Thursday, September 6, 2012

Supernatural: Sibling rivalry or fraternal incest?

Here are working (coherent) definitions of "supernatural:" 1.any agent of change in the world identifiable with entities revealed by previous religions and revelations 2.any change in the world violating strongly verified laws of nature 3.effects without causes 4.effects achieved by human actions or desires with no possible causal efficacy

The first definition highlights the strange ability of believers to assign supernatural effects to their favorite supernatural being, even though the work comes unsigned.

The second definition highlights the point that poorly understood or exceedingly rare phenomena cannot be assumed to be supernatural.

The third definition highlights the issues involved in defining causality. It seems to me that many supernaturalists tend to suddenly switch to a very narrowly physicalist definition of causality, playing on interpretations of probability to spread confusion.

The fourth definition highlight the need to consider the bias from wishful thinking in our studies.

I think supernaturalists also tend to share these basic definitions but commonly equivocate between the various meanings of "supernatural" while making arguments. That seems to be the problem, rather than a conceptual incoherence. Besides, an empirical approach can still make progress despite conceptual incoherence. If you consider science as a model of the universe, the existence of phenomena which are not yet understood implies that all science heretofore (and for the foreseeable future) are incoherent. Philosophy is interested in the valid instead of the incoherent, but science is concerned with the true, regardless of whether we understand it completely clearly.

Reposted from Larry Moran's Sandwalk blog. This is my diary, so I can point out that the supernaturalists also switch from supporting each other against the naturalists (fraternal incest) to fighting each other over their favorite supernatural agent. Which, by the way, also includes karma and maya and the dao and yin and yang and the qi and the five elements. Which rules out the mystifying exemption of "Oriental" religions.

But even more controversially, it does not rule out some, maybe even all, versions of Mathematical Platonism, which might include structural realism. (More anon, eventually.) Science is constantly being infiltrated!

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