Does Religion = Supernaturalism and Science = Naturalism?
The other day, in response to my post entitled “What Kind of Christianity Most Influences Society?”, a respondent suggested that I had too far boiled down Scot McKnight’s article about the book Liberalism Without Illusions, making it mostly about supernaturalism vs. naturalism. It was a fair criticism and I realized, afterward, that my reply amounted to another angle on the same issue that hopefully may give my first remarks greater clarity.
I hope it may add to its force also, as institutions and “practitioners” of science and religion can and should be doing much more to effectively manage our physical and emotional well-being. This not only as American society (or whichever one we each are a part of) but as all of humanity, interlinked as we all are.
So, with only slight modification in the first sentence, here is the bulk of my response, in case you didn’t see it in the comments section of the last post:
I completely agree that I was focusing on only one aspect of what all McKnight’s short article and four questions covered, let alone the range within the book (which I’ve not read myself, but seen another summary or two about). And yes, the view and treatment of Scripture is very key, perhaps central, in the conservative-liberal differences (along with views of authority more broadly).
I “picked on” the supernatural/natural distinction because I’m convinced it IS the way many people on both “ends” of the spectrum frame things. And taking that as such a common focus of religion (that God not only exists but intervenes for us personally and for humankind) smacks up against the methodology of science which (almost of necessity) rules out any such thing. And science has generally taken it beyond methodology to presupposing that God CANNOT exist (or DOES NOT), in any form. With that has vanished the whole realm of “the spirit” or things “spiritual”, as far as most of intellectual culture and education in the West.
Now, I’m a lover of God/spirituality (even “religion” if rightly qualified), and also a lover of science. But I feel both have overstepped their bounds and locked themselves into defensive and/or aggressive positions toward one another. I see older liberalism as having sided too closely with science for the most part, though certainly not completely. But I’m much encouraged by the work of many progressives and Process people (in which I include myself), who take a more open, “re-enchantment”-of-reality view and support “scientific” study of spiritual phenomena, of religion, etc.
If you’d like to see a little more of why I see the naturalism/supernaturalism dichotomy as such an important issue to be understood and discussed, I highly recommend a very short (and readable for educated lay people) book, “Two Great Truths: A New Synthesis of Scientific Naturalism and Christian Faith” by David Ray Griffin.
I’d love to get your thoughts and reactions.