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God as Composer-Director, Enjoyer, and, in a Sense, Player of the Cosmic Drama

by Charles Hartshorne

Charles Hartshorne taught at the University of Texas where he was Ashbel Smith Professor of Philosophy. He had a distinguished career at several other universities, particularly the University of Chicago and Emory University. His most recent book, Creative Synthesis and Philosophic Method, was published by Open Court. The following article appeared in Process Studies, pp. 242-260, Vol. 30, Number 2, Fall-Winter, 2001. 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.


[Editor’s note: Hartshorne gave me a copy of this paper just before I heard him present it at Central State University in Edmond, Oklahoma on April 7, 1987. A discussion with the audience followed the presentation of the paper, a transcript of which -- from a video-tape -- is appended here. A delightful coincidence is that a bird can be heard chirping in the background as the discussion draws to a close, even as a woman raises a question on the subject of bird song. My thanks to Dr. Tony Graybausch for providing me with a video-tape of the proceedings. Hartshorne inserted a couple of parenthetical comments in the paper as late as 1996 -- which are included in the version published here -- but the paper is essentially as Hartshorne first presented it. -- Donald Wayne Viney]

Why should God have a world? Why not just enjoy the perfect divine existence alone, without any relation to imperfect or less than divine existents? What can the imperfect add to the perfect, or the finite to the infinite? From this paradox traditional theism tried in vain to free itself. It never could tell us why God should have a world. The difficulty is a typical example of how easy it is to use words that have good meanings in ordinary discourse in such a way that neither the ordinary, nor any extraordinary, meaning remains. Is Mozart perfect? Certainly not in the sense that nothing was left for Beethoven or Chopin to add. I will state dogmatically: no one has ever succeeded in making sense out of the idea of an aesthetic value so great that all possible beauty is already in it. The intensity of experience depends upon contrast as well as harmony, and to experience all possible contrasts as harmonized together is logically impossible. Not all values possible one by one are possible together. There are "incompossible" value possibilities. Traditional theology must deny to the allegedly absolute perfection of God the enjoyment of at least some of these possibilities.

The conclusion is that the infinity of God must be qualified somehow. God may actually enjoy all actual, but not all possible beauty, for beauty is inexhaustible by actualization. Further conclusion: there must be a divine form of becoming or of change. Whatever beauty God enjoys, God could enjoy additional beauty. It follows that God could only arbitrarily and absurdly renounce such possible values by resting eternally content with the beauty actually enjoyed. "There could be more, let there be more" is the only reasonable attitude. So God changes, of course in a divine, not a merely human way. Even Karl Barth (he told me so, and it’s in his writings) speaks of a "holy change" in God. So far Barth is a process theologian. Berdyaev (in his late writings) is more definite and emphatic on the point. Many others, some going back several centuries, could be named. Traditional theism is slowly dying, but a new theism is coming to be.

Granted that God must somehow change, one may still ask, why should God have a world. Why not simply an endless succession of divine imaginings of possible beauties without perceiving any of them as actualized? Answer: this assumes a concept of imagining entirely distinguishable from and independent of perceiving. Who can claim to have such a concept? I think it is merely verbal. Imagining is somehow parasitic on perceiving. Both require, in our experience, a body and depend in much the same way on a nervous system. To cut short an argument, I will affirm that all beauty depends upon relation of an experience to something other than that experience, and other than relation merely to the past experience of one and the same person or individual.

Trinitarians may say that the three persons of the Trinity can solve the problem. If they are right, then there is still no solution to the problem, why God has a world. Moreover, they are implying that the world is needless and that we do nothing for God by existing, but at most something for ourselves or other creatures. God is then either unrelated to us in value terms or related to us only as means to our ends. Pious as this view has seemed to many, for me it is blasphemous. Our finite forms of beauty must contribute to the divine enjoyment of beauty, or God lacks some values that we enjoy.

To ask "Why does God have a world?" is, I suggest, like asking, why teachers have pupils, statesmen citizens, composers musicians to play their compositions, painters canvasses to paint, friendly persons other persons or animal pets to enjoy; or why people want children as well as adults around them. All our enjoyments have some involvement with others as well as ourselves, and -- as we shall see -- many enjoyments relate us to creatures far below us in the hierarchy of natural kinds. Herein I see a clue to the nature of God.

Remember please that since we (unless perhaps we are mystics) cannot simply perceive God, we have to conceive the divine nature by analogy with things we do perceive. If we are concerned with God, it is because of God’s value to us, or our value to God, or both; we can interpret these relations only by comparison with value relations that we non-divine individuals enjoy with others. I hold that absolutely no value experiences are of single individuals simply enjoying themselves. Take for example physical pleasures: these relate us not simply to ourselves but to our bodies, which are vast societies of micro-individuals called cells, and these are societies of molecules. If all our value experience relates us to other individuals, why should we suppose that the idea of value retains any meaning apart from inter-individual relations? I see no ground for this supposition.

In Western thought there has been a strong tendency to take value to mean either moral value or else mere physical pleasure. But then art, enjoyment of sports, scientific inquiry, friendly conversation (itself an art) all seem to get left out. And what is life without them? The pervasive, universal values are not moral and are not mere pleasure, they are aesthetic in the sense of the intrinsic harmonies and intensities of experiencing. An infant has no moral sense but it is sensitive to the charms of novelty and contrast; after some months it begins to show a sense of humor, it can be bored and it can be interested. These are values but aesthetic not moral values. The lower animals are not demonstrably righteous or wicked, but they too can be bored or the opposite, they show signs of experiencing conflicts or harmonies of their feelings or impulses. I see no way to show that any single creature, sufficiently integrated to act as one is totally immune to aesthetic values, positive or negative. "What acts as one feels as one" is my doctrine, derived from Leibniz, and the criteria of value in feelings as such are aesthetic.

Please understand that, as Leibniz was the first to formulate clearly, many things that we ordinarily take as single objects do not act, hence do not feel, as one. A stone does not act as one, only its molecules do. Our perception of the stone as unmoving is our blurred sensory grasping of its collective molecular movements. Even a tree’s growth is shorthand for the self-multiplication of its cells. Animals with nervous systems are the only many-celled individuals we perceive that act integrally, and even they do not do so in deep sleep.

Aesthetic value is the most concrete value. Moral value is less concrete. To enjoy music by constantly asking about one’s duties is impossible. Moral discernment is never the whole of experience, but the aesthetic values of experiences are their entire intrinsic values, what makes them good simply in themselves. Moral values do add something to aesthetic values. A morally good will is a kind of harmony in experience, as ill-will is a kind of disharmony The "beauty of holiness," or of a noble deed, enriches much artistic experience, but always there are other values in such experience. The best definition of aesthetic value is that it is intrinsic value. Extrinsic value is simply the potentiality of further intrinsic value. The value of ethical goodness, or virtue, is that besides helping to make life in the present good in itself it will tend to make life in the future good in itself. Supposedly good people whose presences or actions make life ugly for themselves or others are dubious specimens of goodness.

If the concrete values are aesthetic, to define deity in terms of ethical goodness alone is to imply that divine goodness is a mere abstraction. And many signs show how abstract the traditional concept of divinity was. God, to be concrete, must enjoy aesthetic values, the intrinsic values of experiencing. And all our value experiences show, as I have argued, that no experience is simply of itself (not even in dreams) but is always experience of others’ experiences. Experience is universally social (recall that our bodies are cellular societies). It is a mistake to set aside this sociality of value in thinking about God.

The conclusion so far: God must have aesthetic experiences and these must involve enjoyment of non-divine as well as divine experiences. We enjoy our bodies as well as other animals, and still other creatures; by analogy God enjoys all creatures, none of which is comparable in value to God, as none of our cells is comparable to us. God has a world, the beauty of experiencing which contributes to the divine life. By creating and enjoying beautiful experiences in ourselves and others we enrich the divine experiences, which are aesthetic on the highest possible level. Divine experience is aesthetically surpassable only by itself. As Fechner said over a century ago, only God can surpass God, and God perpetually does so by enjoying new creatures -- not simply enjoying divine enjoyment of divine enjoyment in empty repetition.

The foregoing amounts to saying, as Plato in the late dialogues did say, that the world is the divine body, provided that the mind-body relation be understood as I have been presenting it. For a body is a society of lesser individuals than the mind or soul of that body; and every creature is a lesser individual in relation to God. Our bodily cells are only a tiny fraction of the subhuman individuals in existence; also each of us is but one of countless individuals on our own or perhaps higher levels (recall the billions of possibly inhabited planets that astronomers believe exist). Every creature is related to God somewhat as our cells are to us. Take any traditional objection to accepting the old Platonic analogy of God as the World Soul and it can be shown that the objection stands or falls with aspects of a tradition which philosophy has been moving away from since the middle ages -- for instance ideas of sheer infinity, sheer immutability, also what is usually meant by omnipotence.

This brings us to the question of God’s power. Those philosophers who regard metaphysics as nothing but the misuse of words show an unconscious bias in the selective way they apply this principle. They may object, for instance, to the proposition that God loves the creatures on the ground that it is a strange love which expresses itself by acting as God does, inflicting upon the loved ones numerous sufferings, the well-behaved ones being victims along with the wicked or unkind. In this objection it is assumed that whatever happens to us is deliberately determined by divine power, or at least is not prevented from happening by One who at least could determine worldly events to the last detail.

The reasoning seems to be: since we human beings show our power by influencing or partly determining how others behave, the ideal or divine power must be an ability to fully determine the behavior of others. That this is to misuse words appears when one considers that if X fully decides and determines what Y does, then Y decides or determines no aspect of its own behavior. Yet the start of the reasoning is that each of us, for instance, at-least-partly decides and determines his or her own behavior. Decision-making cannot be monopolized. Ordinary language shows the problem directly. For we say that we "make" decisions, and yet the theological proposition is supposed to be that God makes all things, therefore our decisions. Do you and God make exactly the same thing, your decision? I hold that this is meaningless. One of the two, you or God, does not make that decision, and if it is not you and this is generalized to apply to all creatures then the word decision has lost its application. Surely we do not discover what it is to decide by observing God in the process of deciding, and then apply the idea to ourselves. Is not the reverse procedure the basis of the human meaning of the word?

If decision-making, or making in general, could not be monopolized then omnipotence in the usual interpretation is a pseudo-idea. It does not attribute too much power to God, it merely talks nonsense.

If ideal or divine power is not power to determine all, what is it? It is power to ideally inspire and ideally influence or partly determine all decision-making by others. Ideally means unsurpassably well. You or I have power to non-ideally inspire and non-ideally influence, or partly determine, some others near us in space-time. We never have had any power to influence what happened before our coming to be, whereas God has always existed, cannot cease to exist, and always has been and will be ideally influential upon all. We are non-ideally influential and only upon some. Ideal influence is that which is fully compatible with the freedom of others to make their own decisions in such fashion that the risks of freedom are justified by the opportunities which freedom also involves.

All multiple freedom involves risks. X decides A, Y decides B, so far as both are successful what happens is A and B. And this combination neither has decided. Bring in God as Z, and we have ABC; this combination too no one has decided. It simply happens. And it may be inharmonious, unfortunate. There is no way to eliminate the element of chance and risk from decision-making. The failure to see this has resulted from overlooking the logic of decision-making which prevents its monopoly.

Another analogy is that of a playwright who also directs the play. But still the players determine the final details of the actual performances. No stage directions can do this. They are hints or outlines only. So are divine directives. Until or unless the creatures respond, God has only a blueprint of the architecture of a world, not a world; only a musical score, not an actual piece of music. If the blueprint were as beautiful, or as good, as a building God would not want a building; and the same with the musical score and the music.

So the world is not superfluous for God and we are not useless in the divine scheme of things. If this is not the meaning of our lives, please do not ask me to assign them a meaning. I know of no meaning other than this one. Supreme, divine freedom, directs the performance of countless forms of lesser freedom; the supreme agent with supreme appreciation enjoys the performance, including the varied experiences and satisfactions of the performers as they perform. If the latter are in the best sense religious they value themselves and others in principle in the same way, as fellow performers in the service of the supreme Director. This is how I interpret "Love God with all your mind, heart, and soul and your neighbor as yourself." It is a sublime vision, in principle not peculiar to me or to Whitehead or to Berdyaev but shared with many in many countries including India and Pakistan. Always only a minority have the vision with any clarity.

If asked why I am a theist, not an atheist, I reply I have about six reasons of which I have just given you two. Belief in God enables me to understand the value of human life and no form of atheism does so. This is one reason. Belief in God enables me to understand the orderliness of the world, and no form of atheism does so. The other four arguments are similar. The point is not that if I did not believe in God I would not believe in the value of life, and if I did not believe in God I would not believe that the world is orderly. To live at all is to affirm the value of living (even the act of suicide affirms the value of human action and of human life); similarly every animal acts as if the world were orderly. The question is only how to understand the value or the orderliness. If you tell me that life and the cosmos are too mysterious, too vast for a mere human animal to understand, I cannot absolutely prove you are wrong.

The six arguments for belief are stated in only one of my books, Creative Synthesis and Philosophical Method, chapter 14. This book has been reprinted by University Press of America, 1983.

Some of you may be thinking that my view of creaturely freedom contradicts the causal determinism that has dominated modern science for several centuries. Fortunately quantum physics has put this doctrine in doubt and some scientists and philosophers of science had already rejected it long before quantum physics, including the great Clerk Maxwell, and the great American philosopher who was also physicist, Charles Peirce. Peirce believed that every atom has some freedom and that an aspect of real chance is pervasive in nature. Unqualified determinism seems to be more and more on the defensive in our time. Like Peirce many authorities now believe that the order of nature is statistical or approximate, not strict and absolute with respect to the fine details. The laws of nature do not uniquely prescribe individual behavior. God then can determine the laws while the individuals determine the precise activities. Whitehead, another mathematician-physicist-philosopher, had a similar view Thus our theological scheme is no longer as seriously at odds with science or the philosophy of science as it was in the days of classical or Newtonian physics. Karl Popper, second to none among living (now, 1996, no longer) philosophers of science, defends indeterminism, as do Dirac and Wheeler, among the more creative of living scientists, including some biologists. Thus, theologians can no longer adopt a deterministic position on the ground that science requires it.

Unluckily just when scientists are opening their minds to a nondeterministic view of cosmic order many philosophers, here and in England, are still playing the old game (as old as ancient stoicism) of trying to reconcile human freedom with strict causal determination of all events. They say that to be free is simply to be able to act as one decides or chooses to act. It is assumed that it makes sense to suppose that how one decides or chooses can he precisely implied by the previous situation and natural laws. There is good ground for denying this assumption. Determinism means that what I was at birth was already determined, settled by what I was before birth and what the surrounding world was then. So it seems that the previous universe was the decider and nothing was left open or indeterminate requiring further determination. True, the actual process of my thinking was not yet in being at my birth, but its entire quality to the last iota was already a fact in the form of a going-to-be. If my decision was bad or unfortunate, then the antecedent universe that made it a going-to-be was also bad or unfortunate to the same extent. Is this what we really mean by deciding? Did I decide, or did the entire previous universe decide? Responsibility vanishes backward into the unknown beginning, or into an equally unknown infinite regress. William James, in his "Dilemma of Determinism," stressed this consideration.

If, on the other hand, we admit that causes do not fully determine effects, and that effects are in part self-decided, then the "I" that now decides was not fully determined by the previous "I" with its environment, and so on back to one’s first state of awareness. Thus, a person is truly to a certain extent self-created, and indirectly creative (but not fully determinative) of others. Any divine creation will be analogous on a superior level; God will be supremely self-created and creative, but not fully determinative, of the others, who will be lesser creators. This and only this is a theism that can give an intelligible account of itself. To influence another will mean to recreate or further create oneself in such a way as to influence (but not simply determine) the other’s partial self-creation, as the other is made aware of one’s own self-creation. Every conversation is an example. We keep making ourselves slightly differently, with new qualities not definitely settled by previous qualities; as others perceive our new qualities, they take them into account in their own deciding or self-making. As a student at Harvard, before I had met Whitehead or read Peirce, I wrote a paper called "The Self its own Maker." Possibly I had read Bergson on the subject.

Determinism may appeal to the allegedly self-evident principle of sufficient reason, that "for everything that is, there must be a reason why it is as it is." Consider then the events of the past. Yesterday was as it was because the day before was as it was. But why was the whole series as it was? Spinoza and Leibniz tried with great ingenuity to answer this question. Scarcely anyone that I know of finds their answers satisfactory. Are there any new and equally definite or clear answers? I know of none. So the appeal to the principle of sufficient reason is, to put it bluntly, a bluff. The principle is not self-evident, and for all we know is false.

Consider too that if the present follows causally from the past, it does so in terms of certain natural laws. Have we a reason why these laws "are as they are and not otherwise?" Some physicists have tried to find such a reason. Suppose they find it, will not the reason be itself in need of a further reason? Or will it be wholly self-explanatory and need no further reason? Spinoza and Leibniz argued that there must be such a self-justifying reason. But who stands up to be counted as agreeing with them?

We know if we know anything that abstract ideas do not imply the particular cases coming under them. Universals are neutral between various particulars exemplifying them. From the universal concept shape one cannot deduce any particular shaped thing rather than another. From the abstraction Leibniz appealed to, "best possible world," that is, three universals -- best, possible, and world -- one cannot derive this, or any other, particular world. Again, the principle of sufficient reason is not congruent with the most elementary logical truths, for instance that propositions may be such that one proposition, p, implies the other, q, but not conversely; or they may be mutually independent. If there were a self-justifying, that is necessary, reason for everything, there could be no independence, whether mutual or one-way. Independence means that X could be though Y were not, and this implies that there are at least some things that might not have been, that is, are without any necessary reason.

One can do three things with the idea of contingency. First, one can reject it altogether. Spinoza did this openly, and Leibniz covertly or with double talk. But who is ready to follow either of them in this? Second, one can say that, granted its past, any present is causally necessary, but the entire series of presents, whether finite or infinite, is contingent, has no sufficient reason. Or finally, one can say that, even granted its past, no present is wholly necessary. To any present its past is indeed closed, necessary, but to any present its future is in some degree open, contingent. This is the idea of piece-meal contingency and is the third possible doctrine. It is the admission of freedom in the creative sense. Determinism rejects this and is left with a choice between Spinozism (or the Leibnizian subterfuge) and a wholesale admission of contingency entirely beyond our experience, back at the beginning or back of the beginning, some act of God, endowed with supreme freedom (in a sense in which our freedom is not simply inferior but is zero), or some mere arbitrary, absolute chance, or finally an infinite regress for which nothing at all by way of reason is conceivable.

How carefully have those who claim the compatibility of determinism and freedom thought about these matters? I think they have largely ignored the ramifications of the problem and its history to an extent that suggests they are only playing at dealing with it. Twenty-five centuries have gone into this discussion; the basic possibilities are now known. Like so many pompous simplicities, the principle of sufficient reason is itself without good reason.

If you ask, "what then is causal explanation if it does not explain why things are as they are and not otherwise?" I answer: causes are necessary conditions. Without my parents and their world I could not have come to be. Necessary conditions are required to make an event possible, but possible is one thing, actual another. My parents and their world made me as I am now possible, but I (helped by countless others) made me as I now am actual. Necessary conditions are not sufficient conditions. Science explains possibility not actuality.

Why, you may wonder, did it take over two thousand years for science to come to see the element of exaggeration in the concept of sufficient condition? The answer is that for many purposes the exaggeration is insignificant quantitatively, and negligible practically. For example, given certain conditions there definitely will be an explosion the violence of which is approximately predictable, and this may be all that matters. What each molecule or atom may be doing in the explosion is not at all predictable but does not matter if one is using dynamite to quarry rock or destroy something. Water will freeze or boil at certain temperatures and again who cares what a particular molecule, atom, or particle does in these cases? Even before quantum physics it was clear to some that it was vain and useless to try to plot the paths of the micro-constituents of ordinary perceptible things. Peirce and the great physicist Maxwell guessed the statistical nature of cosmic order decades before Heisenberg declared it. Such things as atoms occur in huge numbers of closely similar cases, each individually insignificant, and only collective atomic patterns are important to such animals as we are. Moreover, on the atomic level there is no originality and responsiveness to leadership, comparable to the way one human being, Buddha, Jesus, Newton, can change the behavior of millions thereafter.

Astronomy and the physics of floating or falling bodies were the first sciences to approach exactitude. But they dealt with things that do not act as one and therefore do not feel or enjoy freedom as single agents. So the idea arose of nature as, in good part at least, devoid of freedom as well as of feeling. Then machines, more and more complicated and smoothly running, were invented and seemed to confirm the idea. But none of the facts known then or now contradicts the belief that the really integral natural agents are, to some slight extent at least, both free and sentient. Philosophy has, I think, adequately yet to digest the cellular, molecular, atomic, particle-wave (or "wavicle’) structure of nature at large. Leibniz almost got the point in the very time of the first microscopic perceptions of micro-organisms, but he could not free himself from the mechanical model and so, though he held that every individual at least feels, he did not attribute even the least creativity, originative power, to any individual other than God, who thus had no proper place in the system. The Leibnizian phrase "spiritual automaton" for his monads, or active individuals, tells the story. The phrase is nonsense or contradiction. Even the phrase "quantum mechanics" suggests cultural lag, for a quantum ensemble is not a mechanism in the traditional sense. Its members do not push or pull one another like levers, pulleys, or cogwheels. They repel or attract one another, more as sentient creatures do than as bits of infinitely hard stuff, the original Greek idea of matter. As Whitehead has said, one by one the traits that distinguish "matter" from mind have been dropped from science, until none are left. As a result sufficiently varied forms of mind or experience, some vastly different from human minds or experiences, could without contradiction be thought to relate themselves as molecules, atoms, or particles do to one another, and to our perceptions. That many scientists and philosophers still call themselves materialists is to be viewed, I suggest, as akin to Leibniz’s mistake. And those more recent thinkers who are most like Leibniz in comprehensive knowledge (Peirce and Whitehead being almost unique in this respect) reject any such jumble of notions as automatic yet spiritual realities.

If you wonder why I am so severe with the theological tradition, as well as with the classical scientific scheme, I reply: our terrible human difficulties in this century suggest that our religious and ethical traditions are inadequate to our formidable tasks in a fast changing and dangerous technological world. We are trying to honor ideals of freedom and love on the basis of a theology which only verbally took these two ideas as central in its thoughts about God and humanity. God was not clearly thought of as supreme originative freedom sympathetically cherishing the creatures who were lesser forms of originative freedom sympathizing with their fellows. "God" threatened people with hell and bribed them with promises of heaven. They were asked to "serve God" though such service added no value to the divine life. "God" judged our behavior but had no sympathy for our sufferings. I am not inventing all this. Read Anselm or Aquinas. Of course such a theology was bound in the long run to generate skepticism or outright denial.

On relatively ignorant minds the old theology may produce a different effect. Finding no convincing, easily comprehended philosophical or theological theory able to relate religion and science to each other, people may fall back upon the mere words of the Bible (or the Koran), read largely without scholarship. Biblical literalism is a powerful force today; it tends to imprison people in attitudes that were suitable enough when science and technology were little dreamt of but which fail to illuminate a society in which, for instance, it is desirable, because of the effects of modern hygiene on death rates, for women to bear, on the average, perhaps a third as many infants as were appropriate two or three thousand or even two hundred years ago, a society in which war might mean something like the end of the species, or at least vastly closer to that than any war of the past could be.

While strongly objecting to what has until recently been the dominant tradition in theology, I am the grateful heir of another tradition going back to Socinus, sometimes called "the first Unitarian." Faustus Socinus and his followers were the first to break, not only with trinitarianism and the worship of Jesus as literally divine but above all with the one-sided view of God as immutable and merely infinite, also with the tragic error of omnipotence in a sense contradictory of freedom in human beings. Socinus really believed in human freedom and argued that God cannot know our free decisions eternally, for they are not eternally there to be known. Only when and after we decide are there such things as our decisions. To the objection that this makes God ignorant of the future Socinus replied: not so, for until events are no longer future but present or past, there are no such events as definite items, but only as more or less probable, somewhat indefinite possibilities. To know the indefinite as that is not ignorance or error but genuine knowledge. God knows the past as it is, settled and definite, the future as it is, partly unsettled and indefinite. Two centuries later, Jules Lequier in France, knowing something about the Socinians, agreed with them. Addressing God, he declared: "Thou hast created me creator of myself." Thus anticipating Whitehead’s phrase, "the self-created creature." Lequier added, "The creature makes a spot in the absolute," that is to say, we change God, provide the divine experience with new content, thereby anticipating Whitehead’s "Consequent Nature" of God.

British Unitarianism has, so far as I know, completely overlooked this side of Socinianism, which the encyclopedias and histories fail to clearly state, and I have not found references to it in American Unitarianism or Universalism. This seems a tragedy. Channing did reject the interpretation of God’s power that deprives us of originative freedom. He did not identify God with sheer infinity and absolute independence (as scholasticism did) and was emphatic in his rejection of that aspect of the tradition. Whether or not he clearly admitted change in God I do not know. Emerson, on the other hand, was definitely (for a while at least) a theological determinist, as his Journal makes clear. Indeed Emersonianism is closer to Jonathan Edwards’s Calvinism than is generally realized.

The whole world was for centuries imprisoned in the greatest of intellectual superstitions, the doctrine of causality as an absolute all-determining pattern, fully definite either from the beginning or throughout a beginningless past. Philosophy, theology, and science have been struggling to escape from this prison for many decades now Quantum physics is merely one chapter in this struggle. Einstein tried to resist the change but it was not that side of Einstein which physicists in general have accepted.

I suggest that biographies of prominent writers of recent times will show over and over again how the idea of God as pre-empting creaturely decisions, with the resulting problem of evil, has been the flaw that has chiefly led to agnosticism or outright atheism. It was definitely a factor in Charles Darwin’s inability to accept Christianity. Indeed I argue in several writings that when Darwin spoke of "chance variations" he was more right than he knew and that something like evolution is what a sound theology requires. If creatures make themselves in some degree, then they also in some degree make their descendants and, under certain conditions, this would lead to new species. God is not the only maker in the scheme of things. The supreme or eminent creative power cannot be the sole creative power; "supreme" implies that there are also less than supreme powers. If a creature were at zero in attributes that in God are eminent (or unsurpassable), it would know nothing of those attributes. Thus the doctrine cannot even explain its own possibility of formulation. Is it not odd that the linguistic analysts have failed to point this out? It is a linguistic point.

In my opinion the truth of theism, properly formulated in terms of love and freedom as universal principles, appears from the radical deficiencies of its only rivals. If there is any proposition upon which great minds have agreed throughout history, from Plato to Einstein and Whitehead, from Zoroaster, Ikhnaton, Moses, Isaiah, Jesus, Paul, the authors of the Vedic hymns, Confucius, Lao Tse, to many recent Indian and Japanese writers, it is that human life is not adequately interpretable in merely human terms. Even Buddha is reported to have said, "there is an eternal being, unborn and undying. If it were not so we could not ourselves escape from life and death." (I interpret "life and death" here to refer to the impermanence spoken of above, also to the fragmentation of values as scattered about, a little in me, some in you, some in other higher animals, indeed as Buddhists assert some even in lower animals, all of these perishable.) I think we should not lightly put aside the testimony of the great innovators and discoverers, some of whom are named above. All the more since the form of theism most of them were acquainted with has been gradually transformed into a doctrine purified of defects brought out by millennia of critical examination and intellectual progress, including discoveries of the exact sciences. If Plato, Aristotle, Anselm, Leibniz, Newton, Kant, found weak reasons for believing in God, better reasons are now available.

One last word: so long as there are idolatrous forms of theology, for instance those which practically worship a book written by human hands, we shall need aggressive atheists like Madalyn O’Hare to balance the account. Or, so long as there are those who identify God with some one-sided abstraction like infinity, absoluteness, or worst of all omnipotence (not even a self-consistent abstraction), we shall need the help both of more balanced theists and of nontheists to counteract these more subtle and intellectual forms of idolatry. Only the best versions of truth can drive out error, but contrary errors can keep each other from acquiring too much power.


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