Last weekend a group of us went on a two day hike in Suikerbosrand nature reserve. It was really enjoyable: we hiked over 30 kilometres through grassland and forest, and one night we stayed in a rustic cottage, cooking food over a camp fire and enjoying each other's company. We saw plenty of wildlife: herds of Hartebeest, Wildebeest, and Zebra, as well as various interesting insects and birds.
The hike got me thinking about my current views regarding nature. As a budding metaphysical naturalist, I currently hold the view that it is quite likely that the universe is not divided into supernatural and natural parts, but is a wholly natural unit. This means there is no supernatural element in humans that separates us from the rest of nature; we are completely natural beings, without immaterial souls.
While we were hiking, I sometimes took time out to stand in humble quietness, taking in the beautiful surroundings. I gained a renewed respect for nature as I did this, as I suddenly realised that all that I was seeing and experiencing – the cool breeze on my face, the graceful movements of a dancing Widowbird, the beautiful flower growing nearby – was made out of the same quarks, atoms and molecules of which I’m also completely composed. Everything that is me, my body as well as my mind, is constructed from the same natural material that formed the surrounding landscape, as well as the fauna and flora.
At one point an Eland, a large antelope, stood close by our party and simply looked upon us with curiosity as we passed by. I looked at it, and wanted to say: "Hey there, Eland! You and I have an important thing in common: we are made of the same stuff. Both you and I are fully part of this world in which we find ourselves. Because of this, we are kindred."
When I was a Christian, I held the view that humans were somehow set apart from nature because we possess immaterial souls. The natural was always seen as somehow less important than the supernatural. The material was an inconvenient but transitory phase for those who would one day live an eternity in paradise.
But as an atheist, I’ve gained a renewed respect and fascination for the material. Realising that every part of us might be connected to everything else in a natural state of cause and effect, I suddenly realised how important it is for us to preserve and protect the environment. If we are fully part of nature, then we are fully dependent on nature to survive and prosper; if we don’t have immaterial souls, then there is no part of us that is immune from good or bad things that happen to nature. If we harm nature, we will harm ourselves. So in order to prosper, we need to protect and respect the natural.
What are your thoughts?