Researching philosophical naturalism again has reminded me of what caused me to first become an atheist and later a skeptic as well. I’m really enjoying this so I’m going to post all the stuff I like here. Comments are welcome. :slight_smile:

[url=][b]Tenets of Naturalism[/b][/url]

What exists: This version of naturalism asserts that the world is of a piece; everything we are and do is included in the space-time continuum whose most basic elements are those described by physics. We are the evolved products of natural selection, which operates without intention, foresight or purpose. Nothing about us escapes being included in the physical universe, or escapes being shaped by the various processes – physical, biological, psychological, and social – that science describes. On a scientific understanding of ourselves, there’s no evidence for immaterial souls, spirits, mental essences, or disembodied selves which stand apart from the physical world.

What constitutes knowledge: Naturalism as a worldview is based on the premise that knowledge about what exists and about how things work is best achieved through the sciences, not personal revelation or religious tradition. The knowledge we have of ourselves and our place in nature is the achievement of a collective effort to construct a consistent view of the world that permits prediction and control. This effort proceeds by experiment and rational inquiry, and the knowledge gained is always subject to further testing as understanding matures. Wanting something to be true, or having the intense personal conviction that something is true, are never grounds for supposing that it is true. Scientific empiricism has the necessary consequence of unifying our knowledge of the world, of placing all objects of understanding within an overarching causal context. Under naturalism, there is a single, natural world in which phenomena arise.

The causal view: From a naturalistic perspective, there are no causally privileged agents, nothing that causes without being caused in turn. Human beings act the way they do because of the various influences that shape them, whether these be biological or social, genetic or environmental. We do not have the capacity to act outside the causal connections that link us in every respect to the rest of the world. This means we do not have what many people think of as free will, being able to cause our behavior without our being fully caused in turn.

The self: As strictly physical beings, we don’t exist as immaterial selves, either mental or spiritual, that control behavior. Thought, desires, intentions, feelings, and actions all arise on their own without the benefit of a supervisory self, and they are all the products of a physical system, the brain and the body. The self is constituted by more or less consistent sets of personal characteristics, beliefs, and actions; it doesn’t exist apart from those complex physical processes that make up the individual. It may strongly seem as if there is a self sitting behind experience, witnessing it, and behind behavior, controlling it, but this impression is strongly disconfirmed by a scientific understanding of human behavior.

Responsibility and morality: From a naturalistic perspective, behavior arises out of the interaction between individuals and their environment, not from a freely willing self that produces behavior independently of causal connections (see above). Therefore individuals don’t bear ultimate originative responsibility for their actions, in the sense of being their first cause. Given the circumstances both inside and outside the body, they couldn’t have done other than what they did. Nevertheless, we must still hold individuals responsible, in the sense of applying rewards and sanctions, so that their behavior stays more or less within the range of what we deem acceptable. This is, partially, how people learn to act ethically. Naturalism doesn’t undermine the need or possibility of responsibility and morality, but it places them within the world as understood by science. However, naturalism does call into question the basis for retributive attitudes, namely the idea that individuals could have done otherwise in the situation in which their behavior arose and so deeply deserve punishment.

The source of value: Because naturalism doubts the existence of ultimate purposes either inherent in nature or imposed by a creator, values derive from human needs and desires, not supernatural absolutes. Basic human values are widely shared by virtue of being rooted in our common evolved nature. We need not appeal to a supernatural standard of ethical conduct to know that in general it’s wrong to lie, cheat, steal, rape, murder, torture, or otherwise treat people in ways we’d rather not be treated. Our naturally endowed empathetic concern for others and our hard-wired penchant for cooperation and reciprocity get us what we most want as social creatures: to flourish as individuals within a community. Naturalism may show the ultimate contingency of some values, in that human nature might have evolved differently and human societies and political arrangements might have turned out otherwise. But, given who and what we are as natural creatures, we necessarily find ourselves with shared basic values which serve as the criteria for assessing moral dilemmas, even if these assessments are sometimes fiercely contested and in some cases never quite resolved.


I included a torrent of the video as an attachment to this post because my download from Google kept timing out. Admin, is that OK?

Gee, I thought Naturalism is where everyone takes off their clothes and then does boring stuff like play chess kaalgat. Like that oke from Pretoria whose name I’ve forgotten.

Do you mean the ever-inventive1, 2, 3, 4, 5 Beau Brummel? If so, au naturelisme indeed!


1 Beau Brummel plans all-natural Freedom Day rock concert
2 Beau Brummel practises naked racism
3 Beau Brummel goes into dying business
4 Beau Brummel courts staunch Afrikaner following
5 Beau Brummel releases his own music CD

Ja, that’s the oke.

Religious people often believe that everything is preordained by God, but that God has endowed us with a free will. Logically both cannot hold true. Determinism and free will have the same conflict.

Personally I loath embracing the idea that individual free will does not exist. It appears to strip morals of everything noble. Consider the following quote from above:

Therefore individuals don't bear ultimate originative responsibility for their actions, in the sense of being their first cause. Given the circumstances both inside and outside the body, they couldn’t have done other than what they did. Nevertheless, we must still hold individuals responsible, in the sense of applying rewards and sanctions, so that their behavior stays more or less within the range of what we deem acceptable.
When sentencing a criminal, we would then actually be saying: "We hold you responsible although we know you are not. You had no choice, really. We're just going to lock you up for twenty years to put other people off doing the same. Tough luck - just not your day, now is it?"

I suspect loathing of the concept to be quite common. Of course, that does not prove or disprove validity.

Yes, the little god inside is harder to kill.

The Blank Slate naturally coexists with the Ghost in the Machine, too, since a slate that is blank is a hospitable place for a ghost to haunt. If a ghost is to be at the controls, the factory can ship the device with a minimum of parts. The ghost can read the body's display panels and pull its levers, with no need for a high-tech executive program, guidance system, or CPU. The more not-clockwork there is controlling behavior, the less clockwork we need to posit. For similar reasons, the Ghost in the Machine happily accompanies the Noble Savage. If the machine behaves ignobly, we can blame the ghost, which freely chose to carry out the iniquitous acts; we need not probe for a defect in the machine's design.

Steven Pinker - The Blank Slate

Haha, that kind of naturalism sounds at least reasonable.

Hi Tele, where have you been?
We missed you. :wink:
Convince us that we have a free will.

Aaw, missed you too. Been busy and lurking :D.

Haha, I don’t think I am going to be successful in convincing sceptics that they have or do not have free will.

I am just curious, do you think you are ultimately responsible for your thoughts and actions?

I do, but naturalism suggests otherwise. I hope naturalists are wrong and would welcome someone pointing out the flaw in their reasoning.

Do you believe you have a free will, and if so, how do you reconcile it with teleology?

Indeed. Seems you aren’t a rational naturalist :D. I wonder how you or any atheist who believe they have a will and are responsible for their own thoughts and actions would respond to naturalists? Especially after reading this:
Denying the Little God of Free Will: The Next Step for Atheists?

I believe I am a person with a will that is responsible for my own thoughts and actions yes. I don’t see how teleology (whatever you mean by that) would contradict such a view. Could you perhaps elaborate why teleology (whatever you think it means) and free will are irreconcilable?

Which might imply that I am irrational or not a naturalist! Until I am convinced otherwise, I shall maintain that I have a free will and am therefor not a naturalist.

The article your referred to does not convince me that atheism necessarily has to lead to naturalism.

From your avatar I deduce that you subscribe to teleology. My Oxford has the following to say:

teleology Doctrine of final causes, view that developments are due to the purpose or design that is served by them.
Teleosaurus Genus of fossil crocodiles.

Oh dear, I seem to have gone too far. :smiley:
In a nutshell, it appears like the idea of “everything happens for a reason”. This contradicts free will.

I don’t see how final causes contradicts free will.

If we accept that everything happens for a preordained reason, then our thoughts and conclusions must also happen for a preordained reason. How can we claim to have a free will if our conclusions and actions are preordained?

I don’t think the doctrine of final causes forces one to accept that everything happens for preordained reasons. If you believe everything happens preordained (belief in predestination), whether they happen for a reason or not, then yes, I think that would be incompatible with free will.

How (briefly) does the doctrine of final causes differ from predestination?

Well, the doctrine of final causes goes with an Aristotelian view of causality with its four causes (material, formal, efficient and final). Predestination does not necessarily go with an Aristotelian view and can fit well with a mechanistic view of causality (mass in motion) whereby all motions of particles are predestined.

From an Aristotelian-Thomistic (A-T) view, natural processes and organisms and their activities are naturally ordered to certain ends as their final causes. For example, an acorn’s final cause is an acorn tree. Similarly, a natural end or final cause of a human embryo is a human being with an intellect and will. The natural end or final cause of the intellect in turn is to attain truth (the intellect of course having the capacity to grasp abstract concepts and reason on the basis of them). The natural end or final cause of the will is to choose the courses of action which best fits with the natural end of the intellect’s capability to reason. Also, from an A-T view, the nature of the will is to be open to various possible intellectually apprehended ends in an indeterminate way and not a necessary way such as the natural end of say… a rock falling to the earth.

Final causes = epic fail.

The final cause of a human embryo is to die of old age, should it survive a barrage of other possible ends to its existence.

The final cause of an acorn is to die and rot and be blown over.

How very droll.

It is the nature of finite objects or substances or things to begin to exist and end to exist. Humans, acorn trees, embryos, molecules, subatomic particles etc. are finite things. That is reality. If people think reality is an epic fail or droll because finite things exist, so be it.
I don’t see how the existence of finite things are incompatible with final causes.
The natural end or final cause of finite things is to begin and end to exist. And while each finite thing can begin and end to exist, finite things can have a range of natural ends or final causes. For example an acorn, while finite, has the natural end of being an acorn tree, even though it is not always realized since it is a finite thing and can end to exist before its final cause is realized or actualized.