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Author Topic:   Is science a religion?
subbie
Member (Idle past 1335 days)
Posts: 3509
Joined: 02-26-2006


Message 1 of 295 (290672)
02-26-2006 5:44 PM


All right, I admit it. The title of my topic is deliberately provocative and, perhaps, misleading. But I have a question I've been seriously pondering for the past month or so, and I'd really like to discuss it, so I had to get your attention.
As the evolution/creationism trial in Dover progressed, I read most of the testimony from the science experts that the plaintiffs presented to show that creationism/I.D. is not scientific. Now, I've studied creos and creationism for more than 20 years, and I know full well that creationism has no scientific value, except as a teaching tool, to show what science isn't. But part of the plaintiffs' case got me to wondering.
Science, as they defined it, is the search for naturalistic explanations of the things we see in the world around us. (I'm paraphrasing here, and leaving a lot of stuff out that isn't relevant to my topic.) Because creationism/I.D. by definition invokes a supernatural creator, they concluded that I.D. is not science. My question is, why must we define science to include only naturalistic explanations?
My own personal conception of science has been that it is the process of gaining as accurate an understanding of what goes on in the real world as we possibly can. I do firmly believe that naturalistic processes can account for all our experiences. I do not believe it's necessary to conjure up supernatural causes acting in the world today for purposes of explaining our experiences. I don't believe in UFOs, psi, astrology, gods, newage (rhymes with sewage) nonsense, tarot, ghosts, etc.
But the reason I do not believe in these things is because I haven't seen evidence strong enough to convince me that such things exist. It seems that the experts in Dover would dismiss even an investigation into whether such phenomena occur, and what their causes might be, as outside the realm of science, because it would not be a "naturalistic" explanation.
Is there any compelling reason to exclude the supernatural from the scope of scientific inquiry? Is science a religion because it refuses to even consider the idea that non-naturalistic processes are at work in the world?

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AdminNWR
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Message 2 of 295 (290677)
02-26-2006 5:49 PM


Thread moved here from the Proposed New Topics forum.

nwr
Member
Posts: 6419
From: Geneva, Illinois
Joined: 08-08-2005
Member Rating: 5.1


Message 3 of 295 (290683)
02-26-2006 6:03 PM
Reply to: Message 1 by subbie
02-26-2006 5:44 PM


My question is, why must we define science to include only naturalistic explanations?
In my opinion, there is no need for such a requirement. Rather, the requirement is that scientific accounts have significant consequences that are empirically testable.
The idea of a clear distinction between natural and supernatural is mistaken, in my opinion. Much of what was once considered supernatural is now considered natural. There is no fixed division into natural and supernatural. We simply label as "natural" that which we reasonably understand, and label as "supernatural", that which still seems mysterious.
As a result of scientific progress, what is considered natural has grown, and what is considered supernatural is shrinking.
Imagine a room, where the floor is being painted. Long ago, the floor was mainly colored supernatural. But more recently it has been repainted as natural. Because of the way that they base their beliefs on the supernatural, creationists have allowed themselves to be painted into a corner. Their world of the supernatural is still shrinking, and they can only maintain their belief in it by massive self-delusion.

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Quetzal
Member (Idle past 5952 days)
Posts: 3228
Joined: 01-09-2002


Message 4 of 295 (290688)
02-26-2006 6:12 PM
Reply to: Message 1 by subbie
02-26-2006 5:44 PM


Science is as Science Does
Interesting post, and a provocative question.
Is there any compelling reason to exclude the supernatural from the scope of scientific inquiry?
Well, not if you mean a priori rejection, no. However, you said it yourself:
quote:
But the reason I do not believe in these things is because I haven't seen evidence strong enough to convince me that such things exist.
Nor has anyone else. Science as a methodology or process for understanding nature writ large is simply not set up or equipped to address things that are by definition "supernatural". OTOH, if some unknown phenomenon had an actual physical impact (measurable or at least verifiable), then it would no longer be "supernatural" - and hence would be amenable to scientific inquiry.
Is science a religion because it refuses to even consider the idea that non-naturalistic processes are at work in the world?
As I noted above, science does not "refuse to even consider" ideas. It isn't, however, equipped to deal with things that can't (or haven't, to be fair) been shown to actually exist. IF a process has an effect on the natural world, THEN it is by definition "natural". If there is simply no way to validate a claim ("I have an invisible pink unicorn living in my garage that leaves no trace and can only be seen by me on alternate Tuesdays"), then science is unable to deal with it.
It's not dogmatic rejection. It's merely that if you have a claim that something is occurring, it is incumbent upon you to provide the evidence - something that science can evaluate - that it exists.
Hope that answered your questions.

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crashfrog
Member (Idle past 1547 days)
Posts: 19762
From: Silver Spring, MD
Joined: 03-20-2003


Message 5 of 295 (290698)
02-26-2006 6:31 PM
Reply to: Message 1 by subbie
02-26-2006 5:44 PM


Is there any compelling reason to exclude the supernatural from the scope of scientific inquiry?
The "supernatural"? Sounds interesting. What is it?
It seems that the experts in Dover would dismiss even an investigation into whether such phenomena occur, and what their causes might be, as outside the realm of science, because it would not be a "naturalistic" explanation.
I'm not familiar with any scientist who has poo-pooed the idea of examining these things; James Randi, for instance, famously investigates such claims, and he's a major celebrity in the science world. What I hear scientists dismiss is the idea of accepting these things, and proposing mechanisms of their operation, in the face of a complete lack of evidence that these phenomena actually do occur.

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jar
Member
Posts: 34051
From: Texas!!
Joined: 04-20-2004
Member Rating: 5.1


Message 6 of 295 (290702)
02-26-2006 6:42 PM
Reply to: Message 1 by subbie
02-26-2006 5:44 PM


Is there any compelling reason to exclude the supernatural
Is there any compelling reason to exclude the supernatural from the scope of scientific inquiry?
Certainly. If it's scientificly testable then it's no longer supernatural.
Is science a religion because it refuses to even consider the idea that non-naturalistic processes are at work in the world?
Nope. First science doesn't say that non-naturalistic processes are not at work in the world. What science says is "If it ain't natural we don't have anyway to test it."
Now if someone comes along with a way to test the untestable, then a whole new paradigm opens.

Aslan is not a Tame Lion

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 Message 1 by subbie, posted 02-26-2006 5:44 PM subbie has replied

Replies to this message:
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subbie
Member (Idle past 1335 days)
Posts: 3509
Joined: 02-26-2006


Message 7 of 295 (290703)
02-26-2006 6:42 PM
Reply to: Message 5 by crashfrog
02-26-2006 6:31 PM


Actually, in my experience, those who are most successful in investigating and debunking claims of supernatural usually have more ties with magic and illusion. I can't remember where I read this, but someone once suggesting that scientists are not nearly as well suited to investigating claims of supernatural because in the vast majority of cases, the claimed supernatural effect is due to deceit, rather than ability. Magicians are trained to misdirect, and therefore are in the best position to detect misdirection by others. Scientists never have to determine if an atom is lying or if a photon is trying to make them look the other way while it does something devious.

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nator
Member (Idle past 2250 days)
Posts: 12961
From: Ann Arbor
Joined: 12-09-2001


Message 8 of 295 (290707)
02-26-2006 6:48 PM
Reply to: Message 7 by subbie
02-26-2006 6:42 PM


you'd like this site by James Randi.
Read his book FLIM-FLAM for more fun.

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subbie
Member (Idle past 1335 days)
Posts: 3509
Joined: 02-26-2006


Message 9 of 295 (290720)
02-26-2006 7:07 PM
Reply to: Message 6 by jar
02-26-2006 6:42 PM


Re: Is there any compelling reason to exclude the supernatural
quote:
If it's scientificly testable then it's no longer supernatural.
Let me explore the limits of that statement.
Suppose someone were able to accruately predict, without any use of the five senses that we are aware of, the exact sequences of all 52 cards in a randomly shuffled deck of cards, and they attributed this ability some sort of undefined and unquantifiable psychic ability.
The ability is testable. The person is able to perform this feat at any time, under whatever conditions a tester would care to impose to eliminate the possibility of fraud. I'm sure that you would agree that the odds of that person actually guessing that exact sequence without knowing through some means is so large that we can rule that out as an explanation.
Would you agree that such a situation would seem to be supernatural, and scientifically testible at the same time?

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Replies to this message:
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nwr
Member
Posts: 6419
From: Geneva, Illinois
Joined: 08-08-2005
Member Rating: 5.1


Message 10 of 295 (290721)
02-26-2006 7:12 PM
Reply to: Message 9 by subbie
02-26-2006 7:07 PM


Re: Is there any compelling reason to exclude the supernatural
Suppose someone were able to accruately predict, without any use of the five senses that we are aware of, the exact sequences of all 52 cards in a randomly shuffled deck of cards, and they attributed this ability some sort of undefined and unquantifiable psychic ability.
In fact scientists have tested this kind of ability, and found that the evidence doesn't support it.
If scientists are willing to test this, then it seems clear that they are not ruling out events which are alleged to have supernatural causes. Had they been able to demonstrate the effect, we could expect them to try modifying the experiment in various was - shielding certain types of radiation, for example. The idea would be to try to narrow down to a more precise explanation.

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Quetzal
Member (Idle past 5952 days)
Posts: 3228
Joined: 01-09-2002


Message 11 of 295 (290722)
02-26-2006 7:14 PM
Reply to: Message 9 by subbie
02-26-2006 7:07 PM


Re: Is there any compelling reason to exclude the supernatural
Would you agree that such a situation would seem to be supernatural, and scientifically testible at the same time?
Not meaning to answer for jar, but I bet I can guess what his response is going to entail: unknown phenomena /= supernatural. If it is testable, then it is not "supernatural".

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subbie
Member (Idle past 1335 days)
Posts: 3509
Joined: 02-26-2006


Message 12 of 295 (290723)
02-26-2006 7:17 PM
Reply to: Message 11 by Quetzal
02-26-2006 7:14 PM


Re: Is there any compelling reason to exclude the supernatural
Personally, when I think of the term "supernatural," I think of something operating outside the known "laws" of the universe as we understand them: Cause and effect, what we can experience with our senses, including as technologically enhanced, etc.
The type of thing I described fits well within that concept of supernatural, yet it is testible.
If the response is that the supernatural is not scientific because it's not testible, but anything testible is not supernatural, we would seem to have stumbled upon a tautology.
This message has been edited by subbie, 02-26-2006 07:20 PM

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Quetzal
Member (Idle past 5952 days)
Posts: 3228
Joined: 01-09-2002


Message 13 of 295 (290728)
02-26-2006 7:33 PM
Reply to: Message 12 by subbie
02-26-2006 7:17 PM


Re: Is there any compelling reason to exclude the supernatural
Why would the phenomenon you described in your hypothetical scenario be of necessity "operating outside the known laws of the universe"? After all, according to your scenario, the phenomenon is replicatable under multiple conditions and by multiple researchers (one of the hallmarks of science). If the phenomenon doesn't fail under stringent conditions, then all we've done is possibly demonstrated the existence of a heretofore unknown - but perfectly natural - physical phenomena. Just another day in the workings of science.
It would, of course, cause lots of consternation among physicists. It might cause us to re-evaluate some things we thought we knew. But that's not necessarily a bad thing... Hmmm, sounds like science.

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Replies to this message:
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crashfrog
Member (Idle past 1547 days)
Posts: 19762
From: Silver Spring, MD
Joined: 03-20-2003


Message 14 of 295 (290738)
02-26-2006 9:14 PM
Reply to: Message 12 by subbie
02-26-2006 7:17 PM


Re: Is there any compelling reason to exclude the supernatural
Personally, when I think of the term "supernatural," I think of something operating outside the known "laws" of the universe as we understand them
Well, a considerable number of entirely ordinary and natural actions are outside of the known "laws" of the universe as we once understood them.
I don't see any reason to conflate "supernatural" with "unexplained", particularly since "unexplained" is a perfectly adequate and descriptive word. Indeed, observations of phenomena that defy explanation under our understanding of physical law merely indicates a flaw in our understanding, not that something is occuring that transcends the normal laws of space and time.
If the response is that the supernatural is not scientific because it's not testible, but anything testible is not supernatural, we would seem to have stumbled upon a tautology.
Which, indeed, might be a perfectly adequate reason to discard, a priori, the idea of the supernatural as something ameinable to science.

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jar
Member
Posts: 34051
From: Texas!!
Joined: 04-20-2004
Member Rating: 5.1


Message 15 of 295 (290740)
02-26-2006 9:22 PM
Reply to: Message 9 by subbie
02-26-2006 7:07 PM


Re: Is there any compelling reason to exclude the supernatural
Well, several folk have given pretty good answers, but let me add my spin.
First, no, I would not consider that supernatural.
Second, no one has even been able to show ANY supernatural talents that reliably. Many have claimed such things but so far absolutely none of the alleged supernatural happenings has stood up to examintion.
Third, not knowing is not the same as supernatural.
And finally, every single alleged instance of supernatural, when the cause is determined, has turned out to be very natural in origin.

Aslan is not a Tame Lion

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