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Author Topic:   Is science a religion?
Percy
Member
Posts: 22700
From: New Hampshire
Joined: 12-23-2000
Member Rating: 3.7


Message 18 of 295 (290854)
02-27-2006 11:41 AM
Reply to: Message 1 by subbie
02-26-2006 5:44 PM


Defining "Supernatural"
Before we can answer the question, "Why does science study only natural phenomena?" with the implied question, "Why does science exclude the supernatural?" we first have to define natural and supernatural.
Dictionary definitions are often notoriously unhelpful in specialized areas like science and religion, and so I won't resort to dictionaries. Here is my own scientific definition of natural:
natural: detectable, directly or indirectly, by one or more of the five senses.
(By some definitions we have more than five senses, such as the sense of balance, but my definition assumes only the five senses: sight, hearing, touch, taste, smell.)
From this simple definition all manner of questions emerge. Percival Lowell (and others) peering through earth-based telescopes thought they saw canals on Mars. By the definition of natural I've given, the canals or Mars are natural, yet they don't even exist. How could something be natural that doesn't even exist?
And so I must modify my definition of the natural to be more scientific by adding replicability. For something to be natural it must be detectable not just once or by one person, but many times:
natural: repeatedly and reliably detectable, directly or indirectly, by one or more of the five senses.
Another objection to this definition is something that is only postulated but not observed. For example, neutron stars were predicted before they were detected. The bending of light by gravity was predicted before it was detected. Since these things had never been detected by any of the five senses, doesn't that take them out of the realm of the natural?
There are a couple different answers to this one, and they're both just common sense. First, the observations that led to the theory and enabled us to make the prediction are a form indirect observation, but sufficiently ambiguous that we can't be certain the prediction is correct. Second, the theory isn't postulating something indetectable, which could not therefore be natural, but something detectable that hasn't yet been detected, but should be once we look in the right place or develop the right equipment.
So what is the definition of the supernatural in a scientific context? I would define it like this:
supernatural: not of the natural world, and therefore not repeatedly and reliably detectable, directly or indirectly, by the five senses.
So if God appears in front of me so that I can see and hear him, is he natural or supernatural. This is where the scientific requirement of consistency and replicability comes in. If there are others with me who cannot see him, then the observation cannot be replicated by others and therefore is in grave doubt as an observation of something natural. But if the others see him, that raises the possibility that God is natural. And if many people see God over and over again then the only conclusion is that God is natural.
Another confusion can fall out of this, and it goes like this. God is supernatural. But if God is repeatedly observed by many people, then that means the supernatural is observable by science, and science should therefore include the supernatural.
The confusion derives from the initial assumption that God is supernatural. Within a scientific context, if God is supernatural, then he is not observable through the five senses. Postulating the possibility of seeing and hearing the supernatural is the same as saying, "I can see and hear that which cannot be seen or heard." The question contains a contradiction and therefore isn't valid.
All this defining of terms now allows me to answer these questions from the OP:
Is there any compelling reason to exclude the supernatural from the scope of scientific inquiry?
Yes, because science by definition studies the natural. In essence, science excludes that which we cannot study.
Is science a religion because it refuses to even consider the idea that non-naturalistic processes are at work in the world?
It's not so much that it refuses to consider the possibility of non-naturalistic processes, but more that it states that such processes, about which science takes no position regarding whether they exist or not, are not amenable to scientific study.
--Percy

This message is a reply to:
 Message 1 by subbie, posted 02-26-2006 5:44 PM subbie has replied

Replies to this message:
 Message 19 by subbie, posted 02-28-2006 2:11 AM Percy has replied

Percy
Member
Posts: 22700
From: New Hampshire
Joined: 12-23-2000
Member Rating: 3.7


Message 23 of 295 (291001)
02-28-2006 9:07 AM
Reply to: Message 19 by subbie
02-28-2006 2:11 AM


Re: Defining "Supernatural"
subbie writes:
While perhaps we cannot, by your definition, detect, measure or study the supernatural, might it not be possble, hypothetically, to detect, measure and study the effects of a supernatural agency?
This is the contradictory question I described. From the standpoint of science, the supernatural is that which is not repeatedly and reliably detectable, directly or indirectly, by our five senses. Anything whose effects can be detected is therefore not supernatural, contradicting your initial premise.
The rest of your post invokes the same contradiction. In essence you're arguing that the indetectable is detectable.
In order to advance your arguments you first have to reject my proposed scientific definition of the supernatural. You can't accept my definition and argue, for example, for detectable miracles without contradicting the definition you've accepted, so if you want to argue in this way you must reject my definition.
See Nwr's answer in Message 22 - he says it better than me.
AbE: I think what you mean by supernatural is something which though detectable makes no scientific sense because it violates known physical laws. For example, imagine the miracle of Pike's Peak being instantaneously transported from the outskirts of Colorado Springs to the middle of wheat fields in Kansas. It would be scientifically inexplicable, but it is observable. The event itself is observable only once, just like the collapse of the WTC towers, but just like the towers the aftereffects are amenable to scientific analysis. So even though moving Pike's Peak is scientifically inexplicable, it is not supernatural. And it would be scientifically inexplicable only for the present. Scientific studies might reveal how the mountain moved, and then it would no longer be inexplicable.
--Percy
This message has been edited by Percy, 02-28-2006 09:42 AM

This message is a reply to:
 Message 19 by subbie, posted 02-28-2006 2:11 AM subbie has replied

Replies to this message:
 Message 24 by subbie, posted 03-01-2006 3:31 PM Percy has not replied

Percy
Member
Posts: 22700
From: New Hampshire
Joined: 12-23-2000
Member Rating: 3.7


Message 56 of 295 (295938)
03-16-2006 11:57 AM
Reply to: Message 55 by 2ice_baked_taters
03-16-2006 11:37 AM


Re: Requirements of religion
I'm curious. If religion is religion and science is religion, then what's not religion?
--Percy

This message is a reply to:
 Message 55 by 2ice_baked_taters, posted 03-16-2006 11:37 AM 2ice_baked_taters has replied

Replies to this message:
 Message 61 by 2ice_baked_taters, posted 03-16-2006 1:09 PM Percy has not replied

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