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Name:Alfred North Whitehead - Math, Philosophy
Birth Year:1861
Death Year:1947
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Alfred North Whitehead (1861 - 1947) was a British philosopher and mathematician who worked in logic, mathematics, philosophy of science and metaphysics. His best known work is the Principia Mathematica which he wrote with Bertrand Russell. Whitehead is perhaps most well known for developing process philosophy, which was then developed into process theology by many liberal theologian/philosophers, such as Charles Hartshorne. Process theology has since been accepted as a valid way of understanding God by some liberal Christian and Jewish scholars and laypeople.

Process philosophy

Process philosophy is a metaphysical system developed by Alfred North Whitehead, and described in his book Process and Reality. Process philosophy believes that fundamental elements of the universe are occasions of experience. According to this notion, what people commonly think of as concrete objects are actually just successions of these occasions of experience. Occasions of experience can be collected into groupings; something complex such as a human being is thus a grouping of many smaller occasions of experience. According to Whitehead, everything in the universe is characterized by experience (which is not to be confused with consciousness); there is no mind-body duality under this system, because "mind" is simply seen as a very developed kind of experienceing.

Whitehead's philosophy resembles in some ways the concept of monads first proposed by Leibniz. However, unlike Leibniz's monads, Whiteheads occasions of experience are interrelated with every other occasion of experience that has ever occurred before. Inherent to Whitehead's conception is the notion of time; all experiences are influenced by prior experiences, and will experience all future experiences. This process of influencing is never deterministic; an occasion of experience consists of a process of prehending other experiences, and then a reaction to it. This is the process in process philosophy. Because no process is ever deterministic, free will is considered essential to the nature of the universe.

Whitehead gives God a special place in the universe of occasions of experience. God encompasses all the other occasions of experience but also transcends them; thus Whitehead embraces panentheism. Because free will is inherent to the nature of the universe, God is not omnipotent in Whitehead's metaphysics. God's role is to offer enhanced occasions of experience. God participates in the evolution of the universe by offering possibilities, which may be accepted or rejected. Whitehead was influenced by the ideas developed in the early 1900s by French Jewish philosopher Henri-Louis Bergson. Bergson was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1927.

Process theology

Process theology is a school of thought influenced by the metaphysical process philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead. The concepts of process theology include:
  • God is not omnipotent.
  • The universe is characterized by process and change carried out by the agents of free will. Free will characterizes everything in the universe, not just human beings. God can not force anything to happen, but rather only influence the exercise of this universal free will by offering possibilities.
  • God contains the universe but is not identical with it (panentheism).
  • Because God contains a changing universe, God is changeable (that is to say, God is affected by the actions that take place in the universe) over the course of time.
  • People do not experience a subjective (or personal) immortality, but they do have an objective immortality in that their experiences live on forever in God, who contains all that was.
The original ideas of process theology were developed by Charles Hartshorne (1898-2000), and were later expounded upon by John B. Cobb and David Ray Griffin. While process theology first was adopted by some liberal Protestant Christians, it soon influenced a number of Jewish theologians, including British philosopher Samuel Alexander (1859-1938), and Rabbis Max Kaddushin, Milton Steinberg and Levi A. Olan, Harry Slominsky and to a lesser degree, Abraham Joshua Heschel. Today some rabbis who advocate process theology or a related theology include Rabbis William E. Kaufman, Harold Kushner, Anton Laytner, Nahum Ward, Donald B. Rossoff and Gilbert S. Rosenthal. More recently, Alan Anderson and Deb Whitehouse have attempted to integrate process theology with the New Thought variant of Christianity. [This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License and uses material adapted in whole or in part from the Wikipedia article on Alfred North Whitehead.]

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