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Teaching science in public schools without stepping around religion - Comments

Red Dog's Avatar Comment 1 by Red Dog

Why do you have to bring up God at all when teaching physics?

Sun, 15 Jul 2012 18:21:23 UTC | #949255

zengardener's Avatar Comment 2 by zengardener

If you tell them what we think the Universe is like and why, there is no need to mention God/Gods/religion or anything supernatural at all.

Let them, and then explain how if such speculation doesn't prove useful, it should be disregarded.

It's the only logical thing to do, Occam's Razor and all.

Sun, 15 Jul 2012 19:11:14 UTC | #949257

ShinobiYaka's Avatar Comment 3 by ShinobiYaka

Comment 1 by Red Dog

Why do you have to bring up God at all when teaching physics?

Agreed, stick to the science and teach them to challenge and question, equip them to think not what to think, that’s what the other side does.

Sun, 15 Jul 2012 20:17:37 UTC | #949261

QuestioningKat's Avatar Comment 4 by QuestioningKat

Stick to science.

I'm hitting 50 and I still remember one single statement made by the teacher at the beginning of my ninth grade biology class. It went something like this "We are going to learn about Evolution and this is in not intended to conflict with your religious beliefs or what your parents teach you." or something like this. I don't remember the exact wording, I thought it was odd because I loved science, I was Catholic and what the heck is this statement supposed to be about? Controversy is like passing by a car wreck, you can't keep yourself from looking. It will stick in their minds. Will their minds with information. If they bring up the question, then address it.

Sun, 15 Jul 2012 21:10:33 UTC | #949267

Alan4discussion's Avatar Comment 5 by Alan4discussion

As an AP physics teacher in a public school, how can I educate students about using reason, evidence, and wonder about the natural world to govern their lives and make decisions without stepping on the toes of their religious families?

You can't, - so just get on with teaching the honest science of the real world as it is. You may have to deal with religinuts if they choose to object, but the kids are entitled to an honest education.

Sun, 15 Jul 2012 21:36:51 UTC | #949268

DocWebster's Avatar Comment 6 by DocWebster

The religious families will just have to deal with it. You are there to teach science, if they want wishing to be taught they can advocate for a wishing class. I am friends with several teachers of all different disciplines. By and large they actually have more trouble convincing parents that their precious, lazy little scut is anything but an angel. The few times that the faith of a parent or student has interfered with any of them have all ended with the parent understanding that schools have guidelines that must be met and none of those guidelines includes supporting that parent's wishful thinking. Now that may be anomolous but even my teachers from my own school days didn't bow to religious pressure, even the faithful among them. In fact I had no idea what if any faith any of my teachers held until meeting them in adulthood.

Mon, 16 Jul 2012 05:59:13 UTC | #949290

Premiseless's Avatar Comment 7 by Premiseless

The ideas above seem great intros: "Here in science class we will do our best to explain to you how science has reasoned that humans came to be on this planet and I apologies if this offends any ideas you or your parents may hold which disagree with this, I'm simply here to pass on to you the most up to date learning on the subject, I'd feel I was failing you, as potential future scientists, if I didn't represent the most recent science to you......"

Also: " Over the centuries of human population the Earth over, humanity has searched for answers to reasons as to why we are here. Could we have some suggestions as to what these have been and are today in many parts of the Earth?......."(Myth storm follows) then go onto the comment above.

Alternative intro: How all species came to be on this planet; request different Earth centric views; discuss the science centric view; discuss the evidence in favour of each idea enabling each human brain to make a selection. ( A kinda pays your memes and takes your choice approach)

Mon, 16 Jul 2012 08:50:34 UTC | #949294

SomersetJohn's Avatar Comment 8 by SomersetJohn

I agree with those who say don't mention religion, God etc at all.

If any parent should challenge you simply tell them you are not qualified to teach theology and therefore leave that to other teachers.

Mon, 16 Jul 2012 10:32:01 UTC | #949302

Nordic11's Avatar Comment 9 by Nordic11

Hi jdbilak,

Don't confuse science with philosophy. Teach your students how effective science is when exploring how the universe works but realize the severe limitations science when trying to understand why the universe works. Statements such as "the evolution of the universe is completely random without purpose or meaning" or "the universe has no supernatural elements to it" are philosophical inferences that the scientific method is incapable of supporting or denying. In other words, stick to science in science class and leave naturalism for philosophy class.

Enjoy your day!

Mon, 16 Jul 2012 11:04:21 UTC | #949303

ninja_matty69's Avatar Comment 10 by ninja_matty69

With such a pre-conceived notion on our origins i hope you don't ever get chance to "teach" or perhaps warp my children

Mon, 16 Jul 2012 11:44:31 UTC | #949305

Steve Zara's Avatar Comment 11 by Steve Zara

Jump to comment 9 by Nordic11

Hi jdbilak,

Don't confuse science with philosophy. Teach your students how effective science is when exploring how the universe works but realize the severe limitations science when trying to understand why the universe works. Statements such as "the evolution of the universe is completely random without purpose or meaning" or "the universe has no supernatural elements to it" are philosophical inferences that the scientific method is incapable of supporting or denying. In other words, stick to science in science class and leave naturalism for philosophy class.

I'd like to contradict this. Please do confuse science with philosophy. Don't let students put up arbitrary intellectual barriers that prevent them seeing the full power of what science can achieve. Let them see that the scientific method is perfectly able to see whether randomness or purpose are present, because it can analyse and quantify and test any hypothesis about reality. Let them see that phrases like "there are supernatural elements" are meaningless nonsense, not worthy of consideration by anyone with an understanding of science and philosophy.

Don't hold back their minds with theistic preconceptions.

Mon, 16 Jul 2012 13:48:39 UTC | #949313

Alan4discussion's Avatar Comment 12 by Alan4discussion

Statements such as "the evolution of the universe is completely random without purpose or meaning" or "the universe has no supernatural elements to it" are philosophical inferences that the scientific method is incapable of supporting or denying.

Like Steve, I would like to correct these misconceptions. Science is perfectly capable of showing if a system or process is random or not, checking evidence, and testing any claims.

"Supernatural" is a paradoxical claim, used to dodge refutable issues, as I explained here:- http://richarddawkins.net/comments/949243 - In terms of science, "above and beyond nature", and "beyond space and time" are meaningless concepts, which are simply bandied around by people who do not understand nature, space or time, to provide them with perceived gaps in knowledge, in which to hide fanciful supernatural imaginary entities. The "gaps in knowledge" are usually their personal gaps.
.
[To jay29] - You have still not addressed the paradox of supernatural claims. If there is no evidence of their presence in the natural world, the default would be "they are very unlikely to exist" (just like everything else for which there is no evidence). If there is evidence of their existence and influence in the natural world, they are natural phenomena, not supernatural.
..from the "RDF Refuting Supernatural" discussion.

In other words, stick to science in science class and leave naturalism for philosophy class.

Natualism (ie the science of nature and all things natural) is the science class, and has tied philosophers in knots for centuries, with theistic and philosophical rearguard actions denying the science along the way. Science should not be fudged to accommodate whimsical unevidenced philosophies, or it becomes faked pseudoscience.

Comment 9 by Nordic11 - Don't confuse science with philosophy. Teach your students how effective science is when exploring how the universe works but realize the severe limitations science when trying to understand why the universe works.

..and after you have worked out the frontiers of scientific evidence and knowledge, work out the evidence for theistic philosophical alternative claims. Whoops! There isn't any! Its a matter of "faith" in folk-tales.

Mon, 16 Jul 2012 14:44:54 UTC | #949316

Geoff 21's Avatar Comment 13 by Geoff 21

+1 to Steve's @ 11.

"As a species we are successful but it has not always been so. For hundreds of thousands of years we advanced by slow steps, inventing tools like the wheel and techniques like metal smelting to make those tools. These skills were gradually accumulated by societies and passed down by practise and word of mouth; later they were preserved in writing, with the invention of the written word. New inventions were few and far between.

In Greece about 2500 years ago many thoughtful people began to try to understand the world around them. Much of what they thought was influenced by their feelings about the world and many early ideas were confused by that. Just a few tried to be logical and made up rules to find out if anything was true. They invented a lot of the tools, like geometry, which we still use today in these classes. The Greeks were conquered and dispersed but their writings survived and became influential over time.

Societies changed after that in the same old gradual way. It was not until the middle of the last thousand years that people began again to use logic and reason to discover un-obvious truths. Before that they had rushed to consult what the Greeks had said on any question, uncritically. These few people in different countries and over many years put together Scientific Method, which is what science is.

It's a method. It's not a set of conclusions, though it gets us them, nor a set of beliefs but a method. Since the invention of this method...... Electricity, Metal boats, Safe Sex, Plasma TV, Innoculation, Smart Bombs, The Web, The Higgs' Bosun, Metallica, the Eradication of Smallpox, Images of Ancient Galaxies, Nuclear Power, Invisible Computers, DNA, a living Stephen Hawking...

science is what has brought us to where we are. The method works and no other way is known of finding out what is true"

Then teach them scientific method.

Mon, 16 Jul 2012 16:07:53 UTC | #949322

SaganTheCat's Avatar Comment 14 by SaganTheCat

"Teach your students how effective science is when exploring how the universe works but realize the severe limitations science when trying to understand why the universe works"

sorry nordic, my 2penneth...

I eould like this cliche to be removed from all future arguments and put on the falacy list.

"Science can answer HOW but not WHY..." [everyone stroke chin thoughtfully and say "aaaahhh"]

how are the two different? or to put it another way, why is there a difference?

science will explain how a cake rises in the oven. it will also explain why a cake rises in the oven. it will be the same explaination.

(although i will concede science won't answer the question of why a cake decided one day it was going to rise in the oven)

Mon, 16 Jul 2012 16:28:04 UTC | #949323

Zeuglodon's Avatar Comment 15 by Zeuglodon

JDBILAK

Yep, I agree with everybody else. Physics is what you're paid to teach, and you'd be doing a better service just teaching the facts and helping the students understand them.

Comment 9 by Nordic11

Don't confuse science with philosophy. Teach your students how effective science is when exploring how the universe works but realize the severe limitations science when trying to understand why the universe works.

Pretty much with Steve Zara and Alan4discussion, but I do wonder about your comment myself. Please name one alternative school of thought whose answer to this "Why?" question - whatever that "why" question actually means, if you could clarify it - is any more helpful than anything science could produce.

Mon, 16 Jul 2012 17:05:25 UTC | #949328

Premiseless's Avatar Comment 16 by Premiseless

Comment 9 by Nordic11 : In other words, stick to science in science class and leave naturalism for philosophy class.

This reads: in a world so full of powerful negatives to ideas that hit directly at delusional realities; watch your back!

I'd love to have attended a school that taught me science explains why we are here and religion is the shit that is about to seriously erode everything about how you feel think and process information in the world you are to be cast into. As it was, no teacher adult or person without a brown tongue to the status quo, came to my relatively easy rescue.

In short, well placed humans play poker with a knowing smile and a selfish desire, like life!

Mon, 16 Jul 2012 17:14:38 UTC | #949329

VrijVlinder's Avatar Comment 17 by VrijVlinder

It is impossible to remove gods from our history or science and more so from philosophy. I think all gods and their reason for being invented should be part of a curriculum at school. But from an impartial standpoint.

Example: The Aztecs were a civilization who believed in gods. They thought these gods controlled climate (then you talk about how climate happens) they thought they controlled eclipses (explain eclipses etc) This way you are not trying to cut off a part of understanding but you prepare them to question all gods any gods .

I am sure this would be controversial in any "christian"society. Seems a teacher who will tell their students that god is made up , will summarily be fired. I know this is maybe an exaggeration but it happens more than you think.

Teachers should not pass on their own indoctrination. Is atheism an indoctrination? It is anti-indoctrination. Pro-information. So teach about everything properly without personal bias. This is wishful thinking because we can talk about teaching about gods or not however, but not teaching about the lack of gods.

Tue, 17 Jul 2012 03:44:32 UTC | #949373

Premiseless's Avatar Comment 18 by Premiseless

Comment 17 by VrijVlinder :

Teachers should not pass on their own indoctrination. Is atheism an indoctrination? It is anti-indoctrination. Pro-information. So teach about everything properly without personal bias. This is wishful thinking because we can talk about teaching about gods or not however, but not teaching about the lack of gods.

Indoctrination is an ipso facto of societies everywhere. Getting human brains to be aware they are in a world fed by bullshit, pretending to wise them up, is perhaps the trickiest teaching educators everywhere have, if they are even aware of it themselves. Add to this the fact that most systems have in built protections against such liberation and it is easy to see why so many of us fall foul of whatever power conspires to preoccupy the rank and file with. It truly does beg the question,

"Why do the most powerful amongst us, with easy access to all information, insist upon such heavy investments in what they know to be many myths, the world over?"

I don't for a second think this some sincere gesture and I don't for a second think it's because they believe what they promote to the masses. I think the powerful are far more motivated to sustain a preoccupation with whatever went before - period. Change is far too risky a variable over controls already secured. I think there a "school of power" that sets "population interests" in much the same way markets attempt with various commodities. Essentially damage limitations of whatever is already secured. Liberating the average Joe is not on any power agenda per se. Quite the reverse I suspect. The average Joe is doomed to be cut out of upper class dialogue, which I think we all know any how. Token gestures will of course conspire to refute such notions.

Tue, 17 Jul 2012 04:13:02 UTC | #949376

VrijVlinder's Avatar Comment 19 by VrijVlinder

Science is philosophy and philosophy is science ....When science is done with an inclusion of intangible aspects of reality it is called natural philosophy.

The history and philosophy of science (HPS) is an academic discipline that encompasses the philosophy of science and the history of science. Although many scholars in the field are trained primarily as either historians or as philosophers, there are degree-granting departments of HPS at several prominent universities (see below).

*A Unified Discipline**

While it may seem an umbrella term, as described above, people in the branch of HPS consider this fusion of history of science with philosophy of science to be perfectly natural. Others see it as an historical anachronism, resulting from the misguided approach of the logical positivists. The origin of this hybrid approach is reflected in the career of Thomas Kuhn. His first permanent appointment, at the University of California, Berkeley, was to a position advertised by the philosophy department, but he also taught courses from the history department.

When he was promoted to full professor in the history department only, Kuhn was offended at the philosophers' rejection because "I sure as hell wanted to be there, and it was my philosophy students who were working with me, not on philosophy but on history, were nevertheless my more important students".1 This attitude is also reflected in his historicist approach, as outlined in Kuhn's seminal Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962, 2nd ed. 1970), wherein philosophical questions about scientific theories and, especially, theory change are understood in historical terms, employing concepts such as paradigm shift.

History and development

More recently the sociology of science and technology studies have become popular topics and a few HPS departments have become Science Studies departments, e.g., the School of History and Philosophy of Science at the University of New South Wales was known as the School of Science and Technology Studies (STS) from the mid-1980s until 2001. For this reason it can be argued that the fields are identical and that the difference is only one of emphasis. While it may seem that STS is a broader concept, leaving room for other approaches to science such as sociology of science, HPS departments are not usually as exclusive as a literal interpretation of the name might imply.

Tue, 17 Jul 2012 04:26:37 UTC | #949378

Alan4discussion's Avatar Comment 20 by Alan4discussion

Comment 19 by VrijVlinder

Science is philosophy and philosophy is science ....When science is done with an inclusion of intangible aspects of reality it is called natural philosophy.

We need to be careful here! I think an important point, is that "science" was named "Natural Philosophy" in the centuries before the name "science" became used.

Science has since gradually branched into different parts - physics, astronomy (via astrology), chemistry (vis alchemy), biology etc which were studied as separate fragments before the more extensive modern studies of recent decades joined most of them up.

The wooists however have hung on to the "Natural Philosophy" name, and pretend that there are "intangible residual woo-factors which remains in it, - separate from the objective sciences into which it has divided.
There is of course genuine philosophy associated with objective science, but wooists will make every effort to mix and confuse the two, in order to drag the debate into a wooist argument rather than a scientific debate.

The history and philosophy of science (HPS) is an academic discipline that encompasses the philosophy of science and the history of science. Although many scholars in the field are trained primarily as either historians or as philosophers,

I, personally would treat "philosophers of science", who are not also scientists, critically with suspicion.

So teach about everything properly without personal bias. This is wishful thinking because we can talk about teaching about gods or not however, but not teaching about the lack of gods.

Not really! At school level, unless you are teaching something to do with history or social structures involving religious activities or interventions, just get on with the science of how things work in the natural world and ignore the religious side-issues.

Tue, 17 Jul 2012 09:17:16 UTC | #949390

Steven Mading's Avatar Comment 21 by Steven Mading

Comment 9 by Nordic11 :

Hi jdbilak,

Don't confuse science with philosophy. Teach your students how effective science is when exploring how the universe works but realize the severe limitations science when trying to understand why the universe works. Statements such as "the evolution of the universe is completely random without purpose or meaning" or "the universe has no supernatural elements to it" are philosophical inferences that the scientific method is incapable of supporting or denying. In other words, stick to science in science class and leave naturalism for philosophy class.

Enjoy your day!

"How" asks what are the steps that caused a thing to happen.

"Why" asks what was the intent behind making it happen.

In a world that was not deliberately created by a mind that intended it to have a purpose, there isn't any real difference between "how" and "why". They're the same thing as long as there isn't a sentience behind the actions.

What this means is that as soon as someone comes along trying to claim that the "inability" of science to answer the question "why" the universe is like it is is somehow a deficiency, that person is already presuming, before any evidence is examined, that the universe has an intended purpose by a sentient creator.

The "why" question becomes relevant only after you have some other reason to think there's a sentient creator. It is dishonest to use it as the reason to propose the existence of a sentient creator. Any argument of the form "science is deficient because it can't answer why there's a universe, while religion on the other hand, can" is blatantly deceptive for this reason. The question "why" doesn't become relevant until after you have reason to presume there's a creator.

Tue, 17 Jul 2012 10:10:28 UTC | #949392

Nordic11's Avatar Comment 22 by Nordic11

Hi everyone,

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

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.

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

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. 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. 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.

Thanks for the discussion gentlemen.

Enjoy a great day!

Tue, 17 Jul 2012 10:11:28 UTC | #949393

Nordic11's Avatar Comment 23 by Nordic11

Just one more thing, guys.

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.

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.

Thanks!

Tue, 17 Jul 2012 10:28:09 UTC | #949394

Tyler Durden's Avatar Comment 24 by Tyler Durden

Comment 22 by Nordic11 :

Science cannot study the mind of the baker.

If only there existed a field of science dedicated to the study of mind (and behaviour) of humans.

Tue, 17 Jul 2012 11:05:17 UTC | #949398

Tyler Durden's Avatar Comment 25 by Tyler Durden

Comment 22 by Nordic11 :

Physics explains how the universe works, but it cannot discover why it was put together the way it was.

Of course it can, and as a science teacher, Nordic, you should know this.

Pop quiz:

Q1. Why is the sun at the centre of our solar system?

Q2. Why do the rocky planets orbit closer to the sun than the gas giants?

Q3. Why do some stars (e.g. SN 1604) trigger a supernova?

Tue, 17 Jul 2012 11:23:35 UTC | #949400

SaganTheCat's Avatar Comment 26 by SaganTheCat

"Convince me that the belief that nothing outside the natural world exists is actually a scientific theory and not mere philosophy."

that's a bit off topic. we are able to experience some of nature with our senses. we experience more of nature with instruments that are sensetive beyond our evolved senses. sometimes these instruments or our senses surprise us and seem contrary to what we accept is natural. science is the investigation of such.

we teach science based on that. if anything non-natural is going on, by virtue of hte fact it's going on, it's natural.

if god exists, it's natural

if god doesn't exits, it's natural

the only time you ever need mention the supernatural in a science class is to answer questions on what poeple believed before science explained a phenomena.

the problem with regards to the thread is the fact that there will be children in class who's parents share beliefs with the unenlightened folk of antiquity who did not have the benefit of 21st century science teachers for guidence.

as for the nebulous nature of what you believe science can't tell us, it's the job of the science teacher to decide if a question is something best left until a student is at a more advanced level or to set them the challenge of thinking how a question that seems unanswerable should be reframed in a way that can be addressed using evidence alone.

Tue, 17 Jul 2012 12:12:43 UTC | #949407

RJMoore's Avatar Comment 27 by RJMoore

Comment 22 by Nordic11

Science is only equipped to study the natural world of matter and energy 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.

There is definitely a logical fallacy in there somewhere!

Read these three lines(above) again, please.

You say that scientists will only accept evidence that can be explored/explained using the scientific method, but then you make a leap to imply that there is other 'evidence' available to both scientists and non-scientists that is being discounted by scientists because of the supernatural nature of this evidence! First of all, what is this 'evidence'? How did you come by it? Secondly, why is this evidence unsuitable to be studied scientifically? Third, why would anyone, scientist or layman, have the slightest bit of interest in trying to ascertain the truth of evidence that you, with the stroke of a pen, have declared is beyond examination?! Lastly, how do you propose that the 'supernatural evidence' you say exists be examined? Surely, by definition, 'evidence' is that which can be examined. If it can't be examined, why do you consider it evidence?

You then move on to to say:

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. Your claim is based on philosophy.

I think you need to consider what you've written here.

You've intoduced the concept of a supernatural; you have also ensured, by the characteristics you have given this supernatural world(but which you haven't decribed in any detail), that science can never investigate it. However, you seem to take comfort by saying that this world that you have invented should be respected because science cannot study it, even though the only reason science is so handicapped is that you have set the rules of the game in that way! So,in effect, you have said absolutely nothing that is actually an indictment of science's limitations; you've merely indicted science by proposing a world that exists only in your imagination and that you say is off-limits.

What 'science' can certainly say is that there is no evidence that anything exists outside the natural world. If you have a theory or 'evidence' regarding a supernatural world, please reveal it!

Tue, 17 Jul 2012 12:15:15 UTC | #949408

Zeuglodon's Avatar 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

Alan4discussion's Avatar Comment 29 by Alan4discussion

Comment 23 by Nordic11

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.

I see you are still asking for refutation of negatives rather than accepting the onus of responsibility to provide positive evidence for your claims, and then combining this with question begging theist definitions.

Naturalism in a scientific sense is the study of the nature of reality - all of it.

This is a site that values reason so please evaluate 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.

This is a site that values reason so please evaluate my arguments with reason and not inflammatory rhetoric. Convince me that the belief that no tooth-fairies exist is actually a scientific theory and not mere philosophy.

The onus responsibility for evidence is on those making assertions. Does my parallel example help you spot the irrationality of asking for negative theories?

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, but science cannot study them because they are super-natural- apart from the natural world.

You would need to define the natural world/universe/reality, and the provide evidence of a boundary with a "supernatural" -beyond this. The assertion of an undefined "beyond" is just a "get-out-of-evidence-card" - a dodge. It is you unevidenced presumption of its existence which provides a circular argument.

Science is only equipped to study the natural world of matter and energy You believe there is no evidence for anything supernatural,

This is not strictly true. The sciences of psychology and neurology, give good evidence of the source of claims of the supernatural, which is well known to exist in fiction and in the imagination of individuals.

"No evidence" is usually taken as very probable non-existence. (For example there is no evidence of green Martians, or invisible dragons living on Earth, or Kryptonite giving Earth like aliens super powers. - Can you disprove Superman?)

but the only evidence you will except is based on the scientific method, which again is ill equipped to study anything outside of matter and energy, the natural world.

Evidence refuting or supporting the existence of nothing, is a paradox, because there is no evidence of nothing! (Only an absence of evidence for something.) You appear to be suggesting some other form of "evidence", and I think we know what that is, its shortcomings, and its paradoxical claims. (Theists know because it is impossible to know - so disprove our/historical wild speculations.)

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.

So you have no observations measurement or series of experiments to back up your claim of an existing supernatiral, so it is not based on science, observation or any other tangible factor.

Clearly you have no basis for claiming knowledge of this "supernatural" which usually at some point morphs into a "god" - and usually a biblical god, with quite specific properties, - rather than one of the numerous other gods - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_deities -but that is a further set mental gymnastics.

Your claim is based on philosophy.

It could be, but that philosophy is scientifically and rationally based on an absence of evidence and the failure of theists to substantiate their claims over many centuries.

In reality it is your claim which is philosophically based in unevidenced mythology rather than science.

There is no scientific or logical basis, for claiming the existence of the paradoxical supernatural, or that any such imagined entities could be connected to influence the material universe/world.

I'm surprised I need to explain the difference between how something works and why it works.

You may ask "Why?" something works, but science will always tell you "How" at a series of different levels of understanding. Theistic anthropomorphism will tell you "why", but that will always be, "god-did-it" (because I can't think of a better answer)! - See Tyler @25.

Tue, 17 Jul 2012 13:47:37 UTC | #949422

Steve Zara's Avatar Comment 30 by Steve Zara

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, but science cannot study them because they are super-natural- apart from the natural world.

No. That's not why I deny all supernatural claims. I deny them because there is no valid category called 'supernatural'. The division between natural and supernatural is meaningless, it's just a theological trick to try and prevent science from investigating theological claims.

All claims about reality are testable in principle, because we can test why people make the claims, and whether their reasons for making the claims are justified or not. All claims about reality are testable because those making the claims are part of what we call the natural world (if we have to use that term). Claims about the so-called supernatural become anchored to the natural world through the fact of the natural nature of the claimants.

Therefore, the idea of non-testability is incoherent. It's not a sensible claim to make. In-principle non-testability is not a valid attribute to apply to anything, because even if it did make sense, you could never show that it was true! (This also means that supernaturalism is a self-defeating concept - it is impossible to show that something truly is supernatural, because that would mean that supernaturalness is a testable attribute!)

And so, supernaturalism is a term that should never be used, because all it really means is there is a desire that science should be kept at bay.

I think we should have no tolerance for the term, at least once the problems with it have been made clear.

So, if you believe in a supreme being of some kind, that is logically reasonable (even if not scientifically reasonable), but you can't try and prevent investigation of that belief by insisting that the being is supernatural. It just doesn't work.

Tue, 17 Jul 2012 14:06:55 UTC | #949424