Chapter 7: Adventure

Nature and Purpose
by John F. Haught

Chapter 7: Adventure

The notions of physical reality and emergence that we have advanced in the previous chapters, unlike those of scientific materialism and mechanism, do not preclude in principle our attributing a teleological aspect to the universe. In fact they appear to be quite consistent with a religious affirmation of divine care at the heart of cosmic occurrence. However, we may have been too precipitous in offering this contention. Perhaps for the sake of taking things step by step in the interest of clarity, we have had to suspend momentarily explicit consideration of some complicating issues along the way. Our argument that nature is not incompatible with a religious interpretation may appear at times to have been too neglectful of questions that would seriously challenge a teleological view were we to consider them more extensively. Although the present chapter cannot compensate completely for these failures, it will attempt at least to treat more explicitly the most serious problem of all -- the so-called problem of theodicy.

Still demanding our attention is the question of how to reconcile belief in an ultimate "ordering principles" conceivable in terms of the logic of emergence, with the obvious fact of disorder in the universe. What, more precisely, would be the nature of such a principle of emergent modes of order? What sort of power or capacity to influence would pertain to this transcendent dimension? Would not the fact of transience that besets all harmonious, intense instances of order (life, mind, civilization, for example) entail an inability on God’s part to order the universe? And would not this limitedness mean that we would be compelled logically to reject the idea of an all-powerful God?

These and like questions are usually referred to as the theodicy problem. If God is all-good (perfectly loving and caring) and all-powerful, then disorder would not be allowed to appear in the universe. But disorder is manifestly present. Therefore, how can God’s existence be morally or rationally affirmed? Thus goes the traditional formulation of the problem. In this chapter I shall briefly sketch the problem of God and evil in terms of concepts developed earlier, and I shall propose that one important way to deal with the theodicy problem is to associate the idea of God not only with order but also with adventure.

It is generally expected by all those who have any familiarity with philosophical and theological reflections on the problem of evil that no rationally or emotionally satisfying response to the fact of disorder will ever appear on paper. Merely speculative attempts always fall miserably short of reaching anything like a solution. Nonetheless, the overwhelming presence of chaotic elements in our experience simply demands that we ponder the matter. We cannot avoid speculating even though we realize that speculating does not solve the problem of suffering, death and all the tragedies that constitute what we call evil. Speculation, however, impotent as it is in relieving individual suffering, may still help us theoretically reconcile human symbols of hope and trust with the physical universe out of which disorder arises. Such theorizing is inadequate, but it is also indispensable.

We must begin by casting suspicion on those speculative theodicies that postulate a facile divine harmony or rational world order as the solution to the problem of evil. Rigid teleologies that impose a trivial form of harmony upon the universe and make God the overseer of this world order are intolerable not only on scientific but also on religious grounds. Nothing is more alien to an authentically religious outlook or to a belief in the unique value of individual personality than is a simplistic belief in world order. The Russian philosopher Nicolai Berydaev vigorously chastises all theologies that attempt to force premature teleological interpretations on the universe:

What value does the very idea of world order, world harmony possess, and could it ever in the least justify the unjust suffering of personality?1

. . .

World harmony is a false and an enslaving idea. One must get free of it for the sake of the dignity of personality. 2

. . . God is not world providence, that is to say not a ruler and sovereign of the universe, not pantocrator. God is freedom and meaning, love and sacrifice. . . The good news of the approach of the Kingdom of God is set in opposition to the world order. It means the end of false harmony which is founded upon the realm of the common. . . There is no need to justify, we have no right to justify, all the unhappiness, all the suffering and evil in the world with the help of the idea of God as Providence and Sovereign of the Universe.3

. . .

God is in the child which has shed tears, and not in the world order by which those tears are said to be justified. 4

In Berdyaev’s protest we have an intensely religious point of view that disassociates the human search for meaning from strict teleology. An obsession with overall harmony is not only unnecessary to the religious concern for personal significance; it is actually incompatible with it. A strict teleology is not required in order to affirm the radical worthwhileness of our lives in the scheme of events.

It is easy to sympathize with Berdyaev’s strong opposition to teleologies that swallow up the individual and suppress personal uniqueness for the sake of an overarching concord. Any vision of the universe that dilutes the significance of individuals and their private suffering by sacrificing them to some abstract totality is repugnant. We do not need to review Kierkegaard’s critique of Hegel to establish this point. And yet some form of teleology, some vision of cosmic purpose, is required precisely in order to make possible at all an appreciation of the unique value of persons and the poignancy of their experience of evil. It is absolutely imperative that we not abandon the quest for purpose in nature when we are concerned with validating the dignity of human personality. I am afraid that too much individualism and personalism have themselves acquiesced in a dualistic mythology that abandons nature to mechanistic desolateness. They have based themselves, as in the case of Berdyaev, on a radical dichotomy of nature and person, or of nature and history. When nature is understood after the fashion of scientific materialism this cleavage is quite intelligible For the only way to salvage the singularity of persons Out of the deterministic commonality of a materialistic view of nature is to locate the core of personality at a separate level of reality over against the impersonal universe. But once we realize the abstractness and remoteness from experience of a materialistic cosmology, we must also question the validity of attempts to define personality or to ground its dignity apart from nature. There is no longer any need to disengage the exaltation of personality from the quest for cosmic purpose.

Instead it is appropriate both scientifically and religiously, that in our reflections on the problem of evil and personal suffering we examine further the implications of what we have called a loose teleology. For only according to some vision of cosmic purpose is it possible to establish the worth of the individual in the face of the negativities of his life. Acknowledging the "backing of the universe" is a prerequisite of any deep personalism. Without a conviction about the universe s general capacity to sustain significance there is insufficient basis for our affirming the incomparable importance of the individual.

The idea of a purposeful universe can be redeemed from the totalitarian rigidity that Berdyaev fears if it is allied to the notion of adventure. Adventure is the ingredient that will "loosen" teleology so as to give vitality to purpose and freshness to harmony. Without an aim toward order, movement in the direction of novelty would make the universe drift toward complete chaos. But without an adventurous advance toward novelty and freshness the universe would be frozen into utter sameness.

Adventure is the universes search for continually more intense forms of ordered novelty.5 If the actual world is a process, composed of becoming and perishing occasions then its movement toward integrating these occasions into ever richer modes of order may be called adventure. The term adventure always implies risk, the possibility of tragic loss, of failure to achieve the desired perfection of harmony. However, without adventure reality at any level of emergence lapses into decadence. There can be no standing still in a processive universe. Things must follow either the course of entropy or of adventure. "Pure conservatism" would be a violation of the very essence of the universe.6 Thus if we are to speak of a cosmic aim or of natures purpose we must recognize that its realization would occur only along the exciting but treacherous pathway of adventure. A kind of restlessness is intrinsic to all phases of emergence, a cosmic discontent, a sense that further ideals of harmonized intensity yet remain to be realized. Adventure is the hazardous undertaking of the quest for these novel ideals.

The notion of God, if it is to correspond to the essence of the universe, must be allied with that of adventure. Unfortunately, such an alliance has not always (perhaps not even often) prevailed in the religious life and thought of theists. The notion of God has been too closely associated with order at the expense of novelty and adventure.7

Associating God exclusively with order, a constant temptation of religion, leads to the decay of religious life and thought. Of course it is not possible to think of God apart from the fact of order since some kind of ordering is essential to the very being of entities. But traditionally theology has tended predominantly toward associating the idea of God almost exclusively with cosmic order and has been unaware of, or else has ignored, the fact of creative advance in the universe. Thus when the classical picture of world harmony broke down after being eroded by scientific theories of evolution and entropy, its naively conceived divine counterpart also vanished -- quite fortunately we may say in retrospect. The biblical insight that God could also be understood in terms of novelty and adventure, risk and suffering had been suppressed; and so theology usually left Out the question of how to relate the divine to the incursion of freshness into the world. Instead it focused narrowly on the question of how to relate God to the fact of order. And, as a result, the theodicy problem was tragically and erroneously formulated. For in addition to order there is also the fact of novelty. And, further, there is the fact of inevitable disruption of established patterns of order wherever there is an influx of novelty. When we speak of Gods relation to nature, we must do so in terms not only of actualized order but also of the universe’s adventure toward novel forms of order. This dual reference will provide us with a richer context for locating the fact of evil.

We have emphasized throughout this work that our universe is a process and that this process is characterized by a creative advance from, lower toward higher emergent dimensions. Therefore, in attempting to relate the notion of divine causation to such a universe we have to understand God not only as the ground of whatever order happens to have emerged, but also as the creative pull that energizes the world’s ever becoming "more". In persuading the cosmos toward more complex and intense modes of emergence, however, this transcendent influence leaves itself exposed to the charge that it is responsible for the discord that inevitably accompanies an ingression of novelty into any particular situation of order. In the advance toward new patterns of complexity there is always a risk that previously realized order will be destroyed, or that novel complexity will overwhelm established harmonies. Therefore, whatever source of power motivates the world process toward emergent novelty would appear to be the ultimate reason that there is the evil of disorder in the world. Does this mean, then, that God is responsible for evil? And, if so, does the world’s advance toward novelty justify the presence of evil?

In order to approach this troubling question we should first examine more carefully what is meant by evil. Evil is not simply identifiable with perishing or with chaos. It may also be associated with unnecessary, out-of-season triviality. Any situation of destruction and disorder is evil. But so also are those harmonious, undisturbed situations where a richer wholeness is attainable and yet there persists an obsession with partiality. "There is then the evil of triviality -- a sketch in place of a full picture."8 A suppression of the universe’s perpetual urge toward adventure is a turning away from the value of aesthetic intensity. Clinging to low-grade forms of harmony unnecessarily is a deviation from the good. To remain content with monotony when further variation is relevant and possible is infidelity to the cosmos.

Thus when we use the term "evil" we are indicating not only instances of physical and moral disintegration. We are also referring to situations where there may indeed be a stable harmony and order but also an absence of zest for intensity, an uncalled-for lack of adventure and a fear of novelty. The untimely refusal to experiment with newness may in certain circumstances also count as evil. This means that the refusal to hazard the possible discord that threatens every creative advance may constitute evil just as much as does a circumstance involving outright disharmony.

In the light of this broader description of evil we should reformulate the theodicy problem so as to ask not only about the justification of disorder in a world created by an allegedly all-good and all-powerful God, but also about a world that seemingly cannot exist apart from an intrinsic adventurousness. Is a God who stimulates the world toward creative advance by offering it ever new possibilities morally justifiable, given that the incursion of novelty brings with it the risk of chaos?9

The only way to begin a response to this question is to consider the alternative. Could there conceivably exist a divinely created universe other than one endowed with a potential to evolve, and in evolving, to risk the constant threat of disorder? Is any other universe possible, metaphysically speaking? Try to conceive of an absolutely static world, totally and perfectly ordered by God in every possible way. Such a universe is not even conceivable. For a totally immobile and completely ordered world would not be distinguishable from its creator and, therefore, would not be a world. A world without internal, self-initiated movement, without any possibility of deviation from a divinely imposed scheme of order, would be a sheer emanation or extension of its makers own being. It would have no autonomy, integrity or self-coherence. That is, it would not exist as a distinct reality which God could transcend in any way. It is impossible metaphysically for a creator to create a non-becoming, perfectly ordered world. The idea of a perfect universe is a contradiction in terms. The only conceivable world that would be compatible with the notion of God is one in which there is a possibility of creative advance, of adventure with its inevitable risk of discord. Thus, if God is ultimately "responsible" for the disorder attendant to the cosmic adventure, this responsibility cannot be equated with reprehensibility.10

Still, recognizing the theoretical congruence of an adventurous emergent universe with the notion of a transcendent principle of order and novelty hardly solves the theodicy problem. Religious experience and expressions (I am thinking particularly, but not exclusively of biblically based religious types) profess belief in a God of love and care. In terms of these religious convictions the problem of theodicy is also fundamentally that of how to harmonize the pervasive fact of disintegration and chaos that accompany adventure, with the alleged love and concern of God for the universe.

Obviously this aspect of the theodicy problem calls for a clarification of the meaning of words like love, care and concern. But here we run into immediate difficulties. Conceivably, one might suspect, we could define love (and, therefore, "God") in such a sweeping and flexible manner as to make it compatible with each and every imaginable situation. As a matter of fact some contemporary critics of theism have accused theists of making God’s existence compatible with any conceivable situation of cosmic or personal disorder. Then it would be impossible to show what difference divine love might make to us. And if we cannot show what difference it would make, what reason is there to believe in its presence in the universe? God’s existence would be "unfalsifiable" and, therefore, outside the sphere of meaningful reference. If there is nothing that could ever conceivably count against God’s love, then there is little sense in our putting our trust in this love. 11

This critique is important because it compels us to scrutinize more carefully the possible nature of divine love. It is a healthy protest against a shallow theism. However, I do not think that in the final analysis the critique is fully justifiable. For there is, after all, as the critics themselves point out, a situation conceivable that would count against the existence of a loving God. This would be a situation in which "God" were able to eliminate suffering and evil and yet refused to do so. Such a circumstance would indeed force us to abandon theism in the very name of love.

In our definition of love we are inevitably influenced and constrained by our own interpersonal experience. And we know from this experience that love is compatible with some circumstances and incompatible with others. For example, when our projects are subverted by the jealousy and hostility of others, we realize that this is inconsistent with love. Or when we find that others are able to assist us when we are in pain or need, and yet they needlessly refuse to do so, we interpret this apathy as incompatible with love. However, a situation in which others are willing but not able to offer us immediate deliverance from suffering is certainly consistent with their love for us. We can all think of instances in our own experience where the helplessness of friends and loved ones to extricate us from distress detracted in no way from our feeling that they cared deeply for us. Even in their weakness, as it turns out, they communicated to us a sense of strength and courage that would not otherwise have been available to us. In fact their inability to assist us in an immediate way may have left an opening for the welling up in us of a more enduring sense of potency at a deeper level of our being.

It seems to me that any meaningful theodicy should employ the analogy of this loving helplessness when it reflects on God and God’s relation to a world in which disharmony is a recurrent fact. Consigned as we are to utilizing elements of our own experience in our symbolization of ultimacy, we should at least attempt to base our models of deity in those experiences that move us most deeply, that allow us to grow in interior strength, and that give us a sense of being deeply cared for in spite of fateful threats to our existence. Such experiences include not only those in which others directly help us, but also those in which they express concern for us, even though they may be helpless to deliver us.

May God be conceived of in terms of such a model of loving helplessness? If we are to talk of God in an adult way today, must we not at least experiment with such a notion? It is thoroughly repugnant to our own sense of compassion to hold that God actually has the power directly to intervene in human suffering, or in any situation of moral or physical evil, and yet refrains from utilizing this power. Such a posture would simply not be compatible with love in any humanly meaningful sense of the term. Such a God, as Camus has protested with convincing arguments, could hardly arouse us to a sense of compassion for others. 12 How could a loving God have permitted the monstrosities of Auschwitz, Bangladesh, or Cambodia, the tortures of innocents throughout the ages, and the incredible loss of intense harmonies in the adventure of cosmic emergence? Is it totally out of the question for the believer to respond in full seriousness that God could not help it?

Of course such a response is seemingly replete with serious problems. Above all: in what sense might we legitimately attribute "helplessness" to an allegedly all-powerful God? Further; what is the meaning of "power"? And is helplessness always incompatible with perfect power?

Power and Adventure

Could God have prevented Auschwitz? Could God reverse the flow of entropy? Is God able to create a universe without having it emerge through the turmoil of an evolutionary process? Could not the species that inhabit the earth have come about without all the struggle and loss that evolutionary theory portrays? Need chance have played such an important role in evolution if God is in any way the principle of cosmic order? In short, could not God have prevented the incredible anguish, suffering and waste that ravish the earth?

In whatever way the theodicy problem is formulated, there is usually a hidden premise about the meaning of "power", "potency", "ability", "can", "could", etc. We need to explore the latent assumptions about the meaning of these terms when we ask whether God had or has the "power" to eliminate evil and prevent discord.

Fundamentally power means the capacity to influence. In other words, power implies the potential for causal efficacy. As we noted in Chapter III, however, causation has often been narrowly construed in accordance with now unacceptable concepts of physical reality and perception. Unfortunately, when God’s capacity to influence has been theologically expressed, it has often been represented in terms of incoherent ideas of causation, perception and physical reality. As such, divine power has been imagined as the coercive, overwhelming, forceful impact of one (active) entity on the (passive) receptivity of a second. That is to say, the idea of divine causation has been shaped in accordance with our experience at the level of secondary perception, and in fidelity to the dominant view that this kind of perception is fundamental.

However, by understanding the notion of causation as an instance of the more basic fact of primary perception, we have moved away from the conventional materialistic, push- and-shove, view of causal efficacy. We should now transfer the results of this reinterpretation to the notion of divine influence as well. In doing so we may be able to reconcile the idea of God’s power with that of a loving helplessness vis-a-vis the fact of evil in the cosmic adventure.

What makes it possible for entities to influence one another in a fundamental way is the fact of perceptivity (prehensiveness) that defines each actual occasion. Each occasion becomes itself by actively, synthetically prehending the data that have been presented to it by the perishing of previous occasions in a series. Because each occasion actively appropriates its past (in a manner determined also by the way in which it receives novel possibilities into its experience)1 it is, in a sense, self-caused, a causa sui.13 There is no absolute passivity in this fundamental mode of perception and causation. Each occasion is, to some degree, actively perceptive, actively inheriting and integrating the "objective" past, actively screening, embracing, refusing and "deciding" upon what novel elements shall make up its own unique feeling, enjoyment and satisfaction. Although in the case of aggregates of occasions available to secondary perception causal impact appears largely in the form of active agents moving passive recipients (as in the impact of one billiard ball upon another), in the microcosmic realm of occasions of experience causal influence involves an intensely active receptivity to previous events and future possibilities.

Therefore, if nature is in any way affected by God at a fundamental level, its being influenced would not have to be imagined as a completely passive reception of divine causal force. If nature were totally pliable in the hands of a coercive "ordering principle" it would be impossible for us to make a clear conceptual distinction between God and the world. Religious experience, however, demands that we make such a distinction (which is not the same thing as a separation), for otherwise we would jeopardize the transcendence of the divine. And cosmological reflection also requires that we attribute a certain indeterminacy to world process, a quasi-resistance on the part of the cosmos to any hypothetical divine activity. For without some aspect of intransigency before God, the world would not really be a world. If it were absolutely malleable it would lose all distinctness from its "orderer". Residing in the self-causative aspect of each occasion of experience, however, there is a certain "freedom" or indeterminacy at a fundamental level of the world’s being. Only some such self-determining potential insures that the world does not dissolve immediately into God’s own being.

Given the perceptive, experiential-mental basis in physical reality for a coherent doctrine of causation, we can now conceive of the divine capacity to influence the cosmos in terms consistent with a divine "helplessness" to remedy concrete instances of disorder in the universe. Moreover, we may do so in a manner quite in line with a genuinely adult notion of love as well.

When one entity causally influences another at the fundamental level of cosmic occurrence, it does so by perishing and handing itself over as an objective datum to be appropriated in an indeterminate way by subsequent occasions. It does not coerce the immediately subsequent occasion to conform to its own structure or quality of feeling in any absolutely rigid fashion. For each occasion actively inherits its past in a unique way. By simultaneously prehending (through its "mental pole") possibilities for advancing beyond or simply carrying on the specific tone of feeling transferred to it by previous occasions, each occasion asserts its self-causative singularity. So there is no coerciveness, but rather a kind of persuasiveness that characterizes this primary causation.

Divine causation would not be an exception to but rather an exemplification of the non-coercive character of influence that is required by occasions at the base of the world process. In order to conceive of divine causation we should not take as our point of departure the crude images of transfer of power that we find in the objects of secondary (sense) perception. Instead we should look to the finer transactions that occur in primary perception (in the occasions of our own as well as all cosmic experience). At the primary pole of perception and causation coerciveness is ruled out, and persuasiveness is the dominant mode of influence. We must not project into our notions of divine causation the commandeering forcefulness that seems to rule the relations among aggregates observed by secondary perception (rocks colliding with one another, hands moving objects, potters molding clay, etc.) Again, it is the unwarranted belief that sense-perception is fundamental that has led to such over-simplified, abstract ideas concerning causation. Traditional forms of theism, having applied these derivative ideas to God, have been led toward untenable conceptions of divine power. And as a result the theodicy problem has been misleadingly formulated.

God’s power is persuasive rather than coercive.14 What we earlier referred to as divine "helplessness" may now be understood in part at least as non-coerciveness. Divine love and power may both be interpreted in terms of the notion of persuasiveness. We detract in no way from the sublimity of divine power when we label it persuasive rather than coercive. For persuasive power, in the fundamental sphere of natural occurrence, is inexpressibly more capable of exercising influence than coercive power would be. God’s capacity to influence can be exercised more radically and internally an the cosmos if it is non-coercive than if it were a compulsive transfer of energy like that which we discern among the relatively abstract entities at the secondary pole of perception. In the latter, derivative kind of causation that pervades the massive material objects studied by classical physics, transfer of power is purely external. It does not penetrate to the heart of its effects. In primary perception, however, the cause is "freely" internalized by the prehending occasion. And so the cause endures as an abiding constituent within the effect precisely because it does not coerce from Outside. Classical theories of causation are unable to explain how a cause can have such an abiding influence on its effects.

As the occasions of the world-process (including those of our own experience) appropriate the power of a divine ordering principle and ground of novelty at the primary pole of perception, they are not forced into a deterministic response to God’s influence. There remains a certain play for self-causation and self-transcendence in percipient occasions. God’s influence is such that it allows the occasions to be themselves. It does not overwhelm or force them into more intense forms of relationships. God does not compel the universe toward further adventure. Divine love gently persuades the world of occasions toward the realization of further relevant possibilities and intensity of enjoyment; but in doing so it allows scope for deviation from the patterns of ever richer harmony and intensity that are held out to it as possibilities. Divine power is helpless to prevent the cosmic process from turning aside occasionally into chaos or from remaining stuck in banality. The movement of the universe toward increasingly intense and complex configurations of physical reality or moral order does not guarantee that tragedy or periods of stagnation will not accompany the adventure. Whether the adventure is worth the price, however, can be determined only according to criteria that flow from an adult understanding of the nature of love.

Charles Birch expresses the view that the apparent helplessness of God to prevent earthquakes, peculiar genetic mutations, human horrors or the wasteful and random aspects of evolution in no way entails powerlessness except in terms of the crudest conceptions of power:

Is God then powerless? No -- there is power in love! There is power in persuasive love that is greater than all other sorts of power. There is no need for any other sort of power. It is because we are unconvinced of the power of persuasive love that we want to invest God with dictatorial coercive power. 15

Whitehead himself observed how our Western theological traditions have typically modeled their notions of divine causal efficacy on the image of rulers and despots, that is, on those whose power is coercive rather than persuasive: "The Church gave unto God the attributes which belonged exclusively to Caesar."16 Instead our images of God should be shaped by our dwelling on ". . .the tender elements in the world, which slowly and in quietness operate by love. . ."17

Since our God-images are so often fashioned almost exclusively on the pattern of imperial power, we tangle ourselves in endless theological knots trying to excuse "providence" for failure to implement its alleged capacity to force order onto the cosmos. Yet if our images of God were to assume a form corresponding to our experience of the "tender elements in the world," we would be able to envision God’s radical causal efficacy in a manner consistent with both perfect power and infinite love.

It is our fear of adventure and our obsession with safety that give rise to the projection of God as coercive power. Our desire to be magically extricated from all situations of disorder that inevitably accompany adventure precipitates numerous forms of self-abasement and hostility in the face of the imagined omnipotence of a divine potentate. It may never occur to us that perfect power is made manifest in weakness,"18 and that God’s power is most efficacious in its "letting be," in its refraining from imposing a fixed harmony onto the world. A God of persuasive love, Birch says, ". does not guarantee the ‘safety’ of any creature in the universe. Love never does. Mature religion can accept this."19

Mature religion, more than anything else, is characterized by the "high hope of adventure"20 that has its roots in the cosmos and its creative ground. Instead of being obsessed with maintaining established forms of order, it shares in and carries on the emergent universe’s experimentation with novelty. As such, mature religion is willing to risk the threat of discord that attends any evolutionary zest for realizing more intense forms of harmony at the opportune moments. A religious spirit that combines a delight in beauty with a taste for adventure lives harmoniously with a universe in which perishing, tragedy and freshness of patterned intensity are constant elements. And when it speaks of God it refers to a principle of novelty as well as of order, of adventure along with peace.

Unfortunately, what goes by the name religion has often sided with triviality. Religion has not seldom succumbed to the evil of monotony for the sake of avoiding the risk of adventure. 21 This religious "anesthesia" comes to expression particularly in those theodicies that talk of God only in terms of cosmic order and that neglect the question of novelty. It is such devotion to false harmony that Berdyaev legitimately excoriates. However, the perspective on theodicy adopted here is one in which the evil of chaos, monstrous as it is, does not negate the value, significance or purpose that resides in a universe of adventure and tragic beauty. In a full sense of the term, "religion" would mean, therefore, an attitude of accepting reverently and hopefully the essence of the universe as a divine adventure toward novel, more intense forms of order. In this sense it would be representative of what we earlier called faith. An adventurous religious faith would suffer along with the cosmos as it struggles precariously and at times tragically toward realization of the beauty that constitutes cosmic purpose. The courage to accept the restlessness and loss in the cosmic adventure is given in a genuinely religious faith that all achievement of intensity of feeling as well as all perishing is finally salvaged and creatively transformed by God’s own experience.

Emergence and Divine Tragedy

In the light of our notion of God as persuasive love, we may now also grasp why the principle of emergent order about which we speculated previously does not intrude into or violate the operations of lower emergent dimensions. Its fundamental essence is that of a loving "letting be." Its mode of influence is persuasion, and its creative style is that of proposing relevant possibilities of deeper aesthetic enjoyment but not forcing them upon the cosmic process. It offers ever newer and richer "extraneous" ordering principles, but it does not magically manipulate the workings of each successive dimension of cosmic emergence. It allows a progressively deeper integration of entities into richer modes of harmony, but it does not impose its organizational power. (This may help account for the chance and indeterminacy in physical and biological phenomena). Rather it invites, attracts, lures the cosmos toward novelty of patterned intensity, and is, therefore, the ground of evolutionary adventure and cosmic beauty. It preserves in its own experience all that from our limited perspective appears to be tragic loss in the process of emergence. But it does not need to suspend the laws and activities characteristic of the physical, chemical, biological, psychological and interpersonal dimensions in order to achieve its integration of the multiplicity of cosmic occasions into the unity of the divine life.

Conceived of on the model of tenderness rather than coercion, God "dwells in" and "relies upon" the workings of lower dimensions of cosmic emergence in order to realize the divine adventure toward intensity of feeling and enjoyment of beauty. An analogy may help to clarify this point: mental activity in some very loose sense may be compared to divine activity. Our own mental operations, to use Polanyi’s terminology, dwell in and tacitly rely upon "subsidiary" biological and physico-chemical processes without in any way being reducible to, or explicable in terms of an analysis of, these subsidiaries. Our mental achievements cannot be fully explained by biologists, physicists or chemists; but still we must admit that these achievements could not occur without the faithful and predictable recurrence of physical and biological reactions and routines. Similarly God is not reducible to or explicable in terms of any lower level of cosmic emergence. God, as the ground of order and novelty, must be conceived of as a reality distinct from (though not separate from) the world. But may we not hold that a God of persuasive love, in a fashion analogous to our mental life, dwells within and even relies upon subsidiary cosmic processes as a condition for "divine" achievement? And would not the breakdown of any level of cosmic emergence, especially that of human personal interaction, result in the "failure" of the divine to implement its aim?

Such conjecturing has to be very tentative of course. But the analogy of divine creative achievement to human mental achievement seems to be harmonious both with the logic of emergence and with numerous religious symbols of God’s power and love. Our analogy seems particularly congruous with the moving images of God’s tragic vulnerability, embodyness, suffering and even dying, of divine self-emptying or self-withdrawal that our religious traditions, occasionally at least, communicate to us.

Let us try to unfold this comparison a bit further. Our mental life, significant and valued as it is, is extremely vulnerable in the sense that its achievements are utterly dependent upon, though not fully explicable in terms of, the proper chemical reactions that occur in the cells of the brain and nervous system. As we know from the phenomena of senility, mental retardation, and other afflictions of the brain, the human mind is only partially actualized wherever there is cellular or organic impairment of the physiological base upon which it relies. If we could but restore or bring about the normal functioning of brain cells and nerve tissues, as well as their own subsidiary chemical activity in such cases, then mental life would come flooding back in fullness and richness. But without the proper preparation of its physical base, mental activity has nowhere in which to dwell. And so it fails to become incarnate.

This dependency or vulnerability of higher emergent activity with respect to lower seems to intensify as we move up the scale of emergence. I would even suggest now that God’s own life may in a certain sense be comparable to our mental life both in its dwelling in a proportionate physiological base as well as in its vulnerability to and "dependence’. upon the adequate preparation of this base. Such a suggestion is not out of line either with the logic of emergence or with the testimony of significant strains of religious symbolism. Accordingly, the actualization of the divine presence in the universe would have a fragility and precariousness even more delicately intense than that of our own minds with respect to their physical subsidiaries. For a God who dwells in and relies upon the various strata of cosmic process would be "dependent" not only on the performance of sub-human emergent dimensions, but also on the considerably less predictable interpersonal processes of human self-integration (Or comparable "conscious" processes in other corners of the universe). The incarnate realization of divine life awaits the adequate preparation of its cosmic subsidiaries no less than the actualization of mental life requires the reliable institution of an extremely complex physico-chemical and biological substrate.

In the case of God’s self-realization in the cosmic adventure there is a risk of tragedy proportionate to the delicacy of the subsidiaries that are integrated into the divine field of emergent possibilities. In the case of God these subsidiaries include personal centers endowed with a capacity not only to unite with one another on a planetary scale, but also to engage in mutual isolation and destruction. In a very real sense the birth of God, on our planet at least, awaits the outcome of our own human decision for entropy or emergence. And the question of the meaning of our lives may well be tied up with such a decision.


Creative advance takes place only along the borders of chaos. 22 In the world’s transition from triviality toward aesthetic intensity there is the omnipresent risk of evil. "Evil is the half-way house between perfection and triviality."23 The introduction of novelty into the world means that the past has to give way. As a consequence cosmic process inevitably involves perishing and discord.

In the turmoil of emergence, however, God’s purpose is not that of precipitating chaos, but rather that of luring the universe toward heightened enjoyment and beauty. "God’s purpose in the creative advance is the evocation of intensities."24 And yet it must be admitted that in maximizing the qualitative aesthetic intensity of the cosmos its creative ground must be held responsible for at least some of the chaos that accompanies evolution. 25 Whether such a God is tolerable will probably depend in part at least on the degree to which adventure is considered important or necessary in one’s life as well as in one’s vision of reality. I would like to express my own agreement with John Cobb and David Griffin who hold that a God of adventure, while perhaps responsible for the evil of discord that accompanies novelty, is not indictable for it. Their statement summarizes what I have been leading up to in this chapter:

God is partly responsible for must of what we normally call evil, i.e., the evil of discord. Had God not lead the realm of finitude out of chaos into a cosmos that includes life, nothing worthy of the term "suffering" would occur. Had God not lured the world on to the creation of beings with the capacity for conscious, rational self-determination, the distinctively human forms of evil on our planet would not occur. Hence God is responsible for these evils in the sense of having encouraged the world in the direction that made these evils possible. But unnecessary triviality is also evil, since it also detracts from the maximization of enjoyment. Hence, the question as to whether God is indictable for the world’s evil reduces to the question as to whether the positive values enjoyed by the higher forms of actuality are worth the risk of the negative values, the sufferings.

. . .

Should we risk suffering, in order to have a shot at intense enjoyment? Or should we sacrifice intensity, in order to minimize possible grief? The divine reality, who not only enjoys all enjoyments but also suffers all sufferings, is an Adventurer, choosing the former mode, risking discord in the quest for the various types of perfection that are possible. 26



1 Nikolai Berdyaev, Slavery and Freedom (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, l944),p. 87.

2 Ibid., P. 88.

3 Ibid., p. 89.

4 Ibid. , p. 88.

5 Whitehead, Adventures of Ideas, pp. 258; 273-83.

6 Ibid., p. 274: "Advance or Decadence are the only choices offered mankind. The pure conservative is fighting against the essence of the universe."

7 Ibid. pp. 259-64; Whitehead, Science and the Modern World, p. 192; Process and Reality, p. 340.

8 Whitehead, "Mathematics and the Good," in Schillp, ed. p. 679.

9 Again Cf. Griffin, pp. 275-310.

10 Ibid.

11 Cf. Antony Flew, "Theology and Falsification: in Antony Flew and Alasdair MacIntyre, New Essays in Philosophical Theology (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1964) pp. 96-98; 106-108.

12 Cf. especially Albert Camus’ novel The Plague (New York: A. A. Knopf, 1948).

13 Whitehead, Process and Reality, pp. 86, 88.

14 Ibid. pp. 342 ff. Cf. John B. Cobb, Jr. and David Ray Griffin, Process Theology: An Introductory Exposition (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1976) pp. 41-62.

15 Birch, p. 76.

16 Whitehead, Process and Reality, p. 342.

17 Ibid. , p. 343.

18 2 Corinthians 12, 9: ". . . power comes to its full strength in weakness. " New English Bible.

19 Birch, p. 76.

20 Whitehead, Science and the Modern World, p.192: "The death of religion comes with the repression of the high hope of adventure."

21 This is a major theme both in Whitehead’s Adventures of Ideas and Religion in the Making.

22 Whitehead, Process and Reality, p.111.

23 Whitehead, Adventures of Ideas, p.276.

24 Whitehead, Process and Reality, P. 105.

25 Cobb and Griffin, p. 60.

26 Ibid. p. 75.