Michael Dowd is one of the few people with the title of “Reverend” whose views on reality I find interesting. His motto is, “reality is my God, evidence is my scripture.”
The other day, I did a post asking what religion is, and wondering whether science wasn’t itself a religion. It’s hard to listen to Dowd and not conclude that science is in fact his religion. He doesn’t say it explicitly in this video, but he’s written elsewhere that he regards scientists as modern day prophets, seeing the warnings of climatologists about global warming as essentially the same as the warnings from Old Testament prophets that disaster loomed if people didn’t clean up their act.
His views remind me, to some extent, of the views of early scientists during the scientific revolution in the 16th and 17th centuries, who viewed the Bible as the Book of Scripture, and the external world as the Book of Nature. For these early scientists, scientific investigation was essentially working to read the Book of Nature. Dowd’s religious view seems to be to regard the two books as one and the same, looking upon the books we have historically regarded as scripture to be simply older understandings of the Book of Nature.
I do think Dowd is right about how belief in God, gods, and spirits developed, but I’m not convinced that his personification understanding is the one ancient believers had by the time the religious stories and narratives we have today developed. The actions of the gods in most of those stories are far too anthropomorphic to be only personifications of nature, even if that was how they started.
Still, while I don’t personally find the language that compelling, this is a version of religious belief whose view of reality I can say that I agree with. If someone wants to refer to that reality as God, and evidence as their scripture, the only real drawback I can see is confusion with the more traditional meanings of those words. However, there are many conceptions of “God” out there, and Dowd’s version has been around, more or less, since at least the time of Spinoza, so it’s hard to call it invalid.
The real question for me is whether religious people find this view compelling. Dowd doesn’t talk about an afterlife or providence. This makes his descriptive view of reality similar to, if not identical with, that of humanists, atheists, and agnostics. Once someone gives up on concepts like heaven and prayer, I wonder how much emotional appeal remains for using religious language to refer to natural concepts.