Here’s a fact: You and I are both humans. And because we’re human, we tell stories. We need to.

Stories aren’t facts exactly, they’re interpretations. And there’s an important difference between facts and interpretations. While facts can either be true or false, interpretations can be neither. An interpretation can be good, or it can be bad, depending on how useful it ends up being to the interpreter. But it can’t be false, really – nor can it be true. Interpretations can be only useful, or useless, and only relative to their would-be user.

There is a story we often tell about the epic ideological clash between science and religion. And this story isn’t true, and it isn’t false. The important question to ask is whether or not it’s useful. Portraying science and religion as opposed ideologies may not help anyone. It may just be a bad story.

What if we could tell a better story?

Religious Naturalism, narrated by Ursula Goodenough, edited by Max Albee

There’s this really great word that Ursula Goodenough likes to use: Religiopoesis. The later part of the word –poesis, comes from a greek root and roughly means “to make.” So Religiopoesis is the act of creating religion.

The established religions often portray their teachings as eternal, but the truth is that every religion is a human creation. And when we recognize that religion is human made, it opens us up to the possibility of remaking these practices, if needed.

Spirituality has always played and in all likelihood will continue to play a critical role in human society – it provides us with interpretations–stories–which allow us to make our way through a chaotic world. Sometimes these interpretations become outdated, and need to be updated, because they are adapted to a different time.

But it would be a mistake to dismiss those outdated interpretations as simply false. Interpretations can’t be false, because they’re not facts, they’re stories. They are a way of experiencing reality.

Religious naturalism is a way of thinking which seeks to give religious interpretations to the facts produced by modern science. Religious naturalists understand that science and religion aren’t opposed ideologies, rather, both are valuable ways of thinking that allow us to navigate an immeasurably complicated world.

Want to learn more about religious naturalism? You can check out the fantastic lecture Ursula Goodenough gave at the EvoS Seminar Series below.

The EvoS Seminar Series is an online class which seeks to provide the public with many links on the chain which connects science to story. If you want to learn even more about religious naturalism, here are links to a couple of papers Dr. Goodenough has written on religiopoesis and metaphor.

All the videos in this article were made by EvoS Seminar Series students, lecturers, and instructors. Check out our youtube channel for even more links to the Science to Narrative chain.


Image 1:; Image 2: Amitayus Mandala/Wikipedia; Image 3: Screenshot from BBC life story, Season 1, ep. 5 (timestamp 12:24)

Maximus Thaler

Maximus Thaler

Maximus is a PhD candidate at Binghamton University studying cultural evolution (Wilson Lab). His work focuses on the organismality of intentional communities, in collaboration with the Federation of Egalitarian Communities. Maximus is an activist – founder of The Gleaners’ Kitchen and the Genome Collective. He’s written a cookbook and runs the EvoS Seminar Series Youtube channel.

One Comment

  • Tony Y says:

    This is a load of crap! Religions differ across the world and within countries. Forcing YOUR interpretation onto others itself is morally wrong. Policy should be decided ONLY by fact based research with statistical backing for the effects of intended change and then voted on democratically. Each person can interpret the presented facts based on their own personal morality but to subject such interpretation to publication and media proliferation is exactly the problem in global politics!

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