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Process Theodicy: A Discussion

By Barry L. Whitney 
There are few theological issues as significant and few as perplexing as the theodicy question. For centuries, Christian theologians have sought to explain how the devastating reality of evil in the world is consistent with belief in an all-powerful and all-loving God. Historical consideration of this issue, however, has been dominated by Saint Augustine, whose writings on theodicy have been overwhelmingly influential in both Catholic and Protestant circles.[1] It has been only in the past few decades that clearly defined alternatives to Augustine's traditional theodicy have been proposed. Foremost among these innovators are theologians like John Hick (who has constructed an "lrenaean" theodicy), philosophers Alvin Plantinga and Austin Farrer (who have done significant work on the free will defense), and a number of others, including Whiteheadian-Hartshornean process theists.[2]

The theodicy issue undeniably is an exceptionally complex problem; yet it can be understood essentially as addressing two principal questions and as providing two main types of answers. The questions are to explain how God's existence is consistent with both "moral evil" (sin, envy, greed, deceit, etc.) and "physical evil" (droughts, famines, disease, birth defects, etc.). The two types of answers commonly are referred to as the "existential" and "theoretical" approaches. The existential (or practical approach) appeals to "faith" as the only (or, at least, the ultimate) solution; human beings, we are told, are incapable of comprehending fully why God permits or perhaps causes evil, and it is thought to be pointless, if indeed not also impious and blasphemous, to question God's ways. We must cope with the evil as best we can, proponents of the faith solution advise, and persevere in our belief that everything happens for a "morally justifiable reason," known only to God.[3]

Many of our greatest theological minds throughout the centuries, nevertheless, have felt a pressing intellectual and religious obligation to pursue the theodicy problem rationally; indeed, it is the very nature of "theology'' to seek a rational understanding of religious beliefs. This theoretical (or rational) approach concedes that our finite human perspective is limited, but at the same time insists that we must seek some understanding of the reasons why God would cause or permit evil and suffering in the first place, and indeed why God apparently allows such miseries to continue unabated. Yet Hartshorne has observed what unfortunately what is all too true: we have a general populace which, for the most part, inclines to be religious, yet which "shies away from any attempt at rational discussion of religious issues" (Omnipotence, 13-14). This attitude seems incredibly cavalier, for while rational reflection on the theodicy problem may not be able to create faith where none existed, it most assuredly is indispensable in helping to "preserve an already existing faith from being overcome by this dark mystery" (Hick, Evil 7-9). Religious leaders, I respectfully submit, have an obligation to apprise themselves of current theological deliberations on such issues and to disperse this information (in an appropriate manner) to the people under their care.
Some time ago, I complained that there was an unjustifiable lack of critical scholarly attention to Hartshorne's substantial contributions to the theodicy issue and, indeed, to process theodicy in general.[4] This situation fortunately has changed somewhat, as growing numbers of commentators (both sympathetic and antagonistic) have begun to discuss seriously and assess critically the various aspects of process theodicy. Griffin's notable book, God, Power, and Evil (1976), deserves much of the credit for this belated scholarly interest: by means of his meticulous analyses of the dominant traditional Christian theodicies (generally understood by process theists to be such prominent figures as Augustine, Luther, Calvin, Barth, etc., and especially Aquinas and the influential tradition he inspired), Griffin has demonstrated conclusively that process theodicy not only is fully cognizant of the traditional perspectives, but has constructed an innovative approach which challenges the very essence of the traditional Christian theodicy (God).

It is disconcerting, however, that many of the current discussions of process theodicy have become bogged down in superfluous arguments, the most common of which attacks the supposed "religious inadequacy" of the "limited" God of process thought, Hartshorne and other process theists have responded persistently and (to my mind) convincingly to this objection; yet they have done so apparently without overwhelming success. It must be acknowledged, to be sure, that resistance to the process conception of God is understandable (to a point), since process theism certainly has proposed a major shift in theological thinking. Griffin recently has noted that the acceptance of the "change from a doctrine of coercive agency to one of persuasive agency would not be a minor change in Christian thought: it could be the most radical change ever made” (Creation, 111). It is precisely this issue upon which I wish to focus and to expose some of the reasons why it has contributed so significantly to the continued opposition toward the process enterprise.

The key to the process solution to the theodicy question centers about this issue of divine power the traditional interpretation of God as "omnipotent" is rejected by process thinkers as seriously inadequate and in need of major revisions. Hartshorne insists that "no worse falsehood was ever perpetrated than the traditional concept of omnipotence. It is a piece of unconscious blasphemy, condemning God to a dead world, probably not distinguishable from no world at all" (Omnipotence 18). This understanding of divine power has been "so fearfully misdefined" and has so "catastrophically misled so many thinkers" that the word is now virtually meaningless and ought to be dropped from theological discourse (Omnipotence 26). 'The "idea of omnipotence, as it figures in the classical [formulation of the] problem of evil, is a pseudo-idea" (Hartshorne, “New Look” 2O3). Classical theism ''had a confused idea, really a self-contradictory one ... of the meaning of the term 'God,' '' and therefore also ''confused ideas about what is to be meant by 'creature,' or being other than God" (“New Look” 202). Hartshorne believes that the traditional understanding of God gives to God absolute power in the sense that God supposedly would "be able to prevent anything undesirable from occurring" (“New Look” 202). Hartshorne's point, of course, is that this idea is "an absurdity": "For [God] to have power to prevent anything undesirable from occurring is for [God] to have a monopoly on decision-making power," (“New Look” 202) and if this were in fact the case, the very reality of freely creative creatures would be threatened. An absolute determinism, whether it be divinely imposed or the result of worldly factors (environmental or attributed to our characters), is an impossible position to defend (Omnipotence l9-23).[5]

Hartshorne's "metaphysics of freedom" has argued the case thoroughly that all reality, including the most minute and trivial levels, has some degree of genuine creativity (although this does not imply a conscious freedom, except for the higher forms of life on this planet). The "minimal solution'' to the problem of evil, then, is to comprehend that it is not God who determines all events, but "the creaturely freedom from which evils spring" (Natural 81). Indeed, "since all creatures have some freedom, all evil can and should be viewed as involving unfortunate ...  cases of creaturely decision'' (“New Look” 2O5). "This is the sole, but sufficient reason for evil as such and in general" (Natural 81). With "a multiplicity of creative agents, some risk of conflict and suffering is inevitable" (Creative 237-8). God's role is not to decide unilaterally the details of earthly life--even if this were possible--but rather to provide a world order in which freedom is possible, and hence the prospects for great aesthetic goods, despite the inevitable evil and destruction which also occur.

Hartshorne makes the value judgment, shared by most theists (classical and process) that "the chance for these good things was divinely judged worth the risk of the evil things" (“New Look” 208). God lures and persuades the world's creatures toward free decisions which, if actualized, promote the most value possible for every creature and the world at large. For all levels of creaturely life, "there is a balance of unity in diversity which is ideally satisfying'' (Creative 304), an appropriate degree of aesthetic value to be sought. We aspire to experiences which contain "a balance of unity and variety'' (Creative 304), a "harmony in diversity" (Born 8), experiences which contain both variety and intensity, and which avoid not only absolute order (regularity, predictability) but also too much discord, too much complexity and too much superficiality (triviality). It is simply not the case, despite the protests of many skeptics, that belief in God is consistent only with a world of absolute order. "To escape the evil of triviality necessarily means to risk discord” (Cobb 73), and with each new stage in the advancement of life, from the primordial chaos to the evolution of human beings, more aesthetic value was required, and with it the risk of ever greater evils (Griffin, Creation 285-291).

This aesthetic motif is the means by which Hartshorne is able to answer various critics who have argued that it is not evil per se which is irreconcilable with belief in God, but rather gratuitous evil.[6] Hartshorne contends that there is no "utterly senseless" or "unredeemed evil." "Any evil has some value from some perspective, for even to know it exists is to make it contributory to a good, knowledge itself being a good" (Natural 80). This is not to say, of course, that Hartshorne believes that all evils are really parts of a good whole or means to a good end (as the traditional aesthetic view holds), nor indeed that evil is not genuinely evil, seen from God's ultimate perspective (as much of traditional theodicy holds). Nor does Hartshorne believe that the world is a perfect whole, ordained by God in its details as such. Hartshorne's point, rather, is that it is not the task of theodicy to try to justify individual evils; the reason for evils in general can be explained as the result of the creativity of the world's creatures, but particular evils "have no ultimate reason" and are simply "nonrational." "Risk of evil and opportunity for good are two aspects of just one thing, multiple freedom" (Natural 81).
These and other import aspects of Hartshorne's theodicy (his argument that evil is "overcome" by God; his defense of "objective immortality"; his utilization of the increasingly popular vision of a suffering God; and his revised versions of the theistic proofs, etc.) (Whitney, Evil) merit and demand far more serious critical attention than they have received to date. In this essay, however, I wish to confine my discussion to the one particular aspect of Hartshorne's theodicy which seems especially troublesome and controversial: the question of divine power. I have no illusions, to be sure, that the complex and unresolved problems which center about this question can be settled in a short essay; even the most rudimentary overtures toward a solution will necessitate the concentrated efforts of many thinkers. My intention here is to expose some of the problems which must be addressed and to clarify and advance some of the arguments I have made previously.

One of the most common protests against Hartshorne's theodicy is that the process God is "too weak," "too limited" in power. Stephen Ely was among the first to lodge this complaint several decades ago, (Religious) and it has been reiterated by most critical commentators since then. John Hick, for example, (after virtually ignoring process theodicy in his classic book, Evil and the God of Love and in the first two editions of his Philosophy of Religion) recently has insisted that "the fundamental criticism of a process theodicy must be a criticism of the doctrine of a limited God," (Irenaean 122) and Frederick Sontag, Stephen Davis and John Roth all have expressed a similar concern in their assessments of David Griffin's process theodicy (Encountering Evil). Even writers sympathetic to process thought have found this issue particularly troublesome. Daniel Day Williams, for example, was concerned that Whitehead's God is "too weak," a criticism he did not extend to Hartshorne, interestingly enough, since he believed that Hartshorne's God exerts some measure of coercive power (a point we shall address later).[7]

Hartshorne and other process theists, of course, have contested this critique. "Instead of saying that God's power is limited," Hartshorne insists, "suggesting that it is less than some conceivable power, we should rather say: [God's] power is absolutely maximal, the greatest possible, but even the greatest possible power is still one power among others, is not the only power" (DR,138). 'The solution to the problem of evil is not to be found in the traditional strategies which seek to explain why an all-powerful God has caused or (at the very least) permitted so much suffering and anguish in the world (for example, as tests of faith, as punishment for sin, as having redemptive or educational value, etc.)[8]; the solution lies in the realization that God does not cause the details of earthly events, but rather provides a world order which contains the opportunity for aesthetic value and also, unavoidably, the evil and suffering which arises from this creaturely potential.

The fundamental point made by process theists is that the classical conception of an all-powerful God is seriously deficient. Griffin has demonstrated convincingly and indisputably (in my opinion) that traditional theologians credited the deity with "coercive omnipotence. Nothing could resist God's transitive power. No cooperation by creatures was needed for God to produce effects in the world" (Griffin, Faith 97, God) It matters not, I wish to emphasize, whether God unilaterally controls all events or whether God voluntarily has given creatures some degree of genuine free will: in either case God has controlling power and could (and perhaps should) have suppressed creaturely decisions and actions intermittently to prevent catastrophes like the holocaust, devastating famines and birth defects, etc., all of which cause such appallingly gratuitous and apparently avoidable misery and distress. It does not seem unreasonable that the God conceived by classical theism could have prevented the worst of these miseries and, indeed, could have done so without significantly altering genuine creaturely freedom.[9]

Relevant to this point as the recent writings of David Basinger who has argued that while this particular criticism has been directed by process theists against classical theodicy, the same criticism holds against process theism. Basinger's contention, that process theists "have failed to demonstrate that a being with the acknowledged powers of the God of process theism could not coerce," (113) can be maintained, however, only if his provocative and controversial critique of process theism is accepted. Otherwise, the process challenge holds: it is the classical theist who must explain why God has not intervened to prevent the most horrific of earthly miseries, not the process theist who must do so.

Another issue, relevant to the point, has been raised by a number of recent commentators. Nancy Frankenberry, for example, suggests that there is "a fundamental distortion" in the common practice of process theists in pitting their vision of a persuasive God against the coercive God of traditional theism (180). Lewis Ford likewise has cautioned that while Whitehead contrasted the terms, "persuasion" and "coercion," the latter is used only once in Whitehead's entire corpus, despite the current widespread use of the contrasting terms in the process literature. Ford maintains that the term "coercion" is a poor description of classical omnipotence, although he concedes that the persuasion-coercion rhetoric "may have some usefulness within the context of theodicy." Ford insists, moreover, that few classical theists would admit that their conception of God's omnipotence entails a divine determinism (“Divine” 267-274).

My suggestion, nevertheless, is that rather than trying to circumvent the contrast, persuasion and coercion, we ought to seek a far more explicit clarification of its meaning. Process theists will continue to ascribe "solely persuasive power" to God, and it seems indisputable that the God of traditional theism has coercive power, whether or not this power is exercised. 'The term "persuasion," moreover, necessitates an understanding of its antithesis, "coercion," a point confirmed by Morris Cohen's "law of polarity" (accepted and utilized by Hartshorne): "ultimate contraries are correlatives, mutually interdependent, so that nothing real can be described ... devoid and independent of [its polar opposite]" (PSG, 2).

Some of my own recent writings (Evil; “Process”) have focused upon the persuasive-coercive rhetoric, and while certainly I recognize that even to begin to understand divine causal power is to take up a perplexing and undeniably complicated task, I believe that the persuasion-coercion contrast is indispensable for a proper appreciation of process theodicy and, indeed, for a reasonable assessment of classical theodicy. My primary concern is that explicit and precise definitions of persuasive and coercive power have not been forthcoming in the process literature to date. As such, the language Hartshorne and other process theists have used to describe divine persuasive power often is ambiguous and misleading. Ford (and several others) have conceded this much to me, acknowledging that I have "shown Hartshorne's language to be imprecise" (letter). Robert Mesle, for example, has acknowledged that "Whitney is correct in asserting that Hartshorne describes God's law-establishing activity in terms which cannot be distinguished from coercion" (58). Indeed, my contention is that many of Hartshorne's references to divine persuasion ambiguously imply what could just as easily be understood as coercion, despite the fact that this clearly is what he has wished to imply. Hartshorne has responded (in private correspondence) that my concern may be merely a matter of semantics, yet I respectfully submit that the issue is far more serious than this. I have given detailed examples elsewhere, but a quick overview here seems appropriate, since the points I have made formerly are central to the issue under discussion. I am convinced that until a resolution of the issue is forth-coming, it will impede a full appreciation of the process vision of God and contribute to the persistent wave of resistance to the entire process enterprise. Critics, as we have noted, long have argued that the process God is too limited and too weak; yet my concern is that the process God can be indicted, with some justification, as being virtually indistinguishable from the all-powerful classical God, a concern recently corroborated by Basinger and Davaney, among others.

The divine lure, according to Hartshorne, is prehended by creatures as an element in our antecedent causal world, with God as the "supreme" or eminent "stimulus" therein (“Religion” 262; Philosophers Speak 274). All creatures have some awareness of God, although this perception is not often "clear and distinct'' (DR 140). Our discernment of the divine lure most often is unconscious (“Religion” 257), and in this sense, "irresistible" (Whitehead’s 164), for "there must be some mode of divine power which cannot simply be disregarded" (“Religion” 258). God's lure, moreover, is "uniquely eloquent and appealing," since "it offers to each creature what the creature most wants or appreciates in the way of intrinsic value" (“Religion” 261). For God "to alter us he has only to alter himself. God's unique power over us is his partly self-determined being as our inclusive object of awareness." Indeed, "as this object changes, we are compelled to change in response" (DR 139). "God molds us, by presenting at each moment a partly new ideal or order of preference which our unselfconscious awareness takes as object, and thus renders influential upon our entire activity" (DR 142). God inspires us with an "appeal, attractiveness, or "charm" with a lure so relevant to our natures and needs that we cannot "even wish not to respond": we "cannot choose but hear" (“Religion” 258, 26l). We do not only hear the divine lure but "in the depths of consciousness we feel and accept the divine ordering" (“New Look” 211).

I submit that these references (and others in Hartshorne's imposing corpus, as well as in the writings of other process theists) are not unambiguously supportive of divine persuasive power. Without a more precise rhetoric and a more substantial justification, they could be understood to imply divine coerciveness, for they seem (cumulatively, as well as individually) to suggest a divine causation which is unilaterally effective. The reference cited at the end of the former paragraph, to note but one example, does not make the necessary distinction between our feeling of the divine lure and our acceptance of it. That the divine lure is felt unconsciously and irresistibly is not in dispute, but the language used gives the impression that the lure is also accepted irresistibly, despite the fact that this is not what Hartshorne wished to convey. I do not feel that this is merely a question of semantics, nor do I feel that I have interpreted the references (cited above) out of their proper contexts. It is clear what Hartshorne's position is: what is not so clear is the rhetoric used to justify and defend his position.

Basinger has argued that while process theists agree that God's lure is unilaterally felt, it is not (supposedly) coercively or unilaterally actualized. This seems to me to be much the same point I have made in calling attention to the ambiguity between our feeling of the divine lure and our acceptance of it, yet Basinger has attributed to me a different point, one which I do not hold and one which he rightly rejects.[10] I am aware that the "crucial question is not whether God unilaterally lures each entity [since this is indisputable] but whether such luring ever insures (unilaterally brings it about) that God's ideal aim.... is actualized." I am not as convinced as Basinger is, however, that the fact that God unilaterally brings it about that we have a "cognitive/effective" feeling of the divine lure implies that "the God of process theism is coercive in this sense” (28). The point at issue is whether God brings it about unilaterally that we accept the lure. Basinger postulates that it is possible (in some circumstances, which he has defined only vaguely) that the God of process theism could act coercively; my position is that the process God acts solely persuasively, but that an adequate justification of this central assertion is lacking in the process literature.

This point, I believe, is substantiated further by several additional passages In Hartshorne's writings which not merely and unambiguously idly coercive agency (unilateral action) by God, but seem to insist upon its necessity, despite the fact that this is not what Hartshorne has wished to convey. "God tolerates variety," he writes, only "up to the point beyond which it would mean chaos and not a world .... God prevents reality from losing all definite character" (Man’s Vision 265). Hartshorne contends, moreover, that God must continually insure that creaturely freedom does not destroy itself, a task which is accomplished by restraining our freedom: "God ... set[s] limits by constraint to the destruction of mutuality" (Man’s Vision l73) and apparently does so coercively. Hartshorne, in fact, uses this very term: "Coercion to prevent the use of coercion to destroy freedom generally is in no way action without social awareness but one of its crucial expressions. Freedom must not be free to destroy freedom 'The logic of love is not the logic of pacifism" (Man’s Vision l73).[11] "Process would come to an end," he argues, "if limits were not imposed upon the development of incompatible lines of process. The comprehensive order of the world is enjoyed, but not determined or created, by ordinary actual entities" (Whitehead’s 164).

Since there certainly is no dispute that Hartshorne insists upon a vision of God as solely persuasive, I must conclude that these references are unfortunate examples of imprecise and ambiguous language. My contention has been confirmed recently by Sheila Greeve Davaney's argument that "Hartshorne's position concerning divine power as the capacity to influence is far less developed and clearly articulated than is his conception of receptive power .... his understanding of God as cause seems developed in only the most rudimentary manner” (170). I have given several examples of this point previously, but one further illustration, I propose, is the absence of a clearly defined distinction between God's imposition of the causal limits to our freedom and the divine luring of our free acts and decisions within those general limits. My point is that Hartshorne's references to the imposition of natural laws imply coercion, and not only is this contrary to what Hartshorne wished to convey, but it substantiates further the impression that the divine causal luring of creaturely acts and decisions within the limits established by the laws may also be coercive.[12]

"God decides upon the basic outlines of creaturely actions, the guaranteed limits within which freedom is to operate" (“New Look” 206), according to Hartshorne. "A divine prehension can use its freedom to create, and for a suitable period maintain, a particular world order" (WP,l64). "Only God can decide natural or cosmic laws” (“New Look” 209); “a multitude of agents could not select a common world and must indeed simply nullify one another's efforts" (Philosophers Speak 273-274).

Hartshorne, of course, does not regard the imposition of natural laws by God as a coercive act, since (among other reasons) the laws are merely "statistical and approximate" (Creative 5l, l66); God, moreover, "must constantly 'persuade' things to obey the laws" (“Process” 173). Yet my concern is that these are oblique and insufficient explanations of a divine causation which supply is solely persuasive; Whitehead's view that the laws of nature are ant seems more obviously consistent with divine persuasion, although I am not at all certain how creatures could have fashioned natural laws on their own. I do not dismiss, accordingly, Hartshorne's contention that the natural laws are imposed by God; I see this as the more viable option. My point, bow-ever, is that this contention has not been established explicitly as being compatible with divine persuasion.

I am not fully appeased by Ford's proposal that we do not feel coerced by natural laws.[13] The point is not whether we feel coerced but whether we are coerced, and the fact that the natural laws limit what we can do is difficult (for me, at least, and for some others) to distinguish from coercion. I can appreciate Ford's objection to my suggestion that anything which affects us and which is beyond our control and consent is difficult to distinguish from coercion: my working definition of coercion (as such) may have been too vaguely stated. The obvious response, I realize, is that the limiting of freedom by the imposition of natural laws is not coercive, since it is the enabling condition for freedom. Freedom, moreover, is a function of creativity which God coordinates by valuing the alternatives we confront. I accept this point and have acknowledged it previously, but I suggest that a more thorough and convincing defense of it is in order. Ford himself, I would note, has argued that Hartshorne's God appears to be too much in control, that "there is no way to respond to a law of nature, particularly if imposed by God; it must be obeyed, willy-nilly, for we have no choice in the matter" (Two 79). Ford's further point of clarification, moreover (a point made previously by Hartshorne), that the divine aim cannot be coercive since it is apprehended so obliquely by us (“Divine” 269), is not entirely convincing: I am aware that the lure is unconsciously prehended; the problem is that this unconscious apprehension is described as irresistible, compelling, etc. (as noted above), ambiguously implying coercive, unilateral control.

In noting this problem in previous writings, I have given the impression to several commentators that, despite a commitment to Hartshornean process theism, I have proposed ascribing coercive power to God. This is not an accurate assessment of my position, yet neither am I convinced that the point at issue can be easily resolved. Ford's terse comment, for example, that "the laws of nature would not be coercive, regardless of whether they were divinely imposed or... whether they characterize the average general behavior of past actualities, since they constitute part of the original enabling conditions” (“Divine” 271) has not alleviated my concern that the imposition of such laws ambiguously implies coercion. The fact that this concern is shared by others confirms my sense of a present lack of a full and clear resolution of the issue. My apprehension is shared, as noted above, by Davaney (among others) who concluded her recent study of the theistic visions of Hartshorne and Barth with the comment that "it is difficult to discern any difference between Hartshorne's irresistible persuasion and Barth's gracious determinism at this point"; indeed, as she states, "as long as the notion of absolute irresistibility is associated with cosmic laws, then suspicions will remain concerning whether Hartshorne is offering a disguised determinism or merely an ill-conceived indeterminism" (191).

I acknowledge Hartshorne's suggestion (“private correspondence”)[14] nevertheless, that it makes no sense to talk of coercion with respect to electrons (for example): while electrons do in fact conform to natural laws, we have no reason to suppose they would want to do otherwise. I appreciate Hartshorne's point, moreover, that we are free not in spite of the laws imposed by God but because of them (for otherwise there would be only chaos and no world order): I grant that the natural laws are the enabling conditions for creaturely actualization. Nonetheless, I am not alone in wondering whether the vision of a purely persuasive God has been safeguarded adequately, and the consequences for process theism, I suggest, are significant: if God could coercively establish natural laws, or if God appears coercively at times to lure creaturely acts and decisions within the limits imposed by the laws, then it is reasonable to ask why God does not coerce at others times to eliminate evils and suffering. This is the dilemma faced by classical Christian theodicy, and one which process theists supposedly have avoided.[15]
It is significant to note that there have been thinkers sympathetic to process thought who have argued the case for divine coercion (or at least who have assumed it). Norman Pittenger, for example, has suggested that while the God of Whitehead and Hartshorne acts "primarily" persuasively, God acts coercively in a secondary way (107). Pittenger, to my knowledge, has not followed through with respect to this brief statement, except to note, equally tersely, that the process God must use "coercion to prevent [the] cosmos from becoming anarchy or chaos" (57). This seems to me a case in point where a major commentator has been misled by imprecise language and the lack the necessary substantiation in defense of a divine causal agency which is solely persuasive.

The late Daniel Day Williams may be a further case in point: he has argued that, unlike Whitehead, “Hartshorne is right in stressing also the coercive aspects of our religious experience.... There are large coercive aspects in the divine governance of the world" (“How does God Act?” 177). Williams unfortunately did not elaborate fully upon this provocative statement with respect to Hartshorne, although he has sought to provide the basis for an understanding of divine power which allows for more coercion than Whitehead was willing to concede, offering us a vision of "the divine companion," the suffering God, who acts to overcome the world's anguish and suffering. What is interesting in this argument is Williams' insistence that "the structures of life coerce us," implying that God "does exercise coercive power'' (“Time” 461): "coercive elements ... seem as necessary to a real universe as the persuasive aspects," he contended, and "no organism would survive five seconds on the exercise of [divine] tenderness alone." Whitehead's vision of a God which acts solely persuasively leads him, according to Williams, to ignore "the wide range of types of force, or coercion, and of mutual interaction. These would seem to have their place," however, "in the necessities of being, and therefore require us to find their place in God's being." Whitehead, although apparently not Hartshorne, according to Williams, "underestimated the disclosure of the divine initiative in religious experience" and thus "has given a partially inadequate account of the relation between God and the world" (“Deity” 370-371).

Gerald Janzen, furthermore, has argued against Ford that the "effort to conceive of God's activity solely in terms of persuasion" is misconceived. Janzen believes that divine power is better understood "in terms both of efficacy and of finality, of coercion and of persuasion" (405). This argument, however, and his contention that the argument can be shown to be consistent with Whitehead's writings, have not been substantiated (to my knowledge). The issue, of course, is whether it can be substantiated.

Griffin's contribution to the problem is helpful: God, he has suggested, is limited by metaphysical principles about the way actualities can be ordered, and since the deity has not created the world "ex nihilo,'' entities have "inherent" power which cannot be "canceled out or overridden by God." As such, God "cannot control [completely] but can only persuade what we become and how we affect others" (Griffin, Creation 105). In my opinion, this argument supports the central theistic vision of process theism: God acts and indeed must act solely persuasively. Yet I insist that my concern is also warranted: there remains an unsettling ambiguity and an unsatisfying lack of a more complete justification of this important thesis.

The fact that Griffin's argument (just noted) has been disputed by Basinger confirms my point. Basinger contends that for Griffin to "establish that God could never control our behavior, it must be shown that there exists some eternal, necessary metaphysical principle which allows only for the existence of actualities who are free to reject God's initial aim at all times." Basinger argues, moreover, that "process theists have given us no good reason to believe that their God could not coerce, and hence that their 'persuasive' God is significantly different than the 'coercive' God of some forms of classical Christian theism" (27). Process theodicy, as such, is "no mere adequate" than ''the classical theism in which it is also held that God has voluntarily chosen to refrain from significant (if any) unilateral involvement in earthly affairs.” (Basinger 39).

Basinger's proposal is based largely upon an appeal to various examples of psychological manipulation which supposedly achieve the desired ends unilaterally; he insists that the process God has this apparently unexercised option available. I have reservations about the viability of this argument,[16] yet I have no reservations in regarding Basinger's proposal as but one further manifestation of my concern that there is far too much ambiguity in the process literature concerning the terms "persuasive" and "coercive" power, both with respect to God and to creatures. 'This accounts not only for the various recommendations that more coercive power be attributed to the process God and/or that such power is part of the divine causal agency, but also may account for the recurring critical assessments of process thought which find its vision of a solely persuasive God profoundly lacking in appeal.
I suggest that the most promising means of seeking a resolution to this problem is for process theists to demonstrate (far more clearly than has been accomplished to date) the vast and perhaps unlimited range of power available to God. Ford has referred to divine causal activity as "indirectly coercive," yet "directly persuasive" (Lure 17), and Griffin has suggested that there is an "intertwining of elements of coercion and pure persuasion on the continuum of forms of persuasion" exercised by God; he has used the term "coercive persuasion" in contrast to "pure persuasion" in his brief explanation of this point (“Creation” 97). Williams and Jansen, as noted above, have argued much the same, as have some others as well. For his part, Hartshorne has maintained that there is an unlimited range of potentiality offered by God to creatures for actualization,[17] and it does not seem unreasonable to me to suggest that there is likewise an unlimited range of divine causal influence, extending from that which constitutes a minimal degree of causal action to that which constitutes a maximum degree of such action-without it ever becoming coercive in the sense of overriding genuine creaturely freedom. Hartshorne surely is correct in acclaiming Whitehead's ascription of solely persuasive power to God as "one of the greatest of all metaphysical discoveries" (DR, 142); yet the broad scope of this divine causal power, short of an absolute coercion, must be more clearly defined.

It must be acknowledged, of course, that even to begin to comprehend how God acts is probably the most enigmatic (and also, perhaps. the most significant) of theological questions, one which may lie forever beyond full human comprehension. Nevertheless, the metaphysical and moral foundation for a solely persuasive God is been formulated in the process literature, despite the lack of a fully justified defense of this vision. What remains to be accomplished is a more precise delineation of the range of persuasive power utilized by God, some of which is more "persuasive" and hence more "coercive."

Classical theism is aware that God has omnipotent power and yet that human beings nevertheless are free. Biblical texts assume likewise both an absolute divine sovereignty and genuine human responsibility.[18] I propose that process theism is correct in holding that it makes no sense to speak of absolute divine coercive power; yet I am left wondering whether it makes sense to speak of an absolute divine persuasive power. It seems to me that we must ascribe a mixture of persuasive and coercive power to God; that is, that there must be an infinite range of divine persuasive power, much of which is more persuasively influential, and hence more coercive, without it ever being an absolute coercion. This proposal calls for a careful and detailed justification. The task before us seems clear.
Works Cited
Basinger, David. Divine Power in Process Theism. Albany: SUNY, 1988.
Cobb, John, and David Griffin. Process Theology. Philadelphia: Westminster, 1976.
Davaney, Sheila Greeve. Divine Power. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1986.
Davis, Stephen T., ed. Encountering Evil. Atlanta: John Knox, 1981.
Dombrowski, Daniel. "Pacifism and Hartshorne's Dipolar Theism." Encounter (1987): 337-350.
Ely, Stephen. The Religious Availability of Whitehead's God. Madison: University
of Wisconsin Press, 1942.
Ford, Lewis. "Divine Persuasion and Coercion." Encounter (1986): 267-274.
---. Letter to Barry Whitney. February 1987.
---. Two Process Philosophers. Tallahassee: American Academy of Religion, 1973.
Frankenberry, Nancy. "Some Problems with Process Theodicy." Religious Studies, (1982):179-197. 
Griffin, David. "Creation Ex Nihilo, The Divine Modus Operandi, and The Imitatio Dei." Faith and Creativity. Ed. George Norgulen and George Shields. St Louis: CBP, 1987.
---. "Creation Out of Chaos and the Problem of Evil." Encountering Evil. Ed. Stephen T. Davis. Atlanta: John Knox, 1981.
---. God, Power and Evil. Philadelphia: Westminster, 1976.
Hartshorne, Charles. Born to Sing. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1973.
---.Creative Synthesis and Philosophic Method. La Salle: Open Court, 1970.
---. Letter to Barry Whitney. May, 1987.
---. Man's Vision of God and the Logic of Theism. Hamden: Archon Books, 1941.
---. A Natural Theology for our Time. New Haven. Yale UP, 1967.
---. "A New Look at the Problem of Evil." Current Philosophical Issues: Essays in Honor of Curt John Ducasse. Ed. F. C. Dommeyer. Springfield, IL: Charles C. Thomas, 1966. 201-  212.
---. Omnipotence and Other Theological Mistakes. Albany: SUNY, 1984.
---."Process and the Nature of God." Traces of God in a Secular Culture. Ed. G. F. Mclean. New    York: Alba House, 1978. 117-14l.
---. “Religion in Process Philosophy." Religion in Philosophical and Cultural Perspective. Princeton D. Van Nostrand, 1967. 246-268.
--- and Reese, William. Philosophers Speak of God. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press,   1953.
---. Whitehead’s Philosophy. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1972.
Hick, John. Evil and the God of Love. 2nd ed. New York: Harper and Row,1978.
---. An Ireanean Theodicy." Encountering Evil. Ed. Stephen T. Davis. Atlanta: John Knox, 1981.
Janzen, Gerald. "Modes of Power and the Divine Relativity." Encounter (1975): 379-406.
Mesle, Robert. Review of Barry L Whitney, Evil and the Process God. Process Studies (1987): 57-61.
Peterson, Michael. Evil and the Christian God. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1982.
Pittenger, Norman. "Process Theology." Expository Times (1973): 56-57.
Whitney, Barry. “Charles Hartshorne." Non-Violence--Central to Christian Spirituality. Ed. Joseph T. Culliton. New York: Edwin Mellen Press, 1982. 217-237.
---. “Does God Influence the World's Creativity? Hartshorne's Doctrine of Possibility." Philosophy Research Archives (1981): 613-622.
---. Evil and the Process God. New York: Edwin Mellen Press, 1985.
---. "Hartshorne's New Look at Theodicy." Studies in Religion, 1979: 281-291.
---. “Process Theism: Does a Persuasive God Coerce?" Southern Journal or Philosophy, (1979):133-143.
---. The Question of Theodicy in the Neoclassical Metaphysics of Charles Hartshorne. Ph.D.Dissertation, McMaster University, 1977.
---. What Are They Saying About God and Evil? New York: Paulist Press, 1989.
Williams, Daniel Day. "Deity, Monarchy, and Metaphysics: Whitehead's Critique of the Theological Tradition." The Relevance of Whitehead. Ed. I. Leclerc. New York: Humanities Press, 1961. 353-37.
---. "How Does God Act? An Essay in Whitehead's Metaphysics." Process and Divinity. Ed. W. L. Reese and E. Freeman. La Salle: Open Court, 1964. 161-180.
---. The Spirit and the Forms of Love. New York: Harper and Row, 1968.
---. "Time, Progress and the Kingdom of God." Process Philosophy and Christian Thought. Ed. Delwin Brown, Ralph James and Gene Reeves. Indianapolis and New York. Bobbs- Merrill, 1971. 441-463.
---. What Present Day Theologians are Thinking. 3rd ed. New York: Harper and Row, 1967.
[1] See Hick, Evil and the God of Love.

[2] For references, see Whitney, What Are They Saying About God and Evil?

[3] see Whitney, What Are They Saying About God and Evil?

[4] see also my "Process Theism" and "Hartshorne’s “New look.”

[5]  See Whitney, Evil and the Process God, 117-124.

[6] See, for example, Peterson, Evil and the Christian God.

[7] See Daniel Day Williams, "Deity, Monarchy, and Metaphysics"; "Time, Progress, and the Kingdom of God"; "How Does God Act?"; What Present Day Theologians are Thinking; The Spirit and the Forms of Love; etc.

[8] See Whitney, What Are They Saying About God and Evil?, Chapter 3.

[9] I concede, of course, that classical theists have arguments against the plausibility of this critique. God, it is proposed, perhaps has intervened and perhaps has eliminated the most horrendous of evils; any further intervention would be incompatible with genuine human freedom and argument which is unfalsifiable.

[10] Basinger cites my 1979 article, "Process Theism," as the reference for his claim that to assert that God never coerces "is sometimes thought so mean that God never unilaterally brings about any state of affairs" (Divine, 28).

[11]  See my chapter on Hartshorne and pacifism, "Charles Hartshorne," in Non-violence, 217-237; and Daniel Dombrowski, "Pacifism," 337-350.

[12]In an earlier article, I tried so show how Hartshorne's understanding of possibility could support a theory of divine persuasion, despite criticisms like Ford's: see my "Does God Influence the World's Creativity?" 613-622.

[13] see also Ford's The Lure of God, 17.

[14] Griffin mates a similar point in "Creation," 112-114.

[15] It is regrettable that atheistic writer Robert Mesle has argued that I have fallen into this classical trap. His assessment of my position, however, is based upon a misunderstanding of what 1 have written: I have not ascribed coercive power to God. (See Mesle's review of my Evil and the Process God). Another commentator, Marvin Collins, argues that I rightly espouse coercive power to the process God (God and Evil in the Process Thought of A.N. Whitehead, Charles Hartshorne, and David Griffin: A Question of Theological Coherence, unpublished dissertation (Fuller Theological Seminary, 1986).

[16] This may seem to be an unfair statement since I do not have space here so make clear what my problems are with Basinger's argument. In brief, I find problematic the assumption of a one-to-one correspondence of the uses of coercion in human experience and the meaning of the term with respect to God. Ford's point is relevant: "Coercion is readily understood on the level of social or physical behavior, but its proper metaphysical definition is difficult to ascertain" (The Web 17).

[17] See my Evil ant the Process God, 109-111; and my "Does God Influence the World's Creativity? Hartshorne's Doctrine of Possibility."

[18] See D.A. Carson, Divine Sovereignty and Human Responsibility.

Author Information: Barry L. Whitney was Professor of Christianity and Culture, and Philosophy of Religion at the University of Windsor, Windsor ON Canada from 1976 to 2013. He is now retired in Ottawa, Canada where he continues his research.

© BARRY WHITNEY, 2008. Please request permission from the author at DrBarryWhitney@mac.comw.ca to use this publication in whole or in part in web publications or in other forms of publication and dissemination. An earlier version of this article was published in Hartshorne, Process Philosophy and Theodicy, Albany: State University of New York Press, 1989.