- Nature as Sacred Ground: A Metaphysics for Religious Naturalism by Donald A. Crosby
Nature as Sacred Ground: A Metaphysics for Religious Naturalism is the fifth book on religious naturalism that Donald Crosby has published (all by SUNY Press) since 2002, and it must be seen in that context. Religion of Nature (2002) makes the claim for the religious and metaphysical ultimacy of nature, Living with Ambiguity: Religious Naturalism and the Menace of Evil (2008) explores possible responses of religious naturalism's to natural and human evil, The Thou of Nature: Religious Naturalism and Reverence for Sentient Beings (2013) argues for giving moral consideration to all sentient beings, and More Than Discourse: Symbolic Expressions of Naturalistic Faith (2014) discusses the role of nondiscursive symbols in religion and more specifically in religious naturalism. Now, in Nature as Sacred Ground, Crosby sets out to develop a metaphysics capable of supporting religious naturalism. This context has two important implications.
First, while the book can be read as a stand-alone project, one can do it justice only by reading it in light of the previous works. Indeed, Crosby anticipates this and economizes by frequently referring the reader to one of the other works where he has made the argument in greater detail. This reflects the degree to which the books mutually support one another and should be taken, not so much as individual works, but as volumes that together constitute a larger compendium in which Crosby thoroughly develops his religious naturalism.
Second, the book is metaphysics with a purpose, and in this sense it could be seen as an example of what in the theistic tradition would be considered philosophical theology. It is not an attempt to develop a complete metaphysical [End Page 232] system, but a plausible and coherent metaphysical framework that can serve as a basis for religious naturalism. This is evident in Crosby's straightforward admission that the metaphysics that he will be outlining is naturalistic, by which he means that "it does not rest on any kind of alleged supernatural revelation or the unquestioned authority of a particular tradition of thought, but on reason and experience working with the general resources of past and present human cultures" (xiv). This naturalism is taken as a metaphysical starting assumption; there is no attempt to argue directly against supernaturalism.
More importantly, it is a work of metaphysics clearly intended to address concerns about the adequacy of a religious naturalism. Crosby's goal is to outline a naturalistic metaphysics and demonstrate that it can address important moral and religious concerns in such a way that "from a religious as well as metaphysical perspective, then, nature is enough" (xiv). In choosing this wording, he implicitly places his project in the same vein as Loyal Rue's Nature is Enough: Religious Naturalism and the Meaning of Life (2011). Both Crosby and Rue engage in an effort to demonstrate that materialistic naturalism is compatible with human meaning, morality, and religiosity, or as Rue might say, to expunge the "grunge" view of matter.
With this project in mind, one can read the book as composed of two parts. The first part (chapters 1–4) outlines a version of metaphysical materialism that establishes nature as a causally open self-sufficient realm of continuity and change in which genuine novelty and human freedom are metaphysical actualities. In chapter 1, "Being and Nothingness," Crosby rejects the need to account for the origins of the universe out of sheer nothingness by arguing for an "immanental" view of nature in which no external origin or ground is needed to explain the existence of nature. He also rejects the idea that the universe is static and timeless, arguing instead that the fact of being "must be conceived as the fact of pervasive and endless becoming" (17). In chapter 2, "One and Many," he draws on Justus Buchler's distinction between natura naturata and natura naturans and introduces the epistemological doctrine of perspectivism to argue that we must reject the view that...