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Six Senses in Which the Universe Is Not Designed.

1. Not created out of absolute nothingness. Sometimes the idea the our universe is designed means that it was brought into existence ex nihilo, with the nihil in this phrase taken to mean absolute nothingness, so that even the mere fact that there are finite actualities and temporal processes is due to divine design. Process theology rejects this view, holding instead that our universe, with its contingent laws of nature, is a particular instantiation of the universe, which exists eternally, embodying necessary metaphysical principles. So, with reference to the papers by Jaroslav Pelikan and Anindita Balslev, we can say that the idea that the universe had a beginning, associated with Jerusalem, and the idea that the universe has always existed, associated with Athens and India, are both correct.

2. Not created all at once. Sometimes the idea that the universe is designed means that it, with all its present species of life, was created all at once, or at least virtually so. Process theology rejects this idea, agreeing instead with the consensus that the present form of our universe has come about through a long evolutionary process.

3. Not progressively created out of nothing. Sometimes, as in the thought of Alvin Plantinga and Phillip Johnson,I have discussed Johnson’s position in "Christian Faith and Scientific Naturalism: An Appreciative Critique of Phillip Johnson’s Proposal," Christian Scholars Review 28/2 (1998): 308-328....the idea that the universe is designed means that, although our present world came about over billions of years, each new species along the way was created ex nihilo. This view, known as “progressive creationism”--or, more fashionably, “punctuated creationism”--is rejected by process theology, which accepts the evolutionary view that all new species have arisen through descent with modification from prior species. With regard to the common questions as to why God created the world in such a simple state and then took so long to bring it to the present state, process theology’s answer is that this is the only way that God could create a world.

4. Not preprogrammed from the outset. Some theists, such as Rudolf Otto early in the 20th century, have held that, although God has never intervened in the world since its creation, every detail of the evolutionary process is designed, because every evolutionary sequence was preprogrammed.A discussion of Otto’s position is included in Ch. 3 of Religion and Scientific Naturalism. Even the thought of Charles Darwin, with its deism and determinism, was not free from this implication, although this implication of Darwin’s thinking existed in strong tension with his belief in the contingency of evolutionary developments.Darwin’s deism and determinism are discussed in Ch. 8, "Creation and Evolution," of my Religion and Scientific Naturalism. Process theology rejects this notion of deistic design, holding more consistently than did Darwin to the contingency of every development in every evolutionary sequence, grounding this ubiquitous contingency in the doctrine that all individual events involve an element of self-determination. Evolutionary developments thereby involve chance in an ontological, not merely an epistemic, sense. Because the self-determination that exists at the quantum level is magnified, rather than being canceled out, in higher-level individuals, the contingencies increase in the later stages of evolution. The present world cannot be considered, even approximately, as simply the inevitable outworking of the Big Bang.In A Brief History of Time: From the Big Bang to Black Holes (New York: Bantam, 1988), Stephen Hawking, while giving up the older ideal of a completely deterministic science, still says that the goal of...

5. Not created solely for human beings. Sometimes the idea that the universe is designed means the anthropocentric notion--held by William Paley, the utilitarian theologian studied by Darwin--that the universe was designed solely or at least primarily for the sake of human beings. According to this notion of design, the value of other species is their utility for human beings. Process theology rejects this anthropocentrism, holding instead that every individual of every species has both intrinsic value, meaning value in and for itself, and ecological value, meaning value for the ecosystem. These two forms of value would have existed if human beings had never appeared and will continue to exist after we have departed.

6. Human beings not inevitable. Sometimes the idea that the universe is designed means that it was designed to bring forth our own species, just as it is. Process theology’s rejection of this connotation is implied by its insistence on contingency, rooted in the self-determination that has pervaded the evolutionary process. In the evolutionary sequence that led to Homo sapiens, there were countless contingent developments. If a different possibility had been actualized in any of these cases, beings exactly like us would not exist. If a different possibility had been actualized in any of the more crucial cases, no beings even remotely similar to us would exist.

Now, having clarified several senses in which process theology does not think the universe is designed, I turn to two senses in which process theology thinks that it is.

Contributed by: David Ray Griffin

Cosmic Questions

Was the Universe Designed? Topic Index
Is the Universe Designed? Yes and No

Six Senses in Which the Universe Is Not Designed.

Some Basic Whiteheadian Notions
Two Senses in Which the Universe Is Designed


David Ray Griffin

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