As a movement, religious naturalism seems cleanly split down the middle, as it contains what one might call "God people" and "non-God people." How did they end up in the same place?
There are two flavors of God people: those whose God is natural and those whose God is supernatural. Certainly there are a lot of people within religious naturalism who have no problem with God language--God as love, God as evolution, God as process. People see God as part of nature and give God-attributes to the part of nature that they find most sacred. I encounter people like that all the time. (Ursula Goodenough)
Do you think world religions can be explained by wanting to know how the world works?
There are two possibilities. A great many people say we have language and imagination to posit creators, interveners, and agencies that we can't actually prove. And yet some people experience God within them--these experiences are not drawn-up hypotheses. It's possible those of us who don't feel God within them have deficient brains that aren't capable of such experiences; or alternatively, the people who experience these things have brains that somehow create them. As near as I can tell, the jury is out on that. I may be a non-theist who doesn't include a god concept in my religious orientation because I have an incompetent brain, or perhaps theists have brains giving them inaccurate information. (Ursula Goodenough)
If you look at the evolutionary ladder, where do you think the sense of meaning begins? Do organisms other than humans have it?
All life has a kind of seamlessness. All creatures have to be aware of their environment, and there has been an evolution of the capacities needed for detecting increasingly complex stimuli. I have no problem calling this "meaning," since all creatures pick out meaningful facets of their environment. For the first creatures, these facets were physical and mediated by receptor proteins. Sperm and eggs find each other by protein shapes; photosynthetic bacteria find light by protein shapes. The impetus to figure out what's going on is still very much programmed into our highly complex brains. (Ursula Goodenough)
How does meaning in humans differ qualitatively from the rest of life on Earth?
My sense is that in developed human minds, the notion of meaning has expanded beyond what's immediately out there. We're constantly trying to figure out what caused something. That's true of all sorts of brain-based organisms, but perhaps the difference in humans is that if we can't see an obvious cause, we postulate....I think this whole need to understand cause expanded early in humans--we see it in cave paintings. If you are spending time with children, you see that they do this quite early: "What made me, Mommy and Daddy?" "What made Mommy and Daddy?". That recursive kind of seeking causal explanations for things is part of us. (Ursula Goodenough)