Chapter 5: A Whiteheadian Concept of God: God in <I>Process and Reality</I>
C. Major Developments in the Concept of God in Process and Reality
Having considered the development of Whitehead’s thought about God in Science and the Modern World and in Religion in the Making, we now turn to the most important book which he wrote, Process and Reality. This book is a revision and enlargement of the 1927-28 Gif ford Lectures, which Whitehead gave at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland. These lectures were created by an endowment provided for by the will of Sir Gifford. Their purpose was to provide insights to religion based on reason, i.e., natural theology in contrast to revealed theology. If ever their purpose was fulfilled, it was with Whitehead’s lectures. Process and Reality: An Essay in Cosmology, published in 1929, is his version of the ideal of a “. . .necessary system of general ideas in terms of which every element of our experience can be interpreted.” (Process and Reality, Corrected Edition, ed. Griffin & Sherburne, New York: The Free Press, 1978, 3) One can hardly measure the importance of this book for contemporary theology. Yet it is primarily a presentation of reality as “a philosophy of organism.” Although God is a metaphysical necessity and an integral part of this explanation of reality, only in the last 10 pages of the 350-page book does Whitehead devote a separate chapter to the relation of God and the world. His insights into the nature of the world, the nature of God, and the relation of the two are the primary source of what is currently called “process theology.” This thought represents the best “live option”for many theists today.
The best way to examine what Whitehead said about God in Process and Reality is to divide the discussion into two parts, (1) the primordial nature of God and (2) the consequent nature of God. This approach will enable us to examine the subject systematically.
1. The Primordial Nature of God in Process and Reality
Whitehead’s Major Change in the Primordial Nature of God: God as the Principle of Abstraction or Originality (God is the source of the initial aim.)
We will first focus on determining developments in Whitehead’s concept of the primordial (he does not use the parallel term, “antecedent,” to his term, “consequent”) nature of God. This covers ninety-five percent of Process and Reality because Whitehead only refers to the consequent nature of God four times prior to the last fifteen pages. Those references are short passages with the first three explicitly referenced by Whitehead to Part V. In contrast, Whitehead refers to the primordial nature of God approximately twenty times beginning in the first chapter and ending in the last chapter.
In trying to understand the development of an idea or ideas in a person’s writings, our search is like that of a detective. The detective begins at the end, at the scene of the crime after it has been committed. We can detect at what point Whitehead made a major change in reference to the primordial nature of God. We will then work our way back to the beginning point to show how the idea emerged from the matrix of his thought. Obviously he did not have the idea completed in his mind at the beginning because then he would not have built his system in such a way that he later had to revise it. So let us begin at the scene of the crime (the major change) and then go back to the beginning point and trace its emergence.
a. Initial aim
Whitehead made a change in his scheme in Part III, Chapter III, Sections I, II and III. In reading these sections, it is obvious that Whitehead inserted material to abolish one category and introduces the new idea of God as the source of the initial aim. What prompted him to do this? Since it is clear that he came back to this passage with a new understanding, the question is, “What new discovery caused him to change the passage?” The answer is that he changed his conception of the primordial nature of God to include God’s functioning as the source of the initial aim. Hence the primordial nature now had two major functions: to the principle of concretion or limitation he added the principle of abstraction or originality. With this new function added to the primordial nature of God, it became necessary to go back and change his scheme to reflect this insight. Whitehead’s first discovery was that God was the principle of concretion or limitation. This discovery was a result of the necessity of the metaphysical viewpoint. There had to be a principle to actualize or concretize the underlying creative energy.
Now Whitehead discovers that his system requires God to be the principle of abstraction or possibility. In setting up his cosmology, Whitehead had established various “categories,” principles that apply to all of reality. One of these categories, the Category of Conceptual Reversion, explained novelty. Lewis Ford says, “When first proposed, conceptual reversion was absolutely necessary, because Whitehead was then probably attempting to explain the emergence of subjective aim from the occasion itself, and some sort of explanation had to be given for its novelty.”1
The Category of Conceptual Reversion is Category v of Whitehead’s system. It is the following: “(v) The Category of Conceptual Reversion. There is secondary origination of conceptual feelings with data which are partially identical with and partially diverse from, the eternal objects forming the data in the first phase of the mental pole. The diversity is a relevant diversity determined by the subjective aim.” “Note that category (iv) concerns conceptual reproduction of physical feeling, and category (v) concerns conceptual diversity from physical feeling.” (Process and Reality, Corrected Edition, ed. Griffin & Sherburne, New York: The Free Press, 1978, 26)
Those unfamiliar with Whitehead’s systematic terminology in Process and Reality may wish to read Donald Sherburne’s explanation in A Key to Whitehead’s Process and Reality.2 He explains how Whitehead’s categories apply to the various phases of concrescence of an actual entity. What this is about is how the actual entity happens, i.e., how the various feelings through modifications become the one unified feeling which is the actual occasion. Category (iv) tells how a feeling of an eternal object derived from another actual entity is reproduced in the present actual entity.
Category (v) tells how a feeling of an eternal object derived from another actual entity can be modified. It is by this category that the inheritance of the past is modified. Whitehead says that it is by this category that “novelty enters the world.” (Process and Reality, Corrected Edition, ed. Griffin & Sherburne, New York: The Free Press, 1978, 249)
But category (v) left “unanswered” how can unrealized eternal objects can be modified and utilized as well as realized eternal objects? The ontological principle requires that for anything (including an unrealized eternal object) to be effective, it must have reference to an actual entity. So in this case the ontological principle requires an actual entity to prehend these unrealized eternal objects. This necessitates an actual entity with a non-temporal dimension. Whitehead’s solution is a non-temporal actual entity that primordially prehends the eternal objects — his definition of God. Since Whitehead says: “Every eternal object has entered into the conceptual feelings of God,” (Process and Reality, Corrected Edition, ed. Griffin & Sherburne, New York: The Free Press, 1978, 250) one can answer how unrealized eternal objects can be effective by referring to God.
Now he can give a “more fundamental account” of the source of the initial aim of an actual entity. Utilizing Category (iv) and God’s conceptual feelings (how God feels the eternal objects), there is no reason to complicate the system with Category (v). “The Category of Reversion is then abolished.” (Process and Reality, Corrected Edition, ed. Griffin & Sherburne, New York: The Free Press, 1978, 250) Whitehead’s more fundamental account then is that God, the primordial actual entity which prehends the eternal objects, is the source of the initial subjective aim which produces novelty in actual occasions.
Whitehead uses his theory of hybrid physical prehension to explain how actual occasions prehend God. These were “. . .devised by Whitehead to explain the ‘living person’. . . .”3 A hybrid physical feeling regarding God is a feeling of an eternal object by the concrescing occasion from a feeling of an eternal object by God. Or in Whitehead’s words, “A hybrid physical feeling originates for its subject a conceptual feeling of the antecedent subject. But the two conceptual feelings in the two subjects respectively may have different subject forms.” (Process and Reality, Corrected Edition, ed. Griffin & Sherburne, New York: The Free Press, 1978, 246) He adds, “There is autonomy in the formation of the subjective forms of conceptual feelings. . .” (Process and Reality, Corrected Edition, ed. Griffin & Sherburne, New York: The Free Press, 1978, 246) This idea of autonomy is important because this is the place in the concrescence of the actual entity where originality, autonomy, freedom, novelty enter the world. Whitehead says, “Apart from the intervention of God, there could be nothing new in the world, and no order in the world.. . . The novel hybrid feelings derived from God, with the derivative sympathetic conceptual valuations, are the foundations of progress.” (Process and Reality, Corrected Edition, ed. Griffin & Sherburne, New York: The Free Press, 1978, 247)
Whitehead’s odyssey of determining the nature of God, as required by his metaphysical principles, began long ago in Science and the Modern World. There he had discovered that the principle of limitation is necessary to explain how the underlying eternal energy became the actual occasions in this world. He called it the Principle of Limitation/Principle of Concretion; he recognized that this is metaphysically what is religiously called, “God.” Now, very late in the composition of his system, he discovers that it requires God as the Principle of Abstraction. Charles Hartshorne in his discussion of the principle of concretion in his article, “Whitehead’s Idea of God,” says, “It is somewhat unfortunate that Whitehead’s view of God was chiefly associated, for some years, with the phrase ‘principle of limitation’ (or of concretion). This is an inadequate description of his view.. . God is at once the principle of abstraction, of unbounded possibility and of concretion, of limited realization of possibility.”4 Indeed Whitehead says concerning this fully developed concept of the primordial nature of God, “Thus an originality iii the temporal world is conditioned, though not determined, by an initial subjective aim supplied by the ground of all order and of all originality.” (Process and Reality, Corrected Edition, ed. Griffin & Sherburne, New York: The Free Press, 1978, 108) So Whitehead ends by characterizing the primordial nature of God as the ground of all order and of all originality.
Whitehead has ended the development of the primordial nature of God by affirming God as the source of these two fundamental aspects of reality. He is both the source of order and the source of creativity in the becoming of actual occasions. Whitehead has worked out the implications of his system and ended with affirming both poles in the nature of God. In the closing chapter of Process and Reality he has a litany of such contrasts.
b. The development of this major change
In order to understand how this development took place, it is now necessary to trace the development of this thought to its emergence just prior to the completion of Process and Reality. This process will enable us to trace the adventure of an idea and to understand how the new insight fits into the system.
The question is: “What ideas flow into the concept of God as the source of the initial aim?” We may answer the question in two ways: with regard to the development of the concept of God or with regard to the development of the concept of the initial aim. Since the purpose of this discussion is to consider the former, only a short comment will be made with regard to the latter. Whitehead tried to derive the unity of the subject from the concrescent activity of the emerging occasion itself. But how could the not-yet-unified subject function as a process of unification? Subjectivity could not just “pop” into existence. There had to be a reason, and the reason for anything is expressed in the ontological principle which requires an actual entity as the effective agency of everything. So the initial stage of the subjective aim (the initial aim) of the actual entity must be derived from the primordial actual entity, God. Once the initial aim is given, then the ontological principle allows things to be derived from the self-determination of the present occasion.
The other way to understand how God becomes the source of the initial aim is to see the development of the concept of the primordial nature of God. Specifically it is to see how the valuing of the eternal objects develops into a source of the initial aim. The problem is that while at times Whitehead conceives of God’s ordering of the eternal objects to be eternally unchanging, at other times “the ordering is such as to specify the initial aim for each new occasion. . . (it) is extremely difficult to see how one unchanging order can provide a specific and novel aim to every new occasion.”5
Cobb solves this problem by arguing that “the eternal ordering of the eternal objects is not one simple order but an indefinite variety of orders.”6 William A. Christian, author of An Interpretation of Whitehead’s Metaphysics, solves the problem by denying any eternal ordering. He says, “I suggest that the primordial nature of God orders eternal objects in the sense, and only in the sense, that in God’s envisagement eternal objects are together.”7 Rather than choosing either alternative, our developmental approach will lead us to do two things: to suggest that the problem arose because Whitehead’s concept of God changed during his writing and to provide some insights into how the problem should be solved.
The story goes all the way back to the chapter on God in Science and the Modern World. There he recognized that each individual activity is limited in two ways. First, there “. . . is an actual course of events, which might be otherwise so far as concerns eternal possibility, but is that course.” (Science and the Modern World, New York: The Free Press, 1967, 177) This limitation is one of “antecedent selection” which includes the general logical and causal relationships. Second, he also recognized that limitation involves values.
He says. “Restriction is the price of value. There cannot be value without antecedent standards of value, to discriminate the acceptance or rejection of what is before the envisaging mode of activity. Thus there is an antecedent limitation among values, introducing contraries, grades, and oppositions.” (Science and the Modern World, New York: The Free Press, 1967, 178) This principle of limitation is complex involving these two components. When he refers to the principle of limitation in subsequent writings, sometimes he refers to one meaning, and at other times he refers to the other.
In the final analysis the second meaning emerges as the source of originality. The reason is that while value involves choosing and choosing involves limiting, it is also true that choosing involves possibility, and possibility is the source of novelty or originality. However, this is jumping ahead of the story. Nevertheless, we may note here that the seed of the major change lies in this second feature of the principle of limitation.
In Science and the Modern World the principle of limitation is identified as God. In Religion in the Making God is a non-temporal actual entity who functions as this principle, i.e., “. . .the indetermination of mere creativity is transmuted into a determinate freedom.” (Religion in the Making, Cleveland: Meridian Books, 1960, 88) In the last chapter of the book, God is conceived of as having both of the above features of the principle: “. . .the nature of God is the complete conceptual realization of the realm of ideal forms. . . But these forms are not realized by him in mere bare isolation, but as elements in the value of his conceptual experience.” (Religion in the Making, Cleveland: Meridian Books, 1960, 148) But with regard to both of these, Whitehead affirms that God is above change. (RM 92, 95)
In Process and Reality the first of these two features is expressed as “the unconditioned conceptual valuation of the entire multiplicity of eternal objects,”(Process and Reality, Corrected Edition, ed. Griffin & Sherburne, New York: The Free Press, 1978, 31) “the complete conceptual evaluation of all eternal objects,” (Process and Reality, Corrected Edition, ed. Griffin & Sherburne, New York: The Free Press, 1978, 32) “the complete envisagement of eternal objects,” (Process and Reality, Corrected Edition, ed. Griffin & Sherburne, New York: The Free Press, 1978, 44) and “the unlimited conceptual realization of the absolute wealth of potentiality.” (Process and Reality, Corrected Edition, ed. Griffin & Sherburne, New York: The Free Press, 1978, 343) John Cobb says that Whitehead “. . .tells us that God’s ordering of the eternal objects is primordial, and that in a sense which clearly means eternally unchanging. Indeed, this timeless envisagement of possibilities constitutes God’s primordial nature.”8 Whitehead writes in the first lengthy passage in Process and Reality (Part I, Chapter III, Section I): “To sum up: God’s ‘primordial nature’ is abstracted from his commerce with particulars,. . . It is God in abstraction, alone with himself. As such it is a mere factor in God, deficient in actuality.” (Process and Reality, Corrected Edition, ed. Griffin & Sherburne, New York: The Free Press, 1978, 34) Such characterization of God’s primordial nature does not leave much room to conceive him as the source of the initial aim of each actual entity especially when “the initial aim is the best” (Process and Reality, Corrected Edition, ed. Griffin & Sherburne, New York: The Free Press, 1978, 244) for each new occasion.
The second of these two features, having to do with valuing or standards of value, is also present in Process and Reality. First, the ordering or valuing of the eternal objects has to do with God himself as an actual entity. Whitehead writes, “Such a primordial superject of creativity achieves, in its unity of satisfaction, the complete conceptual valuation of all eternal objects on which creative order depends. It is the conceptual adjustment of all appetites in the form of aversions and adversions. It constitutes the meaning of relevance. Its status as an actual efficient fact is recognized by terming it the ‘primordial nature of God.”’ (Process and Reality, Corrected Edition, ed. Griffin & Sherburne, New York: The Free Press, 1978, 32) This is his systematic expression of his reference in Religion in the Making, as “the completed ideal harmony, which is God.” (Religion in the Making, Cleveland: Meridian Books, 1960, 115) A clearer statement of the significance of the ordering to God as an actual entity is: “The conceptual feelings, which compose his primordial nature, exemplify in their subjective forms their mutual sensitivity and their subjective unity of subjective aim. These subjective forms are valuations determining the relative relevance of eternal objects for each occasion of actuality.” (Process and Reality, Corrected Edition, ed. Griffin & Sherburne, New York: The Free Press, 1978, 344)
Second, the ordering or valuing of the eternal objects begins to take on a power or effectiveness. Whitehead says, “God’s immanence in the world in respect to his primordial nature is an urge towards the future based upon an appetite in the present.” (Process and Reality, Corrected Edition, ed. Griffin & Sherburne, New York: The Free Press, 1978, 32) He introduces “appetition” as a technical term to express the urge towards realization involved in conceptual valuation. Whitehead says, “If we say that God’s primordial nature is a completeness of ‘appetition,’ we give due weight to the subjective form — at a cost.” (Process and Reality, Corrected Edition, ed. Griffin & Sherburne, New York: The Free Press, 1978, 33) He then refers to God’s primordial nature as “vision” and as “envisagement.” Each of these gives a different emphasis. But the passage in which he makes these comments concludes with the above-quoted view that the primordial nature is an abstraction. Of course, as an abstraction it cannot be effective. Only God as an actual entity can be effective, but his effect regarding order and originality reflects his primordial nature.
In another passage Whitehead says that the given for an actual occasion is the components received from God and previous actual occasions. So he says, “The initial fact is macrocosmic. . ., the final fact is microcosmic. . . The initial fact is the primordial appetition, and the final fact is the decision of emphasis. . .” (Process and Reality, Corrected Edition, ed. Griffin & Sherburne, New York: The Free Press, 1978, 47-48) It may be that in “the initial fact is the primordial appetition” Whitehead is making a move toward conceiving of God as the source of the initial aim.
Whitehead argues that the initial phase of the actual occasion is derivative from God’s primordial nature. In discussing the regional standpoint in the extensive continuum of each process of concretion he says, “This initial phase is a direct derivate from God’s primordial nature. In this function, as in every other, God is the organ of novelty, aiming at intensification.” (Process and Reality, Corrected Edition, ed. Griffin & Sherburne, New York: The Free Press, 1978, 67) Also in referring to the primordial nature of God, Whitehead says, “Thus an originality in the temporal world is conditioned, though not determined, by an initial subjective aim supplied by the ground of all order and of all originality.” (Process and Reality, Corrected Edition, ed. Griffin & Sherburne, New York: The Free Press, 1978, 108) So not only is the initial place in the extensive continuum and part of the initial components, but also the initial subjective aim derives from God.
A key to this problem lies in the distinction between the primordial nature of God and God as an actual entity. The former is an abstraction, deficient in actuality and therefore incapable of being an effective agency, but it contains the ordering toward intensity that will be reflected in the initial aim. The latter as an actual entity is the effective agency for the initial aim. Whitehead says, “. . .the initial stage of its ((an actual occasion’s)) aim is an endowment which the subject inherits from the inevitable ordering of things, conceptually realized in the nature of God. . ., he is that actual entity from which each temporal concrescence receives that initial aim from which its self-causation starts.” (Process and Reality, Corrected Edition, ed. Griffin & Sherburne, New York: The Free Press, 1978, 244)
In the last chapter of Process and Reality he says, “Thus, when we make a distinction of reason, and consider God in the abstraction of a primordial actuality, we must ascribe to him neither fulness of feeling, nor consciousness. He is the unconditioned actuality of conceptual feeling at the base of things; so that, by reason of this primordial actuality, there is an order in the relevance of eternal objects to the process of creation.” (Process and Reality, Corrected Edition, ed. Griffin & Sherburne, New York: The Free Press, 1978, 344) But God’s primordial nature does much more than serve as the source of order. “He is the lure for feeling, the eternal urge of desire. His particular relevance to each creative act, as it arises from its own conditioned standpoint in the world, constitutes him the initial ‘object of desire’ establishing the initial phase of each subjective aim.” (Process and Reality, Corrected Edition, ed. Griffin & Sherburne, New York: The Free Press, 1978, 344) Whitehead then quotes Aristotle with approval, “There is something which moves without being moved, being eternal. . .”
But Whitehead’s primordial concept of God is richer and more complex than Aristotle’s unmoved mover. The most striking difference is that Whitehead’s perception of God as an actual entity made it possible to conceive him as the source of the initial aim. Hence God is not only the ground of all order but also the ground of all originality.
2. Whitehead’s Insight: The Consequent Nature of God
Whitehead’s most important insight concerning the nature of God was that God had a temporal (consequent) nature as well as an eternal (primordial) one. What some consider a great insight provides a solution to God’s relation to the world. Consistent with Whitehead’s philosophical system, God, as a part of reality, interacts with the rest of reality. Systematically, God must not be an exception to metaphysical principles but rather the chief exemplification. (Process and Reality, Corrected Edition, ed. Griffin & Sherburne, New York: The Free Press, 1978, 343) And interaction means that the world affects God. “He shares with every new creation its actual world. . .” (Process and Reality, Corrected Edition, ed. Griffin & Sherburne, New York: The Free Press, 1978, 345) This was Whitehead’s most startling insight into the nature of God.
The significance of Whitehead’s insight of the consequent nature of God can hardly be overstated. Charles Hartshorne makes the hard-to-believe statement, “Whitehead is in the Western world at least, the first great philosophical theist who, as a philosopher, really believes in the God of religion. . . The God of religion is. . .one who knows, loves, and wills with regard to others who know, love, and will.”9 Hartshorne’s justification for this statement is that other philosophers have understood God only in terms of his primordial essence as absolute, independent, and infinite. “But, whereas earlier metaphysicians generally stopped here, leaving deity a mere unlimited essence, totally devoid of definite actuality, a power totally divorced from expression or achievement, Whitehead adds the other side of the divine portrait. The ‘consequent’ actuality of deity is the sequence of determinate, contingent experiences expressing both the essence of deity and the de facto content of the world God experiences at a given moment.”10
Whitehead’s insight of the consequent (temporal) nature of God came near the end of the completion of Process and Reality. Lewis Ford is correct when he argues that “. . . Process and Reality was substantially complete before Whitehead discovered the consequent nature of God. . . .In terms of Whitehead’s total philosophy the move toward a temporal nature of God seems easy enough, but it was such a novel departure from traditional Western classical theism that it is no wonder that Whitehead was so long blind to these possibilities. After all, God had been for him the ‘non-temporal actual entity.’”11
Hence John Cobb overstates the case when he writes in his book, A Christian Natural Theology, that in Whitehead’s Religion in the Making “God is understood as being affected by the world.”12 As evidence for this position he cites two passages: “Every act leaves the world with a deeper or a fainter impress of God. He then passes into his next relation to the world with enlarged, or diminished, presentation of ideal values.” (Religion in the Making, Cleveland: Meridian Books, 1960, 152) and “Since God is actual, He must include in himself a synthesis of the total universe. There is, therefore, in God’s nature the aspect of the realm of forms as qualified by the world and the aspect of the world as qualified by the forms.” (Religion in the Making, Cleveland: Meridian Books, 1960, 95)
The last of these two passages is taken from the context of an argument that while God is an actual entity who enters into every creative phase, nonetheless he “. . .is above change.” (Religion in the Making, Cleveland: Meridian Books, 1960, 95) The argument is referring to the nature of God not changing in the specific respect of having internal inconsistency. The point of the argument is that God does not change in that manner. It would be odd to derive from part of that argument the startling insight so uncharacteristic of Western theology that God does change. If one pursued the implications of the position that God is an actual entity, one will reach the conclusion that God does change. But Whitehead does not pursue that line of reasoning here.
What about the first of these two passages? It points to the development which is to come. Why not agree with Cobb and say it came here? Because the thrust of Religion in the Making is a presentation of God as the non-temporal actual entity.
Ford, in tracing the changes in the development of Whitehead’s system, suggests that “. . . with the development of intellectual feelings, Whitehead could well have discovered that his conception of God as a synthesis of purely conceptual feeling was deficient. . . . ((because)) without intellectual feelings, God could not be conscious, and these required a basis in physical feeling.”13 Indeed, Whitehead says that God, viewed as primordial, is deficient in actuality in two ways. “His feelings are only conceptual and so lack the fulness of actuality. Secondly, conceptual feelings, apart from complex integration with physical feelings, are devoid of consciousness in their subjective forms.” (Process and Reality, Corrected Edition, ed. Griffin & Sherburne, New York: The Free Press, 1978, 343)
In simple terms, given Whitehead’s fully developed system, if God is conscious, then he must have physical feelings as well as conceptual feelings. God, then, has a temporal, physical aspect as well as a conceptual, mental aspect of his nature.
The result of this line of thought is that God is affected by the world and therefore changes. This is a radical departure from traditional theologies of Judaism, Christianity and Islam as well the philosophies of Platonism and Aristotelianism. The position is an internally consistent development within Whitehead’s cosmology, but one which he developed late in response to the demand of the Gifford Lectures.
a. The First Four References to the Consequent Nature of God in Process and Reality
Whitehead refers to the consequent nature of God on five occasions in Process and Reality. The longest of the first four occasions is a short paragraph and the others are one or two sentence references. The fifth occasion is ten pages of the most remarkable insights on the nature of God in Western philosophy. Whitehead’s genius is evident in the intuitive flashes of insight which are not only brilliant in themselves but are also consistent with his metaphysical system. Rarely has this level of creativity been associated with this comprehensive a view of reality.
The first occasion is the following:
The truth itself is nothing else than how the composite natures of the organic actualities of the world obtain adequate representation in the divine nature. Such representations compose the ‘consequent nature’ of God, which evolves in its relationship to the evolving world without derogation to the eternal completion of its primordial conceptual nature. In this way the ‘ontological principle’ is maintained — since there can be no determinate truth, correlating impartially the partial experiences of many actual entities, apart from one actual entity to which it can be referred. The reaction of the temporal world on the nature of God is considered subsequently in Part V: it is there termed ‘the consequent nature of God.’ (Process and Reality, Corrected Edition, ed. Griffin & Sherburne, New York: The Free Press, 1978, 12-13)
In this passage Whitehead makes three points. The first is that the organic actualities of the world obtain adequate representation in the divine nature. That is, in technical terms, God prehends (he immediately sympathetically feels) each actual event in the world. Events are a part of him just as events which we experience are a part of who we are. The consequences are important for both each actual event in the world and for God. Whitehead later develops “adequate representation” in the divine nature to refer to each actual event’s immortality. (Immortality will be discussed below.) Since God sympathetically feels each event, he is dependent upon those events in the sense that he responds to those events no matter what they are. God also changes in the sense that he responds to different events in a way that is appropriate to each event. His response is always the same in the sense that they become a harmonious whole in his experience of them.
The second point is that the inclusion in God of these occasions of an evolving world does not destroy the completeness of the other nature of God, his conceptual side which is eternal or primordial.
The third point is that the ontological principle (the reasons for things are always to be found in the composite nature of definite actual entities) requires that there must be an actual entity which correlates the many partial experiences of many actual entities into a determinate whole. In short the ontological principle requires a god-like being who, in his composite nature, is the actual entity which experiences the world as a determinate whole. Two comments about this third point: First, the statement of this requirement is evidence that neither the concept of God in general nor the conception of the consequent nature of God is ad hoc to Whitehead’s system. Rather the systematic scheme which he envisions necessitates these concepts. Second, this argument is an argument for the existence of God. The ontological principle requires that there is such an actual entity.
The second occasion that Whitehead mentions the consequent nature of God is in a discussion of the primordial nature of God. He makes two comments, both of which are to the side of his main discussion. (1) “His ‘consequent nature’ results from his physical prehension of the derivative actual entities (cf. Part V)” (Process and Reality, Corrected Edition, ed. Griffin & Sherburne, New York: The Free Press, 1978, 31) (2) “This function of creatures, that they constitute the shifting character of creativity, is here termed the ‘objective immortality’ of actual entities. Thus God has objective immortality in respect to his primordial nature and his consequent nature. The objective immortality of his consequent nature is considered later (cf. Part V)” (Process and Reality, Corrected Edition, ed. Griffin & Sherburne, New York: The Free Press, 1978, 32)
In the first of these comments Whitehead says that God feels the physical aspects of things in the world just as much as he knows these things conceptually. God certainly has the ability to experience the world as people experience it (and no doubt many other ways), and he does. God knows pain and grief (and many other ways of experiencing the world) conceptually and physically. This insight is important for religious thought and is the basis for Whitehead’s claim: “God is the great companion — the fellow-sufferer who understands.” (Process and Reality, Corrected Edition, ed. Griffin & Sherburne, New York: The Free Press, 1978, 351) This is not poetry or mystic vision, but it is an insight based on a metaphysical system of reality.
In the second of these comments, Whitehead says that the inclusion of the occasions of the world in God has an objective immortality as well as the primordial nature of God. Our experience is one of a flow of experiences. Once we have experienced, that experience perishes in its immediacy for us (that is what we mean when we say it is past). But God’s sympathetic feeling of that experience has objective immortality. This insight is also important to religion and Whitehead develops these ideas in Part V.
The third occasion in which Whitehead refers to the consequent nature of God is in a passage in which he considers God as a primordial actual entity. Hartshorne and many others have argued that Whitehead should have talked of God as “an enduring society of actualities, not a single actuality.”14 But that is another argument for later discussion.
Because Whitehead is thinking of God as the primordial actual entity, he attributes the same threefold character to God which other actual entities have. God’s ‘primordial nature’ is the concrescence of a unity of conceptual feelings; his ‘consequent nature’ is his physical prehension of the actualities of the evolving universe; and his ‘superjective nature’ is “the character of the pragmatic value of his specific satisfaction qualifying the transcendent creativity in the various temporal instances.” (Process and Reality, Corrected Edition, ed. Griffin & Sherburne, New York: The Free Press, 1978, 88) Whitehead further comments that God’s “primordial nature directs such perspectives of objectification that each novel actuality in the temporal world contributes such elements as it can to a realization in God free from inhibitions of intensity by reason of discordance.” (Process and Reality, Corrected Edition, ed. Griffin & Sherburne, New York: The Free Press, 1978, 88) So the consequent nature of God is the realization in God of the contribution of actual entities. These contributions are freed from discordances and hence can achieve their appropriate intensity of feeling. The novel events in the lives of individuals (human and otherwise) are unified in the experience of God.
This passage also includes something entirely new in Whitehead, i.e., a reference to a third nature of God, the superjective nature. Nowhere else in the writings of Whitehead is there reference to the superjective nature of God. However this function is referred to in the last chapter of the book. There it is identified as the fourth phase in which the universe accomplishes its actuality. This superjective nature of God will be discussed below.
In the fourth occasion in which Whitehead refers to the consequent nature of God, Whitehead asserts that a nexus (a fact of togetherness) that is not a specific nexus of a concrete actual entity in the world must be somewhere. He says, “According to the ontological principle, the impartial nexus is an objective datum in the consequent nature of God; since it is somewhere and yet not by any necessity of its own nature implicated in the feelings of any determined actual entity of the actual world. The nexus involves realization somewhere.” (Process and Reality, Corrected Edition, ed. Griffin & Sherburne, New York: The Free Press, 1978, 231) The only point that needs to be made about these comments for the purposes of the present discussion is that the consequent nature of God has a functional role in Whitehead’s metaphysical system. It is important to note this because later we will be considering the religious significance of the consequent nature. The fundamental thesis of this work is that Whitehead’s metaphysical system provides an adequate basis for a fruitful theology. This thesis entails the assertion that neither is Whitehead’s theology an ad hoc addition to his metaphysics nor does it stand separate and unrelated to his metaphysics.
b. The Final Reference to the Consequent Nature of God in Process and Reality
The fifth occasion that Whitehead refers to the consequent nature of God occurs in “Part V Final Interpretation.” Part V is divided into two chapters: I. The Ideal Opposites and II. God and the World.
One might read the passage, “Process,” which is part of Chapter X of Part II, prior to reading the chapter, “Ideal Opposites.” The earlier section sets up the fundamental problem of integral experience that there is both the flux of things and permanence. The task of metaphysics is the elucidation of the meaning of these aspects of our experience.
The chapter, “Ideal Opposites,” concerns the ultimate ideals which are opposites. Two types of ideals of civilizations are noted: ideals based on stern self-restraint and ideals based on the flowering of a culture. Ideals fashion themselves around permanence and around change. Order and novelty are contrasts with complex relationships. The immediacy of feeling faces perpetual perishing. There is a demand for permanence. The final pair of ideal opposites to be considered is God and the World — the topic of the last chapter.
The chapter, “God and the World,” — only 10 pages — is, in my estimation, the most creative thinking in philosophy of religion in our Western philosophical tradition. The chapter is divided into seven sections.
In Section I Whitehead rejects the notion that God is an imperial ruler (a divine Caesar), the personification of moral energy (a Hebrew prophet) or an ultimate philosophical principle (the unmoved mover of Aristotle). He suggests a fourth alternative, the Galilean vision.
He says, “Love neither rules, nor is it unmoved; also it is a little oblivious as to morals.” (Process and Reality, Corrected Edition, ed. Griffin & Sherburne, New York: The Free Press, 1978, 343) In Section II Whitehead asks: What do the metaphysical principles developed here require concerning the nature of God? He then discusses the primordial nature of God. His points are:
1. As primordial he is the unlimited conceptual realization of the absolute wealth of potentiality.
2. The primordial is an abstraction.
3. As primordial he is deficiently actual in two ways: a. his feelings are only conceptual and b. his conceptual feelings are devoid of consciousness.
4. The primordial nature provides an order in the relevance of eternal objects to the process of creation.
5. He is the lure for feeling.
6. His particular relevance to each creative act “constitutes him the initial ‘object of desire’ establishing the initial phase of each subjective aim.” (Process and Reality, Corrected Edition, ed. Griffin & Sherburne, New York: The Free Press, 1978, 344)
In Section III Whitehead begins his discussion of the consequent nature of God. The philosophers and the theologians of the past have wanted to insure God’s perfection and his transcendence. In order to think of God as perfect, they held that he must be complete, non-dependent, unchanging and unaffected by the world. In Whitehead’s view God is an actual entity which prehends (takes into his internal constitution) all past actual occasions, as do all actual entities. The consequence of this is that he is affected by how the world is. Whitehead says, “The completion of God’s nature into a fulness of physical feeling is derived from the objectification of the world in God. He shares with every new creation its actual world.” (Process and Reality, Corrected Edition, ed. Griffin & Sherburne, New York: The Free Press, 1978, 345) The result of sharing the creatures’ actual worlds is that God’s consequent state or actuality is dependent upon what is actualized in the world, and he is changed by it. So, “. . .his derivative nature is consequent upon the creative advance of the world.” (Process and Reality, Corrected Edition, ed. Griffin & Sherburne, New York: The Free Press, 1978, 345)
God, like all actual entities, is dipolar; that is, he has both physical and mental characteristics. Most theologians have conceived of God as having mental characteristics, e.g., God has been identified as Absolute Mind (Hegel) but rarely have theologians or philosophers attributed a physical nature to God. Primitive peoples thought of God as a physical thing, such as the sun or some other object. A more sophisticated view is that the object represented God. But God as a physical entity was largely rejected by theologians and philosophers because they thought that God was not one object among other objects in the world. If he were, he would be limited and not the ultimate.(Tillich)
In what sense is God physical? In philosophy it is often more important to ask the right question than to give the right answer, for questions may make false assumptions. Questions making the wrong assumptions need to be revised, not answered. We need to revise the above question to “Does God have physical feelings?” Before we answer this question we need to say what we mean by having physical feelings. It means internally relating to (feeling) actual occasions in the world. The answer to the question is, “Yes, God internally relates to (includes in himself) the world.”
Whitehead says, “. . .the nature of God is dipolar.” (Process and Reality, Corrected Edition, ed. Griffin & Sherburne, New York: The Free Press, 1978, 345) He said this once before at the end of Part I of the book. There he said, “Any instance of experience is dipolar, whether that instance be God or an actual occasion of the world.” (Process and Reality, Corrected Edition, ed. Griffin & Sherburne, New York: The Free Press, 1978, 36) So, for Whitehead, all actual entities are dipolar. It is important to notice that Whitehead’s cosmology begins with these actual entities or events as the real things. The physical and the conceptual are abstractions from the concrete events. This point of view contrasts with Descartes’ philosophy which assumed that the mental is an independent substance and the physical is an independent substance. Descartes’ problem was to explain how these substances were together in objects in the world. Our modern, Western tradition is Cartesian for we have been taught to think of the mental and of the physical as different, real things. They are different in Whitehead, but they are not real things; they are abstractions from real things. Real things are the events or happenings of the process of creativity. God, like other actual entities, is real, and one can abstract his physical and conceptual characteristics.
The importance of the consequent nature of God is seen in Whitehead’s assertion that it is in the consequent nature that God is conscious. The primordial nature, being abstract, has no experience. Hence God’s primordial nature, though conceptual (also referred to as his mental pole), is not conscious. God’s consequent nature is conscious. It “originates with physical experience derived from the temporal world” and is “determined, incomplete, consequent, ‘everlasting’ ((in contrast to eternal)), fully actual, and conscious. (Process and Reality, Corrected Edition, ed. Griffin & Sherburne, New York: The Free Press, 1978, 345) God’s consciousness is derived from his physically experiencing the temporal world. I will discuss the religious significance of this important view separately.
In Section IV he discusses the character of God’s consequent nature. We may divide the discussion into three parts reflecting three images of God: Savior, Judge, and Poet. Whitehead does not use the term, savior, but he says that the wisdom of God’s subjective aim “prehends every actuality for what it can be” (Process and Reality, Corrected Edition, ed. Griffin & Sherburne, New York: The Free Press, 1978, 346) in a unison while retaining its immediacy. This creative advance includes sufferings and sorrows as well as triumphs and joys. Evil actions are “dismissed into their triviality of merely individual facts.” (PR 346) Yet the good they may have done is saved by its relation to the whole. The image presented here of the growth of God’s nature is the image “of a tender care that nothing be lost.” (Process and Reality, Corrected Edition, ed. Griffin & Sherburne, New York: The Free Press, 1978, 346)
Another image of the consequent nature is God’s judgement on the world. God’s judgment is not harsh rejection but rather “the judgement of tenderness which loses nothing that can be saved.” (Process and Reality, Corrected Edition, ed. Griffin & Sherburne, New York: The Free Press, 1978, 346) Even “mere wreckage” is used. There is judgement here (as in the becoming of all actual entities) in how God prehends the events and how He integrates them into a harmony in His experience. God’s prehensions do not have the limitations that other actual entities have. The perfection of God’s subjective aim means that there will be “no loss, no obstruction.”
We may raise the question as to whether everything in the temporal world is saved or not. Two issues are important here: (1) Is the evil of the world included in God’s consequent nature and if so, in what way is it included? (Is it transformed into good by being a contrast?) (2) Is the living immediacy of the actual occasions preserved in God? This last question will determine in what sense we believe in immortality. If the answer to the question is, “No,” then people do not have an everlasting subjective immediacy, but contribute to the nature of God as prehended occasions, thus are preserved in his memory. If the answer is “Yes,” then people do have an everlasting subjective immediacy. In the latter case there is a problem regarding Whitehead’s general principle that actual entities do not prehend contemporary actual entities, only past ones.
The solution may lie in restricting the principle to the relation between actual occasions and not applying it to the relation of an actual occasion and God. A fuller discussion of “immortality” in Whitehead’s thought will come later.
The third image used to understand God’s consequent nature is that of the Poet. The quality Whitehead has in mind is infinite patience. A multitude of free actual occasions are realizing themselves in the temporal world. He characterises their unity as a creative advance into novelty. God lures. He does not force. “He is the poet of the world, with tender patience leading it by his vision of truth, beauty, and goodness.” (Process and Reality, Corrected Edition, ed. Griffin & Sherburne, New York: The Free Press, 1978, 346) The editors of the Corrected Edition note, “In his Macmillan copy, Whitehead crossed out ‘leading’ and wrote both ‘persuading’ and ‘swaying’ in the margin. No change was made in the text, partly because Whitehead did not clearly specify a substitute.” (Process and Reality, Corrected Edition, ed. Griffin & Sherburne, New York: The Free Press, 1978, 413) Whitehead’s intention is clear. He wants to indicate the care with which God waifs. The creatures are (in part) self-creative.
In Section V he discusses the intuition of permanence in fluency and of fluency in permanence. Whitehead returns to the ancient Greek problems of the one and the many, and permanence and fluency. He rejects solutions which affirm one of these contrasts while denying the other. The “final Platonic problem” is the claim that the many which are in flux are “mere appearance.” Whitehead asserts the reality of both contrasts. He says there are two problems: how permanence acquires flux for completion and how flux acquires permanence for completion. His solution is that the primordial, permanent nature of God is completed in the consequent nature of God “by the individual, fluent satisfaction of finite fact.” And the many temporal occasions giving fluency to the finite world are completed and gain permanence by their everlasting union in the consequent nature of God. So God is both permanent and fluent, and actual occasions are both fluent and permanent.
Whitehead proceeds to give his famous set of antitheses that appear contradictory but are actually contrasts. They are contrasts because there is a shift of meaning in referring to God’s primordial nature and his consequent nature and in referring to the world as an actual occasion and the world as included in God. We will quote only a part of the passage:
“It is as true to say that God is permanent and the World fluent, as that the World is permanent and God is fluent.
“It is as true to say that God is one and the World many, as that the World is one and God many.
“It is as true to say that God creates the World, as that the World creates God. (Process and Reality, Corrected Edition, ed. Griffin & Sherburne, New York: The Free Press, 1978, 348)
Because he affirms the reality of both God and the world, Whitehead proposes what he takes to be a final metaphysical truth that “appetitive vision and physical enjoyment have equal claim to priority in creation.” (Process and Reality, Corrected Edition, ed. Griffin & Sherburne, New York: The Free Press, 1978, 348) Both are part of God and both are part of the world. There is a mutual requirement of both.
There is a reconciliation of permanence and flux in God’s “everlastingness.” By this he means that because God does not perish, the values that are prehended in him are forever -in the immediacy of his experience.
In Section VI Whitehead discusses how the many become one in God’s consequent nature. The discordant multiplicity of free creations of actualities in the temporal world are brought into complete adjustment in the harmony of God’s own actualization. So the final phase of an actual occasion is its existence in the perfect unity in God’s consequent nature. So a sense of worth beyond itself is a -part of individual self-attainment. Even if the experience is one of sorrow or pain, the experience is transformed into a part of a harmonious unity. Whitehead says that this is the idea of redemption through suffering expressed in religion and the idea of the aesthetic value of discords in art.
The universe thus achieves the expression of the variety of opposites — freedom/necessity, multiplicity/unity, imperfection/perfection. He says, “All the ‘opposites’ are elements in the nature of things, and are incorrigibly there. The concept of ‘God’ is the way in which we understand this incredible fact. . . .” (Process and Reality, Corrected Edition, ed. Griffin & Sherburne, New York: The Free Press, 1978, 350)
In Section VII Whitehead gives his final flourish: the person in God and a new role of God’s consequent nature. Whitehead closes his book exploring how a person is included in the consequent nature of God. He starts with the general principle, “Each actuality in the temporal world has its reception into God’s nature.” (Process and Reality, Corrected Edition, ed. Griffin & Sherburne, New York: The Free Press, 1978, 350) He explains that the corresponding element in God’s nature is not temporal actuality, which continually perishes. Rather it is transformed into “a living, ever-present fact.”
He draws a correlation between a person in the temporal world and God. Of the person he says, “An enduring personality in the temporal world is a route of occasions in which the successors with some peculiar completeness sum up their predecessors.” (Process and Reality, Corrected Edition, ed. Griffin & Sherburne, New York: The Free Press, 1978, 350) That much is clear. Now Whitehead means that the same is true of God but with a difference. In God there is a more complete unity of life. The more completeness comes from the fact that succession in God “does not mean loss of immediate unison.”
What does that mean? In any actual occasion there is a unison of becoming among things in the present.” (Process and Reality, Corrected Edition, ed. Griffin & Sherburne, New York: The Free Press, 1978, 340) But the occasion becomes datum for a subsequent occasion. As such, it is objectified, and objectification involves elimination (the past fades). In reference to a person, the present occasion, which is the person now, has within it the past of that route of occasions. But the past fades, i.e., the present fact does not have the past fact with it in any full immediacy. But Whitehead asks, “Why should there not be novelty without loss of this direct unison of immediacy among things?” (Process and Reality, Corrected Edition, ed. Griffin & Sherburne, New York: The Free Press, 1978, 340) Although it is an empirical fact that process entails loss, he argues that there is no ultimate, metaphysical reason why this should be the whole story.
The same principle of inheritance that applies to a person and his past applies to the person in the temporal world and the person in God. As the past is included in us, so we are included in God. But Whitehead says we are included “without the qualification of any loss, either of individual identity or of completeness of unity.” (Process and Reality, Corrected Edition, ed. Griffin & Sherburne, New York: The Free Press, 1978, 350-351) Our past “perishes” but in God there is no past; does this mean that our past does not “perish” in God but retains its subjective immediacy? He seems to be saying, “Yes.” We discussed this problem above and we will again deal with it in the chapter on immortality. Does Whitehead’s position lead him to a traditional belief of life after death? The question must remain open for the present time.
Whitehead attaches great significance to our being included in God. Throughout the perishing occasions in the life of each temporal creature, these occasions are being transformed everlastingly in God. Hence our immediate, perishing actions have unfading importance because they live forever in God. The recognition of the everlastingness of our experiences in God refreshes our zest for existence.
One hardly expects, even in Whitehead, to find a new idea in the next-to-last paragraph of a 350-page book. Yet that is the case. His fertile mind kept developing his principles. Whitehead saw a new implication in the principle of universal relativity (“. . .it belongs to the nature of a ‘being’ that it is a potential for every ‘becoming.’ Process and Reality, Corrected Edition, ed. Griffin & Sherburne, New York: The Free Press, 1978, 22) This principle applied to God as a actual entity means that God’s consequent nature is prehended by actual occasions. So God’s consequent nature has an effect on the temporal world, “. . .each temporal actuality includes it as an immediate fact of relevant experience.” (Process and Reality, Corrected Edition, ed. Griffin & Sherburne, New York: The Free Press, 1978, 351) Whitehead says this is God’s love for the world expressed in “the particular providence for particular occasions.” So God’s impact on an actual occasion includes more than just providing the initial aim, for it includes his consequent nature being prehended by each actual occasion. The initial aim is a more general, reflecting appetite toward novelty. The prehension of God’s consequent nature (how God has prehended the past actuality of that occasion) reveals a specific response to the past occasion. So Whitehead concludes, “. . .God is the great companion — the fellow-sufferer who understands.” (Process and Reality, Corrected Edition, ed. Griffin & Sherburne, New York: The Free Press, 1978, 351)
Hence we come to the close of one of the most important attempts to understand the nature of the world and the nature of God. Rarely has such a refreshing breeze stirred in the dusty halls of philosophy. Whitehead presents us with a new way to understand reality and challenges us to unite science and religion, fact and value, and systematic development and creative thought.
3. The Religious Significance of the Consequent Nature of God
What is the religious significance of Whitehead’s concept of the nature of God? How does this view of God differ from the traditional view with regard to its appropriateness for religious worship?
It is unfortunate that for many years Whitehead’s concept of God was associated with the principle of concretion/limitation. The reason, of course, was his concept of God in Science and the Modern World. That view sounded like a philosopher’s god, for it was Whitehead’s version of Aristotle’s unmoved mover. That view is inadequate for the religious worshiper for neither a principle nor an unmovable, unresponsive, unhearing force is an appropriate object of worship. But at that time Whitehead thought that nothing further could be known about God through philosophy. Whatever else might be known must be sought in the religions themselves. Soon he changed his mind. In Religion in the Making he presented a fuller concept of God; later in Process and Reality he fully developed his view of God.
To set the stage for considering religion from a cosmological point of view, Whitehead writes, “The most general formulation of the religious problem is the question whether the process of the temporal world passes into the formation of other actualities, bound together in an order in which novelty does not mean loss.” (Process and Reality, Corrected Edition, ed. Griffin & Sherburne, New York: The Free Press, 1978, 340) The question is whether the ordinary events of our temporal lives have any eternal permanence “without loss.” Whitehead answers in the affirmative. He utilizes his cosmological principles to develop a concept of God which brings the opposites of the universe together in a harmonious unity. The final opposites, God and the world, have a reciprocal relationship in which God includes every actualized occasion into himself.
Whitehead’s concept of God, including both God’s primordial nature and his consequent nature, is important because it achieves the need both for a religiously available God and a God worthy of worship. The traditional philosophical concepts of God (including Whitehead’s concept in Science and the Modern World) made God “the eternal one” (a being outside time since things in time perish); “the absolute” (not relating to things in the temporal world); and “the perfect being” (not being dependent upon anything in the temporal world). But such concepts resulted in a God that was not available for worship. How could one pray to a God who only thought (not acted because this implied incompletion) and who finally only thought about himself? Could one expect response from “the absolute”? On the other hand, conceptions of God which made God finite often resulted in the conception of a God who struggled against evil but was not really worthy of worship. The object of worship must be both worthy of worship and capable in some sense of giving significance to the life of the worshiper.
Whitehead’s changing his concept of God from a principle to an actual entity, which performs the function of the principle (among other things), and his addition of the consequent nature gives a religiously worshipful God. The concept of the consequent nature of God gives a reciprocal relation to God and the world. This god is the God of worship because he is both the primordial actual reality who is the source of order and creativity in the temporal world (that is, he is worthy of worship), and he is the one who incorporates every actual occasion into himself in a harmonious and everlasting unity (that is, he is capable of responding).
In his consequent nature God has physical feelings of the actual occasions in the temporal world. This means he suffers and feels joy along with the temporal occasions. “God is the great companion — the fellow-sufferer who understands.” (Process and Reality, Corrected Edition, ed. Griffin & Sherburne, New York: The Free Press, 1978, 351) Here is an unexpected philosophical backing for an important religious need. The God presented here is both appropriate for worship and also important in dealing existentially with the suffering in the world. The problem of evil takes on a different dimension since God is a fellow-sufferer.
The consequent nature is religiously significant because the momentary experiences in the temporal world are given eternal significance. This is achieved by the actual occasions being prehended by God. They become living, ever-present facts in the nature of God. And since God’s consequent nature is prehended by subsequent actual occasions, these facts influence the world.
We can say two things about this contribution. These facts (or occasions) may be significant or trivial. We can draw an analogy from history: some historical events have great significance while others are trivial. So the impact of actual occasions is not the same. Secondly, occasions may either contribute to the intensity of feeling or lead to denigration of intensity, hence toward monotony by simple repetition. That is, they may be novel or repeat the same pattern. So all occasions do not have the same significance, but all are included in the consequent nature. Whitehead says, “. . .each novel actuality in the temporal world contributes such elements as it can to a realization in God. . . .” (Process and Reality, Corrected Edition, ed. Griffin & Sherburne, New York: The Free Press, 1978, 88) Hence we are all part of the creative advance into novelty.
An insight that lies on the edge of the western religious vision is that since all actualities contribute to God, this means that nonhuman actualities do so as well. Actual occasions in nature ranging from atoms to plants and animals to the planet and beyond are all included in God. This provides a metaphysical basis for the value of nature and is a part of the religious vision that nature is sacred. It also provides a basis for the value of the wild plants and animals expressed by many contemporary ecologists. Stated in more general terms, this insight provides a metaphysical basis for the unity of nature (which of course includes people).
God in his consequent nature responds creatively to whatever actual occasions occur in the world. All occasions become a part of God’s unified experience of the world. Since each actual occasion has some degree of self-determination, God does not determine what happens in the world. He does provide an initial aim that is the best for that situation. But the actual occasion modifies the aim in its actualization. God awaits the outcome — hence his “patience.” Whatever the response, God creatively prehends it into a whole.
The recognition of God’s consequent nature means that God is a compound individual. Like the cell which includes individuals (molecules and atoms) and is, in turn, included in an individual (body), God is a compound individual who includes other individuals (actual occasions). Hartshorne says that Whitehead’s “theory of the enduring individual as a ‘society’ of occasions, interlocked with other such individuals into societies of societies, is the first complete emergence of the compound individual into technical terminology.”15 The result is a “conception of organism, of societies of entities feeling each other, compounded of each other’s feelings, ((which)) is Whitehead’s primary achievement. . . .”1 6So “God is the compound individual who at all times has embraced or will embrace the fullness of all other individuals as existing at those times.”17
God in his consequent nature feels the feelings of the occasions in the world. He does this in the same sense that all actual occasions prehend (sympathetically feel) all past actual occasions. This fundamental principle of the relation of actual occasions is one of sympathetic feeling. So Whitehead has made what can correctly be called “love” into the basic relation of all entities to each other. On a human level to love means to participate sympathetically in the joys and sorrows of another. So to say that God loves the world (us included) is to recognize a fundamental principle of the relation, of occasions. It is not just pretty poetry. It is the real relation of things -and as such, should be recognized as our relation to nature, people and God, and their relation to us.
So in these ways we recognize the importance of the consequent nature of God for religious thought. No doubt there are many other insights that can be generated from it, but most importantly, we have a philosophical basis for theological thought.
1. Lewis Ford, “Some Proposals Concerning The Composition of Process and Reality,” in Process Studies, vol. 8. No. 3, (Fall, 1978), p. 147.
2. Donald w. Sherburne, A Key to Whitehead’s Process and Reality (New York: The Macmillan Company. 1966).
3. Ford. Some Proposals. . . p.152.
4. Hartshorne. “Whitehead’s Idea of God.” p. 550.
5. Cobb, A Christian Natural Theology, p. 155.
6. Cobb, A Christian Natural Theology, p. 155.
7. William A. Christian, An Interpretation of Whitehead’s Metaphysics, (New Haven: Yale University Press. 1959). p. 274.
8. Cobb, A Christian Natural Theology, p. 155.
9. Charles Hartshorne, “Whitehead’s Metaphysics,” in Whitehead’s Philosophy: Selected Essays, 1935-1970 (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1972), p. 13.
10. Ibid. p.14.
11. Lewis Ford, “Some Proposals Concerning The Composition of Process and Reality,” Process Studies. vol. 8. No. 3, (Fall, 1978,) p. 152. See also Ford’s chapter. “The Final Revisions,” in his book, The Emergence of Whitehead Metaphysics, (Albany: State University of New York Press. 1984). pp. 211-244.
12. John Cobb, A Christian Natural Theology, (Philadelphia: Westminister Press, 1965) p. 148.
13. Lewis S. Ford, The Emergence of Whitehead’s Metaphysics, p. 227.
14. Charles Hartshorne. “The Dipolar Conception of Deity” in The Review of Metaphysics, XXI (1967) 273-239 on p. 287.
15. Charles Hartshorne, “The Compound Individual,” in Whitehead’s Philosophy: Selected Essays, 1935-70 (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1972). 41-61 on pp. 54-55.
16. Ibid. p. 55.
17. Ibid. p. 60.