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Naturalistic pantheism is a form of pantheism that holds that the Universe, although unconscious and non-sentient as a whole, behaves as a single, interrelated, and solely natural substance. Accordingly, Nature is seen as being what religions call "God" only in a non-traditional (i.e., a traditional conception equates with a distinct being that features Omnipotence, Omniscience, and Omnibenevolence), impersonal sense, where the terms Nature and God are synonymous. Therefore, naturalistic pantheism is also known as "impersonal pantheism" and "impersonal absolutism," and does not posit any form of supernatural belief. Hinduism is highly characterized by Pantheism and Panentheism.
Naturalistic pantheism is attributed to the teachings of Spinoza, a Dutch philosopher of Portuguese Jewish origin. Revealing considerable scientific aptitude, the breadth and importance of Spinoza's work was not fully realized until years after his death. Today, he is considered one of the great rationalists of 17th-century philosophy, laying the groundwork for the 18th century Enlightenment.
Spinoza laid the groundwork for this philosophical system in his Ethics, his posthumously published magnum opus. Ethics, originally written in Latin, is presented geometrically, with axioms and definitions followed by propositions. Ethics attempts to use formal logic and deductive reasoning to demonstrate that the universe consists of a single, interconnected substance, with all of its components originating from "Deus sive Natura" ("God or Nature"). Spinoza posits this to be a being of infinitely many attributes, of which thought and extension are two, defining the physical and mental worlds as one and the same.
Large organizations representing pantheism include the Universal Pantheist Society (UPS) and World Pantheist Movement (WPM) . Although the UPS is the older of the two, it has seen decreased activity in recent years. The WPM (founded by former UPS vice-president Paul Harrison), on the other hand, has expanded considerably due to its promotion of "scientific pantheism", which critics claim is essentially no more than "atheism for nature lovers". This charge seems to stem from the fact that scientific pantheism is not only naturalistic, but avowedly materialistic as well, with little tolerance for any reference to traditional theological concepts. Despite a history of controversy surrounding the WPM's heterodox stance within the UPS and its eventual secession from that organization, the WPM approach has met with some acceptance, even while critics claim it may not actually constitute any strict or authentic or classical pantheism.
Although the Universal Pantheist Society ostensibly accepts pantheists of all varieties, in practice, it too tends toward the modern (naturalistic) pantheism. To understand this, it must be re-emphasized that the theological concept which the term "pantheism" was originally intended to describe (the equivalence of the traditional God concept with nature) is considered to be essentially obsolete by many naturalistic pantheists. It is often maintained that the intent of such individuals in describing themselves as "pantheist" is chiefly to identify themselves as adherents of a naturalistic spirituality by using an established religious term.
Criticism and responseEdit
Opponents of naturalistic pantheism allege that it constitutes an intentional misuse of terminology, and an attempt to justify atheism by mislabeling it as pantheism. They claim that naturalistic pantheists believe no more that nature, the universe, and everything are all God, than secular humanists actually believe that human beings are all gods. They claim that naturalistic pantheists no more really believe in a god than secular humanists, who are atheists but adhere to a "religion".
Critics claim that naturalistic pantheism places little emphasis on the concept of God. This raises the concern that it is really no longer pantheism at all, but something more like "spiritual naturalism" or "feel-good atheism". After all, these critics ask, if you remove the concept of God from your philosophy, what is the purpose of using the term "pantheism?" It is charged that the etymology of the word reveals it is inappropriately used in describing an anti-theist philosophy. In answer to this objection, naturalistic pantheists maintain that the "pan-" prefix modifies the "-theism" suffix to such an extent that pantheism in fact has little to do with traditional theism.
Critics regard this modern pantheism as simply a more reverent and naturalistic form of atheism, since this unusual conception of God is seen as bending the traditional definition so far as to make it meaningless. In the view of some modern adherents, this objection to using the historical term "pantheism" for the naturalistic interpretation is essentially valid, and these adherents usually admit that the term is maintained only for the sake of convenience.
An argument intended to show that the term "pantheism" remains appropriate for the modern, or naturalistic interpretation of pantheism is that the contemporary pantheist sees the term "God" as a synonym for "nature". If nature is equivalent to the theological concept of God, then saying "all is God" (pan-theism) is the same as saying "all is nature". Accordingly, this is the way that many pantheists choose to view the term "pantheism" — all is nature, nature is all. Pantheism, then, is (in this view) essentially a form of spirituality based on nature rather than on supernatural entities such as deities. Accordingly, it is widely accepted that the modern interpretation of pantheism is essentially naturalistic, and therefore constitutes a form of naturalistic spirituality.
General acceptance of naturalistic pantheism has been undermined to some extent by the existence of considerable disagreement within their community as to whether or not ideas such as "spirituality" are truly applicable to a naturalistic world view. Although a clear conclusion has not yet been reached, the rough consensus currently holds that within a pantheistic framework, spirituality can be meaningfully and consistently interpreted as "the human relation to the numinous", as Carl Sagan and some others have suggested. In this sense, spirituality is much considered to be the direct knowledge and experience of the universe.