Sunday, November 09, 2008

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 more 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 a desire for a clear, reliable account of reality and how it works, a desire that generates an unflinching 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.

To be a thorough-going naturalist is to accept yourself as an entirely natural phenomenon. Just as science shows no evidence for a supernatural god “up there”, there’s no evidence for an immaterial soul or mental agent “in here”, supervising the body and brain. So naturalism involves a good deal more than atheism or skepticism – it’s the recognition that we are full-fledged participants in the natural order and as such we play by nature’s rules. We aren’t exempt from the various law-like regularities science discovers at the physical, chemical, biological, psychological and behavioral levels. The naturalistic understanding and acceptance of our fully caused, interdependent nature is directly at odds with the widespread belief (even among many freethinkers) that human beings have supernatural, contra-causal free will, and so are in but not fully of this world.

The naturalist understands not only that we are not exceptions to natural laws, but that we don’t need to be in order to secure any central value (freedom, human rights, morality, moral responsibility) or capacity (reason, empathy, ingenuity, originality). We can positively affirm and celebrate the fact that nature is enough. Indeed, the realization that we are fully natural creatures has profoundly positive effects, increasing our sense of connection to the world and others, fostering tolerance, compassion and humility, and giving us greater control over our circumstances. This realization supports a progressive and effective engagement with the human condition in all its dimensions. So we can justly call it worldview naturalism: an overarching cognitive, ethical and existential framework that serves the same function as supernatural worldviews, but without trafficking in illusions. By staying true to science, our most reliable means of representing reality, naturalists find themselves at home in the cosmos, astonished at the sheer scope and complexity of the natural world, and grateful for the chance to participate in the grand project of nature coming to know herself.

Originally written for and posted at Nirmukta - thanks to Ajita Kamal.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Tom,

I just came across your blog (from a link at and it has my interest. I hope you will not mind some constructive criticism :)

[quote]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.[/quote]

I cannot decide whether you made a mistake in the way you expressed this argument or whether the thinking behind it uses a false dilemma fallacy. Disbelief does not necessarily entail a belief to the contrary. I suspend judgment on the metaphysical matter you present, meaning that I do not believe that gods, ghosts, souls, or spirits exist and I also do not believe that they do not exist.

(I do not subscribe to metaphysical naturalism but I, an agnostic atheist, do slightly lean toward that conclusion.)

Also, I think you would express yourself more clearly if you said "metaphysical naturalism", rather than just "naturalism", because your current wording invites misunderstanding regarding the difference between methodological naturalism and metaphysical naturalism—a confusion that many culturally and politically active religious people try to capitalize on.

I think the argument would come across better if you expressed your argument like so: "If you believe that nothing supernatural exists—such as gods, ghosts, immaterial souls and spirits—then you subscribe to metaphysical naturalism, the idea that nature is all there is."

Thanks for listening,

Nov 28, 2008, 5:39:00 AM  
Blogger Tom Clark said...

Hi Jesse,

Thanks for your feedback. I have no objection to your being agnostic about supernatural entities, since after all we can't *disprove* they exist. But I'm a "positive" atheist about them since unless there's good evidence to believe something exists, I see no reason to suppose it does. So I believe the supernatural doesn't exist. Should evidence come to light that it does exist, I'll change my mind.

Regarding methodological vs metaphysical naturalism: in the second paragraph I say that naturalism is a metaphysical thesis, which you rightly point out is the sort of naturalism at issue in worldview naturalism.

Re methodological naturalism, for my money we'd be better off just talking about the scientific method, see .

Nov 28, 2008, 10:32:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I find that there is a flaw in your thesis. If I understand your position correctly nothing is real unless it can be proven to exist by empirical or evidences- based means. If we apply this method to say the 1800's, then the molecules that form the basic building blocks of reality don't exist since without the aid of microscopes a person can not prove they exist. So following your thesis, no molecules means no reality since they are the essence of all material in the universe, but wait, the molecule existed before the microscopes that prove to the naturalist that molecules were there.
My point simply is this, a person is foolish and narrow minded to dismiss the existance of something simply on the basis that it can't be proved by current empirical methods. What we can not "see" today we will be able to "see" tomorow. I personally do not find any kind of security in a system of belief that has changing foundations. To so cavalierly dismiss the supernatural simply because there is no current way to measure it is just as simple-minded as the 19th century scientist who would tell us today that there are no such things as molecules.
If a person were a true critical thinker they would be open to exploring all avenues of the reality in which we exist, both those we can measure and those that we can't.

Dec 8, 2008, 1:55:00 AM  
Blogger Tom Clark said...

My position is that we should only believe in the existence of things for which there is good intersubjective, public evidence. Other things *might* exist for which we don't have evidence, but we aren't justified in supposing they *do* exist. So I'm not being narrow-minded in discounting the existence of the supernatural, only cautious.

The sort of security this system provides is that of having fairly reliable beliefs about reality, even if those beliefs change as new evidence arrives. If good evidence for the supernatural comes in, then I'll be happy to believe in it. Until then, I count myself a naturalist since we know for sure (as well as we can know anything) that the natural world described by science exists.

Dec 30, 2008, 2:19:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Tom,

I find it interesting that you don't believe in the supernaturals such as gods, souls, spirits etc. because your naturalist "evidence - based" (what you can see) belief system, yet you explain naturalism with a plithera of supernatural immaterial expressions such as - hopes, fears, human rights, morals, ethics, empathy. all of which are impossible to prove in a strictly natural environment.
thanks Ed

Jan 8, 2009, 12:25:00 AM  
Blogger Josh said...

Ed, I think you misunderstand. I can't speak for Tom, but here's my take.

"hopes, fears, human rights, morals, ethics, empathy" - these are not supernatural in any way.

All of these and more spawn from consciousness, which is wholly a part of the natural world. Nothing in terms of empirical knowledge causes us to find otherwise. Your assertion that these are "impossible to prove in a strictly natural environment" is incorrect.

Science has a long way to go and always will if we are doing it correctly, but even now there is a lot of evidence for physical causes of your examples. For instance: genetic causes of sociopathic and psychopathic behavior, mental illness, etc. Physical injury to specific parts of the brain resulting in altered behavior and capacities in the examples you gave, etc.

Josh Nankivel

Mar 1, 2009, 1:24:00 AM  
Blogger Tom Clark said...


Thanks for responding to Ed, good points. I'm wondering if your blog Everyday Skeptic will eventually address the uncritical and widespread acceptance of the idea that human beings are causal exceptions to nature. The magical thinking that supposes we have contra-causal free will is in dire need of debunking, but I don't see many skeptics taking it on.



Mar 1, 2009, 1:20:00 PM  
Blogger Josh said...

Thanks Tom. I purchased “Encountering Naturalism” a short while ago and am working through it. I am struggling with some of it, but in general it seems to make a great deal of sense and confirms much of what I have suspected. Many atheists and skeptics in general don’t delve into this topic because I think dualism tends to be more of an unknown assumption that doesn’t get scrutinized in the same way typical religious beliefs do.

Is there a recommended order to progress through various writings on this topic? I’m bought into there being no such thing as counter-causal free will, but struggling with why that doesn’t necessarily also mean that our apparent ability to make choices isn’t just an illusion.

Josh Nankivel

Mar 3, 2009, 8:42:00 PM  
Blogger Tom Clark said...

Yes, it's common for people to suppose that if they don't have contra-causal free will (also called libertarian free will) then choice is illusory. This is one reason people resist accepting the science of human behavior, which shows no evidence of any causal exception for human choices. Even some otherwise rational psychologists won't accept it (see ). I can recommend two things at Naturalism.Org to help deal with this worry, one being "The Flaw of Fatalism," , and the other is "Don't Forget About Me: How to Avoid Demoralization by Determinism" at . Pages 78-85 of Encountering Naturalism also address it. There's lots of stuff on free will at , including a piece by philosopher Galen Strawson, "Luck Swallows Everything" at which describes the free will debate pretty well. Cris Evatt has written a nice down-to-earth book on free will skepticism and its benefits called The Myth of Free Will, available at Amazon. Make sure to get the revised and expanded edition.

All the best, and stay in touch as things develop.


Mar 4, 2009, 8:50:00 AM  
Blogger Josh said...

Perhaps I'm unable thus far to step out of a view where "ultimate" means something significant.

So far in my reading and thinking on this topic, I'm unable to follow the logic that counter-causal free will does not exist, and yet we are free agents in any sense except an illusory one.

I think the rub lies in my perspective? When I consider free agency, I am contemplating it from outside the agent. From that vantage point, the agent being observed could not have chosen otherwise, even if they believe they could have.

Still searching....

Mar 7, 2009, 8:35:00 PM  
Blogger Josh said...

I just purchased "Real Materialism" by Strawson. Hopefully that will help me with some of the specific quandaries I'm running into.

One of the apparent inconsistencies comes from these situations:

1) Considering a choice already made, the naturalist says it could not have been any other way, because it was fully caused.

2) Considering a present choice, if we believe everything is fully caused, then the future is as it will be, and can not be changed in advance to turn out differently.

I believe naturalism to be true based on scientific reasoning, and yet I do not feel any fatalism personally. My experience is such that in every meaningful way I feel as if I possess counter-causal free will.

What I'm struggling with is how to not break the causal chain, and yet explain naturalism to others without some of them falling into fatalism or apathy, since the future is determined in some ultimate way.

My only answer to date is that the "ultimate" is only indirectly perceived through reason and logic. It's not something we can ever directly interact with. Our experiences are the only direct manner we have of interacting with nature. Therefore, the perception of free-will within our limitations is all that really matters to us.

The subject feels fundamentally different when I consider myself versus other people. Am I selectively choosing how to look at the question based on convenience? When I look at myself, I "feel" the illusion of counter-causal free will. I do not feel restricted in my choices. When I consider other people, I tend to look at their choices through the lens of "ultimate" reality. I can more easily see others as fully caused...

Mar 15, 2009, 5:07:00 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Dear Tom,
(In this case "Dear" is more a term of respect and admiration than a term of endearment.)

I was so happy to discover your website "Worldview Naturalism in a Nutshell". I am a student of human nature and an atheist and I found your comments to be expressive of my own views and temporary conclusions. I would like to learn more about you and your ideas. Can you direct me?
Eric Roberts

May 1, 2009, 11:07:00 AM  
Blogger Tom Clark said...

Hi Eric,

Glad you found us, I'll be in touch directly.



May 1, 2009, 4:26:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Tom,
I am miffed. In what sense can you claim that naturalism is existentialist? You praise objective, empirical truths, and science which existentialists deny as certainly as you deny gods and ghosts. Am I missing something?

Jul 9, 2009, 9:11:00 PM  
Blogger Tom Clark said...


If you're responding to this statment

"So we can justly call it worldview naturalism: an overarching cognitive, ethical and existential framework that serves the same function as supernatural worldviews, but without trafficking in illusions."

all I mean to say by "existential" is that naturalism provides a framework about the totality of existence, not that naturalism is akin to existentialism. If I'd have said "existentialist framework" then your point would hold.

Jul 9, 2009, 10:50:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Tom,

Thanks I see your point. I found your sight while I was out surfing the web for readings for my introductory philosophy students. Perhaps you can recommend something. I am teaching the free will / determinism debate and I would like to spin the debate toward questions about sustainability. Some students are convinced that the environmental crisis we are facing is the inevitable consequence of human nature. Others want to argue that we can will our way to a sustainable future. Any thoughts or suggestions? Thank you very much for your time.
Best, amber

Jul 10, 2009, 9:12:00 PM  
Blogger Tom Clark said...

Hi Amber,

Re free will and the environmental debate, see You can write me directly at twc at naturalism dot org if any further questions. Glad you're getting into this issue, important stuff.



Jul 10, 2009, 11:10:00 PM  
Anonymous Eric said...

Amber and all,
Regarding those who believe that, because of human nature, global warming is inevitable:
Although there is no free will, we are all agents acting on one another. My words here, for example, may influence you and you may then influence your students.
Although I have no free will, I believe that I can influence other people in positive ways. For example, I believe that human nature is not immutable. I believe this because I have been influenced by others who have demonstrated that, although we have no free will, we are all agents acting on one another. Therefore, if you are persuaded that human nature is not immutable, your students may be moved in their opinions and they may then move others who will then move others etc etc.
A good example of this is found in the abolitionist movement in America. When it began in the early 19th century, abolitionists were a tiny minority. Yet over time they persuaded others that slavery was wrong. Eventually slavery was abolished. No doubt there were some who had believed that, because of human nature, slavery could not be abolished.


Jul 11, 2009, 6:39:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You say “unless there's good evidence to believe something exists, I see no reason to suppose it does”

then you say “So I believe the supernatural doesn't exist.”

I would agree with the fact that there are natural explanations for everything, and that the supernatural doesn’t exist.

However, if you view nature and the universe, or perhaps multiverse, as a superorganism or god, then some natural explanations, such as physics for example, are really describing something that could be viewed as supernatural to some, depending on if you view a superorganism or god that we are living inside of as supernatural ( I wouldn’t view this as supernatural, just the true, big picture identity of nature). However, it seems as if you are ruling this possibility out.

And you stated previously “unless there's good evidence to believe something exists, I see no reason to suppose it does”

So, doesn’t it follow that unless there's good evidence to believe something doesn’t exist, there is no good reason to suppose it doesn’t exist?

If this sounds crazy I must refer you to the CTMU which is written by Chris Langan, a man whose IQ exceeds 195.

Until there is good evidence to rule out this possibility, I see no reason to *DISBELIEVE* it.
*(Also not to believe until better evidence is found)

Aug 10, 2009, 10:55:00 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Tom Clark said;
"Until then, I count myself a naturalist since we know for sure (as well as we can know anything) that the natural world described by science exists."

The natural world described by science does not exist and never can due to the nature of science. by its nature science has to isolate to observe, to control supposedly all the factors. Sorry but that can never happen either. In this reality in which we live and is so utterly distorted by language there is the known and the unknown. Only when ALL is known can science make such claims and that I would say is impossible. You are also discussing a closed system from the inside. So ultimately things are only as they seem until they seem otherwise.


Oct 10, 2009, 7:40:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What could possibly be above thought? Regardless of your answer it will be what you think. Therefore my conclusion is that nothing can be above thought. The thinker creates rather than the other way round.

Nov 4, 2009, 9:15:00 AM  
Blogger Evan said...

I'm so sorry for you who have no hope. Of course, if you think that this world is all there is, it will look bad! But, by evidences that are clear to those who look, I believe there is a God who has ordered things; the world is not random. I would even say that He loves us, and I hope that all of you will know the same for yourself.
Has anyone ever appreciated beauty before? Every human does. Are animals, who you think evolved the same as us, awed by nature's grandeur? How would that hold up with the theory of the fight for survival? An animal stops to admire the scenery and gets eaten? Or did humanity evolve this tendency once we had come to the top of the food chain? What would be the point? No, there is more to this life.
Why is there art? Every aspect of art is impractical, but is necessary nonetheless! An ape doesn't make things just for its aesthetic pleasure!
I decline from giving scientific evidence for creation and a God because I believe the conflict over that has been taken much too far. But by looking around and within, I think you will see a power that you've never before recognized. I'm sorry that the church is full of hypocrisy, but there is truth in the Bible and in dedicated Christ followers. I only wish that you could find it! "The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the works of his hands." Psalm 19:1

Feb 19, 2010, 3:55:00 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I found your article very interesting regarding your naturalistic worldview. I hope that you don't mind that I ask you a few questions about it.
First, is there a reason for someone not to believe in the supernatural or anything to do with God, spirits, etc.?
What do you mean by "wanting not to be deceived"? Deceived by/from what?
I see that you hold a high view of science and that that is your standard of belief in what is real. I guess my question would be, "Is science a good thing to believe in?" Because science cannot really prove anything, it is just based on theories and hypothesis.
You said that a naturalist would tend to "hold that such beliefs are usually more reliable and more objective than those based in uncorroborated intuition, revelation, religious authority or sacred texts." I see a couple of things here. First, isn't that just an opinion that you hold? I would agree with you that it is much easier to believe in something that we can touch and see, like science. But by what standard or basis are you saying that these "uncorroborated intuition, revelation, religious authority or sacred texts" are not as reliable?

Thanks for writing and hopefully responding to my questions. :)


Apr 22, 2010, 6:01:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hello Tom. Here is a question that I have had for a long time; do you believe in aliens? Sounds silly to some, but scientifically the number of planets that exist there has to be life on one just one of them. How much evidence would a naturalist need to say there is life on other planets?

May 6, 2010, 2:43:00 PM  
Anonymous richard said...

hyperteDear Tom, I appreciate the cogent way in which you state my own present views. I am an evolved Evangelical minister and struggle to define myself. Naturalist seems so far the best. Some of the discussions seem overly intellectual. My choice of near contemporary theologians is the late George Carlin who dismissed much spiritual dogma as "bullshit", We don't use that healthy term near often enough!

Sep 14, 2010, 2:49:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Tom,
I have a question for you. I don't understand how a person can believe this and not feel complete hopelessness about life. If I am but a biological machine with predetermined actions, what joy can I find in living? What is my purpose here? Just curious about how you dealt with all this. Thank you for your time!

Oct 8, 2010, 3:21:00 PM  
Blogger Bogdan said...

I recently came across your website and I read some of the things you posted, but what I don't quite understand is why legal action must be directed at the person committing an immoral action if that person's decisions are fully caused by prior factors. Why not direct the punishment at these factors or why not direct it at both the individual and the factors?
Thank you

Nov 11, 2010, 1:37:00 AM  
Blogger Tom Clark said...


Good point, and I agree. Constructive responses to wrongdoing should be aimed not just at the wrongdoer but at the factors involved in making him who he was and act as he did. But we don't want to leave the wrongdoer out of the picture since he is the most proximate cause of the infraction. As always, the humanitarian principle should apply: use the least punitive means of accomplishing our behavior-guiding objectives, and always keep in mind the primary value of respecting personal autonomy, so long as public safety isn't unduly compromised.

Nov 11, 2010, 8:17:00 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

You are exactly right in what you say, my Naturalist Friends.

We are genetically programmed to "live in groups"...because living things things have a better chance of survival when living in groups. "Religion" (or doctrine) is the glue that holds our groups together. Neither religion nor doctrine has to be founded in truth..or has just to be accepted by the group. Much of the time, group authorities use "fear" to force acceptance of "group beliefs". Since our "beliefs" are often different, we are often at war with other groups. (Probably the most 'stupid' thing that we Humans do !!)
We must come to have only one belief and that is belief in the basic value, inherent capability and dignity of Humankind itself.

The Gods are said to have created everthing we observe in Our Universe. However, we Human Beings deserve a great deal of credit as well. Why? Because "We" are the ones who "created the Gods".


Nov 21, 2010, 7:12:00 PM  
Blogger Manny Writer said...

How do you explain different responses to the same experience?

You talk about human consciousness but not the human soul, is this a semantic matter? Consciousness is a scientific word while soul is religious? But I don't think that is accurate, "consciousness" is not strictly scientific...

Mar 15, 2011, 12:15:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dying philosophies sprout manifestos (these days, manifesto web sites). This site is not a philosophical clarification of, or argument for, naturalism. It is more of a panegyric to naturalism, or (given the substantial challenges naturalism faces), perhaps a eulogy. It merely helps itself to the list of concepts that help to beg the major questions. Who, since the 1950's at most, can seriously use terms like "scientific", "evidence", "proof", "justification", "observation", "explanation", and "normative", without addressing the respective theories thereof ? The magic combination phrase "scientific proof" has been peddled to the point its use is a sure sign of a most un-scientific approach to "science", and to "proof". Major scientists have lined up stating they wouldn't know a "scientific proof" if they saw one, and that it is simply a misguided public that thinks they are in the business of "proving" anything at all (see Einstein, Feynman, Geroch, Hawking, for just a few). "Modern science" was created largely by theists, and some of them took it as more obvious that naturalism is false than that supernaturalism required any sort of "proof". If "evidence" were even required, one would have to be pathological to fail to recognize it (cf. Newton).

Jun 15, 2011, 1:13:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This site does an injustice to science as actually practiced. Just for starters on the dogma that "there is whatever science
says there is": Which things are sciences ? What do they say there is (at a given time & place in history, ex. phlogiston,
the aether, super-egos, absolute time, Piltdown man, the empty set) ? Do things come into being & pass away as sciences work
? What did people do before sciences ? Did they know there was anything at all ? Do I have to check with a scientist to
find out if I exist, or what's in my back yard ? There is the obvious historical problem that "science" does not speak with
a single voice about what there is, and in fact (according to scientists at least, see ex. Hawking) "science" is inconsistent, so it "says" (entails) everything exists right now. This "there is whatever science says there is" should sound like "there is whatever my big brother says there is". It's "bad science about science". Part of the line-up previously referred to:

"One makes no attempt to “prove” the theory or any part of it. (I don’t even know what a “proof” could mean in this context. I wouldn’t recognize a “proof of a physical theory” if I saw one).” Robert Geroch, Relativity from A to B

“Any physical theory is always provisional, in the sense that it is only a hypothesis: you can never prove it." Stephen Hawking, A Brief History of Time

“There is always the possibility of proving any definite theory wrong; but notice that we can never prove it right." Richard
Feynman, The Character of Physical Law

Jun 17, 2011, 11:59:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

At the most fundamental epistemological level, we find "appearance" or "seeming". These appearances may be classified as perceptual, rational, introspective, memorial etc. Prior to relying upon these appearances themselves (this can all be rendered adverbially), we have no access to "mechanisms" or "causes". We have no a priori grounds for restricting the scope or nature of these appearances, or for imperialistic claims as to which ones are possible or impossible, or for which are to be favored over the others. we are entitled to rely upon these appearances because we can do no other. We accept criteria such as freedom from massive contradiction and survival upon sustained reflection to stabilize the group. Criteria like "consensus", "prediction" and "control" are obviously derived, arrived at only by use of, and by presupposing the reliability of, more fundamental epistemological states. This situation is not ideal, but it also does not license the belief that "anything goes". It does not lead to intellectual anarchy. If a belief in the Great Pumpkin is formed, it is quickly defeated by appearances to the contrary: we expect to have appearances of a glowing hovering gourd, and we don't. If a belief in a supernatural creator is formed, it is not quickly defeated by appearances to the contrary: we expect to have appearances of a Universe, and we do. "Value judgments" (like those regarding "rationality", "good evidence", "justification", "success" etc.) are among the appearances. Our certainty in them antedates any discoveries regarding their "formation mechanisms", and is logically prior to those discoveries: absent the basic value judgments, no "discoveries about mechanisms" are possible. The wish to "naturalize epistemology" can be nothing other than a confusion of the penthouse with the basement, a grand begging of the question, even when acknowledged, embraced, and rhetorically decorated (cf. Quine). That epistemological dogma is founded on a prior (and a priori) metaphysical itch. First we raise a dust, then we complain we cannot see. First we decide what we want there to be, then we impose whatever epistemology will best ensure that nothing else is delivered. When a "naturalist" sets the terms of a debate, one can predict that naturalism will come out the clear winner every time. Having put the rabbit in the hat, there's not much magic in pulling it back out, but there's always a crowd for it.

Jun 22, 2011, 11:31:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Naturalism is first the view that "nature is all there is" (an ontological thesis), then suddenly it's

"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" (a string of epistemological theses).

There's also a huge difference between "putting stock" in those "evidence based ways of justifying

beliefs" and putting stock in *only* those ways. Evidence claims come to an end. What then ? What

evidence determines what we count as evidence to begin with, and how it relates to whatever it’s

evidence for ? Just what are these "evidence based ways" ? Are they used in arithmetic & logic ?

We read "You probably (and rightly) hold that such beliefs are usually more reliable and more objective

than those based in uncorroborated intuition, revelation, religious authority or sacred texts.". Where

do these claims of "reliability" and "objectivity" come from ? What do they mean ? When did the

sciences get "reliable" and "objective" ? Some day in the future ? All sorts of beliefs are based upon

"uncorroborated intuition" (they better be...that's all we have to go on to get started). On

"corroboration", how does this differ from following the crowd, from argumentum ad populum ? How shall

we discover that there is "corroboration" unless we antecedently accept the reliability of things like

sensation/perception and reason ? How does an idea even get support from being "corroborated" ? If it

seems to me that the moon is the size of the sun, and I check with my neighbors, and it seems to them

that the moon is the size of the sun, do we have "corroboration" ? Are 2 fools that agree in better

shape than just the one ? The principle seems to be "The more people who believe that p, the more

likely p is to be true". Is that principle "reliable and objective" ? For most of history, scientists

agreed that space & time were absolute and the universe had an infinite past. Corroboration supplies

comfort from not being contradicted. On the other hand, many sacred texts include the Golden Rule. Has

that proved unreliable ? Should we listen to "scientific authorities" ? What's bad about authorities

? If we should, which ones should we listen to ? Newton was a theist. Should I defer to him ? Only if

the are speaking "ex cathedra" ? Should I believe Heisenberg or Einstein ? Hawking or Penrose ?

Jun 27, 2011, 8:44:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

How was it decided that these "ways" are "usually more reliable" than revelation ? I suppose we had to find out that revelation was unreliable, or less reliable at least. What was the test for that ? Well, they didn't occur, because "Nature is all there is", that is because Naturalism is true. Kind of a tight little circle there. Perhaps it was contradicting revelations that evinced the unreliability of
revelation ? What about contradicting empirical claims ? There's a long history of those, continuing to the present, in the everyday, in the sciences, in mathematics (ask about infinity, proof, and number).

Are the "evidence-based ways of justifying beliefs" then unreliable ? Maybe Naturalism needs an eschatology: someday over the rainbow, science and "evidence-based ways of justifying beliefs" will get it just right, and the others won't. I know, let's say "in principle..." or "at the ideal limit...".

"Nature is simply what we have good reason to believe exists" is outright nonsense. Nature does not care what we have "good reasons" to believe. It existed in sublime indifference to our "good reasons" before we ever got here. We've had great reasons to believe in things that don't exist, and no reasons (or lousy ones) to believe in things that do exist, and no science has found either "reasons" or this quality "goodness", in the brain or elsewhere. It's degrading to the sciences to set them up as
something they aren't, as ultimate arbiters and authorities of all questions. They can't "predict" or
"control" much at all, and even where they do, scientists typically do not claim they entail "truth" (another quality the sciences do not find in nature, unlike "mass"), or make it “more likely” that some belief is true. Even massively false belief can perfectly well generate and support “prediction” and

Naturalism is "driven by a desire" alright. A desire that naturalism be true. "Natural laws" are either
simply interesting generalizations about how things go (all provisional and speculative), or relics of the idea that Nature is somehow "controlled" or "determined" from on high, by "natural laws". I have good reasons to believe there's an integer between 4 and 6. I find this integer no place in nature, and I don't believe the guys who says it's an illusion. Therefore Naturalism is false. Naturalism is just unscientific dogma, trying to bask in the glow of sciences.

Jun 27, 2011, 8:48:00 AM  
Blogger Stephen said...

It may be perfectly "natural" for consciousness to exist both inside and outside the brain. There are tantalizing clues from biology and physics suggesting just that.

It hasn't been proven yet, but this definition of naturalism excludes what may actually be the case.

A better explanation would be: "Naturalism is everything in the physical universe, known and unknown."

Sep 6, 2011, 6:59:00 AM  
Blogger Jeff Olsson said...

Hi Tom, love you article! I see that there are a lot of people who want to sharpen their philisophical axes here, and i guess thats ok. Frankly, I am an an agnostic who lives his life atheistically and leans hard towards atheism philisophically. I feel that the only thing left to beleive after all of that is exactly what you explained above. I too subscribe to naturalism. I have tried to find a better explanation, but cannot

I am quickly bored by philisophical arguments that are not backed with a link to physical reality, and I find that they are almost always unnecessarily complicated. How can I be agnostic about the metaphysical like some of the posters above when there is no viable reason or evidence that indicates I should give it any serious thought? I simply maintain that I have no beleif in it without evidence and until some evidence is presented I care not to speculate. Thats why, to me, the metaphysical does not exist. Like yourself, if someone were to present evidence of the metaphysical, I would look for evidence that would reveal it to be either a hoax, or a physical event.

May 30, 2014, 9:31:00 PM  

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