The Scientific Pagan

One of the few things I lost when I left the religion of my upbringing was the ability to easily define my beliefs in a simple label. I am no longer “Southern Baptist” and all those two words immediately imply. I don’t in any way consider this a bad thing, but when people ask me what I believe now I don’t want to weigh them down with “I’m a Unitarian Universalist neo-pagan scientific pantheist humanist who practices Buddhist insight meditation (Vipassana),” even though it’s the truth. Sometimes, however, I have the personal need to privately unpack these labels that usually blend seamlessly in my daily life in order to get a better sense of who I am and where I’m going on this spiritual journey.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock
Image courtesy of Shutterstock

My degree is in education with a specialization in life and earth sciences. How does my love of science fit into my spiritual life? While I’ve always been a pagan at heart (but didn’t realize it), I discovered I was a scientific pantheist first. I won’t go into all the details of what scientific pantheists believe (for more information you can go here:, but in short I have a deep reverence for the universe and believe that science can ultimately explain all phenomena within it. Until that happens there are many mysteries I can’t explain, but I don’t believe they are caused by supernatural forces. I believe there are forces and events that are nothing short of miraculous in human terms, but I feel that they are all part of the natural system of our cosmos, that they all obey standard laws of biology and physics, and that we just still have a long way to go in some cases to define these laws. I believe that many of the things we do and do not understand are completely deserving of our awe. Both of the Cosmos television series serve as an excellent documentary of what it is I believe as a scientific pantheist.

But then how can I be a pagan? Don’t all pagans believe in supernatural forces? A brief exploration with Google shows that this isn’t the case. Most probably do, and I have nothing but respect for those who do. As an earth-centered pagan, however, I believe that the universe is worthy in and of itself to be worshiped and honored in my rituals. Science, as the system I trust to explain the universe, is a great tool for shaping and enabling this worship. But it doesn’t fulfill my need to interact with the things I don’t understand and which sometimes bring about deep emotions and moving mental states. Ceremony and ritual help me meet that personal requirement, and I find that pagan rituals do so best of all.

When I first participated with the women’s pagan circle at my UU fellowship, I was somewhat uncomfortable using the words “goddess” and “spirits.” I’ve since come to associate the forces and conditions of the universe that science cannot yet explain with those terms. To me these words are just as good as any others in naming that which cannot (yet) be named. There are also a lot of people who believe that we can be one with, if not the same as, “God” or “Goddess.” My spiritual nature can identify with the creativity, love, and sense of power so often attributed to supernatural beings – not that I consider myself to be above others in any way. So I’ve lost most of the wariness I once had for such terms. I often find myself thinking of science promotor Adam Savage’s words, “I reject your reality and substitute my own.” But this is something all thinking spiritual people do as they evolve.

In the end, I don’t feel any kind of disconnect between my love of science and my love of and reverence for nature. And maybe someday I’ll drop all the labels I’ve given to myself and just consider my spiritual beliefs to be what they are. In the meantime, I find them helpful in mapping out just what it is I do and do not believe, and that’s an excellent way to continue propelling myself down my own path.

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  • We are very much the same, yet very, very different. I am a professional geologist who has done some part-time teaching. I have been a pagan for most of my life, though I didn’t use that word until the past ten years.

    However, unlike you, I don’t believe science can or will ever explain everything. There are some things that lie outside of science; things that science cannot investigate. This is because science is based on observation and repeatable experimentation. There are things in science which all scientists believe but which still are articles of faith. They are articles of faith because some things will never be seen. In string theory, strings are shorter than the Planck length and will forever be unobservable. Brane theory predicts a mulitverse while at the same time predicting that snipets (a form of string that makes up most matter except for gravitons and possibly related particles) cannot travel from one Brane to another – making other Branes, or other Universes unobservable.

    There will always be faith, and both faith and science are important. At least to me.

  • Sage Blackthorn

    This makes me very happy to read, I thought I was the only one who felt this way about the world. 🙂 “There is nothing that’s really paranormal or supernatural, there is only the normal and natural that we don’t understand yet.” I remember reading a long time ago a couple things that have shaped my view of the world to this very day. “The gods don’t write what they write in books penned by the hands of men. The gods write what they write in the world they created, there to be read by all who have eyes to see.” I’ve never seen a conflict between Paganism and Science. In fact I see then as complimentary. Science looks at the world and seeks to understand it by careful observation. Paganism sees the world as sacred and deserving of respect. If the gods of Paganism are manifest in the world, constantly speaking to us and trying to teach us…. then there is probably no better way to listen to them, to “read what they write in the world” than scientific inquiry, by looking at the world and trying to understand it. One would think that for all people who believe their God or gods created the universe, that they would embrace a system that seeks to understand that universe rather than shun it and turn a blind eye to it’s explanations. Science is only questioning the world, seeking to understand its processes and rules. When we understand how things work, I think we can then live our lives more in harmony with our world.

  • Donna

    How do you personally define the word “supernatural”?
    That would, of course, depend on how we define “Nature.”

    If we take Nature as All That Exists, then there is simply no possibility, even conceptually, of anything being beyond Nature or outside of Nature. (Which is what ‘supernatural’ literally means.) That idea of Nature — with a capital “N” — is how I see it. Nature is All That Is. And IT includes Gods and mathematics and the minds of animals such as ourselves. Nothing is outside of Nature, because it is all-inclusive, by definition.

    A more restricted view of Nature is that it includes only physical stuff — matter and energy — and physical processes. That is nature with a small “n” really. And in that view, it’s conceptually possible for things to be “beyond nature.” Indeed, if “nature” includes only the physical aspects of the cosmos, then one might well say that anything that is non-physical — such as our own minds, or the laws of mathematics — are “beyond nature” or “supernatural.”

    In my experience, the Gods are real personal Beings with whom one can have a loving relationship, and They can make their reality known quite clearly and dramatically. But that does not seem “supernatural” to me at all, any more than the reality of my own consciousness does. The Gods are part of Nature, and so am I. The Gods follow the Laws of Nature, and so do I.

    Personally, I also came from a scientific background; and I followed a similar arc in my spiritual journey, up to a point. I left Christianity for atheism when I was young, then found a deep and powerful meditation practice (TM, Transcendental Meditation) that opened me up to the reality of spiritual experience. I was drawn to pantheism and Nature mysticism, and also joined a ‘Scientific Pantheism’ organization. I saw no conflict between spirituality and science at all. Science helps us to discover explanations for How Nature Works, while spirituality helps us to discover our inner connection to Nature — which is what we are, after all.

    When I finally came home to Traditional Wicca — and the Moon Goddess and the Horned God — all the various puzzle pieces and loose ends all fell into place to create one coherent whole, as the religion I have followed for decades now, and in which I find ever-increasing depth and spiritual fulfillment.

    I see no conflict at all between pantheism and polytheism, because the Many True Gods are essentially aspects of Nature — as is everything else that exists. So I found it odd to discover that some sort of Pantheism vs. Polytheism debate has been ignited within some quarters of the pagan movement today.

    When I was an atheist, I bought into a materialist philosophical assumption for what Nature is. (Ontological materialism — or “physicalism” — is only an unproven philosophical assumption. It is neither required for physics to work, nor is it proven by science in any way.) Later, I became aware of the other possible metaphysical alternatives — metaphysical idealism and metaphysical dualism — and the fact that those metaphysical positions are also perfectly compatible with science. (In some ways even more compatible, as noted by some early quantum theorists.)

    So Nature may be a Big Thought instead of a Big Machine (as physicist James Jeans put it), but It is still Nature. And there is plenty of room in Nature for many Gods.

    It can be hard to find room for the Gods in Nature — IF one is a materialist. But for idealists and dualists, it’s really not an issue. I’m inclined to think that at least some of the internal wrestling some pantheist pagans end up doing, regarding the reality of the Gods, has to do with an unexamined presumption that Nature is purely physical; and/or that consciousness derives from physical processes instead of vice-versa. It might be time to reconsider the presumption of materialism, and to give another look at idealism or dualism; in particular the idea of Emanationism — the notion that the physical world is a manifestation of a deeper, subtler, non-physical dimension.

  • Ellis Arseneau
  • Jon Cleland Host

    Have you read about Naturalistic Paganism? It is simply Paganism in the context of a Naturalistic (scientific) worldview. More here (and be sure to check out all the blogs in the lower right corner – I come across more and more of us every day!).

  • As a geologist, I understand fully.

  • Earphones

    Absolutely perfect. And a brief look at the other comments shows many simply don’t ‘get it’.
    With the “But what abouts” and “Have you heard ofs”
    Some folks need to unlearn their bad habits.

  • ezl3

    Yes! I love this article. Thank you!

  • William McNamara

    Yes! I believe that everyone should believe in the laws that govern the universe. Whether or not you take it to the level of some kind of unmoved mover or even a personal deity is up to you, but simply believing in some higher power will make you a happier person. After all, is it not the ultimate goal of the science of Physics to discover these laws? To discover the theory of everything?
    Personally, my favourite kind of science is astronomy, which I have found to be very spiritual. I believe in the big bang theory, evolution, etc. and have found joy in trying to wrap my head around these processes. I find that creation myths, and mythology in general, is ridden with symbolism, and the fault of many people is to take these literally instead of trying to seek out the meanings in the stories and instead believe in scientific theories that there is evidence for. Thank you for this article!