Friday, March 01, 2013

Table talk -- 2

Religious naturalism? Let's start with the easy part: "naturalism." The part Margaret will agree on.

There are no miracles. No supernatural interventions. Whatever happens happens because of potentialities in nature itself. To the extent those potentialities are known, we call them laws of nature. The laws of nature as we know them are not inviolable, but that is presumably because we do not yet fully understand.

The naturalistic assumption is not something the naturalist can prove, but it has served us remarkably well as a foundational principle of science. If it were not true, at least in the broad sweep of things, science would not be possible. It has led us to the most distant galaxies and into the heart of the DNA. It has made modern medicine and technological civilization possible.

One irrefutable miracle would be all it would take to render the naturalistic assumption wanting. But here is why I am a naturalist: In seven decades of study and personal experience, I have yet to come across a shred of reliable, non-anecdotal evidence for exceptions to the rule of natural law.

Millions of Hindus pray for sons, for example. And millions think their prayers have been answered. But the ratio of boy babies to girl babies is the same as anywhere else. Your answered prayer, your miracle, is my coincidence.

I have no desire to argue the naturalistic assumption with my neighbor. To each his own, as long as his own doesn't impinge on mine.

But I can still hear Margaret saying, "Jeez, Dad, there you go again. Let it go. Get back to bats and boas. It’s a dead horse." And indeed it is, for me and for Margaret. "Religion" as a commonly understood noun is replete with supernaturalism, to be stripped away with one clean swipe of Ockham's razor. But what about "religious" as an adjective? Does "naturalism" need a qualifier? That's the challenge she has posed that I feel compelled to answer.

More Monday.