Conference Proposal

A proposal for a conference on naturalism, tentatively entitled: Encountering Naturalism: Science, Self, and Society - A Multi-Disciplinary Symposium on the Implications of Naturalism.

Proposed Sample Agenda

This agenda is meant to illustrate the sorts of issues that could be discussed in a conference on free will and applied naturalism. Certainly not all topics below could be covered in a one day format as in the proposed schedule below, 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.

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, and they are listed in no particular order. 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)
  • Valerie Hardcastle (U of VT)
  • Janet Radcliffe Richards (wrote Human Nature After Darwin, on critical thinking, philosophy, and evolution)
  • Susan Blackmore (Meme Machine, ended with chapter questioning self and free will)
  • William Casebeer
  • Daniel Dennett (2 books on free will, many others)
  • David Noelle (wrote a good piece for FI on punishment)
  • Patricia Churchland

Physics and causality

  • Neil de Grass Tyson

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 (wrote NYTimes piece on capital punishment mentioning fw)
  • Adrian Raine (UCLA, “Mark of Caine”, crime and neuroscience)
  • Michael Edmund O’Neill (George Mason U)


  • Richard Dawkins
  • Will Provine (Cornell, anti-free will)
  • Leda Cominedes
  • Ursula Goodenough (Sacred Depths of Nature)


  • Ann Druyan
  • Ursula Goodenough (Sacred Depths of Nature)
  • Chet Raymo (Skeptics and True Believers)

Social Justice

  • Holly Sklar


  • Perhaps someone from National Center for Science Education


  • Bob Miller (naturalist psychologist)
  • Les Garwood (psychiatrist, Yahoo determinism group)
  • Dan Wegner (Harvard, The Illusion of Conscious Will)
  • John Bargh (NYU, writes on automaticity)

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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