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  • Naturalism and Beyond: Religious Naturalism and Its Alternatives eds. by Niels Henrik Gregersen and Mikael Stenmark
  • Kevin Schilbrack
Naturalism and Beyond: Religious Naturalism and Its Alternatives. Edited by Niels Henrik Gregersen and Mikael Stenmark. Leuven, Belgium: Peeters, 2016. 264 pp. €74 paper.

"Naturalism" is still often identified with a reductive worldview that identifies the final real constituents of the world with the deliverances of the natural sciences—or perhaps only of physics. In the last thirty years, however, there has been a concerted effort among analytic philosophers (including several prominent ones, including Hilary Putnam, Carol Rovane, Akeel Bilgrami, and John McDowell) to distinguish between that reductive "strict naturalism" and a new "liberal naturalism" that does not deny that mental states, human agency, and moral norms are also natural realities. (For liberal naturalism, see, for example, the essays collected by Mario de Caro and David MacArthur in Naturalism in Question [Harvard University Press, 2004] and Naturalism and Normativity [Columbia University Press, 2010]).

In Naturalism and Beyond, most of the contributing authors explore the opportunities for religious belief and practice to be found in liberal naturalism (hereafter, "LN"). One exception is Charles Taliaferro, who defends supernaturalism, arguing against both strict and liberal naturalists that the belief in life after death and the desire for life after death for those one loves are existentially more attractive than their denial. Another exception is René Rosfort, who defends a strict naturalism, arguing that liberal naturalists (or at least some of them; the essay is not clear on this) presuppose an antimetaphysical pragmatism, a "quietism" about what lies behind the manifest world, that is not satisfying since it does not take seriously the unavoidability of inquiry into the nature of things. If Rosfort is right (and I agree with him), then the result is not a defeater for LN, however, but rather a call for some form of a stratified but still nondualist metaphysics.

Several chapters develop the religious potential of the work of LN philosophers. For example, Gitte Buch-Hansen discusses Grace Jantzen's process pantheism and its development as a better model of God for feminists than a female Goddess. Troels Engberg-Pedersen uses Hilary Putnam's critique of strict naturalism to propose a unity of knowledge, like that found in the ancient Stoics, that would not separate science and the humanities: "Here, theology is a part of physics (since God is part of nature) and ethics is no less scientific than the other parts of philosophy (since the good is living in accord with nature)" (105). This proposal will require a lot more work to make it plausible to more than a minority of scientists, ethicists, or theologians. And Niels Henrik [End Page 229] Gregersen gives a detailed discussion of three LN naturalistic "theisms": (i) Owen Flanagan's expressive theism or "as-if theism," which holds that religious truth claims are affective expressions of connection and awe and therefore instrumental tools for eudaimonistic self-improvement but which drops the assumption that they refer at all; (ii) Mark Johnston's ground-of-being theism that goes beyond Flanagan's by treating existence itself as "the Highest One"; and (iii) Arthur Peacocke's (and apparently Gregersen's own) theism that sees God as infinite and therefore including the ground-of-being to which Johnston pointed but also having a distinctive character that is revealed in some but not all worldly events. I would label these three as forms of nonrealism, pantheism, and panentheism, respectively, and Gregersen shows that the category of religious naturalism should be seen as permitting all three.

Some papers examine how one might make sense of the notion of transcendence without suggesting that there is another world somehow "above" the known universe. For example, Willem Drees argues that mathematical realism, moral realism, and the fact that there are always more truths than everything we know provide kinds of naturalistic transcendence. Similarly, Lars Sandbeck provides an account of how postmodernism, which emerged as an opponent to naturalism in its modernist, strict version, can develop a form of naturalism as a life-oriented, nontheistic ontology. Sandbeck sees this-worldly transcendence in the capacity of the world to defy conception and human mastery...


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