I’ve been reading quite a bit of philosophy of religion (Hicks, Cottingham, Rowe, Craig, & more) as well as some what you might call ‘spiritual literature’ (Alan Watts, Frankl, an interesting new book by Michael Dowd) and I find that such writers are found of the term ‘ultimate reality.’  So I have been wondering what this term means.  I have tried to come up with a few different accounts and list them below:

I.  Ultimate reality as a person

A monotheistic personal God who created and sustains the universe.

II.  Ultimate reality as fundamental physical particles

Reductive materialism

III.  Ultimate reality as the unknowable source of the universe/existence

This seems to be the position that Dowd is articulating in Thank God for Darwin.  I would describe it as materialism plus the claim/observation that the heart of reality is an ultimate mystery (since scientific explanations must ultimately bottom out in some basic irreducible brute fact).

People such as Dowd and Alan Watts, each of whom defends something like position III, seem to want to draw some deep spiritual conclusion from the fundamentally mysterious nature of existence (whereas the version of materialism that they disagree with, supposedly entials that there are no deep spiritual truths; no ultimate meaning or purpose).

I think that Dowd (and Watts before him) offer an intriguiging alternative to the theist/atheist dichotmy that is worth exploring with a bit more philosophical rigor.