A synthesis of religious belief and naturalism?

A vague sketch of an idea, but might be significant.

I’ve been reading and thinking about the nature of religion and its relation to belief and to the supernatural. What ideas I get depends on what I focus on or what I read. If I read Daniel Dennett, it seems religion really is built around the supernatural. If I read Karen Armstrong, it seems that it’s not. This idea comes from the latter way of looking at it.

So, this idea is that religion was not originally supposed to be about beliefs, that this is only something we think because we’re confusing it with science. On the other hand, I’ve also read that science has been made too much about knowledge only. And that religion — and myth — used to have an important function that we’re partly missing now.

This makes me think: Do a naturalistic world view — belief in only verifiable things, nothing supernatural — and religion need to contradict in any way? From this perspective, it seems that not. Here’s a sketch of different ways they could be closer and closer to each other as they come to involve a better understanding of the world and people. Continue reading


Review: Reinventing the Sacred by Stuart Kauffman

Consider the woven integrated complexity of a living cell after 3.8 billion years of evolution. Is it more awesome to suppose that a transcendent God fashioned the cell at a stroke, or to realize the truth: the living cell evolved with no Creator, no Almighty Hand, but arose on its own, created by the evolving biosphere? The truth is much more magnificent, much more worthy of awe and wonder, than our ancient creation myths.

Reinventing the Sacred proposes a new understanding of a natural divinity based on an emerging, scientifically based world view. Complexity theorist Stuart Kauffman does not propose somehow to insert “god” into a cold, lifeless universe. Instead he argues that the qualities of divinity that we hold sacred — creativity, meaning, purposeful action — are in fact properties of the universe that can be investigated scientifically. (…)

-From the cover blurb

Reinventing the Sacred coverLast week, I reviewed Thomas Nagel’s Mind and Cosmos and criticised it for answering the human world/physical universe problem in a way that effectively rejected current science. Fittingly enough, this review features one of the books I think successfully integrates science with humanity, even spirituality.

Stuart Kauffman’s Reinventing the Sacred: A New View of Science, Reason and Religion actually has much more scientific content than one would expect from its descriptions. Certainly, it offers a view of how we could see sacredness as a property of the evolving universe rather than a god outside of it. Continue reading

Could we have myths that are true?

This is as of yet a bit vague. Hopefully, I’ll have something clearer later on. But nevertheless, here are some preliminary thoughts on a topic.

“Myth”. Another word that has a double meaning. It can mean an untrue belief, a misconception: “That’s just a myth.” It can also mean a religious-ish, probably magical, story about why things are as they are, like a creation myth.

I’m going to be talking about the latter meaning in this post, and every time I use the word “myth” below.

People who study such things like to talk about how myths are not supposed to be true as such. That’s not their function; that’s not the point; that doesn’t really matter. What matters, originally, is their spiritual function. People everywhere seem to need and create myths to “explain” the way things are. I have to admit their function is not entirely clear to me, but I understand some of it.

There’s talk of modern myths or equivalents of myths, typically based on science or some Hollywood (simplified or just plain misunderstood or even made up) version of it. Well, what I think is this: Why not make better science-based myths? Myths don’t have to be true, but it can’t hurt if they are. I can see the need, even in my own life, for spiritual explanations about our place in the cosmos and things like that, but I don’t need any supernatural fantasies for that.

Now, science itself is a bit bare, the myths that spontaneously develop based on it too one-sided and reductionist (just like traditional myths, for that matter) and not necessarily purposeful and inspiring. And obviously not everyone can really understand it like the experts do. But there’s nothing preventing “deeper” philosophical formulations based on scientific fact that anyone could understand, maybe in a simplified form, that could give them a sense of what their place is in this world, implying the kind of values that people need, and at the same time be more or less true. People are prone to confusing myths and facts anyway, apparently more than ever these days when, according to some authors, we’ve lost the old concept of a myth. Beliefs play a dual role here: both factual and spiritual. I don’t see any problem with serving both of these other than the contingent cultural habits of pulling out the supernatural at this point and looking at the natural mostly in reductionist terms.

True myths. Though that may seem surprising, it does sound good on paper. It deserves a try.

My earlier article “How Does Meaning and Purpose Emerge in a Mechanistic Universe?” can also be seen as a sketch for such a true myth. On the other hand, on believing supernatural things factually, see “In Absence of Evidence”. And, of course, there’s the post called “Faith without Belief?”

What’s the Difference between Spirituality and Religion?

See here for the Finnish version: Mitä eroa on hengellisyydellä ja uskonnolla?

Ah, words with extra baggage. Caring about clarity of communication, one has to hate them.

Is “spiritual” the same as “religious”? Or is spirituality something better or more genuine? Or is it really just the same thing? Or are they unrelated?

In truth, this is one of those annoying cases where a word has two different meanings. Continue reading