First, to respond to Cathy.

Cathy, I like your spirituality, and agree with nearly all of it. I especially enjoyed your writing it out so we can see it.

To address your questions, I think we need to focus on what Naturalism is. You wrote:

However, I cannot call myself a Religious Naturalist if it requires that I "Tentatively believe only in falsifiable ideas for which there is measurable, repeatable, and empirical evidence for, and holding no positive belief in anything which does not meet those criteria” as Jon Host suggests.

First, note that the criteria is for *positive* belief. I’m agree with you that there are aspects of the universe we don’t understand, and probably never will – I don’t claim that they don’t exist. It’s just that I restrict the things that I will positively claim *do* exist to things that there is evidence for. I’m not saying that I know that something without evidence doesn’t exist – it may well exist, it’s just that as a Naturalist, I can’t say that I positively believe it exists until there is that evidence. Until then, I am uncertain that it exists, which is VERY different from being certain it doesn’t exist.

Cathy wrote:

I believe in many things for which there is no measurable evidence - yet. For example, I believe in love and kindness and grace, yet none of these are measurable.

I think there is measurable evidence that these exist – if you can define them. For instance, brain scans clearly show patterns of activity that correspond to actions of feelings of love, in addition to the biochemical results which are similar.

As another example, 400 years ago, electricity was a mystery. People did not have the means to measure it, much less repeat measurements of it. And so lightening was a mystery.

Your second example is a very good way to show this. The ancients certainly did have evidence that lightning exists – repeatable visual observation of the light, damage, and sound. It would be silly of me to suggest that everyone thousands of years ago should have denied the existence of lightning. They didn’t have the evidence to show what exactly it was – and that’s not too different from where we are today with the observation of gravity. Naturalism would certainly allow an ancient person to believe that lightning exists, just as today Naturalism allows you to believe that emotions exist.

Thoughts right now in summary:

  • First, the requirement of repeatable evidence does apply to your beliefs, since I think you have moved past superstition and magic. Thus I’d guess for now that you do fit within the Naturalistic umbrella (unlike Tom).
  • Second, that your description of God in pantheistic terms is perfectly compatible with a Naturalistic worldview. I think a Naturalist can be a Theist if their God is defined in a Naturalistic way, as Michael Dowd does in his book, and as you appear to have done for yourself.
  • Third, that if I haven’t fully understood your worldview, then feel free to correct me. If that means that you aren’t a Naturalist, then that’s fine – maybe we need to come up with another term.
  • Fourth – that you have an awesome website! What a great resource – many of those activities are just the kind of things I think we need to build a truly science based culture.

More discussion - I think we all need to stick to an empirical basis if one is to claim having a Naturalistic worldview. In other words, if one doesn't "Tentatively believe only in falsifiable ideas for which there is measurable, repeatable, and empirical evidence for, and holding no positive belief in anything which does not meet those criteria", then don't claim to be a Naturalist. There's nothing wrong with not holding an empirical view, and there is nothing to say that one can't still base one's spirituality on Nature, and yes, on evolution - it's just that then a different name should be used.

The terms "Naturalism" and "Naturalistic" are not new. The reason to bring them up with regards to religion is to make it clear to others on the outside what we believe and why. Otherwise, what's the point of using the terms? Why not instead just come up with some new term or name that doesn't already have a meaning?

A good example of what I'm disagreeing with is in the last section "what some ...". Specifically the term "strictly scientific Religious Naturalists" is redundant, since what I think is meant by "strictly scientific" is already captured in the term "naturalist". Similarly, "psychic phenomena" and a "soul" aren't just outside of current scientific inquiry, they are outside of a Naturalistic worldview, until evidence for their existence becomes available. That doesn't mean you can't believe in them - of course you can - but if you do, you don't have a naturalistic worldview any more than a person living in Australia is simultaneously living in greenland.

Maybe we need a different term for the umbrella - like "religious naturophiles" or "Unitarian Universalists"? -Jon

in response to Ursula's note Oct 8th 2007 3 pmEdit

Ursula wrote: Importantly, and there are of course those who have problems here, the naturalist assumes that these calls have been, are, and will be made by the scientific community, and scientific understandings that have survived such intensive scrutiny are therefore incorporated into the naturalist’s worldview. ... I would say that someone reluctant to adopt this belief isn’t a naturalist.

I agree. Perhaps another way to say this is "A Naturalist tentatively agrees with the scientific consensus unless he or she is a trained expert in the area of disagreement."

But cherry-picking scientific understandings so that they better support what one desires to believe isn’t part of the matrix. Rather, the idea is to start with the understandings now on offer — not “many or most” as in your phrasing, but all of them — and develop religious responses to them.

This is my understanding too, and indeed, I think the core of Religious Naturalism.

Understandings derived from scientific inquiry are not understandings that one is called upon to “believe in” or “not believe in.”

A central point is that Religious Naturalists get away from a dualistic view of belief. It's not Binary - "fully Believe with all your heart and mind" vs "fully disbelieve". We recognize that beliefs are tentative, and restrict our positive, still tentative beliefs to those with evidence behind them. Other things, like life after death or pyschic phenomena, can be "things we like to think", but not things we claim to have reason to believe. For instance, a Religious Naturalist could say:

  • "the Universe is about 14 billion years old."
  • "Increasingly complex things have Evolved over time."
  • "I like to think I'll live on consciously after death"
  • "changes in DNA caused by cosmic rays can change both genotypes and phenotypes"
  • "I like to think that the Universe is affected by my consciously willing change into it"

Maybe this is a solution - to differentiate what has evidence and what is what one likes to think?

Or am I trying too hard to shoehorn people into Religious Naturalism who don't fit there?

All the best - Jon


Paradox Edit

Placing these two statements in this relationship, as if they are complementary, is paradoxical:

Hold no positive belief in anything which for which there is no empirical evidence. Truth and reason suffices to explain everything.

At the risk of belaboring the point, the "fact" that "truth and reason suffices to explain everything" is a "positive belief for which there is" at least a strong lack of "empirical evidence," as empirical evidence about "everything" is generally lacking. 00:47, April 9, 2011 (UTC)

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