Wednesday, June 10, 2009

A Few Thoughts Concerning Naturalism: Five Sketches

A Partial Response to Burk Braun

While I am almost done with the next post in my series on biblical inerrancy, I spent the last hour writing up my thoughts on another issue, which I share here. Recently, I have pursued an exchange with Burk Braun concerning naturalism. In response to my partial defense of Goetz and Taliaferro’s NATURALISM , Burk offered a lengthy post of his own.

One of the points he makes—accusing G&T of making use of rather impenetrable technical philosophical language and ideas—I will not contest. What I will say is that their book reads as if it were aimed at an audience of fellow philosophers for the purpose of trying to dislodge the naturalistic presuppositions that prevail in so much of the philosophical community today, or at least to spark a discussion with naturalistic philosophers. Prior to the recent atheist literary wave, I suspect G&T would have been right to assume that virtually no one but philosophers would read their book.

The other dimensions of Burk’s post amount to a defense of naturalism, largely by appealing to the dangerous free-for-all that he thinks results if one has beliefs that aren’t subject to the testing ground of empirical evidence.

There is no way I can address the substance of his post adequately in a brief post of my own, and I don’t have time to address it fully at present in any event. But what I want to do here is enumerate and briefly sketch out some of the thoughts I would like to take up fully at some later point, perhaps on my own blog when I’m finished with my series critiquing biblical inerrancy (although I may, depending on the “personality” of the post, submit it to Religion Dispatches instead).

1. The terms “naturalism” and “supernaturalism” are probably not the most helpful, because they have become so loaded and are used in so many different ways. Stipulative definitions become necessary to avoid talking past one another. So let us contrast two theses. First, there is the thesis that once we have offered an exhaustive account of the content of empirical experience (an account that proceeds on the assumption that such experience is veridical), we have fully characterized reality. Second, there is the thesis which is the negation of this, and as such affirms the reality of the transcendent (“that which transcends what we encounter in empirical experience”). I call the former thesis “naturalism” and the latter “supernaturalism.” Empirical experience as such can speak to neither thesis.

2. It is simply not the case that belief formation relative to the transcendent is cut loose from anything to which it might be accountable (other than the laws of logical consistency—a qualification of Burk’s claim that I’m sure he’ll accede to). This would follow were empirical experience the only kind of human experience. But it is not. There is also moral experience, aesthetic experience, mystical religious/spiritual experience, and the immediate consciousness of oneself as a subject of experience and as an agent.

3. The most popular form of naturalism today extends a preferential bias to empirical experience. It begins with the assumption that only experience of this sort is veridical (that is, it assumes that only experience of this sort connects the subject to a reality “out there,” tracking it in such a way that one can learn about that reality through the kind of careful examination of the content of the experience that scientists engage in). It then constructs an account of reality on the basis of this kind of experience alone. And when other kinds of experience, were they to be treated as veridical, would require one to posit orders of reality transcending this “naturalistic” account, naturalism explains away these other experiences as epiphenomenal by-products of entities whose reality is endorsed by the naturalist metaphysics (e.g., the brain).

Hence, for example, my immediate sense of my daughter’s intrinsic value is not treated as an experience of something real “out there.” Since there is nothing in the naturalistic account of reality that corresponds to “intrinsic value,” the experience I am having is explained away as nothing but an inner psychological phenomenon, a product of brain activity whose neural subroutines probably evolved because of their role in promoting reproductive fitness.

All of this can be done, of course. But the adequacy of the resultant worldview is likely to be exaggerated if the focus of one’s attention is the world of empirical experience (for which it works very well, for obvious reasons). The inadequacies of the resultant worldview come into focus if and only if one ceases to prioritize empirical experience in an ad hoc way and focuses on other kinds of experience (moral experience, religious/spiritual experience, subjective experience of self as subject and agent), taking seriously the possibility that they might be veridical, too. Taking these other modes of experience seriously in this way does not require one not to take empirical experience seriously. But if one takes all modes of experience seriously without, ab initio, extending preferential favoritism to one of them, it will no longer be obvious that materialistic worldviews offer the best fit with our experience. The quick and unexamined line that Burk draws between “outer reality” and “psychological reality,” between what is going on out there in the world and what is only going on in our heads, is not nearly so easy to draw in an uncontestable and presuppositionless way.

4. Burk seems to have no clear understanding of the conceptual distinction between a belief about that which transcends the empirical world and a superstition, as is evidenced by his example of Peter Pan pushing around tectonic plates. I refer readers to chapter 4 of my book, including a careful reading of footnote #2, for a fuller discussion of this issue. In effect, beliefs of this sort reveal an unwillingness to allow empirical beliefs to be subject to the constraints of empirical observation. I share Burk's disapproval of that tendency. But this tells us little about whether there can be intellectual constraints on belief formation with respect to the transcendent.

5. It is simply not the case that contemporary science has left Aristotelian metaphysics or other older metaphysics in the figurative dust as useless relics of the past. The reductive materialist metaphysics that dominates in so much of the sciences faces, among other problems, a crucial difficulty when it comes to avoiding an infinite regress of reductionistic explanations—a difficulty that arises whenever it is presupposed that the properties of a thing are given by the spatio-temporal arrangement and interaction of its parts. A neo-Aristotelian metaphysics of natures can be helpful in ending the regress. In effect, unless there are entities (“the basic building blocks of the physical world”) that have the properties they have in themselves by virtue of what they are (in some non-reductionistic sense rather than as an emergent consequence of the interactions of their parts), the reductionistic method of explanation is not ever really explaining anything. It is simply shifting the need for explanation down one level, ad infinitum. For this reason, I think, quantum physicists tend to be neo-Aristotelian in their thinking about the most basic particles (even if they remain open to the question of whether the most basic particles have yet been discovered, and so continue to be methodologically reductionistic so as not to exclude this possibility).

This is not to say that such neo-Aristotelianism is without difficulty. There is no metaphysics yet devised that is free from legitimate controversy and serious conceptual difficulties. This includes the metaphysical theories favored by naturalists. What distinguishes naturalists of the reductive-materialist school is that they pretend they don’t have a contestable metaphysics. But they do. It is pragmatically impossible to function without one.

The contestable metaphysical view they adopt has been enormously useful for scientific advances in the last two hundred years—a fact which implies that we should not dismiss it when it encounters difficulties. Instead, we should supplement or modify it. I favor a method of synthesis that focuses on what alternative metaphysical approaches are good at doing and why, and then seeks richer and more encompassing metaphysical systems that can incorporate the useful elements of all.

Such a synthesis is going to be impossible if thinkers focus only on one kind of usefulness—usefulness in making reliable predictions in the domain of empirical experience, and creating tools for more effectively achieving our aims within the empirical world—and treating all other metaphysical systems as “completely vacuous” if they do not exhibit this kind of use. There are, after all, other kinds of usefulness: there is usefulness in terms of promoting joy, and usefulness in terms of promoting social harmony, and usefulness in terms of nurturing our capacity for moral goodness in the face of various contrary temptations and drives.

The project I am proposing here, which plays no favorites with respect to which of the different kinds of human experience are to be treated as presumptively veridical, and which plays no favorites with respect to the different ways in which ideas can be useful, is not a project that can be finished in anyone's lifetime. As such, we should all admit that we do not know the fundamental nature of reality. I am deeply bothered by naturalists who operate as if they do, just as I am by religious fundamentalists who operate as if they do.

But for practical purposes we need to make choices among worldviews. While the intellectual project I describe above is being pursued, how should we make such choices? Here, I don't think we will find an approach that necessitates a single choice. We will, instead, encounter parameters that demand logical consistency, conformity with the empirical experience available to us, and a responsiveness to our conscience, but which allow us to follow the deepest longings of our souls.


  1. "What distinguishes naturalists of the reductive-materialist school is that they pretend they don’t have a contestable metaphysics. But they do. It is pragmatically impossible to function without one."

    I think that's really the key statement and bone of contention in this whole thing. But it has to function almost as a base assumption, because no matter how much you try to prove something like that to people, there are plenty of people that just won't buy it. But, I think there are good reasons that support the idea that everybody functions with some sort of contestable metaphysics, even if a lot of people still want to go on believing otherwise.

  2. I don't understand what justifies viewing your alternatives to empirical experience as distinct varieties of experience. Most everyone understands what constitutes empirical experience and what is experienced in it (i.e. the physical world and its various parts). In the case of your alternative varieties of experience, I have no idea what is being experienced. You say that your daughter's innate value is experienced morally. Through what faculty is this experience moderated? What is the nature of the 'thing' that is experienced? I know that it begs your question to ask where the proposed thing exists, but it is a strange exercise to try imagining a substance that is without location.

    Furthermore, the suggestion that there is something called "spiritual experience" seems far from obvious. It is particularly odd because while everyone has some access to empirical experience, many people (e.g. me) never experience anything they would describe as "spiritual."

  3. Hi, Eric-

    Thanks for systematizing the discussion a bit. I think that there are a few problems, for which I'll use your points.

    1. It is impossible to fully characterize reality by empirical means. We just do not have the data to do so. There are galaxies far beyond our ken, and other nooks and crannies we will never get to. Thus the idea that whatever might lie beyond our empirical account is transcendent seems a fallacy in these simple terms. Additionally, what we experience mentally is also empirical. It is just not veridicidal, as you put it- it points to something, which is, quite directly, mental events. Where such mental events come from is a matter for investigation, which is being very productively pursued, just not by G&T.

    2. Things like moral experience are not veridicidal in the same way that they are not magical. We have the instinctive idea that we can alter reality with our thoughts- bend spoons, make sports teams win, etc. But this turns out to be untrue. Likewise, the ideas you claim are transcendent (moral, mystical) are also not necessarily in touch with any other "reality"- far more likely that they are confined to our heads. The "moral sentiments" are instincts as far as we know, not implants from the great beyond.

    This also may be a definitional issue. Are abstract ideas transcendent? Well, sure, depending on what you mean. Do they point to creators of the universe and personal gods? Not in any clear way. The scientific account of how our bodies and minds arose, of the abstract thoughts of other animals (even of computers), all point to the ability of abstractions to arise from completely material origins without pointing to any kind of super-reality or father-abstraction.

    3. "The quick and unexamined line that Burk draws between “outer reality” and “psychological reality,” between what is going on out there in the world and what is only going on in our heads, is not nearly so easy to draw in an uncontestable and presuppositionless way."

    This of course is the very reason science exists. It is the acid test of observation and experiment that tells us whether abstractions we nurture reflect reality, or not. If they do not, are they still real in a transcendent realm? That way madness lies, in the same way a schizophrenic claims to be Napoleon.

    4. Not much I can say here. I look forward to reading your book.

    5. Ending an infinite regress by fiat is less than satisfying, as much in the realm of deities as in the realm of ultimate material properties. Empirically speaking, we might have a glimpse of the end of regress by the quantization of all things small, including time and space. But I am no expert, and at some point it is better to admit ignorance than to make up fanciful solutions.

    The basic issue is that you begin to make a mockery of the word "reality" with the claim that our subjective thoughts and ideas automatically point to something you term "real". They most certainly do not, and picking our way amongst those that do and do not is a tricky business, best done with an eye to actual reality, which is to say, empirically for claims about outer reality.

    For claims about joy, art, morals, etc., referring to "reality" is also misplaced. We have instincts, desires, and abstract ideas, and we may share them communally and arrive at settlements/conventions about which are most conducive to making us happy. Claiming "reality" for these conventional notions is simply whistling past the graveyard- they are relativistic, anchored only in the human condition. One could just as well weigh the "reality" of legal contracts against each other.

  4. Woops- make that veridical, not veridicidal!

  5. Continuing on, you appear to refer to subjective experience as real as well. Fair enough- that is another way to define reality, but veridical? Hardly- its capacity to point to anything outside ourselves is highly questionable. Every novel and movie shows that the relation is optional at best. However powerful and "realistic" the experience, we can be sure only of its subjective reality- the experience in itself, one might say- while its ability to point to anything outside ourselves (other than to the genetic code and psychological archetypes of the general human condition, possibly plus hallucinogens added for effect, other tweeks and quirks of the immediate subjective mechanism, etc.) has to be regarded as tentative, subject to empirical test.

    Sorry to go on, and best wishes!

  6. I'm getting ready to head out of town for about a week, but I want to comment on one thing before I go, specifically the following from on of Burk's posts, offered in response to my skeptical view of his inner reality/outer reality distinction:

    "...(science) is the acid test of observation and experiment that tells us whether abstractions we nurture reflect reality, or not."

    This comment seems to me to simply restate, in slightly different terms, the view that there's a clear means of distinguishing inner from outer reality--namely, the tools of science. My claim is that relying on this as our ONLY measuring stick for distinguishing "what is really OUT THERE" from "what is MERELY in my head" depends on first extending a special sort of privilege to empirical experience.

    Now there are some uncontroversial ways in which empirical experience does enjoy a privileged status. It is PERVASIVE in our individual experiential lives in ways that other kinds of experience are not, and it is UNIVERSAL to all humans in ways that other many other kinds of experience are not (I don't think a human who lacked empirical experience would be able to live a human life as we know it).

    But the kind of privilege one must extend to empirical experience in order to get Burk's conclusion doesn't follow logically from these discernible differences between empirical experience and other sorts. The kind of privilege empirical experience needs to have is the kind that I mentioned in the original post. Specifically, one needs to assume that empirical experience is the only "veridical" experience--that is, it is the only experience that is an encounter WITH a reality whose nature is impressing itself upon us THROUGH the experience. Put another way, it is the only experience that offers the data appropriate for formulating our understanding of reality.

    Now I don't deny that empirical experience is veridical in this sense. What I DO deny is a) that the veridical character of empirical experience is anything we can PROVE so as to silence the skeptic, and (b) that other kinds of experience can or should be dismissed as lacking this character (simply because they lack the same pervasiveness and universality) without begging important questions about the possible existence of that which transcends the empirical world.

    It is certainly legitimate to see what happens if one constructs a holistic worldview based on assuming (a) and (b)--and this is what modern naturalists have done. But the merits of that worldview cannot be adequately assessed apart from a substantive comparison with alternatives.

    And while the naturalistic worldviews fare well in comparison with some naive supernatural alternatives--especially those which provide no constraints or standards for assessing the adequacy of beliefs--it is simply not appropriate to leap to an overweaning confidence in the truth of naturalism on that account.

    The real test is when naturalism is placed against, say, the kind of scientifically-attuned personalism of Herman Lotze, whose system of thought was constructed on the conviction that, in addition to "external experience, which is mediated for us by the senses...there are also inner states which are available as data for the acquisition of truth."

    My point is that when we reject Lotze's approach because we interpret these inner states as NOTHING BUT causal by-products of things (brains) that we encounter through empirical experience (and hence not as offering legitimate data), we are basing that rejection on a prior privileging of empirical experience, and so begging the question at hand.

    Put simply, science as such develops its methodology by asking, "What counts as data for the sake of the kind of inquiry we want to do?" Naturalism, by contrast, takes science's answer to this question as the answer to a broader question: "What counts as data for any inquiry into truth?" But in so doing, it is not refuting Lotze...just asserting a different starting point.

  7. Science is not simply the accumulation of observation reports. It is rather a body of often highly abstract, highly theoretical generalizations that outruns all observation we've ever had or ever will have. Moreover, at least within physics, observation by itself does not suffice to decide between competitor theories. Einsteinian relativity did not win out over ether-compensatory theories because it and not they were adequate to the evidence. Rather as Einstein quite clearly recognized, it evinced virtues of a purely theoretical sort. The same is true within quantum dynamics. The formalism of qd most often comes wrapped up in the so-called Copenhagen interpretation with its characteristic indeterminism. But there is no necessity to this interpretation. David Bohm gave us a deterministic interpretation of the formalism of qd.

    The upshot: observation (i.e. empirical evidence) does not by itself deliver up scientific theory. Theory outruns observation, and radical theoretical differences are quite compatible with the same observation-set. Put otherwise, the point is this: within science itself, there is extra-empirical speculation that outruns all possible experience. Thus the contrast between science and religion - the former is evidence-determined and the later is cut loose form all evidence - is bogus.

  8. "What I DO deny is a) that the veridical character of empirical experience is anything we can PROVE so as to silence the skeptic, and (b) that other kinds of experience can or should be dismissed as lacking this character (simply because they lack the same pervasiveness and universality) without begging important questions about the possible existence of that which transcends the empirical world."

    It seems to me that what you are saying here is that empirical experience is not foolproof. We have great problems proving even the simplest things and must remain skeptical about much that seems certain about the world, our models of its being indirect at best. Very well- I have no problem with this part.

    Then you go to say that other kinds of experience that do not even purport to satisfy skeptical and logical rigor, (i.e. empiricism), but which are borne of the very same cloth that brings us fantasy, dreams, and every sort of other imagining ... these too are worthy of being called "veridical".

    This seems to simply be hiding a weakness for magical subjectivity under a pile of sophistry. History shows that endless claims based on just this criterion have withered before reasoned skepticism, such that theists bemoan that all kinds of transcendent beings are "hidden" or otherwise hopelessly inscrutible. Quite a pass to come to, frankly.

  9. Indeed, I'd recommend looking into the realist theology of Don Cupitt.

  10. If may add a bit more ...

    "The project I am proposing here, which plays no favorites with respect to which of the different kinds of human experience are to be treated as presumptively veridical, and which plays no favorites with respect to the different ways in which ideas can be useful"

    This reminds me of the creationist gambit pushing a false equivalence between Darwinism and ID, with the result that ... well, we should "teach the controversy" even when, intellectually, there is no controversy to teach.

    In this case, instead of implying that all ways of "knowing" are equivalent or deserving of presumptive respect, you might devote some more effort to studying exactly what the inner ways of knowing can give us- art, self-expression, inspiration, motivation, hints and epiphanies, but not, in the end, a rigorous knowledge of anything other than our own imaginations, which are certainly rich and interesting, but not veridical about anythng we should philosophically term "reality".

  11. Yet, do those "inner states" not directly affect the external world? Positive thinking leading to action, etc.

    to me it boils down to free will and an endless game of chicken or the egg. It's the paradox of a human being driven by evolutionary biology trying to analyze human beings completely in terms of evolutionary biology - even the drive to study it is affected by that which is being studied. Crazy.

    I agree with Burk concerning the dangers of putting too much stock in "inner states" which are not validated by observation. But just because something is dangerous does not mean it isn't worth doing. And all "external observation" is ultimately just an "inner state". Consciousness is the beginning and the end.

    Yet in regard to Eric's ideas, I wonder what other forms of input there are apart from empirical input. Mental states? Can a mental state inform a mental state? Feelings?

    But imagine a humans who has lost all five senses. What would that existence entail? Is there a capacity for input at all?

    Yet, surely there are phenomena beyond our senses to perceive. And I mean totally. We can only see parts of the electromagnetic spectrum, but with instruments we see more. The instruments only magnify the ability of sight. We still "see" to read the instruments. If another hypothetical sense, perhaps called "gloob" could detect "gloobiness" then we are probably unaware of the gloobiness that is all around us. Can spiritual experience, or drug induced states or near death experiences, show us a perception that is apart from our empirical senses? to me they still seem empirical, but just with a different perspective. What does anyone else think?

    Also, I do not know any naturalists who suppose they know all there is, or who claim to even be able to know all that is. This would be an unwise claim with little reason. As a naturalist friend claimed to me the other night “For people like me and Dawkins, the door of possibility is WIDE open.”


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  13. cont.

    "What distinguishes naturalists of the reductive-materialist school is that they pretend they don’t have a contestable metaphysics. But they do. It is pragmatically impossible to function without one."

    To me this just suggests that consciousness is all we have. That is it. People validating our experiences as "real" are just another part of our consciousness. So what makes this consciousness more "real" than subjective states? I suppose I must accept Eric's idea that it is a metaphysical assumption concerning the nature of reality. But along with Burk, I would ask if this assumption is based on fairly universally accepted a priori assumptions. I suppose we could find Eastern philosophers presenting the idea that our outer reality is an illusion and that may be difficult to counter, accept that the idea of illusion requires the contrast of reality for a context. so where is the reality?

    To Burk again - What is the difference between reality and hallucination or "imagined inner state"? Is it not the conformity of experience as validated by others? if others cannot verify this reality, then is it completely valueless? Or is Eric right, that an inner state, including imagination, is full of value provided it meets the criteria of "meshing" well with observation? Is intuitive knowledge worth seeking? yes. Is it dangerous? yes.

    What about moments of extreme fear, grief, or ecstatic joy when the "thinking mind" is completely giving way to pure experience. Is it possible to operate logically, or morally within a state of complete 1st person subjectivity? Basically within ourselves? Are these dark nights of the soul beneficial? Spiritual ecstasy? This is a complete "inner state" I am referring to. I think any transference to action is contingent on the thinking mind making a judgement call, however well or poorly done. But before this action, being trapped on the inside can be very real, almost ultimately real because our consciousness is everything.

    Is "true" experience that which conforms to the experience of other beings that exist in our consciousness? How do we test that consciousness?

    Burk, shouldn’t we recognize the axiom (point of faith) that gives rise to trusting our senses as the best indication of reality? This is because claims to external validation are still 100% perceived through a subjective lens of consciousness and what it tells us.

    Eric, shouldn’t we recognize that everyone seems to accept that the empirical senses are basically to be trusted, perhaps because they are all we have? We cannot say the same for subjective experience that is removed from external, empirical verification. And aren’t those subjective experiences actually experienced through empirical sensation, albeit more internally?

    both, is there really a significant difference here? Imagination and fantasy exist physically in the firing neurons of our brains. These electrical currents are not much different than matter the more closely we look at them. Our fantasies are matter. Our reality is matter.

    super tired here, but thinking constantly (but not at my brightest). to anyone who has read this, I appreciate your indulgence!

  14. Hi, Steve-

    "So what makes this consciousness more 'real' than subjective states? I suppose I must accept Eric's idea that it is a metaphysical assumption concerning the nature of reality."

    Our conception of reality has everything to do with consistency. If we are in a perfect Matrix-like illusion, then so be it- we can not tell the difference between that and "true" reality. But if tears start to appear in the fabric, if people replicate in front of our eyes and gravitation is exuberantly violated during fight sequences, then we realize we are in a dream.

    That is the difference, and the track record is that our understanding of the physical "outer" world is one of exceeding consistency the more we get to know it. Miracles no longer occur, and mysteries reside only at the farther and ever-receding reaches of reliable knowledge.

    In contrast, imagination is anything but consistent- as exemplified by the dream that is the alternate hypothesis to reality. New scriptures keep getting written trying to pin down the essence of spiritual experience, and advanced theologians have to settle on increasingly vaporous formulations to accommodate consistent reality whose scope is so vastly increased in our day, and the spiritual impulse, which becomes ever more apparent as an instinct or feeling rather than a "sense", let alone a "way of knowing".

  15. Indeed I'd add that the whole point of using the supernatural label is to segregate a given phenomenon from the consistency that is the hallmark of the natural order. Funny that this should be taken as a sign of something "real" rather than something unreal, given (as argued above) that consistency is fundamentally the only criterion we have to separate the two.

  16. Apologies in advance if this isn't as organized as I'd like it to be. I have a 15 month old at home, for the love of God!

    Burk, I appreciate your insightful words, and you taking the time to share them.

    “Indeed I'd add that the whole point of using the supernatural label is to segregate a given phenomenon from the consistency that is the hallmark of the natural order”

    I agree completely. In fact I’ve compiled a list of “thought errors” in arguments for the supernatural.

    But I would always argue that consciousness is primary, and that everything is real if we experience it. The “inner” and “outer” designation is useful, however. If the former (a mental state, a feeling, etc.) is useful in the latter - then can it be relevant?

    Ultimately, I think all these arguments are pretend arguments though, because whatever we experience has happened. There is not a different reality to explore. What is IS, right? People argue perspective. That’s it. But of course, that is everything!

    to "God". Why not?

    “Does God exist?” is a meaningless question. Of course God exists, we talk about it, right? The question is, “What is God?” A “3rd party” in the “outer world” portion of consciousness, like another person, or is God a part of our inner feeling, perhaps a part of our subconscious?

    So it’s perspective and how much meaning we ascribe to these things that is the real argument.

    So what about the basic perspective of our awareness? The ability to let go in the moment? To me this is the domain of faith, of surrender, or acknowledging and affirming our 1st person participation in life. Faith is important for me in this. I’m not convinced that I will always have enough information or mental ability to function as I hope to. I have faith in the Buddha Nature, basic awareness, the simple, the connection, the source. I have personal evidence that this mental state tends to create good outcomes. I still feel that “God” is an accurate term in describing this. Is God the greater community? all that is? my subconscious? A mental state? An imagined story or symbol that most closely hits the mark in describing my consciousness’ experience of existence? Whatever way, God is real.

    Is all this the product of evolutionary biology? I think so, yes. But does that change anything? My “top down” leaps in intuition are products of the “bottom up” nature of evolution. Yet, if I only acknowledge the “bottom up” process, that always puts me at the pinnacle of existence, where I don’t think I am necessarily. I don’t think naturalists do this either, I think many are far more speculative, creative and intuitive than most religious people I know. The door is open.

    Ultimately, everything in our conscious mind is about feeling. I don’t feel that my experience is reliant on the term God, but it seems to feel the best. I suppose I am attached to it. And I do interact with my own consciousness in a way that is “seeking God” to me.

  17. All this said, I feel that I am very much into imagination as possibility - moving forward by feeling, searching intuitively, viewing reality as far greater than I can communicate with the vernacular. The phenomena of being requires the symbols of myth to adequately come close to describing in a satisfying manner.

    I recognize that this is dropping meaning from intuition, from a “skyhook” or “top down” mentality. And I can’t tell if it’s my religious upbringing or the fact that I am an artist that makes it feel so right to me. Possibly both. But is this all wrong? Dangerous? Yes! But wrong? I feel I am a naturalist, but also a mystic. In this I feel with Eric. Intuition is relevant even if it’s dangerous. Of course it’s still all a matter of perspective.

    The myths which ancient man invented were “science” (from their perspective). From their more limited viewpoint, they thought myths offered explanations for phenomena. Then modern science emerged displacing the old descriptions. Then we started to miss our myths for they served another purpose that vernacular language for observation does not seem to satisfy. They came closer to describing the ineffable phenomena of being. However, both fundamentalists and skeptics have taken these symbols and literalized them - reducing the power of the symbols. They agreed on how to treat the symbols (as fact instead of as truth), and they simply divided along the line of “yes” or “no”.

    When I am troubled that perhaps this symbolic mode of thinking, which (according to my feelings) describes the reality we know in a more relevant way than scientific terminology alone, is not parsimonious and can lead to delusion - it’s the same worry I have when I consider spending so much time and effort writing music. What’s the point of the music beyond my feelings? Are more people suffering in the world because I am writing music instead of using that energy to help them? This troubles me. But then again, what is left of the world without art?

    One might argue that the difference is that art is fiction and religion claims not to be. In a sense this is true. Conservative religious folks claim the symbolic language of religion as literal truth. But symbols are not literal truth (though of course, all perceived reality is symbolic ultimately). Rather, symbols point to something real that the vernacular cannot communicate in a satisfactory fashion. We can write analytical essays about a poem, but it does not destroy it’s magic. I can think about religion as symbol, and can analyze it as such, but it does not destroy the reality it points to - the magic - the ineffable phenomena of being - and being in the middle of being!

    So yes, mixing up symbols with the literal is bad news. This is worshipping the signpost instead of where it’s pointing, and it can lead to denying observation.

    But denying the literal power behind symbols? no good either.

    Does what we call things matter? Perhaps not personally, but in society yes. I went for years without uttering the word “god”. But I decided to reclaim it. I understand it has a lot of baggage for people - I figure you either drop it, or reinterpret it. I choose the latter.