A Christian Natural Theology Based on the Thought of Alfred North Whitehead by John B. Cobb, Jr.
John B. Cobb, Jr., Ph.D. is Professor of Theology Emeritus at the Claremont School of Theology, Claremont, California, and Co-Director of the Center for Process Studies there. His many books currently in print include: Reclaiming the Church (1997); with Herman Daly, For the Common Good; Becoming a Thinking Christian (1993); Sustainability (1992); Can Christ Become Good News Again? (1991); ed. with Christopher Ives, The Emptying God: a Buddhist-Jewish-Christian Conversation (1990); with Charles Birch, The Liberation of Life; and with David Griffin, Process Theology: An Introductory Exposition (1977). He is a retired minister in the United Methodist Church. His email address is email@example.com.. Published by Westminster Press, Philadelphia, 1965. Used by permission. This book was prepared for Religion Online by Ted & Winnie Brock.
Chapter 5: A Whiteheadian Doctrine of God
1. God as Actual Entity
In most of this book I have identified myself fully with the position I have expounded on Whitehead’s authority. Even in the preceding chapter, where I focused upon the development of his views, I largely identified myself with my presentation of his thought in Process and Reality. Whitehead’s philosophical reasons for affirming God and his attempt to show that God is not an exception to all the categories appear to me philosophically responsible and even necessary. Nevertheless, at several points questions occur that Whitehead seems to answer in ways which create more problems than would some alternative answer. Whitehead has succeeded in interpreting God in such a way that, with very minor exceptions, he exemplifies the categories necessary to all actual occasions.(Christian, Ch. 15.) However there are other features characteristic of all actual occasions but not included among the strictly necessary categories. Whitehead’s philosophy would be more coherent if he had interpreted God as conforming to these features of actual occasions as well.
In this chapter, I undertake to develop a doctrine of God more coherent with Whitehead’s general cosmology and metaphysics than are some aspects of his own doctrine. This project presupposes that there are elements of incoherence in Whitehead’s doctrine of God. This incoherence does not amount in most cases to strict inconsistency. But Whitehead holds before philosophers an aim at something more than mere logical consistency. Consistency is only freedom from contradiction.(PR 5.) Undoubtedly Whitehead’s writings also include points of self-contradiction, but these are minor and easily remedied. The further criticism of a philosophy as incoherent has to do with its "arbitrary disconnection of first principles." (PR 9.) To the extent that the four ultimate elements of his system (actual occasions, God, eternal objects, and creativity) are arbitrarily disconnected, to that extent some measure of incoherence remains in Whitehead’s own philosophy. It is my intention to show both that Whitehead moved far toward overcoming such incoherence and also that one can go, and therefore should go, farther yet.
Lest this appear unduly pretentious, a few further words of justification are in order. In the preceding chapter it was shown that when Whitehead first introduced God as a systematic element into his philosophy, he made no attempt to assimilate this principle to any other category.(See near the beginning of Ch. IV.) God was to be viewed as a unique attribute of the substantial activity alongside of eternal objects and actual occasions. Further, there is direct continuity between what is said of God in Science and the Modern World and what is said of the primordial nature of God in Process and Reality.(Whitehead equates the primordial nature of God with the principle of concretion. [PR 373-374, 523.])In the latter book it is explicitly recognized that the primordial nature of God is an abstraction from God as actual entity,(PR 50.) yet most of the references to God in that book are references to this abstraction. When in the end Whitehead discusses more fully the consequent nature, he tells us that, unlike the primordial nature, this is fully actual.(PR 524.) Yet he cannot strictly mean this, for again and again he tells us that actual entities are the only finally concrete individual things.(For Whitehead’s acknowledgment of the misleading character of his language on this subject, see Appendix B in Johnson, Whitehead’s Theory of Reality, esp. pp. 214, 218.) He means to say that God is concrete by virtue of his consequent nature, and even that is not precise. Unless God is much more of an exception than Whitehead intends, God is concrete by virtue of being an actual entity, and being an actual entity involves both the primordial and the consequent natures. The reason Whitehead introduces concreteness with the consequent nature is that at this point he takes for granted the primordial nature and that the consequent nature is its complement, whereas when he previously discussed the primordial nature, the consequent nature was not in view.
The objection to Whitehead’s formulation, then, is that too often he deals with the two natures as though they were genuinely separable. Further, he frequently writes as though God were simply the addition of these two natures. Thus God’s primordial nature performs certain functions and his consequent nature others. But according to White-head’s own understanding, this cannot be the precise and adequate formulation. Actual entities are unities composed of a synthesis of their mental and physical poles, but they are not exhaustively analyzable into these two poles. In such analysis we would omit precisely the subjective unity, the concrete satisfaction, the power of decision and self-creation. It is always the actual entity that acts, not one of its poles as such, although in many of its functions one pole or another may be primarily relevant. Whitehead must certainly have meant to say this also about God, but his separate and contrasting treatment of the two natures is misleading -- indeed, I believe that he was himself misled into exaggerating their separability.
That Whitehead wrote much of the time, even in Process and Reality, without holding clearly in view his own doctrine of God as an actual entity, is illustrated by the extraordinary treatment of the category of reversion, the category that explains the emergence of novelty in the actual occasion. It has to do with the way in which the prehension of an eternal object derived from objectification of an antecedent occasion gives rise to the prehension of a related but novel eternal object. In the initial statement of the categories, this prehension is understood as a new conceptual feeling.(PR 40) However, in the course of his fuller exposition in the second part of the book, Whitehead realizes that the prehension of the novel eternal object must be an objectification of that possibility as envisioned in God, hence a hybrid prehension of God. At this point he states that "by the recognition of God’s characterization of the creative act, a more complete rational explanation is attained. The category of reversion is then abolished; and Hume’s principle of the derivation of conceptual experience from physical experience remains without any exception." (PR 382.) To carry through the process of rethinking the account of actual occasions and eternal objects in the light of the full doctrine of God will be in line with the direction in which Whitehead’s own thought was moving at this point and will also alter in subtle, but at times important, ways the precise form of the doctrine of God.
My aim at each point is to achieve "a more complete rational explanation" in just the sense meant by Whitehead in the preceding quotation. This is the same goal as that of achieving greater coherence of first principles. The attempt is to explain the way in which God is related to actual occasions, eternal objects, and creativity, in such a way that at no point do we attribute to him a mode of being or relation inexplicable in terms of the principles operative elsewhere in the system.
This program may well begin with reference to the perplexing problem as to how the eternally unchanging primordial nature of God can provide different initial aims to every occasion.(See discussion near beginning of Ch. IV.) That each occasion has its unique, appropriate aim given to it, Whitehead is clear. God’s aim at universal intensity of satisfaction determines a specific aim at the appropriate satisfaction of each individual occasion. But it is very difficult to imagine how these individual aims can be wholly timeless and yet become relevantly effective at particular moments of time.
In the preceding chapter we saw that the initial aim can be conceived as a feeling of a proposition clothed with the subjective form of desire for its actualization. (Refer to previous note.) A proposition is a togetherness of some actual entity or nexus of actual entities with some eternal object. For example, "The stone is gray," is a sentence that expresses a proposition of which the subject is a nexus of molecular actual occasions and the predicate is the eternal object gray. Many propositions are felt without being expressed in language. The initial aim would almost always be the feeling of an unexpressed proposition. In this case, the subject of the proposition would be the occasion itself, and the predicate would be that form of actualization which is ideal in that situation.
In temporal occasions the initial aim is always an aim at some intensity of feeling both in the occasion itself and in its relevant future.(PR 41.) We have seen that the relations of an individual’s own future and those of others introduce tensions that are highly relevant to man’s ethical thinking. (See Ch. III.) In God, however, there are no such tensions because the ideal strength of beauty for himself and for the world coincide. (In PR Whitehead uses "intensity" to refer somewhat loosely to what is analyzed in AI as strength of beauty. See PR 134-135, 160-161, 373, 381.) Hence, we may simplify and say that God’s aim is at ideal strength of beauty and that this aim is eternally unchanging. On the other hand, even in God there must be tensions between immediate and more remote realizations of intensity.
Assume a similar situation in man, although I have denied in Chapter III the likelihood of the occurrence in a man of what would be for him a rigid selfishness. The man aims at the realization of some ideal satisfaction in the present occasion and in his future occasions. His subjective aim in the strictest sense is a propositional feeling about himself in that immediate moment of becoming, but this aim is determined in part by propositional feelings about future occasions of his own experience. He aims at actualizing himself in the present in such a way that these future occasions will have the possibility of enjoying some measure of beauty. Instrumental to this goal must be the behavior of occasions of experience other than his own, for example, occasions in his body and in other persons. He must entertain propositional feelings about them also. There will be a large complex of such propositional feelings, entertained with an appetite for their becoming true, synthesized in the one propositional feeling of his own satisfaction. He aims at so actualizing himself that other occasions will actualize themselves as he desires. His aim at ideal satisfaction for himself will be unchanging, but it will take a different form according to every change in his situation.
In God’s case there is nothing selfish about the constant aim at his, own ideal satisfaction, since this may equally will be described as an aim at universal satisfaction. But in other respects there is no reason not to see the situation as analogous. Certainly God’s aim is unchangingly directed to an ideal strength of beauty. In this unchanging form it must be indifferent to how this beauty is attained.(PR 160-161.) But if God’s aim at beauty explains the limitation by which individual occasions achieve definiteness, then in its continual adaptation to changing circumstances it must involve propositional feelings of each of the becoming occasions as realizing some peculiar satisfaction. God’s subjective aim will then be so to actualize himself in each moment that the propositional feeling he entertains with respect to each new occasion will have maximum chance of realization.(This is at least a possible interpretation of Whitehead’s statements.[PR 134, 343; AI 357.]) Every occasion then prehends God’s prehension of this ideal for it, and to some degree the subjective form of its prehension conforms to that of God. That means that the temporal occasion shares God’s appetition for the realization of that possibility in that occasion. Thus, God’s ideal for the occasion becomes the occasion’s ideal for itself, the initial phase of its subjective aim.
If the dynamic of the relation between God and man can be understood in this way, it is analogous to the dynamic of the relation between at least some temporal occasions and some occasions in their future. For example, the human actual occasion frequently so actualizes itself as to aim at influencing other occasions in the body. This may be a matter of raising the hand or swallowing food, or it may be far more complex. In general, the body is highly responsive to this influence, although not absolutely so. One may also attempt to actualize himself so as to influence future occasions of his own experience, as when he determines not to forget an appointment or to resist a particular temptation in the future. These decisions also have some real influence on the future, although still less perfectly so. Finally, one attempts by his self-actualization to influence future occasions in other persons, with some, although much less, success.
A new occasion, then, may feel past occasions in the temporal world in terms of their aim for it, and it will be affected to some degree in the formation of its subjective aim by these feelings. If this is so, then Whitehead’s sharp distinction within the initial phase of an occasion between the initial aim and the initial data may be modified. The new occasion prehends all the entities in its past. These entities include God. All the entities will be positively felt in some way, some by simple physical feelings, others by hybrid physical feelings. These hybrid physical feelings will include feelings of propositional feelings about the new occasion, and these in turn will include propositional feelings whose subjective forms include desire for realization. In its prehension of these propositional feelings, the subjective form of the new occasion will at least partly conform to that of the past occasions it prehends. Hence, its aim for itself will always partly conform to the aim that past entities have entertained for it. Among the entities so felt, God will always be by far the most important one and, in some respects, prior to all the others. (Probably the function of determining the locus and extension of the new standpoint must be assigned exclusively to God.) The subjective aim of the new occasion will be some synthesis and adaptation of these aims for it, which it also feels conformally.
It would be possible to support this analysis in some detail by citation of passages from Whitehead that point in this direction. However, I resist this temptation. The analysis as a whole is not found in this form in his writings, and it deviates from the apparent implications of some of his statements in at least two ways. First, it rejects the association of God’s aim exclusively with the primordial nature, understood as God’s purely conceptual and unchanging envisagement of eternal objects; this rejection is required if we deny that God’s immutable aim alone adequately explains how God functions concretely for the determination of the events in the world. Second, it interprets the subjective aim of the actual occasion as arising more impartially out of hybrid feelings of aims (propositional feelings whose subjective form involves appetition) entertained for the new occasion by its predecessors. In other words, it denies that the initial phase of the subjective aim need be derived exclusively from God.
In Process and Reality, much more sharply than in Religion in the Making, Whitehead treats the causal efficacy of the consequent nature of God for the world quite separately from that of the primordial nature.(PR 532.) I believe that this is a mistake. If God is an actual entity, God will be prehended by each new occasion. We will assume that God’s aim for it, a propositional feeling for which the new occasion is the logical subject and some complex eternal object the predicate, will in every case be prehended and play a decisive role in the determination of the subjective aim of the occasion. But the occasion’s feeling of this propositional feeling in God need not exhaust the objectification of God in the new occasion.
In my feeling of my immediate past I may feel con-formally the intention of that immediate past that in this moment I shall carry out some project. But my feeling of that past also feels many other aspects of that past, perhaps its discomfort or its hope for some more distant future. Similarly, there is no reason to suppose that the prehension of God’s aim for the occasion will exhaust the prehension of God in that occasion. Hence, Whitehead was right to insist that in addition to deriving the initial aim from God, men also prehend God in some other way.(PR 532.)But just as he was wrong to identify the derivation of the initial aim wholly with the primordial nature, so also he is wrong to identify the other prehensions of God solely with the consequent nature if this is simply identified with God’s physical prehensions of the world. Whitehead’s own writings about the consequent nature seem to attribute to it a synthesis of the physical prehensions with the conceptual ones. (PR 524.) If so, there need be no quarrel -- only an insistence that there can be no sharp distinction between the reception of the initial aim and the other prehensions of God.
According to my view, the actual occasion is initiated by a prehension of all the entities in its past, always including God. Some of these entities, always including God; have specific aims for this new occasion to realize. The subjective aim of the new occasion must be formed by some synthesis or adaptation of these aims for which it is itself finally responsible. In addition, the past entities, including God, will be objectified by other eternal objects. What these other eternal objects will be, complex or simple, is determined partly by the past entities and partly by the new subjective aim.
2. God and Time
Whitehead’s discussion of the relation of God to time, like much of what he says about God, is primarily focused on the primordial nature of God. For this reason, the emphasis is on the nontemporality, primordiality, and eternity of God. God’s envisagement of pure possibility is beyond the influence of events. When Whitehead does discuss the consequent nature of God, he necessarily introduces some kind of process into God, for the consequent nature is affected by what occurs in the world. Whitehead never tries to solve this problem by denying the reality of the temporality of the world. On the contrary, he accepts the doctrine that there is real becoming in God. Still, he refuses to say that God is temporal. (Note the partial exception in AI 267.) How is this possible?
Whitehead distinguishes between two types of process. "Time," he reserves for physical time, the transition from one actual occasion to another.(Cf. PR 107, 196, 442-444.) It is an abstraction from that process. This means that time is not, as in the Newtonian scheme, there prior to actual occurrences. Nor is it, as in the Kantian scheme, a way in which the mind necessarily orders the phenomenal flux. What is given ultimately are actual occasions with real internal relations to past occasions. Time is an important aspect of these relations.
From the point of view of physic-al time the actual occasions are temporally atomic. That is, they are indivisible into earlier and later portions, but they are not, like points, indivisible because unextended. Each actual entity has temporal extension, but the temporal extension happens all at once as an indivisible unit.(PR 434.)
However, one can analyze the process of becoming of the actual occasion, and indeed, Whitehead develops an extremely elaborate analysis.(PR, Part III.) Each occasion begins with an initial phase constituted by its initial data and its initial aim. It ends in its satisfaction through which it becomes a datum for further occasions. Between the indeterminateness with which it begins and the determinateness with which it ends, each occasion passes through a succession of phases in which complex syntheses of data replace the mere data.
There is, clearly, some continuity between the physical time derived from transition from one occasion to another and the process internal to the becoming occasion. In terms of physical time the occasion must be said to become all at once, yet it is eminently clear that some phases of the becoming presuppose others; (PR 225, 234.) and Whitehead does not hesitate to use such temporal terms as earlier and later.(E.g., PR 132, 337.)
The complexities of the relation between time as an aspect of the succession of occasions and the process internal to occasions need not be resolved here, since the basic principles necessary for understanding God’s relation to time have already been noted. However, some further effort to explain Whitehead’s meaning will not be amiss.
Physical time is observed or measured time. Observation and measurement presuppose objective occurrences. The absolute unit of objective occurrences is the becoming of an occasion of experience. This occasion is related to other occasions only at its initiation (as prehender) and at its consummation (as datum for prehension) Hence, in principle, its own inner process of becoming is irrelevant to its observable relations. For every perspective other than its own, the occasion either is not at all or is completed. One cannot observe, from without, an ‘occasion in the process of becoming. From the perspective of the becoming occasion, of course, the situation is different. It does experience itself as a process of becoming, and indeed only as such.
We are now prepared to ask how Whitehead relates God to time. We have already noted that his most frequent formulations seem to deny temporality to God altogether. God is the nontemporal actual entity. However, in the brief treatment of God as consequent as well as primordial in the concluding pages of Process and Reality, Whitehead introduces a threefold distinction.
Actual entities other than God are temporal. This means that they perish as soon as they have become. For Whitehead, "time" is physical time, and it is "perpetual perishing." The primordial nature of God is eternal. This means that it is wholly unaffected by time or by process in any other sense. The primordial nature of God affects the world but is unaffected by it. For it, before and after are strictly irrelevant categories.
The consequent nature of God is "everlasting." (PR 524 ff.) This means that it involves a creative advance, just as time does, but that the earlier elements are not lost as new ones are added. Whatever enters into the consequent nature of God remains there forever, but new elements are constantly added. Viewed from the vantage point of Whitehead’s conclusion and the recognition that God is an actual entity in which the two natures are abstract parts, we must say that God as a whole is everlasting, but that he envisages all possibility eternally.
It is then quite clear that the description of God as nontemporal does not mean that there is no process in God. Before and after are relevant terms for describing this process. There is God before he has prehended a given human occasion and God after he has prehended that occasion. Time and history are real for him as well as for temporal occasions. God’s being as affected by temporal events also, in turn, affects subsequent temporal events.(PR 532.)
The easiest way to understand this would be to regard God, like human persons, as a living person.(See early part of Chapter II where Hartshorne prefers this doctrine.) A living person is a succession of moments of experience with special continuity.(See the discussion of personal identity, Ch. II, sec. 4.) At any given moment I am just one of those occasions, but when I remember my past and anticipate my future, I see myself as the total society or sequence of such occasions. God, then, at any moment would be an actual entity, but viewed retrospectively and prospectively he would be an infinite succession of divine occasions of experience. It is clear that Whitehead himself thought of God as an actual entity rather than as a living person. The thesis I wish to develop is that, despite this fact, the doctrines he formulated about God compel us to assimilate God more closely to the conception of a living person than to that of an actual entity.
The argument begins with the fact that Whitehead recognizes process in the consequent nature of God. Such process must be conceived either as the kind of process that occurs between occasions or as that kind which occurs within an occasion. Whitehead’s position that God is an actual entity requires the latter doctrine. But the chief distinction between internal process and physical time is that the process occurring within an occasion has no efficacy for other occasions except indirectly through the satisfaction in which it eventuates. If the process in God’s consequent nature is thought of in these terms, it cannot affect the events in the world. Yet Whitehead explicitly affirms just such an influence. Furthermore, if in the light of the discussion in the preceding section, we recognize the indissoluble unity of the primordial and consequent natures of God even in God’s function as principle of limitation, then we must acknowledge that what is involved is not only the special case of the causal efficacy of God’s consequent nature, but also the basic efficacy of God in the provision of the initial aim for each occasion. God’s causal efficacy for the world is like the efficacy of completed occasions for subsequent occasions and not like that of phases of the becoming of a single occasion for its successors.
It may be objected that it is my development of Whitehead’s thought in the preceding section that is in trouble here rather than Whitehead’s usual formulations. If only the primordial nature of God were causally efficacious for the world, and if it were indifferent to time, then the problem would not arise. But if, as I hold, God can function as principle of limitation only by entertaining a specific aim for each becoming occasion, that aim must take account of the actual situation in the world. In that case, the problem does arise. Furthermore, since Whitehead unquestionably affirms the causal efficacy of the consequent nature of God, the problem also occurs for his explicit formulation. We must either reject this doctrine of the causal efficacy of the consequent nature and also affirm that an entirely static God can have particularity of efficacy for each occasion, or else we must recognize that the phases in the concrescence of God are in important respects more analogous to temporal occasions than to phases in the becoming of a single occasion.
The same problem may be posed in terms of God’s satisfaction. In all other entities satisfaction is not attained except as the completion of the entity. If God is a single entity who will never be completed, then on this analogy, he can never know satisfaction. It would be odd that God should eternally aim at a goal that is in principle unreachable, and Whitehead explicitly refers to God’s satisfaction as something real.(PR 48, 135.) Apparently, satisfactions are related to the successive phases in God’s becoming as they are related to temporal actual occasions, and not as they are related to successive phases of the becoming of such occasions.
In at least these two respects Whitehead’s account of God is more like an account of a living person than of an actual entity. Yet Whitehead never suggests this position. Are there any systematic reasons for affirming that God is an actual entity rather than a living person? First, it is clear that as long as the primordial nature is chiefly in view, God would be thought of as a singular entity. If this were the only reason, we could easily set it aside. But we have seen that even when the consequent nature is in view, Whitehead avoids speaking of God as temporal. Unless we speak of him as temporal, we cannot speak of him as a living person, for the living person is defined by a temporal relationship among actual occasions.
There are two closely related characteristics of living persons that Whitehead wishes to deny with respect to God. They are, first, lack of complete self-identity through time and, second, loss of what is past. God must, without qualification, be self-identically himself, and in him there must be no loss. Whether or not these are strictly philosophical requirements of his system, they are powerful intuitions one must hesitate to set aside.
In my earlier discussion of the personal identity of living persons, I suggested that such identity is attained to the degree that there are immediate prehensions by each new occasion in the person of the occasions constituting the past of that person. I recognized there that this did not entirely solve the problem since there would also be prehensions of the temporally noncontiguous experiences of other persons that would complicate the picture. In God’s case, however, prehensions of all earlier entities would not be something other than his prehension of his own past, since they would all be included in his consequent nature. Therefore, his unity must be complete. Similarly, loss in the temporal world is the result of the very fragmentary way in which past occasions are reenacted in the present.
The vast majority of such prehensions are unconscious, and even in the unconscious we assume that the past is only fragmentarily effective. At any rate, the unconscious memory of a conscious experience loses a very important part of the remembered experience. In God we may suppose that no such loss occurs. He vividly and consciously remembers in every new occasion all the occasions of the past. His experience grows by addition to the past, but loses nothing.
One may still object that the concrete individuality of the past in its own subjective immediacy is lost. That is true. But if the same living person now enjoys a new experience that includes everything in the old and more, this loss seems to be no loss of value. While we humans are alive, the passing of time entails loss in two ways. First, the beauty of most past occasions seems to be gone beyond recall. Second, we move on toward the time when as living persons we will be no more.(I am assuming here that we are not destined to live again beyond death. If we believe that we are, the sense of loss is greatly mitigated. For my discussion of this possibility, see Ch. II, sec. 3.) This means that all the beauty we have known will have only the most trivial value for the future.(I am omitting from consideration here the preservation of these values in God, so important to Whitehead at just this point. See Ch. VI.) It also means that the compensation of novel experiences is nearing its end. But the passage of time in God would entail none of this loss.
The final objection to identifying God as a living person is that the envisagement of the eternal objects is a primordial and unchanging act and not an endless succession of acts. There is a certain plausibility to this argument, yet it is essentially arbitrary. When I gaze at an aesthetic object for one minute, I might well describe this as a single act. Yet Whitehead speculates that as many as six hundred acts may have taken place. Insofar as what is enacted in each successive act is the same, we may well conceive it as a single act. In our continually fluctuating experience no such absolute identity obtains from moment to moment, but in God’s one unfettered envisagement of all possibilities, the absolute identity from moment to moment means that in our normal language it is a single unchanging and eternal act.
Specific problems remain, but for the most part they are already raised by Whitehead’s formulation and should not be regarded as peculiar difficulties of this interpretation. For example, we may ask how many occasions of experience would occur for God in a second. (Hartshorne asks this question of Whitehead with respect to the phases of becoming in God and suggests a similar answer. "Whitehead’s Idea of God," Schilpp, pp. 545-546.) The answer is that it must be a very large number, incredibly large to our limited imaginations. The number of successive electronic occasions in a second staggers the imagination. God’s self-actualizations must be at least equally numerous if he is to function separately in relation to each individual in this series. Since electronic occasions are presumably not in phase with each other or with other types of actual occasions, still further complications are involved. Obviously, this is altogether unimaginable, but since all the dimensions of our world revealed to us by physical science are also quite beyond imagination, in this sense, we should not be surprised that this is true of God.
My conclusion, then, is that the chief reasons for insisting that God is an actual entity can be satisfied by the view that he is a living person, that this view makes the doctrine of God more coherent, and that no serious new difficulties are raised.
3. God and Space
It is possible in Whitehead to consider time in some abstraction from space without serious distortion. Successiveness is a relation not dependent upon spatial dimensions for its intelligibility. I understand Whitehead to say that time, in the sense of successiveness, is metaphysically necessary whereas space, or at least anything like what we mean by space, is not. There might be one dimension or a hundred in some other cosmic epoch. Since God would remain unalterably God in any cosmic epoch, his relation to space must be more accidental than his relation to time. Nevertheless, space, or rather space-time, is a real and important factor in the only world we know, and we may legitimately inquire how God is related to space-time. Since in this section we will not be focusing upon successiveness, we will for convenience often speak simply of space.
Every occasion of experience actualizes a spatiotemporal region that then constitutes its standpoint. In this connection we must note that what is fundamentally given is not space but actual entities. Space is affirmed only because the way in which actual entities prehend each other has a dimension that produces in us the experience of spatial extension. This idea allows us to say further that although real space is constructed by the actualization of just those occasions that do become, space could have been divided up in other ways, indeed, in an infinity of other ways. Thus, we may treat the space occupied by occasions in abstraction from the occasions that occupy it, and consider its properties -- properties which then also characterize whatever occasions, in fact, occur in our spatial cosmic epoch.
Space and time conjointly constitute the extensive continuum in our cosmic epoch. Every occasion occupies as its standpoint some region within this extensive continuum. In an epoch lacking spatiality, this region would be temporal only, but in ours, again, it is spatiotemporal. Now the question is whether the fact that in our epoch occasions occupy spatiotemporal regions means that God also occupies a spatiotemporal region. There seem logically to be only three possible answers. Either God occupies some particular region, or his mode of being is irrelevant to regions, or he occupies the entire continuum.
The first of these alternatives may be rather readily dismissed on philosophical grounds. Since God’s functions as philosophically identified are related with equal immediacy to every occasion, any special spatial location is impossible. The choice between the remaining alternatives is far more difficult. Since God’s own being is independent of spatiality, it is clear that there is an important sense in which God transcends space. But that does not settle the question as to whether in a spatial epoch he is characterized by spatiality.
To deal with this problem in the face of Whitehead’s silence, we must begin with the relevant principles that he does provide us. God does prehend every spatiotemporal actual occasion and he is prehended by it, both in his primordial nature and in his consequent nature. Furthermore, these prehensions in both directions are unmediated.
Normally we think of unmediated prehensions as prehensions of occasions immediately contiguous in the spatiotemporal continuum. This suggests the doctrine of God’s omnispatiality. Indeed, if contiguity were essential to unmediated prehensions, it would be necessary to posit God’s omnipresence throughout space. However, even apart from consideration of God, we have seen that Whitehead qualifies this principle. He holds that in our cosmic epoch, prehension of the physical poles of other occasions seems to be dependent on contiguity, but that prehensions of the mental poles of other occasions may not be dependent on contiguity.(SMW 216; PR 469; AI 318.) By this principle we could explain our prehension of God’s primordial nature and God’s prehension of our mental poles quite apart from any spatial relations. Further, since no metaphysical problem is involved in affirming that physical experience may also be prehended apart from contiguity, the doctrine of the radical non-spatiality of God is compatible with all the functions attributed to God by Whitehead. Indeed, since his thinking about God was largely formed with the primordial nature in view, it is probable that nonspatiality was assumed by him.
If the nonspatiality and omnispatiality of God are both equally allowed by Whitehead’s metaphysics, we can choose between them only on the basis of coherence. My own judgment is that that doctrine of God is always to be preferred which, other things being equal, interprets his relations with the world more, rather than less, like the way we interpret the relations of other entities. If we adopt this principle, there is prima facie support for the doctrine that God, like all actual occasions, has a standpoint. Since that standpoint could not be such as to favor one part of the universe against others, it must be all-inclusive.
The only serious philosophical objection to this doctrine arises from the rejection of the possibility that actual standpoints can include the regions that comprise other actual standpoints. This problem was considered in some detail in Chapter II, (Near the end of the chapter.) and the arguments in favor of the affirmation of such regional inclusion of standpoints will here be only summarized. The argument is that whereas Whitehead neither affirmed this relation nor developed its implications, it does seem to be implied by the most natural reading of some of his cosmological assertions. It is compatible with his metaphysical doctrines and his understanding of the relation of space-time to actual occasions. Further, it is compatible with the doctrine that contemporaries do not prehend each other, since each of the entities participating in this special regional relationship would still prehend the other only when that other entity had passed into objective immortality. Finally, the doctrine that the regions that constitute the standpoint of actual occasions of human experience include those of subhuman occasions in the brain has several specific advantages.(Ibid.)
If we can think of the spatiotemporal regions of the occasion of the human person as including the spatiotemporal regions of numerous occasions in the brain, then we may think analogously of the region of God as including the regions comprising the standpoints of all the contemporary occasions in the world. If we follow the argument of the previous section, there would be some difference, for whereas the occasions of human experience have considerable temporal breadth in relation to the electronic occurrences in the brain, we have seen that the occasions of God’s experience must be extremely thin in their temporal extension. The regions of other occasions would be included, not in that of a single occasion of the divine experience, but in the regions of a succession of such experiences.
Once again we have a choice of treating God as an exception or of speculating that he is more like other actual entities. If God occupies no region, yet is related to all equally, it is as if he were regionally contiguous with all regions. Whitehead may deny this and intend that, unlike all other actual entities, God’s immediate physical prehensions of other entities do not involve him in having a regional standpoint. Since regional standpoints are not introduced into the categorial scheme, no self-contradiction is entailed. However, if God is related to every occasion as if he were physically present, it seems more natural and coherent to affirm that he is physically present. That could only mean that his region includes all other contemporary regions.
4. God and the Eternal Objects
In Religion in the Making, we read that "the forms (i.e., eternal objects) belong no more to God than to any one occasion." (RM 157.) God is seen as envisaging all the eternal objects as well as all actual occasions, but Whitehead does not see this envisagement as fundamentally different in kind from that possible to other occasions. No problem of coherence arises.
Further reflection led Whitehead, in Process and Reality, to make a more radical differentiation between the way in which God prehends the eternal objects and the way actual occasions prehend them. According to the ontological principle he affirmed: "Everything must be somewhere; and here ‘somewhere’ means ‘some actual entity.’ Accordingly the general potentiality of the universe must be somewhere; since it retains its proximate relevance to actual entities for which it is unrealized. . . - This ‘somewhere’ is the non-temporal actual entity. Thus ‘proximate relevance’ means ‘relevance as in the primordial mind of God.’
"It is a contradiction in terms to assume that some explanatory fact can float into the actual world out of nonentity. Nonentity is nothingness. Every explanatory fact refers to the decision and to the efficacity of an actual thing. The notion of ‘subsistence’ is merely the notion of how eternal objects can be components of the primordial nature of God.’ "(PR 73.)
This passage seems virtually to deny the eternal objects any status apart from God’s envisagement of them. On the other hand, Whitehead is very clear that God does not create the eternal objects; (PR 392.) they are for him eternally. Still, Whitehead seems to assign to God a relation to eternal objects wholly different from that possible to any other entity. That is, does not God have an unmediated relation, whereas all other entities have only a mediated relation? If so, is there not again a danger of a final incoherence? Have we not introduced God to solve a problem without providing any clue whatever as to how it is done? This seems to be parallel to the weaknesses that Whitehead points out in other philosophers.(PR 78, 219, 289; FR 24; AI 171.)
It may not be necessary, however, to understand Whitehead in this sense. What the ontological principle demands is that no agency be attributed to eternal objects in themselves. It does not forbid that they be classified as one of the categories of existence.(They are so classified, PR 32. However, Christian correctly calls attention to Whitehead’s wavering on this point. See Christian, pp. 265-266.) Nor does it demand that their sheer existence be regarded as dependent upon God. Let us take as our point of departure the formulation of the ontological principle to the effect that "every explanatory fact refers to the decision and to the efficacity of an actual thing." On the basis of this formulation I suggest that the relation between God and the eternal objects can be restored to the situation we found in Religion in the Making, namely, that it belongs to no totally different mode from that of other actual entities to the eternal objects.
The apparent incoherence with respect to eternal objects arises at two points. First, it seems that God renders eternal objects effective for actual occasions in a way radically different from that in which temporal occasions make them effective for each other. Second, God seems to envisage eternal objects in a way for which the conceptual prehensions of actual occasions provide no analogy. It is my contention that the first of these areas of incoherence can be rather easily resolved into coherence if the conclusions of preceding sections of this chapter (See especially sec. 1.) are accepted, but that much greater difficulty attaches to the second. We will treat the problems in that order.
Whitehead appeals to the principle of universal relativity to argue that there are physical prehensions of the world by God and of God by the world. He has in mind the consequent nature of God, but I have argued that God as actual entity is involved. When we recognize the indissoluble unity of the mental and physical poles in God as in other actual entities, we have no difficulty in seeing that even when the mental pole of God is primarily involved, God as actual entity is involved. Whitehead’s recognition of this led him to note that some of the feelings he usually called conceptual prehensions (prehensions of eternal objects) are really hybrid prehensions (objectifications of an actual entity by an eternal object derived from its mental pole) (PR 343, 377.) In this way Whitehead moves in the direction of assimilating the relation of actual occasions to God to the relation of actual entities to each other. This is a step toward coherence.
However, two points remain at which God seems to function in presenting eternal objects to actual occasions in a way radically different from that in which they present eternal objects to each other. These two points are the provision of the initial aim and the provision of relevant novel possibilities. The analysis of the becoming actual occasion in which these occur should be briefly reviewed.
Every occasion of experience arises in an initial phase in which there are initial data and the initial phase of the subjective aim. The initial data are all the actual occasions in the past of the becoming occasion. The initial aim is the desire for the achievement of a definite value allowed and made possible by the initial data. In accordance with the initial aim, the initial data are severally objectified by the new occasion in terms of eternal objects realized by them. The new occasion then reenacts these eternal objects as now constitutive of its own subjective immediacy.(PR 39-40.) But in addition to this reenactment of what is given in the initial data, there is also a "secondary origination of conceptual feeling with data which are partially identical with, and partially diverse from, the eternal objects" derived from the initial data.(PR 40.) Here novelty enters the new occasion. In subsequent phases of the becoming of the occasion, complex syntheses of conceptual and physical prehensions occur, but these are not our concern at this point.
In Whitehead’s presentation God seems to be the sole ground of (1) the initial aim and (2) the relevant novel eternal objects. In section 1 above, it has already been argued that, without detracting from God’s supreme and decisive role, we can think of past actual occasions as also contributing to the formation of the initial aim. That argument will not here be repeated. If it is accepted, then there is no incoherence at this point. Here we must consider whether in the origination of novelty, also, God’s role can be coherently explained.
Whitehead already goes far toward a coherent explanation. He holds that God so orders the realm of otherwise merely disjunctive eternal objects that the prehension of one eternal object suggests that of another. The prehension of the novel eternal object is in fact a hybrid prehension of God.(PR 377.)
However, it is impossible to rest with Whitehead’s brief and almost incidental statements on this point, for they raise additional problems to which he did not address himself. Let us consider in somewhat more detail the apparent meaning of his position.
A past actual occasion is objectified by eternal object X. This eternal object is then reenacted in the new occasion by a conceptual prehension of X. In addition, eternal object Y is also enacted in the new occasion. This means that God has been objectified by Y. Presumably the objectification of God by Y was triggered by the prehension of X derived from the past actual occasion. The dynamic by which this triggering occurs is not explained. Perhaps the objectification of a past occasion by X leads to the objectification also of God by X and this in turn leads to the objectification of God by Y because of the close association of X and Y in God. Already this seems somewhat farfetched.
In addition, it introduces two further problems. Whereas in relation to other actual occasions their causal efficacy for the new occasion functions only in the initial phase, this interpretation of the rise of novelty requires that God’s causal efficacy function also in subsequent phases since conceptual reversion" occurs after the initial phase of the occasion (PR 378.) Second, if the prehension of the novel eternal object is, in fact, a hybrid prehension of God, then the new occasion should deal with it as it does with other hybrid prehensions. This would mean that it not only would reenact the eternal object in its own subjective immediacy but also that there might again be "secondary origination of conceptual feeling" introducing new novelty. This would lead to a regress that is clearly vicious and completely unintended by Whitehead.
A much simpler theory, more coherent both in itself and with Whitehead’s general position, is as follows. According to this theory, there is just one hybrid prehension of God, the prehension that includes the feeling of God’s aim for the new occasion. This aim includes not only the ideal for the occasion but alternative modes of self-actualization in their graded relevance to the ideal. (That this is Whitehead’s intention is indicated in PR 74, 75, 342, 343.) It certainly includes God’s conceptual feeling of eternal objects X and Y together with his feeling of relevance of Y to X. Hence no new hybrid prehension of God is required in subsequent phases. Although the new actual occasion may not actualize itself according to God’s ideal aim for it, it will not include any possibility not provided as having some relevance for it in the initial hybrid prehension of God.
This interpretation also allows us to see that the difference between God’s function in providing novelty and that of past occasions, although great, need not be total. Some ordering of eternal objects is possible also in temporal occasions and in principle may have some effectiveness for future occasions. The difference, the vast difference, is that God envisages and orders all eternal objects, whereas temporal occasions can order only an infinitesimal selection of eternal objects. But this kind of difference threatens no incoherence.
I assume, therefore, that the explanation of the derivation from God of the initial aim and of novelty, need not attribute to God’s causal efficacy for temporal occasions a function radically different from that exemplified in the interrelationships of other actual entities. If this is correct, there is no danger of incoherence, a danger that arises whenever an inexplicable mode of functioning. is attributed to God. However, the second major problem noted above remains unsolved. Is God’s envisagement of eternal objects totally discontinuous with the conceptual prehensions of temporal occasions?
The problem may be explained as follows. According to the ontological principle, eternal objects cannot be effective for actual occasions except by the decision of some actual entity. That seems to mean that the conceptual feelings of an actual entity always derive from its physical and hybrid feelings. An eternal object not given for the new actual occasion in some other actual entity cannot enter the new occasion. But in the case of God we seem to confront a total exception. Here all eternal objects are effective without the mediation of any other actual entity.
Either the ontological principle is simply inapplicable to the relation of eternal objects to God (in which case incoherence threatens) or the decision to which the effectiveness of eternal objects for God is to be attributed is God’s primordial decision. If we adopt the latter position, as I believe we should, then we must ask whether in the case of temporal occasions as well the ontological principle allows that their own decisions can be explanatory of conceptual prehensions not derived from physical prehensions.
The question is not really whether such decisions occur or even whether there are actually any occasions capable of making such decisions. The question is whether in principle the kind of decision by which eternal objects become relevant for God is categorically impossible for all other actual entities. I see no reason to insist upon this absolute difference, and could even suggest that at the highest levels of their intellectual functioning human occasions may be able to conceive possibilities directly. Such a claim would supplement rather than contradict Whitehead’s analysis of novelty in actual occasions as arising from hybrid prehensions of God. He focuses on the emergence of novelty as it precedes and is presupposed by all conscious reflection and decision, whereas I am speaking of new possibilities introduced by highly reflective consciousness. (Whitehead thought that "in our highest mentality" we may have clues to the kind of order that will be dominant in a future cosmic epoch (ESP 90) This indirectly suggests some openness to my speculation.) However, I do not wish to press any claim beyond this: Whitehead should not preclude in principle the possibility that a temporal occasion may have toward some eternal object the kind of relation God has toward all.
If we may modify Whitehead’s apparent position to this extent, then we can affirm with Religion in the Making that in principle "the forms belong no more to God than to any one occasion." The apparent incoherence introduced into Whitehead’s thought by the application of the ontological principle to the role of the eternal objects can be removed.
5. God and Creativity
In Whitehead’s analysis, God’s role in creation centers in the provision to each actual occasion of its initial aim.( In section 1 above, I have argued that past temporal occasions may also contribute to the formation of the initial aim. Some support for this is found in Whitehead’s emphasis on the creative role of all actual entities (PR 130) and in the doctrine that an enduring object "tends to prolong itself" (PR 88) But the decisiveness of the role of God remains unquestioned.) This role is of such importance that Whitehead on occasion acknowledges that God may properly be conceived in his philosophy as the creator of all temporal entities (PR 343.) Yet, more frequently, he opposes the various connotations of the term "creator," as applied to God, (He especially resists any appeal to the will of God because if its suggestion of arbitrariness. [PR 344; AI 215.] See also RM 69-70; PR 519-520, 526.) and prefers to speak of God and the temporal world as jointly qualifying or conditioning creativity,(PR 30, 47, 130, 134, 135, 344, 374.) which then seems to play the ultimate role in creation.(Both God and the world "are in the grip of the ultimate metaphysical ground, the creative advance into novelty" [PR 529]) In this section I will attempt to clarify both the role in creation attributed to God by Whitehead and the relation of God to creativity. The process of clarification will lead to the attribution to God of a more decisive role in creation than Whitehead himself intended.
The contribution to an occasion of its initial aim is not simply one among several equally important contributions to its actuality and nature. The initial aim is in reality the initiating principle in the occasion. Whitehead says that along with the initial data it constitutes the initial phase of the occasion. In some of his statements he seems to imply a general equality of functioning between the initial aim and other elements in the initial phase. But in fact in his detailed analyses no such equality obtains.(PR 343.)
In the first place, the initial aim determines the standpoint that the occasion will occupy, its locus and extent in the extensive continuum. This, in turn, determines what occasions will be in its past, in its present, and its future. That means that the initial aim determines which occasions will constitute the past and therefore, the initial data of the new occasion.(PR 104. For exposition of this see Ch. IV, sec. 3.)
In the second place, the initial data are not a part of the becoming occasion in the same sense as the initial aim. The initial data are the occasions in the past of the becoming occasion as they were in themselves in their own subjective immediacy. They are appropriated by the becoming occasion as it objectifies them. But how it objectifies them is determined by the initial aim.(PR 342, 420. Cf. Sherburne, p.48.)
For these reasons we may properly think of the initial aim as the originating element in each new occasion. Since Whitehead regards God as the sole ground of the initial aim, he systematically attributes to God the all-decisive role in the creation of each new occasion, although he draws back from so strong a formulation.
However that may be, Whitehead does restrict the creative role of God in such a way that his sole responsibility for what happens is effectively and properly denied. First, the initial aim is the aim that is ideal for that occasion given its situation.(PR 373. Whitehead strongly opposes the Leibnizian doctrine that this is the best of all possible worlds.[PR 74.]) It is not God’s ideal for the situation in some abstract sense. It is the adaptation of God’s purposes to the actual world. Second, the initial aim does not determine the outcome, although it profoundly influences it. In subsequent phases the occasion adjusts its aim and makes its own decision as to the outcome it will elicit from the situation given to it. The actual occasion is its own creator, causa sui, Whitehead likes to say.(E.g., PR 131, 228, 339.) In the third place, God does not create the eternal objects. He presupposes them just as they, for their efficacy in the world, presuppose him.(PR 392.) In the fourth place, Whitehead envisions no beginning of the world, hence no first temporal creation out of nothing.(PR 521. Cf. Leclerc, pp. 194-195. I am not sure that the possibility "that creativity originally had only a single instantiation" is strictly ruled out by Whitehead’s metaphysics, but I am not interested in arguing this question here.) In every moment there is given to God a world that has in part determined its own form and that is free to reject in part the new possibilities of ideal realization he offers it. This is certainly a different understanding of God as creator from that which has been customary in many Christian circles, but it is nevertheless a doctrine of God as creator.
The problem on which I wish now to focus is that of the relation of God as creator to creativity. There are passages in which the dominant role in creation is apparently assigned to creativity, such as where God is spoken of as the accident or creature of creativity.(PR 11, 135.) This seems to suggest that even if God creates individual occasions, God is himself created by creativity. However, this is a misunderstanding. The way in which Whitehead conceives of creativity as related to God is not analogous to the relation of God to temporal occasions. To make this clear we may have recourse to Aristotle’s terminology of the four causes, of which Whitehead also makes use.(PR 129,320, 423. Also see following notes in parenthesis.)
According to the ontological principle, only actual entities can have efficient or final causality for other actual entities.(PR 36-37.)God as an actual entity does have such efficacy for other entities, but creativity is not an actual entity and hence, cannot function as an efficient (or final) cause of anything. Therefore, if we mean by creator an efficient (or final) cause, creativity is not a creator, certainly not the creator of God. Similarly, creativity is incapable of functioning as the formal cause of any actual entity, since it is totally neutral as to form.
Whitehead explicitly explains that creativity is in his system what prime matter is in Aristotle, namely, the material cause.(PR 46-47. Elsewhere he identifies the Category of the Ultimate, which includes "many" and "one" along with "creativity," as Aristotle’s "primary substance" [PR 32.]) This suggests, correctly, that the problem of a doctrine of creation in Whitehead is much like that in a philosophy based on Aristotle: the role of the creator is to provide form for a reality given to him. The creator does not create the reality as such. It is my thesis, however, that the role of the creator in Whitehead must be more drastic than in Aristotle, more drastic also than Whitehead recognized. To support this thesis, a brief consideration of the role of prime matter in Aristotle and of creativity in Whitehead is required.
The philosophical problem in Aristotle may be explicated by reference to the distinction between what things are and that things are. When Aristotle is explaining what things are, he never refers to prime matter. Since it is subject to any form whatsoever, it cannot explain the particular form of anything. However, if one asks why it is that there is anything at all, the answer must be that prime matter is eternal and demands some form.
Thinkers divide on the question as to whether that is an adequate answer. First, is it intelligible? It is at least sufficiently suggestive that one who thinks in terms of matter can have some dim intuition as to what is meant. One can see that the same matter takes different forms, as in ice, water, and steam, and that that which takes these several forms must have much less definite form than any of these individual forms of it. This suggests a relatively formless state of matter. If that which can be ice, water, and steam differs from that which can be wood or paper, this must be because it has some difference of form, however primitive. In that case, some still less definitely formed matter must be subject to alteration between these forms, since rain appears to be part of what enters into the formation of trees. At the end of such a hierarchy of less-formed matter we can posit prime matter, enduring unchanged through all the forms imposed upon it. This matter neither increases nor decreases, it is in no way affected by time, hence it must be conceived as eternal. Let us assume that this is intelligible, at least given the science of Aristotle’s day or perhaps any science down into the nineteenth century.
Second, if it is intelligible, does it answer the question? Prime matter does not explain why there is prime matter. Only if one first posits prime matter can one explain why there will always be material things. But this may mean only that the question is meaningless. The question "Why?" in this case cannot be asking for a material or a formal cause, since that would be ridiculous. Prime matter is its own material cause and it has no form. It must be asking either for an efficient cause or for a final cause. The final cause of prime matter might be said to be the forms that can be actualized, but this is of doubtful meaning. And prime matter requires an efficient cause only if it came into being at some point in time or if it lacks in itself the power to sustain its own being.
Christian Aristotelians have developed the idea that prime matter and all the entities composed of it cannot be conceived as having in themselves the power to exist. They depend for their existence on a power beyond themselves. This power, or its ground, must be a necessary existent, or a being such that its essence involves its existence. Prime matter cannot be a necessary existent since it can be conceived as not existing. Hence, the necessarily existent is the efficient cause of the being of everything that is. It explains that there are things as well as what they are. It can then be assimilated to Aristotle’s God who thus becomes both the efficient and the final cause of the world. Once this is done, there is no philosophical objection to asserting a temporal beginning of the creation, or perhaps better, a beginning of time itself.
This argument may be rejected on the grounds that there is no reason to go beyond the beginning of things to a ground of their being. Certainly Aristotle never intended to raise the question as to why there is anything at all. He asked only for an explanation of what in fact is. Many moderns sympathize with Aristotle at this point and refuse to accept the more ultimate question as an appropriate topic for inquiry. The being of things in their eyes simply is; it does not point beyond itself to a ground.
This rejection of the radical question as to why there is anything at all is also characteristic of Whitehead. Sometimes it almost sounds as if "creativity" is intended as an answer to that question,(For example, he speaks of "the creativity whereby there is a becoming of entities superseding the one in question" [PR 129]) but it can be so even less than Aristotle’s prime matter. We must ask to what" creativity" refers and whether in the context of Whitehead’s thought it is an intelligible concept.
Creativity, for Whitehead, does not" exist." This is clear in that it cannot be understood in terms of any of his categories of existence. (The categories of existence are listed in PR on pp. 32-33.) Creativity is specifically described as one of the ultimate notions that along with "many" and "one’s are "involved in the meaning of the synonymous terms ‘thing,’ ‘being,’ ‘entity.’ " (PR 31.) We cannot think of an entity except as a unit of self-creativity in which the many factors of the universe become one individual thing which then becomes a part of the many for creative synthesis into a new one.
These "notions" are not treated by Whitehead as eternal objects (Johnson interpreted creativity as an eternal object in pages submitted to Whitehead, and Whitehead did not challenge this. If we follow Johnson here, the thesis that I am arguing, namely, that creativity cannot answer the question why occasions occur, is self-evidently established. See Johnson, Appendix B, p. 221. But creativity should not be understood as an eternal object. Eternal objects are forms or formal causes, and creativity is not. An eternal object is "neutral as to the fact of its physical ingression in any particular actual entity of the temporal world" (PR 70) , but there can be no actual entity apart from creativity. There is a sense in which "creativity," like any other idea whatsoever, is an eternal object. That is, I can think about Whitehead’s idea of creativity, and when I do so, I am thinking of an eternal object. Similarly, "actual entity" and prehension" are eternal objects when thought of as ideas. But the entities to which Whitehead intends to refer us when he uses these terms are not eternal objects.) because, unlike eternal objects generally, they are necessarily referent to everything that is. The eternal objects express pure possibilities. These notions express absolute necessities. Hence, they jointly constitute the "Category of the Ultimate and are presupposed in all the more special categories." (PR 31.), but in the absence of explicit statements to this effect, these passages should not be pressed.)
Focusing now specifically upon creativity, we see that it is that apart from which nothing can be. It is not in the usual sense an abstraction,(At times Whitehead makes statements that seem to imply that creativity is an abstraction [e.g., PR 30.], but in the absence of explicit statements to this effect, these passages should not be pressed.) for whatever is is a unit of creativity. Creativity is the actuality of every actual entity. We may think of all the forms embodied in each instance of creativity as abstractable from it, since creativity might equally have taken any other form so far as its being creativity is concerned. But it is confusing to speak of creativity as being itself an abstraction from its expressions, since it is that in virtue of which they have concreteness. Nevertheless, creativity as such is not concrete or actual.
Once again, as with Aristotle’s prime matter, we may say that this is fundamentally intelligible. Whitehead knows that he can only point and hope that we will intuitively grasp that at which he points. But this is the method of philosophy everywhere. It must appeal to intuition.(Indeed, all language requires an imaginative leap for its understanding. [PR 20]) The next question is as to whether this intelligible idea can answer the question as to why there is anything at all. Despite Whitehead’s own failure to raise this question in its radical form, I now propose to give it serious consideration.
My contention is that "creativity" cannot go even so far in the direction of an answer as did "prime matter." Once we have intuited the idea of prime matter we see that from the Aristotelian perspective there must be something eternally unchanging at the base of the flux of things. But creativity is another word for the change itself. Whitehead constantly denies that there is any underlying substance which is the subject of change. Does the notion of change, or becoming, or process include in it some sense that this changing must have gone on forever and must continue to do so? On the contrary, it seems just as possible that it will simply stop, that there will be then just nothing. There is a radical and evident contingency about the existence of new units of creativity (actual entities) that is not characteristic of new forms of prime matter.
Whitehead, of course, was convinced that the process is everlasting. Creativity will always take new forms, but it will always continue to be unchangingly creative. My point is only that the notion of creativity in itself provides no grounds for this faith. Hence, as an answer to the question of why there is and continues to be anything at all, creativity cannot play in Whitehead’s philosophy quite the role prime matter plays in Aristotle. In Whitehead every actual occasion is a novel addition to the universe, not only a new form of the same eternal stuff. Creativity is inescapably an aspect of every such entity, but it cannot be the answer to the question as to why that entity, or any entity, occurs. The question is why new processes of creativity keep occurring, and the answer to this cannot be simply because there was creativity in the preceding occasions and that there is creativity again in the new ones. If occasions ceased to occur, then there would be no creativity. Creativity can explain only ex post facto.
Creativity as the material cause of actual entities, then, explains in Whitehead’s philosophy neither what they are nor that they are. If the question as to why things are at all is raised in the Whiteheadian context, the answer must be in terms of the decisions of actual entities. We have already seen that the decisive element in the initiation of each actual occasion is the granting to that occasion of an initial aim. Since Whitehead attributes this function to God, it seems that, to a greater degree than Whitehead intended, God must be conceived as being the reason that entities occur at all as well as determining the limits within which they can achieve their own forms. God’s role in creation is more radical and fundamental than Whitehead’s own language usually suggests.
If this is the "correct Whiteheadian position, in what sense can we understand those passages that seem to subordinate God to creativity? Fundamentally they mean that God also is an instance of creativity. For God to be at all is for him to be a unit of creativity. In this respect his relation to creativity is just the same as that of all actual occasions. Creativity does not explain why they occur or what form they take, but if they occur at all and regardless of what form they take, each will be an instance of creativity, a fresh unity formed as a new togetherness of the antecedent many and offering itself as a member of the multiplicity of which any subsequent occasion must take account.
Like the Christian Aristotelians, I have stressed God’s responsibility for the being as well as the form of actual entities. It may be wise to stress also the points of difference between the Whiteheadian doctrine developed here and this Aristotelian one. I am not claiming for God either eminent reality or necessary existence in contrast to contingent existence. Since God does exist, and since he aims at the maximum strength of beauty, he will continue to exist everlastingly. The necessity of his everlasting existence stems from his aim at such existence combined with his power to effect it. But I am more interested in God’s power to cause actual occasions to occur than in the" necessity" of his existence. It is no objection to my mind that if that which has the power to give existence requires also that it receive existence, then we are involved in an infinite regress. I assume that we are indeed involved in an endless regress. Each divine occasion (if, as I hold, God is better conceived as a living person rather than a single actual entity) must receive its being from its predecessors, and I can image no beginning of such a series. It is true that I also cannot imagine an infinity, but this problem obtains in any philosophy which supposes that something, whether God, prime matter, or creativity, has existed without a beginning. It is no special problem here.
In concluding this argument for God as the cause of the being as well as of the form of actual occasions, I want to suggest that Whitehead’s thought moved in the direction I have developed. When the metaphysical questions were raised in Science and the Modern World, they were answered in terms of substantial activity and its three attributes. Comparison with Spinoza was specifically invited. Substantial activity seems to be thought of as an explanation of the universe in a way that would participate in efficiency as well as in passive materiality, but in fact the Aristotelian categories of causality do not apply to Spinoza’s vision of infinite substance. In Religion in the Making, we saw that two of the attributes, God and temporal occasions, were grouped together as actual entities, leaving only substantial activity and its two attributes of eternal objects and actual entities. But beyond this, it is ‘significant that the analogy to Spinoza disappears (Cf. PR 125.) and with it the term "substantial activity." In its place is creativity, which is ranked with actual entities and eternal objects coequally as an ultimate principle.( Indeed, creativity is subordinated to actual entities in their self-constitution as, e.g., in the following passage: "But there are not two actual entities, the creativity and the creature. There is only one entity which is the self-creating creature" (RM 102)
In Process and Reality, there was introduced the onto-logical principle that denies efficacy to whatever is not an individual actual entity. The eternal objects were shown to depend for their efficacy upon God’s envisagement. Creativity is interpreted as an "ultimate notion." Nevertheless, the connotations associated with substantial activity in the earlier work still find expression in a number of passages. These passages can be interpreted in terms of the doctrine that creativity is an ultimate notion of that apart from which no actual entity can occur; but when they are interpreted in this way, their force is altered, and one suspects that Whitehead meant more than this. My own conclusion is that although Whitehead was compelled by the development of his thought to recognize that creativity is not an agent (PR 339.) or explanation of the ongoingness of things, nevertheless, his feeling for its role continued to be greater than his definitions allowed. My suggestion is that if we adhere to the definitions and principles formulated with maximum care, we will be left with the question as to what causes new occasions to come into being when old ones have perished, and that when that question is clearly understood, the only adequate answer is God. This doctrine increases the coherence of Whitehead’s total position.
In section 1 of this chapter, I introduced a qualification with respect to God’s sole agency in the provision of the initial aim. I there argued that past occasions with aims for the new occasion might also contribute to this initial aim. In that way the role of creator may be understood as shared between God and past occasions along with the self-creation of the new occasion. Nevertheless, the radical decisiveness of God’s role cannot be denied. In the absence of any aim for the new occasion on the part of past temporal occasions, God’s aim is quite sufficient, whereas apart from God’s efficacy the past must be helpless to procure a future.
If now we combine this conclusion of section 1 with the discussion of creation in this section, we may say in summary that God always (and some temporal occasions sometimes) is the reason that each new occasion becomes. God, past occasions, and the new occasion are conjointly the reason for what it becomes. Whatever it becomes, it will always, necessarily, be a new embodiment of creativity.
Key to References
Footnote references to books by or about Whitehead use the following abbreviations. Numbers after the abbreviations in the footnotes refer to pages unless otherwise indicated.
AI Adventures of Ideas. The Macmillan Company, 1933.
CN The Concept of Nature. Cambridge University Press, 1920.
Dial… Dialogues of Alfred North Whitehead, as recorded by Lucien Price. Little, Brown and Company, 1954.
ESP…Essays in Science and Philosophy. Philosophical Library, Inc., 1,947.
FR…The Function of Reason. Princeton University Press, 1929.
Imm "Immortality," in Schilpp, ed., The Philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead. See "Schilpp" below.
MT Modes of Thought. The Macmillan Company, 1938.
PNK An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Natural Knowledge. Cambridge University Press, 1919; second ed., 1925.
PR Process and Reality. The Macmillan Company, 1929.
RM Religion in the Making. The Macmillan Company, 1926.
SMW Science and the Modern World. The Macmillan Company, 1926.
Works about Whitehead are listed in the first footnote entry by author and title. Subsequent entries are usually by author only.
Blyth John W. Blyth, Whitehead’s Theory of Knowledge. (Brown University Studies, Vol. VII.) Brown University Press, 1941.
Christian William A. Christian, An Interpretation of Whitehead’s Metaphysics. Yale University Press, 1959.
Ely Stephen Ely, The Religious Availability of Whitehead’s God. The University of Wisconsin Press, 1942.
Hammerschmidt William W. Hammerschmidt, Whitehead’s Philosophy of Time. King’s Crown Press, 1947
Johnson A. H. Johnson, Whitehead’s Theory of Reality. Beacon Press, Inc. 1952.
Kline George L. Kline, ed., Alfred North Whitehead: Essays on His Philosophy. Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1963.
Lawrence Nathaniel Lawrence, Whitehead’s Philosophical Development University of California Press, 1956.
Leclerc Ivor Leclerc, Whitehead’s Metaphysics: An Introductory Exposition. The Macmillan Company, 1958.
Leclerc (Ed.) Ivor Leclerc, ed., The Relevance of Whitehead. The Macmillan Company, 1961.
Lowe Victor Lowe, Understanding Whitehead. The Johns Hopkins Press, 1962.
Palter Robert M. Palter, Whitehead’s Philosophy of Science. The University of Chicago Press, 1960.
Schilpp Paul Arthur Schilpp, ed., The Philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead. Tudor Publishing Company, 1951.
Sherburne Donald W. Sherburne, A Whiteheadian Aesthetic. Yale University Press, 1961.