[asa] Re: on TE and PT, a response to Gregory

From: David Opderbeck <dopderbeck@gmail.com>
Date: Thu Jan 31 2008 - 11:00:57 EST

When I referred to "process theology" in the original thread, I meant
specifically the view that nature is part of God, such that God evolves
along with and/or emerges from nature. I would contrast that with the
orthodox view that God is ontologically distinct from nature. I don't think
TE/EC requires process theology as I've defined it.

Certainly TE/EC even with an orthodox view of the ontology of God and nature
requires acceptance of the fact that God's creative activity in nature
involves "process" and not only "fiat." Personally, I don't see that as a
philosophical or theological problem. Orthodox theology has long recognized
that God acts through and supervenes on processes in nature, in the
spiritual realm, and in human society. Nobody argues that redemption
history, for example, happened all at once by fiat. In fact, this
particular notion of "process" seems to me very consistent with narrative /
postmodern theology's emphasis on "story."

I think the problem you're alluding to, Greg, isn't so much "process
theology" as I've defined it, but rather is a sort of reductionism that says
any "process" can be reduced to underlying elements that exert upward
causation on the process. Thus, the "process" of mind can be reduced to
underlying biological causes. I think you are right that we have to reject
that kind of reductionism. Critical realism's stratified reality and the
notions of emergence and supervening causation are helpful here.

On Jan 31, 2008 10:42 AM, Gregory Arago <gregoryarago@yahoo.ca> wrote:

> Thanks Ted, I appreciate your link to JP's interview and for acknowledging
> that both of you reject PT (he emphatically so). Your 'enormous qualifier'
> is well-placed too! The response is adequate indeed.
> There is still however one reservation in the linguistic realm. To be a
> TE/EC and not a process theologian, yes, I can see this possibility.
> However, to be a TE who doesn't believe in or focus on 'process' seems to me
> impossible. This is to state things simply, of course. All TE/CEs are
> process thinkers, it seems to me, and thus to distinguish the importance of
> 'origins' or first or final causes (e.g. teleology) can be easy to ignore.
> Dave Siemens Jr. accuses me of seeing/hearing only one definition of
> 'process,' yet I would ask him why not to discuss something positively and
> explain how 'non-process evolution' is a legitimate possibility. He will
> prove me wrong to show how this could be so.
> The distinction between TE/EC and PT I find quite interesting and would be
> glad to hear more about it.
> Ted writes: "acceptance of biological evolution need not mean the
> acceptance of PT."
> Yes, and for this I am glad for the qualifier 'biological.' In response, I
> wonder then if acceptance of philosophical evolution ultimately leads to the
> acceptance of PT? To me, the philosophy of evolution is just as strong, if
> not stronger than the biology of evolution, which in any case has and
> deserves its sovereign sphere of relevance. It may be that I am asking this
> in the wrong place, as natural scientists may not be concerned with the
> philosophy of evolution even if it may deeply undergird (even dictate) their
> acceptance of physical evolution.
> Frankly, I'm more concerned with process philosophy than with process
> theology (though more interested to understand the contribution of process
> theology). In the former topic A.N. Whitehead looms large. Though I'm not
> so sure that he is quite as important for process theologians, his
> contribution as a mathematician-turned-philosopher who crossed the Atlantic
> (left-to-right, up-to-down, good-to-better...) is surely significant. The
> text 'Religion in the Making,' which I've read in parts, is perhaps less
> important than his 'Process and Reality,' yet both seem to defend the
> territory of theism (apologetics) from within an evolutionary framework. I
> suppose at the time it seemed appropriate to accept evolutionary theory
> as the avant garde, while grappling with the eclipse of Newtonian
> mechanistic physics. Today, of course, things are quite different and there
> are new challenges.
> Perhaps someone here would be willing to start a thread on process
> theology and TE/EC, if it might have some interesting contributions? I for
> one would be glad to see process theology discussed at ASA, however, it may
> also be a case where some things are better kept behind closed doors.
> Warm regards,
> Gregory
> *Ted Davis <TDavis@messiah.edu>* wrote:
> >>> Gregory Arago 1/29/2008 5:09 PM >>> asks the
> following questions:
> Though I appreciate the article and Ted's willingness to accomdate,
> satisfaction with the defence of TE is still lacking. Please, can you or
> anyone else explain to me how a person can accept the notion of
> 'non-process
> evolution'? This seems to me a blatant contradiction in terms! Evolution
> by
> definition simply must proceed. (Though dis-invoke A.N. Whitehead at your
> leisure.)
> It would be helpful not to confate TE (theistic evolution-ism) with PT
> (process theology), but for goodness sake, let's not pretend they're
> un-related! Everybody in the TE camp can in reality be safely considered
> as
> a 'process' person, can't they? If not, why not?
> *******
> Ted replies briefly, though a book would be required to give a fully
> satisfactory answer to these excellent questions.
> This morning I read the interview of John Polkinghorne in the Jan 29 issue
> of Christian Century. Here is the link:
> http://www.christiancentury.org/article.lasso?id=4274
> If you read this carefully, Gregory, especially his answers to the
> questions about miracles and "a self-limiting God," you should see how
> someone like Polkinghorne (there are others who agree with him) can be
> accurately seen as a TE and yet also not as a process theologian. His
> answer does not "pretend" that TE and PT are unrelated--of course they
> are,
> since evolution was influential on the formation of PT. And yes, Whitehead
> is invoked in this interview. At the same time, however, the acceptance of
> biological evolution need not mean the acceptance of PT. Polkinghorne
> rejects PT emphatically, despite his moderate tone, for two of the same
> reasons that I reject PT. I quote him as follows: "My criticism of PT is
> that its God is too weak. God has to be both the God alongside us, the
> 'fellow sufferer' in Whitehead's phrase [Ted: I insert an enormous
> qualifier
> here, on behalf of Polkinghorne: Whitehead's 'fellow sufferer' was not in
> Incarnate God, who literally suffered unto death for our sake; but
> Polkinghorne's God is quite literally the crucified Christ. This is indeed
> an enormous qualifier and must not be missed.], but also the one who is
> going to redeem suffering through some great fulfillment. To put it
> bluntly, the God of PT isn't the God who raised our Lord Jesus Christ from
> the dead."
> That pretty much sums it up, Gregory. Is this response adequate, in your
> opinion?
> Also, the issue of "self-limitation" is very significant. When PT was put
> together back in the 1920s in places like Chicago, the radical theologians
> there didn't like that term. It implied for them that God didn't have to
> be
> limited at all, and they didn't like that. They wanted a God who had no
> other choice, like Plato's Demiurge. But as Polkinghorne realizes, God
> does
> have a choice--God can and will make a world unlike this one (that is what
> he means by "some great fulfillment" in the passage above), but that is
> not
> the world in which we presently live. Why did God make this choice? I
> don't know--and the book of Job tells me that I am not likely to know. But
> I can have faith in the God who is literally a fellow sufferer in the
> dying
> Christ, and faith in the real power of the God who brought again from the
> dead, and literally, the same Christ who had been crucified. Hence you see
> why, for me also, PT isn't adequate.
> My best, Gregory,
> Ted
> ------------------------------
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Received on Thu Jan 31 11:02:34 2008

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