Does Naturalism Exclude Exceptional Phenomenon?

Would naturalism insist 500 fair coins 100% heads on a table could not possibly emerge from a random process (like random coin flipping)? How about a buzzillion fair coins being 100% heads after an explosion from a terrorist event at a bank? If naturalism won’t exclude such improbable events (events statistically indistinguishable from miracles), then naturalism doesn’t exclude miracles.

It just seems to me, philosophical naturalism (sometimes equated with atheism) is just a statement that says statistically or physically improbable events can’t be attributable to God even though miracles are possible (like through a hypothetical multi-universe process). God is just rejected as an explanation as a matter of principle according certain definitions of naturalism.

This line of thinking was inspired by Niel DeGrasse Tyson arguing for the possibility of Godless Intelligent Design of the Universe. I’m not saying there is a right or wrong answer, but just I’m suggesting naturalism allows for the possibility of miracles (albeit godless ones). This could lead to Godless ID or Godless Special Creation theory.

The exceptional quality of life and the origin of life problem does not arise for ignorance (an argument from ignorance) but via proof by contradiction. If one argues the Rube Goldbergesque design of life is highly probable, it is contradicted by theory and empirical evidence. It would seem whether one believes in God or not, life is a miracle, or at least almost one (ala to Francis Crick).

NOTES:
One dictionary definition of Naturalism

1. (in art and literature) a style and theory of representation based on the accurate depiction of detail.

2. a philosophical viewpoint according to which everything arises from natural properties and causes, and supernatural or spiritual explanations are excluded or discounted.

88 thoughts on “Does Naturalism Exclude Exceptional Phenomenon?

  1. Rumraket:
    Rare things happen rarely, extremely rare things happen extremely rarely. When does something become supernatural? At what frequency of occurrence does it go from natural to supernatural? 0.000000000001, 0.000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000001 ? Somewhere in between? Why?

    It’s supernatural when low odds involve life. Low odds not connected with life, and, well, it must be coincidence or some such thing.

    But it’s already obvious (to them) that life is something quite different, special, and probably already more than a little supernatural. So if the odds are low in life, magic must be the answer.

    I wish this were a joke, but it truly does seem that the real struggle in moving IDists/creationists toward actual biologic science is in getting them to apply the same standards to life and evolution that they often apply to non-living systems, or even to living systems that have nothing to do with origins. Evidence of evolution is discounted and any problems exaggerated because they’re already sure that it didn’t happen, and while they’d never accept a supernatural excuse from an accused criminal, a supernatural explanation for the origin of life seems at least as likely as not even before the odds of abiogenesis are claimed to be low. Then, throw around a few low “probabilities,” and surely the supernatural must be responsible for first life, at least.

    That’s the difference between science and nonsense, though. Science might give only low probabilities of something, supernatural claims actually supply no probability at all, not being based on any confirmed occurrence(s). Any hard-headed analysis would always prefer the low probability chances over the no probability chances (the latter aren’t ruled out, the problem is that they can’t be ruled in), but to someone who already is biased in favor of the no probability occurrence it is the low probability chance that seems unlikely. Often it’s rather circular, as well, as it is the low probability odds that confirm that the no probability odds have prevailed instead (Sal seems to think that the occurrence of life itself is evidence of the supernatural).

    But that’s why science standards do not allow for making up “causes.” It isn’t “naturalism” per se that rules out fictional causes (“naturalism” mainly raises questions of its definition), it’s just the only way that we can actually base our decisions on the evidence–one has to have evidence that a purported cause actually exists for it to have any probability at all.

    Glen Davidson

  2. I think addressing the probability argument as if Sal’s probability calculations were relevant is a mistake.

    Sal is brewing a stew of Texas Sharpshooter and junkyard 747 fallacies.

    Elizabeth addressed the 500 heads argument rather definitively several years ago, but Sal thinks everyone has forgotten. It is trivial to evolve a population having any sequence your heart desires. It is doubly trivial if you allow synonyms.

    Even more irrelevant if there is no predefined target.

    What a wasted life.

  3. Rumraket:
    Rare things happen rarely, extremely rare things happen extremely rarely. When does something become supernatural? At what frequency of occurrence does it go from natural to supernatural? 0.000000000001, 0.000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000001 ? Somewhere in between? Why?

    This is discussed in the McKinnon paper.

  4. GlenDavidson,

    As McKinnon points out, “super-natural” generally just means something like “in defiance of a law of nature.” So then the question of the form of the statement of such laws comes to the fore.

  5. petrushka: Everyone should sit on a jury at least once, and have to decide the fate of some fellow human being.

    Does far more than philosophy to bring about an understanding of what we know and how we know it.

    There are folks who want absolute certainty, mathematical proof. But life gives us fuzzy logic rather than equations. The law recognizes levels of certainty and asks people to apply a standard appropriate to the gravity of the situation.

    Nothing guarantees the correctness of the outcome, but it’s a process tuned over many centuries.

    Totally agree with the sentiment here. It’s not incompatible with philosophy, though, just bad philosophy.

  6. walto: just bad philosophy.

    I’m not following. You totally agree, but it’s bad philosophy???

    I don’t think legal practice is good philosophy. Just an evolved, messy process.

  7. Sorry, I should have said just with bad philosophy. (I.e., your sentiments are consistent with good philosophy, IMO.)

  8. John Harshman,

    Then again, all we know about physics tells us you can’t turn water into wine

    Wine primary contains carbon, oxygen and hydrogen. Water is oxygen and hydrogen and we convert nitrogen and oxygen into co2. Plants convert co2 into sugar. Life gives us clues to how this might be done. The more I think about this it seems a lot easier than the OOL problem. Allan Miller could probably give us a idea in principle.

  9. petrushka:
    I think addressing the probability argument as if Sal’s probability calculations were relevant is a mistake.

    Sal is brewing a stew of Texas Sharpshooter and junkyard 747fallacies.

    Elizabeth addressed the 500 heads argument rather definitively several years ago, but Sal thinks everyone has forgotten. It is trivial to evolve a population having any sequence your heart desires. It is doubly trivial if you allow synonyms.

    Even more irrelevant if there is no predefined target.

    What a wasted life.

    LoL! All rhetoric, no science and no evidence. But I am sure petrushka believes it anyway.

  10. colewd:
    John Harshman,

    Wine primary contains carbon, oxygen and hydrogen.Water is oxygen and hydrogen and we convert nitrogen and oxygen into co2.Plants convert co2 into sugar.Life gives us clues to how this might be done.The more I think about this it seems a lot easier than the OOL problem.Allan Miller could probably give us a idea in principle.

    I can’t believe I’m seriously discussing the water-into-wine problem. No, we don’t convert nitrogen and oxygen into CO2; that would be carbon and oxygen. For wine you would need at least carbon and nitrogen (can’t forget everything that gives it flavor). And you would need to subtract protons in a low energy environment, because wine plasma isn’t what we’re going for here. No, plants don’t convert CO2 to sugars, though that’s the carbon source. But we aren’t talking about photosynthesis or fermentation here. We’re talking about *poof*, not some drawn-out process with many ingredients. Just water -> wine, presto. If this seems easier to you than origin of life, you are not thinking clearly.

  11. John Harshman:
    John Harshman,

    Say, apparently the HTML “sub” tag doesn’t work here. Is there another way to make subscripts?

    You can use the LaTeX plugin. Surround your terms with dollar signs and use the underscore to specify a subscript. If you want more than one character subscripted, surround them all in curly brackets.

  12. John Harshman,

    . We’re talking about *poof*, not some drawn-out process with many ingredients. Just water -> wine, presto. If this seems easier to you than origin of life, you are not thinking clearly.

    We are talking about a short cut to a known process. My point is simply that you were out of bounds saying it is impossible in the same vain that a creationist is out of bounds saying a natural origin of life is impossible. My debate is not about water to wine it is about using extremes improperly to try to win a debate point. I am interested in your counter argument that speeding up the water to wine process is not easier than OOL.

  13. colewd,

    Allan Miller could probably give us a idea in principle.

    Like I said, the Mr Fusion. That’s the only way you’re going to get nitrogen and oxygen to make CO2 anyway. Even then you need the SplitMaster 5000 extension tube. Though it is 27km long.

  14. John Harshman,

    I can’t believe I’m seriously discussing the water-into-wine problem. No, we don’t convert nitrogen and oxygen into CO2; that would be carbon and oxygen.

    What do we breathe in and what do we breathe out?
    https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/

    When you breathe in, or inhale, your diaphragm contracts (tightens) and moves downward. This increases the space in your chest cavity, into which your lungs expand. The intercostal muscles between your ribs also help enlarge the chest cavity. They contract to pull your rib cage both upward and outward when you inhale.

    As your lungs expand, air is sucked in through your nose or mouth. The air travels down your windpipe and into your lungs. After passing through your bronchial tubes, the air finally reaches and enters the alveoli (air sacs).

    Through the very thin walls of the alveoli, oxygen from the air passes to the surrounding capillaries (blood vessels). A red blood cell protein called hemoglobin (HEE-muh-glow-bin) helps move oxygen from the air sacs to the blood.

    At the same time, carbon dioxide moves from the capillaries into the air sacs. The gas has traveled in the bloodstream from the right side of the heart through the pulmonary artery.

    Oxygen-rich blood from the lungs is carried through a network of capillaries to the pulmonary vein. This vein delivers the oxygen-rich blood to the left side of the heart. The left side of the heart pumps the blood to the rest of the body. There, the oxygen in the blood moves from blood vessels into surrounding tissues.

    (For more information on blood flow, go to the Health Topics How the Heart Works article.)

    Breathing Out (Exhalation)

    When you breathe out, or exhale, your diaphragm relaxes and moves upward into the chest cavity. The intercostal muscles between the ribs also relax to reduce the space in the chest cavity.

    As the space in the chest cavity gets smaller, air rich in carbon dioxide is forced out of your lungs and windpipe, and then out of your nose or mouth.

    Breathing out requires no effort from your body unless you have a lung disease or are doing physical activity. When you’re physically active, your abdominal muscles contract and push your diaphragm against your lungs even more than usual. This rapidly pushes air out of your lungs.

    The animation below shows how the lungs work. Click the “start” button to play the animation. Written and spoken explanations are provided with each frame. Use the buttons in the lower right corner to pause, restart, or replay the animation, or use the scroll bar below the buttons to move through the frames.

  15. colewd: I am interested in your counter argument that speeding up the water to wine process is not easier than OOL.

    A quick course in physics might help you understand.

    A working genome has been synthesized. It doesn’t explain how first life arose, but it demonstrates that the physics and chemistry are not particularly exotic or energy consuming.

    Transmuting H2O into wine would require an energy source on the order of a supernova.

  16. Allan Miller,

    Like I said, the Mr Fusion. That’s the only way you’re going to get nitrogen and oxygen to make CO2 anyway. Even then you need the SplitMaster 5000 extension tube. Though it is 27km long.

    Thanks for your always valued technical backup.:-)
    How does our body do it? Were not big enough for the split master 5000.

  17. colewd,

    If you are at all interested in an out-of-the-box attempt to answer your questions, there is a book by a respected physicist Frank Tipler. Tipler was mentioned in my General Relativity classes and was a student of John Wheeler who made huge contributions to relativity theory:

    The Physics of Christianity

    I’m not saying Tipler is right, but he does approach question like those you’ve posed.

  18. You like math, Sal. Make a stab at the energy requirements and temperatures required to transmute hydrogen or oxygen into carbon for alcohol. Then work on nitrogen.

    Then compare that with the energy budget for Venter’s synthesis of a yeast genome.

  19. colewd:
    John Harshman,

    We are talking about a short cut to a known process.My point is simply that you were out of bounds saying it is impossible in the same vain that a creationist is out of bounds saying a natural origin of life is impossible.My debate is not about water to wine it is about using extremes improperly to try to win a debate point.I am interested in your counter argument that speeding up the water to wine process is not easier than OOL.

    There is no water to wine process. There is a grape juice + yeast to wine process. There is a plant + sun + CO2 + water to grape juice process. But that’s not at all the same thing. You appear to be proposing some pretty serious nuclear physics in which oxygen is a source of protons and neutrons to produce carbon and nitrogen. There is no such process.

  20. colewd:
    Allan Miller,

    Thanks for your always valued technical backup.:-)
    How does our body do it?Were not big enough for the split master 5000.

    Our body doesn’t do it. Wherever did you get that idea? We make CO2 from carbon and oxygen. Carbon, not nitrogen. Water has no carbon and no nitrogen, and this is your biggest problem.

  21. stcordova: I’m not saying Tipler is right, but he does approach question like those you’ve posed.

    How does he deal with the water-to-wine thing?

  22. colewd:
    John Harshman,

    What do we breathe in and what do we breathe out?

    While there’s lots of nitrogen in air, we make no use at all of it. Nitrogen goes in. A little bit of it diffuses into blood, and an equal amount diffuses out. There can be more diffusion with radical changes in pressure, which is why divers get the bends. But that has nothing to do with metabolism, and certainly nothing to do with producing CO2. How can you not know this? No elemental transmutation occurs in animal metabolism.

  23. stcordova,

    I’m not saying Tipler is right, but he does approach question like those you’ve posed.

    I bought his book, hopefully will get read this week. Thanks. I think our discussions are more interesting when either position does not take a position that creates a circular argument. Interesting enough Larry Moran is fighting this in his current blog where the ID guy has stated evolution by natural causes is false up front. Now they are just talking at each other.

  24. John Harshman,

    While there’s lots of nitrogen in air, we make no use at all of it. Nitrogen goes in. A little bit of it diffuses into blood, and an equal amount diffuses out. There can be more diffusion with radical changes in pressure, which is why divers get the bends. But that has nothing to do with metabolism, and certainly nothing to do with producing CO2. How can you not know this? No elemental transmutation occurs in animal metabolism.

    You are making solid arguments that the real time water to wine process is a long way from prime time. I enjoyed the exchange thanks for your challenges. I will read Tippers book and see if any real ideas surface.
    colewd,

    colewd,

  25. OK – now I am convinced we are crossing swords with an army of Straw Men…

    Seriously – the science of water into wine?!

    Regarding Tipler – I found an interesting assessment:
    http://www.csicop.org/si/show/the_strange_case_of_frank_jennings_tipler

    Tipler believes that the miracles in the New Testament were all highly improbable events performed by God, but without violating any natural laws.

    Here is one of Tipler’s explanations that I found particularly amusing:

    Jesus was apparently

    1 – an XX male (where one X chromosome carries the normally-Y-linked SRY gene)
    2 – the product of parthenogenesis

    Now XX human males do exist.

    And parthenogenesis can occur in Nature.

    Both are highly improbably events – bringing us to the ulterior motive (if not original intent) of this OP, I presume

    However the virgin birth of Jesus is not merely highly improbable, it is in fact utterly impossible!

    Parthenogenesis does not occur in MAMMALS (in Nature) for a simple reason: Genomic Imprinting – a topic that stcordova simply cannot wrap his head around!
    http://theskepticalzone.com/wp/epigenetic-memory-changes-during-embryogenesis/comment-page-7/#comment-119213

    Parthenogenetic mammalian zygotes lack paternally expressed imprinted gene products and are therefore inviable … although that envelope can be pushed in a laboratory setting.
    http://www.reproduction-online.org/content/128/1/1.full

    So what Tipler is asking us to believe:

    1 – Jesus was an XX male born by parthenogenesis
    2 – Meaning the Virgin Mary needed to have Jesus’ karyotype (that is what parthenogenesis means)

    Meaning the Virgin Mary was an XX male with shrunken testicles.

    Wow!!!
    … the virgin birth of Jesus is even more miraculous than I ever imagined!

    How come I get the impression that Tipler could not solve a 1-star SUDUKU to save his life!

  26. Dammit

    One last comment before I go to bed…

    I sincerely believe that it is possible:

    1 – to be simultaneously intelligent, lucid and cogent
    2 – and at the same time to embrace religious faith

    Sadly, the intersection of those two parameters have not yet occurred on this blogsite… at least not that I have witnessed.

  27. TomMueller: Seriously – the science of water into wine?!

    I think the first step is to use the water to irrigate a vineyard.

    Regarding Tipler …

    I did read his “Physics of Immortality”. I borrowed it from the campus library. There was no way that I would pay good money for that nonsense.

    At the time, I assumed that he was doing it for a lark. But apparently he was serious.

  28. TomMueller: I sincerely believe that it is possible:

    1 – to be simultaneously intelligent, lucid and cogent
    2 – and at the same time to embrace religious faith

    Sadly, the intersection of those two parameters have not yet occurred on this blogsite… at least not that I have witnessed.

    Perhaps Steve Schaffner. But he has not posted anything recently, so you would not have noticed him.

  29. TomMueller
    I sincerely believe that it is possible:

    1 – to be simultaneously intelligent, lucid and cogent
    2 – and at the same time to embrace religious faith.

    Complete agreement here!

    Sadly, the intersection of those two parameters have not yet occurred on this blogsite… at least not that I have witnessed.

    Complete agreement here as well.

  30. TomMueller:
    Dammit

    One last comment before I go to bed…

    I sincerely believe that it is possible:

    1 – to be simultaneously intelligent, lucid and cogent
    2 – and at the same time to embrace religious faith

    Sadly, the intersection of those two parameters have not yet occurred on this blogsite… at least not that I have witnessed.

    You know, I really think you ARE a Butlerian–if an unwitting one. His brand of (impersonal) theism may be found in a little book called ‘God the Known and God the Unknown’. His views are definitely on the bizarre side of ‘lucid’ however. Google ‘Samuel Butler unconscious memory’ for some additional examples.

  31. walto: You know, I really think you ARE a Butlerian–if an unwitting one. His brand of (impersonal) theism may be found in a little book called ‘God the Known and God the Unknown’.His views are definitely on the bizarre side of ‘lucid’ however. Google ‘Samuel Butler unconscious memory’ for some additional examples.

    Hi Walto

    I was prompted to look up Butler and I must say thank you for the compliment … Indeed I had heard of Butler long time ago – but was unaware of (or forgotten) his musings on Evolution.

    I have to say the subtlety and nuance of Lamarck is remarkable! By way of coincidence – I was perusing some Lamarck just now while the family was still asleep and I was struck by page 40 of this oeuvre

    http://www.lamarck.cnrs.fr/ice/ice_book_detail-fr-text-lamarck-ouvrages_lamarck-39-1.html

    Butler and Lamarck had much in common.

    ITMT – Joe Felsenstein is bang on correct (as ususal)

    http://theskepticalzone.com/wp/what-did-lamarck-and-darwin-really-say/comment-page-1/#comment-122332

    So there is every reason to believe that Lamarck was a Deist, and did not invoke a creator to do anything.

    From what I can gather; Lamarck was very much Butlerian and both were misunderstood and underestimated.

Leave a Reply