Naturalizing God? A Critical Evaluation of Religious Naturalism

Mikael Leidenhag

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis


This thesis seeks to critically evaluate religious naturalism as a position in the dialogue between science and religion. I seek to explicate the major topics of debate within religious naturalism (chapter 2), as well as the naturalistic and religious aspects of religious naturalism. It is argued that religious naturalists express reductive as well as non-reductive understandings of naturalism (chapter 3), which I refer to as monistic naturalism and pluralistic naturalism, respectively. It is argued that monistic naturalism cannot account for several important beliefs, regarding agency, intentionality, and semantic normativity. Pluralistic naturalism, although more promising, seems to invite dualism (chapter 4). Another metaphysical framework is, therefore, needed and several alternatives are explored in chapters 7-9.

Chapter 5 outlines the religious aspects of religious naturalism. It is shown that religious naturalists express realistic, anti-realistic, and pragmatic understandings of religious discourse. These ways of understanding religion are critically evaluated (chapter 6). Given some of the problems encountered in previous chapters, I propose three alternative frameworks for articulating religious naturalism.

First, I outline and evaluate possible naturalistic solutions (chapter 7), including liberal naturalism, agnostic naturalism and pragmatic naturalism, and how they may help religious naturalism in moving forward. It is argued that both liberal naturalism and agnostic naturalism encounter the problem of competing ontologies. That is, it remains unclear why we should prefer a naturalistic ontology over non-naturalistic ontologies. Pragmatic naturalism is critiqued for reducing philosophical issues to linguistic agreements between speakers.

Second, I evaluate two possible theistic frameworks: panentheism and Fiona Ellis’ attempt to fuse naturalism with theism (chapter 8). I suggest that panentheism fails to avoid dualism, and that the theistic dimension of Ellis’ proposal remains unclear. Hence, these forms of theism cannot aid religious naturalism, and instead we must turn to a third alternative framework.

Third, I propose panpsychism as the final and most promising framework (chapter 9). According to panpsychism, mind-properties are widespread and every physical entity has an experiential dimension to it. It is argued that panpsychism carries metaphysical, eco-ethical, as well as religious benefits. Panpsychism, therefore, can help religious naturalism in moving forward.
Original languageEnglish
  • Stenmark, Mikael, Supervisor, External person
Place of PublicationUppsala
Print ISBNs978-91-506-2541-7
Publication statusPublished - 25 Apr 2016


  • religious naturalism
  • naturalism
  • science and religion
  • emergence theory
  • panentheism
  • panpsychism
  • theism
  • Willem Drees
  • Charley Hardwick
  • Ursula Goodenough
  • Karl Peters
  • Gordon Kaufman
  • Stuart Kauffman
  • Loyal Rue
  • pragmatism
  • eco-ethics
  • eco-theology


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