Also in this book , Griffin affirms Alfred North Whitehead’s view that science and religion are "two forces - ‘the force of our religious intuitions, and the force of our impulse to accurate observation and logical deduction’ -" rather than two separate, distinct, and specific bodies of doctrine. Griffin goes on to quote Whitehead saying that science and religion are "‘the two strongest general forces’" that influence human lives. Griffin continues by saying that "[i]f our religious impulses and our scientific impulses are indeed the two strongest general forces on our thought and behavior, and yet these two forces appear to be opposed to each other, then we are drawn in opposite directions." Such a division, Griffin argues, makes it difficult to motivate and organize ourselves in "concerted action...to meet the unprecedented challenges of our day, such as political and economic injustice, domestic and international insecurity, and population and ecological deterioration."
Griffin’s approach to the science and religion discussion can best be described in Ian Barbour’s taxonomy as integration of the kind that seeks to establish a "systematic synthesis, [wherein] both science and religion contribute to the development of an inclusive metaphysics, such as that of process philosophy." Process philosophy can be defined as "the doctrine that either what is is becoming, or that what is ultimately consists in change, or both. A process is a sequence of changes." Process thought recognizes the interrelated nature of reality. "Individual entities," according to Sheela Pawner, are seen as "series of moments of experience instead of as masses of static substance. Within each moment, an entity is influenced by others, creates its own identity and propels itself into further experiences. Because of the involvement of all moments of experience with each other" the entire cosmos can be viewed as an "organic whole."In a contribution to the Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Professor Griffin defines process philosophy as a worldview which holds that "process or becoming is more fundamental than unchanging being...Philosophy’s central task, process philosophers hold, is to develop a metaphysical cosmology that is self-consistent and adequate to all experienced facts." He goes on to say in that article that
[t]o be adequate, it cannot be based solely on the natural sciences,
but must give equal weight to aesthetic, ethical, and religious intuitions.
Philosophy’s chief importance, in fact, derives from its integration of
science and religion into a rational scheme of thought.
Working within the Whiteheadian tradition of process philosophy, then, Griffin wrote this book, Religion and Scientific Naturalism, in the belief that science and religion can, indeed must, be reconciled. It is, in fact, Griffin’s view that meaningful contributions to the discussion of science and religion ought to be focused on achieving this synthesis.
In this paper I will take as my basic assumption that Griffin’s assessment is right, that the conflict between science and religion that does, in fact, exist is the result of a conflict in worldviews. I will begin by outlining exactly what it is about religion and scientific naturalism that causes them to "‘seem to be set one against the other.’" I will follow that with a brief account of the worldview that Griffin proposes will end this conflict by being true to that which causes both science and religion to be such important forces in our lives. I will then explore a few of the implications of this resulting framework from the perspectives of both science and religion. This last evaluation will primarily be done in light of what I see as some of the benefits for both of these endeavors.
As defined by the Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy, "naturalism" is "a sympathy with the view that ultimately nothing resists explanation by the methods characteristic of the natural sciences." Simon Blackburn, the book’s editor, continues by saying that "a naturalist will be opposed...to mind-body dualism...opposed to acceptance of numbers or concepts as real...and opposed to accepting real moral duties and rights as absolute and self-standing facets of the natural order." Further along in the definition, the term "reductionism" is listed as an "alternative" to naturalism.
It is this sort of definition that Griffin sees as detrimental to the relationship between science and religion. Griffin makes a distinction between what he calls "minimal" and "maximal" naturalism. Minimal naturalism is quite simply "a rejection of supernatural interventions in the world, meaning interventions that interrupt the world’s most fundamental pattern of causal relations." In Griffin’s maximal sense, naturalism is "a sensationist, mechanistic, materialistic, deterministic, reductionistic, relativistic, [atheistic,] nihilistic worldview...which rules out not only supernaturalistic religious belief but also any significantly religious interpretation of reality whatsoever."
I think a clarification of what all those terms mean is in order. Sensationism "says that we have no mode of perception except sensory perception." Mechanism "forbids any teleological causation." Materialism "forbids any distinction between the mind or soul and the brain." Determinism means that any notion of human freedom is nonsensical. Reductionism says that causation must proceed upward, "from the simpler to the more complex," meaning that not only is human behavior determined but that it is determined at the micro level. Relativism says that "all value-judgments are purely subjective preferences, with no possibility of being true, in the sense of corresponding with any normative ideals in the nature of things." Atheism is, of course, the idea that God does not exist. It is the denial of "any transcendent source of religious experiences...a divine creation of the world and even any divine influence in the world." And according to nihilism "life has no ultimate meaning."
It is the nature of these claims that forces Griffin to conclude that scientific naturalism can be rightly seen as being in conflict with religious claims. This maximal understanding of naturalism, Griffin argues, is the scientific side of the double mistake that supports the conflict model of interaction between science and religion. It is also, as evidenced by Blackburn’s definition, this sense that has most often characterized a general notion of scientific naturalism.
Traditionally, Griffin believes, the religious community has been "committed to a supernaturalist worldview." In this worldview "God is understood to be a being who is outside the world who can and perhaps does supernaturally intervene in it, interrupting the causal powers of the creatures." This worldview is necessarily in conflict not only with a maximal interpretation of scientific naturalism but with a minimal interpretation as well. This is the religious side of the "twofold equation" that has allowed science and religion to be seen as adversaries.
Griffin believes that Alfred North Whitehead’s process philosophy has provided a way for this conflict to end. He calls it "naturalistic theism." God is not supernatural; God is part of the natural order. In this worldview, scientific naturalism in the minimal sense can be affirmed. God is a part of the cause-effect temporal sequence, and God’s activity is nothing but natural. God is, quite simply, one of Sheela Pawner’s "individual entities" that acts and reacts, influences and persuades, and is part of the process of "becoming, change, and event."
In the interest of brevity, I will end my treatment of naturalistic theism here. Obviously, there is much more to explaining such a concept. But since time and space are limited - and I am sure Dr. Mwase and Dr. Perry will feel I have granted them a bit of mercy in sparing them from plodding through what would inevitably be countless more quotations and footnotes, I will move on to my discussion of some of the most important implications of this new worldview. Suffice it to say that Griffin’s Whiteheadian naturalistic theism, at least theoretically, provides a construct through which scientific naturalism and theistic belief can co-exist.
I must note here that Professor Griffin argued eloquently and forcefully throughout his book that religion would be the better for embracing theistic naturalism. My discussion will depart somewhat from Griffin’s. In doing so I am in no way saying that Griffin’s arguments failed. In fact, much of what I will discuss here can be found elsewhere in his work. But I do believe a more focused discussion of these issues is both warranted here and quite valuable to an effort such as this.
One of the most well-known and hotly-debated contentions of process theism is that God is not omnipotent. For a supernaturalist it is easy to understand God as all-powerful. God is above and outside of the created order. God created the world ex nihilo; designed the laws, mechanisms, and entities by and through which it would function; and has absolute authority over it. That is the way in which traditional supernatural religionists, at least in Jewish and Christian contexts, have understood God’s power. The oft noted, and I might add quite serious, problem this poses is that of evil. Evil exists in the world, that I do not think is up for much serious debate. Bad things happen, often without any good reason. Since omnibenevolence and omniscience are two other attributes usually credited to God, how can this be so? If God is all loving and has always known that evil would take place, how could God allow it to happen? It is within God’s power to stop it if God is indeed omnipotent.
The traditional response to this question is that human beings have free will. But the free will defense falters in light of the problem of natural evil. Earthquakes, tornadoes, floods, and all other sorts of natural disasters (sometimes, interestingly enough, referred to as "acts of God") happen quite regularly. Certainly these are not the result of capricious acts on the part of free-acting sentient beings. They just happen; they are simply part of the life human beings live. They are not our fault. And they are evil. Devastating and tragic loss, pain, and death come from these things. Such things would not happen in a world ruled by an omnipotent, omnibenevolent, and omniscient being. Therefore, the argument goes, God does not exist.
By understanding God as being part and parcel of the natural order we render this argument meaningless. It is based on omnipotence and foreknowledge. God in theistic naturalism possesses neither. God is part of the process of the universe expanding, life developing, and the earth spinning around and around. God does not control this process; God acts through persuasion, rather than coercion, and has to compete with the virtually unending number of forces contained in the cause-effect temporal sequence. On the basis of this, I would submit that theistic naturalism makes belief in God more intellectually satisfying.
The second advantage, from the religious perspective, for moving toward a worldview that refuses to see God as supernatural is that doing so puts an end to a dualism that, I think, is quite harmful to the religious framework. Sallie McFague discussed this dualism in her book Models of God. She argued that an "organic model" of metaphysics, one that I would suggest is closely related to process philosophy, allows no room for a dualism between the "supernatural [and the] natural." When we think in terms of the natural as opposed to the supernatural we, as religious people, elevate the supernatural to the position of preference. God is supernatural. Our final destiny is, in fact, the supernatural. "This world is not my home; I’m just a passing through" the old hymn goes. Such a dualistic worldview allows us to more easily ignore issues of pressing importance in the here and now. We can be less concerned with things such as social and ecological justice because it is the salvation of our souls that is really important.
Theistic naturalism sees God, as we have already stated, as being part of the natural order. By understanding God as actually being in the here and now, we are better equipped to deal with pressing human rights and environmental issues. God is interested in social and ecological justice because God is part of the processes that bring about struggle, degradation, and abuse. God is, as Whitehead put it, "‘a fellow sufferer who understands.’" Within a Whiteheadian worldview, we are better able to develop theologies, such as those articulated by Sallie McFague in the book I mentioned above, that identify God as much more than a great king who watches us from above. We can begin to see God as being something of a mother, a friend, or a lover who is interested in what goes on when we participate in the cultural, social, and political order. And since God is, in fact, part of and exists throughout the natural order, we can talk about the world as being God’s body.
That last sentence could do with some explaining. One of the most important features of theistic naturalism is panentheism, "according to which God is in all things and all things are in God." Griffin explains this notion much better than I could.
The presence of God in human beings in particular means
that we can directly experience God. Indeed, we directly
experience God all the time at the unconscious level. The
only unusual thing about "religious experience" as ordinarily
understood is that this generally unconscious experience of
the divine presence rises to consciousness...The reverse side
of panentheism, our existence in the "consequent nature of
God," provides the basis for the ultimate meaningfulness of
our lives...We will be retained everlastingly in the divine life.
Panentheistic naturalism is a worldview that allows for new and rich theological endeavors while putting an end to the dualism of the natural and supernatural.
But our discussion of the religious implications of theistic naturalism is not finished. Griffin offers what he calls a "generic idea of God." I wish to here make a few comments on what would happen to this traditional understanding of God within a theistic naturalistic framework. Griffin puts forth nine characteristics to which the word God refers.
Number one is that God is "a personal, purposive being." We need no really controversial change here. In fact, theistic naturalism provides us with a more meaningful understanding of the word "personal." God becomes much more involved with how we do what we do. Panentheism suggests a more "personal" God than one who sits above and outside of what goes on down here.
The second characteristic is that God is "supreme in power." We would not need a linguistic change to this stipulation; we would, however, need a change in definition. God, as has already been discussed, is not omnipotent in the worldview of theistic naturalism. God is supreme in power in that God is the most powerful; God is simply not all-powerful in our new understanding. The third characteristic of God is "perfect goodness." We certainly do not need any change here. Theistic naturalism does, in fact, hold that God is the embodiment of all and nothing but that which is perfectly good and holy.
The fourth and fifth characteristics do need to be reworked a bit. God "created the world" and "acts providentially in it." Theistic naturalism does not have room for the idea of creatio ex nihilo. Rather, God’s creative activity is understood as the ways in which God, pardon the expression, used what was available to bring about the world we know. God, through his supreme powers of persuasion, structured and ordered, in fact, continues to structure and order nature, of which God is a part. And though God does very much act within that order, God cannot be said to act "providentially" in it in the sense that God does not have absolute authority over it.
No change is needed in the sixth characteristic which says that God is "experienced by human beings" except that we would understand that we experience God in a theistic naturalistic framework much more intimately than we would if God were understood as supernatural. And the seventh characteristic which says that God is the "ultimate guarantee for the meaningfulness of human life" needs no alteration either.
The eighth characteristic of the traditional understanding of God is that God is the "ultimate ground of hope for the victory of good over evil." We do need to amend the traditional understanding of this statement slightly. God not being omnipotent, the victory of good over evil is not guaranteed. We have to work at it. We have to continue to improve our lives, the lives of those around us, and everything else with which we come into contact. God is struggling with us and our ultimate hope does in fact lie in God, but we are not assured of victory.
The ninth characteristic is that God alone is "worthy of worship." We do not need to change this at all. We might need to change the ways in which we do this; we can no longer make meaningful reference to "Almighty God." But we do not worship God because God is Almighty. We worship God because God is a personal and purposive creator who is perfectly good, who created (or constructed) the world and acts with us within it, and in whom we find the ultimate guarantee for the meaningfulness of our lives along with our ultimate hope that good will triumph over evil.
It is my interpretation that if what I have presented as the benefits of theistic naturalism as opposed to theistic supernaturalism as well as the modifications that must be made to Griffin’s "generic idea of God" can be accepted, the worldview shift that has been proposed is not really that great. Doctrinal controversies notwithstanding, this new worldview does nothing to fundamentally alter what we do as religious people. We still pray. We still go to church. We still sing our hymns and even study our Bibles. The bulk of the proposed change is simply how we think about God. In theistic naturalism God is part of the natural world and not part of a supernatural world. Of course, there are some serious theological questions we do have to deal with, but if those challenges can be met effectively, God is quite simply part of the natural order and not above and outside of it.
However, I do not assume that this new worldview/theological construct does not pose problems for a traditional understanding of orthodox Christian beliefs. It is a de facto rejection of some much-loved, well-developed, long-established tenets Christianity, and the challenges I so easily dismissed in the previous paragraph are quite serious. First of all, there is something very shocking, some would say blasphemous, in refusing to acknowledge God as omnipotent. Secondly, the idea that God exists in time, acts and reacts within a temporal framework, and therefore is neither "immutable" nor "impassible" would not be well received by many, at least at first glance, in the religious community. Thirdly, apart from the obvious linguistic connection, panentheism comes dangerously close to pantheism, which would certainly be considered a heresy by monotheists, even trinitarian monotheists. Again, for the purposes of brevity, I will not discuss these challenges further at this point. I will revisit them in the conclusion of this paper.
After having now examined the ways in which theistic naturalism effects religious commitment, I will begin to examine why such a perspective improves our scientific endeavors as well. It must be remembered that theistic naturalism includes naturalism in only the minimal sense, that is the rejection of anything supernatural, and not naturalism in the maximal sense, meaning atheistic, materialistic, mechanistic, relativistic, reductionistic, sensationistic, and nihilistic.
The first point that I think must be made is that science is a somewhat limited endeavor. I can identify what I see as four of those limitations. The first one is a subject brought up by Dr. Joe Jeffers during his visit to our science and religion class. Science does not deal in absolute truth, Dr. Jeffers said, it deals in probability. Dr. Jeffers’s words of caution might be somewhat more substantive were we to here discuss the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle which states, in general terms, that there is "no way to precisely measure the most essential properties of subatomic behavior." If Dr. Jeffers was right, and I believe he was, then absolute affirmations about the atheistic, materialistic, mechanistic, relativistic, reductionistic, sensationistic, and nihilistic nature of existence have no place in what Dr. Isaac Mwase would call "science rightly construed."
A second limitation is one imposed on science by the sheer fact that it is a particularly human endeavor. Human beings make mistakes. I am not calling into question centuries worth of hypothesizing, experimenting, evaluating, and theorizing; but we are kidding ourselves if we assert that the claims of science cannot be mistaken. The processes and methods of scientific inquiry obviously guard against such mistakes, but those processes and methods will continue to be developed just as they have for centuries. Our body of scientific knowledge will be expanded and modified as new techniques, procedures, and instruments are made available for our use. Our capacity to mess up and try again and be the better for it calls for a more humble approach to scientific study, a call that minimal naturalism answers much more effectively than maximal naturalism.
Closely related to this point is Thomas Kuhn’s notion of paradigm shifts. Whether or not his theory about the history of science is the best explanation for the ways in which science has developed, his basic assumption that, as I stated above, the processes and methods are changed, or at least are pursued in different ways, is, I think, a point well taken. That the ways in which scientific work is done, that the dominant opinions in the scientific community are subject to change impose certain limitations on the types of claims scientists ought to make. They can be seen as justifications for a more modest approach to scientific endeavor, a third feature of the limited nature of science.
A fourth point is one that might be made by a supernaturalist, but it is, nevertheless, pertinent from the view of a theistic naturalist. Science has no way of disproving divine existence, presence, or activity. When a categorical denial of divine existence is made by a member of the scientific community, that scientist is making a claim that cannot be verified by empirical proof. A more honest scientific perspective would be one that at least withholds judgments about whether or not God exists. Such is certainly not the case in Griffin’s maximal naturalism.
The second important issue raised by Griffin’s discussion of naturalism is that, understood in the maximal sense, it is, in fact, all about perspective. Nobel Prize-winning physicist Steven Weinberg said no less during a talk delivered at The Nature of Nature, a conference sponsored by the Michael Polanyi Center for Faith and Learning at Baylor University. In fact, the talk was titled "Naturalism as an Attitude." While admitting in that talk that science could not empirically disprove God’s existence but maintaining that he felt it could, in his mind, render it improbable, he said that he would simply rather choose the dignity of facing a meaningless existence on his own than rely on the care and compassion of "fairies." (I want to add that while naturalistic explanations might make supernaturalistic theism improbable it would be much more difficult to make such a charge against Whitehead’s naturalistic theism, especially in light of Griffin’s discussion of the mind-body problem, parapsychology, and creation and evolution.)
If maximal naturalism, with its atheism, nihilism, sensationism, and materialism etc., is an attitude, what it makes it preferable to minimal naturalism? And beyond that what makes it preferable to theistic naturalism? I would submit that it is not preferable, particularly to theistic naturalism. Theistic naturalism is an intellectually sound worldview that can not only affirm the scientific commitment to naturalistic explanations of reality but can also account for thousands of years worth of religious experiences had by humans all over the globe. If it is all about perspective and attitude, I do not think that an atheistic, relativistic, and deterministic framework is at all preferable to a worldview that affirms belief in a "personal and purposive creator" who helps guide freely-acting human beings in the direction of "perfectly good" standards of aesthetic, ethical, and religious norms. Theistic naturalism is much more consistent with the honest and humble nature of truly good science. I think the insights provided by theistic naturalism offer the scientific world an alternative worth considering.
Regardless of whether or not Griffin’s evaluations, assessments, and arguments are correct, Religion and Scientific Naturalism can most assuredly be seen as an intelligent and constructive contribution to the science and religion discussion. He has drawn on what has been several years of engagement in this field to produce what might be called an all-inclusive vision, a statement of a new worldview. Dr. Randal Wight suggested in our class that often what has to be done when two ideas seem to collide as "loggerheads" is that an answer has to be found that transcends the opposition. Dr. Wight used the illustration of wave and particle theory in relation to light. I think that is what Professor Griffin has done.
He has embraced the paradox in Raphael’s The School of Athens. With Plato pointing to the sky and Aristotle pointing to the ground, Griffin has imagined that they could both be right. In a very Matthew McConnaghey and Jodie Foster, Contact sort of way, he has affirmed that both science and religion engage in a worthwhile pursuit of truth (or is it Truth). Griffin’s, or more accurately Whitehead’s, naturalistic theism has at least provided a theoretical framework through which both scientific and religious interpretations of life experiences can be significant and valuable.
Having said that, I will close with these questions: Is the theistic naturalism discussed by process philosophers consistent enough with traditional religious interpretations of intuitions and experiences to truly be called "theistic?" What is the significance of the difference between supernaturalistic and naturalistic theism? Is the distinction Griffin makes between minimal and maximal scientific naturalism important? If so, is minimal naturalism preferable to maximal naturalism in the context of scientific endeavor?
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