The topic of God in Whitehead’s philosophy is so big and complex that it demands a post all to itself, as it may have to be revisited at some point in the future as new parts of the philosophy become relevant. As such, it has been given it’s own article that may be expanded upon later, either for reference as new concepts emerge, or if my understanding of the matter happens to change. It would be helpful to keep in mind the words of Kierkegaard: “Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards.”
Firstly, It should be very clear to readers that Whitehead’s God is not a bearded man in the clouds, nor is he a vengeful pagan idol. To let the man speak for himself:
“It does not emphasize the ruling Caesar, or the ruthless moralist, or the unmoved mover. It dwells upon the tender elements in the world, which slowly and in quietness operates by love; and it finds purpose in the present immediacy of a kingdom not of this world. Love neither rules, nor is it unmoved; also it is a little oblivious as to morals. It does not look to the future; for it finds its own reward in the immediate present” (Process and Reality 343).
God was one of the parts of Whitehead’s philosophy that can be the most difficult to understand and to swallow. Those of you who are not religious may already be getting cold feet. My advice, which may seem a bit against your sensibilities, is this: understand first, then ask your questions. To understand his unique idea of God, and to question it if you so desire, one has to understand that, and it’s very, very difficult to understand how God operates and is justified by Whitehead without simply letting him take you along and show you, which may take many, many pages. In short until you’re certain you grasp what Whitehead is on about, roll with it and see where it takes us. It is the supreme exemplification of Whitehead’s principles that it is difficult to understand how each part of it works until you see how it functions with the other parts, and God is no different.
God’s Primordial Nature
The Key to Process and reality suggests that the simplest way to introduce the concept of God is to simply apply the ontological principle to the realm of eternal objects. So first, recall the ontological principle:
“Every condition to which the process of becoming conforms in any particular instance, has its reason either in the character of some actual entity in the actual world of that concrescence or in the character of the caracter of the subject which is in process of concrescence… so that to search for reasons means to search for one or more actual entities” (Key 17).
Because of this, Whitehead declares that things cannot float into existence from nothing. Everything has to be somewhere, so, the potentiality of the universe (the eternal objects) also has to all be somewhere. This is a non temporal actual-entity which is the mediation between the the eternal objects and the actual entities: God. Attentive readers likely noticed that there was something missing in the discussion of eternal objects:
“The endeavor to understand eternal objects in complete abstraction from the actual world results in reducing them to mere differentiated nonentities” (Key 26).
To avoid this, the “relevance” of eternal objects in each creative instant, their relation to each other, their diversity, pattern, and nature must already be realized conceptually in what is termed god’s “primordial nature.” Without this, the eternal objects are isolated and vanish from existence, and potentiality becomes impossible. To prevent this God in his primordial nature prehends all eternal objects. The primordial nature is then present in other actual entities as they move towards their own complete prehension of eternal objects. While the eternal objects guide how each prehension is made, the primordial nature is generating the relevance of each eternal object in the actual entity and determining how each eternal object comes into the actual entity to begin with.
The primordial nature is thus present in some respect in every concrescing entity, and is realized in the completion of each actual entity. To quote Whitehead:
“[The primordial nature of God] is the unconditioned actuality of conceptual feeling at the base of things; so that, by reason of this primordial actuality, there is an order in the relevance of eternal objects to the process of creation. He is the actual entity in virtue of which the entire multiplicity of eternal objects obtains its graded relevance to each stage of concrescence. Apart from God, there could be no relevant novelty” (Key 26-27).
Only through his valuation of each eternal object is there any order in the world. If there could be no agent of comparison for eternal objects, there would be pure chaos. There could be no potentiality, as there would be no logical manner in which the eternal enters into the temporal without his valuations of each eternal object. This agency must come from an actual entity, namely God.
Subjective Aim and the Consequent Nature
God plays a critical role in the determining of each concrescing subject’s subjective aim. This is not the subjective form, which is how a feeling is realized, but an aim which acts as a sort of lure for feelings. The subjective aim is a vision provided to an entity of what it might be. The primordial nature of God sets up each actual entity with a subjective aim through providing the basis of the valuation of eternal objects. This end is the one most in line with bringing about an intensity of feeling (as this brings things to more definiteness). The entity’s becoming is kickstarted at this moment, and it’s becoming is it’s being. The aim provided by God may be altered by the concrescing subject, being simplified or corrupted, but this is to be decided by the entity, which is now provided with the means of going about it’s own concrescence in an orderly manner.
“God is the principle of concretion; namely, he is that actual entity from which each temporal concrescence receives that initial aim from which its self-causation starts” (Key 28-29).
There is nothing forcing an actual entity to comply with the subjective aim. It is the lord of its own concrescence, and presides over it as subject. God merely provides an image of a potentiality, and the entity may accept it or alter it. This is a bit of needless anthropomorphizing of actual entities, but the point should be clear.
Remember that the specific subjective aim provided by god arises naturally. It is not conjured from nowhere, it is merely God’s own valuation from the perspective of the entity in question, like subjective forms of other datum. Remember, each entity is prehending every other entity in some manner or another, so there is nothing special about prehending god. In fact, according to Whitehead, you’re doing it at every moment.God also enters into every entity through his consequent nature. As each generation of entities passes out of existence and gives birth to new entities, they are no longer actual, so in order that the objective immortality doctrine be preserved, the consequent nature of god prehends each satisfaction and brings it into itself, preserving it relative to the actual entity which it generated and allowing for it to be carried onwards and have efficacy in the world.
“Through his valuations of the world as saved in his consequent nature he exhibits ‘the judgement of a tenderness which loses nothing that can be saved'[PR 525]” (Key 227).
There are certain terms, like valuation, which are difficult to grasp and explain in this context, and to explain them. It is very difficult to actually understand them outside of the context of the phases of concrescence, which is the subject of the next article. Unfortunately, without God in mind, it is difficult to understand things like subjective aim. The next article can be approached arm with the concept of God, and by seeing his operations in action, the unfamiliar concepts will snap into an incredible clarity that can only be described as a moment of epiphany. Until then, be content with this piece from the Key for summary:
“In his primordial nature God prehends the infinite realm of possibilities; in his consequent nature he prehends the actualities of the world; his superjective nature is a result of weaving his consequent prehensions upon his primordial vision.”