Whiteheadian Thought as a Basis for a Philosophy of Religion
by Forrest Wood, Jr.


This book is for people interested in learning how careful, reflective thinking can provide a basis for religious beliefs. I have devoted most of my reflective time to the consideration of religious problems. One of the most productive sources for creative solutions to these problems is the writings of Alfred North Whitehead. This book is my attempt to share with others the exciting insights of a philosophy of religion based on his thought.

Whitehead was an English philosopher who spent most of his life dealing with problems of logic and science. At the age of sixty-three he came to America as a professor at Harvard University. He created one of the most remarkable views of reality in the history of western thought. He applied this view to the nature of God and man, producing a fertile source of ideas for contemporary philosophy of religion. This source we shall explore.

My approach is to present a Whiteheadian view of three fundamental parts of any philosophy of religion: the nature of the world, the nature of God and the nature of man. I then apply the understanding gained in this study to two major issues: the problem of evil and the question of immortality.

In the first two chapters I use ordinary terms as much as possible to explain his new way of viewing reality. Whitehead created a vocabulary, e.g., "prehension," to express his new thoughts and he gave some terms special meanings, e.g., "actual occasions," to get us to think about things in a different way. I introduce his vocabulary as it is needed to express his thought and with an explanation of each term.

The third, fourth and fifth chapters show how Whitehead developed his concept of God. He began with conceiving God as a philosophical principle and ended with one of the most profound conceptions of God in 20th century philosophical thought. White-head’s greatest contribution to modern philosophical theology lies in his final view that God is not only the lure toward creativity but that God changes in response to the world. By tracing this development the reader can grasp why Whitehead reached these conclusions and sec how significant they are for religious thought.

The result of twenty years’ study, this book attempts to show how Whitehead’s thought illuminates the traditional problems faced in philosophy of religion. As a philosophy professor, I have attempted to explain Whitehead’s thought in both undergraduate courses and graduate seminars. I have also had the opportunity of presenting papers on Whitehead at philosophical conferences. This book is the result of my studying, teaching, and presenting papers on Whitehead’s thought.

A sabbatical, granted to me by the University of Southern Mississippi, made possible the writing of most of the material in this book. Two chapters have their source in conference papers. The sixth chapter is a revision of a paper which was originally delivered at the Southwestern Philosophical Society in Arlington, Texas in November, 1972. It was published in South western Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 4, No. 1, Spring, 1973. The seventh chapter is a modified version of a presidential address given by me before the Society for Philosophy of Religion at its 1978 meeting in Charleston, South Carolina. This address was published under the title, "Some Whiteheadian Insights into the Problem of Evil," in the Southwestern Journal of Philosophy, X, 1 (Spring, 1979), pp. 147-55. A reply to this article was published by Lewis Ford, "Whitehead, God and Evil," in Philosophical Topics, Vol. 12, No. 2 (Fall, 1981), pp. 305-307. Partly in response to Ford and partly because I was not satisfied with how I had expressed my views, I revised my original paper, and this modified version appears in this book.

Many people have been helpful in the preparation of this manuscript. These include people who read the whole text: Professor Charles Hartshorne, Dr. L. Craig Ratliff and Dr. Michael DeArmey. I must also mention Dr. Robert Whittemore who introduced me to Whitehead’s thought and Dr. John Newport who first made philosophy exciting for me. My wife, Elaine, and our children, Eric and Sharon, have happily endured my preoccupation with this task.