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I have been asked to address the question, Is the universe is designed?, from the perspective of process theology, which is based on the philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead (1861-1947). The name “process theology” is derived from the title of Whitehead’s major work, Process and Reality,Alfred North Whitehead, Process and Reality, corrected edition, ed. David Ray Griffin and Donald W. Sherburne (New York: Free Press, 1978 [original ed. 1929]).which he wrote in the late 1920s after coming to Harvard to teach philosophy. Whitehead had been educated at Cambridge University in England, where he wrote a dissertation on Maxwell’s Treatise on Electricity and Magnetism in 1884 and then taught mathematics, including mathematical physics, until 1910. In some circles, Whitehead is best known for the major work of this period, Principia Mathematica, which he co-authored with his former pupil Bertrand Russell. In the next period of his life, spent in London, Whitehead increasingly devoted himself to the philosophy of nature. After coming to Harvard in 1924, he turned to metaphysics, which, as he understood the term, differed from the philosophy of nature by including the human subject within the scope of that which is to be explained. The most important task of metaphysical cosmology, he came to believe, is to reconcile our scientific intuitions with our religious, ethical, and aesthetic intuitions, and that this can only be done by developing a worldview that is equally satisfactory for the scientific and the religious communities.Ibid., 15; Science and the Modern World (New York: Free Press, 1967), vii.

Whitehead had been an atheist or at least an agnostic during most of his adult life. But, shortly after beginning to develop his metaphysical cosmology, he came to the view that, if we are to give a fully rational account of the universe--meaning one that is both coherent and adequate to all the relevant facts, including the various dimensions of human experience--it is necessary to posit a nonlocal actuality. Although Whitehead used the term “God” for this actuality, the divine reality to which he referred, unlike the deity of traditional theism in the West, did not possess omnipotence as traditionally understood. Whitehead’s turn to a form of theism did nothing to lessen his antipathy to the idea of a divine being who, while having the power to prevent evil, refuses to do so.

If faced with our question, Is the universe is designed?, Whitehead’s answer, like the answer to most Yes or No questions about complex issues, would have been Yes and No. This ambivalent answer reflects the fact that the notion of a designed universe has many connotations, not all of which imply all the others. I will deal with eight possible meanings of this notion, suggesting that, from the perspective of Whiteheadian process theology, the answer to six of them is No, but that there are two senses in which we can speak of the universe as designed.

Contributed by: David Ray Griffin

Cosmic Questions

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


Some Basic Whiteheadian Notions
Six Senses in Which the Universe Is Not Designed.
Two Senses in Which the Universe Is Designed


David Ray Griffin

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