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The Ramifications of Religious Naturalism

Frank Visser / ChatGPT-4o

Me to ChatGPT:

  • Please elaborate on the ramifications of religious naturalism in an essay of 2000 words.
  • Please discuss some of the major spokespersons of this secular view of meaning and spirituality.
  • How are the phenomena of emergence and self-organisation understood in this context?
  • Some variants of this view have a more spiritual or quasi-supernatural interpretation.
  • Religious apologists have always claimed that only religion can provide meaning, and hence modernity has a meaning crisis.
  • A Dutch philosopher once wrote: Be happy that life has no (pregiven) meaning. Please elucidate on this counter-intuitive notion.
  • Please describe what the Ten Commandments of religious naturalism would look like.
  • How does religious naturalism compare to atheism?


Please elaborate on the ramifications of religious naturalism in an essay of 2000 words.

The Ramifications of Religious Naturalism


Religious naturalism is an approach to spirituality and religious life that integrates the insights and methods of science with a reverence for the natural world. This worldview rejects supernatural explanations and embraces a deep connection to the natural processes and phenomena described by contemporary science. Religious naturalism can be seen as a bridge between science and spirituality, offering a perspective that honors both the empirical rigor of scientific inquiry and the profound sense of wonder and interconnectedness often associated with religious experience.

Historical Context

Religious naturalism is not a new concept; its roots can be traced back to various philosophical and religious traditions. The ancient Greek philosophers, such as Thales and Heraclitus, sought to understand the world through natural causes rather than supernatural interventions. Similarly, the Enlightenment era brought about a shift towards rationalism and empiricism, which laid the groundwork for modern scientific methods. In the 20th century, thinkers like John Dewey and Julian Huxley advocated for a naturalistic approach to spirituality, emphasizing humanism and the importance of science in understanding the world.

Core Principles of Religious Naturalism

Religious naturalism rests on several core principles that distinguish it from both traditional theistic religions and atheistic secularism:

Rejection of Supernaturalism: Religious naturalists reject the notion of supernatural beings, events, or forces. They argue that everything can be explained through natural processes and laws, which can be studied and understood through scientific methods.

Reverence for Nature: While rejecting supernaturalism, religious naturalists hold a deep reverence for the natural world. This reverence is often expressed through a sense of awe and wonder at the complexity, beauty, and interconnectedness of life and the universe.

Integration of Science and Spirituality: Religious naturalism seeks to integrate scientific understanding with spiritual practice. It encourages a holistic view of the world that includes both empirical knowledge and a sense of moral and existential meaning.

Ethical Living: Religious naturalists often emphasize the importance of living ethically, grounded in a respect for the natural world and a commitment to social and environmental justice.

The Philosophical Underpinnings

The philosophical foundation of religious naturalism is rooted in naturalism, the belief that the natural world is all that exists and that everything can be understood through scientific investigation. This view is often contrasted with supernaturalism, which posits the existence of entities or realms beyond the natural world.

Religious naturalism also draws on existentialism and humanism. Existentialist themes, such as the search for meaning in a seemingly indifferent universe, resonate with religious naturalists. Humanism, with its emphasis on human welfare and the potential for human beings to lead fulfilling lives through reason and empathy, aligns well with the ethical imperatives of religious naturalism.

Theological and Religious Implications

The adoption of religious naturalism has profound implications for traditional theology and religious practices. By rejecting supernatural elements, religious naturalism challenges many conventional religious beliefs and rituals. However, it also offers a reinterpretation of religious concepts that can be compatible with a naturalistic worldview:

God and the Divine: In religious naturalism, the concept of God is often reinterpreted as a symbol of the unity and creativity inherent in the natural world. This view aligns with pantheism or panentheism, where the divine is seen as synonymous with the universe or as immanent within it.

Prayer and Meditation: Practices like prayer and meditation are reinterpreted as ways to cultivate mindfulness, gratitude, and a deep sense of connection with the natural world. These practices are valued not for their supposed supernatural efficacy but for their psychological and emotional benefits.

Sacred Texts and Myths: Sacred texts and myths are appreciated for their cultural and moral significance rather than as literal truths. They are seen as valuable sources of wisdom and ethical guidance that reflect the human quest for meaning.

Ritual and Community: Rituals and community gatherings are important in religious naturalism for fostering a sense of belonging and shared values. These practices are grounded in the natural world and often focus on celebrating life, nature, and the human experience.

Scientific Implications

Religious naturalism has a profound respect for science and views scientific inquiry as a primary means of understanding the world. This perspective has several implications for the practice and communication of science:

Science as a Source of Wonder: Religious naturalists view scientific discoveries as sources of awe and inspiration. The complexity and grandeur of the universe, as revealed by science, are seen as deeply meaningful and spiritually enriching.

Ethical Science: The integration of ethical considerations into scientific practice is a key aspect of religious naturalism. It advocates for the responsible use of scientific knowledge, particularly in areas like environmental conservation, biotechnology, and medicine.

Education and Public Understanding: Religious naturalism supports the promotion of scientific literacy and critical thinking. It encourages educational systems to teach science in a way that fosters a sense of wonder and ethical responsibility.

Environmental Ethics

One of the most significant ramifications of religious naturalism is its approach to environmental ethics. Given its deep reverence for nature, religious naturalism provides a robust framework for addressing environmental issues:

Intrinsic Value of Nature: Religious naturalists often hold that nature has intrinsic value, independent of its utility to humans. This perspective supports the protection of ecosystems and species for their own sake.

Interconnectedness: The recognition of the interconnectedness of all life forms fosters a sense of responsibility for the well-being of the planet. Religious naturalists advocate for sustainable living and policies that protect the environment.

Climate Change and Sustainability: Religious naturalism provides a moral and spiritual impetus for addressing climate change and promoting sustainability. It encourages individuals and communities to adopt practices that reduce their ecological footprint and to support policies that mitigate environmental damage.

Social and Political Ramifications

The social and political ramifications of religious naturalism are significant, as it promotes values and practices that can influence public policy and societal norms:

Social Justice: Religious naturalism's emphasis on ethical living includes a commitment to social justice. It supports efforts to address inequality, poverty, and discrimination, viewing these issues as interconnected with environmental sustainability.

Global Cooperation: Given its global perspective on the interconnectedness of life, religious naturalism encourages international cooperation on issues like climate change, biodiversity conservation, and public health.

Secular Governance: While respecting the separation of church and state, religious naturalists advocate for policies informed by scientific evidence and ethical considerations. This approach aligns with secular governance that prioritizes the common good based on rational and empirical grounds.

Psychological and Existential Ramifications

Religious naturalism also addresses profound psychological and existential concerns:

Meaning and Purpose: By finding meaning in the natural world and human relationships, religious naturalism provides a sense of purpose without reliance on supernatural beliefs. It encourages individuals to create their own meaning through connections with nature, other people, and personal growth.

Coping with Mortality: Religious naturalism offers a way to cope with mortality by focusing on the natural cycle of life and death. It encourages an acceptance of death as a natural process and emphasizes the importance of living a meaningful life.

Mental Health: Practices associated with religious naturalism, such as mindfulness and nature immersion, have been shown to have positive effects on mental health. These practices can reduce stress, enhance well-being, and foster a sense of connectedness.

Criticisms and Challenges

Despite its many positive aspects, religious naturalism faces several criticisms and challenges:

Lack of Supernatural Comfort: For some, the absence of belief in an afterlife or supernatural intervention can be a source of existential discomfort. Religious naturalism's emphasis on the natural world may not provide the same level of emotional comfort as traditional religious beliefs.

Diversity of Beliefs: Religious naturalism encompasses a wide range of perspectives, which can make it difficult to form cohesive communities. This diversity can also lead to disagreements about the interpretation of naturalism and the role of spirituality.

Public Perception: In a society where supernatural religious beliefs are prevalent, religious naturalism can be misunderstood or dismissed. Efforts to promote understanding and acceptance of this worldview are essential but can be challenging.


Religious naturalism offers a compelling synthesis of science and spirituality, providing a framework for understanding the world that is both intellectually satisfying and deeply meaningful. Its ramifications are far-reaching, impacting theology, science, environmental ethics, social justice, and personal well-being. By fostering a sense of wonder and reverence for the natural world, religious naturalism encourages ethical living and a commitment to the flourishing of all life on Earth. Despite its challenges, this worldview has the potential to contribute significantly to a more just, sustainable, and harmonious world.

Please discuss some of the major spokespersons of this secular view of meaning and spirituality.

Major Spokespersons of Religious Naturalism

Religious naturalism has been championed by various thinkers who have articulated its principles and advocated for its integration into contemporary spiritual and ethical life. These spokespersons have contributed significantly to the development and dissemination of this worldview, each bringing their unique perspectives and insights. Below are some of the major figures associated with religious naturalism:

Julian Huxley

Julian Huxley (1887-1975) was a prominent biologist, philosopher, and a key figure in the development of modern evolutionary theory. As a humanist and proponent of naturalism, Huxley viewed evolution as a process imbued with profound spiritual significance. He coined the term "evolutionary humanism" to describe a worldview that combines a scientific understanding of evolution with a commitment to humanistic values.

Huxley believed that the scientific narrative of evolution could provide a basis for a new form of spirituality, one that finds meaning and purpose in the natural world and humanity's place within it. He saw the unfolding of the universe as a grand narrative that could inspire awe and reverence, and he advocated for a synthesis of science and religion that rejected supernaturalism in favor of a naturalistic understanding of the cosmos.

Ursula Goodenough

Ursula Goodenough (b. 1943) is a cell biologist and a prominent advocate of religious naturalism. Her influential book, "The Sacred Depths of Nature" (1998), explores the spiritual dimensions of scientific understanding. Goodenough argues that the natural world, as revealed by science, can be a profound source of wonder and meaning.

In her work, Goodenough emphasizes the importance of emotions such as awe, gratitude, and reverence in response to the natural world. She sees these emotional responses as the basis for a spiritual practice grounded in naturalism. Goodenough's approach integrates scientific knowledge with a deep sense of ethical responsibility, particularly concerning environmental stewardship.

Loyal Rue

Loyal Rue (b. 1944) is a philosopher and religious studies scholar who has extensively written on the relationship between science, religion, and meaning. In his book, "Religion Is Not About God" (2005), Rue argues that the core function of religion is to foster personal and social well-being, rather than to convey metaphysical truths.

Rue advocates for a "naturalistic" approach to religion that emphasizes the importance of myth and narrative in shaping human values and behaviors. He believes that religious naturalism can provide a framework for addressing existential questions and moral dilemmas in a way that is consistent with scientific understanding.

Donald A. Crosby

Donald A. Crosby (b. 1932) is a philosopher known for his contributions to religious naturalism. His works, including "A Religion of Nature" (2002) and "Living with Ambiguity" (2008), explore the philosophical foundations and practical implications of a naturalistic approach to religion.

Crosby argues that nature itself can be the focus of religious devotion and that the natural world provides a rich source of meaning and value. He emphasizes the importance of acknowledging the complexity and ambiguity of life, and he advocates for a form of spirituality that embraces uncertainty and fosters resilience.

Chet Raymo

Chet Raymo (b. 1936) is an astronomer, writer, and proponent of religious naturalism. His book, "When God Is Gone, Everything Is Holy" (2008), explores how a naturalistic worldview can provide a deep sense of the sacred. Raymo finds spiritual fulfillment in the beauty and mystery of the universe as revealed by science.

Raymo's writings often focus on the intersection of science, nature, and spirituality. He believes that a sense of wonder and reverence for the natural world can serve as the foundation for a meaningful spiritual life, one that does not rely on supernatural beliefs.

Jerome A. Stone

Jerome A. Stone (b. 1938) is a philosopher and theologian who has contributed significantly to the development of religious naturalism. His books, including "The Minimalist Vision of Transcendence" (1992) and "Religious Naturalism Today" (2008), offer a comprehensive overview of religious naturalism as a contemporary spiritual path.

Stone advocates for a "minimalist" approach to transcendence, which seeks to ground religious experience and ethical living in the natural world. He explores how religious naturalism can address existential concerns and provide a framework for meaning and purpose without recourse to supernatural explanations.

Michael Dowd

Michael Dowd (b. 1958) is an author and evangelist for religious naturalism and evolutionary spirituality. His book, "Thank God for Evolution" (2008), presents a synthesis of scientific and religious perspectives, advocating for a spiritual appreciation of the evolutionary process.

Dowd and his wife, Connie Barlow, have traveled extensively, promoting the idea that evolution and the scientific narrative of the universe can inspire a deep sense of reverence and purpose. Dowd's work emphasizes the compatibility of science and spirituality and the potential for evolutionary thinking to transform religious practice.

David Ray Griffin

David Ray Griffin (b. 1939) is a philosopher and theologian known for his work in process theology and religious naturalism. In his book, "Reenchantment without Supernaturalism" (2001), Griffin argues for a form of spirituality that is rooted in the natural world and informed by contemporary science.

Griffin's approach integrates process philosophy, which views reality as dynamic and evolving, with a naturalistic understanding of the universe. He explores how religious naturalism can provide a meaningful framework for addressing ecological and social challenges.


The spokespersons of religious naturalism have significantly contributed to the development of this worldview by articulating its principles, exploring its implications, and advocating for its integration into contemporary life. Each of these thinkers brings a unique perspective, but they all share a commitment to grounding spirituality in the natural world and promoting a meaningful, ethical life informed by scientific understanding.

Their collective work demonstrates that religious naturalism is a viable and enriching path for those seeking to reconcile a deep sense of reverence and wonder with a commitment to empirical knowledge and ethical responsibility. Through their contributions, religious naturalism continues to evolve and inspire individuals to find meaning and purpose within the natural world.

How are the phenomena of emergence and self-organisation understood in this context?

Understanding Emergence and Self-Organization in Religious Naturalism

In the context of religious naturalism, phenomena like emergence and self-organization are understood through the lens of natural processes that give rise to complexity and order in the universe. These concepts are central to how religious naturalists interpret the world, blending scientific understanding with spiritual significance. Emergence and self-organization provide a framework for appreciating the interconnectedness and dynamism of natural systems, offering a basis for meaning and wonder without recourse to supernatural explanations.


Emergence refers to the process by which complex systems and patterns arise out of relatively simple interactions. It is a foundational concept in various scientific fields, including physics, chemistry, biology, and social sciences. In religious naturalism, emergence is seen as a key to understanding how life and consciousness arise from non-living matter and how complex ecosystems and social systems develop from simpler components.

Types of Emergence

Weak Emergence: This type occurs when the properties of a system can, in principle, be predicted from the properties of its parts, although such predictions might be practically infeasible due to the complexity involved. An example is the formation of snowflakes, where the intricate patterns emerge from the interactions of water molecules under specific conditions.

Strong Emergence: This type is more controversial and suggests that new properties arise in a system that are not predictable from the properties of its parts, even in principle. Consciousness is often cited as a potential example of strong emergence, where subjective experiences cannot be fully explained by the physical processes of the brain alone.

Emergence in Religious Naturalism

Religious naturalists interpret emergence as a naturalistic explanation for the complexity and beauty of the universe. This interpretation carries several implications:

Cosmic Creativity: Emergence illustrates the creative potential inherent in the natural world. The evolution of galaxies, stars, planets, and life forms can be seen as a continuous unfolding of complexity and order from simpler beginnings. This creative process can inspire awe and reverence similar to traditional religious feelings.

Interconnectedness: Emergence emphasizes the interconnected nature of reality. The properties of emergent systems depend on the interactions of their parts, highlighting the relational aspects of existence. This interconnectedness resonates with religious naturalism's emphasis on the unity of all life and the interdependence of all things.

Naturalistic Spirituality: By understanding emergence, religious naturalists find spiritual significance in the natural processes that generate complexity and order. The emergence of life, consciousness, and ecosystems can be celebrated as sacred events, deepening one's connection to the natural world.


Self-organization is the process by which systems spontaneously develop ordered structures and patterns without external direction. This phenomenon is observed in many natural systems, from the formation of crystals and weather patterns to the development of biological organisms and ecosystems.

Principles of Self-Organization

Nonlinear Interactions: Self-organization often arises from nonlinear interactions among the components of a system, where small changes can have large effects and feedback loops can amplify certain behaviors.

Adaptation and Evolution: Self-organizing systems can adapt and evolve over time, displaying resilience and flexibility in response to changing conditions. This adaptability is crucial for the survival and flourishing of biological organisms and ecosystems.

Decentralized Control: In self-organizing systems, order emerges from the local interactions of individual components without central control. This principle is evident in phenomena like flocking behavior in birds, the growth of social insect colonies, and the development of neural networks in the brain.

Self-Organization in Religious Naturalism

Self-organization is embraced by religious naturalists as a natural process that generates complexity and beauty in the world. This process is seen as a source of spiritual insight and ethical guidance:

Intrinsic Order: Self-organization demonstrates that order and complexity can arise naturally, challenging the notion that an external designer is necessary. This intrinsic order can be viewed as a manifestation of the universe's inherent creativity, inspiring a sense of reverence for the natural world.

Holistic Perspective: The study of self-organizing systems fosters a holistic understanding of reality, where individual parts and their interactions are seen as integral to the whole. This perspective aligns with the religious naturalist's view of the interconnectedness of all life and the importance of maintaining the balance and health of natural systems.

Ethical Implications: Recognizing the self-organizing nature of ecosystems and societies underscores the importance of supporting conditions that allow for healthy self-organization. This insight can inform ethical actions related to environmental conservation, social justice, and community building, promoting practices that sustain and enhance the self-organizing capacities of natural and human systems.

Emergence and Self-Organization as Sources of Meaning

In religious naturalism, the phenomena of emergence and self-organization are not merely scientific concepts but also sources of existential meaning and spiritual fulfillment. They provide a framework for understanding life's complexity and beauty in a way that inspires awe and reverence, akin to traditional religious experiences. This framework offers several key aspects of meaning:

Cosmic Perspective: Emergence and self-organization invite individuals to see themselves as part of a vast, interconnected process that spans the cosmos. This perspective can foster a sense of belonging and purpose, as one's life is viewed as a unique expression of the universe's ongoing creativity.

Evolutionary Narrative: The evolutionary story of the universe, from the Big Bang to the present, is a grand narrative that religious naturalists can find deeply meaningful. This narrative highlights the continuous emergence of complexity and the self-organizing tendencies of matter and life, offering a rich source of inspiration and wonder.

Ethical Living: The understanding of emergence and self-organization encourages ethical living in harmony with natural processes. It emphasizes the importance of fostering conditions that support the flourishing of all life forms and the resilience of ecosystems, guiding ethical actions that promote sustainability and social justice.


Emergence and self-organization are central concepts in religious naturalism, providing a naturalistic framework for understanding the complexity and beauty of the universe. These phenomena illustrate the inherent creativity and interconnectedness of the natural world, inspiring a sense of awe and reverence that can serve as the foundation for a meaningful spiritual life. By embracing these concepts, religious naturalists find a deep sense of purpose and ethical guidance in the natural processes that shape the cosmos, fostering a holistic and harmonious approach to life.

Some variants of this view have a more spiritual or quasi-supernatural interpretation.

Spiritual and Quasi-Supernatural Interpretations in Religious Naturalism

While religious naturalism fundamentally rejects traditional supernatural elements, some variants incorporate more spiritual or quasi-supernatural interpretations. These interpretations often seek to bridge the gap between strict naturalism and the human yearning for transcendence and deeper meaning, allowing for a broader spectrum of spiritual experiences within a naturalistic framework. Here are several key approaches:

Panentheism and Process Theology

Panentheism and process theology are two closely related perspectives that offer a more spiritual interpretation within a naturalistic worldview.


Panentheism posits that the divine permeates every part of the universe and extends beyond it. Unlike traditional theism, which typically sees God as a separate and transcendent entity, panentheism views the divine as immanent within the natural world while also transcending it.

Divine Immanence: In this view, the divine is present in all aspects of nature, making every part of the natural world sacred. This perspective fosters a deep sense of reverence for nature and a spiritual connection to the cosmos.

Transcendence within Immanence: While the divine is immanent, it also possesses a transcendental aspect, providing a sense of mystery and the infinite that goes beyond the empirical world. This duality can offer spiritual richness without contradicting naturalism.

Process Theology

Process theology, influenced by the philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead, views reality as dynamic and evolving. It sees the divine as a process that is intimately involved in the unfolding of the universe.

God as Becoming: In process theology, God is not a static being but a dynamic process that evolves with the universe. This concept aligns with the idea of emergence, where complexity and order arise naturally over time.

Co-Creation: The divine and the universe are seen as co-creators, constantly interacting and evolving together. This relationship emphasizes the interconnectedness of all things and the active participation of the divine in the natural processes of the world.


Pantheism is another variant that sees the universe and the divine as identical. Everything that exists is seen as a manifestation of the divine, and there is no distinction between the creator and the creation.

Sacred Universe: In pantheism, the entire universe is considered sacred, and every part of it is an expression of the divine. This view promotes a profound respect for nature and the interconnectedness of all things.

Spiritual Experience: Pantheism allows for spiritual experiences grounded in the natural world. Experiences of awe, wonder, and transcendence are seen as direct encounters with the divine essence that permeates everything.

Spiritual Naturalism

Spiritual naturalism blends naturalistic principles with spiritual practices and experiences. This approach emphasizes the cultivation of spiritual well-being without invoking supernatural elements.

Mindfulness and Meditation: Practices such as mindfulness and meditation are valued for their psychological and spiritual benefits. These practices help individuals connect deeply with the present moment and foster a sense of inner peace and clarity.

Ritual and Symbolism: Spiritual naturalists often use rituals and symbols to express their reverence for nature and to mark significant life events. These rituals are seen as ways to cultivate a sense of community and meaning.

Transpersonal Experiences: Spiritual naturalism acknowledges transpersonal experiences—states of consciousness that transcend the individual ego. Such experiences are understood as natural phenomena that can lead to a sense of unity with the cosmos and a deeper understanding of oneself and the world.

Animism and Eco-Spirituality

Animism and eco-spirituality offer a perspective where the natural world is seen as alive and imbued with spirit or consciousness.


Animism is the belief that all elements of the natural world—animals, plants, rocks, rivers—possess a spiritual essence or consciousness.

Living Nature: Animism fosters a deep respect for the natural world, seeing it as alive and sentient. This perspective encourages ethical behavior towards all living and non-living entities, promoting environmental stewardship.

Spiritual Relationships: Relationships with nature are seen as inherently spiritual, fostering a sense of kinship and interconnectedness. Rituals and ceremonies often honor these relationships and the spirits of nature.


Eco-spirituality combines ecological awareness with spiritual practice, emphasizing the sacredness of the Earth and the importance of living in harmony with nature.

Gaia Hypothesis: Some eco-spiritualists adopt the Gaia hypothesis, which views the Earth as a self-regulating, living system. This concept can inspire a sense of reverence and responsibility towards the planet.

Ecological Ethics: Eco-spirituality promotes an ethical framework that prioritizes sustainability, conservation, and the well-being of all living beings. It encourages actions that support the health and balance of the Earth's ecosystems.

Integration of Mystical Experiences

Some variants of religious naturalism integrate mystical experiences—states of consciousness characterized by a sense of unity, transcendence, and profound insight—into their spiritual framework.

Naturalistic Mysticism: Mystical experiences are understood as natural psychological phenomena that can be studied and appreciated without invoking supernatural explanations. These experiences are valued for their potential to foster personal transformation and a deeper connection to the cosmos.

Transcendence within Immanence: While mystical experiences often involve a sense of transcendence, they are seen as arising from within the natural world. This perspective aligns with the idea of the divine as immanent and accessible through direct experience.


Variants of religious naturalism that incorporate more spiritual or quasi-supernatural interpretations provide a rich and diverse spectrum of approaches to meaning and spirituality. These interpretations allow for a deep sense of connection to the natural world and the cosmos, offering spiritual fulfillment without contradicting naturalistic principles.

By embracing concepts like panentheism, process theology, pantheism, spiritual naturalism, animism, eco-spirituality, and mystical experiences, religious naturalism can address the human longing for transcendence and deeper meaning in a way that is consistent with scientific understanding. These approaches enrich the practice of religious naturalism, making it a more inclusive and versatile framework for contemporary spiritual and ethical life.

Religious apologists have always claimed that only religion can provide meaning, and hence modernity has a meaning crisis.

The Meaning Crisis and Responses from Religious Naturalism

The assertion by religious apologists that only traditional religion can provide meaning, and that modernity faces a meaning crisis as a result of secularization, is a significant point of contention. This claim is rooted in the belief that religion offers a comprehensive framework for understanding the world, guiding ethical behavior, and providing a sense of purpose and belonging. However, proponents of religious naturalism argue that meaning can indeed be found within a naturalistic framework. They assert that science, philosophy, and a deep appreciation for the natural world can offer robust and fulfilling sources of meaning. This essay explores both sides of the debate and discusses how religious naturalism addresses the so-called meaning crisis of modernity.

The Traditional Religious View on Meaning

Religion as a Source of Meaning

Traditional religions often provide a comprehensive narrative that explains the origins, purpose, and destiny of life and the universe. These narratives include:

Cosmological Explanations: Religions offer stories about the creation of the universe, often involving a divine creator or supernatural forces.

Moral Frameworks: Religions provide ethical guidelines and moral imperatives, often believed to be divinely ordained, which guide believers on how to live their lives.

Purpose and Destiny: Religions promise ultimate purposes, such as salvation, enlightenment, or union with the divine, giving individuals a sense of direction and hope for the future.

Community and Belonging: Religious communities offer a sense of belonging and identity, uniting individuals around shared beliefs and practices.

The Meaning Crisis in Modernity

Religious apologists argue that the decline of traditional religious belief due to secularization and the rise of scientific understanding has led to a meaning crisis in modern society. This crisis is characterized by:

Loss of Transcendent Purpose: Without belief in a higher power or an ultimate purpose, individuals may struggle to find meaning in their lives.

Moral Relativism: The absence of absolute moral standards can lead to moral relativism, where ethical guidelines become subjective and situational.

Alienation and Isolation: The breakdown of traditional religious communities can result in social fragmentation and a sense of isolation.

Existential Angst: The recognition of human finitude and the randomness of existence can lead to existential anxiety and despair.

Religious Naturalism's Response to the Meaning Crisis

Religious naturalism offers a counter-narrative to the claim that only traditional religion can provide meaning. It seeks to ground meaning in a naturalistic understanding of the world, emphasizing the importance of science, philosophy, and a deep appreciation for the natural world.

Meaning through Science and Understanding

Cosmic Perspective: The scientific understanding of the universe—from the Big Bang to the evolution of life—provides a grand narrative that can inspire awe and wonder. This cosmic perspective situates human life within a vast, interconnected process, offering a sense of place and purpose within the larger story of the universe.

Emergence and Complexity: The phenomena of emergence and self-organization illustrate how complex systems and patterns arise from simple interactions. This understanding can foster a sense of wonder at the natural processes that give rise to life and consciousness, providing a basis for meaning rooted in the fabric of the universe itself.

Interconnectedness: The scientific view of interconnected ecosystems and the interdependence of all life forms can foster a deep sense of connection and responsibility towards the natural world. This interconnectedness provides a foundation for ethical living and a sense of belonging to the broader community of life.

Ethical Frameworks and Moral Meaning

Naturalistic Ethics: Religious naturalism supports the development of ethical frameworks grounded in human experience and rational deliberation. These frameworks emphasize values such as compassion, justice, and sustainability, which can guide moral behavior without recourse to supernatural beliefs.

Evolutionary Ethics: The understanding of human behavior through the lens of evolution can inform ethical principles that promote social cohesion and well-being. Concepts like cooperation, empathy, and altruism can be seen as natural tendencies that have evolved to support the flourishing of human communities.

Environmental Stewardship: Recognizing the intrinsic value of the natural world and the interconnectedness of all life can inspire a commitment to environmental stewardship. This ethical stance emphasizes the importance of protecting and preserving the ecosystems that sustain life.

Community and Belonging

Secular Communities: Religious naturalism encourages the formation of secular communities that foster a sense of belonging and shared purpose. These communities can provide support, solidarity, and a space for collective meaning-making through rituals, celebrations, and shared activities.

Global Humanism: Emphasizing common humanity and the shared challenges facing the world, religious naturalism promotes a global sense of community. This perspective encourages solidarity and cooperation across cultural and national boundaries, fostering a sense of belonging to the global human family.

Existential Fulfillment

Mindfulness and Presence: Practices such as mindfulness and meditation, which are embraced by spiritual naturalism, can help individuals cultivate a deep sense of presence and awareness. These practices can alleviate existential angst by fostering a connection to the present moment and a sense of inner peace.

Narrative and Myth: Religious naturalism acknowledges the power of narrative and myth in shaping human experience. By creating and embracing naturalistic myths and stories that resonate with contemporary understanding, individuals can find meaning and purpose in their lives.

Creative Engagement: Engaging creatively with the world—through art, literature, science, and other forms of expression—can provide a profound sense of fulfillment. This engagement allows individuals to contribute to the ongoing human project of understanding and shaping the world.


The claim that only traditional religion can provide meaning and that modernity faces a meaning crisis due to secularization is challenged by the perspective of religious naturalism. While traditional religions offer comprehensive narratives and ethical frameworks, religious naturalism demonstrates that meaning can also be found within a naturalistic worldview.

By embracing the insights of science, fostering ethical behavior, cultivating community, and engaging with the world creatively and mindfully, religious naturalism provides robust and fulfilling sources of meaning. It addresses the existential concerns of modernity by grounding meaning in the natural processes and interconnectedness of the universe, offering a rich and meaningful alternative to traditional religious narratives. This approach not only counters the alleged meaning crisis but also enriches contemporary spiritual and ethical life by integrating scientific understanding with a deep sense of wonder and reverence for the natural world.

A Dutch philosopher once wrote: Be happy that life has no (pregiven) meaning. Please elucidate on this counter-intuitive notion.

Embracing Life's Lack of Pregiven Meaning

The notion that one should be happy that life has no pregiven meaning may seem counter-intuitive at first. However, upon deeper reflection, it offers profound insights into the nature of existence and human freedom. This perspective suggests that the absence of an inherent, predetermined meaning in life is not a deficiency but a liberating opportunity. Below, I will elucidate on this idea, drawing on existential philosophy and contemporary thought.

The Freedom to Create Meaning

Existentialist Philosophy: Existential philosophers like Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus have argued that the lack of inherent meaning in life is what grants humans the ultimate freedom to create their own meaning. Sartre's famous assertion that "existence precedes essence" encapsulates the idea that humans first exist and then define their essence through their actions, choices, and commitments.

Authentic Existence: Sartre posits that recognizing the absence of pregiven meaning compels individuals to live authentically. This means taking full responsibility for one's actions and decisions, thereby creating a life that is genuinely one's own.

Condemned to be Free: Sartre also notes that this freedom is both exhilarating and daunting, as it places the burden of creating meaning squarely on the individual's shoulders. This "condemnation" to freedom is what makes life both challenging and profoundly meaningful.

Albert Camus and the Absurd: Camus describes the human condition as "absurd" because of the tension between our desire for meaning and the indifferent universe. Instead of leading to despair, Camus suggests that embracing this absurdity allows us to live fully and passionately.

Revolt, Freedom, Passion: Camus advocates for a life of "revolt," where one continuously challenges the absurd and finds freedom and passion in the process. This revolt is not a rejection of life but an acceptance of its inherent lack of meaning and a determination to live meaningfully despite it.

Creativity and Personal Growth

Creative Potential: Without a pregiven meaning, individuals have the creative freedom to shape their lives according to their values, interests, and passions. This creative process can be deeply fulfilling, as it allows individuals to explore and express their unique identities.

Art and Expression: Many artists, writers, and thinkers have found profound meaning in their creative endeavors. The act of creating something new—whether a piece of art, a scientific theory, or a social movement—can be a powerful source of purpose and fulfillment.

Innovation and Progress: The lack of predetermined meaning also fosters innovation and progress. It encourages people to seek new possibilities and challenge the status quo, leading to advancements in various fields and the continuous evolution of human culture and society.

Personal Development: The freedom to create one's own meaning also promotes personal growth and self-discovery. Individuals are encouraged to explore different paths, learn from their experiences, and develop their own moral and philosophical frameworks.

Resilience and Adaptability: The process of finding and creating meaning helps build resilience and adaptability. When life presents challenges and uncertainties, those who embrace their freedom to create meaning are better equipped to navigate and grow from these experiences.

Social and Collective Meaning

Community and Relationships: While individuals have the freedom to create their own meaning, this process often happens in the context of relationships and communities. Shared experiences, values, and goals can foster a sense of belonging and collective purpose.

Building Communities: The absence of pregiven meaning allows communities to form around shared interests and values. These communities can provide support, solidarity, and a sense of belonging, enhancing the individual's search for meaning.

Social Movements: Many social movements are driven by the collective creation of meaning. Movements for justice, equality, and environmental sustainability, for example, arise from the shared belief that life can be improved through collective action and vision.

Ethical Responsibility: The freedom to create meaning also comes with ethical responsibilities. Without a predetermined moral order, individuals and communities must develop their own ethical guidelines based on empathy, compassion, and mutual respect.

Moral Agency: This responsibility fosters moral agency, where individuals actively engage in ethical deliberation and strive to make choices that contribute to the well-being of others. This process can lead to a more just and compassionate society.

Embracing Uncertainty and Change

Openness to Change: The lack of a pregiven meaning in life encourages openness to change and adaptability. Individuals are not bound by rigid doctrines or dogmas and can evolve their understanding of meaning as they grow and learn.

Lifelong Learning: This perspective promotes lifelong learning and curiosity. It encourages individuals to continuously seek new experiences, knowledge, and insights, enriching their lives and expanding their horizons.

Flexibility and Resilience: Embracing uncertainty fosters flexibility and resilience. When faced with unexpected challenges or changes, individuals who see meaning as something they create are better able to adapt and find new pathways to fulfillment.

Dynamic and Evolving Meaning: Meaning in life can be dynamic and evolving, reflecting the changing circumstances and stages of one's life. This fluidity allows individuals to redefine their purpose and values as they encounter new experiences and insights.

Growth and Transformation: Recognizing that meaning can evolve allows for personal growth and transformation. Individuals can let go of outdated beliefs and embrace new ways of thinking and being that resonate more deeply with their current understanding of life.


The notion that one should be happy that life has no pregiven meaning can be understood as a call to embrace the freedom, creativity, and responsibility that come with crafting one's own meaning. This perspective, rooted in existential philosophy, celebrates the human capacity for self-determination and the richness of a life lived authentically.

By recognizing the absence of predetermined meaning, individuals are liberated to explore their own paths, develop their unique values and goals, and engage deeply with the world around them. This freedom fosters personal growth, creativity, resilience, and a profound sense of fulfillment. Moreover, it encourages the formation of meaningful communities and the collective pursuit of ethical and just societies.

Ultimately, the happiness derived from the lack of pregiven meaning lies in the boundless opportunities it offers for individuals to shape their own destinies and contribute to the ongoing human project of understanding and creating a meaningful existence.

Please describe what the Ten Commandments of religious naturalism would look like.

Creating a set of Ten Commandments for religious naturalism involves articulating principles that reflect the values of scientific understanding, reverence for nature, ethical living, and the pursuit of personal and collective meaning. Here's a possible interpretation:

The Ten Commandments of Religious Naturalism

Honor the Natural World

Recognize the inherent value and interconnectedness of all life and ecosystems. Protect and preserve the environment for future generations.

Pursue Knowledge and Understanding

Embrace scientific inquiry and critical thinking. Seek to understand the natural world through observation, evidence, and reason.

Live Ethically and Compassionately

Strive to live with integrity, kindness, and compassion. Treat others with respect and empathy, and work towards social and environmental justice.

Celebrate the Wonders of the Universe

Find joy and inspiration in the beauty, complexity, and mystery of the cosmos. Engage in practices that cultivate a sense of awe and reverence for the natural world.

Promote Sustainability

Adopt lifestyles and practices that minimize harm to the environment. Support sustainable development and the responsible use of resources.

Foster Community and Connection

Build and nurture communities that support shared values and mutual respect. Recognize the importance of relationships and collaboration in creating a meaningful life.

Practice Mindfulness and Presence

Cultivate awareness and appreciation of the present moment. Engage in practices that promote mental and emotional well-being, such as mindfulness and meditation.

Encourage Creativity and Innovation

Value creativity and innovation in all forms. Encourage artistic expression, scientific discovery, and new ways of thinking that contribute to human flourishing.

Respect the Autonomy of All Beings

Honor the autonomy and dignity of all individuals. Support the rights of all beings to live freely and without unnecessary suffering.

Commit to Lifelong Learning and Growth

Embrace lifelong learning and personal growth. Continuously seek to expand your knowledge, skills, and understanding of the world and yourself.


The Ten Commandments of Religious Naturalism offer a framework for living a meaningful, ethical, and fulfilling life grounded in the appreciation of the natural world and the pursuit of knowledge and understanding. These principles reflect a commitment to environmental stewardship, compassion, community, creativity, and personal growth. By adhering to these commandments, individuals can cultivate a deep sense of purpose and connection within the naturalistic worldview of religious naturalism.

How does religious naturalism compare to atheism?

Religious naturalism and atheism, while sharing some common ground in their rejection of supernatural explanations, differ significantly in their approach to meaning, spirituality, and the interpretation of human experiences. Here's a detailed comparison of the two:

Common Ground

Rejection of Supernaturalism:

Both religious naturalism and atheism reject belief in supernatural beings or forces. They rely on naturalistic explanations based on empirical evidence and scientific understanding.

Emphasis on Reason and Evidence:

Both perspectives prioritize reason, critical thinking, and evidence-based understanding of the world. They value scientific inquiry as the best method for discovering truth.

Key Differences

Approach to Meaning and Spirituality:

Religious Naturalism:

Seeks to find and create meaning within the natural world and human experience. It often incorporates spiritual practices and rituals that foster a sense of wonder, awe, and reverence for nature.

Emphasizes a deep connection with the cosmos, viewing natural phenomena as inherently meaningful and worthy of reverence.


Primarily a lack of belief in gods or supernatural beings. It does not prescribe any particular approach to meaning or spirituality.

Atheists may find meaning through various secular philosophies, humanism, existentialism, or personal pursuits, but atheism itself does not offer a unified framework for spirituality or meaning.

Engagement with Religious Practices and Symbols:

Religious Naturalism:

Often retains elements of traditional religious practices, reinterpreting them in a naturalistic context. Rituals, meditation, and communal gatherings are used to express values and celebrate the natural world.

May use religious language and symbols to convey deep emotional and existential experiences, even while grounding them in a naturalistic understanding.


Typically avoids traditional religious practices and symbols, though some atheists may participate in cultural or familial religious practices for social reasons.

Focuses on secular and rational approaches to life, often eschewing religious language and symbols altogether.

View on Community and Identity:

Religious Naturalism:

Encourages the formation of communities centered around shared values of reverence for nature, ethical living, and scientific understanding.

Seeks to provide a sense of belonging and identity through communal practices and the shared pursuit of understanding and preserving the natural world.


Does not inherently provide a sense of community or identity, though secular humanist organizations and atheist communities do exist.

Atheist identity often revolves around skepticism of religion and promotion of secularism and science, rather than a positive set of communal practices.

Ethical Framework:

Religious Naturalism:

Develops ethical principles based on the interconnectedness of life and the well-being of the natural world. Emphasizes compassion, sustainability, and social justice as core values.

Often incorporates insights from both science and human experience to form a coherent ethical system that reflects the values of reverence for nature and human flourishing.


Atheism itself does not provide a specific ethical framework, but many atheists adopt secular moral philosophies such as utilitarianism, humanism, or existential ethics.

Ethical beliefs are typically derived from reason, empathy, and a concern for human welfare, rather than any religious or spiritual basis.

Examples and Illustrations

Religious Naturalism:

An individual who practices religious naturalism might find profound spiritual significance in observing the night sky, feeling a deep sense of connection to the universe. They might participate in community rituals that celebrate seasonal changes or ecological awareness, drawing on scientific knowledge to enhance their appreciation of nature.


An atheist might derive meaning from personal achievements, relationships, or contributions to society. They may engage in activities that promote scientific literacy, secular governance, and ethical behavior based on reason and evidence. While they might appreciate the beauty of nature, they do not attribute any spiritual significance to it.


Religious naturalism and atheism, while both rejecting supernaturalism and valuing reason and evidence, diverge in their approach to meaning, spirituality, and community. Religious naturalism seeks to integrate a sense of reverence and spiritual fulfillment within a naturalistic framework, often adopting rituals and ethical principles that reflect a deep connection to nature. Atheism, on the other hand, typically focuses on secular approaches to life, meaning, and ethics without the need for spiritual or religious elements. Both perspectives offer valuable insights and approaches to living a meaningful life in a naturalistic context.

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