Currents in Naturalism
January - February 2009
~ Center for Naturalism Newsletter ~
~ Worldview Elements -
review of Living Without God by Ron Aronson.
~ Real Diseases -
the moral and practical significance of
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~ Center for Inquiry's World Congress on science, public policy, and the planetary community, April 9-12, Bethesda, MD.
~ American Humanist Association conference, June 5-7, Phoenix, AZ.
~ National secular organizations ask Obama to refuse the honorary presidency of the Boy Scouts of America, given its exclusion of non-theists and naturalists.
~ Reasonable Doubts explores the virtues of a thorough-going naturalism that doubts contra-causal free will.
~ Sharon Begley at Newsweek on the normal basis for supernatural beliefs.
~ There are no ghosts in your brain - P. Z. Myers on how neurons do it all.
~ Children and the scientific worldview - Joshua Knobe and Alison Gopnik discuss at Bloggingheads.
~ Books of note:
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The Flame of Divinity
Ben Shapiro, arch conservative author of Porn Generation: How Social Liberalism Is Corrupting Our Future, is up in arms about an ad campaign by the American Humanist Association (AHA) in Washington D.C. Signs on buses say “Why believe in a god? Just be good for goodness sake.” Shapiro thinks that without god we're doomed:
He goes on to draw out the perilous consequences of being without supernatural souls: no freedom, no responsibility, moral and legal chaos, the end of equality and the advent of totalitarianism. Not a pretty picture. To avoid a social meltdown we have to stick with theism:
Many folks, theistic or not, might agree with Shapiro that without a freedom that transcends biology and environment we're sunk. But Shapiro doesn't see (or see fit to mention) that there are viable naturalistic alternatives to supernatural free will which ground responsibility, equality, political and personal freedom and the whole nine yards of Western civilization. Once people understand this, then we needn't propagate the fiction that we are moral levitators to avoid mass demoralization. This is why it would be helpful if the AHA and other naturalist organizations were to address worries about the soul and free will as they do worries about god. We don't need the "flame of divinity" within us to secure any human good, any more than we need divinity itself.
To the Editors:
Thanks to the Globe for pointing
out good reasons to oppose the death penalty (“Cruel
and more unusual,” Editorial, Dec. 28). Left unmentioned, however, was
any argument against a common justification for execution: murderers deserve
to die because they freely choose to kill. Were we to take a fully
scientific, cause and effect view of the genesis of a killer’s character,
motives, state of mind, and situation, we would no longer suppose that he
could have done otherwise given his genetic and environmental history and
his current circumstances, internal and external.
here for some online commentary from readers, which not surprisingly
runs the gamut from ridicule to incredulity, but also includes welcome
minority support from some friendly naturalists.
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The prestige of science is such that everyone wants it on their side. Science is a trusted arbiter of facts for most of us, at least when it comes to empirical questions on which evidence can be brought to bear. So it’s little wonder that even those with patently faith-based convictions about the nature of things should try to conscript it to their advantage. The obvious examples are creationists and advocates of intelligent design who argue that were it properly conducted, science would provide support for their supernatural hypotheses (see here). The argument thus becomes about the nature of science itself: does it have canonical methods and assumptions? What are these, and are certain scientists guilty of letting their worldview warp good scientific practice? If science as it’s commonly conducted doesn’t support your metaphysics, then the temptation might be to claim that mainstream scientists are guilty of malfeasance.
The intelligent design controversy is perhaps the biggest front on the science wars, followed by disputes over the paranormal, but a new front is opening up around the issue of materialism or physicalism. Is science biased in favor of the materialist-physicalist assumption, the idea that nature fundamentally contains only material things? A small but vocal group of self-styled anti-materialist and dualist neuroscientists held a mind-body symposium at the UN last year, arguing that science has indeed been hijacked by dogmatic materialists, who wrongly discount evidence for categorically non-physical phenomena. New Scientist ran a good article about it, quoting some well-respected mainstream scientists and philosophers who, unsurprisingly, see the anti-materialists as the dogmatists, intent on warping science to serve their agenda.
No Problem With Determinism
Psychology Today hosts a wide variety of blogs written by psychologists, therapists, philosophers and other assorted professionals concerned with mind, body and behavior. New on the block is One Among Many by Brown University social psychologist Joachim I. Krueger, who posted recently on "Troubles with determinism." As the title suggests, he worries that a consistently determinist view of ourselves might undercut our sense of agency and self-efficacy. As he puts it,
It's crucial to see that determinism doesn't conflict with genuine human agency, including the power to change ourselves. Human beings, though caused in each and every respect, are just as real as the causes that shaped them, and they still have real causal powers to pursue their goals, including those set by psychotherapy. We can't logically attribute causal power to the factors that create human agents and yet deny it for the agents themselves (see Avoiding demoralization by determinism).
- continued here
~ 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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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.
New: Causality Consulting - practical philosophical consultation that's science-based, short-term, and results-driven.
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.
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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