The Unnaturalist Fallacy

adam and eve

As with ‘The Way It Is' Fallacy, few things perpetuate the current science and religion war in America more than what I've begun calling "The Unnaturalist Fallacy"—the position taken by many atheists and fundamentalists alike that all or most of the unnatural-sounding (supernatural) language in religious scriptures, doctrines, and creeds cannot be known to be real in a physical, measurable way, but can only be believed to be real in an otherworldly, unnatural way. To say it another way, the unnaturalist fallacy is the mistaken belief that religious "truths" are not scientifically real at all, but only religiously so. This fallacy is so pernicious that I predict within the next fifty years it will come to be known as ‘The Unnaturalist Heresy'. A few examples:

• Those who think that ‘the Fall' and ‘original sin' are primarily about a talking snake tempting Adam and Eve in a magical garden.

• Those who believe that the main point of salvation is what happens to our non-material souls after we die.

• Those who think ‘the second coming of Christ' and ‘the Rapture' mean that Jesus will come back on the clouds, the faithful will fly up to meet him in the sky, and then Jesus will orchestrate the torture and wholesale slaughter of billions of human beings and animals, including children, as the book of Revelation horrifically details.

Interpreted in unnatural (yet, paradoxically, literal) ways, doctrines such as ‘the fall', ‘original sin', ‘salvation', and ‘the second coming of Christ' are trivialized.

When we hear religious language speaking of God or the devil, angels and demons, heaven and hell, sin and salvation, the virgin birth, resurrection, the second coming of Christ, and so forth—if we think about these concepts only (or mostly) in unnatural, otherworldly ways (as somehow magically real in the past or in the future but not actually real in the present), we belittle our faith tradition and unknowingly commit the unnaturalist fallacy.

On the other hand, everything shifts when we appreciate that most, if not all, religious/mythic "night language" about seemingly supernatural beings, events, places, or processes actually have a "day language" (measurably real) referent. Those who insist on interpreting supernatural language literally—that is, in abstract, imaginary ways—are stuck in the realm of fiction. But when we grasp that religious concepts can be experienced as real in a this-world, scientific sense, a huge door of possibility opens, for us and for our world.

What new meanings will unfold when we begin to interpret traditional language in naturally real ways? And how will those meanings grow and enrich in the decades and centuries to come? Each person, group, culture, and generation has both the opportunity and the responsibility to discover/co-create the most lifegiving interpretations for their time and place.

For example, ‘the fall' and ‘original sin' would be seen as pointing to the fact that all human beings have an unchosen nature, inherited proclivities. We all have reptilian, mammalian, primate, and hominid instincts that evolved to serve survival and reproductive needs in a pre-verbal context, but which can (and often do) cause us and our loved ones great difficulties in today's world.

To cite another example: whether or not salvation has an after-death component is almost irrelevant to those who know heavenly joy and the peace that passes all understanding in this life. Fulfillment, serenity, and faith in the here and now comes to those who abide "in Christ"—that is, who live in integrity, who establish support systems to help them do so, and who acknowledge lapses and then make amends. When we know we can die at any moment with no resentments, no secrets, and no unfinished business, we dwell at the right hand of God—no matter our beliefs.