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3. The Person in Process Thought

Another approach to theological anthropology comes from scholars writing from a Whiteheadian perspective, which Barbour compares with four other perspectives on the ‘mind/body’ problem:Ian G. Barbour, Religion in an Age of Science, Gifford Lectures; 1989-1990. (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1990), 194-99.It is in sharp contrast to both dualism (with sources in Plato, Augustine, Descartes and current support from Sir John Eccles, Karl Popper) and reductive materialism (with sources in the Greek atomists, the French Enlightenment, and current support from behaviorists, e.g., B. F. Skinner, Gilbert Ryles, epiphenomenalists, and neural identity theorists, e.g., Herbert Feigl and J. J. C. Smart). It is less sharply opposed to two-aspect theories (including parallelism, e.g., Leibtniz, Spinoza, ordinary language theorists, e.g., P. F. Strawson, and alternative language theorists, e.g., MacKay). It shares much in common with multilevel theories (e.g., Roger Sperry) particularly in their use of emergence and supervenience, and a commitment to the person as a psychosomatic unity. Still, the process view is a distinctive multilevel theory, referred to as “nondualistic interactionism” or as “panexperientialism”. Here subjective experience is attributed (though in appropriately attenuated forms) to unified entities at all levels of nature, though consciousness requires a central nervous system.See Barbour, Religion in an age of science, 224-27, where he cites three kinds of reasons for the process perspective.

Barbour finds such a view to be highly congenial to the Biblical perspective, where humanity is “rooted in nature, sharing the finitude, creatureliness, and death of all living things.” Thus humanity is “part of nature, but a unique part”, both the product of a long evolutionary history and yet with unparalleled abilities such as language, self-consciousness, and at least limited freedom. Terms such as body, mind and spirit refer to “aspects of a personal unity”, not a ‘body-soul dualism’. Moreover, we are “persons-in-community,” constituted by our relations and joined together in covenant. An understanding of the person as a psychosomatic or multileveled unity is consistent with both science and religion: thus humans are “both a biological organism and a responsible self.”Barbour, Religion in an age of science, 190-91, 204-09.Barbour returned to these themes in recent writings, showing in particular how the findings of the neurosciences and computer science are consistent with a theological view of the person described above, drawing on Michael Arbib’s schema theory, Joseph LeDoux’s work on emotions, and Leslie Brothers’ research on the neural bases of social interaction.Ian G. Barbour, "Neuroscience, Artificial Intelligence, and Human Nature: Theological and Philosophical Reflections," in Neuroscience and the Person: Scientific Perspectives on Divine Action,...Human capacities outstrip those of computers, since they rely on embodiment, learning, socialization and emotion. Concepts such as information, dynamic systems, hierarchical levels, and emergence relate artificial intelligence and the neurosciences to a theology of the person, particularly when set within the framework of process philosophy

Turning to the problem of sin, Barbour draws Biblical support for the claim that death is not a divine punishment for sin (against a literal reading of ‘the Fall’), nor is God responsible for suffering in nature (thus avoiding both ‘natural evil’ and some forms of theodicy).Barbour, Religion in an age of science, 238-42. Following David Griffin and other process thinkers, Barbour sees the finitude of God’s power over sin, suffering and evil not in terms of voluntary...Rather, in an evolutionary world, death is necessary for life, and pain comes with sentience. On the other hand, “sin is the result of human choice, not from the structures of the world for which God is responsible.” In all its forms, including (with reference to Tillich) estrangement from others, from our true selves, from God, and (Barbour adds) from nonhuman nature, sin is “a violation of relatedness” whose effects are compounded by social injustice (the Niebuhrian meaning of ‘original sin’). Adam’s fall in an evolutionary context thus represents the universal human journey “from innocence to responsibility and sin.”Barbour, Religion in an age of science, 204-09. Barbour is sharply critical of reductionist philosophies invoked to account for both human experience and the broader evolutionary context, including those of Dawkins and Wilson.Barbour, Religion in an age of science, 191-94. Instead, he adopts a process perspective which underscores the importance of temporality, the interconnection of events, an organic view of reality, and the combination of efficient causation (or ‘receptive’ or ‘physical pole’), self-causation (or ‘mental pole’), and divine (or final) causation for every new event in the world.Barbour, Religion in an age of science, 221-24, see also p. 197 where Barbour adopts a ‘two-aspect’ theory of the mind/brain problem modified to apply to his multi-leveled, panexperientialist...

In a similar move, Charles Birch calls for a metaphysics for biological organisms which includes their mental as well as physical aspects.Charles Birch, "Neo-Darwinism, Self-Organization, and Divine Action in Evolution," in Evolutionary and Molecular Biology: Scientific Perspectives on Divine Action, ed. Robert John Russell, William...It must account for both changes in the external relations of organisms as objects and the internal relations of organisms as subjects. Consequently he rejects both emergence (since the mental cannot ‘emerge’ from the physical) and reductionism (since the mental cannot be ignored). God interacts with individual entities by offering them saving possibilities for their future. Creatures respond to God’s feeling for the world, and God responds with infinite passion, taking them into the divine life. Writing together, he and John Cobb, Jr. stress the continuity between the inorganic and organic, and point to life as a metaphysical principle grounded in God.Charles and John B. Cobb Birch, Jr., The Liberation of Life (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981).

Contributed by: Dr. Robert Russell

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