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Friday, February 03, 2006

Can Science and the Supernatural coexist?

Should science be limited to the study of the known natural world and its systems? Or is the job and goal of science to seek knowledge no matter where that may take the searcher? In other words, do we limit scientific study to the natural only?

I can hear the cries of researchers studying the paranormal as they scramble to justify their grant monies! Creation scientists and those who fall into the Intelligent Design category will immediately disagree.

Let's look at this logically. What is the definition of science?

From Dictionary.com:

n.

1. The observation, identification, description, experimental investigation, and theoretical explanation of phenomena.
2. Such activities restricted to explaining a limited class of natural phenomena.
3. Such activities applied to an object of inquiry or study.
4. Knowledge, especially that gained through experience.


So only item 2 mentions the necessity of confining one's studies strictly to the supernatural. And what is the supernatural?

The same source yields:
adj.
1. Of or relating to existence outside the natural world.
2. Attributed to a power that seems to violate or go beyond natural forces.
3. Of or relating to a deity.
4. Of or relating to the immediate exercise of divine power; miraculous.
5. Of or relating to the miraculous.


The first two definitions of "supernatural" do not mention a deity at all, simply some power or existence beyond what is known to be natural.

Doesn't it follow that the best scientist would not turn away from evidence that pointed in a supernatural direction? To do so makes for bad science, for in so doing the scientist is failing to make every effort to pursue all possibilities. Ignoring evidence that points to supernatural activities or powers from prejudice or religious preference is undoubtably an everyday occurence in the scientific community but that does not make it best practice. You can be sure that Stephen Hawking and Albert Einstein never thought in that way. Great thinkers allow for all possibilities so as not to miss the truth.

My conclusion is as follows: One looks to natural processes to explain all phenonmenae first, but one must be willing to follow evidence into the realm of the supernatural if that is where the evidence leads. Those who are unwilling to do so are allowing their prejudices to diminish their effectiveness as researchers.

12 comments:

cranky old fart said...

To say something is "supernatural" is to admit one doesn't understand something or, at best, it's a childish way to say there is currently no known natural cause.

Science takes what a child calls "supernatural" as a challenge for exploration and experimentation. Stars were supernatural, winds were supernatural, gravity was supernatural, disease was supernatural. Everything is supernatural to a child.

The "supernatural" explanation is a comfy cozy place for those without a disciplined and curious mind. There is no "supernatural". There is only a natural world waiting to be explored and explained.

Mark K. Sprengel said...

Three paragraphs consisting of nothing but begging the question. I think that's a record.

radar said...

I suppose another posting concerning the views of respected scientist would be in order for tomorrow, eh??

cranky old fart said...

Mark, you obviously don't understand the phrase "begging the question" nor what word supernatural means.

Supernatural is a merely a lazy label for something that is not understood. It is a dead end label. It is such labeling that "begs the question".

What is the cause of leprosy? "Well, it's supernatural". That is what is called "begging the question".

As stated in my post. Many, many things were claimed "supernatural" until curious minds and science unlocked them.

Mark K. Sprengel said...

cranky old,

Your post is nothing but assuming the supernatural does not exist. Hence begging the question. Your premises contain the conclusion you claim to reach, and amounts to mere assertion.

The examples you gave would be argumentum ad ignorantiam if nothing was given as support or in simple terms "God of the gaps".

btw, just because you refuse to understand what the term supernatural means, does not mean it is a "lazy" label.

"I think I can safely say that nobody understands quantum mechanics." - Richard P. Feynman

Does that mean Quantum Mechanics was a lazy term at the time?

cranky old fart said...

Ok. The supernatural exits. The supernatural does not exist. They both get you to the same place. No?

Mark K. Sprengel said...

If that is all that is offered, sure. But one can argue,quite logically, that nature alone cannot give a complete account for itself and therefore something must transcend nature, ie be supernatural.

cranky old fart said...

Os the answer to my question above is "yes", no?

radar said...

No, in the opinion of many scientists, some of them winners of prizes such as the Nobel or Crawford. They have found the evidence for supernatural design in the course of their work. Remember, supernatural is not imaginary or mythical, but rather an existence or force or Person outside of our normal existence. Perhaps supernatural is the equivalent of sight to us who are blind, or noise to those of us who are deaf. It is real, just not easily

cranky old fart said...

easily......? Care to finish the sentence?

radar said...

Hey, what happened to the end of my sentence!?

I was going to say the supernatural is not easily apprehended. If you personally encounter a supernatural event, that is one thing. The encounter may change your life. But especially among scientists the supernatural is found within the evidence. It is the sum of an equation otherwise filled with natural world data.

cranky old fart said...

For all the metaphors, it's still just a "feeling". Scientists see the beauty of universe, etc. and "feel" there is a divine creator, designer, whatever. Great.

They don't then set out to set up experiments to prove there are such god(s), because they know they can't. You can't scientifically prove a "feeling". They also know that it doesn't matter that they can't.

"Feelings" are wonderful, and meaningful to the person who finds them meaningful. That has nothing to do with science, other than providing possible inspiration to further explore the natural world.