Two recent opinion pieces in the New York Times offer helpful background to some of the theological and philosophical issues that I address in this blog.
Alex Rosenberg (“Why I Am a Naturalist,” September 17, 2011) describes the epistemological foundation that naturalism seeks to establish. The unanswered question that looms large for naturalism is whether the scientific method can potentially discover all knowledge or whether some knowledge and experiences exist that are inherently not amenable to scientific discovery.
Unlike Rosenberg, I believe that naturalism can only advance knowledge so far, that some of reality is not susceptible to scientific discovery. For example, humans value art in ways that do not seem to have any evolutionary benefits. Otherwise, why would so many starving artists, working in all genres, continue to pursue their art when obtaining a paying job or career would make the person much more attractive as a sexual partner and provide substantially increased resources for child raising?
Gary Gutting (“Beyond 'New Atheism,'” September 14, 2011) correctly recognizes that most people do not believe in God because of philosophical arguments but because of experience. The glaring shortcoming of strident atheists like Richard Dawkins (cf. Michael Powell, “A Knack for Bashing Orthodoxy,” New York Times, September 19, 2011) is their failure to recognize that personal experience forms the basis for most religious belief. Similarly, the glaring shortcoming of most theists is their reliance on anachronistic conceptions of the ultimate that lack coherence when examined from a scientific worldview.
Science cannot shed light on the nature of the ultimate directly. But science provides powerful insights about what the ultimate is not, e.g., the ultimate is not a cosmic puppeteer or heavenly vending machine.
The challenge for post-theism is to articulate a metaphor for the ultimate that excites the human imagination and acts as a catalyst for evoking experiences of the ultimate. To date, light seems the best candidate for such a metaphor (cf. Ethical Musings: Experiencing light).