The Worldview of Panentheism
- R. Totten, M.Div - (c) 2000
If one doesn't look carefully at the word "panentheism," one might assume it is the word "pantheism," however they are two different worldviews. Pantheism means that all (pan) is God (theism), ---but pan-EN-theism means all-IN-God. Panentheism is also called "Process Theology," in which God is viewed as a finite being who is changing, learning, and in "process." Major proponents of panentheism are: Alfred N. Whitehead and Charles Hartshorne. For purposes of this article I will sometimes call the panentheistic God the "P-God."
The Basic Propositions of the Panentheistic Worldview
(Note: See the six Worldview questions on Home Page)
1. The P-God is Bipolar.
The panentheistic God (I will call it the "P-God") is a personal being who has two "poles" or natures, --where one pole is P-God's "potential" nature, and the other pole is P-God's "actual" nature. So, the P-God is thought to be only potentially an absolute, perfect, unchanging, imperishable, unlimited, infinite, and necessary being, ...however, if this is now true in actual reality, the P-God will always be temporal, relative, imperfect, changing, perishable, limited, contingent and dependent on other things for his existence ...and in fact, therefore, the P-God cannot ever be actually infinite, perfect and independent. Something finite and imperfect cannot become infinite and perfect. The P-God is eternally becoming and creatively "in process," and dependent on the finite material universe, which functions as the P-God's "body." A finite universe can never become infinite, because no matter how many galxies there are, they can always be counted ...with (case-in-point) about 350 billion galaxies in the current material universe.
2. The Universe is the P-God's eternal "body."
Not only is the current finite universe the P-God's cosmic "body," but the P-God is forever dependent on it, and he cannot exist without some universe or another, and the universe cannot exist without him. Not only is the universe changing and in process, but so is ,therefore, the P-God. The universe had a beginning --called the "Big Bang"-- and, therefore, so did the P-God have a beginning, and he will never be infinite in time. In addition, since the universe is the P-God's body upon which he is dependent and subjected, truly supernatural (above and superior to nature) acts and miracles are impossible. --And related to that, the P-God can never be infinite in knowledge; the P-God could never be known as "All-Knowing," as the God of the Bible is accurately described.
3. Man is a finite, free moral being.
The purpose of all things in the universe, including man, is to help the P-God fulfill what lacks in his perfection. In fact, man as a free being, is not only a co-creator with P-God but is a co-creator OF the P-God. Man not only decides his own actions and world events, but man also decides the course of P-God's development as he is in the process of improvement.
4. Man's death is the end of his actual personal existence.
When a man dies, he does not have an immortal spirit or soul or self-awareness that continues on. A human might only live on figuratively, perhaps, in P-God's cosmic memory, if P-God thinks back on that person.
5. Ethical values are not absolute, but relative.
Since the P-God is changing and improving, there is ultimately no absolute standard for ethical values. There is no final consequences and punishment for wrong-doing. Rather, the basis for ethics and goodness is beauty and harmony. Still, specific ethical commands and rules are relative from person to person.
6. History is an endless process of P-God's improvement.
In panentheism, history is an ongoing evolutionary process in which the P-God and man (or other beings) are co-creators. Panentheistic history can have no ultimate end or goal, since the P-God can never ultimately become infinitely or absolutely perfected.
Evaluation of Panentheism
Panentheism does strive toward a fully comprehensive worldview.
It correctly stresses that God has an intimate relationship to the world and universe.
It also brings out that the universe is dependent upon God.
At its foundation, we see that Panentheism is self-contradictory, since it posits a "God" that is both finite and infinite, necessary and contingent ...at the same time. --The panentheist replies, however, that those contradictory qualities belong to two different poles of the P-God. But the Christian theist responds that the poles must either be a true and real part of the P-God or not... "make up your mind." ---If the potential (infinite, absolute, eternal) pole can never be an actual reality in the P-God" (as panentheists say), then the actual pantentheistic "God" can only and forever be finite, temporal, relative, changing, perishable, limited and dependent on something else for his existence. Something finite cannot produce something infinite. Such a "God" has virtually nothing of consequence in common with the infinite, almighty God of the Bible. There is still a serious problem of logical coherence in panentheism, and thus, by being internally inconsistent, the Panentheistic Worldview clearly fails the first Truth Test.
The above situation leads into another serious problem: Since the panentheistic "God" is temporal, changing, perishable, limited, contingent and dependent ---then, who or what initiated and now sustains his existence? Such a changing, perishable, dependent being must have something (a "being") that is the basis and foundation of his existence and continuance. Since this must be true, then the panentheistic "God" is not actually God. There is something greater than the panentheistic "God" upon which he depends for his existence.
Further, the findings of modern cosmology point strongly and to a time in the past when the universe had a beginning. Astronomers and astrophysiologists tell us that the universe originated from a "singularity." A singularity is a situation in which all the mass, forces, and dimensions (including time) of a potential cosmos were shrunken infinitely down to zero volume. It is from this "singularity" of zero volume that the universe was created in an immense, hot explosion called the "Big Bang." In this explosive event, time, space and the material cosmos had their beginning. ----Since the panentheistic "God" is totally dependent and cannot exist without some universe or another (as his "body"), and he is limited to space and time, it follows that the panentheistic God did not exist before the Big Bang... therefore, the P-God is not eternal in either direction, past or future. ----The Christian theologian asserts that it is only the true God (described in the Bible), who is infinite, eternal, timeless, perfect and all-powerful, who created the universe through the powerful event of the Big Bang.
Finally, because of these points, the panentheistic "God" must clearly not be in control of the events and eventualities in the universe. What most people need and desire and hope for in a God, cannot be found in the panentheistic "God," --but rather, true deity and godhood is only found in the eternal, all-powerful and all-knowing God of the Bible, who is the creator of the cosmos, and who controlls all that occurs in it... this is the true God.
When one considers the reality of the universe we all live in , as well as the facts of human need and experience (love, hate, ethics, suffering), it is extremely doubtful that the Panentheistic worldview even remotely satisfies the second Truth Test.
Hence, we Christians commend to you, dear reader, the God of the Bible. ----Bless you.
- "PERSPECTIVES: Understanding & Evaluating Today's World Views," ('84), by Norman L. Geisler & William Watkins
- "The Creator and the Cosmos," revised, ('95), by Hugh Ross, Ph.D.
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