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Process Models of Divine Action

For a summary of relevant aspects of process thought see process metaphysicsand process theology and the problem of evil.

It is not difficult to see that process schemes can accommodate divine activity in particular situations, since divine persuasion or lure is present in every interaction between entities. The ‘causal joint’ is built into the metaphysics.

Close consideration, however, shows that process thought is in a similar position to that of the neo-Thomists - both introduce a type of influence which is at a remove at once both from our ordinary experience and from the scientific accounts:

  • Neo-Thomists posit a divine influence which a) knows the results of its actions already through the atemporal omniscience of God’s action and b) executes its purpose by being the particular primary cause behind secondary causes, and yet allegedly c) still allows creatures their freedom. (see neo-Thomist views of divine action).

  • Process thinkers posit a sort of sentience which allows all entities, however inanimate, to be aware of the divine will and to respond to it (or not).

Indeed Settle considers a process metaphysic to be the natural result for a search for an appropriate account of double agency.Settle, T, ‘The Dressage Ring and The Ballroom: Loci of Double Agency’ in Facets of Faith and Science, Volume IV: Interpreting God’s Action in the World, ed. by Jitse M. van der Meer (Lanham,...

Those convinced for other reasons of the rightness of either of these positions will accept the version of divine providence that the account offers - but neither account offers any purchase on discussing a model of God in relation to the physical world as science describes it.

Where neo-Thomism and process thought differ so sharply is in terms of theodicy. The great problem with an account of providence in terms of primary and secondary agency is that the most evil of persons becomes a secondary agent of God.

See process theology and the problem of evil for the merits of process theodicy, and for the question: is the process God God enough to be the ground of hope?

The neo-Thomist God, then, is so much God - omniscient, omnipotent - as to pose great problems for theodicy;

The process God cannot be held to account for evils from which the divine fellow-sufferer has laboured to dissuade the entities concerned. But is this an adequate account of God?

Between these poles come the accounts of providence, general and/or particular, undertaken by a self-limiting God to whom the future remains not wholly known, that we have discussed in the rest of a classification of theories of divine action.

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

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