We live in a society that has regarded spirituality as a lifestyle practiced through religious means, where religion is the forefront of spiritual practice.
However, according to Eric Steinhart, a philosophy professor from William Paterson University, there are other alternatives for spiritual practice.
“I’m looking for alternatives to traditional religions, alternatives that are consistent with science and that can be emotionally and personally satisfying,” Steinhart said.
Steinhart said that there is a way for someone to have spirituality about them while maintaining a scientific point of view. This practice is called “Spiritual Naturalism,” which intends to keep spirituality consistent with accepted sciences.
Steinhart gave a lecture featuring the philosophy of Spiritual Naturalism in the Lecture Center on Tuesday, April 5. He said that the core philosophy of spirituality involves participating in spiritual practices that engage people with a natural force.
This natural force stems from the complex biological evolution exhibited from lesser organisms like bacteria to grow into larger organisms such as humans. According to Steinhart, this complexity drives systems to become more complex.
“It pushes them from lower complexities to higher complexities,” Steinhart said. “It increases order and it decreases entropy. And since spirit is often thought of as a life force, it drives this complexity upwards.”
Steinhart said that the organisms that increase their complexity also increase their entropy or disorder. If a system has multiple ways it can evolve, then it will strive toward the path that increases entropy the most rapidly. The way entropy is maximized is by maximizing local order production, which gives rise to the force that is pushed by the entropy production theory that acts everywhere in nature.
“Our universe also started in a low entropy state with atoms and molecules,” Steinhart said. “The processes in our universe maximized entropy to create stars and suns, maximizing self-order production.”
Steinhart referred to the Axiological Argument, which states that everything surpasses itself in some possible way. All systems have the power to self-surpass, and look for values that give them true means of self-surpassing. By this argument, there exists a power of self-surpassing which is common to all things.
This basic power in our universe drives us to become more complex. This force has come to be referred to as spirit. Steinhart said that if spirit is a power that is always trying to increase a system’s complexity, then maybe certain practices that increase someone’s complexity are considered spiritual practices.
This leads into the notion of spiritual practice, which raises the body to more spiritually-valuable states. According to Steinhart, some of these practices include organic, holistic, subtle and ecstatic therapies. Some types of practices include mediation, yoga and dancing.
“The goal of spiritual naturalism is to allow someone to constantly improve themselves to function at optimally high levels on a regular basis,” Steinhart said. “Taking medicine for depression, practicing acupuncture for stress or taking Tylenol for headaches are considered spiritual practices.”
Mark Gorelik, a second-year undeclared student at SUNY New Paltz, posed a question to Steinhart about what implications spiritual naturalism will have on the change in religions in the world. Steinhart said that in a time of 10 – 20 years, he believes Political Christianity will be slowly pushed out of the world and become extinct.
“I’m not a prophet, I don’t know how it will turn out,” Steinhart said. “It will be fascinating though, because more and more people are abandoning religion for other practices.”
People are turning away from religion because there are other forces that can be explained. Spirit, as a logical fundamental power, brings things into the universe naturally and leads us to scientifically study the finds of practices or activities that help us to flourish the most. Constantly improving oneself to live more harmoniously with themselves and the world is what spiritual naturalism is about.