Living, moving, and having being in God—Part 1

insidegodsheartii2074pxI’m just thinking through the metaphysics of being and becoming. It’s not something I’ll ever finish (pun intended). For the moment I’d like to express temporal becoming in Process terms because I think in some respects PT articulates ‘becoming’ fairly well (even if Process has no real concept of transcendence).

We (irreducibly temporal creatures that we are) ‘become’ in that we possess our being and existence as an unending process of negotiating between the perceived data of past occasions (memory) and the perceived possibilities of the future. That determination, our present experience, is a “creative synthesis” (Hartshorne) between past occasions and future possibilities. In PT these future possibilities are God-given. They are “divine subjective aims” (Whitehead) for things – their ideal states of becoming. God provides all things (from the small, simplest ‘actual occasion’ to larger societies of occasions) an ideal state in light of which it freely determines itself. This process continues without end. (To briefly stand on the classical side of this conversation, Dwayne and I agree that God cannot be a subject of such becoming.)

Several thoughts come to mind.

(1) For beings that ‘become’ temporally in this way, as classical theism observes, their ‘essence’ is not their ‘existence’. That is, the actual existence of temporal beings is always changing. We are always a ‘becoming’ toward some end, whereas our ‘essence’ (to the extent process theists posit an ‘essence’ to things) is just an abstraction that supervenes upon the ever-changing process of becoming.

(2) Since the possibilities that ground our becoming are God’s “subjective aims” and do not derive from the actualities for which they are ‘ends’, in an important sense temporal becoming is asymmetrically related to God. Our existence as such, even the possibility of our becoming, are “given” to us. We do not generate or constitute the possibility of our existence, however free we are to determine ourselves within the range of God-given possibilities we enjoy. For us ‘possibility’ and ‘actuality’ are distinct, however inseparable they are.

(3) This distinction, in an important sense, cannot be the case for God as it is with us. Any necessary being has in some sense to be his own possibility and that possibility is convertible with an essential-necessary actuality. For God, the possibility of his existence and his actual, essential existence are identical, since (a) God is possible, (b) God is actual, and (c) God is self-sufficiently necessary. It follows that nothing other than God can give God the possibility of his own necessary existence. God’s essential actuality is not another instance of a temporal ‘process’ of becoming.

(4) We must, then, posit some antecedent necessary actuality (call it the divine ‘essence’) which is convertible with God’s essential existence, some divine experience not the subject of temporal becoming, not a process of creative synthesis which negotiates between its own past occasions and its perceived possibilities of becoming in the future what it presently is not. God cannot be reduced to such a process of temporal becoming, for there are no candidate possibilities for God to consider outside his own actuality which would fill the necessary role of “subjective aims” to define his future possibilities. Every act of ‘becoming’ requires a telos, and every telos is grounded in some actuality which does not itself become in this created sense. We’ve discussed before (from Greg’s Trinity & Process) why Whitehead & Hartshorne’s view of God failed in this sense – neither posited an antecedent divine actuality as the ground of the divine perfections, perfections which on their view were simply logically assumed abstractions that supervened upon the divine actuality (entirely a process of becoming).

ingod(5) Even if we posit a necessary God-world relationship in PT fashion, or even a necessary God-series/of/worlds relationship as Oord does (though his ‘series’ reduces to a single world), it’s still the case that non-divine reality cannot provide God subjective aims for God’s becoming, nor can a God who is irreducibly temporal provide himself his own subjective aims for his own future, for possibilities by definition are what a thing is not yet but which it may become. Thought through consistently, it follows that not only can nothing other than God provide an irreducibly temporal God of becoming the “subjective aims” or “end” for his own becoming, but neither can such a God be his own subjective aim, for no merely temporal God can be in the present an actuality sufficient to offer itself possibilities to become what it is not.

If God, like created things, is essentially subject to temporal becoming, then he determines himself in the present in light of past occasions and future possibilities, possibilities guided by subjective aims which, on Process terms, have no antecedent actuality in God. Whence these possibilities for divine becoming? Who or what can offer God the “aims” for his idea states of becoming? It seems that neither any created being nor God’s own process of becoming at any given ‘present’ moment of becoming can define the perfections in light of which God determines himself as creative synthesis. I’m being brief and to the point, but as our Christmas gift to those reading, we’ll just say that the Process view of God doesn’t make it to the end of the runway. God must in some essential sense be an antecedent actuality that is not subject to becoming. In this essential sense, we have to say God’s necessary essence and his essential actuality are one and the same.

(6) This brings up the most interesting question – What about contingency in God with respect to his knowledge of and relations to the contingent world he creates and sustains? If there can be no contingency intrinsic to a necessary being’s essential actuality, is it possible to conceive of God as capable of freely expressing himself in ways that are not constitutive of him essentially-intrinsically but merely expressive of him contingently, extrinsically?

14 comments on “Living, moving, and having being in God—Part 1

  1. malcolmsnotes says:

    If you can answer point 6 you got answers to the whole enchilada – simplicity, actus purus, the relation between time and not eternity and the reconciliation of Gods freedom and necessity.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Tom says:

      Got that right here in my back pocket; just been holding back to give you guys a sporting chance to find the truth on your own!

      Liked by 2 people

      • I grappled with a similar issue here:

        At least it seemed to me to have parallels.

        At the bottom of that page, above, I muse about applying formal distinctions to divine energies.

        Bottomline, there’s just nothing distinct-ively theologic in taking an infinite regression of teloi to refer to God in a merely probabilistic heuristic, especially one that’s built on a modal ontology of asymmetric temporal relations which yields only nonstrict identities. At best, you get pantheism.

        A robustly intentional and subjective Telos must be introduced via reference to the Ens Necessarium.


      • Tom says:

        I’ll take a look, John. Your writing assumes pretty informed and current knowledge of many philosophical topics, some finer points only professionals would be familiar with, and your terms sometimes appear to be homespun inventions to express your own ideas. That’s all fine. But you’ll have to help me out, ‘cause though most of what you say speeds by me at the speed of light, the little I get does encourage me to think there’s much more I really do want to get to know and converse with.

        Can you reword it for me?

        By “taking an infinite regression of teloi to refer to God in a merey probabilistic heurtistic” you mean? (My hunch is this describes the attempt to imagine God – like us, i.e., temporal – as determining to create by deliberating through an infinite regress of valuations (weighing the relative ‘goods’, i.e., teloi) among an infinite number of ‘options’.

        How badly am I misunderstanding you?

        And by “especially one that’s built on a modal ontology of asymmetric temporal relations which yields only nonstrict identities” I have not the slightest idea. I can get with any particular notion by itself (“modal ontology,” OK; or “asymmetrical temporal relation,” yeah; “nonstrict identities,” nah. But all of them together?)

        I really want to understand this so can you boil the Calculus down to a much simpler math? This is me – Tom HACK – you’re talkin’ to.


        Liked by 1 person

      • Peirce used categories of firstness, secondness and thirdness, roughly mapping to possibilities, actualities and probabilities, temporally relating to past, present and future. The probabilities are telic, including both formal and final causes. I refer to teloi because the category is so vague as to include personal intentionality and, for example, thermodynamic end-states. The category of thirdness refers, vaguely, to probabilistic realities, without specifying what’s epistemic in/determinable vs ontologically in/determined. If we go further to invoke Scotus’ formal distinction, we specify the ontologically in/determined, but it remains a fuzzy concept — to what degree determined? Hence, I find Mayr’s distinctions helpful, like teleomatic for end-states (inanimate nature) or teleonomic for end-directed (biological organisms), reserving teleologic for end-intendedness, persons. Much of this comes from engaging the biosemiotics of Terry Deacon. Also, I assume an emergentist stance without invoking supervenience. For example, I note that symbolic language and consciousness emerged here, in Homo sapiens, but remain agnostic regarding philosophy of mind, e.g. nonreductive physicalism vs panpsychism. I don’t believe we have to reconcile gravity and quantum mechanics, describe the origins of the cosmos, life or sentience, etc in order to epistemically warrant or normatively justify the life of faith. So, the peircean categories are but conceptual placeholders, an exploratory heuristic, not an explanatory metaphysic. They’re probabilistic. They are thus fallibilist and eschew a prioristic, rationalistic, naive realisms, precisely by prescinding from modal necessity to modal probability. Nonstrict identity comes from Hartshorne, or at least Dombrowski interpreting him, invoking moderation in metaphysics, differentiating acorns from oak trees, navigating the shoals of essentialism and nominalism.

        So, I think your hunch came fairly close. Some divine energies might could be successfully referred to using these modal categories and divine interactivity contingent in some aspects. But, at some point, references to God must go beyond the univocal and analogical predications or, in principle, how could we be really talking about G-d?
        We look around and see all these regularities and probabilities and infer neccessity, only ever encountering it in analytic abstractions, never physically instantiated. The argument for the reality (not being) of God, Peirce says, invokes the Ens Necessarium, wholly transcendent. That’s telos with a capital ‘T’elos. Thanks for letting me try but I’d rather not become a distraction, so, no expectations there.


      • Tom says:

        Much appreciated and very helpful!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Tom says:

        John: We look around and see all these regularities and probabilities and infer neccessity, only ever encountering it in analytic abstractions, never physically instantiated. The argument for the reality (not being) of God, Peirce says, invokes the Ens Necessarium, wholly transcendent. That’s telos with a capital ‘T’elos.

        Tom: As you check out Boyd’s critique of Charles Hartshorne (CH), you’ll see that what you express here becomes an argument Greg mounts against CH (the section “The Problem of Abstraction in God” that begins at the bottom of p. 44 of the Redux through to the middle of p. 46; and Greg’s argument after that in which he demonstrates that the necessary perfections of God have to be grounded in an antecedent actuality (Peirce’s EN, no?). Two things: (1) If we bring God’s perfect freedom into view, do we not make that freedom a mere abstraction IF we also say God is eternally, immutably self-determined to create? That’s one thread I’m pursuing.

        (2) The second thread is, of course, the question of course is how the divine actuality – perfectly accomplished in its plenitude – knows and relates to non-divine, contingent realities it sustains. It seems to me that BOTH these created, contingent, temporal realities (i.e., in their temporal changing actualities) AND the truth about their existences are modally coincidental (if I’m using the phrase correctly). That is, the truth about created temporal realities in their changing actualities supervenes upon those actualities. For me divine transcendence (whatever it is) cannot make these realities or the truths that describe them other than irreducibly contingent, changing, etc. Nor do I see how the immediately sustaining knowledge of these realities can be other than as contingent and changing as the realities they describe. There’s no supposing God’s intimate knowledge of such actualities can be eternal and immutable while the created realities known are neither eternal nor immutable. So I seem committed to some qualified sense of divine simplicity such that God’s essential existence (ad intra) remains unchanging and not subject to temporal becoming while being itself free to express (ad extra) this unchanging plenitude freely and contingently in way that are not constitutive of God’s essential triune identity.


        Liked by 1 person

      • Is this where Boyd’s distinction between the INTENSITY of the aesthetic experience of internal, loving relationality and, on the other hand, its SCOPE might come in. Insofar as we take Boyd’s conception of immutability as an eternal disposition, even when the essential divine experience overflows as contingent illustrations, neither the disposition nor the intensity change.

        Also, perhaps we can disambiguate an equivocal notion of contingency such that there’s not a scintilla of contingency, modally, in either God’s immutable disposition or intensity of aesthetic experience. Any contingencies, such as in the scope and illustrative overflow of the aesthetic experience, are not modal but the dependent variety – as we already acknowledge in the hypostases and energies?

        Liked by 1 person

      • Tom says:

        Precisely. That’s what we’ve been trying to do for a few years. But I’m a hack with just an MTh. If you get it done and publish it, mention us in a footnote somewhere! 😀


      • The divine attributes must be reconceived as that knowledge, power and freedom greater than which could not be conceived without otherwise falling into logical inconsistency, internal incoherence, metaphysical incongruity vis a vis personal freedom, eschatological aims, immutable divine dispositions and so on. So, there are some constraints on omnipotence and freedom, but what are the constraints on omniscience?

        If we think in terms of peircean temporal modal categories, what God knows in the future does not include secondness or actualities, but it does include thirdness, a category including both metaphysical necessities and probabilities (what Yong calls future possibilities) as well as divine prerogatives, all with which the divine will can freely interact. The question then turns to eschatological efficacies, whether they’re thus imperiled. As Yong points out: “Boyd suggests that an infinitely intelligent God is not limited like human beings in terms of the number of possibilities that need to be attended to, and hence can give undivided attention to each possibility which actualizes as though that were the only possibility to which God needed to respond.”

        I think Yong and Boyd may have taught at Bethel at the same time. At any rate, Amos is well acquainted with his work and uses it to bolster Polkinghorne’s eschatological confidence. Heck, it’s bolstered my own to a practical universalism 😉 -review/quantum-mechanics-eucharistic-meal-john-polkinghornes-bottom-vision-science-and-theology


      • Tom says:

        Pax: If we think in terms of peircean temporal modal categories, what God knows in the future does not include secondness or actualities, but it does include thirdness, a category including both metaphysical necessities and probabilities (what Yong calls future possibilities) as well as divine prerogatives, all with which the divine will can freely interact.

        Tom: Totally agree. (You might enjoy the appreciation of a Peircean vs Ockhamist view here:


        Liked by 1 person

      • By the way, years ago I wondered why Hartshorne went dyadic, theologically, when he had Peirce at his disposal. He had his reasons but I cannot recite them now. Both Boyd and Joe Bracken have rehabilitated CH with trinitarian approaches that respect classical theisms key insights while drawing on process’ strengths.


      • Tom says:

        Preach it brother.

        Liked by 1 person

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