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 The Natures of Whitehead's God

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Aaron
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PostSubject: The Natures of Whitehead's God   Fri May 08, 2009 11:38 am

This is an interesting (if somewhat obtuse) essay on the nature of A. N. Whitehead's god model. My god model is very similar to Whitehead's although rather than using "primordial nature" and "consequent nature" to describe the different aspects of god I use "the unmanifest" and "the manifest" respectively.

Quote :
The ĎNaturesí of Whiteheadís God
by John W. Lansing

In Process and Reality Alfred North Whitehead dealt extensively with God as an indispensable part of his metaphysical system, as that without which there would be no order or novelty and, hence, no world. He also insisted that God as an actual entity is not an exception to the metaphysical categories. God is actual by virtue of his being a whole actual entity rather than by virtue of any particular aspect of his nature. No aspect of God can exist apart from the whole which it characterizes. Nevertheless, Whitehead often dealt with God in terms of aspects abstracted from the concrete whole, frequently in isolation from one another. Thus, in a large portion of Process and Reality he speaks of God in terms of his "primordial nature," in the last ten pages discusses the "consequent nature," and in at least one place mentions the "superjective nature." This compartmentalized treatment and an occasional poor choice of words often results in the unintended suggestion that the various "natures" are genuinely separable and even independently actual. This problem has been noted by several commentators and even acknowledged by Whitehead.1

The idea that the primordial and consequent natures are separate actual entities, each existing in relative independence from the other, has been generally laid to rest by Whitehead scholars. There remains a further issue, however, which needs more discussion: Are the natures of God to be understood as distinguishable parts which, added together, make up the unified actual entity, God? Although each part must rely upon the whole of God for its existence, does each part have its own distinctive functions, operating with some degree of independence from the other parts? Is it appropriate to say, "The primordial nature of God does A and B, while the consequent nature is the component that does C and D"? Indeed, some quite competent Whitehead scholars have written as if the natures of God were distinguishable parts each with its own peculiar functions. We read, for example: "Godís primordial nature is but one half of his being -- the permanent side" (UW 56). "The actual entity that is needed to order the possibilities is called the primordial nature of God" (UW 101). And: ". . . these components of the actual entity God . . ." (WTR 59). Expressions such as, "X orders A," "A is a function of X," "X is responsible for A," "A is affected by X," "X is the active element," or "X is the passive component" imply that X is not itself a function or mode of functioning, but, instead, is that which does the functioning. This language seems to be based upon the model of the eyes, hands, and liver of a body, each of which is a distinguishable part and has its distinctive functions. The result tends to undermine the unity of God as an actual entity and, especially, the unity of Godís functioning.

In contrast to the foregoing, our contention will be that the "natures" of God can better be understood, not as distinguishable parts, but as ways of indicating various interdependent modes of functioning by the whole actual entity, God. The words "primordial nature," "consequent nature," and "superjective nature" should not be taken as nouns referring to different elements of God, each of which is an agent with its own distinctive functions. Instead, they should be treated as adjectives describing the character of how God as a whole functions in relation to the world and to the eternal objects. This modification, while it is at variance with some of Whiteheadís statements about God, nevertheless provides an understanding of God more in harmony with the fundamental insights of his system. It is in accord with Whiteheadís emphasis upon the subjective unity of an actual entity, that an entity acts as a whole, and with the indivisible unity of polar opposites, particularly God and the world. In order to show this we shall first describe the functions Whitehead assigned to the various natures and then see if they can perform those functions in relative independence of one another.

The primordial nature of God receives the greatest attention from Whitehead. It is "the unconditioned conceptual valuation of the entire multiplicity of eternal objects" (PR 46). This unity of conceptual feelings is "a free creative act, untrammeled by reference to any particular course of things" (PR 552). It is thus nontemporal in that it is truly universal, not defined by reference to any particular historical event...

You can read on here.
http://www.religion-online.org/showarticle.asp?title=2431

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PostSubject: Re: The Natures of Whitehead's God   Fri May 08, 2009 12:35 pm

Quote :
Nevertheless, Whitehead often dealt with God in terms of aspects abstracted from the concrete whole, frequently in isolation from one another

When we begin to analyze the Ultimate Whole into constituent parts, all we can do is use metaphors of things we are familiar with in the manifest world we call reality. Anything we might say about the "nature" of G*D will necessarily be a guess extrapolated from our experience with physical Nature. The less we say about G*D the more accurate will be our statement.

But it's in human nature to analyze wholes into bite-size pieces. So I doubt that the Creator of human nature would be too upset if we sometimes get it wrong*. Instead, it's other humans who need to be on guard against taking literally any dogmatic assertions about G*D's nature. Beyond the acknowledgment that G*D "is", anything more we say should be qualified as a personal opinion.

Since that seems to be the general consensus on this forum, we have fewer cognitive conflicts than forums who take esoteric discussions about god-nature and buddha-nature literally.


* Based on my personal assessment of god-nature. Cool
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PostSubject: Re: The Natures of Whitehead's God   Fri May 08, 2009 4:08 pm

I think of it like a coin. A coin has two sides. In a 3 dimensional world it must have two sides. And each side is distinct. But we can only see one side at a time.
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PostSubject: Re: The Natures of Whitehead's God   Fri Jun 12, 2009 1:51 am

Aaron wrote:
My god model is very similar to Whitehead's although rather than using "primordial nature" and "consequent nature" to describe the different aspects of god I use "the unmanifest" and "the manifest" respectively.

Could you explain the difference?
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PostSubject: Re: The Natures of Whitehead's God   Fri Jun 12, 2009 8:30 am

Ian Huyett wrote:
Aaron wrote:
My god model is very similar to Whitehead's although rather than using "primordial nature" and "consequent nature" to describe the different aspects of god I use "the unmanifest" and "the manifest" respectively.

Could you explain the difference?

Between Whitehead's terminology and what I use or between the manifest and the unmanifest?

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PostSubject: Re: The Natures of Whitehead's God   Sat Jun 13, 2009 6:10 pm

Terminology. How does primordial-consequent differ from unmanifest-manifest?
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PostSubject: Re: The Natures of Whitehead's God   Sat Jun 13, 2009 7:31 pm

I think Whitehead imposes more atributes to the "primordial" than I feel comfortable with but other than that there's not a lot of difference in a general sense.

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PostSubject: Re: The Natures of Whitehead's God   Sat Jun 13, 2009 8:59 pm

Ian Huyett wrote:
Terminology. How does primordial-consequent differ from unmanifest-manifest?
I'm not sure what Whitehead intended by his terminology, but I might make a distinction between the Eternal (primordial) and the Temporal (consequent) "nature" of G*D. This assumes that the Creator is eternal, but the Creation has a definite beginning and end. Ultimately, it's all G*D, but the manifest creation of G*D that we experience is only a small part of the whole.

For those who are still not comfortable with the G-word, you could say that the physical Universe we experience has just a brief bubble-existence within the eternal realm of the Multiverse from which our little manifestation was "created" or "evolved". I prefer to refer to the whole system of "verses" as the Omniverse though, since it is equivalent in every way to a panendeistic G*D, with the possible exception of sentience and intentional creation.

Personally I have no problem with the idea of an eternal creative consciousness. An eternal/infinite Being could only be aware of He/r internal environment---what we might call He/r inner self---which includes You and me. A navel-gazing G*D might experience us via deep cosmic meditation. Smile
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PostSubject: Re: The Natures of Whitehead's God   Mon Jul 20, 2009 1:39 pm

A couple of comments, if I may.

First, it occurs to me that if 80 years ago Whitehead had been able to write more clearly and with less invented terminology, we all might be alot further along the path than we are now. He makes alot of sense to me when I think I can figure out what he is saying.

Second, I liked your take there Gnomon. Once you have the "omniverse", you are very close to a panendeistic "God". I have thought about that point of whether this entity is a subject of experience, and that is a tough one, since we're not talking about an entitiy which is a person in the usual sense. If I'm forced to guess, I'd say yes.
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