Currents in Naturalism

 November - December 2008

~ Center for Naturalism Newsletter ~


Additions to Naturalism.Org

~ Reality and Its Rivals: Putting Epistemology First - being epistemically responsible pushes us toward science and increases the plausibility of naturalism.

~ Exchange on Naturalism, continued:

The Rational Basis for Naturalism

Objective vs. Subjective, Science vs. Christianity

~ The Personal Benefits of Free Will Skepticism - Tamler Sommers on why doubting libertarian free will and ultimate moral responsibility is good for us.

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Heads Up

~ Ron Aronson speaks on his book Living Without God in Cambridge, MA, 2 pm Sunday, November 16, details here.

~ Freethought events, courtesy of the Secular Web.

~ Steven Novella on misguided anti-materialism in neuroscience.

~  Reasonable Doubt's podcast on Alvin Plantinga’s evolutionary argument against naturalism (EAAN), starting at 28:00.

~ Paul Bloom on belief in the soul and the naturalistic alternatives.

~ Owen Flanagan at Beyond Belief 3 on neuro-existentialism and human flourishing; neuro-existentialist anxiety on display here.

~ Flanagan interviewed on finding meaning in a material world, starts at 39:00 (play button at bottom of page).

~ Memeing naturalism in India at Nirmukta.

~ Overcoming Bias on excluding the supernatural.

~ Austin Cline at on why atheists might consider expanding their horizons to include naturalism and science.

~ Keith Augustine on why Internet Infidels is defined in terms of naturalism.

~ Philosopher Barbara Forrest on justifying philosophical naturalism.

~ Embodied consciousness: Harold Fromm reviews Ted Slingerland's What Science Offers the Humanities: Integrating Body and Culture.

~ Cartoonist Scott Adams, free will skeptic, has at least 3 relevant strips on the web - see here, here and most recently here (thanks to the gang at the Garden of Forking Paths).

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Memeing Naturalism


Worldview Naturalism in a Nutshell


If you don’t believe in anything supernatural – gods, ghosts, immaterial souls and spirits – then you subscribe to naturalism, the idea that nature is all there is. The reason you’re a naturalist is likely that, wanting not to be deceived, you put stock in empirical, evidence-based ways of justifying beliefs about what’s real, as for instance exemplified by science. You probably (and rightly) hold that such beliefs are usually more reliable and objective than those based in uncorroborated intuition, revelation, religious authority or sacred texts. Kept honest by philosophy and critical thinking, science reveals a single manifold of existence, what we call nature, containing an untold myriad of interconnected phenomena, from quarks to quasars. Nature is simply what we have good reason to believe exists.


We can see, therefore, that naturalism as a metaphysical thesis is driven by the desire for a clear, reliable account of reality and how it works, a desire that generates a cognitive commitment to objectivity and explanatory transparency. Supernaturalism, on the other hand, thrives on non-scientific, non-empirical justifications for beliefs that allow us to project our hopes and fears onto the world, the opposite of objectivity. As naturalists, we might not always like what science reveals about ourselves or our situation, but that’s the psychological price of being what we might call cognitively responsible, of assuming our maturity as a species capable of representing reality...

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After Free Will


Paul Davies (not the astrophysicist but the philosopher at William and Mary) gets interviewed here on the possibility that we might have to give up on free will and what that might mean for us (there’s an audio clip here too). By free will he has in mind some sort of capacity to transcend the neural instantiation of personhood, and he rightly suggests that a science-based, naturalistic understanding of ourselves calls such a capacity into question.
Of course compatibilists (those who say free will is compatible with determinism) will argue that Davies is mistaken about what free will is, and that it has nothing to fear from science. But they will likely agree that what he means by free will might not survive a naturalistic understanding of ourselves. The obvious point being that we can avoid confusion on the free will issue by stating up front what capacity or characteristic of an agent we refer to when we say "X has free will." Or better yet, simply talk about the capacities and characteristics themselves, whether or not there’s reason to believe they exist, and what their existence or non-existence implies for how we think about ourselves and, for instance, our responsibility practices. Talk about free will, absent clear definitions, is simply a recipe for miscommunication.
Davies himself speculates that even as strictly material creatures, we have robust, neurally based capacities for extracting and creating meaning that will likely see us through the death of free will as he defines it (the death of the contra-causal soul, more or less).

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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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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.

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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Center for Naturalism


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