natural theology

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Religion is a bit like air, so ubiquitous that it is almost unnoticed. We notice the air when there is a storm or some other extreme event. We are prone to notice religion under similar conditions. So Reynolds and Tanner, writing on the social ecology of religion, concentrate their attention on the role of religion at the salient points in the cycle of human life, birth, death, disease and so on. Reynolds & Tanner, page 53

Here we give a much broader role to religion. My current feeling is that each of us has a personal religion which is part of the culture we absorb from our environment after birth: spoken and body language, physical and social skills etc etc. Religion thus fits us into the natural and human environment of our birth. From this point of view, religion is part of the nurture which adds to nature to construct a complete human being.

The formal content of religion is thus the psychological equivalent of the biological genome and has a similar function. We can understand the function of religion by analogy with the biological world. analogy, Tracy

From a formal point of view, religion is encoded in the space of all possible configurations of the human mind (call this M), just as biology is encoded in the space of all possible genomes (G). Viewed simply as large objects these spaces are not very interesting. But when we observe the distribution of real genomes in G we begin to notice very detailed structure.

This structure arises from the evolutionary relationships between genomes. These relationships arise, in turn, because genomes are not arbitrary strings of data,but have meaning forged by evolution. When executed by its parent organism, a genome controls the growth and life of that organism and determines, at least to some degree, whether it will reproduce successfully (and so bring a similar genome into existence) or not.

The evolution of religion has led to similar structure in the space of mind, M. Archaeology and paleontology can tell us very little about what people were thinking long ago. We have to wait for the discovery of writing to read ancient thoughts and feelings and see the evolutionary history of the ideas we entertain now. This leads us into the fascinating area of comparative religion, where we observe the vast array of different human mental adaptations to different places, times and conditions. Charles Taliaferro

This abstract formulation of religions both explains and overcomes the sectarian problem, since by definition religion is common to us all. The similarities and differences of religions enables them to be classified in a manner analogous to the classification of biological species. As in biology, similarity points either to common descent, or to the evolution of common solutions to common problems.

The detailed study of life on earth shows that all organisms are fundamentally of one flesh, carbon based systems which have shared some common traits for three or four billion years. The history of religion is much shorter, and religious evolution is much faster than biological evolution. Nevertheless all religions have a common root in the human ability to communicate, to cooperate and to learn.

The natural religion project

The natural religion project begins with theology, where we study the general nature of mind, culminating in the biggest imaginable mind, the mind of God. The goal of such science, as of all knowledge, is application. We learn to act better.

The application of theological insight to human action gives us religion. Theology and religion bear the same relationship to one another as science and technology. Our visible industrial technology is concerned with shaping physical objects. Religion is concerned with shaping ourselves.

Natural religion take the sectarianism out of religion by embracing all religions in a common model of superhuman (supra-individual) structures. More generally, we see religion as the force that binds single individuals into complex systems, and leads the Universe from s simple initial singularity (very similar to the classical God) to its present level of complexity.

Natural religion is something to be discerned, not constructed. It already exists. We just have to learn to see it. When we do see it, it grows within us.

(revised 13 July 2014)

analogy: 1. an agreement, likeness or correspondence between the relations of things to one another; a partial similarity in particular circumstances on which a comparison may be based: >the analogy between the heart and a pump.
2. agreement, similarity.
3. Biology: an analogous relationship.
4. (in linguistic change) the tendency of inflections and formations to follow existing models and regular patterns, as when the common plural brothers replaces the older brethren.
5. Logic: a form of reasoning in which similarities are inferred from a similarity of two or more things in certain particulars.
[Latin analogia, from Greek: originally equality of ratios, proportion] Delbridge

religion: 1. the quest for the values of the ideal life, involving three phases, the ideal, the practices for attain the values of the ideal, and the theology or world view relating the quest to the environing universe.
2. a particular system in which the quest for the ideal life has been embodied: the Christian
3. recognition on the part of man of a controlling superhuman power entitled to obedience reverence and worship.
4. the feeling or the spiritual attitude of those recognizing such a controlling power.
5. the manifestation of such feelings in conduct or life.
6. a point or matter of conscience, especially when zealously or obsessively observed. Delbridge back


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Further reading


Click on the "Amazon" link below each book entry to see details of a book (and possibly buy it!)

Hume, David, and J C A Gaskin, Principal Writings on Religion Including Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion and the Natural History of Religion , Oxford University Press 2009 David Hume is one of the most provocative philosophers to have written in English. His Dialogues ask if a belief in God can be inferred from what is known of the universe, or whether such a belief is even consistent with such knowledge. The Natural History of Religion investigates the origins of belief, and follows its development from polytheism to dogmatic monotheism. Together, these works constitute the most formidable attack upon religious belief ever mounted by a philosopher. This new edition includes Section XI of The Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding and a letter by Hume in which he discusses Dialogues. 
James, William, The Varieties of Religious Experience: a Study in Human Nature : Being the Gifford Lectures on Natural Religion Delivered at Edinburgh in 1901-1902, Modern Library 1994 When William James went to the University of Edinburgh in 1901 to deliver a series of lectures on "natural religion," he defined religion as "the feelings, acts, and experiences of individual men in their solitude, so far as they apprehend themselves to stand in relation to whatever they may consider the divine." Considering religion, then, not as it is defined by--or takes place in--the churches, but as it is felt in everyday life, he undertook a project that, upon completion, stands not only as one of the most important texts on psychology ever written, not only as a vitally serious contemplation of spirituality, but for many critics one of the best works of nonfiction written in the 20th century. 
Noble, David F, The Religion of Technology: The Divinity of Man and the Spirit of Invention, Penguin Books 1999 Introduction: 'It is the aim of this book to demonstrate that the present enchantment with things technological ... is rooted in religious myths and ancient imaginings. Although today's technologists, in their sober pursuit of utility, power and profit, seem to set society's standard for rationality ... their true inspiration lies elsewhere, in an enduring, other-worldly quest for transcendence and salvation.'  
Reese, William L, Dictionary of Philosophy and Religion: Eastern and Western Thought, Humanities Press/Harvester Press 1996 'The present volume ... has many encyclopedic features, including analyses of the thought of all major philosophers and religious leaders. ... One of the key features of the volume is the extent of its cross references. ... The reader is thus encouraged to undertake his own explorations of the themes, movements and thinkers important in philosophy and religion.'  
Reynolds, Vernon, and Ralph Tanner, The Social Ecology of Religion, Oxford University Press 1995 Jacket: 'No society exists in which religion does not play a significant part in the lives of ordinary people. Yet the functions of the world's diverse religions have never been fully described and analyzed, nor has the impact of adherence to those religions on the health and survival of the populations that practice them. . . . this extraordinary text reveals how religions in all parts of the world meet the needs of ordinary people and frequently play an important part in helping them to manage their affairs.' 
Smart, Ninian, The World's Religions, Cambridge University Press 1992 Introduction: 'In undertaking a voyage into the world's religions, we should not define religion too narrowly. It is important for us to recognise secular ideologies as part of the story of human worldviews. ... Essentially this book is a history of ideas and practices that have moved human beings.'  
Tawney, Richard Henry, Religion and the Rise of Capitalism: A Historical Study, Pelican 1998 Chapter 1: '[The subject of these lectures] is historical. It is the attitude of religious thought in England toward social organisation and economic issues in the period immediately preceding the Reformation and the two centuries which follow it.'  
Tracy, David, The Analogical Imagination: Christian Theology and the Culture of Pluralism, Crossroad 1991 Preface: 'The major question this book addresses is a perplexing one. In a culture of pluralism must each religious tradition finally either dissolve in some lowest common denominator or accept a marginal existence as one interesting but purely private option? Neither alternative is acceptable to anyone seriously committed to the truth of any major religious tradition. The need is to form a new and inevitably complex theological strategy that will avoid privatism by articulating the genuine claims of religion to truth.' xi. 
Charles Taliaferro Philosophy of Religion (Standord Encyclopedia of Philosophy) 'Philosophy of religion is the philosophical examination of the central themes and concepts involved in religious traditions. It involves all the main areas of philosophy: metaphysics, epistemology, logic, ethics and value theory, the philosophy of language, philosophy of science, law, sociology, politics, history, and so on. Philosophy of religion also includes an investigation into the religious significance of historical events (e.g., the Holocaust) and general features of the cosmos (e.g., laws of nature, the emergence of conscious life, widespread testimony of religious significance, and so on).' back
Comparative religion - Wikipedia Comparative religion - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia 'Comparative religion is that branch of the study of religions concerned with the systematic comparison of the doctrines and practices of the world's religions. There are many benefits to such a course of enquiry but in general the comparative study of religion yields a deeper understanding of the fundamental philosophical concerns of religion such as ethics, metaphysics and the nature and form of salvation.' back
Genome - Wikipedia Genome - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia 'In modern molecular biology and genetics, the genome is the entirety of an organism's hereditary information. It is encoded either in DNA or, for many types of virus, in RNA. The genome includes both the genes and the non-coding sequences of the DNA/RNA.' back is maintained by The Theology Company Proprietary Limited ACN 097 887 075 ABN 74 097 887 075 Copyright 2000-2014 © Jeffrey Nicholls