The new Center for Naturalism website is now at www.centerfornaturalism.org.
Center for Naturalism
The Center for Naturalism (CFN) is a 501(c)3 non-profit educational organization devoted to increasing public awareness of naturalism and its implications for social and personal well-being. By means of local activities, publications, research, conferences, educational programs, and policy development, the CFN seeks to foster the understanding that human beings and their behavior are fully caused, entirely natural phenomena, and that human flourishing is best achieved in the light of such understanding.
Based on knowledge derived from the physical and social sciences, the world view that is naturalism holds that human beings are fully included in nature. Science tells us that we are connected and united, in each and every aspect of our being, to the natural world. There is, under naturalism, nothing supernatural about us which places us above or beyond nature, but this is something to be celebrated, not feared. Practically speaking, naturalism holds that an individual’s development and behavior are entirely the result of prior and surrounding conditions, both genetic and environmental. Naturalism, therefore, denies that persons have contra-causal free will - that something within them is capable of acting as a first cause. But this isn't a problem, it's just how things are. See A Guide to Naturalism, Tenets of Naturalism, Consequences of Naturalism, and Resources.
Naturalism as a guiding philosophy can help create a better world by illuminating more precisely the conditions under which individuals and societies flourish, and by providing a tangible, real basis for connection and community. It holds that doctrines and policies which assume the existence of a contra-causally free agent, and which therefore ignore the actual causes of behavior, are unfounded and counter-productive. To the extent to which we suppose persons act out of their uncaused free will, to that extent will we be blind to those factors which produce criminality and other social pathologies, or, on the positive side, the factors which make for well-adjusted, productive individuals and societies. See Philosophy and Free Will.
By holding that human behavior arises entirely within a causal context, naturalism also affects fundamental attitudes about ourselves and others. Naturalism undercuts retributive, punitive, and fawning attitudes based on the belief that human agents are first causes, as well other responses amplified by the supposition of free will, such as excessive pride, shame, and guilt. Since individuals are not, on a naturalistic understanding, the ultimate originators of their faults and virtues, they are not deserving, in the traditional metaphysical sense, of praise and blame. Although we will continue to feel gratitude and regret for the good and bad consequences of actions, understanding the full causal picture behind behavior shifts the focus of our emotional, reactive responses from the individual to the wider context. This change in attitudes lends support for social policies based on a fully causal view of human behavior. See Applied Naturalism.
Naturalism also has deep implications for how we conceive of our place in the world, since it replaces the dualism and human exceptionalism of free will with the unity of full causal connection to nature. The psychological and spiritual consequences of naturalism are far-reaching and positive, giving us a sure sense of being at home in a vast, awe-inspiring universe as we create meaning in our lives. The importance we attach to the self and its agenda may lessen when we understand that we aren’t self-made or permanent, but temporary manifestations of individuality created by the unfolding natural order. See Naturalistic Spirituality.
Increase awareness of naturalism. The Center for Naturalism seeks to increase public awareness of naturalism as a means toward personal and social well-being. Understanding that human beings - their traits, attitudes, and behavior - are fully included in natural causality can lead to more productive social policies and more fulfilling personal relationships to the world and others. Although it challenges supernaturalistic views of the self and morality, naturalism does not threaten or undermine basic human values, but rather puts them on a more realistic footing.
Policy development – The CFN seeks to apply the insights of naturalism to social and economic issues in order to increase human flourishing and reduce unnecessary suffering. By taking a fully causal view of human nature, naturalism can inform the design of social policies which reflect the full range of factors that influence human development and behavior. Such a view can also influence policy objectives by changing fundamental attitudes about credit and blame based in supernaturalistic views of the self.
Serve as resource for personal growth – Naturalism has significant implications for our self-concept and how we understand our place in the world. Seeing our deep connection to nature in every respect can supply the basis for a mature, fulfilling, and cognitively consistent quest for personal growth and meaning. Properly presented, the challenge to conventional wisdom about the self can be a powerful means to increase life satisfaction and deepen interpersonal relationships.
Create a sustainable community for naturalists – Because naturalism is a relatively new and unexplored world view, philosophical naturalists need a community of like-minded individuals who can offer guidance and encouragement. The CFN seeks to develop a broad-based community, on-line and in cities and states world-wide, within which naturalists can meet to develop strategies, local agendas, and opportunities for creative expression, and to simply enjoy each other’s company.
Public education and outreach on naturalism – To help raise awareness of naturalism and its personal and social benefits, the CFN publishes newsletters, articles, and op-eds (see also Naturalism.Org). The CFN develops curricula on naturalistic philosophy and its applications, and offers courses and workshops. We conduct presentations on naturalism across the country, and host speakers in collaboration with other groups oriented toward naturalism.
Advocate for policies consistent with naturalism – The CFN seeks to translate the implications of naturalism into social policy, in domains such as criminal justice, economic and social equality, addiction, and environmental sustainability. By helping to illuminate the causal factors underlying both human flourishing and dysfunction, the CFN contributes to personal and social well-being. See Policy and Initiatives.
Research on naturalism – To better understand the basis and implications of naturalism, the CFN promotes research on attitudes and beliefs about free will, causality, and the self as they relate to each other and to attitudes on social issues. See Research.
Local and online communities – The CFN supports efforts by individuals and groups to promote awareness of naturalism in their communities, for instance by forming affinity groups; sponsoring events for cultural enrichment such as philosophy cafes, and organizing online forums.
Because it replaces traditional free will with a causal understanding of human development and behavior, naturalism has significant implications for social policy. For an overview, see the Policy page. The CFN’s policy areas include, but are not limited to:
Criminal justice – A naturalistic understanding of the causes of criminality helps undercut retributive attitudes favoring the death penalty and punitive prison conditions, while building support for alternative sentencing and policies that address the conditions which generate crime and recidivism. Realizing that but for the luck of circumstances, any of us could standing in the criminal’s shoes, generates compassion for offenders as well as for victims. See the Criminal Justice page and the Council on Crime and Causality initiative.
Social and economic inequality – Since on a naturalistic understanding, persons are not self-made, but owe their successes and failures to the conditions into which they were born and developed, major social and economic inequalities cannot be justified on the basis that individuals strongly deserve their status. CFN supports policies that will increase the material and psychological well-being of those who are unlucky in life, and that reduce the extreme disparities in income and opportunity so characteristic of our society. See for instance the papers at the Politics page.
Behavioral health and psychotherapy - Because mental illness, addiction, obesity, and other behavioral disorders are too often misunderstood as failures of will, the CFN advocates the recognition that dysfunctional behavior is fully caused by the interaction of genetic and environmental factors. This will help reduce the stigma associated with behavioral disorders, while pointing the way toward effective treatment. The CFN also supports the development of psychotherapeutic and self-change techniques that apply naturalism to enhance psychological well-being. See the Addictions page.
Science advocacy and critical thinking – Naturalism as a philosophy is based on a scientific, evidence-based understanding of the world and our place in it. Since science as a method of knowing inevitably leads to a unified view of what exists, it tends to reinforce a non-dualistic view of ourselves as fully included in a single, undivided, natural realm. The CFN seeks to promote science and empiricism in public education as the non-ideological basis for naturalism. See the Science page.
Environmental sustainability – Because naturalism shows our deep connection to the world, lessening ego-driven acquisitiveness and self-preoccupation, it prompts concern for others and for those who will succeed us on the planet. And because it discounts the existence of the soul and survival after death, naturalism increases the value we place on this, our only life, and the world we inhabit now. Such values support an environmental ethic of wise use, sustainability, and population control that will keep the earth habitable for future generations of all creatures. See the Environment page.
Through its courses, seminars, workshops, and other activities, CFN will support the development of naturalism as the basis for a shared philosophical and social community, and as a path toward individual psychological well-being. Although naturalism understands persons as fully embedded in the causal unfolding of existence, the individual quest for growth, purpose, meaning, and fulfillment in life does not lose significance. Nor do naturalists have any less need for affiliation and community than those attracted to more traditional world-views. But naturalism does challenge traditional approaches to ultimate concerns by denying easy, supernatural answers to questions of meaning and purpose. It also rejects the typical supernaturalistic assumptions that form the core of most religious and spiritual communities. Nevertheless, a naturalistic appreciation of our complete inclusion in nature can generate feelings of connection and meaning that rival those offered by traditional religions. Seeing how experience, the sense of self, and our motives and desires arise from our physical embodiment as natural creatures, not from a disembodied soul, gives us a deep appreciation for the marvels of material existence. We need not seek fulfillment in a hoped-for life to come, but in the present, physical world as it unfolds from moment to moment. Using the insight of natural connection, the CFN supports the development of practices for both individuals and groups which encourage a sense of authentic community, psychological well-being, and a compassionate heart. See the Community and Spirituality pages.
The Center for Naturalism, Inc. is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization incorporated in the state of Massachusetts. Donations in any amount (payable to: Center for Naturalism, P.O. Box 441705, Somerville, MA 02144) to support its work are gratefully accepted and are tax deductible. Why back the CFN? See here.
If you agree the CFN merits your support, you can donate electronically and nearly painlessly by credit card by going here. A contribution of $100 or more will confirm your membership in the Allies of Naturalism.
If you want to donate via PayPal, click the button below, although remember that 3% of your donation goes to PayPal, not the CFN, so credit card contributions are best from our point of view.
CFN branded clothing and gifts are available at our online store. Your purchases will help support the advocacy of naturalism as a positive alternative to faith-based religions and new age philosophies.
Help Wanted - The CFN wants your expertise, enthusiasm and input. We
seek dedicated, like-minded naturalists to help analyze current events from a
naturalistic perspective, write policy papers and proposals, seek funding
support, and conduct courses and research related to philosophical and applied
Interested? For examples of such work
see pages at Naturalism.Org, e.g., Currents, and
Policy Papers and Proposals.
Online Resources. Associated with the CFN are the Applied Naturalism Group, the CFN Fellowship Group, and the CFN Therapy group. These serve as online communities and a communications medium for those interested in applying naturalism to personal lives and society. Also see Les Garwood's Determinism group, for discussions on determinism/naturalism with an emphasis on social change.
Center for Naturalism
P.O. Box 441705
Somerville, MA 02144 USA