I made the title of this a discussion a question and not a statement for a reason; I really don't understand why Naturalism hasn't become the default demographic descriptor for people of the same world-view as those that frequent the Atheist Nexus site (or any other similar site).

Whenever I am asked to give a single word description of world-view, if the choice is available, I chose Naturalism.  It best describes the lens that I look at the universe through.  But yet, most others with the nearly the exact same world-view that I have would pick either Atheist or Agnostic.  I really don't understand that.

Atheist- Lack of belief in gods.

Agnostic (used in the context that I most frequently encounter it) - Can never be 100% positive that there are no gods.

OK, I agree with both the Atheist and the Agnostic.  But so what?  I have known people that describe themselves as either Atheist and/or Agnostic and yet they believe the book "The Secret" has merit or that homeopathy is a reasonable way to treat disease.  So by knowing that I am an Atheist, you really don't much about me at all.  Why has that label become a banner and not Naturalism?

When I say I am a Naturalist, I actually describe a great a deal about myself:  I have reached a point in my life when I normally just disregard any supernatural explanation for a phenomenon, I believe the knowledge arts (science, mathematics, history, etc.) have reached a point where the consensus in those fields is the absolute closest thing to "Truth" we have (this is probabilistic), and  I'm even telling you that if you want to convince me of something, it had better based on evidence and logic. And yes that entails that I do not believe in G(g)od(s).

So, given that Naturalism is much better descriptor of who I am than Atheist, why do I keep having to check Atheist (not that I'm ashamed, I check it proudly) on demographic questions?


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it's pretty easy to say that naturalism is a philosophical worldview that accepts nature is enough.

It is a very inclusive, albeit vague position.

I tend not to self-identify with positions alone though. "Naturalism", gives no nod to human rights, arts, political compass, plurality, etc. Position-based labels, especially those with single-point data frames of reference can sometimes become either self-limiting, or even meaningless; depending on context.

If asked,

  • "I'm atheist" = a position
  • "I'm an atheist" = makes no sense to me.
I suppose I'm also influenced by my dad who years ago suggested to me that subsuming a single position as an identity; often implies a reactive rather than an proactive stance.

I think the implications of our lack of free will has great significance to identifying as naturalist.

I think the free will question may in fact be a big one.  I failed to capture it in my summary, but it has great merit.

For the well studied that don't identify with naturalism, it could very well be that giving up the contra-causal freewill concept is the driving impediment.

After all, if even a committed naturalist like Dan Dennett dances around it, "the illusion of free will," that could be a significant factor. 

Those questions will have to be well worded.

yes - I can help with that if you like :)

Humanism may be closer to what you are looking for then.

I've never had the naturopath response but I have had to clarify that I'm not nudist (not that there's anything wrong with that).

Well, looks like a time for a quick recap of what we have so far. First let me thank everyone who has commented, I already have a much better grasp on the question even if I don't have an answer yet.

So here is my take:

Alice suggested a survey and then went on to give one line of questioning: The term may just be too unfamiliar to people to be used widely and/or they may be familiar with the term but not it's intended meaning.

David suggests that term can be frequently misinterpreted and might even be viewed as an attempt to be deceptive by some theists.

Susan suggests that maybe humanist is a sufficient (or better?) description.

Richard suggests that it may it not just be naturalism per se, but freethinkers may just resist categorization in general.

If my summary didn't capture the real point you were trying to make let me know so I can refine it.

Where I would like to go from here is to draft a survey and post it so it can be commented on and improved. In the mean time if anyone comes up with what they think would be a good line for a question please post here it. Also if anyone has any ideas of good sites to conduct the survey (survey monkey comes to mind) please post that also.

Again, thanks for your time and thoughtful responses.

Sounds interesting... looking forward to results... :)

Straggler comment:

I'm guessing Alice's book is going to help in this regard.  I'm trying to understand naturalism and so far I like it. 

Many people including atheists are happily married to the concept of free will and it will be wrestled away with some difficulty. It might need to be "reframed. "

Determinism aka "no free will" is rejected by many because of the morality angle. At first glance it sounds like lack of free will is a loss of personal responsibility.  But if I understand correctly, please correct me if wrong, the naturalist view of  free will does not validate so-called immoral choices but rather surrenders to nature's control of the physical world and asserts that morality is in nature's best interest. 

The idea of nature as it's own self policing morality is different than saying one's "fate" is predetermined no matter what one does.  Understanding this was helpful for me in accepting the naturalist world view. 

yes - we are not fated or pre-determined to do anything - we are fully caused causal agents with the evolutionary capacity to think, reason and experience the process of choice...

Davey - I'm totally with you - I've told theists that I am a naturalist before - and then they ask me what that is - and I say simply that it means that I belief everything is natural and can be explained naturally.  That's it - no mention of attacking their faith at all - just simple and straight forward.  Usually that's all they ask - they don't seem interested beyond that - perhaps they've figured out where it might lead and don't want to go there :)

Regarding your last comment -  "I believe that we have got to get back to basics if humanity will ever return to harmony."  How can we return to harmony when we never had it to start with?

Alice :)




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