Metaphysical Naturalism

The only thing worse then trying to tell people that you are a Secular Humanist is trying to tell people that you are a metaphysical naturalist.

WTF? Metaphysical Naturalist?

Its almost as if someone where just trying to make big words to sound smart. But metaphysical naturalism is a real thing, and it happens to describe a huge part of my worldview.

When you tell others that you are a metaphysical naturalist, the word that dominates their thoughts is nature. Particularly thoughts of camping, hiking, and Walden Pond. Or worse yet; nudist colonies.

This is slightly off target.

Perhaps for this reason when people ask me about my naturalism I tell them that as a naturalist I am intrigued by the loveliness of nuclear waste.

When a naturalist discusses nature he discusses the natural world as it is determined by scientific examination. When a naturalist discusses nature its not usually to contrast forests with cities, as culture has programmed us. To the naturalist the city is a perfectly comfortable manifestation of nature.

It is not the fault of the public that the definition of metaphysical naturalism is not well known.

It is however high time that we discussed naturalism enough for people to at least know what it is.

Naturalism is the idea that what we know comes from empirical study of nature. The scientific method is known as methodological naturalism. Quite simply, naturalism at its basis is science. Metaphysical naturalism is built on the cornerstone of methodological naturalism. It is the bloom on the root of the scientific method.

What me know must come from science says the naturalist. But when we begin to ask "what should we do with what we know?" that the task of the metaphysical naturalist.

Metaphysical claims are notions about how things should be, ethics, love, freedom. Out of professional courtesy and discipline scientist do not make metaphysical claims in the name of science. Metaphysical naturalists do.

The naturalist asks, "If this be true in nature what does it mean for humanity?"

One example is the thoughts of John Dewey on free will. Naturalists tend to reject notions of free will as something that exists beyond nature. Christianity, for example, teaches us that our will is something that transcends this mortal coil and reaches beyond from a spiritual realm. Naturalist reject this by pointing out that everything we chose to do we chose as a result of causes. John Dewey argued that we should think of habits as free will.

In short, naturalist answer questions on the nature of free will by illustrating the evidence that this universe is governed by causes. This is a principle known in physics and chemistry and by the metaphysical naturalists: thought of in the context of human choice.

Metaphysical naturalism has many champions: Betrand Russel, Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett, Paul Kurtz, Pat Churchland, Victor Stenger, Richard Carrier, and Susan Blackmore (who's punk rock antics endear me).

Naturalism is the philosophy behind respectful atheism. Those atheists we all love for their beautiful words would happily admit that they are naturalist. It is just harder to sell books on naturalism; remember the whole nudist colony/Walden Pond problem.

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Comment by Gary Berg-Cross on January 6, 2012 at 1:11pm

People interested in John Dewey and Metaphysical Naturalism may be interested to know that John Shook will speak Saturday, Jan. 7th, 2012 at the Wheaton Regional Libraryon "The Psychology of Religion, the Sociology of Theology, and the Humanist Strategic Response"

This is a free talk as part of the monthly WASH meetings. See

The behavioral and cognitive sciences are determining how religions originated tens of thousands of years ago and how they manipulate basic functions of the human brain. Since 1000 BCE, religions have added intellectual theologies to slowly adapt to philosophy, science, and social change. Modern theologies are well adapted to survive naturalistic challenges. Humanism must be carefully designed to strategically challenge religions and offer viable secular replacements.

Comment by T Andrew Klatt on October 6, 2010 at 4:23pm
I thought this was a nice and succint piece. A great overview for those who might not understand naturalism and metapyhsical naturalism. I posted the link to your blog on Facebook and Twitter pages recommending it for others.
Comment by Jesus swept on March 7, 2009 at 12:38am
You are fortunate to find a view which you can accept and find supportive. I will suggest though that you try to remain flexible and questioning of yourself and Metaphysical Naturalism.

There are many people who are so certain they have all the answers they try to deny others the experiences involved in the exploration and discovery of various ideas. This dogmatism is the foundation for "orthodox" atheism.
Comment by Reality Activist on March 6, 2009 at 10:26pm
Well, an atheist is defined by what one doesn't believe. I would hardly call that a label. It is so vague. It is much more important to know what one does believe or how one does perceive the environment around them. It really does just come down to perception. Is your perception of reality/environment filtered by some belief or is it clean without filters? Do you live in a fantasy world guided by your beliefs?

Yes, philosophy changes because as we increase our understanding, we like to change "how the world should be". Religion is just a subset of philosophy so both are derived from the same desire to change world for the better. It is much more adaptive to not live in any projected fantasy of the future like all believers of philosophy/religion. The best one can do is base their behavior on some of the absolutes in reality/environment and then create modifications based on geographic location. All life forms are forced to perform this type of adaptive behavior. We screw up because we are always trying to create a utopia. If utopia is possible, it won't be acquired through "how we want the world to be", but rather how we tackle and solve each problem that we face. As we grow with understanding and the resolutions of problems, we will evolve towards this "utopia". The bottom line is that we have to let go of our fantasy worlds.
Comment by Mindcore on March 6, 2009 at 9:23pm
I also hesitate to call myself an atheist Cody, but I don't see a problem with labels.
I think labels can be useful.

Though, it is good not to over do it.
Comment by Reality Activist on March 6, 2009 at 7:07pm
I think that this kind of philosophy is part of the problem. People are so busy seeing how they want the world to be that it makes them blind to the realities of today. Being blind in this way really creates two forms of maladaptive behavior. One, they don't take the realistic options to correct a problem of today. Instead they try to create a society that will function according to the way they want the world to be. Two, whenever you have someone who behaves based on "the way the world should be" and not how it is; it creates prejudices. If others don't behave in the same way as is indicated by your metaphysical viewpoint, their behavior isn't accepted. This is the same problem that we are having with other belief systems, particularly, Islam and Christianity. They, too, have a belief on how the world should be. What you have done is change one theist belief for a non theist belief. Beliefs are irrational and should not be used to try and control others.
It is time that people stop with this "how the world should be nonsense" and starting look at the problems that we face today and take action based on what is real and just. We will evolve as we correct the problems of today. Evolution will guide us. We have a wealth of knowledge about why we are here and why we should nurture not only our fellow human beings, but the earth and all of it's inorganic and organic phenomenons.



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