Friday, November 14, 2008


One of the major problems in the work of finding useful complementary interactions among science, philosophy, and theology is the question of divine action in creation: how does God interact with His creation?

Three are three basic schools of thought that address this question:

Classical theism (CT): God is Being per se; He created all contingent beings ex nihilo (from nothing) and holds all creation in existence; He exercises His will according to His nature as Love through instrumental causality (sacraments, people); He allows moral evil as a consequence of His choice to give His human creatures free will; natural evil is a consequence of the fall and the entrance of death into creation; He is Self-limiting, that is, limited only by His own choices and wholly unaffected by His creation. Total transcendence.

Pantheism (P): God is identical with creation, "All is God, God is All"; Spirit is the Soul/Mind of the physical universe, which is God's body; everything is divine because everything is God, there is nothing "outside" God; God acts in the universe in a way analogous to the human mind acting within the human body; as the universe grows and changes, so does God; God is directly affected by free human choices; moral and natural evil are consequences of physical law, God is unable to intervene; He is naturally limited by physical law. Total immanence.

Panentheism (EN): God contains creation but transcends creation, "All in God, but not all of God in All"; creation is ex nihilo but also on-going; creatures assist in on-going creation through free will and choice; God allows His will to be affected by free human choices; He operates in the world through persuasive human agency; moral evil is a consequences of this agency; natural evil is the consequence of physical law. Transcendent and immanent.

Each of these has various versions that fine-tune the basics presented here (deism, process theism, qualified panentheism). There is little agreement among proponents of each position concerning what counts as a conclusive definition of each position. Broadly speaking, each provides a basic way of talking about who and what God is, and given that particular view, how God interacts with the universe.

For orthodox Christians, that is, Christians adhering to the langauge and intent of the ancient creeds, pantheism is not a viable theological option. Pantheism explicitly denies God's transcendence, choosing instead to equate God with the body/soul of the universe. Theism and panentheism are certainly viable options.

Traditionally, the "problem of evil" plagues CT: how can an all-powerful, all-good, all knowing God allow moral and natural evil? Classical theists have given any number of answers to this question, sometimes limiting God's goodness, knowledge, or power in their answers. Others take a more traditional tact, the "free-will defense," and argue that evil of every kind is a natural consequence of man's free will and choice.

Panentheism offers orthodox Christians with a rather broad palatte to paint a theological picture of God who is both transcendent of His creation and immanent in it. EN offers the best of both CT and contemporary science. Also, EN offers science and philosophy a place at the theological table by allowing these disciplines to explore creation at its macro and micro levels. Given the insights of science and philosophy, the panentheistic theologian is then charged with incorporating these insights without sacrificing either divine transcendence or immanence.

The degree to which an EN theologian's work concedes either divine transcendence or immanance will determine that work's degree of usefulness to orthodox Christianity.