Search for Meaning in Philosophy and Theology
to Baltazar and Beyond
have always sought to find meaning in the world. In ancient times
mankind accepted mythical explanations of the world. Mythical
explanations were characterised by a multitude of mythical entities,
which behaved in a manner similar to humans. These entities were held
responsible for various features of the world. In the new mythology of
Scientism, glands and selfish genes play the roles previously played
by earlier mythological entities.
into the 20th Century, Religion provided meaning to the Western world.
But Religion is loosing its hold on people’s minds. The Scientistic
world-view, which is loosely based on Science, is partly replacing it.
This Scientistic world-view has mankind`s destiny determined by
sub-human agencies such as selfish genes.
for a more rational explanation of the world appears to have begun
with the Hebrews. They found their more rational explanations in the
actions of one God. The Greeks were the next people to seek rational
explanations, beginning with the pre-Socratics. The pre-Socratics
posed the first of the major philosophical questions: What is the
world all about. Centuries later, Socrates shifted the focus from
trying to explain the world to a consideration of how we should live.
This is the second major philosophical question.
these two questions cannot stand in isolation from each other. The
answer to one question must affect the answer to the other. The
Hebrews had obviously asked both of these questions prior to the
Greeks, because they had provided answers to both questions. These
answers were formed within the prevailing static view of the world.
These two questions, about the nature of the world and our role in it,
provide the core of philosophy.
was concerned with these first-order philosophical questions. He
sought to provide a complete explanation of man and the world, but his
attempt was not successful. He was limited by his lack of scientific
knowledge, but more importantly he was limited by his essentially
static world-view. This static worldview prevailed until well into the
Scientific revolution. It is still the most widely-held general view
of the world. But the world is not static. The universe has a time
dimension. It moves on, in process. However, very few people
understand the world as process.
meant by process? A process is a series of changes with a unifying
principle. In an automobile production line, components are
manufactured or added and a vehicle comes off the end of the line. The
unifying principle in this process is the idea of the finished
vehicle. Every change that happens along the production line is
directed towards that end. Those changes take time. Time is essential
to any process, particularly to the process of history. The old static
world-view left time out of consideration.
world-view is still prevalent in both Philosophy and Theology. This
accounts for the divergence between the academic and the non-academic
understanding of Philosophy. What Philosophy means, to someone who is
not hindered by the possession of a Degree in Philosophy, is `the
study of the meaning of existence, of the nature of reality, and of
our place in it.’ (Craig,1983, 189-201) Academic philosophy seldom
deals with these questions, which Mortimer Adler categorises as
first-order questions. (1972,Ch.18) Solomon and Higgins in their
recent Short History of Philosophy (1996) O.U.P, maintain that
Philosophy, as the search for truth, no longer exists in academia.
There is no longer truth, only discourses - to the detriment of such
questions as the meaning of life. (1996,300-304)
failure of academic Philosophy, and consequently of Theology, can be
sourced to the failure to adopt a broad process perspective on the
world. I will argue that both Philosophy and Theology have to bear
part of the blame for failing to replace the old static world-view,
and for failing to provide a more realistic explanation of the world.
argues that process is the basic structure of everything which exists.
A dynamic and historical process perspective has replaced the old
static and timeless view of the world in Science generally. However it
has not greatly affected Philosophy or Theology despite its effect on
other modern thought. Baltazar argues that the time scale of our
individual frame of reference is so small that we do not tend to
perceive any significant change. But if we take the long view, we see
that everything is change. (1965,134-150)
theory helps to explain the prevalence of the short term view. Our
remote ancestors evolved to cope with the here and now. They did not
have the ability or the opportunity for contemplation and reflection.
It is only in more recent times that the process perspective has
become sufficiently evident for it to begin to overthrow the grip
which the static, short-term view of the world has had on our minds.
has two components. It is a series of changes and it has a unifying
principle. So if process is the basic structure of everything which
exists, we need to discover what is the unifying principle in that
primary process of change which embraces everything which exists.
first-order Philosophical questions, the nature of the world and our
role in it, could never be answered adequately while the old static
view of the world prevailed. Neither Philosophy nor Theology could
answer these questions from within that static world-view. These
first-order questions can only possibly be answered from a process
perspective, a perspective that recognises that process is the basic
and objective structure of being. The rejection of the static
world-view, and the recognition that the world is in process, opens
the possibility of our understanding the meaning and purpose of the
Philosophy the modern turn towards process began with Hegel
(1770-1831). It has been said that Hegel’s philosophy is essentially
the philosophical expression of the essence of Christianity. (Hirschberger
1976,156) Hegel brought to light the process perspective inherent in
Christianity. This process perspective had been submerged by the
dominant static world-view. Hegel rejected the static concept of the
world as permanent and substantial. He denied the ultimate validity of
everyday experience, which is convinced that things are substantial
and more or less permanent. Hegel understood that everything was in
motion as part of a continual flux.
makes no new discoveries. Its role is to find the pattern and
coherence of reality. Since Hegel, the unreflective and static
world-view is gradually being replaced by a more dynamic understanding
of the world. This can be seen in the philosophical insights of a
number of modern philosophers. Their diverse contributions can be
drawn together, along with scientific Cosmology, to provide an
explanation of the process of the Cosmos. These insights provide the
milestones in the search for meaning.
rejection of the view of the world as permanent and substantial, and
his understanding that everything is in motion as part of a continual
flux, was confirmed in part by Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species.
Darwin showed that animals, which had seemed to be permanent features
of the world, had in fact evolved over time. We now know that the
whole Universe has evolved since the Big Bang.
Hegel, the next important milestone was provided by Henri Bergson
(1859-1941). He published his Creative Evolution in 1907. Bergson was
influenced by Darwin, but he realised that evolution could not just be
the result of the random activities of matter. There had to be an
inner sphere, which shaped the outer. This inner sphere, he argued,
grows with the subject. Nothing simply `is’, everything `becomes’
through creative freedom and Creative Evolution. To ask what it is
that becomes is to miss the point. Bergson sought to get away from
such questions, which imply the permanence that he was denying. He was
the first to emphasise the importance of the time dimension in
evolution. His milestone is his idea of Creative Evolution.
the 20th Century the question was asked how life could emerge from
inanimate matter. This is the problem of Emergent Evolution. Samuel
Alexander (1859-1938) was the first Philosopher of Emergent Evolution.
He published his Space Time and Deity in 1920. Alexander saw the
Universe as a process evolving from level to level, always moving
towards an unknown higher level, a spiritual level which he
characterised as Deity. He postulated a nisus in Space-time, an
impulse which drove it forward to produce new levels of reality,
eventually bringing Deity to birth.
was the first to recognise that each new emergent level was
accompanied by new laws of nature. He postulated four Emergent levels,
Matter, Life, Mind and Moral Personality. Alexander’s most important
insight was that evolution was a development towards a more spiritual
entity. This development is his milestone.
North Whitehead (1861-1947) published his Process and Reality
in 1929. He argued that Science could treat entities in isolation but
that Philosophy had to see the unities and connections between
entities and to recognise that everything was connected.
could abstract from reality for its own purposes, and deal with
instants of time, points in space or particles of matter, but these
remain only abstractions and are not what is ultimately real.
Whitehead argued that the world was comprised of events rather than of
things. Everything was in a process of becoming, and was involved in
an ongoing process of self-creation.
model of reality, which characterised thought prior to the realisation
that the world was in process, is based on categories such as
substances, essences and objects. Its unit is the lifeless atom. Its
ideals are permanence and logical necessity. Whitehead rejected the
concept of the lifeless atom. He called his self-creative units of
reality `actual occasions’. These units of reality are always
involved in a self-creative process of becoming, a creative advance
into novelty. They relate to other units of reality, by `prehending’
them. Prehension can be understood as a limited form of awareness.
name is almost synonymous with Process Philosophy. Unfortunately his
convoluted expression and multiple neologisms have ensured that
Process Philosophy stagnates as a philosophical backwater. Few
philosophers today take any interest in Process Philosophy. Those who
do seem to spend most of their time trying to work out just what
Whitehead meant. However his most important insight is clear, and it
provides a further milestone in the search for meaning. This is his
recognition that the universe advances into novelty, by the
self-creative activity of the units of reality.
can see the influence of Hegel and Darwin on Alexander and on
Whitehead, Nicolai Hartmann (1882-1950) stands more independently. He
published his Ethics in 1932 and his New Ways of Ontology in 1953. He
was a phenomenologist, concerned to investigate and to make clear the
actual state of affairs. His major concerns were the nature of humans,
and the ontological structure of reality.
argued that the world could not be understood until it was recognised
that it comprised a series of strata, which rested one upon the other.
His four strata were the physical, the biological, the conscious and
the moral or spiritual. These strata are parallel to Samuel
Alexander's Emergent levels of matter, life, mind and moral
Alexander before him, Hartmann also recognised that the laws of nature
were different at each of the strata of reality. His most significant
insight was the realisation that these laws permitted a greater degree
of freedom at each successive stratum, ultimately providing total
freedom at the moral or spiritual stratum. This is his milestone.
contrasted the deterministic laws of the physical level with the total
lack of determination of the moral law. The moral law tells us what to
do but it is a matter for us, for our will, whether we do it or not.
considered himself an atheist. He argued that if a free human moral
consciousness existed then God had to be an illusion. This argument,
that the freedom of human moral consciousness was inconsistent with
the existence of God, could only prevail if the Divine finalism was a
perfect determination, which would necessarily exclude any human
everything that happened was determined by God, Hartmann’s argument
would seem to prevail. But if God had initiated a process of free
self-creation, rather than a determined process leading to an
inevitable outcome, Hartmann’s argument would have no force. His
argument would only prevail against a deterministic understanding of
God, an understanding which had grown out of the old static
world-view. Hartmann’s study of man’s spiritual nature convinced
him of the freedom of the human will in relation to the operation of
the moral law, and he could not reconcile that freedom with an
understanding of God which proposed that everything that happened was
Hartmann, Teilhard de Chardin was a phenomenologist. He was also a
Palaeontologist. While Hartmann examined the nature of humans,
Teilhard was more concerned with the development of humanity. He
recognised that there was an increase in freedom throughout the
emergent stages, but he did not analyse the increase in freedom from
stage to stage. He initiated the concept of Cosmogenesis, the idea
that the whole Cosmos is an evolutionary process.
Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955) published his The Phenomenon of Man
in 1955. Teilhard was the first to show that the idea of evolution was
not incompatible with Christianity. He understood the universe as an
evolutionary process of ever increasing complexity and ever increasing
consciousness. Many Christians considered evolution to be antagonistic
to the heart of their philosophy. This was partly because the theory
of evolution attacked the static world-view, in which terms
Christianity had found its initial expression.
vision of the Cosmos is dynamic rather than static. As he says, the
very concept of cosmogenesis is `opposed to the ancient and medieval
concept of a static cosmos’ (1974,18) Despite this recognition, he
was still affected by the static world-view in which Christianity was
expressed. This led him to see evolution as a process determined by
God, rather than as a free, self-creating process.
Process philosophy was developing, Science was also discovering more
about the universe. These discoveries had a bearing on some of the
ideas of the philosophers who have been mentioned. Alexander had
postulated Space-time as the initial force driving everything towards
a more spiritual level, but Cosmology showed that space and time did
not exist before the Big Bang which initiated the Universe. Whitehead
had believed that matter was eternal, but this view was also
contradicted by Cosmology. However, Alexander’s fundamental insight
that evolution was a progress towards a more spiritual stage, and
Whitehead’s insight concerning the self-creative nature of the
process of becoming, remain valid.
Let me now
summarise the milestones in the search for meaning provided by these
philosophers. Initially there is Hegel’s rejection of the static
view of the world as permanent and substantial.
Hegel perceived that everything was in motion as part of a
continual flux. His denial that things are permanent and substantial
would later be supported by the theory of evolution and by scientific
Hegel attributed the changes to the operation of an historical spirit,
Bergson saw that the process of evolution involved creativity and
then recognised that the direction of evolution was towards a more
spiritual reality, which he called Deity. He was the first to
recognise that each new emergent level was accompanied by new laws of
was followed by Whitehead, whose most important insight was that the
creative advance of the universe into novelty involved a process of
self-creation. Whitehead saw that evolution is driven from within. The
units of reality are always involved in a self-creative process of
becoming. In this process they are in touch with other units of
was the first to realise the significance of freedom in the overall
process. He saw that the laws of nature permitted a greater degree of
freedom at each successive stratum, the physical, the biological, the
conscious and the moral or spiritual stratum. This process culminated
in the total freedom of humans in relation to the moral law.
Teilhard de Chardin gained legitimacy for evolutionary views among
many Christians by showing that such views were not incompatible with
Christianity. He also brought to our notice the process of
Cosmogenesis and the concentration and acceleration of evolutionary
development in the anthropoid branch of the vertebrates. This
development is seen in the rapid cephalisation of hominids, and the
consequent development of the noosphere.
milestones in the search for meaning can lead us to understand the
purpose of the cosmos. They may provide the basis for the restoration
of meaning and purpose in Western culture and in our lives.
failure of Philosophy to adopt a process perspective provides the
reason for its failure to provide answers to the first-order
philosophical questions concerning the meaning of existence,
the nature of reality, and our place in it. The quest for such
answers has been largely abandoned by academic Philosophy, and left to
Theologians and Physical Cosmologists. Let us pursue the quest
is the basic structure of everything that exists, we need to discover
just what is the unifying principle in the overall process of the
cosmos. In the case of an automobile production line the unifying
principle is the idea of the finished vehicle. The idea of the
finished vehicle is the Telos, or end, of the process. Every
change that occurs within a process is directed towards that end. If
we are to identify the unifying principle of any process we have to
discover the Telos of the process.
Theology, there are different alternatives conceptions involving
process. The best known is commonly called Process Theology, based on
Whitehead and Hartshorne. This view turns aside from the concept of
God as all knowing and all powerful. It proposes a developing God who
acts persuasively. This view appears to be an attempt to resolve the
problem presented by the conflict between a strictly determinative
will of God and a free human will, which Hartmann has identified. This
form of Process Theology seeks to resolve this conflict by reducing
God. While it maintains that the whole of reality is a self-creative
process, it does not provide the unifying principle or Telos of
most widely held view is based on the work of Teilhard de Chardin. It
retains the determinative will of God but argues that God works
towards a determined objective by means of evolutionary processes. Its
Telos is Point Omega.
alternative is the most recent proposal, called here “the Kelly
Thesis”. This thesis, published as The Process of the Cosmos:
Philosophical Theology and Cosmology (1999), argues that the
cosmos is a process of self-creation through successive stages, with
increasing freedom of self-creation available at each successive
stage. This view utilises Hartmann’s analysis of the increasing
freedom which is found at successive strata of reality, in particular
the total freedom of humans with regard to the moral law.
Thesis does not seek to reduce the traditional concept of God’s
power, but argues that with the Big Bang, God initiates a process of
self-creation. This process proceeds through a series of stages of
increasing freedom, until it reaches a stage which is totally free in
relation to the law of that stage, the moral law.
The motive for this Divine action is to open the possibility of
there resulting a communal entity which is both freely self-created
and good. Such an entity would be similar to God, who is self-existent
and good. It would be appropriate for God to love this self-created
achievement of this self-created and good entity would usher in the
next emergent stage in the process of Emergent Evolution. As with all
previous emergent stages, the laws of nature of this new emergent
stage could be expected to differ from the laws of nature of the
previous stages. The Telos of the Kelly Thesis is this
self-created and good spiritual entity.
which was intended to make possible the self-creation of such a
spiritual entity would have to be initiated at a level lower than
Spirit, hence the necessity for the process to begin with the
initiation of sub-spiritual matter in the Big Bang. Matter has to be
provided with the potential to freely develop, although the
possibilities of development are limited by the laws of physics and
chemistry. Matter is initiated in its simplest possible form in the
Big Bang, but it has the potential to develop into forms which at some
stage could provide a platform, or platforms, for the development of
is initiated, also in the simplest possible form, it has the potential
to freely evolve until forms of life can support consciousness. The
conscious stage then freely evolves in numerous animal forms, many of
which become locked into particular environmental niches. The
anthropoid species freely evolve both physically and culturally until Homo
Sapiens, through cultural self-creation, is able to support a
spiritual or moral consciousness.
Thesis provides the basis for the restoration of meaning and purpose
in Western culture and in our lives. It proposes direct answers the
questions as to why the universe exists and what is the nature of our
role in the world.
That role is one that many of us already pursue in our lives and our work, without really knowing why. It is to complete the creation of the world by making it better in every way. It is to know and to realise, in the sense of making real, the application of the moral law. In pursuit of this objective humans have to realise their spiritual nature.
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