Currents in Naturalism

 September-October 2008

~ Center for Naturalism Newsletter ~


Additions to Naturalism.Org

~ Living in Light of Naturalism - personal accounts of discovering yourself a completely natural creature.

Motivating Naturalism - wanting objectivity and explanatory transparency motivates naturalism, militates against supernaturalism.

~ Misrepresenting Naturalism - naturalists aren't bent on subverting moral responsibility, only naturalizing it.

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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.

~ Free Will vs. The Programmed Brain, by philosopher Shaun Nichols at Scientific American, related commentary here.

~ William R. Murry speaks for the Washington Ethical Society on A Humanistic Religion for Todayís World (mp3), related review here.

~ Experimental philosopher Joshua Knobe discusses free will and the metaphysics of the hangman with Will Wilkinson at Bloggingheads.

~ Michael Martin, noted atheism scholar, joins Allies of Naturalism.

~ Naturalist credo: this video by Unassimilated pretty much nails it.

~ Paul Breer, sociologist, author of The Spontaneous Self: Viable Alternatives to Free Will and a man of many parts, is now on the Web.

~ Physicist Sean Carroll and philosopher David Albert discuss the strange implications of quantum mechanics at Bloggingheads.

~ The Situationist thoughtfully explores crime and blame.

~ WBAI, New York presents Equal Time for Freethought.

~ Susan Blackmore takes the naturalistic side of a debate on free will, scroll down to the August 4 program.

~ Automated hilarity: angling for clicks, web bots re-write an article about a new chair at Harvard Divinity School.

~ Now we're really in trouble: Chuck Norris, Mike Huckabee's campaign sidekick, inveighs against naturalism in a piece purporting to show that our nation's founders were creationists.

~ Books of note: 

Living Without God: New Directions for Atheists, Agnostics, Secularists, and the Undecided, by Ronald Aronson, related lecture.

Beyond Revenge: The Evolution of the Forgiveness Instinct, by Michael McCullough.

When God Is Gone, Everything Is Holy, by Chet Raymo

Desert and Disease: Responsibility and Social Control, in progress by UPenn law scholar and determinist Stephen Morse.

~ Short take: Pierre de Fermat, step aside. In lyrical prose that could almost fit within the margin of a page, Steve Converse takes dead aim at the ultimate questions and humbly proposes one surprisingly simple answer, though he suspects there will always remain some who either thoughtfully reject his conclusion or, more likely, never even bother to consider it.

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Memeing Naturalism


Open Letter: Can Ray Tallis Be Reined In?


Dear Ray,

I hope this finds you well. I wrote in Playing Catch With Dr. Tallis last March that 

It isnít clear that Ray Tallis believes that persons have something supernatural or contra-causal at their core, since after all heís a medical doctor and therefore most likely a physicalist. But his desire to wiggle free of determinism in defending free will necessarily introduces an obscurity into his account of human action. This is too bad, since otherwise his is a first class intelligence, one that naturalists would love to have on their team.

I see from your April Voltaire lecture for the British Humanist Association, "Is Human Freedom Possible?," that you do in fact think thereís something contra-causal about us. Iíve appended below some comments on your talk, the thrust of which is that we donít evade determinism (put otherwise, we donít have libertarian, contra-causal free will) and donít need to in order to secure any human good. You will of course disagree, but at least my critique might stand as an example of a humanistic, progressive naturalism thatís perfectly at peace with the absence of libertarian freedom. We don't need to resort to what I see as your metaphysical extravagances and obscurities to defend Enlightenment values. Btw, I should say that I like many of your points about the complexity of the self and its actions and our embeddedness in the social context. I just donít think that this makes us first causes...

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Not to Panic, Everything's Under Control


In a Scientific American article on free will, philosopher Shaun Nichols defines free will as being incompatible with determinism: 

Many scientists and philosophers are convinced that free will doesnít exist at all. According to these skeptics, everything that happens is determined by what happened beforeóour actions are inevitable consequences of the events leading up to the actionóand this fact makes it impossible for anyone to do anything that is truly free.

He goes on to worry that ďIf people come to believe that they donít have free will, what will the consequences be for moral responsibility?Ē


He then discusses a study by two psychologists, Kathleen Vohs and Jonathan Schooler, that bears on this question. Their study purports to show that if people cease believing they are exceptions to determinism, then they're more likely to act immorally, in this case, cheat. (See here for a detailed discussion and links.) Vohs and Schooler suggest that to maintain moral responsibility, it might be necessary to promulgate the belief that that we have a kind of ultimate control over ourselves that transcends cause and effect: a contra-causal free will. But this would require a systematic campaign of mass deception since thereís no good scientific evidence that we have such free will. Maintaining the fiction of ultimate control and contra-causal freedom would be a grand exercise in anti-science brainwashing, not exactly the hallmark of an open society. Of course the Bush administration tried something similar in its fight to discount the reality of global warming (see Chris Mooneyís book, The Republican War on Science), so thereís precedent for a deliberate disinformation campaign that would pit moral responsibility against determinism.

- continued here

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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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Heads Up

Memeing Naturalism

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Center for Naturalism


Background on Naturalism


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