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Does Religion = Supernaturalism and Science = Naturalism?

January 24, 2014

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.  

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Anonymous permalink
    January 24, 2014 11:21 am

    On the supernaturalism vs naturalism debate, I firmly believe that it is irresolvable, because there is no way to even come to agreement on the epistemological grounds for arbitration.

    When I relay my mystical experience in 1980 to my atheist friends, they simply cannot get past the answer that fits within their preconceived web of belief — it was simply a delusion. Never mind that the “delusion” radically and permanently changed my outlook and even my personality.

    I ceased permanently to have any residual fear that my rejection of the God my father preached — the hateful monster portrayed in the OT — might have consequences. I became capable of genuinely forgiving monstrous acts in my own life (including my mother’s death at the hands of my fundamentalist father), because I recognized the absolute equation of “Evil” with ignorance.

    While far from healed of all of the emotional traumas of an extremely violent and impoverished childhood, I still reckon about 30 years of psychotherapy transacted in 5 minutes of clarity.

    If it was a drug induced delusion, then I can only say that I hope we can induce that delusion in every human.

    I don’t need persuading, but there is no amount of verbiage that can persuade. The problem of “other minds” cannot be surmounted. Ken Wilber talks about the epistemological ground being a “community of adepts”, but there is no way to translate their consensus to the vast majority who didn’t make it to Turquoise!

  2. Felix Alexander permalink
    January 27, 2014 11:33 pm

    I forgot to reply to this over the weekend (here it was a long one). I’m honored that you thought my comment was worth a post.

    I really don’t think it’s fair to say that science methodologically rules supernaturalism out. I have done some research in cognitive psychology. It never seemed like you’re ruling supernaturalism out; rather, if there’s some irregular supernatural phenomenon, it’d just look like natural variation or experimenter error. If there’s some consistent supernatural phenomenon, it’d look no different to a natural phenomenon; to detect it you’d need to have a theory that explains all the data that exists better than what we’ve got, and is distinguishable from one that only explains the other data. And what would that look like? It’s more that it’s incomprehensible than that it’s “methodologically ruled out”.

    I think there’s way too many religious scientists to say that they’re locked into an defensive/aggresive position towards one another…

    But really, I feel like I’m having I’m having an argument with a young earth creationist, but you’re not one, so I’m confused and can’t say more. Perhaps I will have to look into the book you recommend.

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    August 3, 2014 7:57 am

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