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Intelligent Design, Evolution and Process Thought

April 15, 2012

I am just back from a very interesting and challenging conference called “Celebrating Reenchantment” at the Claremont School of Theology, sponsored by The Center for Process Studies. I hope to write more about the conference soon, but decided to focus in on one telling tidbit I picked up.

The conference was a celebration not just of “reenchantment,” but of the life and work of David Ray Griffin. I presume reenchantment was taken as the core theme word as it is one that Griffin has used heavily and may well express the core of his (and others’) Process Theology better than any other single word…. The scientific materialism of the Enlightenment and modern world stripped away all methods of knowing besides the five senses, effectively removing “enchantment,” and beyond just the magical sense. 

Celebrating is also a key word. At least as I see and experience a Process way of interpreting and negotiating the inner and outer world, there IS a kind of joy associated with celebration.

The world of pure materialism, whether of the scientific or personal-philosophy kind, at bottom, tends toward a lack of hope or joy (after various sensual pleasures depart).   On the other hand, the dualist concept of a natural world and supernatural God leaves thinking people with some maddening enigmas–especially the problem of an all-powerful, loving God and the existence of so much pain and evil. 

Right along with this “problem of evil” is how to reconcile the process of evolution with a creating, intervening God (God of miracles and revelation).  Dr. Griffin is well-known (though only in limited circles) for his work on both these issues…. Or particularly on science and theology in larger view.   Now, I have only followed the creation/evolution discussions from the margins–not plunged in fully.  But I AM quite aware how important they are culturally and educationally right now. 

I know that the term “creationism” has largely been replaced by “Intelligent Design,” and that some who promote ID do not share all the beliefs or approaches of older forms of creationism, and don’t always agree among themselves.  Certainly many are adamantly not “young-earthers.”  I gather a few are not theists at all. 

Finally to the tidbit: At the conference, when we were on the general subject, I asked Dr. Griffin if his research and interactions had indicated that Intelligent Design was anything much different from creationism under a different name… or maybe it was closer to, “Are there many ID people who hold to something much different from what creationists do?” Though he used a few more words, his basic answer was “No.”  He didn’t offer any names of people using that self-label who have a different position–a third paradigm that might at least have a chance of reconciling natural processes and divine creation “out of nothing.”

I have a hunch there may be some scientists or scientist/theologians who might differ with that… after all, there ARE many scientists who are both Christian (within traditional orthodoxy) and believers in evolution–to my limited knowledge here, Francis Collins might be a leading example. 

Allowing that my question was poorly worded or misunderstood and perhaps not precisely answered, within the broad general situation in debates between Christians and evolutionary scientists, there is little space for both God and nature.  It is basically one or the other. 

That is where Process Thought comes in.  (Called “Thought,” as it encompasses both philosophy and theology while being highly respectful of scientific methods.)   It is the extension of the mathematical/philosophical genius of A. N. Whitehead of nearly a century ago.  Whitehead, with Griffin and others following him, was able, quite thoroughly, to work out explanations for how God (not “supernaturally” conceived) exists and acts in nature and human lives, but does so as part of natural processes–persuasively, not coercively. It is the only mature and robust system I’m aware of which gives strong intellectual basis for a real reconciliation of science and religion.

What are your observations or “issues” around this subject or Process Thought more broadly?

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