Saturday, March 10, 2012

Yet -- a Saturday reprise

(This post originally appeared in February 2010.)

I mentioned here several times recently Ursula Goodenough's The Sacred Depths of Nature. I just noticed a line in the book that I underlined when I first read it a dozen years ago: "It's all very complicated."

It's in the chapter on Sexuality, and we all know that sex is complicated. However, the same sentence might have been in any other chapter of the book -- Origins of Life, say, or Awareness, or Emotions and Meaning, or Multicellularity and Death. It's all very complicated, and the more we learn about it all, the more complicated it gets. And anyone who tells you otherwise is whistling up the wind.

Which is why I'm always baffled by those folks who think they have it figured out. Who believe everything they need to know has already been written down in a book -- the Bible, say, or the Koran. Or who just trudge through life without an ounce of curiosity about what's underfoot, or overhead, or inside. "Oh, that's just a ladybug," they'll say. As if a ladybug weren't a little six-legged package of mystery we could ponder for a lifetime without getting to the bottom of it. And, of course, some people do ponder it for a lifetime -- ladybugologists we'll call them.

Which brings me, as usual, to religious naturalism. Which is a kind of agnosticism. A willingness to say "I don't know, it's all very complicated." Where did the universe come from? "I don't know, it's all very complicated." Why are the laws of nature what they are? "I don't know, it's all very complicated." How did life begin? "I don't know, it's all very complicated." What is self-awareness? "I don't know, it's all very complicated." What is the meaning of it all? "I don't know, it's all very complicated."

We are naturalists in that we don't populate the picture with imaginary anthropomorphic spirits who intervene at will in the course of events. We are religious in that we respond to the world with awe, reverence, and gratitude. To whom or what are we grateful? "I don't know, it's all very complicated."