Introduction to Naturalistic Models of the Ultimate
Naturalism is the guiding rubric of this section, and, while it is broad ranging, encompassing versions of theism, agnosticism and atheism, it implies a certain epistemic orientation to the world. Religious naturalism emerged within the early modern philosophies of science with respect to understanding physical causation. The theological and philosophical impact of religious naturalism did not lead to the elimination of ‘transcendence’ as an effective category of thought – even in philosophical materialism. Although atheism is presumed by many apologists for religion as the logical outcome of naturalism, this is certainly not the case. Indeed, modern atheism (a-theism even more often) also discovers transcendent dimensions in its wake. Naturalism is a kind of epistemological orientation, a rationalist intuition about the human being as knowing subject and what it is that human consciousness perceives as it ascertains knowable relations. Naturalism does not preclude the transcendent nor God, but it does completely reorient the terms and conditions for such knowledge claims. Indeed, naturalism does not preclude divine intervention or non-material agencies but it does offer a robust notion of epistemology based upon the place and epistemology of the human within the physical universe. Naturalists can be pragmatist or realist, and is represented via other models represented in the present volume: panentheism, process theology and monism. A naturalist theology can convey a profound interpretation of evolutionary processes, e.g., in terms of “humanization”, “ethicization”, “agapaization”. Naturalism is not the only way to think in terms of evolution and ultimacy, but it can provide an important guard against anthropocentrism. Naturalism also can convey an equation between nature and reality. This is where atheism and pantheism may assert themselves. And yet like the word “reality”, when “nature” is conceived as the basis for any notion of ultimacy it is not necessarily a cancelation of the transcendent. Indeed, the “ultimate” in naturalism would be a case of distinguishing between various orders of nature, much like metaphysics does in terms of “Being”.