Religious Naturalism: Science as Mythos

In a recent post on the NPR science/philosophy blog “13.7”, Ursula Goodenough provided a brief introduction to what has been termed “Religious Naturalism.” Taking a cue from the idea of all religions having a foundational mythos, she offers an account of naturalism that takes the scientific narrative of our cosmological history as its mythos and that seeks to explore the various dimensions of the human response to it; hence, it is “religious”.

According to the Religious Naturalism Association (RNA) website, Religious Naturalism revolves around cosmological history on three axes: interpretative, spiritual, and moral. From the site description:

The interpretive axis entails asking the Big Questions along philosophical/existential axes. How do our science-based understandings inform our experience of being a Self? What do they tell us about free will? Death? Love? The search for The Meaning of Life? Why there is anything at all rather than nothing?

The spiritual axis entails exploring inward religious responses to the Epic, including awe and wonder, gratitude, assent, commitment, humility, reverence, joy, and the astonishment of being alive at all.

The moral axis entails outward communal responses to the Epic, where our deepening understandings of the animal/primate antecedents of social sensibilities offer important resources for developing social justice and human cooperation.

It also entails an orientation that can be called ecomorality, seeking right relations between the earth and its creatures, absorbing our interrelatedness, interdependence, and responsibilities.

What makes Religious Naturalism appealing to many is that the core theologized history of traditional religion (e.g. Creation/Fall/Redemption in Christianity) has been replaced by a scientific (*real*) account of history; what actually happened. To be fair, in the pre-scientific age, many Christian thinkers considered the theologized history to be synonymous with the *real* account and didn’t make couldn’t make a distinction between science and theology. But most contemporary open-minded people of faith understand the relative context of the biblical texts and the philosophical difference between theology and science. As a result, they do not conflate the core mythos of their religion with a scientific account of the world, but rather understand it as an interpretation (a “Big Idea”) that exceeds the limits of science. The only trouble is that the mythos has traditionally understood itself to be synonymous with the *real* story. And many religions are currently in the growing pains of a process of de-literalization, in which the mythos is being seen as itself an interpretation of history and not history/science itself. The best example of this is an excerpt from Joseph Ratzinger’s Credo For Today in his chapter entitled “Creation”:

The clay became man at that moment in which a being for the first time was capable of forming, however dimly, the thought “God”. The first “thou” that—however stammeringly—was said by human lips to God marks the moment in which spirit arose in the world. Here the Rubicon of anthropogenesis was crossed.

This is not an understanding of the world (or of Scripture) that existed 100 years ago at the Vatican, much less in the mind of the authors of Genesis. This is the result of one theologian taking science seriously and reinterpreting a foundational mythos in its light. For all catechetical purposes, the quote above has yet to seriously influence the day-to-day education of Catholics. As a result, there is often dissonance between what is taught about science and the degree to which Catholicism actually allows science to inform belief, even at the risk of trumping a well-established hermeneutical tradition.

I suspect that Religious Naturalism will continue to gain adherents in the West from 1) the “nones” – those who do not identify with a formal religious institution, value science, and struggle to find a community of the like-minded/hearted and 2) a more scientifically-minded population within monotheistic religions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam that leave the institutions, in part, because they are perceived as being more concerned with maintaining their characteristics which cannot be rationally justified in a human rights/science-based understanding of the world (e.g. segregated worship based on sex, the ban on women’s ordination, the teaching that homosexuality is “intrinsically disordered”) rather than with the full integration of science. Religious Naturalism will also gain sympathizers from members of major religions, who are not willing to abandon their traditions, but who adhere to the idea that a scientific account of the world has intrinsic value within metaphysical meta-narratives. For example, the prominence of eco-ethics and its related issues is quickly gaining popularity among Christian ethicists and will likely be the topic of Pope Francis’ next encyclical.

Religious Naturalism is not without its own philosophical critiques (lack of a coherent account of “God”, the problem of criteria, etc.), but its emphasis on a scientific account of the world as a foundational mythos instead of theological interpretations of that account is one that resonates with the spiritual values of “billions and billions” of human seekers of the truth in all things.

iPhone: The Core of Apple and Your 401k

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Jeff Sommer, writing for the NYTimes:

Even people who don’t buy iPhones and don’t own Apple shares have a stake in the company. I don’t own any Apple stock, for example, but I do have a stake indirectly through my 401(k) account. That’s because mutual funds in my portfolio own Apple shares as their biggest holdings. Nearly every pension fund holds some stock, and these days, there’s a good chance the biggest holding is Apple. And the most important financial lever at Apple is the iPhone.

When Apple decided to enter the mobile phone arena in 2007, Steve Jobs called the iPhone a “bet the company product“. Now, that product accounts for more than 60% of Apple’s most recent quarterly profit; 42 billion in sales, 8 billion in profit*, and 39 million iPhones sold in the last 3 months alone. And this, in only 7 years since its introduction. That’s nothing short of historic. The iPhone has not only redefined a product category and changed our daily routines (my students look dumbfounded when I ask to imagine their lives without it), but it has also become the single most valuable consumer product sold by any company, anywhere at anytime.

And it will likely help you retire.


*Note: just for some perspective, if you were paid $1,000 every day since the birth of Christ, you wouldn’t yet be a billionaire. Apple just pocketed 8 billion in the last 3 months and has 155 billion in the bank.

The iPhone 6 Plus: Tradeoffs

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After spending some extended time in the Apple Store yesterday, I immediately texted my brother, who told me he was planning to get the iPhone 6 Plus. I told him that, after some initial bewilderment (“How could anyone practically use that in place of a smaller device?”), I completely understood why he was going for the larger of the two new iPhone models. In this piece, I’ll argue why I think that instead of being merely a “fad” (as characterized by Devindra Hardawar of VentureBeat), the iPhone 6 Plus will quickly become as popular and mainstream as its smaller counterpart due to the fact that it incorporates the essential elements of two product categories in one device and provides acceptable tradeoffs in order to do so. Continue reading

Apple Introduces CarPlay

On Monday, at the Geneva International Motor Show, Apple went public with “CarPlay”, a re-named and updated version of “iOS in the Car”. Starting later this year, Ferrari, Mercedez-Benz, Honda, Hyundai, Jaguar and Volvo will debut the in-car version of iOS with many manufacturers (thank you, Subaru) following suit in the future.

Users will be able to access a limited range of apps on their iPhones by plugging it into the USB port of the car. They will then have access to Music, Maps, Messages and Phone apps with further compatibility with other apps coming soon.

This will be Apple’s first venture into non-stand-alone computing or mobile devices and into the “Internet of Things”. The upcoming iWatch will be its second. With both of these set to arrive this year in addition to the iPhone 6 and improved Apple TV, Apple looks to be set for a great finish to 2014.

I doubt Pierre Teilhard de Chardin ever imagined a globe covered with smart/connected cars, but if he had, I’m sure he’d identify it as being one step closer to the Noosphere. It will be interesting what issues this kind of technology raises for theology and the work of the Church. I’m thinking about a praxis of less distracted-driving.

via Gizmodo: Mapping the Geographical Digital Divide

Jonathan Lace:

“…the more money you live around, the faster speeds you have access to.”

Communication inequality. Shouldn’t the social justice principle of participation apply to internet access as well?

Originally posted on The Human Imprint:

Mapping the geographical digital divide

This Gizmodo map of average Internet speeds by congressional district shows how disparate access to the web is.

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Robots and Religion

From Christian Today, Feb. 13: $16,000 robot bridges religion and technology at seminary | Christian News on Christian Today.

The seminary purchased one as a learning tool for examining questions on the intersections between religion and technology, and the ethical considerations around using such technology in everyday life…Therapeutically, the robot has been used to help in the therapy of children with higher level forms of autism, as it is found they relate better to the childlike and highly expressive face. The seminary will use the robot to explore questions like whether robots should do our jobs, care for the sick in hospital, and what benefits they might have in companies.

It’s encouraging to see some seminaries taking technology seriously as a theological issue (in robotics no less). The idea of autistic children relating more to robots than humans is absolutely fascinating.

Kudos to Southeren Evangelical Seminary.

Relax: Apple Innovation Is Fine

Relax: Apple Innovation Is Fine

Originally posted on Tech:

These days, it’s just common knowledge: Apple innovation has tanked since Steve Jobs’ death, while Samsung’s parade of split-screen apps, touchless gestures, and sexy smartwatches has propelled the Korean tech giant into the lead. Not convinced? Simply gaze upon Apple’s last three iPhones — underpowered, featureless, stuck in the past — and you too will see that Apple CEO Tim Cook is cooked.

Or is he?

We looked at four of the most common Apple criticisms, specifically those for the iPhone. Has innovation really leveled off in Cupertino?

1. Performance

The Criticism

The iPhone is underpowered. While Samsung reinvents the stat sheet with each new phone, Apple makes routine updates a year later. It just can’t compete on specs anymore.

The Reality

In recent years, Apple has done some of its best innovation under the iPhone’s airbrushed hood. When consumers see a new iPhone of identical shape and size…

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