity, except that God has no need of any clay with which to work; he makes his own. On this exception the analogy breaks down, for the potter’s vase asserts it own reality apart from the human potter precisely because it had already existed separately as clay. Could a world moulded completely by God’s coercive power assert any independent existence of its own? To do so the world must possess some power. Pure coercive power transforms creatio ex nihilo into creatio ex deo, with the world possessing no more independent actuality than an idea in the divine mind would have. Even if it were to exist apart from the divine mind, it could not enrich God’s experience, for he fully experiences in imagination any world he could completely determine.
Most views of divine power are less extreme, but they all are the same basic defects insofar as they ascribe coercive power to God. To the extent that God exercises such power, creaturely freedom is restricted, the reality of the world is diminished, and the divine experience is impoverished. Creaturely freedom is all important, for without it God is deprived of the one thing the world can provoke which God alone cannot have: a genuine social existence. Abandoning the angelic marionettes who merely echo his thought as further extensions of his own being, God has elected to enter into dialogue with sinful, yet free, men.
Divine persuasive power maximizes creaturely freedom, respecting the integrity of each creature in the very act of guiding that creature’s development toward greater freedom. The image of God as the craftsman, the cosmic watchmaker, must be abandoned. God is the husbandman in the vineyard of the world, fostering and nurturing its continuous evolutionary growth throughout all ages; he is the companion and friend who inspires us to achieve the very best that is within us. God creates by persuading the world to create itself. Nor is this persuasion limited by any defect, for as Plato pointed out long ago, the real good is genuinely persuasive, in contrast to the counterfeit of the apparent good we confront on all sides.
This vision appears to many as too bold, for its seems to ascribe mind and consciousness to all beings. In ordinary discourse only those who are consciously sensitive to the directives and promptings of others can be persuaded, although we are beginning to recognize the subliminal influence of the "hidden persuaders." Whitehead is urging us to broaden our understanding of persuasion, for otherwise we lack the means for penetrating the nature of creation. Without the alternative of divine persuasion, we confront two unwelcome extremes: divine determinism or pure chance. In neither instance can God create. If determined by God, the world lacks all ontological independence. It makes no difference even if God only acts through the secondary causes of the natural order. To exist apart from God, either the world as a whole or its individual parts must possess a self-activity of its own. This self-activity is denied to the world as a whole if God is its primary (coercive) cause, and it is denied to the individual parts if they are determined by the secondary causes of the natural order acting in God’s stead. Chance, on the other hand, ignores God’s role in the evolutionary advance entirely and renders this advance itself unintelligible. We need not anthropocentrically imagine the evolutionary process to culminate in man, for it is quite conceivable that in time it might bypass man and the entire class of mammals to favor some very different species capable of a greater complexity than man can achieve; if not here on earth, then in some other planetary system. Nevertheless it seems impossible to deny that there has been an evolutionary advance in the sense of increasing complexity of order over the past several billion years. This increasing complexity cannot be satisfactorily accounted for simply in terms of the chance juxtaposition of component elements, and calls for a transcendent directing power constantly introducing richer possibilities of order for the world to actualize. God proposes, and the world disposes. This response is the necessary self-activity of the creature by which it maintains its own existence. The creature may or may not embody the divine urge toward greater cornplexity, but insofar as that ideal is actualized, an evolutionary advance has been achieved. Any divine power which so influences the world without violating its integrity is properly called persuasive, while the necessary self-activity of the creature insures the spontaneity of response. This spontaneity may be minimal for protons and electrons, but in the course of the evolutionary advance, sustained until now, it has manifested itself in ever richer forms as the vitality of living cells, the conscious activity of the higher animals, and the self-conscious freedom of man. Spontaneity has matured as freedom. On this level it becomes possible for the increasing complexity of order to be directed toward the achievement of civilization, and for the means of divine persuasion to become ethical aspiration (see EM 119). The devout will affirm that in the ideals we envision we are being persuaded by God, but this self-conscious awareness is not necessary for its effectiveness. Not only we ourselves, but the entire created order, whether consciously or unconsciously, is open to this divine persuasion, each in its own way.
The model of divine coercive power persisted so long primarily because God’s activity is usually conceived in terms of efficient causality. The effect must conform to its cause; this is the basis for all causal law. Yet Aristotle’s insight that God influences the world by final causation is more insightful, though it must be reformulated so that God can oct to provide each actuality with its own final cause, and not just inspire the world as a whole through the perfection of his being. Whitehead suggests that God experiences the past actual world confronting each individual occasion in process of actualization, and selects for it that ideal possibility which would achieve the maximum good compatible with its situation. The occasion’s past actual world consists in the totality of efficient causal influences impinging upon it which it must take into account and integrate into its final actualization. The efficient causal influences provide the means whereby actualization occurs, but the way in which they may be integrated can vary, depending upon the complexity of the situation. God’s directive provides an initial aim for this process of integration, but unlike the efficient causal influences, that aim can be so drastically modified that its original purpose could be completely excluded from physical realization in the final outcome.4 Insofar as the occasion actualizes its initial aim, the divine persuasion has been effective. God furnishes the initial direction, but the occasion is responsible for its actualization, whether for good or for evil.
In presenting this theory of divine activity, Whitehead unfortunately concentrated his attention upon the primordial nature of God as the locus of possible values to be presented to individual occasions, at the expense of the consequent nature’s role in determining which possibility would be most appropriate for the particular contingent situation. As John B. Cobb, Jr. has convincingly demonstrated,5 White-head’s "principle of concretion" only gradually takes on flesh and blood as he subjects his conception of God to the categoreal obligations of his own metaphysical vision during the years 1924-1929. Any statements taken from Science and the Modern World or Religion in the Making about the nature of God are systematically worthless unless proleptically interpreted in terms of Whitehead’s mature position. Taken in isolation they only serve to muddy the waters.6 Even in Process and Reality the transformation of God into an actual entity is not wholly complete, and to that extent there is some truth in the assertion that "what little influence Whitehead’s God has on the actual world . . . he has as a principle, not as a being or person, and insofar as God is a personal being, he is without any effect on the actual world."7 On the other hand, it is possible to modify Whitehead’s presentation in the direction of greater consistency with his own categoreal scheme, indicating the very active role the consequent nature plays in providing the initial aim. William A. Christian recognizes the interweaving of the primordial and consequent natures when he writes
As prehended by a certain actual occasion, God is that unity of feelings which result from the integration of his primordial nature with his prehensions of the past actual world of that actual occasion.8
Cobb also develops this point:
Whitehead speaks of God as having, like all actual entities, an aim at intensity of feeling. . . . This aim is primordial and unchanging, and it determines the primordial ordering of eternal objects. But if this eternal ordering is to have specified efficacy for each new occasion, then the general aim by which it is determined must be specified for each occasion.
That is, God must entertain for each new occasion the aim for its ideal satisfaction.9
Cobb recognizes that his account goes "a little beyond the confines of description of Whitehead’s account in Process and Reality in the direction of systematization,"10 but he is prepared to defend his interpretation in detail.11 What is important for our purposes is the fact that the involvement of God’s consequent nature in divine persuasion renders that activity intensely personal. For God thus serves as a dynamic source of value, personally responding anew to the concrete situation confronting each creature in turn, and providing it individually with its own particular initial aim. Through this ever ongoing activity God becomes the ultimate source for all value, though not one which is static and impersonal like Plato’s Form of the Good.
If there is no fixed, final end towards which God and the world are moving, what governs God in his choice of the good? Socrates once asked Euthyphro (10 A), "whether the pious or holy is beloved by the gods because it is holy, or holy because it is beloved of the gods?" In response to the corresponding ethical question, Duns Scotus declared that what God wills is good because God wills it, rather than that he wills it because it is good. If in affirming God as the dynamic source of value we agree with Scotus, what prevents our God from being utterly capricious in what he chooses to be good?
In order to grapple with this question we must first appreciate Whitehead’s analysis of the good. Because he subordinates goodness to beauty, he runs a serious risk of being misunderstood. He has been accused of a general aestheticism which fails to take seriously the tragic conflict between good and evil, though his own motives are quite different. He does not seek to trivialize the good, but to enhance ii by placing it in relation to an all-embracing value which would not be restricted to the limited context of human conduct. Beauty, the name of this all-embracing value, cannot be interpreted simply in terms of aesthetic categories. It is evoked by natural occurrences and by works of art, to be sure, but also by conduct, action, virtue, ideas, and even by truth (Adventures of Ideas 342f.).
Goodness is essentially subordinate to beauty for two reasons. As Whitehead uses these terms, goodness is primarily instrumental while beauty is intrinsically valuable, actualized in experience for its own sake. It is a quality of experience itself, while that which occasions our experience of beauty (such as the good) is more properly called "beautiful" (Adventures of Ideas 328). Moreover, goodness is rooted in Reality, the totality of particular finite actualizations achieved in the world, while beauty pertains also to Appearance, our interpretative experience of Reality:
For Goodness is a qualification belonging to the constitution of reality, which in any of its individual actualizations is better or worse. Good and evil lie in depths and distances below and beyond appearance. They solely concern interrelations within the real world. The real world is good when it is beautiful (Adventures of Ideas 345).
We are apt to dismiss appearance as unimportant in contrast to reality, regarding it as largely illusory. Appearance need be neither unimportant nor illusory. It is presupposed by truth, which as "the conformation of Appearance to Reality" (Adventures of Ideas 309) could not exist without it. It is the basis for the intelligibility of our experience, and as we shall see in the final section, appearance plays a crucial role in the establishment of the kingdom of heaven. In any event, whether appearance is significant or trivial, that value which includes it along with reality is clearly the more inclusive.
The good, therefore, is to be understood in terms of its contribution to beauty. Beauty, in turn, is described as "the internal conformation of the various items of experience with each other, for the production of maximum effectiveness" (Adventures of Ideas 341). This effectiveness is achieved by the conjoint operation of harmony and intensity. Harmony is the mutual adaptation of several items for joint inclusion within experience, while intensity refers to the wealth and variety of factors jointly experienced, particularly in terms of the degree of contrast manifest. In effect, then, actuality is good insofar as it occasions an intrinsic experience of harmonious intensity.
By the same token, evil is the experience of discord, attesting to the presence of destruction. "The experience of destruction is in itself evil" and in fact constitutes its meaning (Adventures of Ideas 333). This definition is fully serviceable, once we realize that what is destroyed is not what is but what might have been. We tend to think of existence only in terms of continued persistence of being, but whatever has once achieved actual existence remains indestructible as determinate fact, regardless of the precariousness of its future continuation. In like manner, we ordinarily restrict destruction to the loss of anticipated continuing existence. Such continuing existence, however, if destroyed, never was but only might have been. As such it is merely a special case of what might have been, along with lost opportunities, thwarted experiences, disappointed anticipations. Whenever what is is less than what might have been there is destruction, no matter how slight.
Whitehead is emphatic in insisting upon the finitude of actuality, which in its exclusiveness affords the opportunity for evil.
There is no totality which is the harmony of all perfections. Whatever is realized in any one occasion of experience necessarily excludes the unbounded welter of contrary possibilities. There are always ‘others’, which might have been and are not. This finiteness is not the result of evil, or of imperfection. It results from the fact that there are possibilities of harmony which either produce evil in joint realization, or are incapable of such conjunction. . . . History can only be understood by seeing it as the theatre of diverse groups of idealists respectively urging ideals incompatible for conjoint realization. You cannot form any historical judgment of right or wrong by considering each group separately. The evil lies in the attempted conjunction (Adventures of Ideas 356f.; see Adventures of Ideas 375, Modes of Thought 75).
This conflict of values in attempted actualization is experienced as discord, and engenders destruction. "There is evil when things are at cross purposes" (EM 97). "The nature of evil is that the characters of things are mutually obstructive" (Process and Reality, An Essay in Cosmology 517).
While evil is the disruption of harmony, it need not detract from intensity. In fact, the intensity of evil may be preferred to the triviality of some dead-level achievement of harmony, for the intense clash may be capable of resolution at a much higher level of complexity. The unrelieved "good life" may be rather dull, yielding no more zest of value than the perfectly harmonious repetition of dominant fifth chords in C major. "Evil is the half-way house between perfection and triviality. It is the violence of strength against strength" (Adventures of Ideas 355).
In his consequent nature God experiences both the good and the evil actualized in the world. His own aim, like that of the creature, is at beauty. "God’s purpose in the creative advance is the evocation of intensities" (Process and Reality, An Essay in Cosmology 161), but these intensities must be balanced to overcome the mutual obstructiveness of things. God therefore seeks in his experience of the world the maximum attainment of intensity compatible with harmony that is possible under the circumstances of the actual situation. In order to insure this richness of experience for his consequent nature, God therefore provides to each occasion that initial aim which, if actualized, would contribute maximally to this harmonious intensity. This is the aim God wills as good for that creature in his role as the dynamic source of value. It is not capricious for it seeks the well-being both of the creature and of God. Were God to select any other aim for that occasion he would be frustrating his own aim at beauty.
Because of the intrinsic unity of the divine experience, all the finite actualities of the world must be felt together in their measure of harmony and discord. Insofar as they are individually intense and vivid, these occasions contribute to the maximum intensity of experience for God. Insofar as the several occasions are mutually supportive of one another, they also contribute, but should they clash, or be individually trivial, they detract from this final unity of all actuality within God. Divine love and justice may serve as primary symbols for God’s aim at the harmonious intensity of beauty. Love expresses God’s concern and appreciation for the particular intensity achieved by each individual, who finds ultimate significance in this divine feeling of appreciation for its particular contribution. Justice, on the other hand, expresses God’s concern for the social situation of the togetherness of all occasions, since his experience of the world necessarily includes all the harmonies and clashes between individual achievements. Human justice tends to be cold and impartial, because our own partiality is so imperfect and limited to permit fair adjudication. Our sympathy and participation in the needs and claims of one party usually precludes any adequate participation in the rival needs and claims of others, particularly if the rival claimant is ‘society as a whole." Divine justice, on the other hand, is not abstract, following inexorably from the character of the primordial nature, but is concrete, the natural and spontaneous activity of the consequent nature integrating God’s individual appreciations of the several occasions. Far from being impartial, God is completely partial, fully participating in the needs and claims of every creature. But because he is partial to all at once, he can judge the claims of each with respect to all others, valuing each to the extent to which this is consonant with all rival claims. Justice is ultimately the divine appreciation for the world, that is, the divine love simply seen in its social dimension.
This analysis of divine activity as the source of human value enables us to make sense out of the competing claims of rival ethical theories by assigning each a subordinate role within a wider explanation. Hedonistic and emotivistic theories emphasize the necessity to locate intrinsic value solely in subjective experience, though they tend to ignore the divine experience in this connection. Utilitarian theories stress the need for individual achievements of value to support and enhance one another. Their rule of "the greatest happiness for the greatest number" is strictly applicable, but it is spontaneously and non-calculatively calibrated to balance the claims to individual experience both qualitatively and quantitatively in the divine experience. Theories of duty, including Plato’s vision of the Forms, see both the ideal character of the initial aim for each individual as well as the transcendent character of its source.
Religion seeks to enhance the role of ethical aspiration embodied in initial aims by concentrating upon their source in God. God is supremely worthy of worship because he is the ultimate source of value as well as being that actuality in which all other actualities achieve their ultimate significance. The metaphysical description of God serves to purify the religious tradition of accidental accretions, while the religious experience of God gives concrete embodiment to these philosophical abstractions.
Is there then any ultimate triumph of good? The Christian and the Jew alike wait with confident expectation for that day when the wolf shall lie down with the lamb. Classical theism, construing omnipotence in terms of coercive power, provides a philosophical guarantee that that day will in fact come to pass, or argues that it is already taking place. (Leibniz’ best of all possible worlds). This guarantee, however, transforms a confident expectation into a determinate fact, whether that fact be regarded as present or future. From the standpoint of faith, this appears to be nothing more than an emphatic underscoring of an intense trust in God. From the standpoint of logic, however, the fact of the triumph of good vitiates all need to strive for it. As in the case of the Marxist vision of a classless society, if its coming is inevitable, why must we work for it?
In process theism the future is an open risk. God is continuously directing the creation toward the good, but his persuasive power is effective only insofar as the creatures themselves affirm that good. Creaturely evil is an ever-present contingency, unless Origen is correct that we cannot resist the grace of God forever. On the other hand, the absence of any final guarantee now makes it genuinely possible for the expectation of the good to become a matter of faith. By faith I do not mean its rationalistic counterfeit: a belief based upon insufficient evidence. Rather I mean what Kierkegaard meant by truth for the existing individual: "an objective uncertainty held fast in an appropriation-process of the most passionate inwardness."12 Faith is belief in spite of doubt, sustained by trust, loyalty, and devotion. The future is now doubtful, risky, uncertain. Yet the theist is sustained by his confident expectation that if we as creatures all have faith in God, that is, if all rely upon his guidance (given in the initial aim of each occasion), trusting him sufficiently to actualize the good which he proposes as novel possibility, then the good will triumph. The continued persistence of evil, both in man and in the natural order, testifies to the very fragmentary realization of creaturely faith in God. Nonetheless we may hope that the grace of God may be received and permeate all beings, and in that hope do our part in the great task. Such hope prohibits other worldly withdrawal, but calls upon us to redouble our efforts to achieve the good in this world with all its ambiguities for good and evil.
Faith in this sense is reciprocal. Just as the world must trust God to provide the aim for its efforts, so God must trust the world for the achievement of that aim, As Madden and Hare point out, "he is apparently so weak that he cannot guarantee his own welfare."13 This is true to the Biblical image of God’s vulnerability toward man’s waywardness. We read that "God repented that he had made man, and it grieved him to his heart."14 Israel remembers God’s suffering and anguish over his chosen people,15 a suffering most poignantly revealed to the Church in the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth. The world is a risky affair for God as well as for us. God has taken that risk upon himself in creating us with freedom through persuasion. He has faith in us, and it is up to us to respond in faith to him.
Thus far we have spoken concerning the actualization of the good in the world. Here the good will not triumph unless we achieve that victory. Nevertheless there is an ultimate consummation, not in the world but in the divine experience that accomplishes our redemption from evil.
Whitehead provides an extremely detailed analysis of experience as a process of integration whereby an initial multiplicity of direct feelings of other actualities fuse together with the help of supplemental feelings to achieve a unified outcome. This distinction between initial, physical, conformal feelings and supplemental, conceptual feelings can be significantly applied to the divine experience. In this initial phase God experiences each actuality just as it is for itself, with all its joy and/or suffering. As Christian documents so well, God’s initial conformal feelings are perfect, re-enacting the same feeling with all of the intimacy and poignancy that the creature felt, without any loss or distortion.16 Here God is completely vulnerable, completely open to all the evil and the tragedy that the world has seen. God is the great companion — the fellow-sufferer who understands" (Process and Reality, An Essay in Cosmology 532). Moreover, the early phases in his integration of these several conformal feelings introduce dimensions of suffering the world has not known. God experiences fully the discord between incompatible achievements of value, since he honors and appreciates the value of each wholeheartedly, refusing to moderate the cause of any party in the interests of easy compromise. He also faces the disappointment of the disparity between the initial ideal he proposed for any occasion and its subsequent faulty actualization. God is a most sensitive individual, with the highest ideals, constantly thwarted at every turn, yet who resolutely refuses to give up his grip on either ideality or actuality. At the same time, however, he is also a most imaginative being, whose unlimited conceptual resources enable him to transmute this suffering into joy and peace.
In his analysis of beauty and evil, Whitehead discusses four ways of dealing with the suffering of disharmony (Adventures of Ideas 334f.). The first three are inhibitory, directly or indirectly, excluding and rejecting some elements for the sake of the final harmony. Since God is hospitable to all, refusing none, none of these approaches is finally satisfactory. Yet there is hope in the final approach.
This fourth way is by spontaneity of the occasion so directing its mental functionings as to introduce a third system of prehensions relevant to both the inharmonious systems. This novel system is such as radically to alter the distribution of intensities throughout the two given systems, and to change the importance of both in the final intensive experience of the occasion. This way is in fact the introduction of Appearance, and its use to preserve the massive qualitative variety of Reality from simplification by negative prehensions (i.e. by inhibitory exclusions) (Adventures of Ideas 335).
Here we can best understand Whitehead’s point by analogy with works of the imagination, since this fourth way calls upon the resources of conceptual possibility to heal the wounds inflicted by actuality. Art and poetry transform the dull, ugly, irritating commonplaces of life into vibrant, meaningful realities by inserting them within fresh and unexpected contexts. Dramatic insight at the hands of Sophocles can suffuse the tragic deeds and suffering of Oedipus the King with dignity and honor by skillfully weaving these actions into an artful whole. Imaginative reason in the form of a speculative philosophy such as Whitehead’s can surmount the interminable conflicts between man and nature, mind and body, freedom and determinism, religion and science, by assigning each its rightful place within a larger systematic framework. The larger pattern, introduced conceptually, can bring harmony to discord by interrelating potentially disruptive elements in constructive ways. Since God’s conceptual feelings as derived from his primordial nature are inexhaustible, he has all the necessary resources to supplement his initial conformal feelings perfectly, thereby achieving a maximum harmonious intensity from any situation.
As the last sentence of our quotation indicates, the shift from initial conformal feelings to supplemental conceptual feelings marks a shift from reality to appearance. The objective content of conformal feelings constitutes reality as experienced, for it embodies our direct confrontation with other actualities (Adventures of Ideas 269). The difference between this objective content and the content arising out of the integration of conformal feeling with supplemental conceptual feelings (the "mental pole") is felt as "appearance."
In other words, "appearance" is the effect of the activity of the mental pole, whereby the qualities and coordinations of the given physical world undergo transformation. It results from the fusion of the ideal with the actual — The light that never was, on sea or land (Adventures of Ideas 270).
Appearance plays little or no role in simpler actualities, for they tend simply to conform to the realities of the immediate situation. Appearance becomes of the utmost importance with the emergence of sensory perception, for this complex mental functioning provides the means whereby the bewildering bombardment of causal influences can be reduced to a vivid awareness for perceptive discernment. We tend to despise appearance for its occasional lapses from reality, but this is short-sighted thinking. Appearance, Whitehead argues, is the locus for perception novelty, intelligibility, and even consciousness. We constantly strive to encounter reality directly, but such an effort simply takes us back to a preconscious physical interaction with our surroundings. What is needed is not reality but truthful appearance, that is, conscious perceptive experience which is directly derived from and rooted in reality. Appearance becomes illusory only to the extent that the final integration achieves completion by the inhibitory exclusion of some elements of reality.
Clearly, divinely experienced Appearance is thoroughly truthful, incorporating all Reality within its comprehension, yet infusing it with an intensity and harmony that Reality failed to achieve for itself. Goodness, as pertaining solely to the achievement of Reality, is left behind in this final experience of Beauty, though its contribution forms its necessary basis. In this way Truth, as the conformation of Appearance to the Reality in which it is rooted, enhances Beauty (see Adventures of Ideas 342f.). In Beauty the goodness of the world is saved and preserved whole, while its evil is redeemed and purged of all its wickedness.
Hopefully this technical analysis will illuminate Whitehead’s lyrical words towards the end of Process and Reality:
The wisdom of the divine subjective aim prehends every actuality for what it can be in such a perfected system — its sufferings, its sorrows, its failures, its triumphs, its immediacies of joy — woven by rightness of feeling into the harmony of the universal feeling. . . . The revolts of destructive evil, purely self-regarding, are dismissed into their triviality of merely individual facts; and yet the good they did achieve in individual joy, in individual sorrow, in the introduction of needed contrast, is yet saved by its relation to the completed whole. The image — and it is but an image — the image under which this operative growth of God’s nature is best conceived, is that of a tender care that nothing be lost.
The consequent nature of God is his judgment on the world. He saves the world as it passes into the immediacy of his own life. It is the judgment of a tenderness which loses nothing that can be saved. It is also the judgment of a wisdom which uses what in the temporal world is mere wreckage (Process and Reality, An Essay in Cosmology 525).
(The last two sentences recall to mind the ancient vision of a law-giver, the leader of a second exodus, who humbly fulfills the task of the suffering servant:
A bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice.)17
George F. Thomas, while most sensitive to the metaphorical power of these words of Whitehead, offers a searching critique which must be answered:
The nature of the process by which God "saves" the world is not entirely clear. "He saves the world," says Whitehead, "as it passes into the immediacy of his own life." This means that in some way the values realized by actual entities are saved by being included in the experience of God as a "completed whole." But does it mean that the world is transformed and the evil in it overcome, or only that it is included in the harmony of God’s experience? The method by which it is "saved" is said to be rationality rather than force. . . . But the "over-powering rationality of his conceptual harmonization" (PH 526) seems to be effective not in transforming the world and overcoming its evil but in harmonizing its discords in the experience of God.18
Yet is it God’s task to transform the world? Clearly the ancient Hebrew looked to Yahweh to bring about the prosperity of his nation. Thomas reaffirms that hope, but is it a realistic and justifiable expectation?
Samuel H. Beer argues that this expectation was transformed by the proclamation of Jesus:
The gospel of the kingdom is that there is another order beyond our earthly existence. Things of the world as we find it are mortal and so without consequence and meaning, except as they may be preserved in that saving order. Here the covenant with man is not that he and his children shall thrive and prosper in history. It is rather that they shall sooner or later die in history but that they shall yet live in an order which transcends history. The meek, the merciful, the pure in heart, shall inherit it, not on earth, but in heaven.19
We are to seek "a kingdom not of this world" (Process and Reality, An Essay in Cosmology 520), a kingdom which both Beer and Whitehead find exemplified in the consequent nature of God (Process and Reality, An Essay in Cosmology 531).
Were God to transform the world, he would usurp our creaturely function in the moral economy. Yet suppose he were to usher in a perfected world tomorrow, the fulfillment of all our wishful dreaming. That would certainly redeem the world from all the evil which it would otherwise fall heir to tomorrow, but would it purge the world of today’s evil? Remembering Ivan Karamazov’s words, would such a perfect world even compensate for the innocent suffering of one baby in today’s world? For what has already happened is past and cannot be altered; no future transformation can affect it. Nevertheless it can be transformed in the divine experience of the world, and this is where its redemption is to be sought. Finite actualization is necessarily transient. Far from saving and perfecting the past, the present blocks out the immediacy of the past by its own presence. If "the nature of evil is that the character of things are mutually obstructive" (Process and Reality, An Essay in Cosmology 517), then the constant displacement and loss of the past through the activity of the present is most evil, however unavoidable, and no present or future achievement of the world can remedy that situation. "The ultimate evil in the temporal world . . . lies in the fact that the past fades, that time is a ‘perpetual perishing’" (Process and Reality, An Essay in Cosmology 517). This perishing can only be overcome within a divine experience which savors every occasion, no matter how distantly past with respect to ourselves, as happening now in an everlasting immediacy which never fades.
Each actuality in the temporal world has its reception into God’s nature. The corresponding element in God’s nature is not temporal actuality, but is the transmutation of that temporal actuality into a living, ever-present fact (Process and Reality, An Essay in Cosmology 531).20
Finally, however, it may be objected that this ultimate consummation of all things is fine for God, but has no value for us. Thomas argues that Whitehead’s God is not "the Redeemer of the world who transforms His creatures by the power of His grace and brings new life to them."21 In response Whitehead speaks of "four creative phases in which the universe accomplishes its actuality" (Process and Reality, An Essay in Cosmology 532)22 which culminates in the impact of God’s consequent experience upon the world.
For the perfected actuality passes back into the temporal world, and qualifies this world so that each temporal actuality includes it as an immediate fact of relevant experience. For the kingdom of heaven is with us today (Process and Reality, An Essay in Cosmology 532).
This follows from his general ‘principle of relativity,’ whereby any actuality whatever causally influences all subsequent actualities, however negligibly (Process and Reality, An Essay in Cosmology 33). As it stands, this brief description of our intuition of the kingdom of God in the last two paragraphs of Process and Reality is exceedingly cryptic, and must be explicated by means of the final chapter of Adventures of Ideas on "Peace." In this chapter, however, there is a tentativeness, a suggestive inarticulateness struggling with a far wider vision than we can possibly do justice to. Whitehead tells us he chose "the term ‘Peace’ for that Harmony of Harmonies which calms destructive turbulence and completes civilization" (Adventures of Ideas 367). "The experience of Peace is largely beyond the control of purpose. It comes as a gift" (Adventures of Ideas 368). I take it to be the way in which we participate in the divine life through an intuitive foretaste of God’s experience. "It is primarily a trust in the efficacy of Beauty" (Adventures of Ideas 367), presumably that Beauty realized in God’s perfected experience of all actuality. It is here that the good finally triumphs in all her glory — or, more precisely, as engulfed by all the divine glory as well.
1. E. H. Madden and P. H. Hare, Evil and Unlimited Power," The Review of Metaphysics, XX, 2 (December 1966], 278-289. This article has been revised and reprinted in Hare and Madden, Evil end the Concept of God (Springfield: Chas. C. Thomas, 1968). Throughout the revision the original phrase "triumph of good" has been softened to "growth of value." In the present essay we shall quote from the original article, adding in parentheses a reference to the corresponding passage from the book.
2. Ibid., 281f. (117).
3. Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, B XXX. Norman Kemp Smith, trans. (London: Macmillan, 1929), 29.
4. The subjective aim cannot be rejected in the sense that the aim could be excluded (i.e. negatively prehended) in its entirety at some phase in concrescence, thereby leaving the occasion bereft of any direction whatsoever. There must be continuity of aim throughout concrescence. for the process of unification is powerless to proceed in the absence of some direction. Nonetheless it is possible for the subjective aim to be so continuously modified in concrescence that the final outcome could express the contrary of the initial aim. Though genetically related to the initial aim, such a final outcome has excluded that initial purpose from realization.
5. John B. Cobb, Jr., A Christian Natural Theology (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1965), 135-185.
6. Contra Madden and Hare, 282f. (118).
7. lbid., 285f. (121).
8. William A. Christian, An Interpretation of Whitehead’s Metaphysics (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1959), 396; italics his. See also pp. 268, 275.
9. Cobb, 156. He continues: "Such an aim is the feeling of a proposition of which the novel occasion is the logical subject and the appropriate eternal object is the predicate. The subject form of the propositional feeling is appetition, that is, the desire for its realization." We agree, except for the identification of the logical subject, which we take to be the multiplicity of actual occasions constituting the past actual world of the novel occasion, as reduced to the status of bare logical subjects for God’s propositional feeling.
10. Ibid., 157.
11. Ibid., 157-168, 176-185. (The latter section is reprinted in this volume, pp. 215-221.)
12. Soren Kierkegaard, Concluding Unscientific Postscript, David F. Swenson, trans., (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1944), 182.
13. Madden and Hare, op. cit., 288 (125). In Evil and the Concept of God, 121f., Madden and Hare insert three paragraphs summarizing and criticizing the argument thus far of this paper (except for the discussion of evil in section III. Their summary is succinct and accurate, and they introduce the interesting analogy that Whitehead’s God is like "an especially effective leader of an organization who is powerful enough to guarantee the success of the organization if most of the members pitch in and help." They propose two objections to the existence of such a conditional guarantee of the triumph of good. "First, if cases can be found in which there has been widespread human cooperation and yet there has been no success, these cases would count as evidence against the existence of such a conditional guarantee. Such cases seem easy to find." Yet none are mentioned. I suspect all such instances would turn out to be problematic, for the theist and the naturalist would evaluate "widespread human cooperation" and "success" rather differently. Only widespread human cooperation with God can count as the proper fulfillment of the condition attached to the guarantee. Here the Christian might point to the rise of the early church, and the Muslim to the initial spread of Islam, both of which were eminently successful. Ancient Israel always understood her success in terms of her obedience to God, and her failures in terms of a widespread lack of cooperation with him. Secondly, they argue that the amount of evil in the world suggests that God is not a very persuasive leader. "It is a little too convenient simply to attribute all the growth to God’s persuasive power and all the evil to the world’s refusal to be persuaded." Now convenience, by itself, is not objectionable; in this instance, it may indicate that we have hit upon a proper solution. The measure of persuasion, moreover, is not how many are actually persuaded at any given time, but the intrinsic value of the goal envisaged. The only really satisfactory motive for action must be the achievement of the good, which alone is purely persuasive. All other "persuasion" is mixed with apparent, counterfeit goods and with indirect coercion. Divine persuasion may be a "still, small voice" amid the deafening shouts and clamourings of the world, but it is most effective in the long run — it brought this mighty universe into being out of practically nothing.
14. Genesis 6:6.
15. Hosea 11:8, Jeremiah 31:20, Isaiah 63:15. See also Kazoh Kitamori, Theology of the Pain of God (Richmond: John Knox Press, 1965), and Abraham J. Heschel, The Prophets (New York: Harper & Row, 1962), chaps. 12-15.
16. Christian, 351-353.
17. Isaiah 42:3.
18. George F. Thomas, Religious Philosophies of the West (New York: Charles Scribners Sons, 1965), 368.
19. Samuel H. Beer, The City of Reason, (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1949), 131. Beer is Professor of Government at Harvard and very distinguished in that field, yet quite versatile. in this remarkable book he sought "to state a philosophy of liberalism based on A. N. Whitehead’s metaphysics of creative advance" (p. vii). See particularly chap. 12, "A Saving Order." which considers most of the themes of this final section.
20. For a detailed development of this point, see my article, "Boethius and Whitehead on Time and Eternity," International Philosophical Quarterly, VIII, 1 (March 1968), 38-67.
21. George F. Thomas, 389.
22. The first three phases are (a) God’s originating activity in providing initial aims, (b) finite actualizations in the world, and (c) God’s complete experience of the world in his consequent nature.