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Mordecai Kaplan and Transnaturalism

Discussion in 'Reconstructionist DIR' started by Jayhawker Soule, Jan 17, 2006.

  1. Jayhawker Soule

    Jayhawker Soule <yawn> ignore </yawn>
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    From religion-online.org ...

    Mordecai M. Kaplan and Process Theology: Metaphysical and Pragmatic Perspectives
    by William E. Kaufman

    First, let us note how Kaplan’s transnaturalism differs from strict naturalism.

    Naturalism may be defined as "the disposition to believe that any phenomenon can be explained by appeal to general laws confirmable either by observation or by inference from observation" (CRN 21). This does not mean that everything that happens in the universe is at present explainable. Rather, naturalism represents a methodological recommendation concerning the theory of knowledge. What it suggests is that the only instruments of knowledge we possess are reason and critically analyzed experience. Claims to knowledge based on a special faculty, such as mystical intuition, must therefore be recognized as assertions of faith which cannot be verified and can only be evaluated in terms of their consequences for human conduct. The reliance on reason and critically analyzed experience is thus the method of naturalism, its logic of inquiry. Naturalism as a theory of reality, however, can be problematic because of the ambiguity of the term "nature." For most naturalists, nevertheless, it is safe to say that "nature" signifies the totality of reality -- its substance, functioning and principles of operation, since what distinguishes naturalism from other metaphysical standpoints is its claim that there is nothing beyond nature.

    Let us now examine Kaplan’s transnaturalism and determine its divergence from strict naturalism. To begin with, let us look at Kaplan’s definition of "transnaturalism":
    Transnaturalism is that extension of naturalism which takes into account much that mechanistic or materialistic or positivistic science is incapable of dealing with. Transnaturalism reaches out into the domain where mind, personality, purpose, ideals, values and meanings dwell. It treats of the good and the true. Whether or not it has a distinct logic of its own is problematic. But it certainly has a language of its own, the language of simile, metaphor and poetry. That is the language of symbol, myth and drama. In that universe of discourse, belief in God spells trust in life and man, as capable of transcending the potentialities of evil that inhere in his animal heredity, in his social heritage, and in the conditions of his environment. Transnaturalist religion beholds God in the fulfillment of human nature and not in the suspension of the natural order. Its function is not to help man overcome the hazards of nature, but to enable him to bring under control his inhumanity to his fellow man.​
    We can see from his definition of transnaturalism that Kaplan finds strict naturalism inadequate because it is incapable of "dealing with" the phenomena of mind, personality, purpose, ideals, values, and meanings. On the other hand, underlying Kaplan’s entire philosophical theology is a polemic against supernaturalism, according to which God is not subject to any empirical law of nature and can therefore suspend the natural order at any point in time.​
    A couple of points. First, Kaufman offers a wondefully clear explication of "naturalism" and is worthy of being quoted if only for that. Second, Kaplan's insistence that God/Creativity transcends nature represents a clear shift from Pantheism to Panentheism, i.e., away from naturalism, and one is left to wonder whether or not a Religious Naturalism is possible without this shift.
     
  2. michel

    michel Administrator Emeritus
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    Thank you for both the link to a fascinating web site, and to a very interesting read.

    I must admit to being slightly confused by the part I have highlighted in Red, and don't understand (though I can see the value in the idea of) how the part in green can be achieved.
    [size=-0]
    [/size]
     
  3. jewscout

    jewscout Religious Zionist

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    thanks for the info Jay:clap
     
  4. JonM

    JonM Member

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    Well, this is all very exciting, the Reconstructionist sub-forum and all. Now then (that's my favorite oxymoron)...

    I'd explain it this way. It's a bit simplified, but so is the explanation you quoted. Before the Holocaust, Jews believed in a God that would not have allowed the Holocaust to happen. Clearly, after the Holocaust, faith was destroyed for some Jews, but the rest were forced to come to terms with a new understanding of God; one that would allow the unmitigated slaughter of devoted people. The point is that God's "plan," if you will, is far too complex (infinitely complex, in fact) for humans to explain away, and thus we must approach understanding of God asymptotically, never reaching total understanding. And we must do so by observing the qualities of God that we can experience and making note of them, accumulating understanding over time.

    I think that the distinctions between naturalism and transnationalism are mostly semantic, and I like Kaplan's vocabulary better. Everything that I ascribe to God is natural; God is nature, and everything else for that matter. I do reject the idea of a "supernatural" God, but that doesn't mean I don't believe that God can do things that defy reason. I think it's clear that human science will never be complete. It follows the very same asymptote I was just talking about. When events defy common sense, humans explain them with Gods, and when their understanding becomes clearer, their Gods change. This is the destiny of our species, and God will always be there above it all. In the future, when we can answer questions that have no answer now, there will be still greater questions, and there will be a still greater God.
     
  5. Jayhawker Soule

    Jayhawker Soule <yawn> ignore </yawn>
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    More and more, "when events defy common sense, humans explain them with" science. You are welcome to your teleology with its talk of "the destiny of our species". I'm simply uninterested in semantic accomodations to some God-of-the-Gaps, and I fully believe that religious naturalism is superior to the Kaplan's transnaturalism/panentheism. At the same time, I recognize Kaplan's contributions as enormous and suspect that I would be quite at home in some JRF synagogue.
     
  6. JonM

    JonM Member

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    How familiar are you with Spinoza's epistemology? What do you think of it?
     
  7. Jayhawker Soule

    Jayhawker Soule <yawn> ignore </yawn>
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    Not very, though I'm not a big fan of rationalism.
     
  8. JonM

    JonM Member

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    Well, he's also the Jewish founder of panentheism. He makes an argument similar to mine (though obviously way better) that is an early form of transnaturalism.

    Anyway, I'll move on since we can't discuss that from the text. I gather that you disagree with me that the differences between naturalism and transnationalism are slight. What do you have to say to my point about the asymptotic nature of human knowledge and science?
     
  9. Jayhawker Soule

    Jayhawker Soule <yawn> ignore </yawn>
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    I fully agree ... as does science.

    If and when you get the chance, pick up Ursula Goodenough's Saced Depths of Nature. You'll enjoy it.
     
  10. JonM

    JonM Member

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    Noted. Will do.

    Now, I suppose it is a rather obvious assertion, that one I made about the asymptote. It's sort of the definition of the scientific method. However, if we agree on that, I'm not sure what we do disagree on. I think it's a semantic difference. My faith is that God gave us powers of reason with which we can gain an ever-increasing understanding of Him, and your faith is that our ability to reason will give us an ever-increasing understanding of our corporeal reality. I really think that's just a vocabulary difference. The panentheistic God is our corporeal reality, including our powers of reason which we use to understand Him/it.
     
  11. Jayhawker Soule

    Jayhawker Soule <yawn> ignore </yawn>
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    No, it is not, but that is not relevant to this thread.

    God talk is either superfluous or meaningful - even if only psychologically meaningful.

    Furthermore, one filters ones perceptions through whatever Meta-narrative one chooses. It is not by accident that your God-talk leads you to speak of "Jewish contact with the divine" and your incredible statement that
    This is the first event of this kind that I have ever had, and you and I can explain it away all we want, but I would never have been able to pull something like that out of my subconscious.​
    My guess is that if I poke and prod long enough I'll discover a deeply embedded teleology.
     
  12. JonM

    JonM Member

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    I agree. Like I said, I believe the difference between you and me is semantic. I find that my "God-talk" is more useful to me for purely natural, rational reasons than my previous narratives, and you disagree.

    As for the incredibility of my statement, due to the nature of my understanding of God, my claim is no more incredible than any hard to believe but rationally explicable claim, like if you were to tell me that you were actually Brad Pitt in real life. My God is not supernatural. I don't believe in supernatural. I believe in God, and the God I believe in is supremely natural. Thus, the explanation that God sent me an angel in my dream is as rational to me, based on my life experience, as your explanation that it emerged from my subconscious is to you.

    I don't think the poking and prodding is really necessary. I'll just tell you: I believe in God because I have a deeply embedded teleology. It's based on my rational understanding of the Universe, as your naturalistic understanding is based on yours. I'm not poking and prodding at you to find out where your understanding came from. I believe you.
     
  13. Jayhawker Soule

    Jayhawker Soule <yawn> ignore </yawn>
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    On the basis of this (and this alone) the difference between you and I is fundamental. In my opinion, you abuse naturalism, distorting it to accomodate your teleology.
     
  14. JonM

    JonM Member

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    Well, perhaps transnaturalism feels like distortion and abuse to naturalists, but to me, the only difference is that I call the fact that the Universe is the way it is evidence of ultimately incomprehensible divine purpose, and you call it ultimately incomprehensible... er... not-divine purpose? The working out of observable scientific phenomena on an infinite scale? Total chaos? Something. Something I am inspired to call God, and something you are not inspired to call God, but ultimately the same thing.
     
  15. Jayhawker Soule

    Jayhawker Soule <yawn> ignore </yawn>
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    NO, JonM, it is not at all the same thing. Yours is a theology open to divine intervention and, thereby, no more naturalist than that which relies on magical spirits. So, for example ...
    Teleology stands in contrast to philosophical naturalism, and both ask questions separate from the questions of science. While reductionist science investigates natural laws and phenomena, Philosophical naturalism and teleology investigate the existence or non-existence of an organizing principle behind those natural laws and phenonema. Philosophical naturalism asserts that there are no such principles. Teleology asserts that there are. [Wikipedia]

    The difference between naturalistic and supernaturalistic views in Western philosophy might best be understood by noting that the former favors mechanistic explanations, while the latter favors teleological ones. Mechanistic explanations are dysteleological, i.e., they make no reference to purposes or design, except metaphorically as in biology (e.g., the heart was designed to pump blood). [Skeptics Dictionary]​
    Your worldview no doubt worls for you. It may even be correct. It still remains a theology in naturalist drag.
     
  16. JonM

    JonM Member

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    Okay then. I was beginning to grow afraid of agreeing with you. Of course its a theology. I believe in God. Do you have these conversations with every theist on Religious Forums?
     
  17. Feathers in Hair

    Feathers in Hair World's Tallest Hobbit

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    Hi, guys! Just to step in with a friendly reminder, please keep the debate in the debate section. (Also, Religious Forums is proud to offer debate and discussion to everyone, including those who are not theists.)
     
  18. JonM

    JonM Member

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    Oh, we're done. Don't worry. If I can't expect my beliefs to be granted to me, I'm done debating.
     
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  19. Jayhawker Soule

    Jayhawker Soule <yawn> ignore </yawn>
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    No one is refusing to grant you your beliefs, no matter how divergent from naturalism and/or Spinoza.
     
  20. Avi1001

    Avi1001 reform Jew humanist liberal feminist entrepreneur

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    Good article. But I think the greatest shortcoming of naturalism is the inability to explain "spirit".
     
    #20 Avi1001, Aug 24, 2013
    Last edited: Aug 24, 2013
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