Naturalism Checklist
#1
In a crisp 2 minute segment in the introductory lecture in a Stanford course on Human Behavioral Biology, Prof. Robert Sapolsky spells out the key questions which maybe all we need to tell apart those who have adopted a naturalistic worldview from those who haven't. Another highlight in the same lecture is this 7 minute segment cautioning how super-specialized scientific enterprise can be counterproductive if not embedded in a worldview that prioritizes humanistic values. As an aside, starting a thread to serve as an informal study circle on Prof. Sapolsky's course maybe worthwhile.

For now, the questions Prof. Sapolsky asks are:

Quote:OK...Just to get a sense of who's here...

How many of you think that there is a genetic influence on sexual orientation?
How many of you think it is possible for prenatal events to influence your political opinions thirty years later?
How many of you think there is a valid way of using biology to understand who's religious and who isn't?...
How many people believe in God?
How many people believe in souls?
How many people believe in evil?
How many people believe in free will?...
Is there anybody in this room who actually does believe in evolution?...
How many think that there is a genetic influence and that there is a basic biological difference, a sex difference, in levels of aggression?
How many think there is biological basis for sex differences in intelligence?
Who thinks it's all explained by Nature? Who thinks it's all explained by nurture? Who thinks there is a magnificent, fascinating, nuanced interaction between Nature and nurture?

These can be a starting point for several useful exercises.
What are some other questions which you think can be added above to help better identify naturalists?
How well do you think the responses to the above questions can predict stances regarding controversial social issues (eg. affirmative action)? Which ones are potentially more informative than others?
Is anyone up for an exercise of reducing one's worldview into writing as it were, by responding and justifying the responses to each of the questions above?
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#2
Let me try to answer one of these questions.

Quote:How many of you think that there is a genetic influence on sexual orientation?

In a video Richard Dawkins gives plausible hypotheses (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MHDCAllQgS0) on how the gene for gayness could have come about. However I am not sure if the gene for gayness has been found to establish genetic influence on sexual orientation. Assuming that no such gene has been found yet and with out googling "Gay gene" and reading all the material for and against "Gay gene" let me make a guess. I will be extremely surprised if genetic influence is not at least one of the factors determining sexual orientation. But ultimately this question should be answered empirically.

I also believe that there is more to this question than just a way to figure out if people believe gayness is genetically determined. For instance this question is a loaded one to people living in a political culture like that in US. People who call themselves liberals are programmed to answer yes to this question with out looking for evidence because they mistakenly believe that by answering no they might be taking away people's right to a gay lifestyle. Conversely people who call themselves conservatives are programmed to answer no to this question for the exact opposite reason.
In fact, if the question is posed as a yes or no question with out much time for a detailed answer it might be tactically safer to ignore all the empiricism and just answer yes or no based on your social ideology.
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#3
(19-Nov-2012, 11:47 AM)arvindiyer Wrote: What are some other questions which you think can be added above to help better identify naturalists?

We can come up with several questions similar to the ones listed above. For example "Do you believe in global warming?". But I am not entirely sure if answers to these kinds of questions can identify naturalists unless you understand the reasons for the answers.

IMO, what you are really trying to do is that to look for a question that can be used as a proxy to question "Are you are naturalist?".

How about "Will you change your mind if peer reviewed evidence is presented to you that contradicts your understanding of the world?"

If this question sounds awfully similar to the question of "Are you are naturalist?" then we can modify the question.

First ask the subject to answer one of the questions in the original list you had up there, say for instance "genetic influence on sexual orientation". Then ask the follow-up question "Will you change your mind if peer reviewed evidence is presented to you that contradicts your belief or lack of belief in genetic influence on sexual orientation?"
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#4
(19-Nov-2012, 10:26 PM)Captain Mandrake Wrote: I will be extremely surprised if genetic influence is not at least one of the factors determining sexual orientation. But ultimately this question should be answered empirically.

Indeed it is vital to guard against pop-science oversimplification here. This recent and timely SciAm post criticizes the annoying and misleading trend in the popular science media claiming the discovery of 'the gene for religiosity' or 'the gene for conservatism'. In fact the lecture by Prof. Sapolsky in the OP itself has a segment cautioning against such oversimplification.

Prof. Dawkins' latest documentary series has a section that maybe interesting viewing in this regard. There is astonishing specificity for certain traits and the story isn't as cut-and-dried for other traits, and the challenge is to not let the former lead to wild-goose-chases for single-gene explanations of all traits and to not let the latter lead to a resigned dismissal of the utility of gene expression networks.

Apropos another empirical question alluded to in the OP, i.e. "Are there such things as sex differences in cognitive abilities?", here is a link to an instructive exchange between Steven Pinker and Elizabeth Spelke.

(19-Nov-2012, 10:26 PM)Captain Mandrake Wrote: How about "Will you change your mind if peer reviewed evidence is presented to you that contradicts your understanding of the world?"

Another question worth including would be one that gauges the respondents' belief in anthropocentrism and teleological explanations eg. "Do you think everything happens for a reason?" We are very prone to teleological explanations as children, as illustrated in this section from Dawkins' 'Faith School Menace' documentary. To what degree we outgrow teleological explanations will be a good measure of how much the naturalistic worldview has truly been embraced.

This earlier thread featured a discussion on how the 'supernatural' is commonly conceptualized as a realm where notions of space, time and causation are inapplicable. Therefore, questions gauging degree of acceptance of NOMA maybe useful as well, for admitting exceptions to physical laws detracts from a truly naturalistic worldview.
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#5
(19-Nov-2012, 11:47 AM)arvindiyer Wrote: How well do you think the responses to the above questions can predict stances regarding controversial social issues (eg. affirmative action)?

Well, it really depends on the context in which these questions are asked and answered. If you understand the context you may be able to guess what the responses to other questions are going to be. But we can not be sure what people really believe based on these answers because people can lie. For instance in the recently concluded 2012 US election campaign US Rep. Paul Broun (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_Broun) said that he believes that evolution and embryology are lies from the pit of hell. But he is a medical doctor by training, so clearly (at least I hope) he is lying here. In fact Paul Broun was using his statement about evolution as a proxy to his other right-wing views that he thought the electorate in his district identified with. Paul Broun viewed his electorate to fall under two buckets; a small left-wing bucket and a large right-wing bucket. He wanted his electorate to put him in the right-wing bucket. So he used one of the signals that will help people to put him in the right-wing bucket.

So based on his statement about evolution and embryology and my understanding of his motivation, I can guess that he opposes affirmative action, does not believe sexual orientation is determined by genetics, and does not believe in global warming.

Similarly, if we understand the context in which people answer these questions and understand their social constraints we may be able to guess their answers to other questions.
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#6
(20-Nov-2012, 12:21 AM)arvindiyer Wrote: Another question worth including would be one that gauges the respondents' belief in anthropocentrism and teleological explanations eg. "Do you think everything happens for a reason?"

I think these questions that measures your propensity to anthropocentrism and teleological explanations are better additions to the naturalism checklist than the question about genetic influence on sexual orientation which only tells us which political tribe you belong to.

May be we can also add questions that measures the extent to which someone is prone to deprovincialization (ability to include/accept views of people different from you in your worldview). Though this will be a better addition to a secular humanism and freethinking checklist I believe this also has a place in naturalism checklist.
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#7
(20-Nov-2012, 12:21 AM)arvindiyer Wrote: Indeed it is vital to guard against pop-science oversimplification here. This recent and timely SciAm post criticizes the annoying and misleading trend in the popular science media claiming the discovery of 'the gene for religiosity' or 'the gene for conservatism'.


Jerry Coyne makes the same point in response to something on popular press claiming to have found "the gene for humanity".

http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/...-humanity/
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#8
Here is a link to an interesting piece by Baumeister on gender differences.

http://denisdutton.com/baumeister.htm

Extracts

What was his crime? Nobody accused him of actually discriminating against women. His misdeed was to think thoughts that are not allowed to be thought, namely that there might be more men with high ability. The only permissible explanation for the lack of top women scientists is patriarchy — that men are conspiring to keep women down. It can’t be ability. Actually, there is some evidence that men on average are a little better at math, but let’s assume Summers was talking about general intelligence. People can point to plenty of data that the average IQ of adult men is about the same as the average for women. So to suggest that men are smarter than women is wrong. No wonder some women were offended.

But that’s not what he said. He said there were more men at the top levels of ability. That could still be true despite the average being the same — if there are also more men at the bottom of the distribution, more really stupid men than women. During the controversy about his remarks, I didn’t see anybody raise this question, but the data are there, indeed abundant, and they are indisputable. There are more males than females with really low IQs. Indeed, the pattern with mental retardation is the same as with genius, namely that as you go from mild to medium to extreme, the preponderance of males gets bigger.
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#9
(20-Jan-2013, 09:39 PM)Cityboy Wrote: Here is a link to an interesting piece by Baumeister on gender differences.

http://denisdutton.com/baumeister.htm

I started reading that paper and found it problematic right off the bat. Started another thread to discuss it.
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#10
(20-Jan-2013, 09:39 PM)Cityboy Wrote: Here is a link to an interesting piece by Baumeister on gender differences.

http://denisdutton.com/baumeister.htm

Extracts

What was his crime? Nobody accused him of actually discriminating against women. His misdeed was to think thoughts that are not allowed to be thought, namely that there might be more men with high ability. The only permissible explanation for the lack of top women scientists is patriarchy — that men are conspiring to keep women down. It can’t be ability. Actually, there is some evidence that men on average are a little better at math, but let’s assume Summers was talking about general intelligence. People can point to plenty of data that the average IQ of adult men is about the same as the average for women. So to suggest that men are smarter than women is wrong. No wonder some women were offended.

But that’s not what he said. He said there were more men at the top levels of ability. That could still be true despite the average being the same — if there are also more men at the bottom of the distribution, more really stupid men than women. During the controversy about his remarks, I didn’t see anybody raise this question, but the data are there, indeed abundant, and they are indisputable. There are more males than females with really low IQs. Indeed, the pattern with mental retardation is the same as with genius, namely that as you go from mild to medium to extreme, the preponderance of males gets bigger.

There is nice debate between Pinker and Spelke on the same topic (linked in this thread http://nirmukta.net/Thread-Feminism-From...94#pid5494).
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