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Conference on Naturalism

- Conference Proposal -

Encountering Naturalism: Science, Self, and Society

A Multi-Disciplinary Symposium on the
Implications of Naturalism

Note: the following agenda is meant to illustrate the sorts of issues that could be discussed in a conference on naturalism. Certainly not all topics below could be covered in a one day format as in the proposed schedule. But they could conceivably be covered in a two or three day version of this conference. The topics mentioned below are certainly not exhaustive, but they do at least scratch the surface.

Proposed Sample Agenda

Section 1 – Introduction

  • Our full connection to nature: the virtues of an inclusive scientific naturalism
  • Challenging the supernatural soul: parallels to beliefs in god and afterlife
  • Common fears about not having free will: fatalism, immorality, meaninglessness
  • Not a necessary fiction: why we don’t need free will to be happy, good, or productive
  • Causality and society: overview of social benefits of inclusive naturalism
  • Living without free will: overview of the personal benefits of accepting causality and connection

Section 2 – Causality and Freedom

  • Causality and the case against libertarian free will: science versus magical thinking
  • Freedom within determinism: the causal powers of persons
  • No third factor: sufficiency of genetics and environment to account for behavior
  • Consciousness and mechanism: choice, rationality, and the causal role of consciousness
  • The significance of causality: the power of knowing why we do what we do
  • Artificial intelligence: alternative realizations of personhood


Section 3 – Social and Policy Implications of Inclusive Naturalism

  • Education: teaching about causality and connection
  • Mental health and addiction: stigma, science, and personal responsibility
  • Criminal justice without retribution: the causes of crime and the aims of the law
  • Social justice and meritocracy: poverty, inequality and the deserving self

Section 4 – Personal Implications of Living without Free Will

  • Personal growth: psychological health and causal self-understanding
  • Interpersonal dynamics without free will: raising children, working with others
  • The extended self: inclusive identity and the growth of environmental consciousness
  • Spirituality and meaning in a physical universe

Section 5 - Moderated Open Discussion

Proposed schedule:

9 – 9:10 Welcome and introductions

9:15 – 10:30 Section 1: 2 speakers 30 minutes each, Q&A w/speakers 15 minutes

10:30-10:45 Break

10:45 – 12:00 Section 2: 2 speakers, Q&A

12:00 – 1:30 Lunch w/option for topic discussion groups

1:30 - 2:45 Section 3: 2 speakers, Q&A

2:45- 3:00 Break

3:00 – 4:15 Section 4: 2 speakers, Q&A

4:15 – 5:00 Moderated open discussion, w/panel of all speakers

Total speaking time = 4 hours

Total Q&A and discussion time = 1.75 hours

Total break time = 2 hours

Possible Speakers

Note: the names below are just a few of those who might be appropriate participants in this proposed conference. Please be in touch if you would be interested in participating, or would like to nominate someone for participation.

Neuroscience, philosophy, free will:

Owen Flanagan (Duke, The Problem of the Soul)

Tamler Sommers from Duke U (studied with Flanagan)

Bruce Waller (The Natural Selection of Autonomy)

Ted Honderich (England, How Free Are You?, Punishment: The Supposed Justifications)

Janet Radcliffe Richards (Human Nature After Darwin)

Susan Blackmore (The Meme Machinel)

William Casebeer

Daniel Dennett (Elbow Room, Freedom Evolves, Darwin's Dangerous Idea)

Patricia Churchland (Brain-Wise)


Physics and causality:

Neil de Grass Tyson

Victor Stenger


Criminal justice:

Derk Pereboom (U of VT, Living Without Free Will)

Stephen Morse (Upenn, “Guiding Goodness,” “Waiting for Determinism to Happen”)

Prof. Banner at UCLA (The Death Penalty in the United States)

Adrian Raine (UCLA, “Mark of Caine”, crime and neuroscience)

Michael Edmund O’Neill (George Mason U)



Richard Dawkins

Will Provine (Cornell)

Ursula Goodenough (The Sacred Depths of Nature)



Ann Druyan

Ursula Goodenough

Chet Raymo (Skeptics and True Believers)


Social Justice:

Holly Sklar



Eugenie Scott (National Center for Science Education)



Robert Miller (naturalist psychologist)

Les Garwood (psychiatrist, Yahoo determinism group)

Dan Wegner (Harvard, The Illusion of Conscious Will)

John Bargh (NYU)

Sample talk titles:

“Is free will a necessary fiction?”

“Exorcizing the ghost in the machine”

“Who’s responsible for self-control?”

“Neuroscience and the soul”

“Who’s afraid of determinism?”

“Believing in weird things: the contra-causal agent”

“Merit and inequality”

“Causality and empowerment”

“Law and agency”

“I’m nobody, who are you? - the self in its context”

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