Do We Really Need Another "Ism"?
Fair enough. The skeptical, independent habit of mind underlying this refusal is exactly the cognitive virtue naturalism encourages. And indeed, those suspicious of naturalism as an ism – a potentially restrictive ideology – are welcome to expose it as such. If naturalism can be shown defective, for instance because it imposes cognitive blinders, limits the range of human experience, or blunts our engagement with the world and each other, then it must yield to whatever worldview does better in these respects. (How’s that for being non-defensive?)
Absent this critique, however, those who are naturalists in all but name might consider coming out as such (although the countersuggestible among them likely won’t). Atheists, secular humanists, skeptics and freethinkers are basically naturalistic in their worldview; a science-based, rational, empirical naturalism is their philosophical lodestone, even if it isn’t always explicit. Naturalism simply names the worldview that holds the world is of a piece, not divided into the natural vs. the supernatural, and naturalists are simply those that subscribe to naturalism.
To count yourself a thorough-going naturalist is, however, to go beyond what many atheists, humanists and skeptics currently are willing to accept. Denying god is fine, but denying contra-causal free will? That’s a real problem for many. Nor will the progressive implications of a thorough-going naturalism be particularly palatable to secular conservatives. If they consider themselves true-blue naturalists, they must either formulate a naturalized notion of contra-causal agency (very difficult!), or deny there are progressive, humanistic implications of seeing that we’re fully caused creatures. Such critiques are welcome since naturalism is by definition based on open inquiry.
But again, do we really need another ism, in this case naturalism? Well, if it’s an accurate, convenient label for what you believe on careful consideration to be the case, make use of it. Not to name your worldview, after all, leaves it at a competitive disadvantage in the marketplace of belief, what Susan Blackmore would call the “meme-o-sphere.”