Emergence of God

The Emergence of God

Active Form vs. Creativity as the Ultimate Being

For Aristotle, all of reality is the manifestation of two unified causal principles: form (eidos)  and matter (hyle).  We will use the word hyle  so as not to confuse it with nor reduce it to its (unfortunately) modern translation as ‘matter.’  For the word matter (in physics) has, since Descartes, taken on a very specific and restrictive meaning, namely the   ultimate substance underlying all objects in the universe.   Hyle was viewed by Aristotle as one of the two jointly necessary principles for the actualization of self-subsistent being (ousia).  (See The Nature of Physical Existence by Ivor Leclerc, p. 120.) It is not hyle (which contains the principle of potentiality), but eidos which Aristotle held to be the primary principle allowing hyle to take on, or actualize, its active being as ousia (primary self-subsistent being).   The joint principles of hyle and eidos underly Aristotle’s view of causality, defined as the actualization of potentiality insofar as it remains merely potential).

It is essential to remember that hyle was (for Aristotle) a generic principle that referred to the fact that all being required for its actuality some sort of ‘stuff’ (not some universal concrete ‘stuff’ such as the ‘matter’ of modern physics) which possessed the potentiality for taking on or being realized in multiple forms of being depending on which eidos informed its being. .  Aristotle’s characterized form (eidos) as the principle of the actualization of being above which there is no higher principle of being, but stopped short of explicitly stating that form was the act of ultimate being qua being.    Nevertheless, Alfred North Whitehead rejected what he took to be Aristotle’s implicit doctrine of form as the ultimate act of being:

Whitehead rejects this doctrine, Whitehead and Aristotle are in agreement in holding that ‘act’, ‘acting’, is a generic feature of actuality.  But if the act whereby an actuality is what it is be ‘form’, then ‘form’ is tacitly being regarded as the ‘ultimate’.  ‘Form’, however, cannot fulfill the requirements of an ‘ultimate’, as Aristotle well knew when he considered the notion of ‘form’ whilst refraining from identifying ‘form’ and ‘being’. – fromWhitehead’s Metaphysics: An Introductory Exposition, by Ivor Leclerc, Chapter VI: The Category of the Ultimate, p. 85

In fact, as we have said above, Aristotle held that substantial being (ouisa) was the manifestation of two joint and necessary principles: hyle and eidos. Hyle being the principle of potentiality and eidos the principle of actualization.  But Whitehead draws the conclusion that logically Aristotle must hold that form is the ‘ultimate’ being, and goes on to argue, contra Aristotle, that ‘acting’ itself is the ultimate principle of being:

Whitehead draws the logical conclusion that the ‘act’ whereby actuality is what it is, is itself the ‘ultimate’.  That is, the ‘ultimate’ is not something else which include the factor of ‘activity’; ‘acting’ as such is sufficient to fulfill the requirement of an ‘ultimate’… Thus whereas Aristotle identifies ‘being’ and ‘form’, Whitehead identifies ‘being and ‘acting’; an actual entity is an acting entity. — from Whitehead’s Metaphysics: An Introductory Exposition, by Ivor Leclerc, Chapter VI: The Category of the Ultimate, p. 85

Whitehead’s doctrine holds that the universe is in a constant state of creativity and thus is realized (actualized) ontologically as a ‘process of creative activity’.

‘Creativity is therefore ‘ultimate’ in the sense, first, that it constitutes the generic metaphysical character of all actualities and secondly it is the ‘ultimate’ in the sense that the actualities are individualization of it.’– from Whitehead’s Metaphysics: An Introductory Exposition, by Ivor Leclerc, Chapter VI: The Category of the Ultimate, p. 86

Whitehead’s doctrine of ultimate being is that being is primarily  process and therefore all objects or substances in the universe are derivative from primordial creativity.  Ontologically, process precedes substance.   So it is not to be interpreted as substance manifesting creativity but rather substance being the product or actualization of active creativity.   Thus for Whiteheads process theory of being, it sees the primacy of process: Process as efficient cause of and ontologically prior to (more fundamental than) substance.  Not Process (derivative)  from substance as its material cause.  Creativity for Whitehead qua  process is not an abstraction, but primordial ontological being: Primordial Creativity.

‘God’ as the Unmoved Mover vs. Primordial Creativity

Whitehead, arguing from his own doctrine of of the ‘ultimate’ as ‘creative activity’, rejects all transcendent theories of the universe and its causal origin.  This rejection includes (a) Aristotle’s ‘unmoved mover’; (b) theologies that characterize God as a transcendent creator; and (c) idealist views of a monistic transcendent ‘Absolute.’   For Whitehead, the ‘ultimate’ is a universal process of creative activity.   It is this continuous self-creating activity that yields individual entities that constitute the evolving universe.

The individual actual entities are the ‘creatures’ of this universal ‘creativity’.  They are not creatures of creativity in the sense that creativity is a ‘creator’, ie. in the sense that ‘creativity’ is itself a transcendent actuality creating them; but in the sense that the ‘ultimate’, creativity, individualizes itself in the individual creature.  In this conception,…God is not a transcendent creator, but is the primordial creature of creativity; that is,  God is the primordial instantiation of creativity.

This conception secures too the existence of the universe without the need for a transcendent creator to account for its existence. In this system creativity is the ultimate ‘ground’ for the existence of the universe, in that the universe exists by virtue of its ultimate character as creativity, as creating activity. — from Whitehead’s Metaphysics: An Introductory Exposition, by Ivor Leclerc, Chapter VI: The Category of the Ultimate, p. 87

Aristotle would never go so far as to embrace this idea of God.  For him, God was the prime mover, the unmoved mover, who is not to be equated with the universal principle of the actualization of being in all of its instantiations.  The unmoved mover or prime mover may be formulated as the ‘primordial mover’ as actual and non-transcendent.  If we characterize God in this way, it comes closer to Whitehead’s view that God is the primordial instance of creativity.  Also God must likewise be a process of self-creation.  Whitehead accordingly maintains that:

“the true metaphysical position is that God is the aboriginal instance of this creativity, and is therefore the aboriginal condition which qualifies its action.  It is the function of actuality to characterize the creativity, and God is the eternal primordial character.”  — from Whitehead’s Metaphysics: An Introductory Exposition, by Ivor Leclerc, Chapter XVI: God, p. 194

 God as Emergent Creativity:

Whitehead’s view of God as the universal principle of creativity inherent in the universe is most recently adopted by emergence theorists, most notably  by Roger W. Sperry and Stuart A. Kauffman.  Sperry in his paper The Impact and Promise of the Cognitive Revolution, wrote:

Humanity’s creator becomes universalized in the vast interwoven fabric of the grand overall design of all evolving nature, with special focus on our own biosphere. The cosmic forces of creation become inextricably interfused with creation itself. Evolution, driven by emergent and subjective dynamics from above downward as well as from below upward, becomes a gradual emergence of increased directedness, purpose, and meaning among the forces that move and govern living things.  – from The Impact and Promise of the Cognitive RevolutionAugust 1993 • American Psychologist, p. 884

Kauffman in his book Reinventing the Sacred: A New View of Science, Reason, and Religion.  In his chapter 19, ‘God and Reinventing the Sacred’, Kauffman asks:

Do we use the word God meaning that God is the natural creativity of the universe?…How dare we use the word God to stand for the natural creativity of the universe?  Yet I say yes, we can and should choose to do so, knowing full well that we make this choice.  No other human symbol carries the power of the symbol, God. No other symbol carries millennia of awe and reverence…It may be wise to use the word God, knowing the dangers, to choose this ancient symbol of reverence and anneal to it a new, natural meaning.  God is our name for the creativity in nature.  Indeed, this potent symbol can help orient us in  our lives.  Using the word God to mean the creativity in nature can help bring to us the awe and reverence that creativity deserves.  — from Reinventing the Sacred: A New View of Science, Reason, and Religion., p. 284.

God as the Unfolded Intelligible Universe

The notion of God as emergent can be traced back to the Theologian Nicolas of Cusa or Nicolas Cusanus, a Neoplatonist who borrowed the base of his vision from the Greeks, especially Plato.  From Plato, Cusanus took the idea that the real world was not given to the senses, but was grasped intuitively by the intellect.  This is because the real shared a common structure with reason: it was ordered, ultimately mathematical, and most importantly intelligible and therefore rational in its essential being. But the real was transcendent and causative of the physical world that we observe through our senses.  The physical is the emergent form of its transcendent origin: God.

Cusanus saw the order and laws of the universe, especially its expression as mathematical, geometric, continuous, and above all transcendent (causing but not caused by the physical and sensible).   God in his essence is the contraction of all being in a transcendent form, which is the source of all finite being, law and order, all structure and complexity.  Being the cause of diversity, of opposites, of distinctions, God is, for Cusanus, the infinite unity of existence, thus combining into one form infinity and unity. Thus the opposites of line and circle are resolved at the level of infinite being.  This coexistence, coincidence, if you will, of opposites, Cusanus called the coincidentia oppositorum.  Returning to the opposition of line and circle: at infinity, the local curvature of the circle becomes an  infinite straight line. In its contracted form all of reality exists as a contraction (contractio)  of God’s being and creativity,  but only implicitly (implicatatio).  All complexity exists as a transcendent form, as complicans. And all of reality is implicitly present in the principle of God’s being.  This was Cusanus’ principle of implicatio Dei.

With this positive conception of infinity as coincidentia oppositorum it is then possible to proceed to an understanding of the world.  Fundamental to the understanding of the world is the fact of the dependence of the world and this means ultimately it derivation from God.  Since God is the infinite source of all, the infinite unity which is the infinite complicatio of all things the world mist derive from God by an explicatio, and unfolding of that unity. The world, therefore, is explicatio Dei, the unfolding of God. – from The Nature of Physical Existence by Ivor Leclerc, 1972, p. 75.

So what is the significance and relevance of the Cusanian doctrine of implicatio Dei, and how does this emergent view of God speak to modern science?  The quantum theorist David Bohm explicitly invokes the Cusanian concept of implicatio in his conception of the physical universe as the  ‘implicate order’, illustrated by his famous thought experiment: the Glycerine Machine. What makes David Bohm’s model of ‘the implicate order’ so significant is that it introduces the fundamental missing elements of quantum mechanics: process and continuity, what Arran Gare, in his paper Mathematics, Explanation and Reductionism, would call the dimension of ‘becoming’.  Here are David Bohm comments regarding the absence of the concepts of movement, process and continuity in quantum mechanics:

“You see, the present quantum mechanics does not have any concept of movement or process or continuity in time. It really deals with one moment only, one observation, and the probability that one observation will be followed by another one. But there is obviously process in the physical world. Now I want to say that that process can be understood from the implicate order as this activity of re-projection and re-injection. So, the theory of the implicate order, carried this far, goes quite beyond present quantum mechanics. It actually deals with process, which quantum mechanics does not, except by reference to an observing apparatus which in turn has to be referred to something else.” — from  Morphic Fields and the Implicate Order: A dialogue with David Bohm, p. 7.

So what is Bohm’s view of God in connection with his concept of the implicate order? He are his words:

“The implicate order does not rule out God, nor does it say there is a God. But it would suggest that there is a creative intelligence underlying the whole, which might have as one of the essentials that which was meant by the word ‘God'”. from Unfolding the Implicate Order: Excerpts from an Interview with David Bohm by Louwrien Wijers, 1989

And so we see again the notion of God emerging as ‘a creative intelligence underlying the whole [of existence].’


Whereas the bioperipatetic does not necessarily endorse either Whitehead’s, Sperry’s, Bohm’s or Kauffman’s views of God as the principle of natural creativity in the universe, it is, nevertheless, important to discuss the history of this concept and its current influence on the newly developing science of emergence, especially as Whitehead, Sperry, Bohm and Kauffman all sought to heal the major rift that has split the sciences from the humanities ever since the introduction of Newtonian physics and Cartesian dualism during the Enlightenment.

The need for this healing between ‘The Two Cultures‘ (the culture of ‘Literary Intellectuals’ and the culture of ‘Scientists’) is essential and critical for the survival of Western civilization and for its positive future cultural growth, a growth that is ultimately intellectual, and thus the foundation of  what Jacob Bronowski and Bruce Mazlish have characterized as ‘The Western Intellectual Tradition‘.

The bioperipatetic is concerned about the fact that Whitehead, Sperry, Bohm and Kauffman, being primarily scientists, will, through their writings or those of their adherents, aim to redefine philosophy in scientific (albeit new scientific) terms, thus erasing (at least in part) the fundamental and exceedingly important distinction between science and philosophy and the fundamentally different and distinct roles of each in the development of human knowledge.   Since science depends upon philosophy fundamentally, and not the other way round, there must exist a philosophy of science, but not a science of philosophy!  The ultimate solution to the problem of The Two Cultures must not lie in the attempt by either science or philosophy to envelop one the other, but rather a profound dialogue between the most widely and deeply read experts of each discipline, aiming at an intellectual integration of both bodies of knowledge and proper reform of both disciplines to bring about such fundamental and crucial continuous dialogue.

Copyright © 2014 by bioperipatetic.  Published on Aug 25, 2014 @ 5:07 pm

Latest revision: July 15, 2018 @ 3:29 pm

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