It is fair to say that religion, and in particular the ways in which some Christian and Islamic thinkers have again begun to encroach on the domain of science (e.g., global warming, the teaching of evolution), has caused a great deal of consternation within the scientific and philosophical communities. An understandable reaction to these developments is to reject out of hand even the slightest taint of religion in these fields—a position that has now attained the status of orthodoxy, at least in the western world. This is curious on its face, given the fact that religion has clearly provided a sense of meaning and purpose for most of our fellow humans as long as there have been humans pondering such things. Moreover, it is probably not necessary, provided one is very careful what sort of faith one endorses. Thus, the basic question I wish to address here, albeit in a very preliminary fashion, is whether it may be possible to delineate a form of faith that can inspire and guide humanity without the metaphysical baggage that causes conflict with epistemically conservative disciplines like science. To that end, I examine one recent thread within cosmology that views the universe as creative in the sense that it is biased towards the production of ever-increasing complexity at its edges. If that is true, it gives those so inclined permission, as it were, to view the creation of complexity (including human culture and its products) as a moral good (perhaps even an imperative) without the assumption of supernatural entities with mysterious motives and goals. After arguing that there is indeed logical space for such a faith that does not impinge on the essential commitments of either science or philosophy (properly conceived) I will examine its potential use in framing some of the emerging debates concerning space exploration. The prospect of humanity venturing beyond our homeworld in the near future offers an excellent case study of this “neo-naturalism” in action for two basic reasons. First, it seems likely that such a massive and complex undertaking needs a motivational source beyond mere discovery and expansion. Second, a neo-natural faith may influence how we go about this, and not always in ways those steeped in more traditional approaches to religion would predict.
Smith KC. Cosmogenesis, Complexity, and Neo-Natural Faith in the Context of Astrobiology. Religions. 2020; 11(12):659. https://doi.org/10.3390/rel11120659