There are two ways to live your life, one is as though nothing is a miracle, the other is as though everything is a miracle.
he belief that the universe consists of mass-energy within space-time, and that there are laws of physics, but that there are no other constituents in the cosmos than these, is called physicalism, metaphysical naturalism, or materialism. The latter term is slightly problematic since it’s also used to describe an obsession with material acquisition, which – to be clear – is not here advocated. The term “naturalism” shall be used in this book instead. This term is not completely free of ambiguity since a “naturalist” can be a zoologist or a botanist, and the term is not far off from “naturist,” which is a nudist, but in this book that word shall refer to people who subscribe to the world view of metaphysical naturalism. Let it be noted, though, there is nothing stopping a naturalist from also being a botanist and a nudist. Why not!
And while clarifying terms, it should be noted that naturalists sometimes use the word “matter” loosely, to include anti-matter, dark matter, energy, dark energy, and any other stuff that can be detected scientifically.
Self-proclaimed “spiritual” people, the supernaturalists, loathe the naturalist view because they feel it spoils the magic in life. They want to believe in magic. And who can blame them?
But naturalists do believe in magic: the magic within reality. The magic of the here and now.
Consider the electro-magnetic force. Is it not strange and amazing that this force exists at all, and that we can harness it to power computers, cameras, light bulbs, and massage chairs? Crystal balls do not exist but televisions do. What ancient vision of wizardry have we not realized thanks to a scientific understanding of the electro-magnetic force?
Consider gravity. We take it for granted and often fail to fully comprehend the implications of it. We can think of gravity merely as the tendency for people and things to fall downward. But science reveals to us that the gravity we feel is actually the combined pull of each particle in the world upon our bodies. We are connected by gravity to every atom on Earth, from the hydrogen and oxygen atoms in the blue oceans on the surface down to the iron atoms in the spinning core at the center. And in this way we are connected to every living thing; we feel their mass helping to fasten us to the surface so we do not float into the infinite desolation of outer space. And the mass in our bodies likewise plays a part, albeit small, in holding the planet together, in rounding the surface, and in anchoring the other inhabitants. We communicate our existence to the cosmos by the gravity we exert. We are, each of us, bending space and time, pulling the entire universe in toward us. That is not new age balderdash, it is a physical fact, and yet it is also complete and utter magic.
Our world is chock full of enchantments. The magic is not far off or esoteric; it is immediate and obvious, if we but open our eyes to it. Life, love, friendship, the moon, the stars, the city lights at night, the sunshine during the day, the laws of physics, the fascinating wonders of evolution and biology, all the zany species we get to meet, all the fascinating places we get to explore, and on and on. Oh, the world is magical through and through.
Supernatural beliefs, often crowned with the lofty moniker “spiritual,” are fundamentally negative despite the disguise of positivity that they wear so well. Supernaturalism consists of three tendencies: a) finding consciousness where it is not, b) attributing powers to consciousness that it does not have, and c) assuming consciousness survives the death of the body. In all cases supernaturalism denies material reality, and that is why it is fair to call it negative. It is the perverse notion that the universe as we know it through our senses and our science could not possibly be good enough, and so we must latch onto comforting fictions. And therefore supernaturalism is not an affirmation of wonder but a denial of it. The promise of supernaturalism is that it will deliver tranquility during life and bliss in the after-life. These are false promises. Living your life in flat denial of your reality cannot confer any sort of tranquility worth having. And such denial is tragically sad when your reality happens to be so exciting, so abounding with beauty, and so full of hope.
“Spirituality” can refer to the side of human nature that does not exist in service to base material gain. Poetry, art, empathy, and love fall on the spiritual side. This sort of spirituality is perfectly compatible with a naturalistic philosophy.
Naturalism is not devoid of wonder. The opposite is true. It is absolutely swimming in wonder. Naturalists are already in their paradise. They already see, hear, touch, smell, and taste the magic, every single day, all around themselves. The spiritual elements of humanity are not diminished or sullied for being understood physically; in fact they are enhanced. The miraculous event of your life is not your death, it was your birth, when you crossed over from not existing to existing. That you get to be here is an astounding piece of good fortune. Embrace this world as if it were Heaven and you just arrived today.
- The same words in a different order mean entirely different things. A spiritual materialist embraces the reality of the material universe, enjoys art and literature, is fascinated by nature, revels in the beauty of the world, and is compassionate toward other beings. A materialistic spiritualist believes in ghosts and likes to shop.↩