Freedom and Faithfulness In Whitehead’s God

by Delwin Brown

Delwin Brown is professor of Christian Theology at The Iliff School of Theology and in 1996 became interim dean and acting president. He is a lay member of The United Methodist Church. His books include: To Set at Liberty: Christian Faith and Human Freedom; with Clark Pinnock, Theological Crossfire: An Evangelical/Liberal Dialogue; and Boundaries of Our Habitations: Tradition and Theological Construction.

The following article appeared in Process Studies, pp. 137-146, Vol. 2, Number 2, Summer, 1972. 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.


Faithfulness fundamentally pertains only to the repetition of free actions. A God who acts freely only once, whether or not that action is somehow eternally present, cannot be faithful. God is faithful because he could, but does not, “sin” — against his own previous primordial ideals. That God continues to relate himself to the world in a given way is a matter of grace, not of necessity.

One question central to current Whitehead studies concerns the nature of God: Is God a single actual entity in everlasting concrescence (the "entitative view"), or is God a society of successive actual entities (the "societal view")? This paper will examine the arguments on each side, indicate what the societal view implies about the nature of God, and suggest an additional argument for the societal view based on the idea of God’s freedom and faithfulness which this view implies.

I. Society or Entity -- The Arguments

What we ordinarily refer to as "things" or ‘beings" are, in Whitehead’s philosophy, societies of actual entities. Actual entities, variously called units of becoming or "drops of experience" (PR 27), are "the final real things of which the world is made up" (PR 28). A society is a grouping of actual entities whose members display some shared element of form derived in common from antecedent actual entities (PR 50f, 137). There are very different types of societies, as we should expect since the "things" we encounter are immensely different. A rock is an inorganic structured society -- it has components of varying complexity none of which are living. A plant is a living structured society; so also is a human organism. A plant and a man differ, however, in that the latter is a society dominated by a serially ordered society of living occasions within it. In Whiteheadian philosophy, that social society which more or less dominates the human body is called the "self" or "soul." It is also called a "living person," a "personally ordered society" and "an enduring society with personal order." The question is whether God, too, is a personally ordered Society.

It is clear that Whitehead did not hold to the societal view of God (PR 28, 47, 54, 137, 531), nor do some eminent Whiteheadians (cf. IWM; 1,2). Their arguments, and responses to their arguments, follow in Section A.

A1. The argument from temporal loss. One function of God is to preserve without loss the values accrued in the temporal world. But a characteristic of temporal succession, i.e., the progression from one actual entity to another, is the loss of value. Therefore, if there is succession in God the perfect preservation of value would also seem to be relinquished (cf. WTR 69).

The reply to this argument centers around the relation of succession to loss. It can be argued that the reasons for loss in the temporal process do not apply to God. Loss in the temporal process is due to the necessarily limited aims of each becoming occasion. The particularized subjective aim, the distinctive goal, of each actual occasion of necessity renders ineffectual elements of the past which are irrelevant to it. God’s aim, however, is all-inclusive; it seeks the maximum retention and enjoyment of all temporal achievements. Even if one might argue that loss could occur, given the all-inclusive nature of the divine aim there is no reason to suppose that loss would occur in the succession from one divine occasion to the next.

Now one may observe, by way of rejoinder, that the loss of "first-handedness" is not avoided on the societal view. Notice, for example, that the values I experienced first-handed a few moments ago -- say, the joy of believing I see my way through a problem -- are now possessed derivatively, second-handedly a few seconds later. If God is a society, this loss of the immediacy of each moment in its passing must also occur in him.

The reply is twofold. First, the "loss" in question is merely the replacement of one instance of the enjoyment of value with another a4 of enjoyment; it is not a loss of the value being enjoyed. If the value itself is diminished, that diminution is due to the limited aims of subsequent occasions, which we saw above does not apply to God. Secondly, even if the replacement of immediacy or the enjoyment of value is itself to be accounted a loss of value, still this kind of loss occurs no less in the entitative view than in the societal view. In the succession from a temporal occasion to the divine occasion, the metaphysical conditions are identical to those in the succession from one divine moment to another. If a genuine "loss" occurs in the latter instance of succession, it also occurs in the former. But even the entitative view cannot dispense with the former type of succession. Hence loss of first-handedness, if it is indeed a loss, is unavoidable whether God is an entity or a society of successive entities.

A2. The argument from the singular character of God’s primordial nature. God’s valuation of possibility, his primordial envisagement of the eternal objects, is a single, unchanging act. This singularity of the primordial nature of God is incompatible with the societal view, according to which God is a multiplicity. (This position is described but not espoused in CNT 191f.)

Whitehead’s statements about the singularity of the primordial nature, the advocate of the societal view may observe in response, can mean two different things. They may mean that the primordial envisagement is numerically One, and Whitehead no doubt thought this way since he did conceive of God as a single actual entity. But the essential meaning of such statements has to do with qualitative, not quantitative, singularity in God -- the oneness or consistency of God’s character, we may say. This meaning is preserved in the societal view since the structure of the primordial nature, its pattern of ordering, is in each successive divine occasion identical to the abstract pole of preceding occasions. In other words, the primordial nature is structurally self-identical but temporally disparate; it is numerically diverse, but always the same evaluation of possibility.

If one points out that, on the societal view, the primordial nature can no longer be temporally prior, the answer is that this is true and that, moreover, it must be true on any Whiteheadian view. Viewed as primordial, . . . [God] is not before all creation, but with all creation" (PR 521). The abstract nature of God is only logically, not chronologically, prior; it is the presupposition of the nature of God’s becoming (PR 54) and of the ordered relevance of possibility for the process of creation (PR 522).

A3. The argument from the unlimited nature of God’s subjective aim. God’s subjective aim is his ideal for temporal becoming. As such it is unlimited, that is,

it seeks the physical realization of all potentiality insofar as this is compatible with maximum intensity.... Since no finite number of actualizations can exhaust such unlimited potentiality, God’s aim can never be satisfied at any 6nite moment, but requires an everlasting concrescence physically prehending the unending actualization of these possibilities. (1:66; see also 2:9f, IWM 295)

In other words, the unlimited character of God’s subjective aim disallows the kind of satisfaction in God that the societal view would entail.

But this claim, the societal proponent could argue, misinterprets Whitehead. In the passages of Process and Reality generally appealed to, the terms "unlimited," "untrammeled" and "all-inclusive" refer to the primordial nature, not to God’s subjective aim (PR 521-24). The subjective aim, though "derived from" (PR 523f) the primordial nature, still differs from it. The "completeness of [God’s] primordial nature" gives rise to the "perfection of God’s subjective aim" (PR 524). While the primordial nature is indeed "untrammeled by reference to any particular course of things" (PR 522), the "perfection of God’s subjective aim" presupposes its being restricted. For the divine subjective aim is an aim for a particular state of affairs -- it "prehends every actuality for what it can be in such a perfected system" (PR 525). The object of the subjective aim is the specific actuality, not the abstract, "perfected system." The entitative view glosses a difference which the societal view may retain. God’s primordial nature is his abiding, abstract aim expressed in terms of his conceptual adjustment of pure possibility. God’s subjective aim is his primordial evaluation limited to, applied to, a specific state of affairs. God’s primordial vision can never be fully satisfied. His subjective aim can be. Since the satisfaction of an actual entity is the satisfaction of its subjective aim, it follows that God at least may be a society.

If the foregoing evaluation of the alternatives is correct, we are now able to conclude that God may be understood as a personally ordered society. Next, in Section B, we shall examine arguments that God must be a society.

B1. The argument from God’s effect upon the world. God, in Whitehead’s view, acts in two ways. First, God provides each temporal occasion with the initial aim for its becoming (PR 373f.) Secondly, God’s consequent vision of the world "passes back into the temporal world . . . as an immediate fact of relevant experience" (PR 532). Since God in these ways is efficacious, and because the process internal to an actual entity "has no efficacy for other occasions except indirectly through the satisfaction in which it eventuates" (CNT 188), John Cobb concludes that God must achieve satisfaction. Unless God then ceases to exist, which is incompatible with the Whiteheadian system, God must be viewed as a personally ordered society.

Now the assumption of this argument, as opponents note, is that objectification requires perishing. While it is clear throughout Process and Reality that this is ordinarily the case, it is not obviously so in the case of God. William Christian points out that in the categorical scheme, where Whitehead enunciates the metaphysical principles applying to all actual entities (including God), objectification and perishing are never associated (IWM 298; 2:8. 1:64f). And Lewis Ford contends that, in the case of God, they cannot be: Perishing is "a function of . . . the completion of concrescence, and it is the subjective aim which ultimately determines when and how an actual entity will find its completion (1:65). Since, according to Ford (see A3 above), God’s subjective aim is unlimited, God’s concrescence necessarily is never completed and thus God never perishes.

It was suggested above (in A3), however, that Ford neglects the distinction between God’s subjective aim and primordial nature. If that suggestion is correct, Ford’s denial of the linkage of objectification and perishing is at least neutralized. Perhaps associating the two categories even becomes metaphysically required: If the subjective aim is characterized by a different content vis-à-vis each given actual situation, and if, as Ford recognizes, the subjective aim determines the locus of the actual entity then the multiplicity of divine aims implies a multiplicity of divine occasions.

On behalf of the societal view, moreover, one may also derive some measure of support from Process and Reality for supposing perishing to be attributable to God. Whitehead does speak of God’s satisfaction (e.g., PR 48, 134f) and he does associate satisfaction with the termination of internal becoming (PR 71), with the "closing up" of the entity (PR 129), with the loss of the "actuality of the atomic entity" (PR 129), and, in Categorial Obligation II, with the "completed phase in the process" (PR 39). In addition, Whitehead apparently intends to use the term "actual entity" to refer both to temporal occasions and to God (PR 135), and Whitehead says that "actual entities perish" (PR 52).

B2. The argument from the world’s effect upon God. Whitehead denies that actual entities are separable from their "qualities" or "actions." An actual entity is what it does. There is not first a subject which then "takes on" and unifies its data. The actual entity is the prehending-concrescing process itself; it is the "transformation of incoherence into coherence" (PR 38). Whitehead therefore seems to define an actual entity as the unification of the data available to a given perspective into a single complex datum. The unification of differing data constitutes another actual entity so that, as Whitehead says, "no subject experiences twice" (PR 43). Now since Whitehead holds, as he must, that God prehends successively the successive finite perspectives of the temporal process, there must be more than one experience in the life of God. Thus each such unifying experience, being a transformation of the data available to that perspective from incoherence into coherence, would by definition specify a separate actual entity in the life of God.

William Christian, taking the entitative view, contends that God has a single, unceasing satisfaction, complete at any given time relative, however, to the given finite standpoint (IWM 294-300, 375). In affirming the completion of the divine satisfaction Christian is dearly following Whitehead. But since Christian apparently understands the satisfaction in an ultimate sense to be a satisfaction of God’s primordial aim, he must deny that God’s satisfaction is finalized.

Christian’s position presumably depends upon the identification of God’s primordial vision and subjective aim, an association criticized above. But it seems to me that the approach of Christian (and Ford), when strictly maintained, is also objectionable for another reason. If the satisfaction is in fact the satisfaction of the primordial vision, then Christian’s talk of a satisfaction "relative to any finite standpoint" would appear to be impossible. The primordial nature is God "abstracted from his commerce with particulars . . . God in abstraction . . . deficient in actuality" (PR 50). Thus God’s satisfaction, on this view, could only be relative to pure potentiality, entirely divorced from commerce with the finite particulars of the temporal process.

II. Systematic Implications of the Societal View

We have concluded that nothing prevents our conceiving of God as a personally ordered society (Section IA) and that affirming the interaction of God and the world requires the societal view (Section III). Now we must consider more systematically what the societal view implies about the nature of God. Specifically, we shall discuss (A) the relationship of God’s general purposes, or his "primordial vision," to his purposes vis-à-vis particular standpoints, or his "subjective aims" and (B) the nature and extent of God’s freedom.

A. The Purposes of God

God’s primordial nature is the unchanging, graded togetherness of the totality of the eternal objects. The "togetherness" of possibility in the primordial nature is basic, for in this way possibility is given ontological status (PR 73) and rendered accessible to actuality (PR 46, 48, 64, 73). But Whitehead holds that God not only envisions the eternal objects; the primordial nature is also a hierarchical evaluation of the possibilities. Thus, the primordial side of God is called a "valuation" (PR 46, 48. 373f, 377, 522, 532), a "gradation" (PR 46, 248, 315), an "ordering" (PR 46, 373. 522), a "comparison" (PR 46), a "differentiation" (PR 392), and "the ultimate, basic adjustment of the togetherness of eternal objects . . . in the form of aversions and adversions" (PR 48). As the evaluative adjustment of possibilities, the primordial nature is the partial explanation of "order" (PR 64, 373), "physical law’" (PR 434), the "urge towards the future" (PR 47), and "metaphysical stability" (PR 64). The ordering of possibility, we shall see, also constitutes God’s character; it is the embodiment of his own abstract value preferences -- God’s principles.

The primordial nature, we finally note, is referred to as being "unchanged" (PR 523), "eternal" (PR 524), "complete" (PR 70), and "permanent" (PR 529). This stability constitutes the stability of God’s own character. But it also raises a problem. It is not readily apparent how a completed, unchanging evaluation of possibility can be or even account for "an ideal peculiar to each particular actual entity" (PR 128) contingently rising in the temporal process. Indeed, talk of the relevance of possibility to actuality notwithstanding, Whitehead himself says the primordial nature is "untrammeled by reference to any particular course of things" (PR 522; cf. 160f). How can God’s unchanging gradation of possibility be relevant to the contingent particulars of the changing process?

This difficulty makes quite understandable William Christian’s attempt to modify Whitehead. Christian holds that "in the primordial nature of God. . . .eternal objects have togetherness but not gradations of importance" (IWM 275). An evaluative ordering is introduced into the eternal objects only with respect to particular concrescences.

Christian’s position does address itself to an ambiguity in Whitehead’s thinking. Even so, the clarification offered is not without difficulty. Unless God’s particular evaluations are purely capricious, there must be some criterion or abstract standard according to which relevant possibilities are ordered with respect to each particular actuality. God’s purpose for any concrete event, in other words, would appear to be derivative from some wholly general purpose. For Whitehead, of course, God’s ultimate aim is the pursuit of "beauty." Though neutral to actuality in the sense of being applicable to any state of affairs whatsoever, beauty is more fully manifest in some than in others. Those possibilities for a given actuality which will be most nearly beautiful are preferable to others. All that is required for such discriminations is a value criterion, in this case beauty, and a knowledge of all possibilities. Given these, an evaluation of eternal objects to their proximity to beauty is implicit, quite apart from any reference to actuality.

Although independent of temporal actuality, however, this ordering of possibility cannot fail to be relevant to that actuality. The primordial nature is the envisagement of all possibilities and, hence, of all possible combination of possibilities. It is therefore impossible that a complex of possibilities could become relevant to an emerging occasion for which God did not already have, with respect to those possibilities, a set of ordered preferences. God cannot know which possible combination of possibilities will be available for actualization; nevertheless, any that do become relevant to a particular actuality will have been eternally ordered in the primordial vision of all possibility.

The relationship of the abstract primordial purpose to the concrete subjective aims in each moment of God’s life may be clarified by an analogy. Suppose Ahmad of Afghanistan to be on a pilgrimage to Mecca. "To reach Mecca" is his general purpose, conceivable quite in abstraction from the particular circumstances contingently arising in his journey. Were Ahmad able to conceive all the varied circumstances possible he could "primordially" evaluate each possibility in relationship to the remainder, and no circumstance would arise to which some portion of his primordial valuation would not be relevant. His primordial nature, though abstract and unchanging, could not fail to be applicable to concrete, changing particulars. But the possibility of particular, and thus the appetition of it, is not identical to the concrete particular itself. So, for example, preferring the abstract possibility of "turning south at Damascus" while still one hundred miles away is not identical to choosing the concrete turn south when arriving at the crossroads in Damascus. Ahmad’s "subjective aim" for a real possibility ingredient in the context of a concrete situation is different than, though derived from, his primordial ordering of all abstract possibilities in terms of his ultimate pursuit of his goal, Mecca. Ahmad will have a different subjective aim at each successive intersection; yet each will be consistent with his one primordial purpose.

God’s primordial nature is the unchanging, graded togetherness of all abstract possibilities, i.e., eternal objects, without reference to actuality. God’s subjective aim for an emerging actual entity involves the ordered togetherness of only those possibilities relevant to that concrete occasion. Thus God’s "subjective aim [is] derived from the completeness of his primordial nature." The subjective aim is a propositional feeling, the logical subject being the actuality and the predicate being the ordered, real possibilities. The subjective aim is therefore a function of God conceived as a total actuality, including his consequent awareness of the actual world.

B. The Freedom of God

The societal view effects an even more radical change in the process conception of God’s freedom. To see this we may best begin by recalling Whitehead’s view of freedom. Each actual entity is confronted, not only by the data of the past, but also by a variety of possibilities for synthesizing that data. In so far as each synthesis is genuinely possible, the occasion is free to unify its data as it chooses. Still, this choice occurs in a relational context. The past is not neutral with respect to what becomes in the present -- in addition to determining the data given to the present, the past also "desires" or "prefers" a certain form or forms of synthesizing those data. The past is more than simply there; it is there persuasively. The preferred synthesis (or better, the synthesis-as-preferred-by-the-past), however, is itself but an element of the complex datum to which the becoming occasion must respond. Thus the past’s preference cannot explain or constitute the present’s response; it is one of the things the present must respond to. The response, the presently becoming occasion’s selection of one mode of synthesis rather than another, is in this sense ex nihilo -- it is not reducible to or explicable solely in terms of the data given by the past. And to this extent an actual entity is sui generis. -- what it is, finally, is a function of its own self- determination. Moreover, it is free -- it could have synthesized precisely the same data in a manner other than it did.

The foregoing account of the relation of the past to the present will appear quite unacceptable if judged from the standpoint of a Newtonian conception of causal relationships. But, similarly, a Newtonian scheme seems inadequate from the perspective of a "persuasive" interpretation of causal relationships and, one might suggest, from the standpoint of our lived experience. Whitehead sought a middle course between determinism and indeterminism, believing that the universe displayed too much order for the latter and too little for the former. Nor does it help much to understand the cosmic process as involving a mixture of purely determined and purely undetermined relationships, as the history of fruitless discussions on free will indicates. So long as the interaction of billiard balls or the movement of machine parts is assumed as the model of intelligibility, all talk of indeterminacy and freedom, and especially talk of the difference between the two, remains utterly question-begging.

Whitehead frankly seeks a new beginning, assuming (I) that, even as determinists have contended, a unitary account of causality ought, in view of the apparent unity of nature, to be given a try, and (2) that our account of causal relationships ought to begin with those we know best -- the only ones, in fact, that we know directly at all. Whitehead’s description, thus, begins with the model of personal decision-making. Consider, for example, Simpson at time T (i.e., the actual entity at T which is a member of that serially ordered society known as "Simpson") being confronted by his past actual world including Simpson at T-T, T-2 , etc. That past world, and especially his own personal past, not only presents Simpson with certain data -- and this any realistic phenomenology of experience must recognize -- sets itself forth as desirous of certain conceptual syntheses of those data and their implied concrete expressions, e.g., honesty, respect for social order, obedience to duly established authority, etc. Simpson’s total environment, including his personal past, may therefore furnish a very strong lure for, say, Simpson’s paying his income tax. But the present decision is not thereby fixed Simpson’s past also provides and to some extent cherishes the alternative possibility of refusing to pay an oppressive, unjust Caesar. The struggle which ensues is scarcely amenable to the model of the clear, crisp movements of a balance scale responding automatically to the pressure of the heaviest weight, nor would we be tempted by such a model were its authoritative character not already assumed. The elements of choosing (i.e., the alternative possibilities and, in this case, the conflicting pressures regarding the actualization of those possibilities) are given, but the choosing is not; it is causa sui. Because his past is there persuasively, the present action is quite likely to be continuous with the dominant preferences of that past. But because the past is not there determinatively, the present action, finally, is explicable only in terms of itself. Therefore, Simpson at T is free to continue "his" prior value commitments, and he is free to alter them.

Assuming the unity of nature, Whitehead concludes that, though the variations are extraordinary, the foregoing account of causal relatedness must also he extended in some manner to the actual entities constituting subhuman and non-conscious levels of reality. Each actual occasion’s past lays claim upon it, luring it toward desired forms of synthesis. In practically all of nature, the abstract possibility of the present’s being urged toward novel modes of becoming is not actualized. So nature repeats itself. Yet, because each new occasion is not its past, its response cannot be reduced to the sum total of its antecedent influences. In that sense, nature is free.

God too is free, on either the societal or the entitative view. The freedom of an actual entity is manifest in its choice of a subjective aim, which then becomes the fixed principle to which the internal process of becoming resolves itself into greater and greater specificity. That freedom is in principle the same in God; the only variation being the fact that God’s subjective aim, whether one (the entitative view) or many (the societal view), is derivative from his primordial nature. God’s primordial evaluation is neither explicable in terms of, nor reducible to, anything other than the divine choice itself. On either view, then, God’s freedom lies in his primordial evaluation of possibility.

Beyond this point, however, the two views of God differ markedly -- both as to the extent and the consequence of the divine freedom. On the entitative view, God is free but once (even if, as we shall consider later, "once" is to be construed in some unique nontemporal sense). This single evaluative adjustment of possibility permanently fixes the character of God’s consequent commerce with the world. On the societal view, by contrast, God is repeatedly free. In each moment of his life God can choose to evaluate possibility in a manner differently than he does and differently than he did in previous moments. God can alter his own prior value commitments, i.e., his evaluative adjustments of possibility.

To clarify this claim let us recall that the primordial nature is logically, not chronologically, prior; it is, in each new moment of the divine life, the presupposition of the nature of God’s concrete action. Being a society, the effect of past occasions in his life upon the presently becoming one is, as is generally tnie in societies, a persuasive and not a coercive effect. Hence God can -- God is free to -- "primordially" evaluate possibility differently from one moment to the next. In other words, the abstract evaluation of possibility from which springs the divine synthesis in one moment of God’s life can be different in the next. To be sure, there are for God at each divine moment only a limited number of options. The limits placed upon God’s evaluation of possibility (we are not now speaking of actuality) are presumably those of metaphysical necessity. But within these limits, God may at any moment adopt a new scale of values. About what he deems to be desirable or valuable, God can "change his mind."

III. Freedom and God’s Faithfulness

I have thus far presented arguments for concluding that God is a society, and I have indicated how this view affects the process conception of the nature of God’s purpose and freedom. Now we shall relate this discussion to the religious experience of God’s faithfulness. An assumption which forms the background of this section of the paper should be acknowledged. If the societal view is at least as defensible, metaphysically, as its alternative, then the superior adequacy of the societal view for our religious experience should be counted as additional evidence in its favor.

The intuition of God’s faithfulness is a fundamental ingredient of the Western religious tradition. This notion involves more than God’s dependability, or even his beneficent dependability. The idea of faithfulness connotes the praiseworthiness of dependability. Thus, while we may be appreciative of those types of dependability which are a function of mechanical necessity, we do not regard them as being praiseworthy. We are pleased when the car starts on a cold morning, but we don’t praise cars or give them medals for service. The reason is that cars do not decide whether to be dependable. Praiseworthy dependability, or faithfulness, presupposes freedom. To say that God is faithful is to presuppose that God is free, that in a given circumstance God can do other than what he does.

There are some instances when we "praise" agents of mechanical necessity. For example, we commend the dog who performs his tricks as commanded. Such commendation, though, is not deserved by the dog; it is required for the continued success of the training. Similarly, if we do regard it appropriate to praise a freedomless God, that can only be because such praise is a requirement of God’s continued, mechanically distributed beneficence. This kind of "praise" is offered because it is required; it is no more deserved than is praise for a dependable automobile. In my view, "praise" of this sort is a perversion of the Western religious experience which, at a minimum, requires the encounter of free selves. If I am correct, philosophical theology must maintain the freedom of God in order to account for a fundamental element of our religious experience, the sense of God’s faithfulness.

Faithfulness, however, presupposes not only freedom; it also requires the repetition of freedom. Consider a mythological figure, Crysius, who in a last act of freedom irrevocably turns himself into a (freedomless) ray of sunlight in order to provide eternal warmth for his people. His freely-chosen beneficence should elicit and would merit the praise of his people. Moreover, as a ray warmth Crysius would continue to be beneficial, and succeeding generations of villagers would quite properly continue to he grateful for his beneficent action. But one can hardly say that the later generations are grateful to him for his faithfulness. Crysius continues to be beneficial to his people, and he, a ray of warmth, is dependable; but to say that he is faithful is no more appropriate than to say of the sun that it is faithful to the earth because it regularly warms our planet. The notion of faithfulness, thus, is tied to the idea of repeated freedom. (No doubt it may be extended metaphorically beyond this context, e.g., the poet could speak of the sun’s faithfulness to the earth, seeking, perhaps. to elicit in the hearer a heightened sense of the unmerited benefits of nature.) To speak of God’s faithfulness, then, would seem to require that we include in our concept of God the capacity to act freely repeatedly.

The entitative view of God disallows the kind of divine freedom that is presupposed by the religious intuition of God’s faithfulness. If God is a single actual entity, he has but one (numerically) subjective aim which is derivative from his single primordial evaluation of possibility. Perhaps God is free in his primordial decision, on this view, but even so he is no more faithful than is Crysius as a ray of light. In the entitative view, God is like a computer which mechanically works out its primordial programming vis-à-vis the data it receives from the becoming actual world.

It might seem possible to mitigate the computer image of God, implicit in the entitative view, by pointing to the unitary character of an actual entity. Whitehead tells us that an occasion must be viewed as a whole, as occurring all at once. And he suggests that analyses of concrescence must finally be viewed as abstractions of the intellect. Perhaps this means that, on the one hand, such analyses are "likely tales" appropriate only in the sense that if we understand the actual entity "as if" this analysis were true we should in some respects be looking at it most adequately, but that, on the other hand, the analysis should be qualified such that what is said of the "parts" it delineates should be applied to the whole. In this way it could be argued that the freedom of the primordial decision should be applied to God as a totality.

This line of reasoning, I think, is plausible; the inadequacy of language to give a logically neat account of the microcosmic process is perhaps what we should expect since our language is in a sense tied to, and thus derivative from, an experience of the macrocosmic process. Even so, it seems to me, the entitative view is not greatly aided. For it is possible to apply an "as if" analysis of the parts to the whole of an actual entity precisely because there is a whole actual entity. On the entitative view, however, God is never "whole" because he never experiences satisfaction. Thus the abstractions of genetic analysis, including talk of God’s free primordial decision, must ontologically stand on their own feet, unsupported by reference to a concrete, finished actuality.

I should now point out, however, that even if the entitative view can successfully maintain the freedom of God’s primordial evaluation, we still have no grounds for affirming God’s faithfulness. God now is a unique Crysius -- unique because the freedom of his past decision is somehow still present in the atemporal result of that decision. But if, as I have argued, faithfulness fundamentally pertains only to the repetition of free actions, a God who acts freely only once, whether or not that action is somehow eternally present, cannot be faithful.

Perhaps we should dispense with the notion of divine faithfulness. Perhaps -- but I see no reason for denying this or any basic ingredient of religious experience unless metaphysically we are forced to do so. And the societal view of God, it seems to me, can account for the religious intuition of God’s faithfulness. God is repeatedly free. At the inception of any moment in his life he can choose to order possibility differently than he does and differently than he did in past moments. (God is thus perhaps the closest approximation in process philosophy to Sartre’s "being-for-itself." God is radically free in the sense of being able to adopt alternative projects. Whitehead differs from Sartre, though, in acknowledging the persuasive power of the past -- the past influences, even if it does not determine, the present.) Moreover, God, in the societal view, is faithful. His faithfulness is the identical character of his manifold primordial aims. God, in each becoming moment, freely orders possibility as he did in previous moments. Although quantitatively the primordial aim is a multiplicity, qualitatively it is one. It is a unity in the sense that in each moment God manifests the same evaluation of possibility. It is primordial in so far as it is the presupposition of the nature of God’s becoming at each occasion of his life. And it is free since God could choose to order possibility differently in any given instance than he does.

Baldly put, God is faithful because he could, but does not, "sin" -- against his own previous primordial ideals. That God continues to relate himself to the world in a given way is a matter of grace, not of necessity.



CNT -- Cobb, John B., Jr. A Christian Natural Theology. Philadelphia-Westminster, 1965.

IWM -- Christian, William A. An Interpretation of Whiteheads Metaphysics. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1959.

WTR -- Johnson, A. H. Whitehead’s Theory of Reality. New York: Dover, 1962.

1. Lewis S. Ford, "Boethius and Whitehead on Time and Eternity," International Philosophical Quarterly. 8, 1 (March, 1968), 38-67.

2. Lewis S. Ford, "Whitehead’s Conception of Divine Spatiality," Southern Journal of Philosophy. 6, 2 (Spring, 1968), 1-13.