Can science test the supernatural? Yes!!

A staple of accommodationist dogma is the notion that science can’t test the supernatural.  This has not only been the basis of U.S. court decisions that ban teaching creationism or intelligent design in the public schools (Judge Jones, for instance, argued this in the Dover decision in 2005), but is the official policy of some American scientific organizations on the science-vs.-religion debate.

The booklet Science, Evolution, and Creationism from the National Academies Press, for instance, says this:

Because they are not a part of nature, supernatural entities cannot be investigated by science. In this sense, science and religion are separate and address aspects of human understanding in different ways. Attempts to pit science and religion against each other create controversy where none needs to exist.

The National Science Teachers Association asserts:

Because science is limited to explaining the natural world by means of natural processes, it cannot use supernatural causation in its explanations. Similarly, science is precluded from making statements about supernatural forces because these are outside its provenance. . . as noted in the National Science Education Standards, “Explanations on how the natural world changed based on myths, personal beliefs, religious values, mystical inspiration, superstition, or authority may be personally useful and socially relevant, but they are not scientific.”

A statement by the National Association of Biology Teachers:

Explanations employing nonnaturalistic or supernatural events, whether or not explicit reference is made to a supernatural being, are outside the realm of science and not part of a valid science curriculum. Evolutionary theory, indeed all of science, is necessarily silent on religion and neither refutes nor supports the existence of a deity or deities.

And Judge Jones wrote this in his decision on the Dover Trial:

…we find that while ID arguments may be true, a proposition on which the Court takes no position, ID is not science…ID violates the centuries-old ground rules of science by invoking and permitting supernatural causation…While supernatural explanations may be important and have merit, they are not part of science…This rigorous attachment to ‘natural’ explanations is an essential attribute to science bydefinition and by convention.

If you’ve frequented this site, you’ll know that I disagree with this stand. I adamantly maintain that science can indeed test the supernatural—at least those claims about the supernatural that involve its interaction with the real world.  Indeed, you’ll be familiar with several claims about the supernatural that have already been tested, and refuted : the Genesis story of creation, the story of Adam and Eve, a 6,000-year-old earth, and the efficacy of intercessory prayer, as well as paranormal phenomena like near-death experiences, telepathy, and precognition.  If you invoke a form of the supernatural that claims to have real-world consequences, then those consequences necessarily fall within the ambit of science.  This means that any type of theistic faith involves hypotheses that are “scientific”. Dawkins was right to call the existence of God a “scientific hypothesis.”

One can think of many other supernatural claims that still remain to be tested.  The idea that certain rituals by Native Americans can bring rain, for instance, could be easily tested with controlled experiments. Ditto for the notion that sending money to the American huckster evangelist Creflo Dollar will bring you prosperity via the grace of God.

I’ve just read a very nice paper on these issues by Yonatan Fishman in the journal Science and Education (2009, free download), which I recommend it to everyone interested in this question.  Its main points are these (I’ll use quotation marks when I’m quoting Fishman directly):

  • Science doesn’t “prove” or “disprove” anything.  It simply renders hypotheses more or less plausible (I’d argue, though, that science’s ability to render ideas implausible comes very close to what we all think of as absolute disproof). As Fishman says:

“Indeed, in science no hypothesis, regardless of whether it concerns ‘natural’ or ‘supernatural’ phenomena, can be definitively proven or disproven. The ultimate aim of science is to explain the world by means of models that are more or less supported by the available evidence. As new evidence may arise that conflicts with our currently accepted models, no scientific hypothesis or theory can be proven with certainty or be immune from potential falsification. Scientific theories and hypotheses are defeasible. Nonetheless, a rough probability value, perhaps assessed via the Bayesian framework outlined above, can still be placed on a hypothesis, such that the hypothesis can be ‘proven’ or ‘disproven’ beyond a reasonable doubt (a familiar example being the innocence or guilt of a defendant in a court of law).”

  • The boundary between the natural and supernatural is fluid, as phenomena previously seen as supernatural (like lightning) are brought by science into the bailiwick of the natural.  Indeed, as I (JAC) see it, one shouldn’t really make a firm distinction between natural and supernatural phenomena, but simply characterize them as “produced by natural processes” vs. those “produced by divine causes.”
  • A Bayesian probability perspective on religious claims shows that they can be strengthened or weakened by science until they reach the status of scientific “proof” or “disproof” as outlined above. With respect to God and religion, Fishman says:

“It is important to note that in disconfirming the existence of an entity or phenomenon, the absence of evidence is evidence of absence only when there is a good reason to believe that the evidence would be present if the hypothesis is true, or conversely that the evidence would be absent if the hypothesis is false (see Oaksford and Hahn 2004). Thus, contrary evidence is constituted either by the lack of evidence that is expected to be observed if the hypothesis is true or by the presence of evidence that is not expected to be observed if the hypothesis is true.”

In other words, we can provisionally accept that there is no god because we don’t see the kind of evidence that we should see if god were present (answered prayers, confirmable miracles at Lourdes, and so on), and we see things that we don’t expect if there were a loving, omnipotent, and omniscient God (the most obvious, of course, is the presence of undeserved evil).

  • Indeed, if miracles, answered prayers, and regrown limbs were seen, the faithful would trumpet this as evidence for God, and of course many believers are always looking (in vain) for such evidence, viz. the search for the remnants of Noah’s Ark, the supposed authenticity of the Shroud of Turin, the ludicrous attempts of creationists to verify that the Grand Canyon was caused by the flood.  In truth, believers want, need, and look for for evidence for their faith. But in the end, that evidence always comes down to a kind of “knowledge” that is neither confirmable nor convincing: revelation.
  • This all means that, contrary to the National Academies of Science, Judge Jones, the National Center for Science Education, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the idea of God and the supernatural are scientific (i.e., empirically testable) hypotheses, at least in principle.  Science can—and repeatedly has—tested the supernatural.  Sure, one-off miracles in the past, like the resurrection of Jesus, can’t be tested directly, but we can assess them as more or less credible by applying Bayes’s theorem (indeed, that’s what Hume was really doing when he asked whether it is more likely that a miracle happened or that the person reporting one was mistaken, deluded, or lying).
  • Claims about the supernatural should be prohibited from science classes not because they’re religious, but because science has “proven” them wrong. In that sense the U.S. courts are misguided in always relying on religion alone to prohibit the teaching of creationism in schools. (However, it is impermissible under our Constitution to bring religious ideas into the classroom, and perhaps it’s easier for judges to assess that than to judge the scientific validity of different forms of creationism.)  Fishman notes:

“. . . claims should not be excluded a priori from science education simply because they might be characterized as supernatural, paranormal, or religious. Rather, claims should be excluded from science education when the evidence does not support them, regardless of whether they are designated as ‘natural’ or ‘supernatural’.”

  • Naturalism is not a presupposition of doing science, but a conclusion from doing science. That is, we learn about the natural world from assuming that divine intervention or influence does not occur, and that the “laws” of nature are all that exists. We do not learn anything about the universe from bringing in the added assumption of a god. In other words, naturalism wins because it works.

I could go on and on about all the great insights in this paper—it seems to leave almost nothing unsaid that’s relevant to the topic—but I do urge you to download it and read it for yourself. If you’re not into math, you can skip the stuff about Bayes’s theorem, since Fishman explains it perfectly well in words.  But I’ll close with Fishman’s analysis of why scientific organizations and accommodationists keep claiming, in the face of reason, that the supernatural isn’t testable:

While the position that science cannot evaluate supernatural or religious claims —and hence that there can be no conflict between science and religion—may satisfy political aims (for instance, ensuring continued support for science by religious taxpayers), it is disingenuous, having the appearance of a ploy designed to protect religion from critical examination. Moreover, such a view is antithetical to the spirit of open and unbiased scientific inquiry, whereby any phenomenon, regardless of whether it is designated ‘natural’ or ‘supernatural’, should be a legitimate subject for study and critical examination.

Amen, brother.  Fishman is right to call accommodationists making the science-can’t-test-the-supernatural claim “disingenuous,” for that is what they are.  They should, and do, know better.

__________

Fishman, Y. I. 2009. Can science test supernatural worldviews? Science and Education 18: 1573-1901.

253 Comments

  1. Claimthehighground
    Posted June 27, 2012 at 5:58 am | Permalink

    But as Johnny Cash said in Folsom Prison Blues, “but those people keep amovin’, and that’s what tortures me.”

  2. Posted June 27, 2012 at 6:02 am | Permalink

    Very interesting. As a materialist I say there is no ‘supernatural’ as it defines itself out of existence. There is the physical world & the world of ideas. Use supernatural if you will for ideas about gods, fairies & the like, but not for any phenomena. If there is a ‘ghost’ & it is visible it must interact with the physical world, if it is a god & it intercedes then it must interact with the physical world & therefore be a part of the physical world. (I recall Ben wrote about that I think in a comment last year perhaps). So everything is up for grabs by science.

    • truthspeaker
      Posted June 27, 2012 at 7:36 am | Permalink

      “As a materialist I say there is no ‘supernatural’ as it defines itself out of existence. ”

      That’s my view as well. Once you’ve defined something as outside the realm of scientific inquiry, you’ve acknowledged that for all intents and purposes it doesn’t exist.

    • Greg Esres
      Posted June 27, 2012 at 8:06 am | Permalink

      Agreed!!!!!!

      • Dominic
        Posted June 27, 2012 at 9:26 am | Permalink

        Phew! Often I say things that are extremely dim!

        • Notagod
          Posted June 27, 2012 at 9:30 pm | Permalink

          You must be thinking of somewhere other than this website.

    • Sastra
      Posted June 27, 2012 at 11:31 am | Permalink

      As a materialist I say there is no ‘supernatural’ as it defines itself out of existence.

      Depends on how “the supernatural” is defined, doesn’t it?

      I don’t think there’s any benefit to making every proposed supernatural phenomenon we can think of, from God to vitalism, to be defined out of existence when science does a better — and more thorough — job. All someone has to do to avoid your “gotcha” is say that okay, God and ghosts and (insert supernatural claim here) are a PART of Nature — the superior, higher, better aspect of Nature. Now where are you?

      Back where we all started.

      • Posted June 27, 2012 at 2:50 pm | Permalink

        Yep. Still without a scintilla of evidence for them.

        /@

    • corio37
      Posted June 27, 2012 at 3:08 pm | Permalink

      The way I observe the word ‘supernatural’ being used in ordinary conversation usually means something like ‘You believe this has a non-material cause, but I don’t.’ Thus people talk about the ‘supernatural’ beliefs of other religions but not their own.

      Having said this, though, someone pointed out to me once that the Catholic Church uses the word ‘supernatural’ extensively in its own official doctrines.

      • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
        Posted June 28, 2012 at 6:08 am | Permalink

        That is exactly why I prefer the term “superstition” instead.

    • bad Jim
      Posted June 28, 2012 at 1:46 am | Permalink

      It has been claimed, by most accommodationists and some religious believers and at least one federal judge, that the natural and supernatural realms are entirely disjoint, therefore science, which by convention is confined to the natural realm, has nothing to say about the supernatural.

      Let’s suppose this is true. How could we know anything about the supernatural realm, then? Even if we suppose that our consciousness is a supernatural phenomenon, able to perceive other supernatural entities, by hypothesis we would be unable to use physical means to communicate with anyone else. We could receive revelations but we couldn’t share them with other humans because our immaterial minds aren’t connected to our physical tongues and fingers.

      Silly as it seems, this sort of thinking is employed in the description of a consecrated host, the unremarkable physical characteristics of which are dismissed as mere “accidents.”

      • Posted July 1, 2012 at 9:04 pm | Permalink

        Isn’t the idea that “the divine” drives the brain? (incl. any mouthflapping about souls)

  3. Posted June 27, 2012 at 6:16 am | Permalink

    Excellent post. The flimsy excuse that the supernatural is somehow not able to be tested by the scientific method is just that, an excuse. It ignores the claims of the theist and woomeister, that their supernatural has a direct and physical effect on people, events, etc. If there is noticeable effect then it can be measured and a source determined.

    Since miracles fail mightily in the effect part, and no non-natural source can be determined (a bummer for those who would claim that their *particular* god is the cause), the only thing theists and woomeisters have is this empty assertion, a desperate rewrite of their theology.

  4. gbjames
    Posted June 27, 2012 at 6:19 am | Permalink

    sub

  5. Peter Beattie
    Posted June 27, 2012 at 6:23 am | Permalink

    I have said this before, but I think it bears repeating:

    The discussion rests on an appreciation of what we take the problem to be that our definition of ‘science’ is supposed to help solve.

    I would propose to use the term to distinguish approaches that can lead to objective knowledge of experiential phenomena (science) from those that can’t (not science). Then there is another term, ‘philosophy’, which I’d propose to use to delimit approaches that can lead to objective knowledge about imaginary things that we have not (yet) experienced (e.g. the structure of an argument, the explanatory power of an idea, etc.). Science, in that sense, is a specialized branch of philosophy that uses or invents whatever experiment or method it needs to test its (very strictly speaking: philosophical) theories against experiential evidence. Mathematics is a similar case of a specialized branch of philosophy, as it deals with imaginary things that are idealizations of experiential phenomena, e.g. circles and numbers. All of these disciplines are concerned with the pursuit of objective knowledge.

    Now, in the case of someone positing, say, a ‘different plane of being’ that is outside of time and space (i.e. outside of reality, i.e. imaginary), then that is something that doesn’t even rise to the level of specialized treatment that we call science. But strictly speaking, it doesn’t even rise to the level of philosophy either, since things that are purely imaginary and have no possible connection to reality cannot even be talked about in terms of objective knowledge. They may even be self-contradictory—as many of them actually are. But I can use philosophy to make that judgement.

    Finally, to say that this has nothing to do with science is only true in a sense that is irrelevant in this case. Because what the discussion is about is whether e.g. a ‘different plane of being’ can be talked about in terms of objective knowledge—or in terms of fiction. And of course, talking about fiction can be immense fun. But it is different from reality. And being able to make that distinction is vitally important. Thus, to say that ‘you cannot use science to prove me wrong’, and then have what is simply the more general discipline of philosophy tell you that we don’t even need the specialized tool of science to conclude that you are talking about fiction, is, on that analysis, pretty embarrassing. Your supernatural explanation isn’t disproved by a scientific argument but by the mother of a scientific argument.

    • Posted June 27, 2012 at 8:43 am | Permalink

      Then there is another term, ‘philosophy’, which I’d propose to use to delimit approaches that can lead to objective knowledge about imaginary things that we have not (yet) experienced

      Yes, you keep pushing this pet theory of yours.

      Problem is, best I can tell, for all practical porpoises, that the domain you’ve defined as exclusive to philosophy is so small and meaningless that there’s really no point in bothering with it.

      Science already has answered or is in the process of answering all the big and little questions, and the questions that are off-limits to science are uniformly meaningless gibberish. Indeed, it’s science that’s allowed us to ask new questions (“What is the nature of dark matter and dark energy?”) that are simply incomprehensible to theology and philosophy.

      Which, I suppose, makes sense why science’s leftovers are philosophical and religious questions….

      b&

      • Peter Beattie
        Posted June 27, 2012 at 9:26 am | Permalink

        » Ben Goren:
        Yes, you keep pushing this pet theory of yours.

        And you keep ignoring its substance. If you could try serious engagement instead of simple counter-assertion, we might actually have a conversation.

        As I have said (clearly, I think), my distinction serves a purpose: to distinguish between approaches to questions that can lead to objective knowledge and those that can’t. Whether you think that philosophy’s remit within the area that can produce objective knowledge is tiny compared with that of science is irrelevant for that purpose. I rather suspect that we’re on the same team with regards to repudiating claims to knowledge by theologians (or, for that matter, such philosophers as are in the business of manufacturing mainly hot air). The good thing about my definition is that theologians and the obscurantist philosophers you (rightly) react so strongly against both fall into the category of ‘not leading to objective knowledge’, and that it has at least a little explanatory power.

        So, by all means keep bashing individual philosophers for their (in my view: unphilosophical) behaviour. But it would be unhelpful to lump them in with those of us who are trying to clarify issues in the interest of arriving at objective knowledge.

        • Posted June 27, 2012 at 9:34 am | Permalink

          Perhaps you could clarify things with a concrete example.

          What is your best example of a subject of study that a True Philosopher™ can deal with that a scientist can’t?

          b&

          • Peter Beattie
            Posted June 27, 2012 at 9:51 am | Permalink

            Ben, I have done that in my original post: “the structure of an argument, the explanatory power of an idea”, i.e. their consistency, consequences, etc. A somewhat larger subject would be epistemology, i.e. the nature of knowledge.

            Your scottish analogy, by the way, may be cute, but it actually shows that you still don’t understand what I am saying. My definition doesn’t claim absolute truth; on the contrary, I have made explicit its value relative to a clearly stated purpose, by reference to which it should be judged.

            • Posted June 27, 2012 at 9:59 am | Permalink

              “the structure of an argument, the explanatory power of an idea”

              But that’s an entirely empirical matter. If you can’t express your theories clearly, they won’t pass the peer review process. End of story.

              So, since your example of something only a philosopher is qualified to do instead turns out to be something that only scientists can do, perhaps you’d care to offer up your second-best example?

              And how many such examples must we go through in order to convince you that philosophy really is bullshit grandstanding, of ivory tower blowhards performing godless theology?

              b&

              • Posted June 27, 2012 at 3:02 pm | Permalink

                Hmm… but what defines the criteria against which peers review the soundness of (the structure of) an argument? Or the explanatory power of a hypothesis (which is one way to determine the best of rival hypotheses, even before their predictions have been tested; see Deutsch).

                As someone other than Peter has observed, Ben, you’re doing philosophy even whe you argue against it!

                You’re also doing philosophy when you describe the basis for your ignostic atheism, arguing that “God” is an incoherent concept.

                Cheers,
                /@

              • Posted June 27, 2012 at 3:04 pm | Permalink

                *?
                *even when

              • Posted June 27, 2012 at 3:12 pm | Permalink

                Hmm… but what defines the criteria against which peers review the soundness of (the structure of) an argument?

                That’s the beauty of the empirical approach. Try different stuff, see what works.

                To cut to the chase, science is a bottom-up, evolutionary process: stuff happens, and the more fit the stuff, the more it happens. Philosophy, on the other hand, is a religious skyhook: pontifications are made about ideals, but there’s nothing other than science that can determine whether or not those pontifications have any bearing on reality.

                You’re also doing philosophy when you describe the basis for your ignostic atheism, arguing that “God” is an incoherent concept.

                No, that’s again empirical. Present me with a coherent god-concept, and I’ll change my tune. But, to date, the number of coherent god-concepts I’ve encountered precisely matches the number of non-evolutionary accounts of the origins of species I’ve encountered that do a better job than Darwin’s.

                The religious inability to coherently explain what they think they mean is either a rhetorical failing, or it’s representative of the fact that there’s no referent to what they think they’re thinking — a null pointer, if you will. That’s not philosophy, that’s semantics and rhetoric and / or cognitive neuroscience.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Peter Beattie
                Posted June 27, 2012 at 3:34 pm | Permalink

                » Ben Goren:
                If you can’t express your theories clearly, they won’t pass the peer review process.

                First, that’s a rather obviously fallacious statement since empirical evidence can only force you to make a choice: either to accept a conclusion or to reject at least one of its premises. It doesn’t tell you which is the appropriate response in any given situation. Maybe your theory passes all empirical tests, but there is something logically wrong with it, or it actually says something entirely different from what you think it says, according to which false interpretation you constructed your tests which the theory then passed. So that criterion alone is worthless.

                Which points to a related second problem, which I’ll let David Deutsch explain (from The Beginning of Infinity):

                In general, when theories are easily variable in the sense I have described, experimental testing is almost useless for correcting their errors. I call such theories bad explanations. (p. 22)

                We do not test every testable theory, but only the few that we find are good explanations. Science would be impossible if it were not for the fact that the overwhelming majority of false theories can be rejected out of hand without any experi­ment, simply for being bad explanations. (p. 25)

                Adjudicating the quality of explanations, then, would be one of the subjects of philosophy, in my terminology. This is of course done regularly by scientists too, mind you; that doesn’t detract from it being possible to distinguish the activity from science in toto, which, as I said, would be regarded as a specialised branch of philosophy that deals with those problems that are amenable to being tested by empirical evidence.

              • Posted June 27, 2012 at 3:45 pm | Permalink

                A submitted paper with bad logic will get rejected just as fast as one with bad math, and for the exact same reasons. So will one that doesn’t account for plausible alternate explanations and provide sound reasons to dismiss them (or, at least, offer suggestions for further research).

                And why do those papers get rejected? Because in the past, people didn’t have such high standards and the ideas they came up that didn’t use them didn’t work as well as the ones that do meet modern criteria.

                You can come up with all the philosophical reasons you like to explain why you think scientists do what they do, but the simple reason is that they do what they do because that’s what gets them the best results. All your philosophical mumbo-jumbo is just post-hoc rationalization at best, and theological-style power trips at worst.

                b&

              • Peter Beattie
                Posted June 27, 2012 at 4:19 pm | Permalink

                » Ben Goren:
                A submitted paper with bad logic will get rejected just as fast as one with bad math, and for the exact same reasons.

                And I explained in the previous comment why that is irrelevant: an empirical test cannot force you to accept any particular conclusion. Unless you address my actual arguments (and Deutsch’s), I’d suggest you heed your own advice and stop bothering.

              • Posted June 27, 2012 at 4:31 pm | Permalink

                See? The very notion of forcing a conclusion is as anti-scientific as they come. That philosophers think that that’s the objective is some of the best empirical evidence to date that philosophy has no more of a place in science than theology.

                And how do we know that you don’t want to force a conclusion? Because the empirical evidence is that even the most sound of conclusions to date have been provisional, with later refinements to methodology and analytical techniques overturning even such sacred conclusions as Newtonian gravity.

                Forcing conclusions, indeed….

                b&

              • Peter Beattie
                Posted June 27, 2012 at 4:48 pm | Permalink

                » Ben Goren:
                That philosophers think that that’s the objective …

                *rubs eyes*
                *stops bothering*

              • JonLynnHarvey
                Posted June 27, 2012 at 8:13 pm | Permalink

                I think I would agree with Daniel Dennett that the purpose of philosophy is figure out how to frame the proper questions correctly as a foundation for further inquiry. Dennett thinks that philosophy does not so much supply answers as it provides a direction and framework for other disciplines.

                Dennett is the first to allow that philosophy must be grounded in and a handmaiden to empirical enquiry.

              • Posted June 27, 2012 at 8:48 pm | Permalink

                I think I would agree with Daniel Dennett that the purpose of philosophy is figure out how to frame the proper questions correctly as a foundation for further inquiry.

                Then I would ask: what are the questions that a philosopher is better suited to ask than a scientist?

                And I would first remind that it’s not only been scientists who’ve answered all the Big Questions (Where does the Sun go at night? What controls the movements of the heavens? What is the nature of matter and energy? What is the origin of species? What are the origins and fate of the universe?), but, of late, it’s been entirely scientists, not philosophers, who’ve been coming up with new Big Questions to ask (What is the nature of dark matter and dark energy? What chemistry drove the first terrestrial biosphere and what drives the biospheres on as-yet-unidentified alien worlds? What ties together relativistic-scale phenomena with quantum-scale phenomena?).

                I’m not aware of any philosophers who’ve contributed anything to the search for the Higgs, for example. Will they be listed on the paper and awarded a share of the Nobel?

                b&

              • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
                Posted June 28, 2012 at 6:37 am | Permalink

                I’ll think Ben won this round, but I’m partial.

                To add to that the proof of the pudding is obviously in the eating, I would say that “epistemology” is a philosophic area that hasn’t contributed to how we know what we know. Testing and rejection came before “falsifiability”, and the latter can’t (to my knowledge) predict why we eventually by rounds of elimination arrive at robust knowledge.

                So there is room for “a science of science” that could study this empirically. But I don’t think that “a philosophy of the gaps” is sufficient reason to predict that philosophy will ever be empirically useful. On the contrary it points to how science is successful.

            • Peter Beattie
              Posted June 28, 2012 at 9:01 am | Permalink

              » Torbjörn Larsson:
              I’ll think Ben won this round

              This is not a rhetorical tournament, and if you’re more interested in “winning” moves like bold assertions and pithy statements of contempt instead of engagement of actual arguments and attempts at gaining understanding, then I’ll leave you to it.

              Testing and rejection came before “falsifiability”, and the latter can’t (to my knowledge) predict why we eventually by rounds of elimination arrive at robust knowledge.

              Do you seriously think nobody knew of the simple concept of proving an idea wrong before Popper systematized it as ‘falisifiability’? Which is the case with any systematization. “People knew apples fall down before this clever clogs Newton came along. Duh!” So yes, of course “testing and rejection” have always been around, but always as one method among many reputedly leading to objective knowledge, chief among them induction. It is only since Popper that we know—no thanks whatsoever to empirical evidence—that a) induction cannot do the job, b) absolute certainty is not attainable, and c) there is an alternative.

              And “falsifiability” explains why we can arrive at objective knowledge: in a very small nutshell, because if a theory is a good explanation of a certain phenomenon, has higher empirical content than previous theories, and makes risky predictions that put it in competition with those theories, then it may prove its mettle as the best current theory that is true to the evidence which we use to test its explanations of our current best problems. This knowledge is relative and always subject to revision, but it is objective by virtue of a process of inter-subjective and competitive critical examination. (You could do worse than to start getting up to speed on what “falsifiability” actually means, beyond the naive notion of ‘finding a contrary fact’, by reading about it in this essay by Popper himself.)

    • Posted June 27, 2012 at 11:12 am | Permalink

      to claim that there *is* objective information about something that is “not science” e.g. religous fantasies that make one think one is a special snowflake, is amusing. Please do tell how one figures out this objective information about this “not science”. How does one determine it is objective at all? That’s the problem with theists, that they all claim objective information but, despite having millenia to demonstrate this, they *still* fail and show no evidence of that changing.

      Every “big” question that a theist desperately needs to think can’t be answered by humans and their abilities is being whittled away at. All that’s left for theists and woomeisters is that we haven’t figured those out *yet*. The “nature of knowledge” is no more than a theist/woomeister attempting to be vague so they don’t have to admit that they are wrong. Define “nature”, define “knowledge” and then if you are willing to take a stand on such things to make your claim a definite hypothesis without wiggle room, then you might have a point.

    • Sastra
      Posted June 27, 2012 at 11:43 am | Permalink

      Peter Beattie #5 wrote:

      Science, in that sense, is a specialized branch of philosophy that uses or invents whatever experiment or method it needs to test its (very strictly speaking: philosophical) theories against experiential evidence.

      Right; I hadn’t thought this was controversial. Science as a subset of philosophy gives no advantage to religion. In fact, as you point out, it undermines it even more. Many Arguments against the existence of God rip away at internal contradictions in the definition, for one thing. They’re informed by science, but
      not, strictly speaking, science itself.

      The problem isn’t with philosophy itself; it’s with the bad philosophy called theology, apologetics, and theism.

      • Peter Beattie
        Posted June 27, 2012 at 4:03 pm | Permalink

        » Sastra:
        Right; I hadn’t thought this was controversial.

        Not unless you misread it, lifting it clean off of its explicitly stated purpose. And the distinction even tells you why the theologians and the obscurantist philosophers are the problem: because they try to pass off talk of fiction as talk of knowledge. And I cannot but think that that’s a relevant observation to be able to make.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted June 28, 2012 at 6:21 am | Permalink

      Both historically and practically (by the use of evidence) theology, philosophy and science went their separate ways. So claiming that “Science, in that sense, is a specialized branch of philosophy” only looks silly.

      There is an empirically measurable difference between a scientific theory and a philosophic idea.

      Scientific theories can be tested and rejected, so facts and theories are ultimately defined by obeying statistics. Physically statistics equals unitarity in the quantum regime – not loosing information.

      Science is a gain of information process.

      Philosophic ideas can be accommodated as any just so story of the world by inventing an opposite idea based on exactly the same observations. Say, “monism” vs “dualism”. So these ideas as a set are ultimately defined by not obeying statistics.

      Philosophy is a loss of information process.

      • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
        Posted June 28, 2012 at 6:43 am | Permalink

        Admittedly I’m jumping from an observation that can’t imply the remainder (not loosing information doesn’t have to mean gaining information), but those are firm observations.

        You have to fill out in between, with science always adding rejectable observations and philosophy always adding non-rejectable ideas, to get to the conclusions.

  6. Explicit Atheist
    Posted June 27, 2012 at 6:25 am | Permalink

    Furthermore, insofar as supernatural claims are 1) not empirically derived or 2) have no measurable real world consequences then such claims should be considered false because the evidences we have favor the conclusions that I) human imagination and intuition by itself are primarily sources of fiction only and II) our universe, including its origin, is entirely materialistic (a.k.a. natural).

    Of course, I) and II) above are saying that we have evidence relevant to deciding this question. Accommodationist claims to the contrary are mistaken, and this is a substantial mistake on their part. There is always some uncertainty in our conclusions, but it doesn’t follow that therefore we cannot decide on the basis of the available evidence. Not only can we decide, but when the evidence speaks on a question we are rationally obligated to answer according to what the evidence says. So to say the evidence is silent where, in fact, the evidence does speak, is a fundamental mistake.

    • Posted July 1, 2012 at 9:44 pm | Permalink

      I think it’s II that’s being disputed by those suggesting “natural processes” is in reality “produced by divine causes”.

      They can produce “evidence” that’s out-of-bounds for natural philosophy (say, testamony of miracles) because their’s is an unscientific claim; that our reality = our physical universe + their divinity.

      • Posted July 1, 2012 at 9:49 pm | Permalink

        perhaps I should say:
        …”produced by divine causes” invisible to science, in principle.

  7. Posted June 27, 2012 at 6:46 am | Permalink

    At the heart of pretty much every single claim of the supernatural is something that, according to everything we currently know about the universe, would cause or require the flow of energy. And science is superbly well equipped to detect such energy transfers.

    Thus, either the supernatural is testable, or it comes with an extra proviso that it does whatever it does without energy transfer and thus is the very definition of a perpetual motion machine.

    While I am unaware of anything that rises to the level of absolute proof that perpetual motion machines cannot exist, they’re also the perfect example of something that’s been so soundly demonstrated nonexistent that I have no problem dismissing all who claim to have one (or have something that requires or could be used to create one) as a crank.

    That would, of course, include all Christians, everybody who believes in the power of prayer, everybody who believes in non-corporeal spirits or an afterlife, and everybody who believes in miracles. Have I left out anybody who’s religious?

    Cheers,

    b&

    • Posted June 27, 2012 at 3:20 pm | Permalink

      More philosophy!

      /@

      • Posted June 27, 2012 at 3:29 pm | Permalink

        Eh…no. Not even hardly.

        We know scientifically, empirically, that there’s no such thing as a perpetual motion machine. We also know (again) that perpetual motion machine claims come in all sorts of different forms. Just ask the patent office.

        We therefore know scientifically, empirically, that there’s no point in wasting time on perpetual motion claims, no matter how they’re disguised. If one of them were real, the claimant would already have solved the population’s energy crisis, after all.

        I fail to see how it’s at all philosophical to dismiss Christian perpetual-motion gods and souls and prayers the exact same way that I dismiss Zero-Point SuperMagnet Cold Fusion perpetual-motion scams. A crank is a crank is a crank.

        …unless you can offer some reason why Jesus raising the dead isn’t a textbook example of a claim of violation of conservation, or some other reason that it’s unscientific to dismiss out of hand claims of perpetual motion?

        b&

    • Peter Beattie
      Posted June 29, 2012 at 2:58 am | Permalink

      » Ben Goren:
      While I am unaware of anything that rises to the level of absolute proof that perpetual motion machines cannot exist

      And what do you take “absolute proof” to mean? As far as I am concerned, that’s a contradiction in terms.

      they’re also the perfect example of something that’s been so soundly demonstrated nonexistent that I have no problem dismissing all who claim to have one … as a crank.

      I second the conclusion, but if the thinking is that we know that there is no such thing because all attempts at building one have failed, then that is just plain wrong. We know that there is no such thing because of an explanation of how the physical world works. This explanation was of course tested by empirical evidence, but as I have pointed out before, such testing would be meaningless without the explanation. And the explanation may use any number of empirical insights, but it doesn’t follow from them.

      In other words: there is no inductive way to knowledge. We may feel certain that the sun will rise again tomorrow because that is what it has done every day so far; but we know that it will happen only because we have a tested good explanation of the motion of planetary bodies.

  8. Vaal
    Posted June 27, 2012 at 7:17 am | Permalink

    I’d like to add an “amen” to Jerry’s post and to the paper cited.

    *clink of coin dropping in heathen collection plate*

    Don’t let them, thar supernaturalists squirm off the hook!

    Vaal

  9. darrelle
    Posted June 27, 2012 at 7:20 am | Permalink

    “Naturalism is not a presupposition of doing science, but a conclusion from doing science.”

    This is a key point that I have tried to make many times. But people that are committed to irrational beliefs, or belief in irrational beliefs, just are not able to understand that. It doesn’t even phase them. It is as if their brain doesn’t even “see” it.

    It is simple. If it is real, the methods of science can render useful information about it. If it is not real then the only useful information to be gleaned is that very fact, that it is not real. Science deals with unreal things all the time. It enables us to accurately determine what is not real so that we can stop wasting time on it.

  10. Schenck
    Posted June 27, 2012 at 7:38 am | Permalink

    I understand that most of the claims of things like creationism and ID can be tested and refuted by science, but the problem is, how do you deal with omphalos like arguments? Maybe Fishman addresses this in the paper. Science is supposed to be a rational enterprise, rationality is based on logic, but the supernatural need not obey logic. You cited the existence of evil, which is something humans can’t explain, but that hardly means that it’s therefore immpossible that there’s a god.

    Or consider the old argument, that god’s either not wholly good, or not wholly powerful, and in either case that makes god not worth worshiping. Which sounds great, but in a strict sense, /even if that were true/, that god’d still be more powerful than you, so what’s it matter if they’re not worthy of worship, they will literally torture you into accepting them, which again may be wrong, but so what (pretending that it actually happens).

    • FastLane
      Posted June 27, 2012 at 8:12 am | Permalink

      For the things you can’t disprove, Occam’s razor and the general principle of parsimony serve well.

      See, e.g the Multiple Designer Hypothesis.

      • Neil
        Posted June 27, 2012 at 8:32 am | Permalink

        To paraphrase LaPlace, “We have no need for that hypothesis.”

        • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
          Posted June 28, 2012 at 7:48 am | Permalink

          Or his cousin LaTime, “not ever”.

      • Schenck
        Posted June 28, 2012 at 7:11 am | Permalink

        I seriously doubt Occams razor can cut “valid” scientific ideas out and prevent them from being taught in classrooms, or receiving public funding and the like. It’s one thing to say ‘this theory has been tested and repeatedly falsified’, another to say ‘it hasn’t been falsified, it is scientific, but its not parsimonious’.

        • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
          Posted June 28, 2012 at 8:16 am | Permalink

          how do you deal with omphalos like arguments?

          Same as always, by comparison they are non-parsimonious (designer).

          I seriously doubt Occams razor can cut “valid” scientific ideas out and prevent them from being taught in classrooms, or receiving public funding and the like.

          They can be cut out as invalid from science class.

          The reason is that when science had rejected all erroneous observation and theory we arrived at a complete and likely robust knowledge of physics at human scale.
          Carroll says that today “the laws underlying the physics of everyday life are completely understood” and he means it.

          That process was relying on parsimony to compete nearly equally predictive theories against each other, and the result is also relying on it. Or we could substitute with more complicated laws saying the same thing. Say, having multiple but equivalent electromagnetic fields in the same way that religion can multiply designers.

          So it is a valid concept and curriculum developers know this tacitly. It isn’t crucial to science, see my long response to AM below, but it is useful. We know some reasons both physical and methodological: it compartmentalizes complexity onto applications so is predicted by anthropic principles (need to start with simple laws to have a more complex structure formation later), it minimizes errors and reversals (having to change theory) during testing.

    • Posted June 27, 2012 at 8:47 am | Permalink

      Science is supposed to be a rational enterprise, rationality is based on logic, but the supernatural need not obey logic.

      Anybody who seriously believes that what you wrote is coherent is illogical. There’s a reason why calling somebody “illogical” is not complimentary.

      You cited the existence of evil, which is something humans can’t explain

      ORLY? Care to explain why evil is inexplicable? If so, do please include your definition of the term so we can be sure we’re discussing the same concept.

      that god’d still be more powerful than you, so what’s it matter if they’re not worthy of worship, they will literally torture you into accepting them

      Better to die on your feet than live on your knees.

      Besides which, got any evidence of this monster you’re saying might be under your bed?

      b&

      • Posted June 27, 2012 at 3:24 pm | Permalink

        And more…

        /@

        • Posted June 27, 2012 at 3:31 pm | Permalink

          Again, no. Empirically, all those whose reasoning is contradictory have a piss-poor record of dealing with reality. The second bit is a request for clarification — hardly philosophical. And the last is entirely empirical: a request for evidence.

          Since you seem to be of the “all science is philosophy” camp, then perhaps you’ll have a better time with the challenge I posed to what’s-his-name above:

          What’s your best example of something a philosopher can do that a scientist can’t, or at least that a philosopher does better?

          b&

          • Peter Beattie
            Posted June 27, 2012 at 3:47 pm | Permalink

            » Ben Goren:
            what’s-his-name above

            Oooh, that stings. :)

            Apart from that—and from plainly not understanding the issue although it has been clearly pointed out to you (as your “all science is philosophy” jibe shows)—you seem to have done a brilliant job of redefining anything and everything as non-philosophy. I guess you win. Congrats!

            • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
              Posted June 28, 2012 at 7:55 am | Permalink

              Philosophy is what philosophers together. Why would we need a more detailed definition anymore than science needs one?

              The beauty of it is, those are both complete and testable. And as they are simplest imaginable, parsimonious.

          • JonLynnHarvey
            Posted June 27, 2012 at 8:25 pm | Permalink

            While many people have unreal beliefs, some unreal beliefs are more internally consistent than others. Vedanta Hinduism is very internally consistent- I’m much less certain that Theosophy is.

            Any good scientist should also be a moderately good philosopher- the reverse need not be true, though a good philosopher needs to be
            !*informed*! by science. Questions about the ethical usage of technology for example should be worked out by both scientists and philosophers.

            Granted, philosophers with different starting premises will come to different conclusions. On bioethics, it would be hard to imagine a greater contrast than say Peter Singer [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peter_Singer] and Leon Kass [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leon_kass].

            Most rationalists will for obvious reasons be more sympathetic to Singer.

            • Posted June 27, 2012 at 8:51 pm | Permalink

              Granted, philosophers with different starting premises will come to different conclusions.

              That one sentence, right there, is all that’s necessary to invalidate philosophy as any sort of a serious academic pursuit and place it squarely on liquid quicksand with the theologians.

              Sorry.

              b&

      • Schenck
        Posted June 28, 2012 at 7:36 am | Permalink

        “ORLY? Care to explain why evil is inexplicable? ”
        Apologies for not being clear, I was saying that people haven’t been able to properly explain the existence of evil IF you have an all-powerful and all-good god.

        “Better to die on your feet than live on your knees.”
        Again, that’s a very nice philosophical statement. My point is, lets pretend that there is a god, and it isn’t “worthy” of worship in Epicurus’s sense, are you /seriously/ pretending that it’s reasonable to accept permanent torture? I know it sounds nice to say ‘I’m a man, not an insect”, but IF there is this god as described, then you’re not a man, you are an insect. That would suck, but that doesn’t mean that it wouldn’t be true.

        “Besides which, got any evidence of this monster you’re saying might be under your bed?”
        Did not claim that there was.

        “Anybody who seriously believes that what you wrote is coherent is illogical.”
        Again, there is no reason that a being that is literally omnipotent can’t be illogical. And given that, how can we scientifically test some of these Intelligent Design/ Creationist ideas? If we allow that the supernatural is testable and scientific, how do we deal with this possibility? We can say to ourselves that if creationism is correct, then there’d be things like Rabbits in PreCambrian rocks, and that’s a testable claim, and the results seem to falsify Creationism. BUT CLEARLY Creationism doesn’t accept that, because it can easily posit any explanation for that.
        So while some parts of Creationism/ID may seem testable, I am not convinced that they are.
        And if you allow say that the are scientific and testable, then they can be taught in schools or receive public funding to support their research, and any time you falsify some aspect of it, there’s a backup ready to explain away that falsification.
        Surely, we can dismiss these attempts as ad hoc attempts to prop up a failing hypothesis, and reject them ala Popper. HOWEVER, do you really think we can prevent a scientific theory from being funded/taught merely because it fails to live up to Popper or Lakatos’s ideas, especially when there are many scientists and philosophers-of-science that simply reject Falsificationism?
        It’s one thing to say “Creationism isn’t science, it’s religion and therefore shouldn’t be taught in schools”, it’s another to say “It is science, and I and a lot of people think it’s wrong, therefore it cannot be taught in schools”.

        • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
          Posted June 28, 2012 at 8:29 am | Permalink

          Testing is a favored concept. The metaobservation is that testing pass testing. (Yes, rly!)

          Falsification is philosophy. The process is more complicated than that.

          I would say that falsificationism fails in predictivity.

          For example, falsification can’t predict or test the convergence result using testing that Carroll observes above.

          Admittedly, testing doesn’t suffice either, but then it doesn’t have to.

          Instead I suspect that a constraint, such that a finite universe means finite variation for physics and finite resources for testing – and testing wins, at least in one known case. Maybe computer science, which have a handle on parameters vs resources, can help.

          But ultimately, if one should have a theory of science, one would need empirical work. Because it is a process, physical as well as social, among others. Philosophy can no longer be seriously expected to cut it here, as it cuts it nowhere else on empirics.

        • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
          Posted June 28, 2012 at 8:31 am | Permalink

          Duh. I mean a finite _observable_ universe.

    • darrelle
      Posted June 27, 2012 at 9:03 am | Permalink

      “I understand that most of the claims of things like creationism and ID can be tested and refuted by science, but the problem is, how do you deal with omphalos like arguments?”

      Simple. Any argument that makes claims about the nature of reality can be tested using the methods of science. If whatever it is happens to behave irrationally, that may make it more difficult since all current evidence shows that reality is not. But the methods of science would still be able to give you useful information about it, if it is real. And no other methodology so far devised will. Really there is only two general methods available. Test your ideas against reality i.e., experiment/observe, or don’t. The former is what is referred to as “science” and the other is “making stuff up.”

      “. . . but the supernatural need not obey logic.”

      Does not matter. If it is real the methods of science can detect it. Nothing that anyone has ever described as supernatural has ever been verified by science. Quite the opposite in fact. Due to this huge amount of evidence against real phenomena being illogical science does not consider this possibility probable enough to be useful. New data could always change that, but so far nada.

      “You cited the existence of evil, which is something humans can’t explain, but that hardly means that it’s therefore immpossible that there’s a god.”

      You misunderstand. This is an argument against a particular god with particular attributes claimed by its worshipers. And, it is not humans that can’t explain evil, it is the religion of the particular god in question that can’t explain it in the context of that religions own core claims about the nature of reality.

      In your last paragraph, you again misunderstand. The “your god is not worth worshiping” argument is not an argument against the existence of the god in question. On the one hand this argument illustrates the internal inconsistencies of the religion in question. Which I guess does argue against the existence of the god.

      On the other hand the argument is a value judgement. If all your religion says about your god is true, and you are aware of all your religion has to say about him, and you still think this god of yours is worthy of worship then you are either delusional, ignorant or sick.

      • Schenck
        Posted June 28, 2012 at 7:52 am | Permalink

        “and you still think this god of yours is worthy of worship then you are either delusional, ignorant or sick.”
        But, again, just because /we/ think it is wrong, hardly means that it is in fact wrong. I’ll agree with you that the acts of mass murder and rape and the like that god in the old testament orders and supports are wrong. But from the point of view of a god or collection of gods, (and if these things existed then their point of view would really be the only valid one), we’re just insects. If there’s a nest of insects in your house, you exterminate them, and if we rig up some other insects to carry out this work for us, we’d do it in an instant, no qualms about it, it wouldn’t be immoral. I’m not saying, obviously, that it’s moral for us to wipe out other human beings, but you have to recognize that that’s a very /human/ statement at the same time. IF we /really are/ insects, then it doesn’t matter. Insects are beneath us (in the sense of the above), and an insect that didn’t recognize would simply be wrong. Similarly, pretending that there were an all-powerful, all-knowing god, for us to say ‘it’s not worthy of worship, it’s not above us’ would /technically/ be the delusional act, just like an insect would be delusional if it thought “Humans are immoral because they use RAID and swat us”.

        ” Due to this huge amount of evidence against real phenomena being illogical science does not consider this possibility probable enough to be useful.”
        My concern is, it’s one thing to say to the courts, ‘creationism is religion, religion is not scientific, therefore this can’t be taught in schools’. Most people see the sense in that. It’s another to say ‘creationism is a science, but it seems to be poorly supported, therefore you can’t teach it in schools’.
        And look at how we’re distinguishing between these ideas anyway, we have a class of ideas that are supernatural, and as a class we reject them, or at least provisionally don’t accept them, again as a class. So what’s the difference between saying ‘these ideas are not science’ and ‘these ideas are as a group a priori rejected by science’?

        • truthspeaker
          Posted June 28, 2012 at 7:55 am | Permalink

          “and if these things existed then their point of view would really be the only valid one”

          Why?

          • Schenck
            Posted June 29, 2012 at 6:09 am | Permalink

            “Why”
            Do you or do you not swat a mosquito when it lands on you? Do you or do you not remorselessly exterminate entire colonies of insects when they invade your home?
            We do this because their objections, or rather their suffering, is invalid and meaningless to us. Maybe some people reflect on their suffering, but they do it as they spray the pesticide.
            IF there were omnipotent superbeings that knew everything before it even happened, that could snap their fingers and have a universe pop into existence, then yes, we’d be the insects, and just because we think “It’s wrong to sacrifice Issac” would hardly make it so.

            • Schenck
              Posted June 29, 2012 at 6:10 am | Permalink

              Anyway I think that I’ve probably gone off track from the topic of the post in this digression.

            • truthspeaker
              Posted June 29, 2012 at 6:21 am | Permalink

              Yes, we would be the insects, but that doesn’t mean the viewpoint of the insect-swatters is the only valid one.

    • truthspeaker
      Posted June 27, 2012 at 9:11 am | Permalink

      “You cited the existence of evil, which is something humans can’t explain”

      Psychology, a science still very much in its infancy, can explain human evil quite well. It’s the religious who can’t explain it in a way that matches up both with reality and with their mythology.

  11. rhaguirrem
    Posted June 27, 2012 at 7:43 am | Permalink

    Because they are not a part of nature, supernatural entities cannot be investigated by science. In this sense, science and religion are separate and address aspects of human understanding in different ways.

    The thing is that there’s no evidence or reason to think that religion can do any better than science regarding supernatural entities. Religion cannot even make a good case for the existence of it’s non-overlaping magisterium.

    • Posted July 1, 2012 at 10:17 pm | Permalink

      Alas, “a good case” has been made. NOMA rhetoric is believed by the above mentioned educational institutions and judged as sufficient rigorous by the U.S. courts :(

      We might have the facts and logic on our side, but even having ivy league universities in our corner isn’t enough to publicly frame these religio-political debates in our sciency way.

      We have sound arguments, now we need compelling arguments.

  12. Posted June 27, 2012 at 7:48 am | Permalink

    The accomodationist stance is driven by a desire to protect government funding of science from politicians and their religious constituents. This essay and Natalie Angier’s “My God Problem” ought to be required reading by everyone.

  13. DiscoveredJoys
    Posted June 27, 2012 at 8:13 am | Permalink

    “Naturalism is not a presupposition of doing science, but a conclusion from doing science.”

    I’d phrase this a different way – naturalism is an axiom of science. Like all axioms if science found that using it produced unreliable results it would be changed. This of course has already happened for the very small and very fast events.

    • Posted June 27, 2012 at 3:29 pm | Permalink

      I was with you until the last sentence… You mean there that other axioms have changed in those cases, not the axiom of naturalism, yes?

      /@

      • DiscoveredJoys
        Posted June 29, 2012 at 6:25 am | Permalink

        Quite so. I should have made it clearer that there is more than one axiom in science. I suspect that naturalism is the most basic.

  14. Myron
    Posted June 27, 2012 at 8:14 am | Permalink

    “Natural science” should be replaced with “real science”. Then the following line of argumentation is a nonstarter:
    “Natural science is the science of the natural, and therefore it cannot study or test the supernatural.”
    For real science is the science of the real, whatever its nature.

  15. Mattapult
    Posted June 27, 2012 at 8:28 am | Permalink

    The more science uncovers, the less places the ‘supernatural’ can hide.

    Sadly, people still cling to 1st century mythology. We should be centuries past the point of supernatural explanations being the default assumption. We should be at the point of considering supernatural explanations as extraordinary explanations that require extraordinary evidence. But religion concocts its own version of science to keep their followers ignorant and under control and unwilling to ask critical questions.

  16. zendruid1
    Posted June 27, 2012 at 9:05 am | Permalink

    So far, evidence seems to indicate that the only reliable effect of praying is that it triggers the limbic reward circuit in the individual’s brain.

    Does the word ‘amen’ cause a dopamine surge?

    As I wax gnomic here, I’ll close with the bumpersticker observation that ‘supernatural’ is indistinguishable from ‘imaginary’. All in the brain, folks.

    • Posted June 27, 2012 at 3:32 pm | Permalink

      “Any sufficiently advanced supernaturalism is indistinguishable from imagination.” ;-)

      /@

      • Peter Beattie
        Posted June 27, 2012 at 3:50 pm | Permalink

        Which is exactly why I think the distinction between speaking ‘in terms of objective knowledge’ and ‘in terms of fiction’ is rather useful. Because both areas have their merits, but they really shouldn’t be confused.

  17. Posted June 27, 2012 at 9:06 am | Permalink

    I wonder… is the Mormon claim that Native Americans are actually Jews a scientific claim or a supernatural claim? Do they actually share recent ancestry with Jews by DNA? Or are they only Jews “in spirit”?

    • Kevin
      Posted June 27, 2012 at 9:11 am | Permalink

      Native Americans are related genetically to ancient peoples from Siberia and Mongolia.

      Unrelated to Jews.

      Nothing in the book of Mormon can even remotely be considered “true”. It’s fable-making of the highest order. Pure fiction.

  18. Kevin
    Posted June 27, 2012 at 9:07 am | Permalink

    Maybe from a slightly different angle. I’m always struck that the “big questions” that religion tries to carve out for itself contra scientific inquiry are either A) science questions, or B) meaningless.

    Under A:
    1. How did the universe start?
    2. How did ‘life’ first arise?
    3. What happens after we die? (Answered in the main by the word “decompose”.)
    4. Where do we get our ‘morality’ from? (Answered in the main by “your parents, peers and the society you live in.”)

    Under B, it’s primarily riffs on “why are we here”. Such as:
    1. What is our ‘purpose’ in the universe? (Purpose is theist code for “after-death experience” and so is literally meaningless.)
    2. What is the nature of the soul? (Meaningless because it’s answered by the word “imaginary”.)
    3. How can we solve the ‘problem of evil’. (The answer, “there is no god, therefore no problem.”)

    And on and on.

    Scientific inquiry is impeded when it enters what religion supposes is its turf. It isn’t, however. It’s only claimed.

  19. Diego
    Posted June 27, 2012 at 9:15 am | Permalink

    I think the religious test really is the way to go in our judicial system. Determining if sonething violates the church/state divide is reasonably clear-cut, while judges are ill equipped to be making decisions about scoentific claims versus pseudoscience. For instance, do we want judges to have to decide whether string theory should be kept out of science class?

    • Scott near Berkeley
      Posted June 27, 2012 at 10:05 am | Permalink

      I posed your question about the capability of juries to understand, in my question, Bayesian probabilities (never mind judges, but it does apply) to one of the foremost legal experts on evidence, Prof Ed Imwinkelried. He told me that the job of the attorney is not to attempt to educate the jury (or the judge) so that they can make a judgement based on that ‘new education’. Attorneys must narrowly make their arguments so that judges and juries see that the application of, say, Bayesian logic, is appropriate to the particular circumstance, and show how the particular matter in the court is substantiated by that reasoning. It is a common mistake, he told me, that attorneys try to educate judges and juries about the whole spectrum of an idea, rather than just enough to coherently apply it to the matter at hand.

      • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
        Posted June 28, 2012 at 5:08 am | Permalink

        “The use of Bayes’ theorem by jurors is controversial. In the United Kingdom, a defence expert witness explained Bayes’ theorem to the jury in R v Adams. The jury convicted, but the case went to appeal on the basis that no means of accumulating evidence had been provided for jurors who did not wish to use Bayes’ theorem. The Court of Appeal upheld the conviction, but it also gave the opinion that “To introduce Bayes’ Theorem, or any similar method, into a criminal trial plunges the jury into inappropriate and unnecessary realms of theory and complexity, deflecting them from their proper task.””

        Wikipedia on Bayesian inference.

      • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
        Posted June 28, 2012 at 5:08 am | Permalink

        So, um, quite.

  20. Posted June 27, 2012 at 9:20 am | Permalink

    The essay, with all its references, is a pretty comprehensive synopsis of all the reasons why religious beliefs are bogus. The use of Bayes Theorem, which I happen to be familiar with, was nice, and the verbal discussion of its various terms gives an intuitive feel for the impact of the probabilities involved. As I read the essay I kept thinking it would be nice if he actually did some calculations, and there at the end he did insert a case in the Appendix. Of course the use of Bayes Theorem is not likely to impress anyone who isn’t already versed in probability theory.

    I found the essay to be very satisfying, but as I read it I would often think about the reaction of most people I know: whoosh, right over their heads! Most people in my experience could care less; they are committed since childhood to a particular religious worldview from which they derive some degree of comfort, especially in extentuating circumstances (like death of a loved one). The fact that what they believe is false is not something they would thank you for pointing out. The world seems divided into those who care to know how the world is really constructed and those who don’t.

    • Scott near Berkeley
      Posted June 27, 2012 at 9:49 am | Permalink

      “The world seems divided..” sparked my recall of a recent (July 2012) article in Scientific American (page 26) “How Critical Thinkers Lose Their Faith in God”. The article details an article in Science by Will Gervais and Ara Norenzayan, which describes two ways of thinking: system 1 and system 2. “System 1 relies on shortcuts and rules of thumb, whereas system 2 relies on analytic thinking and tends to be slower and to require more effort.”
      ….
      “These studies demonstrate yet another way in which our thinking tendencies, many of which may be innate, have contributed to religious faith. It may also help explain why the majority of Americans tend to believe in God. Because system 2 thinking requires effort, most of us tend to rely on our system 1 thinking processes whenever possible. – Daisy Grewal”

      Lately, Scientific American has been manning the front lines, and firing away effectively at the supernatural. Michael Shermer (“Skeptic”) goes after Deepak Chopra in the July issue, as well.

      • Posted June 27, 2012 at 10:00 am | Permalink

        There are two books you might be interested in reading if you haven’t done so already:

        Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman, which talks about “System 1″ and “System 2″ and is a great read for many reasons.

        I’m currently reading The Believing Brain by Michael Shermer, which often parallels the essay by Fishman.

        • Scott near Berkeley
          Posted June 27, 2012 at 10:33 am | Permalink

          Thanks!
          I believe I’d been observing Dr. Kahneman from time-to-time in Peet’s in North Berkeley. He looked important and intelligent, but I had no idea who that might be until his Prize.

          • Posted June 27, 2012 at 10:38 am | Permalink

            Totally off-topic…but, at least many years ago, there were lots of blackberries that grew along the creek on the north side of Albany Hill.

            Any idea if they’re still there, or if they’ve been replaced by condominiums and strip malls?

            b&

        • Posted June 27, 2012 at 3:38 pm | Permalink

          I’m only part way into Kahneman’s book, but (so far) I’d heartily endorse DrDroid’s recommendation!

          /@

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted June 28, 2012 at 5:15 am | Permalink

      FWIW, since I am a hound for testing the Bayes inference stuff was the one part I disliked. I think Dawkins and Stenger are wise in using statistics instead, since one can do rejection tests instead of pattern search and comparison (aka “evidence” and “confirmation”).

      See my comment below for the full blast … um, argument.

      But yes, it is a start up from philosophy where you can make similar just so stories out of anything. Even if you still can end up comparing crazy ideas, at least bayesian inference forces you to actually become familiar with relevant observations.

  21. Scott near Berkeley
    Posted June 27, 2012 at 9:33 am | Permalink

    The hammering is there, but not quite the heavy blows. As a succinct answer, I maintain that “proof” is for closed systems, such as the Law and mathematics, where it is inherent to establishing such systems as workable and useful. The typical first response on the street is, “You can’t prove that!” to any statement that all supernatural/religious deities are fictional, and I quickly respond that “proof” is for closed systems, etc. You cannot win in court, or “prove” your case, by bringing in a giraffe to testify…. but having giraffe may be a winner in other circumstances (note: they are extremely smelly).

    Because in ancient times, phenomena like thunder and lightning, and heavy rainfall, all seemed magic and the province of the supernatural, and observable, no one considered the interface between natural and supernatural realms. The realms seemed intermixed, like gases within water: present but for the most part invisible. In light of the explanations of science for all observable, measurable phenomena, what are the characteristics of the interface between natural and supernatural realms? The interface is impossible to detail, because contradictions and counter examples surface at every characterization attempts.

    • Sastra
      Posted June 27, 2012 at 11:55 am | Permalink

      The ‘natural’ and ‘supernatural’ aren’t separated by whether they are familiar, testable, or understood. They’re separated by the place they give to mentality.

      If thunder and lightening were today understood in terms of modern physics — but it appeared that they followed physical laws which reacted in moral terms of good and evil, striking those who have done wrong and sparing the innocent — then thunder and lightening would today be considered both part of science and ‘supernatural.’

  22. Ougaseon
    Posted June 27, 2012 at 9:41 am | Permalink

    An excellent paper and a good example of the utility of the philosophy of science!

    Although I always find explicit calculation of probabilities as they do in the Appendix to be a pointless endeavor. The numbers chosen are completely arbitrary and tend to focus readers on arguing with the numbers, rather than engaging the argument itself. Given that everything we know about nature has not required a deity, and given that many observations of the world we live in flatly contradict the proposed properties of that deity, we can conclude that the likelihood of the deity’s existence is very small indeed. This is the argument that needs to be addressed, not whether one number or another is appropriately chosen.

  23. Posted June 27, 2012 at 10:02 am | Permalink

    I haven’t read all the comments but doesn’t this entire thing hinge on how we define supernatural? A “study” of God would be wholly different than a study of Will of the Wisp which has 3 pretty solid (and one flimsy) scientific explanation.

    How it interescts is possible although I’d argue that even if a Native American rain dance could be replicated, if it worked or didn’t work it would always miss that human connection. In other words, the supernatural by my defenition isn’t always supernatural anymore once it’s nailed down by science.

    That doesn’t mean it’s wrong or right. Just that to me, it’s more for fun and mystery than it is for pure science.

    • Posted June 27, 2012 at 10:04 am | Permalink

      Just to clarify, I think science hinges on real evidence whereas the supernatural is fun to explore but should not be taken too seriously unless it’s something like parallel universes which will always be cool.

      • darrelle
        Posted June 27, 2012 at 2:26 pm | Permalink

        Could you clarify whether you think supernatural things are real or imaginary?

        • Posted June 27, 2012 at 2:36 pm | Permalink

          Sure! Once again, I’d appreciate a defenition. If you want MY defenition, I’d say it’s a vague term but it could be anything from will o the wisp (very easily explained by science) to parallel universes (no evidence but it’s being researched) to something hilarious like fairies.

          If you’re talking about stuff like fairies, of course there’s pretty much zero chance that’s real. There’s also a scale. Parallel universes are about 5 zillion times more likely than goblins. Of course, that also depends on how you define goblins! Could there be (excuse the insensitivity of this) short people with greenish skin living in the forest? Sure!

          But to me the supernatural is about two things: mostly FUN. Also something vaguely spiritual. I like the idea that I may be surrounded by spirits. TThat second part is about my imagination. There’s no law that says we can’t have fun. Just as long as we don’t get confused. This supernatural stuff is seperate from science with evidence.

          • darrelle
            Posted June 27, 2012 at 2:50 pm | Permalink

            Thanks for the reply. The definition of supernatural sure is hard to nail down, especially when you are discussing supernatural religious beliefs with a religious believer.

            Though it is still hard to zero in on a coherent, stable, definition even in the context of religious supernatural beliefs that is certainly the context the OP is considering.

            I much prefer your idea of supernatural though. May as well have some fun!

            • Posted June 27, 2012 at 2:56 pm | Permalink

              I just began writing some scripts for short indie films. I like the supernatural as it’s the basis for many great films and fiction novels. Going out to “investigate” in the forest or an abandoned house was one of the best parts of growing up. Science is about evidence. We can “gather” evidence for the supernatural, but to me it’s purely about being creative and not a real investigation until there is tangible evidence that’s ALSO worth the time, effort and funding for a study.

              • gbjames
                Posted June 27, 2012 at 3:12 pm | Permalink

                But is it possible to gather evidence for the supernatural or are you limited to “gathering” it? When you “gather” (for fun, while pretending) you are not really gathering real evidence in the real world.

                Knowing the difference between life in the real world and “life” in a staged play is important to maintaining sanity and staying out of the psych ward.

          • gbjames
            Posted June 27, 2012 at 3:08 pm | Permalink

            IOW, pretend can be fun. But pretend is still not to be confused with real.

            • Posted June 27, 2012 at 3:22 pm | Permalink

              If you’re being sloppy and confusing scientific evidence with personal evidence, sure that’s true. But I’m assuming we know the difference. I would never say or print out loud that “I found evidence” of something I did for fun. I may call it “evidence” in my science fiction film. But again, a viewer would have to be an idiot to think I meant actual science.

  24. John K.
    Posted June 27, 2012 at 10:36 am | Permalink

    In my experience, things only start to be called “supernatural” once they are found not to be testable and repeatable. If you have a rain ceremony that involves seeding clouds and is verifiable at will, there is no need to call it supernatural anymore. If your hypotheses testing is met with a resounding null result, then a shy ghost or fickle deity is sometimes (wrongly) invoked to save the theory, loading it up with a lot of arguments from ignorance.

    The supernatural is almost by definition absent of evidence or in defiance of evidence. In that way it is perhaps un-testable, but being un-testable is enough for it to be discarded as indistinguishable from something made up and without any bearing on reality.

    What do you call a supernatural phenomenon that is testable and repeatable? A natural phenomenon.

    • Sastra
      Posted June 27, 2012 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

      Don’t confuse an immunizing strategy with an inherent part of the definition. If you have a rain ceremony that involves seeding clouds through the will alone — and it is verifiable — then we’d probably call it a testable, repeatable supernatural phenomenon.

      They only start whining that “you can’t test the supernatural” when the test fails. They’re immunizing the results from disconfirmation. If they would crow in triumph if all the tests succeeded, then it’s testable.

      • darrelle
        Posted June 27, 2012 at 2:40 pm | Permalink

        Yes, and they also crow in triumph when they think science has verified one of their supernatural beliefs. They don’t seem to have any issues with inconsistency. It doesn’t matter what the test results are, they will interpret the results as confirmation of their beliefs. That behavior is how they inoculate themselves against disconfirmation.

      • Peter Beattie
        Posted June 27, 2012 at 3:52 pm | Permalink

        an immunizing strategy

        Ah, someone seems to have read Popperian philosophy. :)

  25. Sastra
    Posted June 27, 2012 at 12:11 pm | Permalink

    What is the difference between the “supernatural” and the “paranormal?”

    Clarity — and specific attachment to a specific religion. And we all know how vague and fuzzy both those factors can get. Woo = spirituality = religion.

    If science can test the paranormal, then it is already testing the supernatural. After all, if mind/body substance duality, psychokenetic powers, ghosts, ESP, vitalistic energy, magical correspondences, astrology, precognition, astral projection, dowsing, and karma were all a proven part of the modern scientific model of how reality works — then the theory of “naturalism” is either dead, or it has evolved into a direction where it is unrecognizable.

    Given a universe like this, the existence of God would be much more plausible. Reality is now biased in its favor. For a change.

    • Posted June 27, 2012 at 3:48 pm | Permalink

      “What is the difference between the ‘supernatural’ and the ‘paranormal?’” — About $10k in grants?

      /@

  26. AM
    Posted June 27, 2012 at 12:30 pm | Permalink

    I adamantly maintain that science can indeed test the supernatural—at least those claims about the supernatural that involve its interaction with the real world. JC

    Only if there is physical evidence to examine and analyze. If there is none to examine science couldn’t tell you the first thing about the claim. And all science could do in any case is to define the physical aspects of an event, it couldn’t tell you anything about any claimed supernatural aspect of that event.

    I’ve never encountered an atheist who understands that many religious believers believe that all aspects of existence, those which are claimed to be miraculous and those which are held to happen constantly are by divine intention.

    I’d challenge you to explain how science could be used to demonstrate that every day events ARE NOT the results of divine intention. I think you’d have to show how that could be done before you could extend science, invented only for the purposes of studying physical existence, into the testing of the supernatural.

    The belief in a Creator God includes the claim that the normal, natural operation of the universe is by divine intention, and science can’t do more than describe the normal, natural operation of the universe. It can’t even account for all of physical reality.

    • truthspeaker
      Posted June 27, 2012 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

      “I’ve never encountered an atheist who understands that many religious believers believe that all aspects of existence, those which are claimed to be miraculous and those which are held to happen constantly are by divine intention”

      We understand that fine. What we don’t understand is WHY they believe that.

      • AM
        Posted June 27, 2012 at 3:47 pm | Permalink

        Why would you care?

        • gbjames
          Posted June 27, 2012 at 3:57 pm | Permalink

          Some of us are curious about how the world works, even that part of the world inside the heads of religious believers. Some of us care because what is inside the heads of religious believers is translated into action by religious believers that affects the world that we all have to share. There are plenty of good reasons for caring about weird beliefs without believing them.

        • daveau
          Posted June 28, 2012 at 8:50 am | Permalink

          Think of it in terms of anthropological research.

    • daveau
      Posted June 27, 2012 at 12:54 pm | Permalink

      Wow! And I would challenge you to come up with even one teeny tiny piece of evidence that there is divine intention in the universe, before I waste my time on your silly premise.

      • AM
        Posted June 27, 2012 at 3:51 pm | Permalink

        Don’t get me started on the things that atheists I’ve argued with believe with no evidence, things like the ubiquity of “other life”, jillions of entirely unobserved “universes”(how you have more than one UNIverse is an interesting question in itself), the status of science being the one and only way of knowing truth (a self-defeating statement as it can’t be demonstrated scientifically).

        Logical consistency isn’t something that contemporary atheists are very big on.

        • gbjames
          Posted June 27, 2012 at 4:03 pm | Permalink

          I’ll note that in response to daveau’s request for the tiniest bit of evidence to support your position you replied with nothing but an arm-wave. Ubiquity (or not) of “other life” (whatever that means) and jillions of “universes” are not positions that derive from atheism. The question of the status of science is not one that an atheist argues as a matter of faith, whatever their position.

          You fail/refuse to respond to the point of daveau’s comment because, of course, you have nothing to offer.

        • Claimthehighground
          Posted June 27, 2012 at 5:28 pm | Permalink

          AM, what a numnuts you are. Anyone who says, “Don’t get me started…” and then spends the rest of the post offering examples of things you didn’t want to get started on, is just blathering. Here’s a flash: Atheists are not some monolithic group. We are bound by but a single thread; we do not believe in any gods or supernatural explanations for the natural world. Beyond that you will find some who trend toward any number of explanations for as yet unexplained events. To group all atheists into your little box is the product of a little mind. Yes, on some issues there are a subset of atheists who will be logically inconsistent, but most, you will find are brutally consistent. This is in contrast to the bulk of theists, who are consistently illogical in their thinking.

          • whyevolutionistrue
            Posted June 27, 2012 at 5:32 pm | Permalink

            No name-calling, please!

            thx,
            Mgmt.

            • Claimthehighground
              Posted June 28, 2012 at 5:32 am | Permalink

              Thx, so noted.

        • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
          Posted June 28, 2012 at 6:05 am | Permalink

          This is eminently “logically” consistent with science, because they are mundane scientific predictions. As we all know.

          It goes to predictivity and observability of science:

          – Astrobiologists predict for good reasons that life may be ubiquitous (say, because chemical evolution happens most everywhere – even carbon stars spew out organics). Same as we predict for good reasons out of observing gravity that cannon balls will eventually land.

          Observations to test that can be observing oxygen in the atmosphere of habitable planets – we know we can do that. No other known process can produce such imbalances in moderately tempered atmospheres.

          – Cosmologists predict for good reasons that universes may be ubiquitous (say, because of inflation allowing it). They can be separate (multiverses) or stacked (bubble universes).

          Observations to test that can be observing anthropically set parameters – we know we can do that. No other known process* can produce such life conditions in mundane universes.

          —————
          * Unless a theoretically possible TOE does that eventually.

          But today that goal seems further away than naively believed earlier. String theory is a TOE – but it naturally predicts anthropic multiverses! So it goes…

        • daveau
          Posted June 28, 2012 at 8:11 am | Permalink

          Dear AM (if that is your real name),

          I, unlike some people, do not generalize all atheists or goddies to be homogeneous.

          However, what any reasonably educated person would say is: given the fact that life arose on our planet, and given the near infinite number of similar planets, it is entirely possible that there is life elsewhere in the universe. This is a statistical probability, not a fact. We will likely not know in our lifetimes.

          Similarly, higher mathematics and quantum theory points to a statistical possibility that there may be multiple universes. At the present time we do not have enough information to make a determination regarding what is most likely. However many universes there are, for all practical purposes, we only live in one of them.

          It turns out, if you just add an ‘s’ to the end of the word UNIverse, it becomes plural.

          And I don’t recall anyone claiming science=truth. Science is the best method for ascertaining an accurate model of the way the universe works. Nobody pretends to know everything, but we do know enough to be able to reliably assert that there is no need for the existence of any god for the universe and life to have been created. And there is no evidence for any gods interacting with the universe.

          Still waiting for any evidence to the contrary…

          • daveau
            Posted June 28, 2012 at 8:30 am | Permalink

            And, as GB kindly pointed out, why are you conflating science and atheism? They are not remotely the same thing.

          • Posted June 28, 2012 at 11:41 am | Permalink

            “to have been created” – Hmm… not the most felicitous phrasing…

            /@

            • daveau
              Posted June 28, 2012 at 12:17 pm | Permalink

              Whoops. How’s “to have come into existence”? Thanks as always, Ant.

    • Posted June 27, 2012 at 1:03 pm | Permalink

      So, how’s that pet dragon doing that you’re keeping in your garage?

      b&

      • JohnnieCanuck
        Posted June 27, 2012 at 1:48 pm | Permalink

        Starving?

        If someone doesn’t start sacrificing young villagers to it really soon, it’s going to escape and start laying waste to the countryside, yet again.

        Anyone know what became of that Knight called George?

        • Posted June 27, 2012 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

          Last I heard from him, George feeling a bit cold and lousy.

          Cheers,

          b&

    • gbjames
      Posted June 27, 2012 at 1:42 pm | Permalink

      I’ve never encountered an atheist who understands that many religious believers believe that all aspects of existence, those which are claimed to be miraculous and those which are held to happen constantly are by divine intention.

      Have you ever spoken with an atheist?

      • Posted June 27, 2012 at 1:47 pm | Permalink

        I’m sure AM will reply (if at all) in the affirmative, but do keep in mind that the Reformed Baptist Church of God, Reformation of 1879, generally considers all members of the Reformed Baptist Church of God, Reformation of 1915, to be atheists.

        Cheers,

        b&

        • daveau
          Posted June 27, 2012 at 2:07 pm | Permalink

          Splitters!

          • AM
            Posted June 27, 2012 at 3:53 pm | Permalink

            Obviously you’re the last of the red hots wits. You think that’s a really original retort, don’t you.

            Where’s your multi-verse?

            • gbjames
              Posted June 27, 2012 at 4:37 pm | Permalink

              By all means, AM, show us how it is done. Provide something substantive.

            • daveau
              Posted June 28, 2012 at 7:39 am | Permalink

              Who claimed that as original? Certainly not me. I happened to think it would amuse my friend Ben, original or no.

              My multi-verse is right before the multi-chorus. Obviously.

          • Posted June 28, 2012 at 12:15 am | Permalink

            +1 for MPLoB reference.

            Ignore the unbeliever, AM.

            /@

            • daveau
              Posted June 28, 2012 at 7:40 am | Permalink

              Spank you, Ant.

              • Posted June 28, 2012 at 11:34 am | Permalink

                Fresh!

                /@

    • Sastra
      Posted June 27, 2012 at 2:42 pm | Permalink

      AM #26 wrote:

      I’d challenge you to explain how science could be used to demonstrate that every day events ARE NOT the results of divine intention.

      If all possible events, eventualities, and effects are consistent with “God’s intention did that,” then science is out because the claim is vacuous — empty of any actual content. God’s existence looks just like God’s non-existence. You don’t want that sort of “victory” because it’s actually a defeat. You pay a very high price when everything is a miracle: nothing is a miracle.

      But I’m still not so sure that this sort of meaningless strategy places God outside of science. If the double whammy of philosophy and modern science are applied to the concept of “intention” you end up with a category error.

      • MadScientist
        Posted June 27, 2012 at 3:17 pm | Permalink

        On a more fundamental level, the method of interaction with matter would be something new and the magical “intelligence” with no manifestation and which is everywhere at once – well, how does it even exist? However, the real point is that the lack of support for the hypothesis of divine intervention is only one of the numerous indications that the bible is nothing but a fairly unimaginative human fabrication and claims of gods are nothing but nonsense.

    • darrelle
      Posted June 27, 2012 at 3:13 pm | Permalink

      “Only if there is physical evidence to examine and analyze. If there is none to examine science couldn’t tell you the first thing about the claim.”

      You are being intentionally obtuse. At least that is the most charitable interpretation I can think of.

      If a human being experiences something, then their is physical evidence of the phenomenon. We have tools which can detect anything the human animals sensoria can detect, and they are much more sensitive and accurate. Whats more, we have tools that can detect much much more than the human sensoria is capable of. If the alleged phenomenon does not leave any trace, why should it be supposed to exist? Even if the event occurs only within the mind, we have tools that can examine and detect traces of it.

      The first thing you need to show to continue your argument is why anybody should care about something that we can never know anything about, and that can never affect reality. Those are the direct implications of your claim that science can’t tell us anything about this category of phenomena you call supernatural.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted June 28, 2012 at 5:38 am | Permalink

      I’d challenge you to explain how science could be used to demonstrate that every day events ARE NOT the results of divine intention.

      This again? Why, it is simple and I have done that many times now:

      – First creationists starts to argue about the philosophy of “methodological naturalism”. “Methodological naturalism”, as inductionism (or at least its continued mentioning), seems to originate in theology.

      It is the success of science, not its content, that shores up its use and the decreased uncertainty that follows.

      – Then creationists argue about the theological concept of “scientism”.

      But conversely with that science works, it is the failure of alternative methods to compete that makes it the only way to get to facts. So we end up with an observation of “scientism”.

      – Then creationists retreat to arguing about use of parsimony.

      That parsimony works is another observation of course. And it is somewhat theoretically supported by the (as of yet untested hypotheses) that it minimizes mistakes and reversals of theory. But it doesn’t seem to be crucial to the success of science.

      What we crucially observe however is what physicist Sean Carroll calls (dysteleological) physicalism. (Unguided) physics is all there is.

      My own theory on this is that from the use of unqualified (!) naturalism, we observe success. But moreover:

      One main reason why this success is so pervasive is that we observe uniformity. Science would be a lot less compelling, but still feasible, if physics laws would be different between my dining room and my work room.

      But if we think about it, another main reason for success is that we observe physicalist monism. Science would be a lot less compelling, but still feasible, if physics laws would be different between my fork and my pen, or between lunch time and work time.

      That is why physicalist monism is very much as observed and important as uniformity. My toy model is to use a measurable physical characteristic, say conservation of energy, and test for the prediction of monism. Say, a binomial test yes/no over tested observations or hypotheses published. We need ~ 260 000 such publications for a 3 sigma test of a physics theory (outside of accelerators and astronomy). At the current exponentially increasing rate of 600 000 papers a year (IIRC) and estimating 1/10 contains actual tests that would mean a mere ~ 5 years papers.

      So we, as society, likely passed the stage of being able to reject magic dualism of theology for good somewhere in the 70′s – 80′s. (For good, give or take remaining uncertainty of testing.)

      In short, unguided physics is all there is, and the reason we expect and, as I argue, we now know that is because science has worked so well.

      PED – physicalism erat demonstrandum. =D

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted June 28, 2012 at 5:46 am | Permalink

      Note though that the burden of evidence to show that every day events are the results of divine intention is, as always, on the creationist.

      Physicalism is testable and always falsifiable. But since we now know so many instances of no “divine intervention” (tested natural observations and theories), the burden of evidence against has increased. Spurious claims won’t suffice, if they ever have.

  27. Posted June 27, 2012 at 2:48 pm | Permalink

    POI: Fishman’s paper is 2007, not 2009.

    /@

  28. MadScientist
    Posted June 27, 2012 at 3:13 pm | Permalink

    There is little in the bible that has not been definitively disproven. The flood of Noah, the Nazareth of Jesus, Jesus, the massacre of Herod, the Census with absurd conditions such as “you must return to your place of birth”, the entire Exodus and its events (yeah – now that people can read many ancient texts, quite a bit is known of historical Egypt). Yet there is always an excuse. “It’s not meant to be taken literally” (it can refer to any manufacturer of dairy products!), “god works in mysterious ways”, etc. At least on an individual level there is the occasional “Holy Crap! The bible’s stories are full of gaping holes!”

    • Posted June 27, 2012 at 3:54 pm | Permalink

      “Holey crap,” then?

      /@

      • Claimthehighground
        Posted June 27, 2012 at 4:53 pm | Permalink

        perhaps even, wholly crap.

  29. corio37
    Posted June 27, 2012 at 3:20 pm | Permalink

    I take a pragmatic view: I’m quite happy to admit that my belief in science is a faith, but it’s a faith that WORKS. It keeps me alive, healthy, happy, reasonably well-off and out of prison. Belief in the supernatural does none of these things. Science doesn’t make supernatural claims impossible: merely unnecessary.

    In fact most of the people who claim to have supernatural beliefs don’t really ACT as if they do. I had a debate on my blog with a guy who believed he could do telekinesis, but declined to let himself be investigated. I pointed out that if his claims were true this was far more important than a cure for cancer, and by refusing investigation he was being massively anti-social, but it didn’t seem to penetrate.

    • zendruid1
      Posted June 27, 2012 at 9:21 pm | Permalink

      Trust and confidence are better terms than faith.

  30. Posted June 27, 2012 at 3:26 pm | Permalink

    I haven’t had time to read it all yet, but this sounds a bit like Maarten Boudry’s “How not to attack Intelligent Design Creationism: Philosophical misconceptions about Methodological Naturalism” (final draft at https://sites.google.com/site/maartenboudry/teksten-1/methodological-naturalism). The abstract says: “In recent controversies about Intelligent Design Creationism (IDC), the principle of methodological naturalism (MN) has played an important role. In this paper, an often neglected distinction is made between two different conceptions of MN, each with its respective rationale and with a different view on the proper role of MN in science. According to one popular conception, MN is a self-imposed or intrinsic limitation of science, which means that science is simply not equipped to deal with claims of the supernatural (Intrinsic MN or IMN). Alternatively, we will defend MN as a provisory and empirically grounded attitude of scientists, which is justified in virtue of the consistent success of naturalistic explanations and the lack of success of supernatural explanations in the history of science. (Provisory MN or PMN). Science does have a bearing on supernatural hypotheses, and its verdict is uniformly negative. We will discuss five arguments that have been proposed in support of IMN: the argument from the definition of science, the argument from lawful regularity, the science stopper argument, the argument from procedural necessity, and the testability argument. We conclude that IMN, because of its philosophical flaws, proves to be an ill-advised strategy to counter the claims of IDC. Evolutionary scientists are on firmer ground if they discard supernatural explanations on purely evidential grounds, instead of ruling them out by philosophical fiat.”

    • Posted June 28, 2012 at 6:53 am | Permalink

      Yes, this is the best route to go, since naturalism is a conclusion based on a commitment to empirical evidence. Were evidence for the supernatural to accrue, then naturalists committed to empiricism would become supernaturalists. And this is why it’s ok to teach science in schools: it’s open-minded about the possibility of the existence of the supernatural. Naturalism is a well-supported but defeasible empirical hypothesis about reality but it isn’t a worldview presumed by or forced on anyone by teaching science, http://www.naturalism.org/Close_encounters.htm

  31. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted June 27, 2012 at 8:39 pm | Permalink

    A think a problem with accomodationism is the shifting position of the boundary between natural and supernatural. It tends to get redefined so that the concept of supernatural keeps shrinking (dare I say to a singularity??)

    • Posted June 28, 2012 at 12:41 am | Permalink

      Well, quite. I think that the distinction between “natural” and “supernatural” arose only because science demonstrated that there was no place for “God”, &c., in the natural world.

      /@

  32. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted June 28, 2012 at 5:05 am | Permalink

    It is nice to see it comprehensible presented in one peer-reviewed paper.

    But I think for all that, that Fishman could have presented a stronger science case. To be able to comport testing with bayesian inference, he takes a philosophic, unsupported idiosyncratic view on testing from Bunge et al:

    “a claim is ‘testable’ if there can be “evidence of whatever kind for or against a claim.” [italics added]“.

    Needless to say this weakens testing from looking at statistical significance for rejection “beyond reasonable doubt” against a set level of occurrence by chance.

    Instead Fishman is reduced to looking for confirmation by bayesian comparison – “particularly hypotheses that enjoy a higher prior probability given their greater consistency with our background knowledge”.

    But two crazy ideas are still crazy even if one is a smidgen crazier than the other.

    Bayesian inference is a great tool for comparing parsimony when it maps to probabilities of events. When it comes to making up patterns and comparing them, not so much.

    I note that Dawkins is, quite reasonably, confident in using event probabilities in his “The God Delusion”: “the anthropic alternative to the design hypothesis is statistical” (p 165). And of course Stenger is using hypothesis testing in his “God – the failed hypothesis” when he discusses “significance of experiments” (pp 91)!

    Oh well, there is room for more papers like this.

  33. lisa
    Posted June 28, 2012 at 9:11 am | Permalink

    Trying to prove the existence or the lack of the paranormal is as futile as trying to find how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. I would think that some dances take more room than others. I mean are they dancing a waltz, a tango, the minuet, the jitterbug? Or maybe a line dance or river dance? Do some pin heads (I mean that literally, not as a slur, at least when I typed it) have ladies nights, free beer? What kind of pin are they dancing on? Some have a lot bigger heads than others. You need to know these things in order to make a reasonable, rational inquiry.

    Separating a belief in God from all other ‘supernatural’ phenomena is also necessary; they are in no way the same thing.

    As far as denying the existence of any supposed reports of the supernatural just because Science has not been able to find evidence, it cannot be conclusive of anything except that to date no evidence has been found. To prove that anything does not, nor never has existed is just nearly impossible; to disprove anything; a lack of data cannot be as anything but inconclusive. Maybe Science has just missed something. I have concluded that the natural world and the supernatural are not separated. Perhaps we just do not have the tools to find any conclusive evidence. I am constantly amazed by the excessive and very real changes technology has affected our world and how quickly. It absolutely affects every part of our lives.

    Science has picked up a lot of great tools lately, and makes more every day. Most humans knew very little about the construction of the universe before the telescope was invented. Nearly everything learned about medicine and related sciences came about after the microscope came around. And we needed to wait for the development of very advanced computers to map the human genome. The scientific world of the 19th century dismissed the concept of electricity and its generators as simple toys that would never have a consequential effect on humans or our world. How long has it been since Science acknowledged the existence dark energy or dark matter? And it makes up what, about 95% of our universe? Give Science and technology another few minutes and they could come up with a tool to collect any of this data, if it does exist

    Someone who argues that a God does not exist has all this burden of truth, with a few real kickers. Not only must one face the impossibility proof by lack of data, God (or however many you believe in) does not exist with the boundaries of our universe. Not having concrete evidence or access to any part of this realm (no matter what your teachers told you), where do you start the analysis? To be properly objective, the scientists must be able to be able to be outside the influence of the environment and preconceived notions. At the level of Science now, we cannot do this. In fact, we cannot even make a truly objective study of any part or anything of our universe because we cannot view it objectively from the “outside.”

    I would say that Science can, should (and maybe does) investigate any “paranormal phenomena” that has arguably been observed, left behind or whatever. ANYTHING can and hopefully will be tested scientifically. Perhaps there are real tools out there, or maybe they will be soon to allow for measuring and testing these phenomena. As long as the scientists can be opened to the plausibility that these things could exist. As I have frequently told my children, there is no such thing a magic. There is, however, a lot of science that we just don’t understand yet.

    As far as proving that God (or whatever) does or doesn’t exist is just a waste of time; it cannot (for now) be done. The good thing is that science is not supposed to be able to prove it. It is mankind’s nature to analyze, compartmentalize and file all data. But also somewhere between Homo Erectus and Homo Sapien Sapiens, humans have believed in one or more gods outside of and infinitely more powerful than themselves.

    But this something that mankind was not given to know. If you don’t believe in God, no worries, no Divine Retribution. None of it matters. If you do believe in God, it is supposed to be an act of faith. And if you try to prove it, then you don’t really have faith.

    All of you that have posted comments here sound to be fairly intelligent people. So why are you wasting your time in pointless arguments?

    • truthspeaker
      Posted June 28, 2012 at 9:48 am | Permalink

      “Separating a belief in God from all other ‘supernatural’ phenomena is also necessary; they are in no way the same thing.”

      How so?

    • gbjames
      Posted June 28, 2012 at 10:16 am | Permalink

      “All of you that have posted comments here sound to be fairly intelligent people. So why are you wasting your time in pointless arguments?”

      Have you not noticed that there are large numbers of religious believers who think that their invisible friend’s instructions include changing the way the rest of us live our lives?

      Oh… I, too (like truthspeaker), am wondering why belief in gods is different from belief in other supernatural things.

  34. robert landbeck
    Posted June 28, 2012 at 10:15 am | Permalink

    “I adamantly maintain that science can indeed test the supernatural—at least those claims about the supernatural that involve its interaction with the real world.”

    So Do it! For what science and religion, not to mention the rest of us, thought impossible has now happened. History has its first literal, testable and fully demonstrable proof for faith.

    The first wholly new interpretation for two thousand years of the moral teachings of Christ is published on the web. Radically different from anything else we know of from history, this new teaching is predicated upon a precise, predefined and predictable experience and called ‘the first Resurrection’ in the sense that the Resurrection of Jesus was intended to demonstrate Gods’ willingness to real Himself and intervene directly into the natural world for those obedient to His will, paving the way for access, by faith, to the power of divine transcendence and ultimate proof!

    Thus ‘faith’ becomes an act of trust in action, to search and discover this direct individual intervention into the natural world by omnipotent power that confirms divine will, law, command and covenant, which at the same time, realigns our moral compass with the Divine, “correcting human nature by a change in natural law, altering biology, consciousness and human ethical perception beyond all natural evolutionary boundaries.” So like it or no, a new religious teaching, testable by faith, meeting all Enlightenment criteria of evidence based causation and definitive proof now exists. Nothing short of an intellectual, moral and religious revolution is getting under way. To test or not to test, that is the question? More info at http://www.energon.org.uk,

    http://soulgineering.com/2011/05/22/the-final-freedoms/

    • gbjames
      Posted June 28, 2012 at 10:19 am | Permalink

      Wow. A blue background! That settles it!

      ‘Scuse me… gotta get back to reading my bottle of Dr. Bronner’s soap.

  35. pjlandis
    Posted June 29, 2012 at 5:11 am | Permalink

    I don’t think Judge Jones opinion necessarily endorses an accommodationist viewpoint.

    We find that ID fails on three different levels, any one of which is sufficient to preclude a determination that ID is science. They are: (1)ID violates the centuries-old ground rules of science by invoking and permitting supernatural causation; (2) the argument of irreducible complexity, central to ID, employs the same flawed and illogical contrived dualism that doomed creation science in the 1980’s; and (3) ID’s negative attacks on evolution have been refuted by the scientific community.

    He is correct that science doesn’t invoke or permit supernatural causation. As everyone here keeps arguing you can certainly test supernatural claims, but it’s still true that those claims arise outside of science. I don’t think that opinion really meshes with the other statements you cited, at least in part because it was meant to resolve a specific problem rather than some kind of grand statement about science and religion being buddies.

    If the accomodationist argument is good enough to rule on, from a legal viewpoint you can stop there because the court isn’t there to resolve larger issues than the one before the court.

  36. Posted August 24, 2012 at 4:46 pm | Permalink

    Greetings,

    If you’ve frequented this site, you’ll know that I disagree with this stand. I adamantly maintain that science can indeed test the supernatural—at least those claims about the supernatural that involve its interaction with the real world.

    And that caveat is what limits science’s ability to test the supernatural, and – thus – means that science cannot rule out the supernatural.

    For example, science cannot distinguish between a naturalistic cosmos and a deistic cosmos, since they both share the same criteria: no souls, no “spiritual plane of existence”, no life-after-death, and no intervention by a (deistic) creator.

    One could go further, but that’s more than enough to show that science has its limits in dealing with the supernatural.

    Kindest regards,

    James

    • Posted August 26, 2012 at 6:29 pm | Permalink

      “science cannot distinguish between a naturalistic cosmos and a deistic cosmos”

      Sounds trivially true but profoundly false. Modern science and academia haven’t been shy about pointing out the difference between the natural beginnings of our universe and older supernatural/deistic (now unscientific) conjecture. Universities are actively distinguishing by teaching that our universe expanded naturalistically instead of the Big Bang being the effect of some deistic or god-caused miracle.

      • Tim
        Posted September 12, 2013 at 6:53 pm | Permalink

        Actually the Big Bang is a supernatural explanation of origins.

        • Posted September 13, 2013 at 12:32 am | Permalink

          You missed a space*: “Actually, the Big Bang is a super natural explanation of origins.”

          /@

          * & a comma.

          • Tim
            Posted September 13, 2013 at 7:11 pm | Permalink

            Ant,

            The laws of our physical (natural) universe do not apply to the ‘singularity’. It is therefore, by defintion, supernatural.

            • Posted September 14, 2013 at 2:00 am | Permalink

              What “singularity”?

              Once again, you demonstrate only that you don’t know jack shit about contemporary cosmology!

              /@

              • Tim
                Posted September 14, 2013 at 7:46 pm | Permalink

                yeah, its much easier to think that something had to have come from nothing LOL

              • Posted September 16, 2013 at 11:24 am | Permalink

                The “nothing” you’re pointing to is as incoherent a concept as a married bachelor who lives death north of the North Pole.

                There is a very real type of nothing, the quantum vacuum, and it’s one of the most fertile sources of creation we know of. Indeed, the Big Bang itself bears a striking semblance to the exact same sorts of virtual particles that we regularly observe spontaneously arising from the quantum vacuum.

                See Lawrence Krauss’s latest book on the subject, titled, suitably enough, A Universe from Nothing.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Posted September 15, 2013 at 3:59 am | Permalink

                If your counter-proposal for the origin of the universe is some supernatural agency, where did it come from? You’re faced with either infinite regress or having to claim such an agency was eternal — but Carl Sagan had an answer for that latter assertion.†

                /@

  37. sdf
    Posted May 8, 2013 at 5:31 am | Permalink

    “supernatural” <- there is no such thing

  38. Tim
    Posted August 19, 2013 at 10:19 pm | Permalink

    Jerry,

    Your error is in supposing that a supernatural entity can only do what you suppose it can do.

    • gbjames
      Posted August 20, 2013 at 4:26 am | Permalink

      Seems to me that a greater error is claiming, without evidence, that supernatural entities can do anything at all.

      • Posted August 20, 2013 at 4:29 am | Permalink

        Be, for a start.

        /@

      • Tim
        Posted August 20, 2013 at 6:47 am | Permalink

        Actually, most events of ordinary life cannot be verified with scientific evidence. That doesnt mean those things didnt happen. And you accept the reality of those things without scientific evidence.

        Can you provide scientifically verifiable evidence that your mom loved you when you were born?

        • gbjames
          Posted August 20, 2013 at 7:08 am | Permalink

          Turns out there is far more evidence of that than there is for whichever form of supernatural woo you are likely pitching.

          A legitimate response to being challenged to support assertions for the existence of supernatural woo is not “prove your mom loved you”. If that’s the best support you have, then you have already conceded that you have nothing.

          • truthspeaker
            Posted August 20, 2013 at 7:40 am | Permalink

            Can you provide scientifically verifiable evidence that your mom loved you when you were born?

            To get really rigorous evidence for that someone would have needed to measure her oxytocin levels when I was born. The technology to do that didn’t exist in 1970.

            However I can assemble circumstantial evidence that suggests she felt love toward me around that time. Obviously I would be a fool to believe it without such evidence, and even with it I can’t be completely sure.

            • Tim
              Posted August 20, 2013 at 8:43 am | Permalink

              so truthspeaker, is it your position that only someone with the proper oxytocin level is exhibiting love?

          • Tim
            Posted August 20, 2013 at 8:37 am | Permalink

            Nice dodge.

            The point is that not everything (not even most things) can be supported by scientifically verifiable evidence. Yes, that is a legitimate response. Simply blowing it off doesnt make it invalid.

            You say ‘there is far more evidence of that’, so tell us what scientifically verifiable evidence can you present that your mom loved you when you were born?

            None, right?

            Does that mean that her love for you is just a figment of your imagination? Or is it a falsehood that she inculcated into your young thinking?

            • gbjames
              Posted August 20, 2013 at 8:49 am | Permalink

              You’re the one dodging and seeking to conflate made-up gods with inability to use technical observation directly on past events. There is considerable evidence in the form of expressions in photographs, descriptions of the event by actual known and identifiable humans, including my mother, and so forth. Now, you can now be expected to shift over to the claim that those are not “scientific evidence”, to which I must insist that they in fact are real, factual, evidence.

              Now, please provide the evidence for your supernatural entities. The burden is on you to demonstrate their existence. I did not get into this exchange to demonstrate my mother’s love for her infant. You seem to have initiated the exchange to demonstrate the existence of some supernatural juju at the bottom of the sea, or functional equivalent. Put up or…

              • Tim
                Posted August 20, 2013 at 10:10 am | Permalink

                “Now, you can now be expected to shift over to the claim that those are not “scientific evidence”, ”

                I am not ‘shifting’. That was my original statement on this. No shift involved at all.

                ” to which I must insist that they in fact are real, factual, evidence.”

                And theres the rub. They arent scientific evidence. Not of the type you insist on for evidence of God, right? You accept personal testimony from your mom that she loved you. Thats great. But its not verifiable, its just her say-so, correct? But your whole life was shaped by something that you cant scientifically verify exists.

                Its you that is doing the shifting. Your require one level of evidence for something that you dont want, and another level of evidence for something you do.

                Lets start with this. You dont even have a scientifically verifiable definition of love.

                So how could you ever hope to scientifically present evidence of its presence?

              • truthspeaker
                Posted August 20, 2013 at 11:50 am | Permalink

                You accept personal testimony from your mom that she loved you.

                I certainly wouldn’t.

              • Posted August 20, 2013 at 10:26 am | Permalink

                Two points:

                1. The question isn’t whether or not you can prove a specific claim that your mother loved you when you were born (assuming, of course that she did, and wasn’t, for example, suffering from postpartum depression) but rather that the claim amendable to scientific investigation, that it is a claim that is falsifiable by empiricism and reason. And, of course, it is, since we know that PPD might have meant that she didn’t.

                2. Mothers’ love for their children is well established across peoples and cultures. To claim that your mother loved you when you were born is mundane and unexceptional, and can therefore be validated by evidence, such as the testimony of other family members, that is itself mundane and unexceptional. It is manifestly not a claim that requires extraordinary evidence.

                /@

              • Posted August 20, 2013 at 10:29 am | Permalink

                * that the claim is amendable

              • gbjames
                Posted August 20, 2013 at 12:03 pm | Permalink

                Give me a break, Tim. I have _some_ evidence that my mom loved me from experience and this rather mundane type of thing is observed millions of times on our planet every year.

                Compare that to claims for an all-knowing, all-powerful, all-loving invisible deity who answers the prayers of supplicants. That is an extraordinary claim for which one expects extraordinary evidence.

                One should parcel out belief according to evidence. Mothers’ love for children has mountains. Supernatural friends have none.

              • Sastra
                Posted August 20, 2013 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

                Ah, Tim, Tim — your analogy is seriously flawed because you’re mixing up different categories of ‘things.’ In this case, you’re shifting from an emotion to an object.

                Instead of demanding evidence that truthspeaker’s mother “loved him” you ought to ask if he could provide any objective evidence showing that his mother existed. My guess is that he could. More important, we can in theory provide scientific evidence that any person did or didn’t exist — objective, unbiased evidence capable of convincing a neutral rational observer.

                You don’t think supernatural beings, entities, or forces are just ways of feeling and behaving, do you? Presumably not. God’s love is not God. So evidence for the supernatural is not going to be anything like evidence that somebody loves you, or that “love” exists (unless you actually think Love is some sort of magical energy field or essential substance, in which case you need to read something about ‘abstractions.’)

                Stop playing games. This is not a gotcha. It’s an old and tired ploy, a bait ‘n switch that fools nobody — unless it’s still fooling you.

              • Tim
                Posted August 20, 2013 at 2:19 pm | Permalink

                Sastra wrote: “you’re mixing up different categories of ‘things.’ In this case, you’re shifting from an emotion to an object.

                Youre kinda missing the point, huh?

                The point is that not everything has a physical existence that can be verifiably tested by the scientific method.

              • Tim
                Posted August 20, 2013 at 2:21 pm | Permalink

                gbjames wrote: “I have _some_ evidence that my mom loved me from experience”

                The question is do you have scientifically verifiable evidence?

                The answer is no.

              • Posted August 20, 2013 at 2:23 pm | Permalink

                So…what’s your scientifically verifiable evidence that you’ve got for your gods?

                b&

              • Tim
                Posted August 20, 2013 at 2:24 pm | Permalink

                Ant wrote: “can therefore be validated by evidence, such as the testimony of other family members”

                We are specifically discussing whether or not everything must require scientific evidence. Thank you for confirming that it does not.

              • Posted August 20, 2013 at 2:34 pm | Permalink

                The more interesting question is which claims do and don’t reasonably require scientific evidence.

                If I claim that it’s hot outside — and if you know that I live in the Valley of the Sun and that it’s currently the middle of the afternoon in the middle of summer — then that’s a claim that I certainly could substantiate with whatever type of scientific evidence you might wish…but, at the same time, I certainly don’t need to supply that evidence. It’s such an ordinary claim of so little importance that it’d be a waste to provide anything beyond just a simple subjective statement that, boy oh boy oh boy is it hot out there, all right!

                You, on the other hand, are making claims about the fundamental nature of reality, claims with profound consequences. Claims even bigger than of the reality of the Higgs Boson, and with necessarily more readily observable impacts.

                And yet, you have no evidence.

                Save, of course, for a fourth-rate ancient faery tale anthology that opens with a story about an enchanted garden with talking animals and an angry wizard; that features a talking plant (on fire!) that gives magic wand lessons to the reluctant hero; and ends with some utterly bizarre zombie snuff pr0n fantasy where a rotting corpse tells somebody to fondle its intestines through a gaping chest wound.

                …and you wonder why we laugh….

                b&

              • gbjames
                Posted August 20, 2013 at 2:28 pm | Permalink

                That is not the question, Tim. It certainly is not an interesting question and contributes nothing to our understanding of anything at all.

                And it certainly doesn’t advance the case for the existence of invisible friends for which no evidence exists.

                “You can’t prove that Abraham Lincoln didn’t dream of red houses on the night of April 22nd, 1848. Therefore my friend in the sky exists.” Can you not see the stupidity of that sort of argument?

              • Posted August 20, 2013 at 2:52 pm | Permalink

                @ Tim

                What makes you think that multiple observations by several independent observers are not “scientific” evidence?

                Perhaps you’re thinking of a straw man in a lab coat.

                /@

              • Tim
                Posted August 20, 2013 at 4:26 pm | Permalink

                gbjames wrote:

                ““You can’t prove that Abraham Lincoln didn’t dream of red houses on the night of April 22nd, 1848. Therefore my friend in the sky exists.” Can you not see the stupidity of that sort of argument?”

                No one here made such an argument, correct?

                No one here (certainly not me) said “Science cannot disprove the existence of God, therefore God exists.”

              • Tim
                Posted August 20, 2013 at 4:28 pm | Permalink

                Ben Goren wrote: “what’s your scientifically verifiable evidence that you’ve got for your gods?”

                Isnt it illogical to demand ‘natural’ evidence of the ‘supernatural’?

                Its like saying “I cant smell gamma rays therefore they must not exist”

              • gbjames
                Posted August 20, 2013 at 4:44 pm | Permalink

                Then stop playing coy, Tim, and tell us what you are asserting.

              • Posted August 20, 2013 at 5:07 pm | Permalink

                @ Tim : “Isnt [sic] it illogical to demand ‘natural’ evidence of the ‘supernatural’?”

                Isn’t it illogical to think that the “supernatural” can have any effect, impact, influence, … on the “natural”?

                Both questions must have the same answer.

                /@

              • Posted August 20, 2013 at 5:41 pm | Permalink

                Beat me to it.

                Either the supernatural influences the natural world, and these influences are exactly what science excels at investigating; or the supernatural is undetectable by any means because it doesn’t actually do anything.

                In reality, “supernatural” is a perfect synonym for “imaginary”; in common practice, it’s also nearly always interchangeable with “fantastical plot device,” as well. Indeed, “willing suspension of disbelief,” aka “pay no attention to the man behind the curtain,” might do the best job at characterizing the supernatural.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Sastra
                Posted August 20, 2013 at 7:22 pm | Permalink

                Youre kinda missing the point, huh? The point is that not everything has a physical existence that can be verifiably tested by the scientific method.

                No, you’re missing my point.

                What are the “things without a physical existence which can’t be tested by the scientific method?” What example are you giving?

                “A mother’s love.” Emotions. Psychological inferences. Abstractions. Values.

                Now, it’s debatable whether these things are really “things without a physical existence which can’t etc. etc.” But let’s say for the sake of argument that I grant it.

                Your analogy STILL won’t work unless the supernatural is in the same category as emotions, psychological inferences, abstractions, values, etc. It has to be the same sort of thing.

                It’s not. Supernatural things are supposed to be entities or forces which we infer from experience. Like the mother, not like the mother’s love.

                In theory, the supernatural could be scientifically verified. The reason you think it hasn’t been isn’t the obvious one (no such thing.) It’s because you want it to play hide and seek, revealing itself to individuals but never performing reliably under controlled conditions — like a person with an agenda.

                So here’s a challenge: give us a noncontroversial example of something supernatural.

              • Tim
                Posted August 22, 2013 at 1:26 pm | Permalink

                gbjames wrote: “tell us what you are asserting.”

                My position is that the central premise of the article, (i.e. that science can test the supernatural by natural means) is obviously false.

              • gbjames
                Posted August 22, 2013 at 1:38 pm | Permalink

                You may assert that, Tim, but it is anything but obviously true.

                If supernatural things interact with the world we live in then there is no reason that they can’t be tested for. (And if not, then why suppose they exist at all?)

                If supernatural beings can be appealed to for assistance, for example, then one can test it and see if it is true. That sort of test of the supernatural has been done, very carefully. With famous results.

            • Tim
              Posted August 20, 2013 at 4:36 pm | Permalink

              gbjames wrote: “That is not the question, Tim.”

              It actually is the question that I asked.

              And that you dodged.

              And dodged.

  39. Tim
    Posted August 22, 2013 at 1:31 pm | Permalink

    Ant wrote: “Isn’t it illogical to think that the “supernatural” can have any effect, impact, influence, … on the “natural”?”

    As I stated in my first post, the error in that is in assuming that the supernatural can only do what you think it can do.

  40. Tim
    Posted August 22, 2013 at 1:56 pm | Permalink

    Sastra wrote: “Your analogy STILL won’t work unless the supernatural is in the same category as emotions, psychological inferences, abstractions, values, etc. It has to be the same sort of thing.”

    It doesnt have to be in the same category. The point is that there can be one or more categories that cant be scientifically measured and verified. I’ve shown that is the case.

    Sastra wrote: “So here’s a challenge: give us a noncontroversial example of something supernatural.”

    Give a noncontroversial example. LOL You want me to give you an example that agrees with your position and negates mine. No, sorry thats your job.

    Love is a great example of supernatural because it is something that isnt subject to the physical laws of our universe. Anyone can see that this is true. Love isnt something that behaves in predictable ways according to physical laws, nor is it something that we can scientifically verify, measure or test for.

  41. Tim
    Posted August 22, 2013 at 2:08 pm | Permalink

    gbjames wrote: “If supernatural things interact with the world we live in then there is no reason that they can’t be tested for. ”

    Really? What exactly are you looking for when you test? Since you dont know the composition or properties of the supernatural force/entity/being you are testing for, how will you know if you find it, or if you dont? You have no verifiable definition of the subject of your search.

    gbjames wrote: “(And if not, then why suppose they exist at all?) ”

    My point is that science cannot disprove it.

    Obviously there are other types of evidence, which are not ‘scientific’ evidence.

    gbjames wrote: “If supernatural beings can be appealed to for assistance, for example, then one can test it and see if it is true. That sort of test of the supernatural has been done, very carefully. With famous results.”

    See above. Any supposed scientific test would be anything but.

    You may be referring for instance to so called scientific investigations/studies of prayer. How anyone could call them scientific is simply laughable. No standardization of the prayer, no controls on what was or wasnt prayed etc. Scientific? I dont think so.

    Now dont get me wrong, there are very simple ways for anyone to test prayer. But they arent ‘scientific’ tests.

    • gbjames
      Posted August 22, 2013 at 2:37 pm | Permalink

      This will be my last reply to you, Tim, because you have demonstrated a remarkable ability to simply disregard reason.

      So: “What exactly would you test?”: Get out the Google machine and do some exploring. Or, if that is too much of a challenge, go to Wikipedia’s summary of studies of intercessory prayer. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Studies_on_intercessory_prayer

      “Science can not disprove”.. What an silly old trope. The burden of proof is on the party claiming the existence of something to demonstrate that existence. It isn’t the other way around. Science can not disprove invisible pigs in my tree either since they are also 100% permeable to wind and rain. But there no more support for my pigs than there is for your invisible friend. (Except for my tree, of course. It supports them very well. Prove me wrong.)

      Please, go get some basic information about how science works and how one tests whether intercessory prayer works. Willful ignorance is embarrassing to you, although you may not realize it.

      • Tim
        Posted September 9, 2013 at 5:41 am | Permalink

        gbjames wrote: “go to Wikipedia’s summary of studies of intercessory prayer”

        None of these studies are scientific studies.

        • gbjames
          Posted September 9, 2013 at 5:55 am | Permalink

          Tim, you’ve demonstrated that you are clueless as to what science is and what it is not. There is no point in further engagement with you on this subject.

          • Tim
            Posted September 12, 2013 at 6:48 pm | Permalink

            Science is verifiable.

            These studies are not.

            Its that simple.

            I’m not surprised to see you duck out of the conversation. You’ve got nowhere to go with this.

            • gbjames
              Posted September 12, 2013 at 7:08 pm | Permalink

              Yes, Tim. You’ve demonstrated that there is no where to go. Not something you should take pride in.

              • Tim
                Posted September 12, 2013 at 8:46 pm | Permalink

                gbjames,

                I’m happy to insist on verifiability in science.

                You need to understand that this is a foundational principle in science.

                You cant just call a study ‘scientific’ simply because it supports your personal bias.

                These ‘studies’ of prayer are not even close to a scientific standard.

              • gbjames
                Posted September 13, 2013 at 4:30 am | Permalink

                Tim, You are trolling. Trolling is boring. I’m done with you.

  42. Tim
    Posted August 22, 2013 at 2:25 pm | Permalink

    Ben Goren wrote:
    “the supernatural is undetectable by any means because it doesn’t actually do anything”

    It doesnt follow that your inability to detect something means it doesnt exist.

    • truthspeaker
      Posted August 22, 2013 at 2:50 pm | Permalink

      “It doesnt follow that your inability to detect something means it doesnt exist.”

      Actually it does.

      • Tim
        Posted September 9, 2013 at 5:38 am | Permalink

        No, sorry it doesnt.

        A thousand years ago when man was unable to detect planets orbiting other stars, does that mean they didnt exist? When man was unable to detect brainwaves or view mitochondria within his own cells does that mean they didnt exist?

        If a deaf man cant hear music does that mean there is none?

        • truthspeaker
          Posted September 9, 2013 at 6:07 am | Permalink

          unable to detect

          “Unable to detect” is the key here. If we are able to detect something, and we don’t, then we can safely conclude it doesn’t exist. And that’s the case with the supernatural.

          • Tim
            Posted September 9, 2013 at 5:03 pm | Permalink

            Ability doesnt also mean readiness.

            You can hear, but you may miss the opportunity to hear by being in the wrong place or being distracted by something else.

    • Posted August 23, 2013 at 12:54 pm | Permalink

      It depends on why we can’t detect it, of course.

      If it’s because we haven’t yet built the tools to detect it, such as the Higgs until recently or dark matter, then lack of evidence isn’t proof of absence.

      But if it’s because we’ve looked somewhere that evidence must surely be found, such as with the luminiferous aether or powerful beings with our best interests in mind, then, yes. Lack of evidence is ironclad proof of non-existence.

      Put another way: the gods are less capable and / or moral than a young child with a cellphone. The child at least will call 9-1-1 when something bad happens. But when was the last time Jesus called the police? Is he unaware when crimes happen? Is he powerless to act? Is he just incapable of giving a fuck? Regardless, whatever the answer, the existence of divinity is trivially demonstrated utterly nonexistent.

      Cheers,

      b&

      • Tim
        Posted September 9, 2013 at 5:58 am | Permalink

        Ben Goren wrote: “It depends on why we can’t detect it, of course.”

        and if you havent detected it, how do you know what that reason is?

        Yours is a nonsensical position.

        Its like saying “I’ve lost my wallet, I havent found it yet because I havent looked in my car where it is.” How would you know that is where you should look for it to find it?

        • Posted September 9, 2013 at 8:26 am | Permalink

          If the proposition is that there is a herd of angry bull elephants rampaging in the room with you, all it takes to disprove the proposition is to look around. It’s rather hard to miss an angry herd of bull elephants on the rampage, especially in quarters so tight that even a single elephant wouldn’t fit.

          Or, if the proposition is that the Luminiferous Aether is real, all it takes to disprove that proposition is the Michelson / Morley experiment.

          Or, if the proposition is that there are married bachelors, all it takes to disprove that proposition is the simple logic that a “married bachelor” is its own self-contained contradiction, and to dismiss it out of hand.

          In the case of gods, we are told all sorts of things about them. Many are said to be nothing if not omnipotent, yet “omnipotence” is every bit as much of a self-contained contradiction as “married bachelor.” Virtually all are said to have at least some sort of remarkable power and knowledge; and it’s further claimed that they have the best interests of humans in mind. That not a single god has ever called 9-1-1 is all one needs to disprove that proposition.

          …or are you still going to claim that there might maybe possibly perhaps be a herd of angry bull elephants rampaging in the room with you, despite the fact that there’s no evidence of them?

          Cheers,

          b&

          • Tim
            Posted September 9, 2013 at 5:00 pm | Permalink

            Ben Goren wrote: ““omnipotence” is every bit as much of a self-contained contradiction as “married bachelor.””

            Only if you dont understand the meaning of the word.

            Omnipotence doesnt mean that an omnipotent being MUST do a certain action just because he is ABLE to do such an action.

            IOW, omnipotence doesnt take away the free will of the omnipotent being to do as he sees fit.

            Ben Goren wrote: “That not a single god has ever called 9-1-1 is all one needs to disprove that proposition.”

            Thats got to be the lamest arguement I’ve heard on this subject, and that is saying a lot. So, an omnipotent being (in your view) is required to summon human aid by dialing 911? LOL

            • Posted September 9, 2013 at 6:14 pm | Permalink

              Tim, even a young child with a cellphone who witnesses something bad happening has the wherewithal to call 9-1-1 to do something about it. That no gods, omnipotent, important, impotent, or otherwise, have ever done so is proof positive that they’re either not as able, as informed, or as morally responsible as a young child with a cellphone.

              And, since “young child with a cellphone” is such a pathetically low hurdle to clear, I’d suggest that the notion that there’s anything even vaguely resembling a superhero out there is an especially silly and childish one, wouldn’t you agree?

              Cheers,

              b&

              • Tim
                Posted September 10, 2013 at 6:07 am | Permalink

                Ben,

                Not only have you shown that you are completely unwilling/unable to address the question, but by your insistence that a superhero must prove himself a superhero by dialing 911 when there is trouble you have also earned a prestigious place in the Non Sequitur Hall of Fame.

                Go back and learn about the limits of science, my friend. Science cant draw any conclusions about the existence of God, or the existence of the supernatural.

                ““Supernatural entities, by definition, operate outside of natural laws and so cannot be
                investigated using scientific methods” American Association for the Advancement of
                Science

                “Do gods exist? Do supernatural entities intervene in human affairs? These questions may be important, but science won’t help you answer them. Questions that deal with supernatural explanations are, by definition, beyond the realm of nature — and hence, also beyond the realm of what can be studied by science.” science dept UC Berkeley

                “science is precluded from making statements about supernatural forces because these are outside its provenance. ” National Science Teachers Association

                That is mainstream science.

                You may enjoy life on the fringe, but your view of science is based on a wish to support your own personal bias.

              • Posted September 10, 2013 at 3:38 pm | Permalink

                Tim, it’s hardly a non-sequitur at all if you take even a fraction of a second to think of the consequences of what you’re claiming for your gods. According to overwhelming volumes of evidence gathered for literally millennia, no god has ever done as much for any human as even every young modern child practically instinctively knows to do. Therefore, gods are even less deserving of respect and admiration than young children.

                Now, if gods were as much in evidence as comic book superheroes, we might have something to debate. But that they can’t even rise to the standards set by the least powerful, most vulnerable, and least morally developed members of our society certainly says volumes about the gods, wouldn’t you agree?

                If not, then here’s your big chance. If you would but share with me and the others here what you consider to be the most compelling evidence that there actually really truly is a good reason to suspect that there are powerful entities in the Universe who care about the wellbeing of humans, you just might change a few minds.

                What has even a single god done for even a single human generically in the fight against evil that’s at least as impressive as a child using a cell phone to report a crime in progress?

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Tim
                Posted September 12, 2013 at 6:46 pm | Permalink

                Ben Goren wrote: ” it’s hardly a non-sequitur at all”

                Of course it is Ben.

                How funny that that’s the best you can do to answer the statements from NSTA, AAAS and UC Berkeley.

              • Posted September 14, 2013 at 9:39 am | Permalink

                How depressingly unsurprising of you, Tim.

                I practically beg you to offer even the most minimal bit of evidence that there are gods more capable and moral than a young child with a cellphone — hardly a challenging standard to rise to!

                Right there is your test for the supernatural, Tim. The claim from the supernaturalists is that there are most powerful moral beings who care passionately about humanity. The test is to look for evidence of the actions of said beings. None being found, the claim is disproven.

                Oh, and if you’re trying to break my irony meter with your own non-sequitur embedded in an accusation of me offering non-sequiturs, sorry. I’ve been buying the MILSPEC versions since the USENET days, and you’re barely twitching the needle.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Posted September 13, 2013 at 12:25 am | Permalink

                The PR statements of scientific organisations are hardly the findings of “mainstream science”, subject to peer review and testing against reality.

                Your naïveté is astonishing!! (Well, maybe not.)

                /@

              • Tim
                Posted September 13, 2013 at 7:13 pm | Permalink

                Ant wrote: “The PR statements of scientific organisations are hardly the findings of “mainstream science””

                So…..is it your position that these respected scientific organizations take public positions which are in OPPOSITION to the findings of science…?

                This is getting worse for you by the minute, Ant.

              • Posted September 14, 2013 at 2:02 am | Permalink

                Worse for them, I think.

                /@

              • Tim
                Posted September 14, 2013 at 7:53 pm | Permalink

                Ben Goren wrote: “I practically beg you to offer even the most minimal bit of evidence that there are gods ”

                Asking for natural evidence of the supernatural is an illogical request, Ben.

                Its like asking ‘why cant I smell those gamma rays?’ or ‘how much does the color green weigh?’

              • Posted September 16, 2013 at 11:21 am | Permalink

                Ant already pointed you in the direction of the weight of green light. And you can’t smell gamma rays for much the same reason you can’t stick your nose in the computer’s USB port in order to type.

                However, your post would seem to make it emphatically clear that the gods don’t interact with the natural universe in the slightest. We are therefore agreed that they don’t actually do anything, and they’re as phantasmagorical and imaginary as the faeries at the foot of the garden

                Why you should find it worthwhile to so vigorously argue that Tinkerbell really is real, so long as we construe “reality” to encompass the imagined visions in a person’s head, is utterly beyond me.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Posted September 15, 2013 at 3:54 am | Permalink

                “Why can’t I smell those gamma rays?” and “How much does the colour green weigh?” are questions with perfectly logical, scientific answers.

                De Broglie and Einstein can answer the second, for example.

                /@

              • Tim
                Posted September 16, 2013 at 7:49 pm | Permalink

                Ben Goren wrote: “We are therefore agreed”

                great strawman Ben. You keep imagining things that were never said.

              • Posted September 17, 2013 at 5:33 am | Permalink

                Tim, you’re the one that offered the analogy that had the gods having even less influence on the real world than gamma rays on the olfactory system.

                Regardless, this conversation doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. Should you wish to continue it, simply offer up your explanation for how you know that the gods are real — since you now seem to be arguing once again for their reality. If you’d rather not share how you know what you know, I’ll leave the last word to you, if you want it.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Tim
                Posted September 20, 2013 at 6:01 pm | Permalink

                Ben Goren wrote: “you’re the one that offered the analogy that had the gods having even less influence on the real world than gamma rays on the olfactory system”

                No, that was your misreading of it.

                Whether it was purposeful misrepresentation or you just dont understand it, I really cant say.

            • Tim
              Posted September 16, 2013 at 7:56 pm | Permalink

              Ben Goren wrote: “Ant already pointed you in the direction of the weight of green light.”

              I didnt say anything about green light.

              • Posted September 17, 2013 at 5:42 am | Permalink

                You asked how much the color green weighs. The color green is green light, every bit as much as the A an orchestra tunes to is 440 Hz acoustical sound.

                If you don’t understand that, then your physics is centuries out of date.

                b&

  43. Posted September 15, 2013 at 4:00 am | Permalink

    † “Why not save a step and conclude that the universe has always existed?” — Cosmos, p. 257

    • Tim
      Posted September 16, 2013 at 7:47 pm | Permalink

      if the universe was eternally pre-existent, it would have already reached heat death

      • Posted September 16, 2013 at 11:13 pm | Permalink

        Only for certain sense of “universe”.

        /@

        • Posted September 16, 2013 at 11:14 pm | Permalink

          *senses

        • Tim
          Posted September 20, 2013 at 5:56 pm | Permalink

          yeah, only those containing matter and energy

          • Posted September 21, 2013 at 12:39 am | Permalink

            Quite. But not necessarily those, such as ours, containing dark matter and dark energy as well. Among others.

            /@

            • Tim
              Posted September 21, 2013 at 7:27 am | Permalink

              Dark energy and dark matter are interesting hypotheses.

              But there is no scientific evidence to indicate that either one exists.

              • Posted September 21, 2013 at 7:29 am | Permalink

                Planck!

                /@

              • Tim
                Posted September 21, 2013 at 8:02 am | Permalink

                Ant wrote: “Planck!”

                Nothing either pre or post Planck has provided evidence that either dark matter or dark energy actually exist, Ant.

                What we have is an effect in search of a cause.

                There is no scientific evidence to indicate that an entirely novel class of substance(s) MUST exist to explain the observed effect.

                And even if one or both does exist, they would be natural phenonema, subject to the laws of our physical universe, correct?

              • Posted September 21, 2013 at 11:50 am | Permalink

                I’m sure your comments will come as a complete surprise to those who’ve worked on the Planck data; e.g., P. A. R. Ade et al., 2013.

                But the existence of, say, dark energy is somewhat irrelevant to the point, as the accelerating expansion of the universe (which dark energy likely explains) means that it won’t end in heat death.

                /@

              • Tim
                Posted September 21, 2013 at 12:58 pm | Permalink

                Ant wrote: “the accelerating expansion of the universe….means that it won’t end in heat death.”

                No, sorry.

              • Posted September 21, 2013 at 3:31 pm | Permalink

                “No”? Just, “no”? Awesome.

                /@

            • Tim
              Posted September 21, 2013 at 4:51 pm | Permalink

              yeah, just no. I dont call people stupid when they make a mistake.

              • Posted September 21, 2013 at 5:02 pm | Permalink

                Bear that in mind when you’re next talking to yourself… 

                Adieu.

                /@

      • Posted September 17, 2013 at 5:48 am | Permalink

        …and your cosmology is decades out of date, as the least.

        May I suggest? Register for all the introductory science classes at your local community college — physics 101, astronomy 101, biology 101, and so on. Make sure you sign up for ones with a lab component. They should be great fun, you’ll learn lots of really neat stuff, and the teachers will be delighted to help get you up to speed.

        Cheers,

        b&


3 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

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