Below, is a copy of the reply I made to a WordPress post titled, “Why naturalistic pantheism is a crock,” which can be found at the following link:
I’ve been a pantheist most of my life, long before I knew the word pantheism even existed and long before I knew there were others who shared my views. I say this to make clear that I personally did not follow a popular movement or choose to jump onto some bandwagon out of some last ditch effort and need to salvage a god that my intellect once destroyed. However, in my opinion, it’s a good bandwagon to jump onto and a great movement to follow. I will mainly address your two biggest claims that pantheism is pointless and that “pantheism is a crock.”
I basically came into pantheism from an atheistic stance, as long as you don’t count the early and brief Christian upbringing I had up until I was about eight. Thankfully, my parents were not obsessed with the religion and allowed me the freedom to search the answers about the world on my own. I eventually became a pantheist after many years of deep contemplation, using all my acquired knowledge and all the resources I had within my reach. I should point out that I am strictly a pantheist and not a naturalistic pantheist, for my views differ somewhat, but I still feel that I can add to the discussion. Therefore, I will speak on behalf of pantheist in general.
I completely understand your view-point and frustration with pantheistic-type thinking. At first glance, it can seem pointless and useless. Yes, the world can be viewed as a mechanical thing, but at the same time and to your own agreement, it is an awesome, remarkable, profound thing that we are all a part of. The totality of it all is that entity that does exist and which is responsible for our existence, and we would do well to respect and be in awe of it.
I noticed you made several assumptions that are harmfully untrue in regards to the views of most pantheist in general, and, throughout your essay, you used words to describe our view of the universe like nonsense, absurd, unsubstantiated, imagination, fantasy, and fictional. It is, of course, okay for you to believe our pantheistic views are false, but it comes off a little harsh and undeserving to describe them as you have. Keep in mind, from our point-of-view, pantheism is the reality, not a fantasy, which atheist and traditional theists have not yet had the pleasure of discovering. From our view, all of you are the ones with a false or incomplete picture of the world.
You assume pantheists don’t use logic and reason. Granted, many don’t, which is unfortunately the case in any philosophical pursuit, but enough of them do and, therefore, deserve a little more respect than you have given. I, along with many others, base my views on all that I have learned through all my life experiences. This includes all that I have learned from science. For example, for every action there is an equal but opposite reaction, matter and energy can’t be created or destroyed, physical objects consist of particles and sub-particles, and the circumference of every circle is always 3.14 times its diameter. I take established ideas like those and put them together to form new ideas. Most pantheist are like scientific philosophers, or in some cases, philosophical scientist.
One of the most offensive sentences in your essay probably has to be, “It is pointless to ascribe fantasy to the world to make it more appealing.” Again you are making the assumption that the pantheistic view is mere fantasy, without reason, and scientifically baseless, and that it is strictly our emotional need to “imagine” some form of a god in order to “cope” with reality. I’ll agree with you that many adopt the pantheistic view due to an emotional need, for humans in general are always looking for ways to psychologically and emotionally deal with the world, which can be a very frightening place to live in, but please don’t leave out the intellectual need. We crave a deeper understanding that we can not ignore. Also, it’s important to point out that the pantheistic view is not all sunshine. For most of us, we realize life is part light and part darkness, part pain and part pleasure. In my own personal writings, I discuss how the universe can be boiled down to two main fundamental forces, the positive and the negative, the Yin and the Yang. So it’s not all good news. We know the world includes pain, sadness, and suffering, aspects which we wish were not a part of the world but logically know they are. So we don’t all sit around a campfire like hippies holding hands with silly dumb grins, singing kum-ba-yah, to make ourselves feel better and to escape the real world. In fact, if I remember correctly, naturalistic pantheist, in particular, don’t even believe in an afterlife or any form of reincarnation, aside from the idea that their material make-up remains within the system. However, I am one of those who believes there is no escape from the eternal flame that is the cosmos. I believe our mind, fortunately as well as unfortunately, moves from one state to the next, from one life to another, and is forced to forever experience both pleasure and pain, joy and suffering. I believe it is all cyclic. Either way, pantheism is a beautiful marriage between the spiritual and the logical. Don’t immerse yourself too deeply in one at the unhealthy expense of the other.
You explained that many pantheists need to have a spiritual sense to their lives, but strip away the spiritual aspect and you are essentially left with scientific facts. I so wish you didn’t believe that “empirical evidence is really all that matters.” You must know, even empirical evidence is not a sure thing. The most responsible scientists admit that all our acquired knowledge and so called evidence is, ultimately, based on theories and conjectures which are all susceptible to changes, errors, and misinterpretations, that no one knows anything for a fact. It’s all just educated guesses so-to-speak, guestimations. Though the scientific method is fallible, it is one of the best methods we’ll ever have and we should always continue to test, observe, and study the world. Pantheists highly respect the scientific method and largely base their beliefs on the empirical evidence collected so far, but as you already well know, pantheists don’t limit themselves to it entirely, nor should anyone. We try to safely and responsibly leap beyond the cold, hard, numbers, available facts, and subsets to see the larger whole.
It’s rare that someone knowingly ascribes fantasy to complete their view of the world. Even if the pantheistic view is wrong, I would say this particular view is one of the more safer projections or, as you would call it, “fantasies” of man and will help us until we learn better in your eyes. Be kind and say you believe our view is an incorrect one, instead of giving the impression we intentionally fantasize the cause of our reality in order to strictly feel safer and better about the world.
You asked, “In what possible way is [a strictly scientific view] so insufficient that some people need to re-imagine the universe as a kind of entity? If I can have a deep wonder and respect for the universe without having to do so, surely others can as well?” It sounds like you are a pantheist but just don’t realize it, yet. You appreciate science, logic, and reason, and have great reverence for the universe. You likely already know it requires the entire universe in order for you to exist. All you need to do now is realize that the universe can in fact be viewed as a single entity and then give it a respectable name like Your Greatness or Your Majesty or, the one that really stings, God. That’s really all there is to it. I wouldn’t read too much more into it than that, regardless of all the junk literature written on the subject.
I think the germ in the impression most atheists have about pantheists may be in their pre-contaminated view of the word “God,” or their possible misunderstanding of our definition or interpretation of it. The God we speak of is not supernatural in any way. There are no miracles. It’s not an all powerful god of pure good, which has the power of choice to do whatever it wishes. This view of God does not guarantee eternal well being or excuse us from suffering if we believe in it. I know, you have basically been asking, then what’s the point? I’m getting to that. But let me first explain that we simply recognize, whether we like it or not, that everything in the world can be conceptually grouped into a meaningful whole or, for you mathematicians, included into a single, functional, universal set. As I’m sure you already well know, pantheism simply means all is God, and God is essentially THAT which is responsible for our existence, along with the existence of all things. Describing THAT becomes the hard part. It, of course, varies from person to person. Many often make the mistake of trying to assign too many detailed attributes to the term God and then turning it into a religion. They over complicate it. It’s best to keep it simple and pure. Since the term God has developed such a strong Abrahamic meaning, in the minds of many, which is what upsets and offends most atheists and is usually the primary cause for their godless position, I often like to call it “The Supreme Being that is the universe,” so as not to be easily confused with the Abrahamic religion.
Richard Dawkins put it best when he wrote in The God Delusion, “Pantheists don’t believe in a supernatural God at all, but use the word God as a non-supernatural synonym for Nature, or for the Universe, or for the lawfulness that governs its workings.” He also refers to it as a “poetic synonym for the laws of the universe.” Atheists often ask why do we bother to label the universe God? There are multiple reasons. Here are a few starting with the most obvious–drum-roll–because it is more spiritual and respectful to do so. It gives the universe the respect it deserves. The God label does a much better job of conveying the profound meaning of it all and the deep reverence we have for it compared to terms like nature, universe, or cosmos, which are inadequate at times. Though, I enjoy using those terms too and they have their good uses. Let’s face it, the universe, at least in our eyes, holds the core meaning of the word God. Thanks to the universe, as a whole, we all exist and we must all abide by all its unchangeable laws. Even it must abide by its own unchangeable laws. Calling the universe God helps to convey the idea that it is a divine thing, and not some random or accidental thing that just happened to have happened. I always ask atheists to look at intangible concepts like the color wheel or mathematics. These concepts are not something that could have evolved, or have been invented by man, or created by a big bang. These concepts go beyond creation and beyond the material world. There are many other intangibles like our thoughts and emotions which are very difficult to measure or prove, yet we believe they exist. There is an ornate tapestry of meaning that the universe holds which, to a large degree, should be bowed down to in reverence. I would also like to add that the label God helps to soften the blow among traditional theists, and the pantheistic definition of it usually calms the harsh objections of atheists. Another added bonus that comes with our balanced view is it can be very inviting for the agnostics who are turned off by both extreme views and aren’t sure what to believe. Overall, the point is we want to call it as we see it. The universe is a profound thing that allows us to exist. It constantly sustains us, and the act of recognizing that and giving it reverence fulfills us on both an emotional and intellectual level, and we feel we are better off for having that incredible view and for experiencing that level of reverence.
You quoted Dawkins, “surely the universe is amazing enough, and that it should be enough that we appreciate the beauty of what exists without having to ascribe a fictional creator as being responsible.” You then added, “Naturalistic pantheism would seem to share this view except for the unnecessary aspects of spirituality and reverence.” I, along with many pantheists, agree with Dawkins, the universe is amazing enough without having to assign a fictional creator to it. However, we do believe there is THAT which is responsible for the existence of all things, and that is the totality of the universe itself, which is not fictional. Pantheism doesn’t specifically allude to a “creator.” Though there are many who believe the universe was created, there are many who do not, myself included. We believe the universe has always existed and always will, that it is and always has been a self-perpetuating machine-like entity. It is what it is and has no choice but to be what it is, physical laws and all. It’s hard to know what you mean by “unnecessary aspects of spirituality and reverence.” How are you gauging what is unnecessary and why? Be accepting of great levels of spirituality and reverence, as long as it doesn’t cause anyone harm. Perhaps you feel pantheists are giving respect where it is not warranted. But, I’m not sure what you consider to be misplaced reverence. Do you not agree that the universe is much more than the sum of its provable parts?
I understand that you have a huge appreciation for science and observable, tangible evidence, as do I, but don’t allow yourself to get lost in the numbers. Trying to understand the universe is like piecing together a huge gig-saw puzzle. We humans have already placed in many pieces, thanks to science, but we will never be able to piece them all in, in terms of scientific proof, to your satisfaction, no matter how advanced we become. Eventually, you will have to step back, take a good look, and ‘get’ the overall picture, even though all the pieces are not in and never will be. It’s what philosophers do, whether their interpretations can be proven right or wrong. Please don’t be annoyed or put off by us philosophers who try to leap to grand conclusions, based on all that we think we know. Perhaps you do not have a philosophical mind, but strictly a scientific one. If so, may your scientific thoughts prove helpful to the world. But allow us scientific philosophers at least a little wiggle room to make educated extrapolations and to estimate likely pictures of the world in the absence of absolute proof in every department. As I have advocated for years, it is not possible with all our instruments of measure to ever fully explain the nature of the world. It would be foolish to ever think so. There comes a time, when each must take that final leap beyond the cold, hard numbers, available facts, and subsets to see the larger meaningful whole.
Towards the end of your essay you wrote, “At the end of the day it is generally impossible to have strong religious beliefs and accept the current scientific knowledge without making significant compromises. abstracting your religion to the point it is practically indistinguishable from the normal workings of the universe is not enlightened, but a crock.” I have to strongly disagree with both of those statements, which I believe express the very heart of your opposing views. First and foremost, it’s best not to characterize naturalistic pantheism or pantheism in general as a religion. Though some have sadly tried to turn it into one. I’m guessing you know that but may have slipped. And secondly, there is no reason why any philosopher or spiritual thinker has to abandon scientific knowledge at all. Even primitive man tried to base all his beliefs on what he thought he knew about the world, through his observations and experiences–though he wasn’t very good at it. Thirdly, pantheist don’t try to abstract their views. They may be abstract to you, but to us they are quite clear. You say “people have a need to believe in something that isn’t there.” It may be your opinion that what they believe is not there, which is odd when referring to pantheists because they believe in the universe which is there, but people generally believe in what they think is the truth. You’re right, pantheism is “indistinguishable from the normal workings of the universe,” as it should be. If we thought otherwise, we would abandon it. The normal workings of the universe is the foundation upon which it stands.
Last but not least, I must also respectfully disagree with your prediction that the pantheistic view will become the minority view in the years to come, while the atheistic view will become the dominate one. In fact, I believe it will be quite the contrary. The pantheistic view will most likely be the prevailing view, because humans will always need to satisfy both their intellect and their heart. However, there will always be those who don’t mind ignoring all the scientific evidence and there will always be those who will ignore the philosophical and spiritual aspect. Theists often give the universe too much significance and atheists often don’t give the universe enough significance. Pantheism is a wonderful balance between the two extremes. It is the view that is desperately needed to bridge the gap between the theists and the atheists. Truth is more often found somewhere within the blurry middle, I promise.
For more information on my views and why I view the universe as The Supreme Being, please read more from my WordPress site or visit my YouTube channel “The Forever All” at http://www.youtube.com/GuyusSeralius and watch “Pantheism-The Forever All” or “Why I View The Universe as God” or “How I Became a Pantheist.” For your convenience, I’ve also provided my YouTube video playlist below, which will allow you to watch them all, one after the other, in one location.