The Case for Naturalism

By Sean Carroll | May 7, 2012 9:03 am

“Atheism” is a fine word, and I’m happy to describe myself as an atheist. God is an idea that has consequences, and those consequences don’t accord with the world we experience any better than countless other ideas we’ve given up on. But given a choice I would always describe myself first as a “naturalist” — someone who believes that there is only one realm of reality, the material world, which obeys natural laws, and that we human beings are part of it. “Atheism” is ultimately about rejecting a certain idea, while “naturalism” is about a positive acceptance of a comprehensive worldview. Naturalists have a lot more work to do than simply rejecting God; they bear the responsibility of understanding how to live a meaningful life in a universe without built-in purpose.

Which is why I devoted my opening statement at “The Great Debate” a few weeks ago to presenting the positive case for naturalism, rather than just arguing against the idea of God. And I tried to do so in terms that would be comprehensible to people who disagreed with me — at least that was the goal, you can judge for yourself whether I actually succeeded.

So here I’ve excerpted that opening ten-minute statement from the two-hour debate I had with Michael Shermer, Dinesh D’Souza, and Ian Hutchinson. I figure there must be people out there who might possibly be willing to watch a ten-minute video (or watch for one minute before changing the channel) but who wouldn’t even press “play” on the full version. This is the best I can do in ten minutes to sum up the progress in human understanding that has led us to reject the supernatural and accept that the natural world is all there is. And I did manage to work in Princess Elisabeth of Bohemia.

I am curious as to how the pitch goes over (given the constraints of time and the medium), so constructive criticism is appreciated.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Philosophy, Religion, Top Posts
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Cosmic Variance

Random samplings from a universe of ideas.

About Sean Carroll

Sean Carroll is a Senior Research Associate in the Department of Physics at the California Institute of Technology. His research interests include theoretical aspects of cosmology, field theory, and gravitation. His most recent book is The Particle at the End of the Universe, about the Large Hadron Collider and the search for the Higgs boson. Here are some of his favorite blog posts, home page, and email: carroll [at] cosmicvariance.com .

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