Main   Terms   People   Interviews   Resources   Events

Process Metaphysics

In his book Process and Reality A.N.Whitehead abandoned the notion, strong in Western philosophy since Parmenides and Plato in the 5th Century BCE, that what is most unchanging is most real. Instead he conceived the structure of reality in dynamic terms (an approach which goes back to Heraclitus). Whitehead set out a radical metaphysics based not on entities but on events - on an infinite series of ‘actual occasions.’ All entities are ‘momentary constituents of the processes of reality’; unchangingness is a property of what is ‘dead, past, abstract or purely formal.’Pailin, D, God and the Processes of Reality (London: Routledge, 1989) p51The emphasis is on becoming, on development in time, rather than on static being.

Space does not permit a detailed analysis of this way of thinking, except to say that for process thought the central metaphor for understanding the world is that of organism, rather than that of machine. The formation of each event is a function of:

  • the nature of the entities involved (as in, for instance, a physicalist scheme)

  • their context and interdependence on a number of levels (in a way more characteristic of biological organisms than of inanimate objects)

  • their ‘experience’ and their effort to ‘fulfil their possibilities to the full’ in the given event (language deriving not merely from biology but from the analogy of human mentality).

As Barbour describes, ‘Each entity is a center of spontaneity and self-creation, contributing distinctively to the world.’Barbour, I, Religion and Science (London: SCM Press, 1998) p285This assignment of quasi-mental subjective experience to all entities is known as panpsychism, or sometimes pan-experientialism. The best recent account of process thought is that of David PailinPailin, D, God and the Processes of Reality (London: Routledge, 1989). For briefer summaries see Fiddes, P, The Creative Suffering of God (Oxford: Clarendon Press) p40-45, or Barbour, 1998, 284-304, 322-28....(1989).

Note that the process scheme is neither consistent nor inconsistent with experimental observations - it does not of itself give rise to any empirically testable proposals.It is sometimes supposed that because Whitehead formulated his metaphysics at the time of the great developments in physics known as the second quantum revolution [The Schrödinger Wave Equation was published...Nothing in science attributes any sort of subjectivity to an entity like an electron, nor is such a postulate anywhere supported by experiment. Whitehead’s scheme is true ‘meta’-physics.

Email link | Feedback | Contributed by: Dr. Christopher Southgate
Source: God, Humanity and the Cosmos  (T&T Clark, 1999)

Topic Sets Available

AAAS Report on Stem-Cells

AstroTheology: Religious Reflections on Extraterrestrial Life Forms

Agency: Human, Robotic and Divine
Becoming Human: Brain, Mind, Emergence
Big Bang Cosmology and Theology (GHC)
Cosmic Questions Interviews

Cosmos and Creator
Creativity, Spirituality and Computing Technologies
CTNS Content Home
Darwin: A Friend to Religion?
Demystifying Information Technology
Divine Action (GHC)
Dreams and Dreaming: Neuroscientific and Religious Visions'
E. Coli at the No Free Lunchroom
Engaging Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence: An Adventure in Astro-Ethics
Evangelical Atheism: a response to Richard Dawkins
Ecology and Christian Theology
Evolution: What Should We Teach Our Children in Our Schools?
Evolution and Providence
Evolution and Creation Survey
Evolution and Theology (GHC)
Evolution, Creation, and Semiotics

The Expelled Controversy
Faith and Reason: An Introduction
Faith in the Future: Religion, Aging, and Healthcare in the 21st Century

Francisco Ayala on Evolution

From Christian Passions to Scientific Emotions
Genetic Engineering and Food

Genetics and Ethics
Genetic Technologies - the Radical Revision of Human Existence and the Natural World

Genomics, Nanotechnology and Robotics
Getting Mind out of Meat
God and Creation: Jewish, Christian, and Muslim Perspectives on Big Bang Cosmology
God, Humanity and the Cosmos: A Textbook in Science and Religion
God the Spirit - and Natural Science
Historical Examples of the Science and Religion Debate (GHC)
History of Creationism
Intelligent Design Coming Clean

Issues for the Millennium: Cloning and Genetic Technologies
Jean Vanier of L'Arche
Nano-Technology and Nano-ethics
Natural Science and Christian Theology - A Select Bibliography
Neuroscience and the Soul
Outlines of the Science and Religion Debate (GHC)

Perspectives on Evolution

Physics and Theology
Quantum Mechanics and Theology (GHC)
Questions that Shape Our Future
Reductionism (GHC)
Reintroducing Teleology Into Science
Science and Suffering

Scientific Perspectives on Divine Action (CTNS/Vatican Series)

Space Exploration and Positive Stewardship

Stem-Cell Debate: Ethical Questions
Stem-Cell Ethics: A Theological Brief

Stem-Cell Questions
Theistic Evolution: A Christian Alternative to Atheism, Creationism, and Intelligent Design...
Theology and Science: Current Issues and Future Directions
Unscientific America: How science illiteracy threatens our future
Will ET End Religion?

Current Stats: topics: >2600, links: >300,000, video: 200 hours.