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An Embrace Of Naturalism


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A short while ago I decided that I was uncomfortable with applying the term atheist to myself because I think it is an attempt to define me in terms of what I am not. So while we’ve seen many debates on what constitutes atheism, one thing we may agree on is that an atheist is not a theist. The proclamation of atheism then is often, “Whatever else I may be I’m not one of them!” I think that I much prefer to proclaim what I am and that is a naturalist.

 

What is naturalism? I think that a vigorous debate could be held over what a belief in naturalism entails and that this would itself be quite natural. However a consistent theme of naturalism is that an invocation of the supernatural to explain and understand ourselves, the world, and our interactions within it is superfluous. Naturalism stands in contrast with supernaturalism.

 

I would like to stress that my particular brand of naturalism does not assume that reductionism or materialism are the only or even the preferred lenses through which to view the world. In other words, it is not self evident to me that ultimately the universe must consist of “atoms and the void” and that the universe is to be viewed as some sort of purely mechanical contrivance. I believe that my interests will ultimately reside in biology and not physics. And I am not convinced that organisms and living systems are best viewed as machines. So please don’t labor too long in the notion that embracing naturalism means that I must yield undue authority unto physics. Personally I think that physics has some lessons to learn about the natural world and that these lessons will be provided to them by biologists.

 

Although the vast majority of scientists are also naturalists, I do not need to be a scientist to be a naturalist. A naturalist merely acknowledges that natural causes are sufficient for understanding. In addition to acknowledging, the scientist systematically inquires.

 

Also consider this. By claiming my naturalism I may avoid much of the prejudice associated with the label of atheist. Imagine if someone were to ask me if I believe in a god and I were to respond with, “No, I’m a naturalist” rather than “No, I’m an atheist.” The conversations that could then ensue might be of an entirely different character because I chose a word less tainted with prejudice. Also, naturalism stands on its own. If someone were to ask me what I believe or to what philosophy I adhere, then I think it would be somewhat odd to say “atheism”. After all, they didn’t ask me what I didn’t believe. But for me it would be a substantive response to say “naturalism.”

 

I suspect that the antagonism or competition for credence between my naturalistic beliefs and my super-naturalistic beliefs is at the root of why I eventually outgrew Christianity. In other words, upon reflection not only did “God did it” increasingly lose credence for me but also “it’s a natural phenomenon” increasingly gained credence as I matured and learned more about myself and the world around me. So as I looked less to a god as an explanation of things I looked more towards the relations in nature and myself as a probable explanation of things.

 

So for a variety of reasons I am becoming ever more confident that my embrace of naturalism is well placed. I have little doubt for instance that even the belief in the supernatural has a natural explanation.

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So for a variety of reasons I am becoming ever more confident that my embrace of naturalism is well placed. I have little doubt for instance that even the belief in the supernatural has a natural explanation.

I agree that the natural world is best understood by looking for natural causes rather than supernatural ones. But how does this approach to knowledge address areas questions of human experience? Does naturalism address questions of "meaning", or only causes?

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Ah, gracious Antlerman, you seem to have come in with agreement and some questions. My reactions to that seem rather mixed. I feel somewhat apprehensive. There is always the possibility of antagonism and you have a sometimes formidable intellectual prowess in my estimation. I hope that I am able to hold up my end of things.

 

But how does this approach to knowledge address areas questions of human experience??

When I thought about the phrase “approach to knowledge” the word epistemology occurred to me. Is naturalism an epistemology or does it have an epistemology? If naturalism is a philosophy then perhaps we could ask with what other philosophies and their respective epistemologies it may agree. If we were to go down an epistemological road then I suppose that I would have to begin with “cogito ergo sum.” As for human experience, I thought of things like the concept of self and the mind. I’ve heard it argued that all we ever experience are ourselves along with “impressions” that we impute as coming from our ambience. I can find little purchase to refute that assertion.

 

As far is I can tell scientists are naturalists that specialize in systematic inquiry including questions of human experience. I am willing to cede much of that to psychology which in my mind is considered a sub discipline within biology. I suppose however that there are other naturalists that address questions of human experience. I imagine that each would have their respective methodologies.

 

Does naturalism address questions of "meaning", or only causes?

Among the things I think of when considering “meaning” is language. So when I ask myself what naturalistic disciplines systematically address questions of language I come up with things like: linguistics, psychology (again), and anthropology. I have little doubt that there may be others. So I would be tempted to say, yes naturalists do address questions of meaning.

 

In thinking of these things I am again reminded that in my opinion a claim of naturalism goes much further in delineating what I believe than a claim of atheism does. In telling a person that I am an atheist I am in effect closing a door. However when I claim to be a naturalist it seems to me that I am opening many doors.

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The universe is made up of atoms. I don't understand why you seem to think that's such a bad thing. It's just the way it is, it's neither good nor bad. Just because something's not a tree or a flower doesn't mean it's not natural. Trees and flowers are made up of those atoms and molecules too. We're all part of the same universe, and I find that strangely more comforting than religion.

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The universe is made up of atoms. I don't understand why you seem to think that's such a bad thing. It's just the way it is, it's neither good nor bad. Just because something's not a tree or a flower doesn't mean it's not natural. Trees and flowers are made up of those atoms and molecules too. We're all part of the same universe, and I find that strangely more comforting than religion.

Oh, please don't get me wrong Amethyst. It's not like I deny the existence of atoms or something. It's just that I'm not convinced that taking every natural system apart into its constituent atoms is the only method, or even the preferred method, of going about understanding how and why things work.

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The universe is made up of atoms. I don't understand why you seem to think that's such a bad thing. It's just the way it is, it's neither good nor bad. Just because something's not a tree or a flower doesn't mean it's not natural. Trees and flowers are made up of those atoms and molecules too. We're all part of the same universe, and I find that strangely more comforting than religion.

Oh, please don't get me wrong Amethyst. It's not like I deny the existence of atoms or something. It's just that I'm not convinced that taking every natural system apart into its constituent atoms is the only method, or even the preferred method, of going about understanding how and why things work.

 

I don't see anyone who wants to take things apart, at least, as far as nature is concerned. All I see are the scientists who want to observe them, the liberals who want to preserve them, the fundies who want to destroy them, and the rest caught in-between.

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I suspect that the antagonism or competition for credence between my naturalistic beliefs and my super-naturalistic beliefs is at the root of why I eventually outgrew Christianity. In other words, upon reflection not only did “God did it” increasingly lose credence for me but also “it’s a natural phenomenon” increasingly gained credence as I matured and learned more about myself and the world around me. So as I looked less to a god as an explanation of things I looked more towards the relations in nature and myself as a probable explanation of things.

 

 

That's well put and exemplifies my own experiences. I didn't become an ex Christian overnight, nor did I become an atheist through some epiphany. Rather the more I learned the less room there was for a god. There are still many, many things we cannot yet explain, but when the trend of reasonable natural explanations has thus far been perfect, it seems reasonable to extrapolate that current gaps will continue to be filled with natural answers leaving god fewer and fewer places to hide.

 

I will add that there is room for the irrational in my life as well. I'm not sure if this fits in this discussion of naturalism or not, so I'll let others pipe in if they feel the need. Morality is not always rational. It may be perfectly rational to kill for example. Likewise, it might be perfectly rational to commit genocide, but that doesn't mean I will support it.

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But how does this approach to knowledge address areas questions of human experience?

When I thought about the phrase “approach to knowledge” the word epistemology occurred to me. Is naturalism an epistemology or does it have an epistemology? If naturalism is a philosophy then perhaps we could ask with what other philosophies and their respective epistemologies it may agree.

Perhaps it would be helpful to define more closely what type of naturalism you are referring to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Naturalism

Naturalism may refer to:

 

Naturalism (philosophy), any of several philosophical stances wherein all phenomena or hypotheses commonly labeled as supernatural are either false, unknowable, or not inherently different from natural phenomena or hypotheses

 

Methodological naturalism is the belief that observable events in nature are explained only by natural causes without assuming the existence or non-existence of the supernatural

 

Metaphysical naturalism, the belief that the natural world is all that exists

 

Ethical naturalism, the theory that ethical terms can be defined in non-ethical terms

 

Humanistic naturalism, an outlook that places the emphasis upon a naturalism based upon scientific reasoning

 

Natural history, a broad area of the natural sciences concerned with living things

 

Sociological naturalism, the view that the natural world and the social world are roughly identical and governed by similar principles

 

Naturalism (art), an artistic style

 

Naturalism (literature), a literary, cinematic, or theatrical style

 

Naturalism (horse), a race horse trained by Lee Freedman

 

Naturalistic observation, an empirical method of study by which the researcher introduces no outside stimulus, instead witnessing behavior as it naturally occurs in the environment

The Wiki link hyperlinks each of these headings to separate articles.

 

If we were to go down an epistemological road then I suppose that I would have to begin with “cogito ergo sum.”

Oh fun, here we go... oh on second thought, I’ll leave this one alone for now. :grin: (It’s the whole skepticism versus rationalism, positivism versus irrationalism, aestheticism, and existentialism discussion). BTW, Descartes originally said “cogito, sum,” “I think, I am.”

 

As for human experience, I thought of things like the concept of self and the mind. I’ve heard it argued that all we ever experience are ourselves along with “impressions” that we impute as coming from our ambience. I can find little purchase to refute that assertion.

Add to this perception. This is why ideas like “Truth” with a capital T do not exist. What a rock is is never agreed upon absolutely by any two individuals. The observer always influences what is perceived. No two observers are identical.

 

Does naturalism address questions of "meaning", or only causes?

Among the things I think of when considering “meaning” is language. So when I ask myself what naturalistic disciplines systematically address questions of language I come up with things like: linguistics, psychology (again), and anthropology. I have little doubt that there may be others. So I would be tempted to say, yes naturalists do address questions of meaning.

In a sense yes, in a sense no. Understanding that language defines meaning does not express or imparts meaning. BTW, I am thrilled to see you nail “meaning” onto language! I have been intending for the longest time to start a thread on this. To me “God” is language. The entire basis of our relationship with ourselves and the world is within the framework of language. Mythology is a language that communicates and understanding along with emotion value. Science is a language that describes the mechanics of a thing, but does not impart any emotional value.

 

This is where philosophies like irrationalism, aestheticism, and existentialism arise in response to positivism and rationalism. To Kierkegaard, “meaning” is found in a “leap of faith”, out of rationality into an “upper story” experience of irrationality. Christian Neo-Orthodoxy is based on this “leap of faith”. (BTW, that term is misapplied when used in the context of modern fundamentalism). This is the context in which I am asking how you see where “naturalism” offers a way to find “meaning”. What is its basic premise philosophically about human experience?

 

In thinking of these things I am again reminded that in my opinion a claim of naturalism goes much further in delineating what I believe than a claim of atheism does. In telling a person that I am an atheist I am in effect closing a door. However when I claim to be a naturalist it seems to me that I am opening many doors.

I like what you’re saying here. Atheism doesn’t say anything about what you do believe. There is no atheism. There is no philosophy, no teachings, and no disciplines. It just simply defines a lack of belief in deities incorporated into what ever other philosophy you subscribe to. The problem is, for many people myself included, I am not one thing. We are products of many philosophical ideas we have absorbed through our exposure to culture, whether we realize it or not. I can call myself many things, but on the question if I have a god in the mix, I would have to respond, “I am an atheist”. The question shouldn't be asked "do you believe in God"? The question should be asked, "What's your basic philosophy of life"? Maybe the best response should be to redirect the question?

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Vigile, I would have brought your words down here, but I have yet to explore the quote function. Yeah I didn't have an epiphany either. It was just a growing certainity that everything capable of being experienced was natural. I'm not sure though if I would characterize morality as irrational though. I imagine that it is a difficult and complex, but not irrational in the sense that morality is unentailed.

 

Perhaps it would be helpful to define more closely what type of naturalism you are referring to

I suppose that I lean much more towards methodological naturalism than any of the others. Ethical naturalism strikes me as intriguing though. I find it difficult to endorse metaphysical naturalism because it asserts that that the natural world is all that exists. I don’t believe that I can be certain of that. However it seems to me that if the supernatural exists then it would have to remain forever distinct from the natural world. For if at any point it interacted with the natural world then it would have to be considered a hitherto unknown aspect of it in my estimation.

 

After a little more research I have yet to find an epistemology for naturalism. Rather it seems that it resides alongside other philosophies and indeed stands in a rather complex relationship with them. So it seems to me that naturalists must not neglect their/our relationships with other philosophies lest we fail to inform or be informed.

 

Science is a language that describes the mechanics of a thing, but does not impart any emotional value.

I am leaning towards disagreement with this assertion. Science and scientists may not be the dispassionate entities that they are often painted as being. For instance, of all the natural systems that science could try and understand they choose a comparatively small number for protracted scrutiny. This implies to me that they must engage judgment, values and perhaps even wisdom which in turn implies that they may engage their emotions.

 

What is its basic premise philosophically about human experience?

Since this is the second time you have asked this question, I suppose that I failed to address it the first time. I can’t speak for all naturalists. At best I am myself only a budding naturalist. I heard a statement once that if I remember correctly was attributed to a Buddhist. It was some like, “The mind is that which thinks about something other than itself.” Yet I am convinced that it is the mind, as a natural system, which upcoming and influential naturalists will increasingly direct their attention. I’ve heard a theoretical biologist say, “mind is to brain as life is to organism.” All I can say is that naturalism asserts that we need not appeal to the supernatural in order to gain understanding of human experience. It is shaped, it has a grain, it is entailed and in turn entails, it has a nature.

 

Atheism doesn’t say anything about what you do believe.

I wholeheartedly agree. That’s why I am inclined to declare myself a naturalist. It gives the person to whom I may be speaking a better feel of what I do believe.

 

We are products of many philosophical ideas we have absorbed through our exposure to culture, whether we realize it or not.

I agree. That sounds completely natural to me.

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I didn't become an ex Christian overnight, nor did I become an atheist through some epiphany. Rather the more I learned the less room there was for a god.

 

That describes my experience exactly. First Jesus left the picture but I believed in Yahweh. Then I axed him and was a deist, then agnostic, then deist, then agnostic, then atheist (though I probably am a "weak" atheist). I haven't believed in any type of God at all for quite a few months now but I stand firm in my non-belief and I am very glad to finally have reached the point of having no fear at all. It is amazing how letting go of fear can change ones life.

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I like what you’re saying here. Atheism doesn’t say anything about what you do believe. There is no atheism. There is no philosophy, no teachings, and no disciplines. It just simply defines a lack of belief in deities incorporated into what ever other philosophy you subscribe to. The problem is, for many people myself included, I am not one thing. We are products of many philosophical ideas we have absorbed through our exposure to culture, whether we realize it or not. I can call myself many things, but on the question if I have a god in the mix, I would have to respond, “I am an atheist”. The question shouldn't be asked "do you believe in God"? The question should be asked, "What's your basic philosophy of life"? Maybe the best response should be to redirect the question?

 

I have to agree with this. I don't think people should be defined by what they're not, and that is the issue I have with atheism. I think I am more of a humanist than anything else.

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I am an Atheist.

I am a Secular Humanist.

I am a Naturalist (one that teaches others about nature)

I am a llama rancher.

I am a materialist.

I am a male.

I am an entomologist.

I am a race car driver.

I am a pretty good backgammon player.

I am a philatelist.

I am many things.

 

Get the idea yet? Just because I call myself one thing does not mean that that is all I can be. What I am depends on what the question is.

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I am many things.

 

What I am depends on what the question is.

I too am many things. Thus my psuedonym is Legion.

 

However the fact that we are multifaceted is not, in my mind, inconsistent with naturalism.

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I too am many things. Thus my psuedonym is Legion.

 

However the fact that we are multifaceted is not, in my mind, inconsistent with naturalism.

I never said it wasn't. Defining yourself as one thing is against human nature.

 

When asked about auto repair, I'm a shade tree mechanic.

When asked about auto racing, I'm a mini-super truck driver (or I was).

When asked about science, I'm an entomologist.

When asked about the existence of gods, I'm an Atheist.

When asked about morals, I'm a Secular humanist.

When asked about nature, I'm a naturalist.

 

Again, what I am depends on the question. And I am not going to stop using the word 'Atheist' just because some christians insist on dishonestly defining Atheism. If I did, that'd mean they win.

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I am not going to stop using the word 'Atheist' just because some christians insist on dishonestly defining Atheism. If I did, that'd mean they win.

I hope that you will feel free to continue to lay claim to the label of “atheist.” For me it seems that you are merely saying that you are not a theist. Whereas when I lay claim to being a naturalist I am revealing more of that to which I do adhere. In other words, the atheist in effect says “I don’t believe in that.” The naturalist in effect says “Here is what I do believe.”

 

Also, I’m not terribly interested in winning or losing when it comes to my dealings with those who remain Christian. In fact, I feel that by revealing to them that I am a naturalist the possibility of continued dialogue will be enhanced. I believe that most Christians would acknowledge that there is a natural world. So instead of bickering about the existence or non-existence of their imaginary friend/parent, perhaps we can speak of the natural world, our place of common residence.

 

By the way I think it’s kind of cool that you are (among other things) an entomologist Dave. Which insects fascinate you most?

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I hope that you will feel free to continue to lay claim to the label of “atheist.” For me it seems that you are merely saying that you are not a theist.

Only when that question is asked. At other times I can be other things. Other questions get different answers. I am not going to pin my whole philosophy on to one answer to one specific question.

By the way I think it’s kind of cool that you are (among other things) an entomologist Dave. Which insects fascinate you most?

The sheer variety, and number. There is about a ton of insects for every human on the planet.

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By the way I think it’s kind of cool that you are (among other things) an entomologist Dave. Which insects fascinate you most?

The sheer variety, and number. There is about a ton of insects for every human on the planet.

Just a brief note to this comment here, it just occured to me that if you're talking about speaking to others about perceiving the world through a naturalist perspective, this fact just stated strikes me as one of the more powerful about nature and life on this planet, in regards to the "dominance" of man. In the light of the sheer success and longevity of insects on this planet, not only in their existence from the beginning of time through, but their ablilty to thrive in all extreems of enviroments show that truly this planet is theirs. They are the most sucessful animal life on this planet. Humans are barely suited for survival, and on the scale of time we are an infensimally tiny blip on the screen. When we're gone, then insects will be here.

 

So put yourself in the mindset of mythology here. If God existed, then the insect is his crowning creation, not us. Praise the Lord of the Flies!

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If God existed, then the insect is his crowing creation, not us. Praise the Lord of the Flies!

 

And the Lord of the Crows too! :HaHa:

 

Sorry, I had to take a moment to pounce on you for your misspelling of croWning as it is very rare, lol.

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If God existed, then the insect is his crowing creation, not us. Praise the Lord of the Flies!

 

And the Lord of the Crows too! :HaHa:

 

Sorry, I had to take a moment to pounce on you for your misspelling of croWning as it is very rare, lol.

Misspell? What misspell? (Look again: :wicked: )

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So put yourself in the mindset of mythology here. If God existed, then the insect is his crowning creation, not us. Praise the Lord of the Flies!

It's more like Lord of the Cockroach. Dictyoptera have been around for about 300 million years and will likely be around that long after we are gone. Insects have been around for over 400 million years. As evolution predicts, groups that have been around the longest would also have the greatest diversity.

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So put yourself in the mindset of mythology here. If God existed, then the insect is his crowning creation, not us. Praise the Lord of the Flies!

It's more like Lord of the Cockroach. Dictyoptera have been around for about 300 million years and will likely be around that long after we are gone. Insects have been around for over 400 million years. As evolution predicts, groups that have been around the longest would also have the greatest diversity.

Now we all know that as mammals many of us overwhelmingly prefer other mammals.

 

:notworthy::Sheep::wub::lmao:

 

 

Go mammals, go!

 

 

We'll make great pets.

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