Maybe There’s a Little Bit of Natural Religion?

  1. The human mind detects patterns in the natural world.
    The human mind is a part of and proceeds from the natural world.
    Therefore, patterns exist in the natural world.

  2. Patterns exist in the natural world.
    The human mind perceives patterns in the natural world.
    The human mind is part of and proceeds from the natural world.
    Therefore, the human mind is the natural world reflecting on its own patterns.

  3. Therefore, anthropomorphism is not a fallacy.

  4. A part is not equal to a whole.
    The whole cannot be reduced to a part.
    Therefore, the relationship between part and whole need not be mutually exhaustive.

Published by James Rovira

Dr. James Rovira is higher education professional with twenty years experience in the field in teaching, administration, and advising roles. He is also an interdisciplinary scholar and writer whose works include fiction, poetry, and scholarship exploring the intersections of literature and philosophy, literature and psychology, literary theory, and music and literature.. His books include Women in Rock, Women in Romanticism (Routledge, 2023); David Bowie and Romanticism (Palgrave Macmillan, 2022); Writing for College and Beyond (a first-year composition textbook (Lulu 2019)); Reading as Democracy in Crisis: Interpretation, Theory, History (Lexington Books 2019); Rock and Romanticism: Blake, Wordsworth, and Rock from Dylan to U2 (Lexington Books, 2018); Rock and Romanticism: Post-Punk, Goth, and Metal as Dark Romanticisms (Palgrave Macmillan, 2018); and Blake and Kierkegaard: Creation and Anxiety (Continuum/Bloomsbury, 2010). See his website at for details.

4 thoughts on “Maybe There’s a Little Bit of Natural Religion?

  1. Good to “hear your voice” again!

    I managed to miss “Philosophy 101” and I am therefore limited in the kinds of formal arguments I can understand, much less make.

    That said, a question re: # 4.

    “A part is not equal to a whole.
    The whole cannot be reduced to a part.
    Therefore, the relationship between part and whole need not be mutually exhaustive.”

    (a) Who has said that “a part IS equal to a whole”? I recall only hearing that a whole is made up of the SUM of its parts.

    (b) Likewise, though a whole may be reducible to the sum of its PARTS, I recall no one saying that it can be reducible to only ONE of its parts.

    (c) I am unsure WHAT a “mutually exhaustive relationship” is … but I am guessing that it’s a relationship that accounts for the whole AND the parts with NO NEED FOR additional entities and explanations. If that’s true, then I do not understand what could be added to “the relationship between parts and wholes” which isn’t SUPERFLUOUS to it. You seem (to me at least) to be saying that there could be something potentially in addition to “the relationship between parts and wholes” that is might be needed in order to tell the WHOLE (so to speak) STORY. What could that be?

    Are you talking about wholes in relation to time? Are you dabbling in dialectics?

    “Inquiring minds” (and mine as well) want to know.


    1. Ha, great to hear from you again Howard.

      Yes, it’s absolutely true that the first two axioms are deliberate repetitions of what everyone already knows, something like the minor premise of a syllogism.

      You absolutely did guess my intent right in “c.”

      The implication is to tie back in the obvious in #4 to what was said above about the mind and nature: if mind is a part and nature is the whole, that is not to say that this part/whole relationship is exhaustive for either party. In other words, I’m not affirming materialism, or denying it either. I’m just looking at the mind/nature relationship itself, not saying everything I possibly could about mind and nature. Mind being part of nature doesn’t mean that mind is limited in its existence to being a part of nature. That’s just a separate question.


      1. You may already fully aware of a fellow named Gregory Bateson (1904-1980). If so, the following is probably superfluous.

        If not, you might enjoy the last book he published before his death. It was called, fortuitously, “Mind and Nature: A Necessary Unity,”

        Gregory was fairly famous in his day and is still revered by a dedicated (or, perhaps, desiccated) number of followers. He was, among other things, the writer of a complicated piece of anthropological fieldwork on the Iatmul people of New Guinea, co-creator of a lengthy photographic essay on “Balinese Character,” an OSS agent in WWII, on hand at the creation of “cybernetics” in the late-1940s, the imaginer of the now largely discredited “double-bind theory of schizophrenia,” and a man sympathetic to Taoism. His death at the San Francisco Zen Center … on the 4th of July.

        You can read it here:

        He died in what seems to have been a state of delerium

        We didn’t necessarily agree on much – but he haunts me still.

        He came to broad public attention with “Steps to an Ecology of Mind” (NY: Ballantine, 1972). “Mind and Nature” (NY: Dutton), was followed by posthumous volumes, “A Sacred Unity: Further Steps to an Ecology of Mind” (NY: Harper Colling, 1991) and “Where Angels Fear: Towards an Epistemology of the Sacred,” (NY: Macmillan, (2004). He has been the subject of such biographies as “Gregory Bateson: The Legacy of a Scientist” by David Lipset (Boston: Beacon, 1980) and “Understanding Gregory Bateson: Mind, Beauty, and the Sacred Earth,” by Noel G. Charlton (Albany: SUNY, 2008), as well as a collection of essays edited by his daughter (with Mead), Mary Catharine Bateson simply titled “About Bateson” (London: Wildwood House, 1977).

        Here’s my short note/tribute about/to him … (also at ).

        The College Quarterly
        Fall 1993 – Volume 1 Number 1
        A Sacred Unity: Further Steps to an Ecology of Mind
        Gregory Bateson
        Toronto: Harper Collins, 1991

        Reviewed by Howard A. Doughty

        “There’s a story which I have used before… A man wanted to know about mind, not in nature, but in his computer. He asked: ‘Will you ever think like a human being?’ The machine then analyzed its own computational habits. Finally, it printed its answer on a piece of paper, as such machines do. The man ran to get the answer and found, neatly typed, the words: That Reminds me of a Story.” – Gregory Bateson, 1979

        All who knew him have anecdotes. One of mine relates to a workshop paper I was presenting to a conference on economic development in Asia and the Pacific in the summer of 1970. Bateson had asked a question about the relationship between ideology and material abundance. Painfully trying to work out an answer — all the while responding with words to his alternating nods and frowns — I said something to the effect that there were many ecologies, including the biological, material and ideological, and that we must develop an approach to the ecology of ideas that comprehends them all. Two years later, Gregory published “Steps to an Ecology of Mind.” I wasted no thought on the idea I’d given him the title. It was clear that he had led my talk along lines already familiar to him. As a consummate teacher, he had patiently refrained from saying aloud what I had so struggled to articulate.

        Stewart Brand said: “Six-foot five, dishevelled, Bateson’s presence is like Rodin’s sculpture of Balzac, but instead of fierce, completely benign. He looks at you critically, optimistically, as if you’re going to say something good … any minute now.”

        Bateson said and wrote much that was very good. Zoologist and anthropologist by degrees, he was one of our century’s most prolific thinkers in areas as diverse as aesthetics, biology, cybernetics, linguistics, and psychology. His interests included porpoises, New Guinea natives, schizophrenics, beetles, religion. His father was a pioneering geneticist. One of his wives was Margaret Mead. His “disciples” are many. Reading this last of his books is not for the faint of heart or mind. “A Sacred Unity” is a posthumous collection of work published between 1944 and 1980. It is especially unamenable to those who might see in Bateson a fashionable new guru. The nineteenth printing of “Steps” was promoted by Ballantine in 1990 as “a valuable document of inner space,” at which Gregory would have chortled.

        Bateson was, after all, a scientist. His writings demand close attention, the acquisition of an occasionally technical vocabulary, and an unremitting respect for formal logic. That said, his range was vast. One reporter said that “his discourse is the opposite of a tidy, closed system and persistently veers down primrose paths, off into galaxies of human ignorance, returning to mirror itself, and out of the reach of language. Provocative, demanding, useful as hell, and about as convenient.”

        Teachers of all subjects could profit from him. His private collection of William Blake’s engravings introduced an aspirant empiricist (me) to Blake’s aesthetics. He introduced art students to biology, medical students to the concept of sacrament, and all to the key question of scientific and aesthetic epistemology: what is the connective pattern? As he put it in “Mind and Nature”: “What pattern connects the crab to the lobster and the orchid to the primrose and all four of them to me and me to you? And all the six of us to the amoeba in one direction, and the backward schizophrenic in another?”

        If the question interests you, Bateson’s work will surely help you to sort out an answer. You may even think (and this will be Bateson’s greatest triumph) that you thought it up all by yourself.


        A better view can be seen from David Miller’s perspective:

        I Don’t Believe in Ghosts
        By David L. Miller
        New York Times
        Nov. 15, 1987

        ANGELS FEAR Towards an Epistemology of the Sacred. By Gregory Bateson and Mary Catherine Bateson. 224 pp. New York: Macmillan Publishing Company. $18.95.

        KENNETH BURKE once said, ”A person has the right to worship God according to his or her own metaphor.” Gregory Bateson’s metaphor came to be ”metaphor” itself, as his anthropology crept, like Yeats’s rough beast, toward a new vision of religion. This is made interestingly plain by Mary Catherine Bateson’s intelligent and loving editing of her famous father’s last manuscript (he died in 1980), ”Angels Fear.”

        At the end of his life, Bateson believed that ”we are not going to get far unless we acknowledge that the whole of science and technology . . . springs out of and impinges on religion.” The way was prepared for this view in ”Mind and Nature,” in which Bateson affirmed a holistic unity among human mental processes and culture and biology. He described there how this connection is only comprehensible metaphorically, particularly in metaphors which are familiar from religion.

        For Bateson, ”it becomes evident that metaphor is not just pretty poetry, it is not either good or bad logic, but is in fact the logic upon which the biological world has been built, the main characteristic and organizing glue of this world of mental process.” Indeed, metaphor is the clue, the link to what others may find diverse and oppositional. ”Metaphor” itself is thereby the metaphorical connection between science, cybernetics and epistemology, on the one hand (”this book is not much concerned with truths about things – only with truths about truths”), and, on the other hand, poetry, parable, anecdote, humor, play and myth (”it is time to reverse the trend which since Copernicus has been in the direction of debunking mythology”). As Mary Catherine Bateson properly remarks, her father’s method is ”insight through analogy.” ”Angels Fear” is an essay in discovery, an uncovering of ”the natural history of the relations between ideas.”

        This is all bound to bother those who feel that the work attempts to reinvent the wheel of being, that it is one more instance of science coming late to what philosophers and theologians have known all along. It is also bound to irritate those who deem amateur philosophizing and theologizing hopelessly unsophisticated. Such readers will think that the ideas of Wittgenstein, W. V. O. Quine and John Searle render this book epistemologically beside the point, that Nietzsche, Heidegger and Derrida make it look naive in literary terms and that it is theologically simplistic in the face of the work of Mircea Eliade, Paul Tillich and Bernard Lonergan.

        Bateson anticipated those objections: ”The logic boys say they have new and better models.” But the fact is that, by reading this work of the Batesons through such prisms as are provided by conventional academic wisdom, a reader may rush foolishly to conclusions that even angels would fear. For in fact, ”Angels Fear” is not one more instance of the cultured despisers of religion experiencing evangelical rebirth.

        Bateson is holistic, to be sure, but he is not literal about that; ”uniformity is surely one of those things that becomes toxic beyond a certain level,” he says. He is against dualisms, but he is not using religion to fill the gap between mind and body, ideology and politics, subject and object, thinking and feeling. Rather, he names the connection between these opposites with a paradoxical image borrowed from C. G. Jung, who in turn took it from ancient Gnosticism – ”pleroma/creatura.” Implied in this image is the idea that the fundamental connection is not between two substances, mind and matter. Rather, mind (or Bateson’s ”god”) is the pattern and fabric, texture and weave (pleroma) in all matter (creatura).

        Unlike the adherent of conventional piety (or conventional scientism, for that matter), Bateson affirms discontinuity and difference as an integral part of order in the world: ”This gap is inevitable and necessary.” ”All knowledge has gaps.” ”Gaps are a characteristic of Creatura.” Bateson knows that his perspective is metaphorical and indirect. He speaks eloquently and compellingly in praise of secrecy and noncommunication, precisely on behalf of the goal of openness and connection, and he gives many examples – from Coleridge, Greek myth and cybernetics – of metaphor in everyday life. For Bateson, the ”angel” (the Greek word originally meant ”messenger”) appears in the gap rather than in the certainty. He detests the literalism of current cultural pieties: ”I do not believe in spirits, gods, devas, fairies, leprechauns, nymphs, wood spirits, ghosts, poltergeists, or Santa Claus. (But to learn that there is no Santa Claus is perhaps the beginning of religion.)” ”When the bagel is eaten, the hole does not remain to be reincarnated in a doughnut.” In Bateson’s religion, ”in the asking of questions, there will be no limit to our hubris; and . . . there shall always be humility in our acceptance of answers. In these two characteristics we shall be in sharp contrast with most of the religions of the world. They show little humility in their espousal of answers but great fear about what questions they will ask.”

        BATESON lived in the gaps, betwixt and between. Not that he, or the book, idealizes the absurd. Mary Catherine Bateson has masterfully pulled together what must have been a hodgepodge of several years of reflections. As a connecting device, she engages her father in dialogue about the book and its ideas. The imaginary conversations are often constructed from notes of real ones, but just as often they are purely fictive. This strategy works. It aids the reader and is appropriate to the content of Bateson’s argument.

        Bateson’s liminal stance is understood best when he speaks about the ”unacceptable solutions” to the mind-body problem represented by supernaturalism and materialism: ”Very simply, let me say that I despise and fear both of these extremes of opinion and that I believe both extremes to be epistemologically naive, epistemologically wrong, and politically dangerous. They are also dangerous to something which we may loosely call mental health.” So he takes as his task ”to explore whether there is a sane and valid place for religion somewhere between these two nightmares of nonsense.” Especially, he hopes that the metaphoric view may provide ”a new and badly needed humility.”

        I believe there is a clue to this humility, and to this book, in the shifting title. Bateson began the writing in 1978. His daughter tells us that it was to be called ”Where Angels Fear to Tread,” but that he often referred to it as ”Angels Fear.” She retained the latter. This title appropriately, if subtly, calls up notions of angelic reticence and humility rather than an image of fools rushing into religion. But there is also a hint of a missing apostrophe in the title, like the one omitted in Joyce’s ”Finnegans Wake.” This opens the possibility that fears may be viewed as angelic. For in profound fears one may discover a response to the question the anthropologist shares with the Sphinx and the Psalmist: ”What is the human?” Deep in such fears are the angels – ”deep unconscious philosophies,” as Bateson calls them. ”The myths in which our lives are embedded . . . are built deeply into character, often below awareness, so that they are essentially religious, matters of faith.” It would seem that Bateson knew both the humor and the truth in some wag’s saying: ”A man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a ‘meta’ for?”


      2. Yes I have indeed heard of Bateson — what a cool response/reply. I haven’t read him widely; just during my sojourns through Blake. Catholicism never bought into mind/body dualism, seeing them as indivisible, btw. That’s a Greek and then Protestant thing. I’m partially addressing how it slips in even with people thinking with the framework of naturalism.


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