Holy Nostalgia

Toward a sympathetic critique of religious naturalism

Authored by: Michael L. Raposa

The Routledge Handbook of Religious Naturalism

Print publication date:  February  2018
Online publication date:  February  2018

Print ISBN: 9781138292079
eBook ISBN: 9781315228907
Adobe ISBN:


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This essay presupposes that “religious naturalism” is the meaningful label for a broad range of philosophical and theological perspectives, despite their diversity all defending the claims that (1) there is no reality above or beyond “nature,” (2) that the scientific method, broadly conceived, is the most reliable source of knowledge about nature, and (3) that what we can know about nature supports belief in the propriety of certain values and attitudes that might be labeled “religious.” My critique pursues no single line of analysis but embodies instead a multi-faceted approach to the topic of religious naturalism. I first explore the logic of vagueness that governs the use of some key terms frequently appearing in the articulation of such perspectives, notably, “nature,” “religious,” “God,” “supernaturalism” and “science.” In doing so, I argue that the rejection of a sharp nature/culture distinction may be more crucial for the purposes of religious naturalism than the more commonly discussed rejection of the natural/supernatural dichotomy. While agreeing that an awareness of the problem of evil represents the best reason for embracing atheism, I worry out loud about certain varieties of religious naturalism that appear to be primarily motivated by issues of theodicy. Whether they use the word “God” metaphorically or defend a process theism or claim to represent some type of “atheistic religion,” I probe the hypothesis that these are all forms of “halting atheism,” perhaps not entirely consistent in their naturalism to the extent that they embody a kind of nostalgia for the idea of the holy. I conclude with a sketch of some of Charles Peirce’s arguments: his “neglected argument” that belief in God is instinctive and so natural, along with his preference for God-talk over certain philosophical substitutes, more generally, his curious defense of anthropomorphism, not only in the language of theology, but also in scientific discourse.

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