Process Thought: Its Value and Meaning to Me
by L. Charles Birch
Charles Birch is a biologist specializing in genetics, and resides in Australia. He is joint winner of the 1990 International Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion.. His teaching career includes Oxford, Columbia and the Universities of Chicago and Minnesota, as well as visiting professor of genetics at the University of California at Berkeley and professor of biology at the University of Sydney. Professor Birch has blazed new paths into the relationships between science and faith. The following article appeared in Process Studies, pp. 219-229, Vol.19, Number 4, Winter, 1990. Process Studies is published quarterly by the Center for Process Studies, 1325 N. College Ave., Claremont, CA 91711. Used by permission. This material was prepared for Religion Online by Ted and Winnie Brock.
The title of this contribution has a double meaning: one is existential, the value of process thought in my life; while the other is philosophical, the meaning I find in process thought. I begin with the first, meaning, which inevitably involves an excursion back to when the light began to shine in my darkness.
I became interested in process thought as a result of a conflict in my life that came from biology on the one side and from religion on the other. I have had a love affair with biology ever since I was a schoolboy making an insect collection and reading J.B.S. Haldane’s Possible Worlds (PW). I wanted to become a Haldane! As an adolescent I was craving for meaning, for something to make sense. By dint of circumstance I thought I had found it in a fundamentalist faith. I accepted a very simple set of affirmations about God, the world, and myself. As an undergraduate in the University of Melbourne I kept these two passions uncertainly together. It was passion rather than thought that governed my life. Indeed, looking back, I would say that I never learned to think as an undergraduate.
With my first degree under my belt I became a research student in a high-powered research institute in the University of Adelaide. I was only the second research student this institute had ever had. When I presented myself to the director, who had come from the famous Rothamsted Agricultural Experiment Station in England, he told me that their first and last research student was a failure, which seemed to suggest to me that my chances were pretty slim. So I felt that the first steps towards being a Haldane were going to be difficult. They weren’t. What was difficult was the challenge that rigorous laboratory gave to the whole edifice of my thought. Just about everyone in it seemed to be an agnostic. My immediate colleagues had carefully thought their agnosticism through, which was more than I could say of my faith. I was learning more and more about science but was less and less able to defend my religious convictions, which were constantly under challenge. Had I never heard of the Enlightenment? I discovered that my religion had foundations of sand. But not all, for I still treasured some deep experiences that had to do with forgiveness, courage, facing loneliness in a place far away from home and friends, and with other values that had permeated my being.
The science of biology presented me with a mechanistic or substance image of reality which provided no clues at all to the meaning of my life and its fundamental experiences of value. The science of life had nothing to say about my feelings. The reason I now see is clear enough. Biology has to do with the sorts of causes we can manipulate in the laboratory. They are external causes. As for mind, purposes, and feelings -- they are at most regarded as epiphenomena, which means they are seen as side-effects, not causes.
The beginning of a resolution of my pressing search for meaning came through the Student Christian Movement in the University of Adelaide. It showed me there were alternative interpretations of Christianity to fundamentalism. When reassurance began to reestablish itself, it came like the weaving together of strands. I was conscious of a bottom forming under me. I tried to break it down, partly for moral and partly for intellectual reasons. The strands refused to be broken. The effect was to re-establish a fundamental trust with respect to the meaningfulness of human life. I found that some of the former elements came back, different from the old, no longer borrowed dwellings. For better or for worse, they were mine. Trust is that sort of thing.
My newly discovered mentors in the Student Christian Movement, especially one of them, urged me to read Whitehead’s Science and the Modern World (SMW). I felt this book was written just for me, especially Chapter 5 on the Romantic Reaction. On reading Whitehead my mind flashed back to a lecture I had heard as an undergraduate in Melbourne from my professor of zoology, Professor W.E. Agar. It was on the philosophy of biology. I remembered just enough about it to realize that he had discovered Whitehead. So I wrote to ask him what I should now read. He replied that I should read immediately Charles Hartshorne’s The Philosophy and Psychology of Sensation (PPS). He added he had just completed a book on a Whiteheadian interpretation of biology called A Contribution to the Theory of the Living Organism (CTLO). Its first sentence reads, "The main thesis of this book is that all living organisms are subjects." So here was a biologist who accepted mind and feelings and sentience as real and not just epiphenomena. Moreover, he identified three areas of biology that seemed resistant to the application of the mechanistic thinking of science. They were developmental biology (embryology), behavior, and evolution. They remain so to this day, despite the enormous advances in our understanding of many of the processes from a mechanistic standpoint.
Agar was a brilliant cellular biologist. He was educated in King’s College, Cambridge. He was made a Fellow of the Royal Society of London in 1921, at which time he became Professor of Zoology in the University of Melbourne. In those days professors in Australian universities were almost invariably Englishmen. Agar’s book was such a beacon for me that I invited him in 1943, through the students’ biological society in the University of Adelaide, to travel to Adelaide to give three lectures on the philosophy of biology. He was not well enough to accept. However, in his reply to the invitation he wrote to me, "I shall preserve your letter among my most treasured possessions as the most cordial expression of good will I have ever received from my fellow biologists." Behind that sentence was his disappointment that biologists, for the most part, had ignored his book and went on with their mechanistic analyses willy nilly.
I have said that Agar began his book with the thesis that all living organisms are subjects. He ended with the suggestion that a world of purposive agents suggested the manifestation of a cosmic purposive "Agent," but added that a discussion of this was outside the scope of this book. Agar was a distinguished biologist. I was a mere graduate student. I was delighted to have confirmation of the direction in which my thoughts were moving from such a one, especially as my biological colleagues in Adelaide had little time for this sort of thinking.
I had a lurking feeling that perhaps I had got myself onto a false path, even though all this meant a great deal to me. I had deluded myself once before with fundamentalism. I could be deluding myself again. After all, I was in the antipodes far away from the center of any form of process thought. Then something very important happened to reassure me. The time came to leave the research institute in Adelaide. In 1946 I had a grant to pursue further research and study in the University of Chicago, which was a center of ecological research. And what a goldmine it was! In the department in which I was to work I found Sewall Wright, one of the three architects of the genetical theory of natural selection. But more important for me, he was a Whiteheadian and close friend of Charles Hartshorne. His presidential address to the American Society of Naturalists, published in 1953 under the title "Gene and Organism" (AN87), is a closely argued case for regarding the gene as an organism and therefore a subject. He later contributed to the Hartshorne Festschrift (PD 101-25). As an evolutionary biologist he could see no basis for believing in the mysterious "emergence" of completely novel properties as organisms became more complex. This being the case properties such as mind and consciousness must exist in the most elementary particles. His philosophical views received little attention from his fellow biologists. A fine tribute to Sewall Wright’s life and work was given by J. F. Crow on his ninetieth birthday in December 1979 (PBM25).
Charles Hartshorne was professor of philosophy in the University of Chicago and, unknown to me until I got to Chicago, the Divinity School was the center of the most distinguished group of process theologians in the world: Williams, Loomer, Meland, Wieman, and others. On Sunday mornings crowds would flock to the Rockefeller Memorial Chapel when they preached. To this day I recall Hartshorne preaching on "Insecurity and the Abiding Treasure" ("where neither moth nor rust corrupt, and where thieves do not break through and steal") and Meland on "Not by Might nor by Power." He spoke of existence in most instances as being sustained by a perilously slight margin of sensitivity, and of the creative advance of any generation resting upon the responsiveness of a pitifully small margin of human consciousness.
I was torn between my ecology in the department of zoology and sitting in on courses in the Divinity School. They were heady days that shored up, in ways I could never have imagined, the trust in life I had come to through Whitehead and Hartshorne. I now felt I was on a road I would never leave. And so it was to be.
I came to know Charles Hartshorne and his wife Dorothy in subsequent years, both on his visits to Australia and mine to the U.S. One day I asked him who else I should get to know. He replied immediately, "My most brilliant student, John Cobb." So began a friendship across the years that came to working together on process thought and biology (MN and LL).
Not many biologists have been keen to plumb the depths of process thought. An exception, together with Sewall Wright, was C.H. Waddington, the British developmental biologist and geneticist. I discovered his interest in Whitehead in Rome when we were together at a conference on biology. Waddington told me he had become a developmental biologist as a result of having read all the works of Whitehead as an undergraduate in Cambridge. He subsequently wrote an important paper on how his metaphysical views had influenced his science (TTB). This is an unusual confession for a scientist to make. Usually it is the other way around. I think it was his conviction that led me to take a more metaphysical stance to my own field of ecology, while from John Cobb I was learning about the ecology of internal relations.
My research interest in the ecological aspects of evolution brought me to work in the laboratory of Theodosius Dobzhansky in Columbia University. He was one of the three architects of the genetical theory of natural selection, the others being Sewall Wright and Sir Ronald Fisher. In the following year I worked with him in Brazil, and later he came to my department in the University of Sydney for a year. Richard Lewontin (at present Agassiz Professor of Zoology at Harvard University) was one of his graduate students at the time I was at Columbia University. The two of us had many discussions about Whitehead. At first this seemed to annoy Dobzhansky. He said we should get our noses down more to the laboratory bench. But it was not long before Dobzhkansky revealed to me his real interest in the philosophy of biology and his more vague interest in religion, which came from his Russian Orthodox background. But he was not too interested in Whitehead’s God, nor in the idea that all individual entities from protons to people were subjects. I persuaded him to come with me to some lectures by Paul Tillich. He immediately became attracted to the idea of "ultimate concern." How, he asked, could human concern for ultimate concern have evolved? This resulted in his book, The Biology of Ultimate Concern (BUC), which is more influenced by Teilhard de Chardin than by Whitehead. Dobzhansky’s colleagues certainly thought I had led him down the garden path to fairy land. But, in fact, he was struggling valiantly with the idea of the evolution of the subjective both in this book and in The Biological Basis of Human Freedom (BBHF). Few biologists were prepared to tackle this as an evolutionary problem.
But the evolution of the subjective is precisely the problem Whitehead had laid out so clearly when he wrote:
A thoroughgoing evolutionary philosophy is inconsistent with materialism. The aboriginal stuff, or material, from which a materialistic philosophy starts is incapable of evolution. The material is in itself the ultimate substance. Evolution, on the materialistic theory, is reduced to the role of being another word for the description of the changes of the external relations between portions of matter. There is nothing to evolve, because one set of external relations is as good as any other set of external relations. There can merely be change, purposeless and unprogressive....The doctrine thus cries aloud for a conception of organism as fundamental for nature. (SMW 157)
The conception of organism as fundamental for nature involves a radical break with a mechanistic or substance concept of nature. It involves what David Griffin calls "the reenchantment of science" (RS). There are no substances. What exist are relations and these relations involve subjectivity -- that is, some form of sentience -- at the heart of all entities from protons to people. The individual entities of the universe are occasions of experience.
Radical indeed is the proposition that when you pursue your feelings down the evolutionary line you come to the conclusion that a feeling is a feeling of a feeling. Mind cannot arise from no mind, Subjectivity cannot emerge from something that is not subjective. Freedom and self-determination cannot arise from something that has no freedom. Instead of feelings being epiphenomenal side-effects, they become central in process thought. This central proposition is put succinctly by Cobb and Griffin (PT 13) when they say that process philosophy sees human experience "as a high level exemplification of reality in general." All individual entities such as protons, atoms and cells have in common with human experience that they take account of their environment, without being fully determined by it. This "taking account of " is technically called an internal relation. The phrase is useful as a contrast to an external relation. Most Western thought has focused on external relations (that push or pull). An external relation does not affect the nature of the things related. The billiard ball is unchanged when it is hit by the cue or another billiard ball. An internal relation is different. A deep conversation between two friends may mean little to an outside observer. But it changes the people involved. I experience my friend and am different inwardly as a consequence. An internal relation is constitutive of the character and even the existence of something. As Tennyson put into the mouth of the adventurous Ulysses, "I am a part of all that I have met."
For me this has been the most enlightening concept in process thought, but for most of my scientific colleagues it is not a stepping stone to understanding but a stumbling block. Why?
One reason why my scientific colleagues find process thought a stumbling block is that they suppose one is attributing consciousness to all individual entities. Dobzhasky asked me, "How can you believe atoms have brains?" The notion that sentience is proto-consciousness (or whatever one may call feeling that is less than fully conscious) is indeed difficult to grasp for those committed to mechanism. A second difficulty my scientific colleagues create is their supposition that process thought attributes sentience to everything, including rocks and solar systems. A distinguished astronomer told me he was attracted to process thought but rejected it because he couldn’t see how the solar system could be an organism! Nor can I.
An individual entity or organism is something that feels and acts as one. The process proposition is that everything is either such an occasion of experience or is made up of entities that are occasions of experience. Things such as rocks, solar systems, and computers are not individual entities that feel. They are aggregates of individual entities, the atoms and molecules that compose them. Hartshorne’s paper (PP) is very helpful in making the necessary distinction. As David Griffin points out, the great successes of science have come from studying aggregates, such as balls on inclined planes and solar systems, where Newtonian mechanics or the Cartesian system applies (RS 24). For all practical purposes prediction is possible here, at least in principle. Hence, the success in the intricate guiding of space vehicles to Venus and Mars.
The great success of the Cartesian method is largely a result of following a path of least resistance. Those problems that yield to the attack are pursued with vigor because the method works there. Other problems and other phenomena are left behind, walled off from understanding by commitment to Cartesianism. The harder problems are not tackled, if for no other reason than that brilliant scientific careers are not built on persistent failure. So the problems of embryonic and psychic development, the function of the nervous system, and the evolution of mind and consciousness remain in much the same unsatisfactory state they were in fifty years ago, while molecular biologists go from triumph to triumph in describing and manipulating genes.
Nothing can be more confusing than to regard Newtonian mechanics as the exemplar of science. Quantum physics has gone well beyond the completely mechanistic analysis of reality. If there is to be any exemplar of science it should be biology. Unfortunately biology is still trapped in a very mechanistic analysis of living organisms (PE Chaps. 2 and 3). When biology snaps out of this restriction it will become the basic science because it will be studying those individual entities where feelings exist at the conscious level. It will then be seen to be ridiculous to suppose that we could understand what the universe is without taking into account what the universe produces in its evolution: namely, conscious, purposing human beings. Hence, the rhetorical question of quantum physicist J. A. Wheeler, "Here is a man, so what must the universe be?" (quoted in AU, p. 112). A reenchanted biology would take into account all experience, all subjectivity, and not exclude whatever cannot be weighed and measured. We shall then realize what White-head saw long ago: that biology is the study of large organisms, and physics is the study of smaller organisms.
I have mentioned two stumbling blocks in process thought for scientists, namely, the meaning of mind in nature and, second, the failure to distinguish between individual entities and aggregates of individual entities. There is yet a third related problem. Mechanistic science assumes that the world is made of unchanging building blocks -- call them protons, atoms, or what you will. All that happens in cosmic and biological evolution is rearrangement of the building blocks. Process thought proposes instead that in the course of cosmic and biological evolution the individual entities change as they find themselves in different environments. For any entity is what it is by virtue of its internal relations to other entities. Cosmic and biological evolution involve change in structures -- as, for example, when electrons and protons form hydrogen atoms. The electrons and protons now find themselves in a different environment and have therefore different internal relations from what they had before hydrogen atoms existed. A proton in a stellar mass is different from one in a hydrogen atom. A cell in my brain is different from a cell not in my brain but, say, in a culture of cells in a dish. This is ecology at the most fundamental level.
There is a reason for respecting the individual entities of nature, be they frogs or humans. It is because they are subjects and not just objects. The emphasis that all living (as well as non-living) creatures are subjects has, for me, been a wide-open gate for the development of a non-anthropocentric ethic. This is probably the most important issue in the development of eco-philosophy for the conservation of nature. "Man" is not the measure of all things. If every living creature is a subject, then each has intrinsic value to itself and to God, in addition to any instrumental value each may have in the scheme of things. The clear implication of this recognition is the extension of compassion, justice and rights to non-humans. They should not be treated merely as means but as ends in themselves. Each has a life to enjoy and fulfill.
However, it is a mistaken step to then suppose that all creatures have equal intrinsic value. There is a hierarchy of intrinsic value and a corresponding hierarchy of rights. It is right and proper that we have major concern for the poor and oppressed people on the earth, and for whales and chimpanzees in preference to mosquitoes. A hierarchy of value reflects differences in capacity for richness of experience. I don’t know what it is like to be a mosquito. I think it reasonable to presume that its experience of the world and of God is limited compared with that of Buddha or Jesus.
The call for a graded concern for all creatures does not require a lesser concern for the poor and oppressed. Shakespeare said in Julius Caesar, Act III, "Not that we should love Caesar less, but that we should love Rome more." It is not that we should love the poor less but that we should love the non-human creation more that we do at present. Love is not like a fixed quantity of gasoline in a gas pump that has to be shared around amongst customers. The springs of love are deep and without limit.
Today when Christians are confronted with the environmental crisis they exhibit a frenzied schizophrenia. They rally to the call of the poor and oppressed people. They quote texts that also indicate that God has concern for all creation and implicitly that they should be so concerned. Yet they do not act upon these professions. Instead they presume a monopoly of Gods services for themselves. For the most part they leave issues such as animal rights to the secular world. For them nature is simply the stage on which the drama of human life is performed. Yet conservation of nature at its heart is the notion that humans must reduce their demands on the environment in favor of other species. An example of this Christian schizophrenia is the embarrassment caused to the World Council of Churches by a report of one of its consultations on the need for a non-anthropocentric ethic, and in particular the need for Christian concern for oppressed animals, especially those used for human purposes. The report in question is published independently in the book Liberating Life: Contemporary Approaches to Ecological Theology (LLCA). It is significant that this is a report to, and not a report of, the World Council of Churches.
A stumbling block in religion for me, when I early embraced a more traditional theism, was the existence of mishaps, accidents, suffering, and the agony of nature. Later I came to see process theology as a theology that took these issues seriously in its concept of God. Others seem to leave them as mysteries, inexplicable events or the activities of a tyrannical God. Hartshorne emphasized the importance of accepting accident and chance as a part of nature, and indeed as necessary in a universe that is not completely determined, but whose individual entities have their own degree of self-determination. I vividly recall the great importance he attached to a genuine recognition of chance and accident by his response to one of the clearest statements on the subject ever made by a biologist. Hartshorne happened to be at the University of California in Berkeley when I was teaching in the Department of Genetics. There was great excitement in the department when Jacques Monods book Le Hasard et la Necessité (HN) arrived from France. As yet the English edition, Chance and Necessity, had not been published. I gave the French edition to Hartshorne. I thought he would have a negative reaction to the book because of its strict mechanism. But that was not what hit him. He was delighted. For here was a biologist who took chance and accident seriously.
In a deterministic universe God is supposed to manipulate entities. In a universe where accidents are possible and entities have some degree of freedom and self-determination, God is not coercive but is persuasive. It was this understanding of the relation between accident, chance, self-determination, evil and suffering, and a persuasive God that was the light I needed in order to escape from the omnipotent God of classical theism. That Hartshorne brought these ideas together in one book (OTM) recently has been a great help to many. Self-determination in the world on the one hand, and the persuasive activity of God on the other is, for me, a liberating way of conceiving God’s action in the world. Evil springs from chance and the freedom it allows, not from providence.
There is a certain frustration in the creation. We cannot claim that any part of the cost can be dispensed with earthquake, plague virus, or tiger. It is not that the devil or Eve upset the divine plan. God made the world subject to frustration. Without that possibility there could be no freedom in the creation at all at any point. The cross pattern is woven into the whole fabric of our world. There seems to me to have been an evolution in the thought of Saint Paul in this respect. He came to Corinth humiliated by his failure to present God as power at Thessalonica, or in terms of wisdom at Athens, and resolved that he would no longer accommodate the faith to his audience. He would be content to know one thing and one thing only. So writing to the Corinthians he could say, the Jews seek after miracles, they are beset with an idea of God as a God of power, a miracle worker. The Greeks are crazy for wisdom, they think of God in terms of the supreme philosopher and mathematician. But we are not satisfied with a picture of God in terms either of power or wisdom. We see God in terms of a man on a cross, of love that suffers, and of suffering that redeems. We see God in terms of persuasive, outgoing, and transforming love.
There is a second aspect of God’s nature recognized by process theology which traditional theism neglects. It is the feelings of God for the creation. It is the idea that God feels and saves the feelings of all creation, its joys and its sufferings, as it evolves. God is no mere spectator of the ocean of feelings which is nature at any moment. God is the supreme synthesis of these feelings. I have come to see, particularly from Hartshorne and Cobb, that unless we recognize God as responsive beneficiary as well as benefactor, it is illusory to talk of God as a God of love. Saint Paul (or whoever) seems to have made this discovery in the letter to the Romans (Chapter 8) where he writes of creation groaning in agony in its sufferings. It is the creative agony of childbirth. Furthermore, he adds God comes alongside creation "with groanings unuttered" (verse 26). God is not the spectator of existence but the one who feels all the joys and groanings of all creation.
There are the two aspects of divine love as of human love. Love gives and love receives. There is the divine eros and the divine passion. If we and all creation have no value for the cosmos, we have no value. To pretend we have is self-delusion. This is the ultimate meaning of process thought to me (PE 98-103).
Process thought means so much to me that I would like it to be accessible to a wider community than it is. The group in the wider community I know best is scientists. I have already mentioned some of the stumbling blocks they find in process thought. But the biggest one may not be conceptual but linguistic. It is usual for a scientist to learn the language that is common parlance in his or her own science. He or she is less enthusiastic about having to master the language of another subject, especially one that seems irrelevant. It is the exceptional scientist who is interested in the philosophy of science. As one of them said, "The philosophy of science is as useful to a scientist as ornithology is to birds." But even to those who are interested, the language of process thought presents a formidable difficulty. I asked a distinguished philosopher of science at the University of California in Berkeley why he never referred to process thought. He replied that he was put off by the necessity to have to be reared in this way of thinking since birth to get anywhere with it! It is not just the language of process thought that is an obstacle, but also its lack of telling models.
Sallie McFague’s criticism of the lack of relevant models in process thought in her book Models of God could well be heeded (MG 19, 38). Her criticism is that process thought has not focused much attention on the kinds of metaphors and models most appropriate for our time. She argues that belief and behavior are more influenced by images than by concepts, that concepts without images are sterile. Her point is that if a particular way of thinking is to become more generally accessible to people who are neither philosophers nor theologians, one has to work hard on new images appropriate for our age, which she describes as an ecological and nuclear age. Whitehead was very effective in invoking the poets. We can do that with contemporary poets. Process thought uses its key words not unfamiliar in ordinary speech-words such as "event," "process, organism," "sentience" and "internal relations." Can these be worked into images more than they have been?
I have used the conductor of an orchestra and the players as a model or metaphor of the persuasive ordering of creation by God (PE 43). In the process model of God the persuasive ordering principle coordinates the creativity of a multitude of creative agents, each with its own degree of freedom. Each player in an orchestra interprets the score in his or her own way. But all are coordinated by the conductor.
A brilliant documentary film was made in 1984 of Leonard Bernstein conducting an orchestra and singers during rehearsals of his own composition, "West Side Story." Those who saw this documentary were struck by the way in which musicians, composer and conductor became one. Bernstein originated the score. Each player was making an interpretation from both the score and the grimaces on the conductor’s face. Sometimes the orchestra seemed not to come up to the conductor’s expectations of it. At other times it seemed to exceed the conductor’s expectations. He responded with intense delight.
The individual entities in nature, like the musicians in the orchestra, have their own degree of freedom to respond or not to respond. This may be tiny at the level of the proton. It is highly significant at the level of the human person. God is like the composer-conductor who is writing the score just a few bars ahead of the orchestra, taking into account their harmonies and disharmonies while proposing the next movement of the music. God does not determine the outcome. That is open-ended. The power of God is the power of persuasion to harmonize the whole. The great conductor never feels that he or she has got it quite perfect. He or she keeps on trying to bring out the best. Is this not also true of God? And when some creative advance is achieved, be it small or large, there is joy "in heaven."
The shortest of all the parables of Jesus was a parable of creativity (Mark 4 v. 26). A farmer scatters seed on the land and goes to bed at night. He gets up in the morning to find the seed sprouting, first the blade, then the ear, and then the full head of corn. The earth bears fruit of itself. It is so constituted that it bears fruit. The world is so ordered in relation to God that God’s creativity finds fulfillment in it. This is a parable of cosmic and biological evolution.
The importance of telling images and parables is hard to exaggerate. When I meet former students, long after their student days are over, I sometimes get the impression that they remember nothing I ever told them except my jokes and stories. They do remember these, and some have even retained the message they were meant to convey! We need to give a jolt to traditional thought, even to the point of being shocking. Whitehead pointed out that all really novel ideas have a certain aspect of foolishness when first perceived (SMW 70).
The cosmological task is enormous. If we imagine a microbe confined to the surface of a microscopic speck of dust floating in the middle of the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine in New York, the microbe’s problem in inferring the properties of the Cathedral, let alone the earth as a whole, would be trivial compared with ours. Using a different image, Gregory of Nyssa had a wise word for the Arians: "Let those who would pry into the mystery of the life of God, realize how little they understand of the mysteries of the life of the ant." A.N. Whitehead said that we may never fully understand but we can increase our penetration. Did not Newton do just this within the constraints of the physics of his time? The fall of the apple and the movement of the planets were encompassed in one great scheme. Somewhat later Lord Rutherford said that no physical theory is worth much if it cannot be explained to a barmaid! I think he meant that the mathematical model is for the mathematician, but for others there can be other more appropriate models. Even more recently quantum physicist J.A. Wheeler has given a life-long message to his fellow physicists: "What is deep is also simple." Cosmologists in physics today speak of searching for one formula to encompass the laws of the physical world so precise that it could be written on the back of a t-shirt. Theology can be just as bold as it contemplates the bold images of the bible and of those church founders who managed to find a great coherence between their religious faith and knowledge from the Greek world.
Let me end on a more personal note. For me what is important is whether I care or don’t care. Process theology lifts the richness of human experience to a level that gives me a new perspective of care for all creation. The world is more like a life than a mechanism. It is feeling through and through, from protons to people. There is a sense of newness with which the world of process, imbued with Life, is viewed, a new feeling of possessing, being possessed, and of participation. At its heart it is A.N Whitehead’s "Peace" which, for him, was an individual experience including within itself the harmony and integrity of the universe.
AN87 -- Sewall Wright. "Gene and Organism." American Naturalist 87 (1953): 5-18.
AU -- Paul Davies. The Accidental Universe. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982.
BBHF -- Theodosius Dobzhansky. The Biological Basis of Human Freedom. New York: Columbia University Press, 1956.
BUC -- Theodosius Dobzhansky. The Biology of Ultimate Concern. New York: New American Library, 1967.
CTLO -- W.E. Agar. A Contribution to the Theory of the Living Organism. Melbourne University Press, 1943 (2nd ed. 1951).
HN -- Jacques Monod. Le Hasard et la necessite. Paris: Editions du Seuil, 1970.
LL -- Charles Birch and John B. Cobb, Jr. The Liberation of Life: From the Cell to the Community. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981.
LLCA -- Charles Birch, William Eakin and Jay B. McDaniel. Liberating Life: Contemporary Approaches to Ecological Theology. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1990.
MG -- Sallie McFague. Models of God: Theology for an Ecological and Nuclear Age. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1987.
MN -- Mind in Nature: Essays on the Interface of Science and Philosophy. Ed. John B. Cobb, Jr. and David Ray Griffin. Washington: The University Press of America, 1977.
OTM -- Charles Hartshorne. Omnipotence and other Theological Mistakes. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1984.
PBM25 -- Sewall Wright. "The Scientist and the Man." Perspectives in Biology and Medicine 25 (1982): 279-94.
PD -- Sewall Wright. "Biology and the Philosophy of Science." Process and Divinity. Ed. W.L. Reese and E. Freeman. La Salle, IL: Open Court, 1964.
PE -- Charles Birch. A Purpose for Everything: Religion in a Postmodern World View. Mystic, CT: Twentythird Publications, 1990.
PP -- Charles Hartshorne. "Physics and Psychics: The Place of Mind in Nature." In MN.
PPS -- Charles Hartshorne. The Philosophy and Psychology of Sensation. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1934.
PT -- John B. Cobb Jr. and David Ray Griffin. Process Theology: an Introductory Exposition. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1976.
PW -- J.B.S. Haldane. Possible Worlds and Other Essays. London: Chatto and Windus, 1927.
RS -- David Ray Griffin. The Reenchantment of Science: Postmodern Proposals. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1988.
TTB -- C.H. Waddington. "The Practical Consequences of Metaphysical Beliefs on a Biologist’s Work: an Autobiographical Note." Towards a Theoretical Biology. Vol. 2. Sketches. Ed. C.H. Waddington. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1969.