The Science of the Supernatural

If Darwinism fails then supernatural causes are back on the table and should be included in science.

I do not think there can be a science of the supernatural.

I do not think that if Darwinism fails that supernatural causes will become acceptable.

If the hope of ID is that supernatural causes will be allowed back into science if they can only just get rid of Darwinism, ID is doomed.

The tools and methods of ID cannot differentiate a supernatural cause from a natural cause anyways.

Thoughts?

1,433 thoughts on “The Science of the Supernatural

  1. walto: Well, sure, if “science” means plumbing and “supernatural” means toilets, then there absolutely could be a science of the supernatural.

    🙂 🙂 🙂
    Pity we don’t have a like button.

  2. @mung please define “natural”, “supernatural”, “Darwinism” and “science”.

  3. walto: No–you’re equivocating there. To be natural it’s nature would have to be natural. That is, voodoo has a nature, but it remains supernatural. “Having a nature” means having an essence.

    I agree with your last sentence. So you believe in natural essences and non-natural or supernatural essences? What distinguishes the two?

  4. EricMH: @mung please define “natural”, “supernatural”, “Darwinism” and “science”.

    LoL. It would appear that none of us know what we are talking about. 😀

    Are we really having a conversation then?

    science – the intellectual and practical activity encompassing the systematic study of the structure and behaviour of the physical and natural world through observation and experiment.

    darwinism – the theory of the evolution of species by natural selection advanced by Charles Darwin.

    natural – existing in or caused by nature; not made or caused by humankind.

    supernatural – (of a manifestation or event) attributed to some force beyond scientific understanding or the laws of nature

  5. walto: It shouldn’t be foreign to you. Superstitions like those being true would be a subset of the supernatural.

    I don’t think so

    There is no reason why a rabbit’s foot could could not bring good fortune to the person who possesses it and the process be still completely reducible to mindless physics.

    A lucky rabbit’s foot simply does not work it’s not supernatural in any way. It’s a physical object. Lots of people have fallacious beliefs about natural phenomena. Some folks fallaciously think that cell phone signals cause cancer.

    In order for it to be a supernatural belief a person would need think that something about the rabbit’s foot or the cell phone signal is beyond and above nature.

    My grandmother planted her garden by the signs. She did this because lots of personal experience and “tribal” knowledge accumulated over generations told her it worked. She certainly did not think there was anything supernatural in the practice.

    peace

  6. Mung:
    If the supernatural has no nature then it is undefinable, as it is the nature of a thing that defines what it is.

    That’s further into the point.

  7. Mung: If the supernatural has no nature then it is undefinable, as it is the nature of a thing that defines what it is.

    Again, nothing prevents the supernatural from having a nature (or essence). But you will have your fun equivocating.

  8. fifthmonarchyman: There is no reason why a rabbit’s foot could could not bring good fortune to the person who possesses it and the process be still completely reducible to mindless physics.

    A lucky rabbit’s foot simply does not work it’s not supernatural in any way. It’s a physical object. Lots of people have fallacious beliefs about natural phenomena. Some folks fallaciously think that cell phone signals cause cancer.

    This is all very confused, FMM. If rabbit’s feet don’t bring good luck it’s because they’re NOT actually supernatural. And, of course, the idea that some physical item could naturally “bring good luck” is silly–unless it means something like “made him wildly rich when he sold it” or “attracted women by making him seem so innocent and naive.”

    I don’t think you’ve really thought much of that post through.

  9. walto: Again, nothing prevents the supernatural from having a nature (or essence). But you will have your fun equivocating.

    The point I am trying to bring into the surface is that the word supernatural invites those equivocations. Supernatural seems to have a meaning, but when looked at carefully, it’s nonsense. If we said “fantasy” we’d be closer to what people actually mean by “supernatural,” for most though, it wouldn’t be their intention.

    ETA: I’d venture that this is why phoodoo refuses to explain what those “drs” in her/his list actually do. She’d have to explain how they manage to work with supernatural stuff. What that stuff means, etc.

  10. Entropy,

    I see what you mean.

    I suppose, though, that it could mean something like “anything that will never be explicable by physical science.”

    ETA: …and not just because of a lack of time.

  11. walto:
    I suppose, though, that it could mean something like “anything that will never be explicable by physical science.”

    Now we’re inviting much more trouble.
    😀

  12. walto:
    Entropy,

    I see what you mean.

    I suppose, though, that it could mean something like “anything that will never be explicable by physical science.”

    ETA: …and not just because of a lack of time.

    I don’t think you need to include “never”. Why not just use “real” and “imaginary”? (I know I may have mentioned this before.)

    ETA I meant there’s no need to make the stronger claim. What’s wrong with “anything not detectable by science”. In fact, what does “by science” add? Why not just “not detectable”?

  13. Entropy: If we said “fantasy” we’d be closer to what people actually mean by “supernatural,” for most though, it wouldn’t be their intention.

    “Imaginary” works best for me. 🙂

  14. That’s like saying “If Newtonian gravity proves to be wrong, then gravity fairies are back on the table”. Newtonian gravity did fail, but it was replaced by Relativity, in case people were wondering.

    There is a reason why a God of the Gaps argument isn’t that convincing.

  15. T_aquaticus:
    That’s like saying “If Newtonian gravity proves to be wrong, then gravity fairies are back on the table”. Newtonian gravity did fail, but it was replaced by Relativity, in case people were wondering.

    Now we’re talking.

    T_aquaticus:
    There is a reason why a God of the Gaps argument isn’t that convincing.

    Just one reason?

  16. Mung: science – the intellectual and practical activity encompassing the systematic study of the structure and behaviour of the physical and natural world through observation and experiment.

    darwinism – the theory of the evolution of species by natural selection advanced by Charles Darwin.

    natural – existing in or caused by nature; not made or caused by humankind.

    supernatural – (of a manifestation or event) attributed to some force beyond scientific understanding or the laws of nature

    There is still ambiguity regarding what ‘nature’ and ‘laws of nature’ are.

    But, if we pick a concrete definition, i.e. ‘laws of nature’ is the physical laws as we currently know them, and say ‘nature’ is the pattern described by the ‘laws of nature’, then it is straight forward to refute your argument.

    Further, I’ll assume ‘science’ makes no a priori commitment to only recognizing a certain pattern in its empirical experimentation.

    Since ‘nature’ is a certain pattern of physical events, then if we identify a different pattern of physical events through empirical experimentation we’ve scientifically identified the ‘supernatural’.

    ‘Darwinism’ doesn’t really factor into this discussion.

  17. EricMH: There is still ambiguity regarding what ‘nature’ and ‘laws of nature’ are.

    Don’t think so. “Nature” is anything real. “Laws of nature” describe reality, one hopes, with improving accuracy.

  18. Entropy: Po-tah-to, po-tay-to

    “Imaginary” is question-begging, I think. I mean, suppose there’s a debate on whether there are any supernatural items or events. And one person says, “Well, the supernatural stuff is imaginary by definition. So obviously the answer is NO.” That’s an almost perfect question-beg.

  19. walto: “Imaginary” is question-begging, I think. I mean, suppose there’s a debate on whether there are any supernatural items or events. And one person says, “Well, the supernatural stuff is imaginary by definition. So obviously the answer is NO.”That’s an almost perfect question-beg.

    Debate? Jesus!

  20. walto: “Imaginary” is question-begging, I think. I mean, suppose there’s a debate on whether there are any supernatural items or events. And one person says, “Well, the supernatural stuff is imaginary by definition. So obviously the answer is NO.”That’s an almost perfect question-beg.

    I would phrase it a bit different. The supernatural is defined as being undetectable, unverifiable, and untestable. This is what makes it a non-starter for scientific investigation.

  21. Mung:

    Are we really having a conversation then?

    science – the …

    Mr Google strikes again. (“What is x”)

    But if you agree with Mr Google, then your version of ID’s goal of “getting rid of darwinism” is pointless, since science no longer uses his ideas alone as the best explanation for (eg) biological diversity.

    Showing that natural selection cannot work if based solely on deterministic and random processes is closer to what I understand ID theorists as trying to do.

  22. walto:
    “Imaginary” is question-begging, I think. I mean, suppose there’s a debate on whether there are any supernatural items or events. And one person says, “Well, the supernatural stuff is imaginary by definition. So obviously the answer is NO. ”That’s an almost perfect question-beg.

    You missed the conversation. This is not “supernatural is imaginary by definition.” This is more like, “in my experience, after examining claims, discussions, and attempts at definition, I’ve found that the word supernatural refers to fantasies, to the imaginary.” In other words, supernatural seems to be indistinguishable from imaginary.

    I mention what my experience has brought to the surface, but those who believe that supernatural has a concrete meaning, that it can be distinguished from the imaginary, are free to challenge that conclusion. Wouldn’t it be proper of an argument about its existence to first explain how we can distinguish it from the imaginary? From fantasy?

  23. Entropy,

    Ah, I see. And there doesn’t seem to be a problem if you’re just making an empirical claim. But of course, their mileage may vary.

  24. T_aquaticus: I would phrase it a bit different. The supernatural is defined as being undetectable, unverifiable, and untestable. This is what makes it a non-starter for scientific investigation.

    I’m ok with that, except for the “undetectable.” They’d surely not go along with that unless you added something like “by any scientific/empirical means.”

  25. walto: I’m ok with that, except for the “undetectable.”They’d surely not go along with that unless you added something like “by any scientific/empirical means.”

    Actually, I’m not even sure about that. Suppose your adversary is some sort of non-behaviorist, non-identity-theory psychologist. She may believe even that scientific investigations can be done wrt to “the mental world.” Can there not be (as KN suggested above) reliable, repeatable tests with respect to items that she takes not to be “natural” (if that means physical)?

  26. walto: Can there not be (as KN suggested above) reliable, repeatable tests with respect to items that she takes not to be “natural” (if that means physical)?

    What do you think? How do you detect the undetectable?

  27. There was a postivistic psychologist whose (German?) name I can’t remember at present who wrote a scathing book about Freud that mostly seemed wrong to me when I read it, many years back. The issues were related to those we’re discussing.

    [Full disclosure: His book was much more influential than anything I’ve ever written is or is likely ever to be, however. There were some limp responses by Freudians, I believe, but this guy pretty much devoured them.]

  28. Alan Fox: What do you think? How do you detect the undetectable?

    You say they’re undetectable, others say they’re detectable. To simply assume that you’re right about this is what it means to commit the fallacy of begging the question.

  29. walto: You say they’re undetectable, others say they’re detectable. To simply assume that you’re right about this is what it means to commit the fallacy of begging the question.

    What am I assuming? Explain how to detect the undetectable. I have no idea how this can be approached.

  30. Sit on a thumbtack, Alan. My guess is that you’ll detect pain. Many consider pains and other quales to be non-natural items. That you disagree with them about this is not a proof of the absence of the supernatural.

  31. walto: You say they’re undetectable, others say they’re detectable.

    OK, I say God is undetectable, therefore imaginary. It’s not an assumption. It’s a conclusion based on lack of evidence. Based on lack of evidence to the contrary, I conclude God is imaginary.

  32. walto:
    Sit on a thumbtack, Alan. My guess is that you’ll detect pain. Many consider pains and other quales as non-natural items.

    Qualia are imaginary. Pain is not, nor is it a quale. Or rather qualia are undefined.

  33. walto: Actually, I’m not even sure about that.

    You are right to be careful.

    Entities postulated by string theory are currently undetectable, unverifiable, etc. We don’t know if they ever will be (since the theory could be wrong). But they are not considered supernatural.

    Multiverses are another example. Possibly unscientific but not supernatural.

    The portions of our universes which which are “beyond the limits of our observations” would also challenge that definition (at least if is taken as a conjunction).

    I say the best one could do for supernatural is make it relative to current consensus fundamental physics: it is whatever is rejected (ETA: as supernatural) in the (ETA in determining) explanations acceptable to that community of scientists.

    And, yes, that means the nature of the supernatural can evolve, so to speak.

    Suppose your adversary is some sort of non-behaviorist, non-identity-theory psychologist. She may believe even that scientific investigations can be done wrt to “the mental world.” Can there not be (as KN suggested above) reliable, repeatable tests with respect to items that she takes not to be “natural” (if that means physical)?

    First, she has to get her ideas accepted as good science by the usual scientific process in the relevant scientific community. Many people claim to have consistent, repeatable tests of eg ESP or cold fusion.

  34. I too think God is imaginary. But I understand that my belief is not some kind of “proof” or that any theist is likely to agree with claims about undetectability.

  35. walto: That you disagree with them about this is not a proof of the absence of the supernatural.

    Pain is a human description for a real phenomenon, a sensory stimulus.

  36. BruceS: Multiverses are another example. Possibly unscientific but not supernatural.

    I saw “Into the Spiderverse” the other day. Pretty cool, and maybe right up J-Mac’s alley!

  37. BruceS: First, she has to get her ideas accepted as good science by the usual scientific process in the relevant scientific community. Many people claim to have consistent, repeatable tests of eg ESP or cold fusion.

    Right.

  38. Alan Fox:
    BruceS,

    Products of human imagination are imaginary, till shown to exist outside human imagination.

    Nah, you could go further:

    Products of human imagination are imaginary. Period.

  39. Alan, my boy–you have made begging the question almost into a royal art. You could maybe offer your services to critical thinking instructors as a living example of this fallacy! Maybe there’d be some remuneration!

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