Note: the newsletter is on sabbatical, but your news/articles/other submissions for future editions are most welcome, write here. Go to Naturalism.Org for the latest.

 

Currents in Naturalism

~ Center for Naturalism Newsletter ~

 


Additions to Naturalism.Org


~ Yonatan Fishman reviews The New Atheism by Victor Stenger.

~ Cognitive Shortcomings of Belief in God - from 50 Voices of Disbelief: Why We Are Atheists, Russell Blackford and Udo Schuklenk, editors.

~ Scripting the Future - spacetime and the nature of control.

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Heads Up

~ Alex Rosenberg's The Disenchanted Naturalist's Guide to Reality draws fire at On the Human, including commentary by naturalists Richard Carrier, Luke Meuhlhauser and Tom Clark.

~ Freethought events, courtesy of the Secular Web and Jason Torpy.

~ You are not a self! Bodies, brains and the nature of consciousness - Thomas Metzinger interviewed by Natasha Mitchell at All in the Mind.

God and science don't mix, by Lawrence M. Krauss.

~ Philosopher Russell Blackford interviewed on Point of Inquiry.

~ Thinking Christian and Common Sense Atheist square off at Discussion Grounds.

~ Free will roundup:

~ The incoherence of free will, by Massimo Pigliucci.

~ Taking determinism seriously, by Joel Marks.

~ Addiction, free will and self-control, at All in the Mind.

~ "Freedom from free will" - in Free Inquiry, V 30 #1, December 2009/January 2010.

~ New books of note:

~ A Very Bad Wizard: Morality Behind the Curtain, by philosopher Tamler Sommers, University of Houston.

~ Good Without God: What a Billion Nonreligious People Do Believe - by Harvard Humanist chaplain Greg Epstein.

~ Fifty Voices of Disbelief: Why We Are Atheists - edited by Russell Blackford and Udo Schuklenk; interview here.

~ The New Atheism: Taking a Stand for Science and Reason, by Victor Stenger, reviewed here and here.

~ Religious Naturalism Today: The Rebirth of a Forgotten Alternative, by Jerry Stone.

~ The Future of Naturalism, John Shook & Paul Kurtz, editors.

~ Understanding Naturalism, by Jack Ritchie, a good introduction to modern academic philosophical naturalism, its varieties, concerns and controversies.

 

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Memeing Naturalism

 

Is Naturalism Nihilistic?

 

This is an invited response to Alex Rosenberg’s essay at On the Human, The disenchanted naturalist's guide to reality, in which he suggests that naturalism leads to scientism and thence to nihilism. Nothing remotely like this is true, and seeing why not is a good opportunity to make some observations about naturalism and normativity – about where standards of right and wrong, true and false come from if nature is all there is. I’m happy to report that most of the other commentators declined Rosenberg’s gambit, so they rightly remain enchanted naturalists. The supposed relationship between naturalism and nihilism has been debunked previously at Memeing Naturalism, see here.

Scientism as Rosenberg describes it isn’t equivalent to or implied by naturalism, a worldview that takes science as its guide to reality. He says “Science has to be nihilistic about ethics and morality.” But science alone isn’t in a position to be nihilistic. Science arguably provides the best answers to factual questions about what exists, but doesn’t itself have the resources or competence to answer (in the negative, as Rosenberg would have it) the “persistent questions” of human meaning, purpose and morality. To suppose science alone can answer such questions is indeed to be scientistic in the original and rightly pejorative sense. After all, when considering the big questions, we ordinarily avail ourselves of all the philosophical and practical resources outside science, such as ethical and political theory, religious and secular traditions, maxims, rules of thumb, and other sources of wisdom on how best to live and find meaning...


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Causation and Culpability

 

At Why Evolution is True, Jerry Coyne, stout defender of science against anti-evolutionists and accomodationists, describes attending a conference with psychologist Philip Zimbardo, known for his situational analysis of why good people end up doing bad things. Coyne writes (my italics in the second paragraph):

…Zimbardo said, “There are no bad apples, just bad barrels.” Do have a look at Zimbardo’s Stanford Prison Experiment webpage: that work, done in the ’70s, is still a sine qua non in psychology texts as it raised disturbing questions about how nice people can become evil very quickly.

I was not completely convinced by this extreme environmentalism. For one thing, it’s an easy way to exculpate people who commit antisocial or criminal acts; for another, there do seem to be some people who are of inherently good character and prone to do heroic things in circumstances where others are apathetic. On the other hand, I keep thinking of Daniel Goldhagen’s book, Hitler’s Willing Executioners, which showed how everyday Germans, most of whom we’d consider nice, well-meaning people, became avid supporters of the Holocaust.

I want to nit pick the italicized phrase since it encapsulates what I think is a widespread misunderstanding about causation and culpability. Coyne is of course right that there are dispositional (characterological) as well as environmental (situational) factors that determine behavior, but whatever the balance is between them, a full causal explanation of behavior is not exculpating. To suppose that we can hold people responsible only if they are uncaused in some respect sets an impossible standard for responsibility. After all, there’s no reason to think people are uncaused in some respect or ultimately self-caused, a logical impossibility. And even if Zimbardo were right that people’s dispositions and characters count for very little, we would still have to hold individuals accountable as a means to deter wrongful acts, such as the torture at Abu Ghraib. About this see Zimbardo’s book The Lucifer Effect and his interview with philosopher Tamler Sommers in Sommer’s new book A Very Bad Wizard: Morality Behind the Curtain, highly recommended...

 

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Ongoing Activities

~ Naturalism Meetups - monthly get-togethers for those wanting to explore and meme naturalism.

~ Philosophy Cafe @ Harvard Book Store - monthly philosophical discussions on any number of topics; moderated, with refreshments. No worldview commitment required.

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Resources

 

For those interested in learning more about naturalism, or in participating in outreach, research, and writing in collaboration with the CFN, here are a few resources, online and otherwise.

 

Causality Consulting - practical philosophical consultation that's science-based, short-term, and results-driven.

Encountering Naturalism: A Worldview and Its Uses - "the little orange book of naturalism" is in its second printing, available at Amazon. About the book, see

Naturalism: The Next Step for Humanists? - online video presentation about naturalism for the Freethought Association of Western Michigan; works as a spoken introduction to the philosophy and its implications.

Applied Naturalism Group - a forum to explore the personal and social applications of naturalism; membership by application.

 

Naturalism Philosophy Forum  - to facilitate the investigation of scientific naturalism, its assumptions, structure, and logical implications; open membership.


Naturalism as a World View - Richard Carrier's page devoted to explaining and defending naturalism.

 

Religious Naturalism - an online group explores the spiritual implications of naturalism, see Religious Naturalism and its associated Yahoo group.

 

Psychological Self-Help - an excellent resource, see in particular two chapters on determinism applied to issues of self-acceptance and self-control.  

 

Cause and Effect World - a smart and skeptical take on this crazy thing called life with host Samantha Clemens; her radio shows, including one on naturalism, are linked here.

 

Garden of Forking Paths - a free will/moral agency blog with knowledgeable contributors on the leading edge of current academic debates.

 

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Contents

Additions

Heads Up

Memeing Naturalism

Ongoing Activities

Online Resources

Feedback

Support

Subscribe

News Archives

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Naturalism.Org

 

Center for Naturalism

 

Background on Naturalism

 

Viability of Naturalism

 

Philosophy

 

Applied Naturalism

 

Spirituality Naturalized