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← Teaching science in public schools without stepping around religion

Zeuglodon's Avatar Jump to comment 28 by Zeuglodon

Comment 22 by Nordic11

Alan and Steve, your reasoning is circular. You believe we should deny all supernatural claims because science cannot detect or study them

Actually, it's more than that. Nobody can detect them, not even you. Anybody that could would simply have extended the blanket we call the natural world. Things don't stay in the categories "natural" and "supernatural". While it's certainly true that, alethically, anything could exist outside of the observable universe, the observable universe, by definition, is the only thing we can know about. Until the thing outside the observable universe enters the observable universe, in an Einsteinian sense it doesn't exist. And there are far more ways of being wrong than of being right. Even if you got something right about the unobservable universe prior to it entering the observable, that's just a lucky guess. The supernatural is a subset of ignorance, and as a result is just another gap for a pet theory.

Except by inference, which we use when examining the origins of the universe using astronomy (in other words, by looking at the observable universe and extrapolating based on that), it is impossible to pretend to any sort of confidence of what exists outside the observable universe. To claim otherwise is to claim you can observe the unobservable. If you think a deity is lurking outside and occasionally reaches in, it's your job to point and say where he is when he reaches in (i.e. when he becomes an observable and a natural phenomenon), not to accuse us of lack of imagination. And where you point had better not be another gap of ignorance, like the inside of your own head when we haven't got an MRI scanner handy, because you end up with the same problem.

, but science cannot study them because they are super-natural- apart from the natural world. Science is only equipped to study the natural world of matter and energy.

You act like philosophy or theology don't have the same problem. And I imagine you think they somehow have some means of getting around this problem without being baseless speculation. You don't seem to think this is a good place to admit nobody knows anything about anything beyond the natural world or even to admit that this easily-said idea of there being anything beyond the natural world has any basis in reality. You don't even give voice to the idea that there might be a super-supernatural world by analogy with the supernatural and natural one. Why?

You believe there is no evidence for anything supernatural, but the only evidence you will except is based on the scientific method, which again is illequipped to study anything outside of matter and energy, the natural world. If you want to infer that nothing exists outside of the natural world, that is your perogative, but their are no observations, measurement or series of experiments to back up your claim so it is not based on science.

We'd be fascinated if you could propose some alternative means of knowing that doesn't have even more severe limitations than this. I freely admit science isn't omniscient, but nobody here thinks it is. It isn't a body of facts. It's our current best means of getting any.

Inference relies on observations, measurements, and series of experiments to back itself up, and inference is very much a scientific tool. It's also all that anybody can do, you included. Why else has the Judeo-Christian god been reduced to something whose existence has to be inferred in the gaps? Because every time someone figured something out, the gaps got smaller. The goalposts were moved. This raises the question of why the goalposts were set up in the first place.

Your point only works if you think the burden of proof is on those making a negative statement. There is no evidence for anything supernatural because anything beyond nature i.e. the observable universe is, by definition, unobservable and evidenceless. Your point is simply a rephrasing of the old "God exists" "no he doesn't" "prove it" canard. What "evidence" could be presented for nonexistence? Only both the lack of evidence for it and a huge amount of evidence for opposing ideas.

Your claim is based on philosophy.

Actually, philosophy and science overlap significantly. They both require logical argumentation, the correct assigning of the burden of proof, Ockham's razor, and recognizing fallacies and category errors. Deduction and induction (and inference) inform both kinds of arguments. Science and philosophy aren't mutually exclusive, and an assumption of naturalism is no more exclusive to science than it is to philosophy. Every time we teach science, we tacitly accept some philosophical doctrines.

Let me use this analogy. A man scours the beach with a metal detector and brings back soda can caps, coins and jewlery. He claims he has found everything beneath the sand, but you tell him there must be other items not made of metal under the sand. If we are going to find other materials in the sand (or provide evidence that nothing else exists there) we need to use other tools aside from the metal detector.

Except that metal detectors are a subset of the broader range of senses confirmed to exist. We're talking about every means of sensing things possible, not just one way. Even the guy wondering if there are things other than metal has to admit he's guessing based on the fact that he's found metal, and whatever else is found is confirmed by everybody, not just him if he doesn't want to look like a charlatan. And it is far more likely, because far easier, to claim that you have an extra sense and complain about closed-minded colleagues than it is to actually have one, especially if you're going out of your way to make it undetectable. You're also trying to appeal to common sense. It's easy for us to think there might be other things in the sands. It's not so straightforward when we turn the question onto people claiming to sense things others can't, especially when they haven't been put to a rigorous test (or more suspiciously, go out of their way to denigrate such tests).

If that's all we've got, anyone claiming to have a new kind of detector is indistinguishable from a charlatan - indeed, is unable to prove otherwise unless they somehow connect it to the rest of the senses. We can't see UV radiation, but multiple lines of evidence have expanded our senses. And there's the rub. Evidence. It's all very well speculating whether there are any more materials in the sand. It's another to claim there's a ghost in it, but that our tools can't detect it. Everybody, even you, depends on senses. It's true that one sense can compensate for the limitations of the others, but if you're going to posit some new kind of "sense", you'd better have good grounds for saying so. And personal revelation is the worst ground possible.

I'm surprised I need to explain the difference between how something works and why it works. Let me use the baking a cake example that was mentioned. The recipe and its application is how a cake is baked. Science is great at studying such things (identifying and measuring ingredients, experimenting with different temperatures or proportionss, ect). Why the cake was baked is in the mind of the baker. What is the purpose of the cake? A birthday? To hide a file for a prison break? To satisfy a chochalate fetish?

See Comment 21 by Steven Mading, who says what needs to be said.

Science cannot study the mind of the baker. The baker must tell us why she/he baked the cake.

This is an old argument out of touch with modern science. Tyler Durden points out well enough, but I might as well add that there's no magic ingredient cutting off the baker from the rest of the universe, as you suggest. It certainly doesn't make a case for the supernatural argument.

Physicists have successfully used science to explore the physical properties of our universe and have determined that the odds are astronomical against the universe being designed for living things. Physics explains how the universe works, but it cannot discover why it was put together the way it was.

Why would you presume the universe was "put together" at all? If you were making a case for a deity, you'd be called out for circular reasoning by philosopher and scientist alike.

To say it was God who created it or random chance or that there is a mulitverse of universes out there are all suppositions based on theology or philosophy.

Suppositions, or outright guesswork? A simple "I don't know" or "We don't have all the facts yet" has never killed anybody. On the other hand, pretending to already have the answers tends to kill rather than help investigation.

When they're based on inference, on the other hand, it comes under science's umbrella. If your multiverse idea is a dig at physics, it's a pretty poor dig. The multiverse idea, or at least the one I've encountered most often, is one means of resolving the paradoxes of quantum mechanics. (I apologize to anyone else present if they have a thorough understanding of this subject, as I don't and I may make one or two errors). For instance, it's one means of resolving the uncertainty principle by positing that all possible outcomes of each stochastic quantum event are realized, but in different universes parallel with this one, and that it is at the quantum level where the boundary blurs. The dark energy in the universe is possibly one side effect of another universe interacting with our own. This is a testable, or at least mathematically verifiable, proposition and, given current physics, a hypothesis with a possible scope for future investigation. The idea is not currently confirmed, and it may well be that the universe is just that strange at that level, but it has to fit in with what we know about subatomic particle behaviour and the nature of space-time. It's a far cry from inventing a gigantic mind with more properties than minds usually have, and then hiding it outside of empirical and mathematical study, because the multiverse theory was forced by the results of many rigorous experiments. If it turns out to be false, there it goes. Nobody's going to move the goal posts ad hoc for it.

They are not based on science in any way. Science cannot tell us why the universe is here, why it works they way it does or why we are here.

Again, see Tyler Durden. In any case, so what? There may well be many things science cannot tell us. The mistake is to think - and I suspect you of being this sort of partisan - that anything else automatically can. It's not enough to shoot down a rival idea. You have to make a case for your own. And I'm sorry to say that two long-separated Christians reading the same passage out of a self-proclaimed holy book before one telephones the other (you should recognize this one) is not much of a case for positing the existence of anything outside the observable universe.

Please don't just go on a rant that I am wrong because theism is the "poison of humankind and no one but a delusional lunatic would believe it" or other such rhetoric. This is a site that values reason so please evalute my arguments with reason and not inflamatory rhetoric. Convince me that the belief that nothing outside the natural world exists is actually a scientific theory and not mere philosophy.

Nobody here claimed it was a scientific theory, as if it was a theory of evolution or of the four fundamental forces. I don't think anybody here believes nothing exists outside the universe as we observe it, except in an Einsteinian sense. The problem is that anybody claiming any specific belief that something exists is automatically talking nonsense unless they can bring it into the observable universe to prove its exists, at which point it ceases to be supernatural. It's an epistemological Catch-22. It also raises the question of how the claimant could know, and increases steeply the chance that he is making up stuff or putting too much confidence into something pretty baseless.

Also, I use the definition of naturalism to be the belief that nothing outside the natural world exists and not just the study of the natural world. Perhaps that will help make the discussion more clear.

It may well be that there's something outside the observable universe, i.e. the natural world. I am also aware that a lack of evidence is not technically speaking evidence of nonexistence. But without evidence of such things, we tend to the null hypothesis, that there's nothing there. Anyone claiming otherwise has to shoulder the burden of proof. After all, while absence of evidence may not be evidence of absence, it definitely does nothing for the one claiming to have evidence.

That's science.

Tue, 17 Jul 2012 13:20:32 UTC | #949415