Religious Naturalism?What is the most adequate way to speak about nature?
For some the answer is "religious naturalism" and that concept shows up often this month in Covalence
This month Covalence
features an essay from Dr. Phil Hefner
, which builds on some of the ideas he initially stressed in previous issues. Here he specifically reflects on various forms of naturalism, especially religious naturalism. Naturalism traditionally is defined as the idea that the laws of nature that govern the universe are all there is. Hefner finds that concept wanting but also argues that religious naturalism (that nature is divine) confuses the beauty and complexity of nature with the deeper reality that is God. His short essay, at the same time, insists on the importance of adopting into religious thought the richer concept of nature that science is giving us. He suggests that what we need is a "full bodied, God-intoxicated" understanding of nature.
In May, we published an essay on the many varied view of religious naturalism ( see What is the Question to which Religious Naturalism is the Answer?
). In that piece, Frederick Mortensen asserted that some hold religion as a practice of mystic contemplation of scientific knowledge. This is a view that has been promoted in The Journey of the Universe.
(The trailer can be viewed at www.journeyoftheuniverse.org
and will air on PBS.) It is a story that is masterfully told, but those looking for theological perspective will find it shallow.
The Journey of the Universe
film is well worth watching. The film and the book project that goes with it are a collaboration of well-known author Briane Thomas Swimme and Yale University historian of religions Mary Evelyn Tucker. The goal of The Journey of the Universe
is to show how humans should appreciate a planet that nourishes us all. That is incredibly important, but is that a perspective nourished by religion, or is that a view of nature one of religious naturalism, that is, a religion in itself?
This month's news section
highlights another theologian thinking about similar questions, Celia Deane-Drummond. She is leading a group of theologians, scientists and philosophers to answer questions involving human nature and evolution. The hope is that they will be able to better define how theology and science contribute to a better understanding of our own place in the world.
Carl Sagan said, "For small creatures such as us the vastness is bearable only through love." What did Sagan mean? Was he a religious naturalist? It is impossible to know, but if we take seriously the concept that God is love, there is something more than nature's laws alone and something more than nature as divine. Faith and science, each speaking in partnership about nature, can provide a stronger view of reality than natural laws alone or speaking of God as if nature did not matter. As Hefner writes, "Nature naturally (excuse the pun) opens up to the reality of God."
Susan Barreto is a journalist who has been following religion and science since 2003 with articles appearing in various newsletters and
The Lutheran magazine. She is also a deputy editor of a monthly hedge fund magazine owned by Euromoney Institutional Investor. Susan is a long-time member of Luther Memorial Church in Chicago, where she lives with her husband and son.