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Charles Hartshorne


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Anyone read Charles Hartshorne's "Ominpotence and other Theological Mistakes"?

 

Hartshorne says there are 6 common mistakes that classical theist's make about God. These mistakes are:

1. God is absolutely perfect and therefore unchangeable

2. God is omnipotent

3. God is omniscient

4. God is unsympathetically good

5. We receive immortality after death

6. Revelation is infallible

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Anyone read Charles Hartshorne's "Ominpotence and other Theological Mistakes"?

 

Hartshorne says there are 6 common mistakes that classical theist's make about God. These mistakes are:

1. God is absolutely perfect and therefore unchangeable

2. God is omnipotent

3. God is omniscient

4. God is unsympathetically good

5. We receive immortality after death

6. Revelation is infallible

Hmm, I guess I should read it, since I disagree with him about most of those. ;) I'm not quite sure what "unsympathetically good" means. I don't think it means "unilaterally good," as in "God is perfectly good and contains no taint of evil." It seems more like it's saying "God always does what is best, even if what is best appears to be cold and unsympathetic." Anybody else have any better ideas on how to read that?

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Here's a cut and paste. This websight lists 5 mistakes (it leaves out the "life after death" one).

 

Common Mistakes About God

 

First Mistake: God Is Absolutely Perfect and Therefore Unchangeable.

 

In Plato’s Republic one finds the proposition: God, being perfect, cannot change (not for the better, since "perfect" means that there can be no better; not for the worse, since ability to change for the worse, to decay, degenerate, or become corrupt, is a weakness, an imperfection). The argument may seem cogent, but it is so only if two assumptions are valid: that it is possible to conceive of a meaning for "perfect" that excludes change in any and every respect and that we must conceive God as perfect in just this sense. Obviously the ordinary meanings of perfect do not entirely exclude change. Thus Wordsworth wrote of his wife that she was a "perfect woman, but he certainly did not mean that she was totally unchangeable. In many places in the Bible human beings are spoken of as perfect; again the entire exclusion of change cannot have been intended. Where in the Bible God is spoken of as perfect, the indications are that even here the exclusion of change in any and every respect was not implied. And where God is directly spoken of as strictly unchanging ("without shadow of turning"), there is still a possibility of ambiguity. God might be absolutely unchangeable in righteousness (which is what the context indicates is the intended meaning), but changeable in ways compatible with, neutral to, or even required by, this unswerving constancy in righteousness. Thus, God would be in no degree, however slight, alterable in the respect in question (the divine steadfastness in good will) and yet alterable, not necessarily in spite of, but even because of, this steadfastness. If the creatures behave according to God’s will, God will appreciate this behavior; if not, God will have a different response, equally appropriate and expressive of the divine goodness.

 

The Biblical writers were not discussing Greek philosophical issues, and it is at our own peril that we interpret them as if they were discussing these, just as it is at our peril if we take them to be discussing various modern issues that had not arisen in ancient Palestine. It may even turn out on inquiry that perfection, if taken to imply an absolute maximum of value in every conceivable respect, does not make sense or is contradictory. In that case the argument of the Republic is an argument from an absurdity and proves nothing. Logicians have found that abstract definitions may seem harmless and yet be contradictory when their meanings are spelled out. Example, "the class of all classes." Similarly, "actuality of all possible values," to which no addition is possible, may have contradictory implications. If perfection cannot consistently mean this value maximum, then the Platonic argument is unsound. Nor was it necessarily Plato’s last word on the subject. (See Chapter 2B.)

Second Mistake: Omnipotence.

 

God, being defined as perfect in all respects must, it seems,

be perfect in power; therefore, whatever happens is divinely made to happen. If I die of cancer this misfortune is God’s doing. The question then becomes, "Why has God done this to me?" Here everything depends on "perfect in power" or "omnipotent." And here, too, there are possible ambiguities, as we shall see.

 

Third Mistake: Omniscience.

 

Since God is unchangeably perfect, whatever happens must be eternally known to God. Our tomorrow’s deeds, not yet decided upon by us, are yet always or eternally present to God, for whom there is no open future. Otherwise (the argument goes), God would be "ignorant," imperfect in knowledge, waiting to observe what we may do. Hence, whatever freedom of decision we may have must be somehow reconciled with the alleged truth that our decisions bring about no additions to the divine life. Here perfect and unchanging knowledge, free from ignorance or increase, are the key terms. It can be shown that they are all seriously lacking in clarity, and that the theological tradition resolved the ambiguities in a question-begging way.

 

It is interesting that the idea of an unchangeable omniscience covering every detail of the world’s history is not to be found definitely stated in ancient Greek philosophy (unless in Stoicism, which denied human freedom) and is rejected by Aristotle. It is not clearly affirmed in the Bible. It is inconspicuous in the philosophies of India, China, and Japan. Like the idea of omnipotence, it is largely an invention of Western thought of the Dark or Middle Ages. It still goes unchallenged in much current religious thought. But many courageous and competent thinkers have rejected it, including Schelling and Whitehead.

 

Fourth Mistake: God’s Unsympathetic Goodness.

 

God’s "love" for us does not, for classical theists, mean that God sympathizes with us, is rejoiced or made happy by our joy or good fortune or grieved by our sorrow or misery. Rather God’s love (in classical theism) is like the sun’s way of doing good, which benefits the myriad forms of life on earth but receives no benefits from the good it produces. Nor does the sun lose anything by its activity (we now know that this is bad astronomy). Or, God’s beneficial activity is like that of an overflowing fountain that remains forever full no matter how much water comes from it, and without receiving any from outside. Thus it is not human love, even at its best, that was taken as the model for divine love but instead two inanimate phenomena of nature, fictitiously conceived at that. Bad physics and astronomy, rather than sound psychology, were the sources of the imagery.

 

In short, argument from an insufficiently analyzed notion of perfection and a preference for materialistic (and prescientific) rather than truly spiritual conceptions were for almost two thousand years dominant in Western theology.

 

(Hartshorne was saying, I think, that God IS sympathetic and relational and involved.)

 

Fifth Mistake: Revelation as Infallible.

 

The idea of revelation is the idea of special knowledge of God, or of religious truth, possessed by some people and transmitted by them to others. In some form or other the idea is reasonable. In all other matters people differ in their degree of skill or insight. Why not in religion? In the various sciences we acknowledge some people as experts and regard their opinions as of more value than those of the rest of us. The notion that in religion there are no individuals whose insight is any clearer, deeper, or more authentic than anyone else’s is not particularly plausible. In all countries and in all historical times there have been individuals to whom multitudes have looked for guidance in religion. Buddha, Lao Tse, Confucius, Moses, Zoroaster, Shankara, Jesus, Muhammed, Joseph Smith, and Mary Baker Eddy were such individuals. New examples are to be found within the lives of many of us. Pure democracy or sheer equalitarianism in religious matters is not to be expected of our human nature. Some distinction between leaders or founders and followers or disciples seems to be our destiny. But there is a question of degree, or of qualification. To what extent, or under what conditions, are some individuals, or perhaps is some unique individual, worthy of trust in religious matters? It is in the answer to this question that mistakes can be made. Only a few years ago such a mistake sent hundreds to death, partly at their own hands, at Jonestown in British Guiana.

 

In religions that think of God as a conscious, purposive being, the idea of revelation can take a special form. Not simply that some are abler, wiser, than others in religion, as individuals may be in a science or in politics, but that divine wisdom has selected and so controlled a certain individual or set of individuals as to make them transmitters of the very wisdom of God to humanity. Since God is infallible (can make no mistakes), if no limitations are admitted to this conception of revelation, the distinction between fallible human beings and the infallible God tends to disappear. And so we find letters to newspaper editors in which the writer claims that his or her quotation from the Bible supporting some political position has the backing of "God almighty." Thus the essential principle of democracy, that none of us is divinely wise, that we all may make mistakes, is compromised.

Edited by AletheiaRivers
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I'm not quite sure what "unsympathetically good" means.  I don't think it

 

Hartshorne is recognising the hole that classical theism has dug itself in regarding its doctrine of an immutable God

 

For example...

Anselm says "Although it is better for thee to be compassionate, passionless, than not to be these things; how art thou compassionate and at the same time passionless? For if thou art passionless thou dost not feel sympathy and if thou dost not feel sympathy thy heart is not wretched from sympathy for the wretched; but this is to be compassionate...Thou art compassionate in terms of our experience and not compassionate in terms of thy being...When thou beholdest us in wretchedness we experience the effect of compassion, but thou dost not experience the feeling"

 

Aquinas says, "For in God there are no passions. Now love is a passion. Therefore love is not in God."

 

Accoridng to the idea of an immutable God if God sympathises with us he can be moved. But for classical theism to say God can be moved is to say God is not perfect. That's the extreme that classical theism has taken their logic. Of course the idea of prayer seems to contradict the idea that God is immutable.

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