What’s the Evidence for Process Theism?

"Worship is a consciously unitary response to life. It lifts to the level of explicit awareness the integrity of an individual responding to reality.  … [In theistic worship] the conscious wholeness of the individual is correlative to an inclusive wholeness in the world of which the individual is aware, and this wholeness is deity.  … God is the wholeness of the world, correlative to the wholeness of every sound individual dealing with the world."—Charles Hartshorne, A Natural Theology for Our Time (LaSalle, IL: Open Court, 1967), pp. 5-6.

"The primitive stage of discrimination … is the vague grasp of reality, dissecting it into a three-fold scheme, namely, 'The Whole,' 'That Other,' and 'This-My-Self.'"—Alfred North Whitehead, Modes of Thought (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1968 [1938]), p. 110.


A friend of mine read an online pamphlet on process theology by Marjorie Suchocki (here). As an atheist of the sort who demands empirical evidence for everything, all he could see in her account was a bunch of groundless assertions about God. In Suchocki’s defense, that was often because he did not notice the hypothetical context of many of her assertions. Her argument was basically that, if a process view of the world is true, then God, if there was a God, would have to be conceived in this way … She didn’t really try to address how we could determine if the process view is true or if God (or anything “God-like”) exists. So she can’t be said to have failed at something she didn’t even try to do.

Still, I agree that one ought to have shareable reasons (evidence) for any assertion. Suchocki’s assumption is that process thought in general, and process theism in particular, are both true to experience. And my friend was right to ask how somebody might go about showing that. So I tried to respond to his demands by taking each of the assertions he considered unsupported and showing how they might be supported by a process thinker.

The evidence for process theology depends on the evidence for process thought in general. (Some process thinkers don’t address the question of God, so process thought isn’t the same as process theology.) While process thought is often presumed to be wildly speculative, it actually claims to derive all of its categories from everyday experience. But instead of focusing on particular experiences, process thought focuses on describing what seem to be common aspects of experience, aspects of experience which, as best anybody can tell, are going to show up in any experience anybody can imagine.

Process thought of the sort I would bother to defend starts with this principle: 

To be is to be interactive.
Here “interactive” is defined as “jointly influential and influenced,” or, alternatively, as “somewhat recurrent and somewhat original”—making a difference in what may be a limitless network of relationships.
(Suchocki says, "To exist is to be in relation." I like that too, but I'm going with my formulation. They seem roughly equivalent.)

I think this principle is well-founded, in fact verifiable by every experience we have or could conceivably have. Show me a state of affairs that has not been influenced and is not in turn influential with its surroundings. Show me a state of affairs that is utterly lacking in originality (or novelty). Nobody has ever succeeded in showing me any counterexamples, and that is enough to justify adopting this as a fundamental working principle until I'm shown otherwise: to be is to be interactive.

None of the above depends on any particular discoveries in, say, the empirical sciences. Still, it can’t hurt to notice how through those sciences we’ve now learned that everything that seems noninteractive on one level has turned out to be very interactive on other levels. Rocks seem noninteractive, yet they’re full of microinteractions. And even on a macro level, there are electromagnetic and gravitational interactions happening between one rock and another. In other words, current empirical sciences now presume that the objects they study are themselves interactive even when none of us are around.

So once again, to be is to be interactive. I know of no counterexamples.

That's what has to be settled first. You may say it isn't, but let's pretend it is, as I believe it to be. Here then is how I would explain and support the following sentences that my friend found completely unsupported. They are of course just as debatable as the central principle of process thought is, but they are not simply pulled out of the air.

God exists. Where’s the evidence?
Hartshorne and Whitehead claim (see above) that any fully aware individual will also be aware of “the wholeness of the world.”
And if to be is to be interactive, “the wholeness of the world” is interactive too, in fact, wholly interactive as opposed to only partly interactive.
And my very awareness of it is an interaction with the wholly interactive.
So to say that God exists is to say that we and the wholeness of the world really do interact with one another, something we experience constantly if we are fully aware.
All of this is convergent with the arguably cross-cultural experience of the sacred, the more-elusive-than-everyday reality that ultimately enables and sustains our everyday existence.
Process thought simply supplies one rather promising vocabulary for speaking of this: what better candidate than the wholly interactive could there be for whatever ultimately enables and sustains our everyday existence?
This is not an inference to something absent, but an articulated awareness of something ever-present.
Again (since the point seems to be repeatedly missed): not an inference to the absent but an articulation of the present. It’s experience, not an attempt at an explanation.
So this is the claim: To interact knowingly enough with the particularly interactive is to interact somewhat knowingly with the wholly interactive. The wholly interactive is indirectly known whenever anything else is known.
Any sufficiently attentive person can notice this. And that supplies every reason to say that the wholly interactive, God, exists.

You could still insist that the wholly interactive isn't God. But that tells me more about what you want "God" to mean, not what it can legitimately mean in light of the term's long, varied history, even among Christians. You might need to do some homework before you assume this isn't God.

God is not independent of the Universe. Where’s the evidence?
If to be divine is to be wholly interactive, then independence from some universe (i.e. other interactions) is already ruled out. That does not mean that God is a part of the universe: “interactive with” does not equal “part of.” If anything, the universe is part of God, as God is more inclusive, “the wholeness of the world.” This is not a further piece of information somebody needs to discover, but an implication of the central principle we are working with in process thought. Again, not an inference to the absent but an articulation of the present.

God can be experienced by humans. Where’s the evidence?
If to be divine is to be wholly interactive, then it automatically follows that God interacts with the interactions we call my experience. As I’ve said, we are at least vaguely aware of the wholly interactive every time we are aware of anything particular.

God did not create the universe from nothing. Where’s the evidence?
If to be divine is to be wholly interactive, and if to be wholly interactive requires other interactions, then that automatically rules out a state of affairs where there are no other interactions. Genesis 1, by the way, seems to be imagining God as prompting more formed interactions to emerge from a relatively formless ones, not from nothing. That adds no further support, of course, if you don't care what Genesis 1 says.

God directs/influences the ongoing processes of the universe. Where’s the evidence?
This is simply another way of saying that to be divine is to be wholly interactive. It also follows that the ongoing processes of the universe influence God. Most process thinkers would avoid saying that God “directs” anything. If somebody said that, they mean it in a very weak, non-controlling sense. If to be is to be interactive, nobody is in complete control of anything. Everybody and everything is influenced by others, and everybody and everything has influence on others.

God makes new realities out of past events by integrating them into the present to create the future. Where’s the evidence?
Every interaction does this. If it isn’t influenced by past influences, and if it does not contribute its own distinctive influence to future interactions, it’s not an interaction. If that’s true of every interaction, it’s true of the wholly interactive, i.e., God.

When humans die they continue to exist in the memory of God. Where’s the evidence?
When human interactions and all other interactions are past, they are ALL integrated into ongoing interactions by the wholly interactive (i.e., God). Again that follows automatically if God is the wholly interactive. That is actually a fuller version of what happens when I integrate my past interactions into my present ones. If my past self continues to exist in my present, that is even more the case when it exists in God’s present. Death may put a stop to my own relatively independent integration of the past, but the wholly interactive integration of my and everything else’s past (including my subjective past) will continue.

The redemptive activity of God consists in his willingness to accept past evil, transform it into good and continue to lure each individual toward a self-authenticating acceptance of true value. Where’s the evidence?
If to be divine is to be wholly interactive, what else is there to do with past interactions, whether good or evil? To integrate past interactions with the present simply is to accept and transform them into present resources for ongoing interactions. Their value is determined by the roles they can play in ongoing interactions. Those roles are good to the extent that they contribute to the mutual flourishing of ongoing interactions, not good to the extent that they don't.

Summing up
So these statements about God all follow, at least arguably, from two basic assertions:
1. To be is to be interactive.
2. To be divine is to be wholly interactive.
And these assertions are said to be illustrated and thus confirmed in every experience, though easily missed by people who are not sufficiently aware of all they experience. They are not inferences to the absent but articulations of the present. The evidence for them is either everywhere, or else it’s nowhere.

Is there room for debate about this? I keep debating it with my more skeptical friends, so obviously there is. But it should at least be granted that none of the above sentences were simply pulled out of a vacuum. They are not the result of speculation or of wishful thinking. They are not at all like statements about Russell’s teapot (a teapot allegedly floating undetected somewhere in outer space), which nobody has ever even pretended to have experienced. Every one of them is said to flow out of the constant features of every experience of the here and now. To challenge this, all one need do is show one coherent, credible example of "to be" that is in no way interactive. Good luck with that.