A Trip To The Hypothetical Fish Farm: Proof of God’s Existence, I

jim at RvA has blessed us with a new series titled Proof of God’s Existence, and I intend to respond to each installment of his series, which seems designed to corral the believer’s claims into the confines of what jim calls “common sense inquiry.” I suppose we’ll see just what that means as time unfolds.

He begins with words likely all too familiar to veterans in this game, centered around the question of what constitutes adequate proof of God’s existence:

It’s a common question on the tip of many a Christian’s tongue when confronted with skepticism regarding their theistic worldview, yes? Responses from skeptics generally revolve around some kind of convincing display(s) of ‘miraculous’ interventions, or other manifestations i.e. events beyond the generally accepted, deterministic norms of the most current naturalistic paradigm, and supported by scientific methodology such as observation, controlled testing, repeatability and the like.jim, reason vs. apologetics


The question is one I’m certainly fond of asking atheists and skeptics, and, just as jim explains, demands for repeatably observable miracles and manifestations tend to comprise the typical responses. The problem is that as Descartes realized, a sufficiently talented philosopher can justifiedly deny anything except the existence of his or her own mind. Accordingly, I refuse to play the game until the atheist or skeptic commits to clearly delineated criteria that cannot be negotiated after the fact, but here’s the conundrum: the only standard I know of that they’ll accept is useless in proving God, and that’s the scientific method.

Now, if you’re an atheist or skeptic—especially of the so-called “Bright” or “New Atheist” variety—you’ll probably think that’s a cop-out, and that I’m just like any other extraordinary claimant trying to protect the alleged fire-breathing dragon in their garage from commonsense inquiry. I’d like to explain how that’s not the case at all, and counter-argue that atheists who challenge believers to prove God scientifically are actually the ones protecting their views from commonsense inquiry.

jim continues with some hypothetical theist arguments, presumably to support his oft-repeated implication that believers need “the mental space of all hypothesized possibilities” to justify faith:

God exists in a supernatural realm beyond our means of investigation…

Many, if not most, real events are neither observable nor repeatable, such as Julius Caesar’s crossing of the Rubicon…

All so-called ‘proof’ has a subjective element, so there’s really no such thing as absolute proof for ANYTHING. Everything is a matter of belief to some degree, from gods to puppy dogs…

If you look closely, you’ll notice the common thread in each of those hypothetical arguments is the establishment of what jim later refers to as an “epistemic question mark,” that strange sort of twilight zone where lack of certainty justifies any and all conclusions. Though I’ve tried several times, I’m not sure how to convince jim that the following is not my position:

..all statements of fact, or proofs, are actually merely opinions to one extent or another.

That’s bunk, and I’m curious to know who actually makes that argument, because whoever makes that argument can’t win any argument. I agree that God exists in a realm we cannot investigate, and that many events are neither observable nor repeatable, but neither of these positions justify retreat into the position that everything is a matter of belief. There are matters of belief and matters of fact. The cells that compose my body cannot be in Houston and Los Angeles at the same time. If I am in Houston, it is a fact that I’m in Houston and not some other city. No amount of belief can change that fact.

Believers don’t need to resort to solipsism to justify faith. Atheists and skeptics need to realize that science is the study of objects in our universe and their relationships to one another. By “objects in our universe” I mean all matter, and by “relationships to one another” I mean all energy. As far as science is concerned, the space-time continuum is the progression of matter and energy. This covers all known constituents of our universe: MEST (matter, energy, space, time). This is what science studies. Except by theoretical approach based on observations made inside MEST, science cannot study things which purportedly exist outside MEST.

What jim and other atheists see as a cop-out is simply a brute fact: God does not reduce to matter or energy in space-time that we can contain, identify, categorize and reproduce. God’s acts represent historical events and history cannot be repeated in the laboratory. An atheist might object, “But God is supposed to exist in actuality, not just conceptually. God’s acts are claimed to take place in the real world that science can investigate.” I agree with both of those claims, but neither of them justify the absurd conclusion that we should be able to test God scientifically. If you don’t see why that conclusion is absurd, maybe a visit to the hypothetical fish farm will help.

Let’s say some farmed fish are contemplating their own existence, when two schools of thought emerge (no pun intended). The first says that the container and its contents produced the fish, and offers an elaborate model suggesting that water + time > fish. The second says a powerful being populated the container, and points to anomalous perturbations in the water, which they claim occurred the last time this powerful being — which is really just the breeder — intervened.

Could the first group of fish justifiedly ask the second to prove the breeder’s existence?

Of course not. While the breeder’s interventions do affect the “real world” the fish live in, it would be logically impossible for the fish to prove the existence of the breeder, who comes and goes on independent terms. As far as commonsense inquiry is concerned, anybody with common sense can tell you that the breeder is not subject to the beckon call of the fish, and that this fact has absolutely no bearing whatsoever on the breeder’s existence. To deny the breeder’s existence just because other fish can’t force the breeder to jump in the container on command would be false confidence based on illogic at best.

To me, commonsense inquiry means evaluating claims as they are, not as we want them to be. By refusing to accept anything but an unreasonable standard when it comes to the question of God’s existence, the atheist who demands repeatable, observable evidence is the one who protects their worldview from commonsense inquiry.

16 Comments

  1. MS says:

    At the risk of being labeled a cl sycophant, yet again by a certain blogger, I’ll agree this post is spot on. At the risk of being labeled a science denier, yet again, I think you’re spot on about the limitations of science, which to be clear, is not equivalent to claiming science has no or little value. To wit:
    but here’s the conundrum: the only standard I know of that they’ll accept is useless in proving God, and that’s the scientific method.
    Generally true for many skeptics, in my experience. What’s lesser known to many making this claim is that logical positivism or verificationism–the idea that a proposition must be at least potentially empirically verifiable to possess any meaning–has been defunct for decades. After all, it is self-refuting. There’s been subsequent gerrymandering philosophically in an attempt to maintain a semblance of the system, but it seems demonstrably false to me.
    Moreover, the scientific method is the preferred method for determining truth in operations science, the science of how natural things work, though it is helpless to determine if there exists a divine concurrence or primary causation behind any given natural phenomenon. It’s not remotely that successful in origins science. for instance, considering the floundering of the scientific method in relation to the many-universes hypothesis, and similar matters. Maybe one day we will invent a supernaturalometer, or devise some other means of detecting something “outside” the universe. Until then…
    Historical events are simply unobservable, unless you happened to be there, of course. It’s interesting how the conflation and non-sequitur sometimes is expressed: you theists don’t complain about your vaccines and air conditioning, therefore you should accept everything science teaches. But, science may actually succeed in this endeavor one day. It may invent a time machine. Then historical events could be observable.
    Thus, the proposal that a person will not believe something unless it is observable, testable, and repeatable, especially to everyone at any time, is currently nonsense, and represents an artificial bulwark constructed often to prevent belief in non-scientific truths. It’s sometimes, not always, a skeptic shield of faith. That may be what you’re claiming here: “the atheist who demands repeatable, observable evidence is the one who protects their worldview from commonsense inquiry.”
    And, yes, there are obviously non-scientific truths. You mentioned one: the law of non-contradiction. There’s a host of others, spanning a range from mathematics to what I think is beautiful to what I thought yesterday at 3:32 PM to I have a headache to the feeling of pain to what is readily apparent to my senses. We could list them all day. The theist just adds God to this list.
    I don’t have any problem with the skeptic claiming that s/he has a problem believing in God. The problem is when they make the claim that I can’t prove God to myself. It’s trivially easy, and as far as epistemic claims go, how could they possibly know what I’ve experienced? They can’t, unless they possess an ironclad deductive path to the truth of naturalism that precludes supernaturalism, which is non-existent. BTW-I think it’s ironic that under the guidelines established under verificationism, the proposition “MEST is all there is” is not a meaningful sentence!
    The problem is that as Descartes realized, a sufficiently talented philosopher can justifiedly deny anything except the existence of his or her own mind
    And the post-Descartesians philosophers managed to deny the mind as well…
    “epistemic question mark,”
    This has turned out to be a bigger issue in internet communication, cl. Epistemology is bantered around constantly, and it’s not at all clear that it’s well understood. I see the terms justified, rational, knowledge, truth, and especially warranted used continuously with repsect to epistemic claims centered on this debate, and used incorrectly. If this conversation is ever going to progress, these definitions will have to be straightened out. What they do not mean, necessarily, is “testable, repeatable, and observable through the scientific method at any time to any one.”
    “That’s bunk, and I’m curious to know who actually makes that argument, because whoever makes that argument can’t win any argument.”
    True, and regrettably, Christians do it all the time, which leads to some wierd Christian relativism. But it also looked to me like Jim was throwing out an olive branch here, or attempting to establish some common ground with that statement. I’d be willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. His introductory post seemed amiable enough to me as though he were inviting an even dialogue. Remains to be seen, though. At any rate, the call and response should be interesting. That’s a good first response. cl. Sorry to ramble. It’s late…

  2. cl says:

    ..I think you’re spot on about the limitations of science, which to be clear, is not equivalent to claiming science has no or little value.

    Ha! I can tell you’re familiar with Team Scarlet A, because you include disclaimers to prevent them from presenting your position out-of-context. Too funny, yet so sad.

    ..logical positivism or verificationism–the idea that a proposition must be at least potentially empirically verifiable to possess any meaning–has been defunct for decades. After all, it is self-refuting.

    I agree.

    Moreover, the scientific method is the preferred method for determining truth in operations science, the science of how natural things work, though it is helpless to determine if there exists a divine concurrence or primary causation behind any given natural phenomenon.

    I agree, but that’s where the atheist quips “Occam’s Razor” and declares themselves the victor.
    To avoid the complications of the natural vs. supernatural dichotomy, I would reword your sentiment something like: “The scientific method is the preferred method for verifying genuine relationships in matter, energy, space and time.”

    ..that a person will not believe something unless it is observable, testable, and repeatable, especially to everyone at any time, is currently nonsense, and represents an artificial bulwark constructed often to prevent belief in non-scientific truths. It’s sometimes, not always, a skeptic shield of faith.

    I agree, and appreciate your use of “sometimes” as not all who disbelieve are denialists. I would add that those who disbelieve in God on grounds that God is a non-scientific truth employ special pleading, because I’m willing to bet that whoever they are, they accept non-scientific truths in other areas. As you say, “from mathematics to what [one thinks] is beautiful to what [one] thought yesterday at 3:32 PM to [one has] a headache to the feeling of pain…
    And yes, that’s exactly what I meant by atheists who protect their worldviews from commonsense inquiry: essentially the refusal to evaluate a hypothesis on its own merits. The Bible argues that God is unseen, yet, atheists like Deacon Duncan use the fact that God is unseen against the existence of the God of the Bible. The reality is that if the Bible says God is unseen, and God is in fact unseen, then the Bible is consistent with itself. DD apparently never grasped our complaint that he knocks down a god of his own making.

    I don’t have any problem with the skeptic claiming that s/he has a problem believing in God. The problem is when they make the claim that I can’t prove God to myself. It’s trivially easy, and as far as epistemic claims go, how could they possibly know what I’ve experienced?

    They can’t. What gets me is the large number of atheists I encounter who pretend it’s about evidence. This happened today in fact, with chaplain. When it gets down to it,

    The fact is, I have no interest in the gods, veridical dreams, ghosts and all the other crap you seem to think should interest me. I have one life to live, and I’m going to live it pursuing the interests I deem as important to me. (chaplain)

    Would you call that being open and willing to follow the evidence wherever it leads? I wouldn’t.
    Since Team Scarlet A makes such large pretense about the advantage of knowledge over belief, I asked why nobody over there had bothered to ask Marianne any questions. They’re say they’re open to evidence, then fail to take advantage of what is really somewhat of a rare opportunity in these types of discussions – dialog with a scientist and author of a published paper.

    Epistemology is bantered around constantly, and it’s not at all clear that it’s well understood. I see the terms justified, rational, knowledge, truth, and especially warranted used continuously with repsect to epistemic claims centered on this debate, and used incorrectly. If this conversation is ever going to progress, these definitions will have to be straightened out. What they do not mean, necessarily, is “testable, repeatable, and observable through the scientific method at any time to any one.”

    I agree, and will do my part to contribute.

  3. MS says:

    “but that’s where the atheist quips “Occam’s Razor” and declares themselves the victor.”
    I wonder sometimes if Ockham laments the consistent misuse of his razor :) Perhaps the philological arm should begin working on a catch phrase for this as well…
    “I would reword your sentiment something like: “The scientific method is the preferred method for verifying genuine relationships in matter, energy, space and time.”
    I like the re-wording; however, it still lacks the natural distinction: substituting “exclusively between” or “reductively between” for “in” might help.
    “appreciate your use of “sometimes” as not all who disbelieve are denialists.”
    No question about it.
    “because I’m willing to bet that whoever they are, they accept non-scientific truths in other areas.”
    Hence the demise of classical logical positivism.
    “The Bible argues that God is unseen, yet, atheists like Deacon Duncan use the fact that God is unseen against the existence of the God of the Bible.”
    Largely due to the failure of the presumption of atheism, btw. DD’s formulation might actually be successful against claims that God is doing his utmost to appear or reach out to everyone, or constantly performing ubiquitous miracles, say in Faith Theology. What he never seemed willing to acknowledge is that his formulation did not approximate other, more biblically orthodox views. For instance, the existence of Calvinism and Molinism both refute DD’s claim. Oh yeah, and since all God hypotheses are purportedly unwarranted, I suppose we can add DD’s to the list, no? :)
    “The reality is that if the Bible says God is unseen, and God is in fact unseen, then the Bible is consistent with itself.”
    Well said.
    “They can’t.”
    Exactly. Now, if one really wants to discuss a lack of warrant, here you go!
    “What gets me is the large number of atheists I encounter who pretend it’s about evidence.”
    I agree. Gets me as well. Actually, I’d have no complaint if the claim was prefaced with “To me the evidence is not compelling” or some such.
    “Would you call that being open and willing to follow the evidence wherever it leads?”
    No, but I appreciate that statement exceedingly for its honesty.
    “I asked why nobody over there had bothered to ask Marianne any questions. They’re say they’re open to evidence, then fail to take advantage of what is really somewhat of a rare opportunity in these types of discussions – dialog with a scientist and author of a published paper.”
    Very odd, I thought.
    “I agree, and will do my part to contribute.”
    When it comes to definitions and qualifying arguments, you have few peers, cl. That’s what makes you one of the least kneejerking guys around, if I do say so myself, again…
    The part that confuses me is that analytic philosphy, of which the new atheists are adherents, requires tedious defintion. Without it, Reason is not Reason. I’ve been puzzling a bit in my spare time why it’s not readily accepted and welcomed on some skeptical sites. You would think skeptics would welcome a theist who actually wants to engage at that level.

  4. dguller says:

    I disagree that the scientific method is exclusively directed towards natural entities that can be replicated in a laboratory. That is a reductionist version of science that actually has no bearing towards how science is really practiced. The bottom line is that science is simply a phenomenally successful extension of everyday and common sense inquiry.

    You observe X, wonder about what caused X, and then seek evidence to confirm a hypothesis about X or to falsify that hypothesis. We do this all the time. I hear water patter on my window. I hypothesize that it is raining. I then get up to look out the window to see if it is raining. Nope. Just a gardener watering the flowers and spraying some water on my window. Hypothesis falsified.

    Now, science takes this common procedure further by adding levels of sophistication and rigor, and by utilizing technology to extend the reach of our perception, such as microscopes, telescopes, and so on. It also utilizes probability and statistics in order to determine if what we are observing is actually just random chance or a repeatable natural phenomenon. It also utilizes other methods to minimize our cognitive biases and distortions, such as by taking into account positive and negative evidence of a claim, blinding observers, and so on.

    There is no doubt that this method is the most successful tool we have in terms of understanding ourselves and the world around us. Nothing else comes close.

    The problem with bringing in entities that exist outside of space-time in the realm of the supernatural is that we have no experience or understanding of them, and actually lack even the concepts to imagine them at all. Furthermore, if these entities are completely divorced from our space-time existence and natural experiences, then they are unavailable to us in every sense of the word, except by virtue of analogies and metaphors, which are always inconclusive, because they are so malleable.

    So, if your position is that science is silent in the face of supernatural noumena, and thus it is unfair for atheists to demand scientific evidence of religious believers, then I think you make two mistakes.

    First, science (broadly construed) is the best means we have of determining whether a claim is a true representation of reality or a false representation caused by a chance occurrence, wishful thinking, emotional reasoning, confirmation bias, or any other cognitive distortion around. To reject it for religious claims is to leave one with nothing but our personal anecdotes (which are unreliable, because highly biased) and our social group’s popular beliefs (which fall prey to the fallacy ad populum). That is to leave religious beliefs on a very shaky foundation.

    Second, it begs the question of precisely how one goes about deciding between an infinite number of supernatural hypotheses in human history regarding which one is actually true (if any are).

    So, I do not feel it is inconsistent or unfair for atheists to demand empirical evidence for supernatural claims. Empirical evidence is all we have to decide between the truth and falsehood of a proposition, and to say that there is a set of beliefs impervious to such evidence is to say that one has beliefs that are utterly divorced from any form of verification, except of a fallacious kind.

  5. cl says:

    There’s much I’d like to say in response here. Let’s start with the following from the National Academy of Sciences:

    In science, explanations must be based on evidence drawn from examining the natural world. Scientifically based observations or experiments that conflict with an explanation eventually must lead to modification or even abandonment of that explanation. Religious faith, in contrast, does not depend only on empirical evidence, is not necessarily modified in the face of conflicting evidence, and typically involves supernatural forces or entities. Because they are not a part of nature, supernatural entities cannot be investigated by science. [NAS, emph. mine]

    Given the apparent discrepancy between your position and theirs, would you say that the NAS represents a “a reductionist version of science that actually has no bearing towards how science is really practiced?” If not, can you clarify your position?

  6. dguller says:

    >> Given the apparent discrepancy between your position and theirs, would you say that the NAS represents a “a reductionist version of science that actually has no bearing towards how science is really practiced?” If not, can you clarify your position?

    First, did the NAS state that science exclusively consists of laboratory experiments? That is what I was referring to what I spoke of reductionist science. I mean, clinical trials of medical treatments are not done in a laboratory, but would be considered scientific, no? Anyway, this is actually a non sequiter, because I misread something above.

    Second, the fact remains that if scientific inquiry (as broadly described by myself above) is incapable of addressing the truth-claims of religious beliefs, then what other methodology is available to do so? Ultimately, our conceptual and linguistic categories are rooted in our experiences in the world, and so how can we conceive, talk about, and find evidence for something that is beyond space-time, beyond our subjective experience, beyond our conceptual categories, beyond our linguistic capacity?

    I mean, it ultimately comes down to analogies, metaphors, imagined stories that superficially make sense, but do not actually get any traction in the real world. I will grant that supernatural explanations superficially make sense in the same way that fiction does, but as I learned in medical school, just because something makes sense does not make it true. To make it true, one needs logical and empirical evidence. Since none of us has any experience of the supernatural, but only potentially unexplained natural phenomena, then where do the premises that buttress religious beliefs even come from?

  7. dguller says:

    And just to comment on your fish analogy.

    How would the fish that believe that the perturbations in the water are due to a breeder decide which perturbations are due to the breeder and which are due to random variations in the water itself?

    And what if there was a third school of fish who stated that there were two breeders causing the perturbations in the water? Or three, or four? Or that there was a breeder of the breeder? Or a breeder of the breeder of the breeder?

    How would a rational fish decide between any of these hypotheses?

    The point is that if your justification of your religious belief consists in coming up with an analogy that superficially makes sense, then you are simply relying upon an intuition pump or philosophical fairy tale that, at the most, can show that your beliefs are POSSIBLE, but do nothing to conclude that they are TRUE.

    I mean, I can come up with an analogy that supports ANY belief. I can say that there is no breeder, and that all the unexplained perturbations in the water are due to randomness and chance that the fish are simply unable to appreciate. I can say that the breeder fish have eaten tainted food that is making them psychotic and generating delusional inferences from their experience.

    Finally, if this move is justified from your perspective, then you might as well throw logic and evidence out the window. I mean, someone can just make up something that violates natural laws to explain anything. So, a murderer can say that they didn’t kill their victim, but that an identical copy of themselves was instantaneously transported into his space-time location, killed the victim, and then he was returned. Sure, there is no evidence for this in our world, but that’s okay, right? He should be found innocent?

  8. cl says:

    First, did the NAS state that science exclusively consists of laboratory experiments?

    Not in the link I provided, nor did I state that anywhere in the OP.

    I mean, clinical trials of medical treatments are not done in a laboratory, but would be considered scientific, no?

    Yes, I agree. The same would go for archaeology [in the field, that is]. However, would you say the same would apply to prayer studies? Ghost studies? NDE’s? Why or why not?

    Anyway, this is actually a non sequiter, because I misread something above.

    If you’re alluding to the fact that I didn’t state that “science exclusively consists of laboratory experiments” anywhere in the OP, I agree, and we’re on the same page so far.

    …the fact remains that if scientific inquiry (as broadly described by myself above) is incapable of addressing the truth-claims of religious beliefs, then what other methodology is available to do so?

    My hesitancy about proceeding without definitions of “natural” and “supernatural” aside, I don’t agree with the claim that science is “incapable of addressing the truth-claims of religious beliefs.” Further, I don’t think the NAS is correct when they say that “supernatural entities cannot be investigated by science.” The key words in both disagreements are addressing and investigated. Science can–and does–address and investigate the purported effects of supernatural agencies. However, therein, scientists reach an inevitable limit: science can address or investigate the supernatural; it cannot prove the supernatural. The closest science can come is in proving that any given phenomena either A) has no known “natural” cause, and/or B) appears to violate pre-existing “natural” laws. This is precisely why I believe skeptics are in error to demand “scientific evidence” for “supernatural” claims.

    Ultimately, our conceptual and linguistic categories are rooted in our experiences in the world, and so how can we conceive, talk about, and find evidence for something that is beyond space-time, beyond our subjective experience, beyond our conceptual categories, beyond our linguistic capacity?

    In all honesty, I think the answer to your question lies in the first sentence fragment: I agree with you that our conceptual and linguistic categories are “rooted in our experiences.” Whether we can put them in an epistemic cage or not, people are experiencing “supernatural” phenomena. Therefore, since our conceptual and linguistic categories are rooted in our experiences, they are rooted in reality. The dilemma arises when we try to extricate that reality into our reality. In the same way, there’s a bit of conundrum in studying consciousness, in that it’s like trying to catch our own shadow.

    I mean, it ultimately comes down to analogies, metaphors, imagined stories that superficially make sense, but do not actually get any traction in the real world.

    I strongly disagree. There is a huge body of evidence documenting exactly what I allude to above: phenomena that either A) have no known “natural” cause, and/or B) appear to violate pre-existing “natural” laws. Clearly, these phenomena do not all conveniently reduce to analogy, metaphor or imagines stories without traction in the “real” world.

    To make it true, one needs logical and empirical evidence.

    As stated above, I submit that we have both, and I would go one step further: even when we have logical and empirical evidence for proposition X, that emphatically DOES NOT make proposition X true. Cathode rays are a favorite example of this phenomena. I’ve written on them here and here.

    I’m a bit short on time at the moment, but I will address your comment February 16, 2011 at 1:40 PM as time allows. Sorry if there are any typos in this comment; no time to proofread.

  9. dguller says:

    >> Science can–and does–address and investigate the purported effects of supernatural agencies. However, therein, scientists reach an inevitable limit: science can address or investigate the supernatural; it cannot prove the supernatural. The closest science can come is in proving that any given phenomena either A) has no known “natural” cause, and/or B) appears to violate pre-existing “natural” laws. This is precisely why I believe skeptics are in error to demand “scientific evidence” for “supernatural” claims.

    I agree with you. So, when scientific investigation concludes that it has no natural explanation for an unusual phenomena, then what follows from this? Nothing, except that we DO NOT KNOW what is happening. One cannot infer supernatural entities from the fact that natural explanations are insufficient.

    >> I agree with you that our conceptual and linguistic categories are “rooted in our experiences.” Whether we can put them in an epistemic cage or not, people are experiencing “supernatural” phenomena.

    Are they? What are they experiencing? An immersion into the oneness of being? A deep sense of connection to the universe? A feeling of merciful love and compassion washing over them? I dare say that all of these are natural phenomena that can be simulated by hallucinogenic drugs or neurological conditions, such as temporal lobe epilepsy. Even unexplained natural phenomena are just that: natural phenomena. No-one has a direct experience of the supernatural, and that is why we lack the conceptual categories to even conceive of such a thing, except in grossly anthropomorphic terms.

    >> Therefore, since our conceptual and linguistic categories are rooted in our experiences, they are rooted in reality. The dilemma arises when we try to extricate that reality into our reality. In the same way, there’s a bit of conundrum in studying consciousness, in that it’s like trying to catch our own shadow.

    Consciousness is a replicable phenomenological experience with uniform contours and aspects that can be investigated. Furthermore, its subjective component can be correlated to objective brain findings. Studying the supernatural is nothing so concrete and replicable. But I’m open to some examples.

    >> I strongly disagree. There is a huge body of evidence documenting exactly what I allude to above: phenomena that either A) have no known “natural” cause, and/or B) appear to violate pre-existing “natural” laws. Clearly, these phenomena do not all conveniently reduce to analogy, metaphor or imagines stories without traction in the “real” world.

    The natural phenomena are real. The supernatural explanations that are supposed to explain them are the metaphors and analogies that I was referring to. Lightning is a real phenomenon. Zeus is the product of our imagination. Actually, Zeus is quite concrete, and the Greek gods were believed to actually reside IN the natural world as beings. When you start bringing in religious entities that exist outside space-time – whatever THAT means – then you are in the realm of metaphor, because we lack any concepts to even imagine or conceive of such entities.

    So, the metaphors and analogies come in when one tries to explain HOW supernatural entities interact with the world. However, since all we experience are natural phenomena, and never supernatural entities, then any inference from natural to supernatural is pure speculation without any grounding in empirical reality. Furthermore, since there is no methodology to differentiate between different supernatural hypotheses, it is all sheer speculation. Shouldn’t we ground our lives in more than speculation?

    >> As stated above, I submit that we have both, and I would go one step further: even when we have logical and empirical evidence for proposition X, that emphatically DOES NOT make proposition X true. Cathode rays are a favorite example of this phenomena. I’ve written on them here and here.

    I try not to deal in absolutes, but in relative probabilities and risk. I agree that logical and empirical evidence for X does not NECESSARILY make X true. But I would say that logical and empirical evidence for X means that X’s truth is MORE LIKELY than if X lacked logical and empirical evidence. So, if you had a choice between X and Y where X has logical and empirical evidence and Y lacks both, then would you really put your money on Y over X? I highly doubt it. In most areas of your life, you would bet on X over Y, but when it comes to the supernatural, you suspend this perfectly reasonable principle. I would like to know why?

    And with regards to your cathode ray example, I would say “so what?” Have scientists been wrong before? Sure. Does that mean that the scientific method is thereby falsified? Well, if you look at it as a 100% guaranteed method of discovering the truth, then yes, that straw man is refuted. But that is not what science is about. Read any scientific paper, and it consists of statistics and p-values, because it is about LIKELIHOOD and PROBABILITY. And with probability there is always the chance that one is wrong, but it is reasonable to place one’s bets on what is likely to be true, given one’s information. Over time, this method has a better chance of having more propositions turn out to be true than any alternative, I think.

  10. bossmanham says:

    cl,

    I’m not sure if this was brought up in the comments (I just read the post, and the comments are reaching tl;dr territory ;^) ) but this statement:

    ..all statements of fact, or proofs, are actually merely opinions to one
    extent or another.

    is also blatantly self referentially incoherent.

  11. cl says:

    dguller,

    I’m going to take a short break from this thread, because–and please don’t take offense here–I think that, for whatever reason, you’re getting a little ahead of yourself by not responding to my actual position, and making claims that cannot be reasonably described as conservatively stated. I’ll give a few examples that I think illustrate this point, then, I’ll return within a few days to reparse with a fresh eye:

    What are they experiencing? An immersion into the oneness of being? A deep sense of connection to the universe? A feeling of merciful love and compassion washing over them? I dare say that all of these are natural phenomena that can be simulated by hallucinogenic drugs or neurological conditions, such as temporal lobe epilepsy.

    I agree with you. The problem is, when I argue for the exist of supernatural phenomena, I’m not arguing for these “subjective feelings” you allude to. Please don’t get upset with me, but, you’re attacking phenomena I do not cite as evidence of the supernatural. Here, I go into perfunctory detail as to the type of phenomena I allude to. Note that none of that reduces to the type of subjective feelings you cite above.

    Even unexplained natural phenomena are just that: natural phenomena.

    This simply assumes the truth of the question at hand.

    No-one has a direct experience of the supernatural…

    This is bare assertion.

    However, since all we experience are natural phenomena, and never supernatural entities,

    Again, this is bare assertion. I respectfully maintain that we need evidence–and in this case conclusive evidence–before we could even wager such a strong claim.

    For now, I’ll just close by stating that I share your concern over metaphor. I’ll be back…

    bossmanham,

    What’s tl;dr territory? I’ve seen that before.

  12. dguller says:

    cl:

    Seriously, provide a single counter-example of a supernatural phenomenon that cannot be broken down into natural events.

    I’ve already commented on ODE and NDE on other threads. They are manifestly unconvincing, and can be explained as conscious states generated by the human brain. The fact that neurological diseases can disrupt the brain pathways that integrate our conscious experience, and which create a separation between our proprioception and our perception that is identical to these ODE simply lend additional credibility to this claim. I’m afraid that ODE are just natural events generated by the brain, and which can be replicated by neurological damage, transcranial magnetic stimulation, and psychoactive drugs.

    And I’m going to bed. ☺

  13. cl says:

    dguller,

    Seriously, provide a single counter-example of a supernatural phenomenon that cannot be broken down into natural events.

    Didn’t you just say,

    One cannot infer supernatural entities from the fact that natural explanations are insufficient. … Even unexplained natural phenomena are just that: natural phenomena. … all we experience are natural phenomena…

    ??

    No offense, but you seem to have yourself pretty well insulated against anything I could possibly offer. It seems to me that no matter what I present, you’ll be able to say either, 1) that I can’t use it as evidence for the supernatural, or 2) that it might eventually be able to be broken down into natural parts.

    How do you suggest we proceed? I’m more than willing.

    FYI: I just posted a consciousness primer. I think it would save us both a lot of typing if you checked it out.

    Thanks for being so persistent. I thrive off persistent questioning. Your persistence and general cordiality [thus far] has motivated me to tighten my game.

  14. dguller says:

    cl:

    Still waiting for the counter-example.

    Rather than dancing around the issue, and perseverating on definitional issues, just provide a counter-example to my claim that supernatural phenomena are ultimately natural phenomena, albeit very unlikely and common.

    We can then carry on the discussion.

    I will say this, I thought that you were a religious believer defending the supernatural from atheism, but now it appears that you believe in the paranormal more than religious belief. That changes the trajectory of our conversation, because I am not particularly familiar with the paranormal, and thus this is new territory for me.

  15. cl says:

    dguller,

    Although I’ve got two posts I’m working on, yet, I’m a little less than optimistic precisely because of the aforementioned insulation. What you seem to call “dancing,” I see as a logically required prerequisite for fruitful dialog. I think that firmly cemented goalposts with a strong mutual understanding of terms and epistemic critieria should precede these sorts of things, and I’m still left to wonder: since you haven’t given any explanations whatsoever for the few examples I’ve pointed you to, what’s to make me think more examples are going to be different?

    Nonetheless, like I said, I will proceed in good faith, and I’ve got two posts coming up that I think you’ll need to explain, in addition to the others, before I can take seriously your seemingly outright rejection of these phenomena.

    …I thought that you were a religious believer defending the supernatural from atheism, but now it appears that you believe in the paranormal more than religious belief. That changes the trajectory of our conversation, because I am not particularly familiar with the paranormal, and thus this is new territory for me.

    I am. I don’t draw the line of demarcation between the two that you seem to, thus, I don’t think this fact changes the trajectory of the conversation much at all. We’re still left with the same epistemic considerations whether we use the term “supernatural” or “paranormal,” IMHO.

    Lastly, if the things I’m talking about are “new territory” for you, well… this raises more skepticism as to how in the world you can possible make such strong claims as the ones I cited in my comment previous to this one.

    Looking forward…

  16. dguller says:

    >> I think that firmly cemented goalposts with a strong mutual understanding of terms and epistemic critieria should precede these sorts of things, and I’m still left to wonder: since you haven’t given any explanations whatsoever for the few examples I’ve pointed you to, what’s to make me think more examples are going to be different?

    I have commented on NDE and OBE above and on other threads about why I find them manifestly unconvincing. Again, at the most, one can conclude that these are natural events that are inexplicable at this time. How one infers from this that there must be a supernatural realm populated by ghosts and deities that are causing the inexplicable natural events is beyond me.

    The bottom line is that for such an inference to be possible, it would require some kind of premise like: “Supernatural and paranormal entities can cause inexplicable natural events”. We have no direct experience of supernatural or paranormal entities, i.e. ghosts and deities, that are not better accounted for by human psychological quirks. This is especially true of supernatural entities that exist outside of space-time, such as God. What experience do we have of entities outside of space-time? All our concepts and percepts are rooted IN space-time, and thus anything outside is empty, including the very concept of “outside of space-time”.

    That is the crux of my concern. I fail to see how this whole supernatural justification thing even gets started, because the supernatural is just an empty concept to me, especially when it involves entities that explicitly violate well-supported natural laws and entities that exist outside of space-time.

    With regards to the former, it becomes a matter of likelihood. What is more likely, that natural laws that have worked successfully and have survived hundreds of attempts at falsification, are wrong, or that someone’s experience is illusory, delusional, hallucinatory, or mistaken?

    With regards to the latter, entities that exist outside of space-time are literally outside of any human framework of understanding, and thus are fundamentally unknowable. Sure, you can talk about logic and mathematics as possible counterexamples, but they are fundamentally about patterns and relationships that we abstract from events and interactions in the world. There is a regularity and order to the world, and logic and mathematics is one way that we capture such order. There is no reasonable comparison between numbers and ghosts, the law of non-contradiction and God, except maybe superficially.

    >> I am. I don’t draw the line of demarcation between the two that you seem to, thus, I don’t think this fact changes the trajectory of the conversation much at all. We’re still left with the same epistemic considerations whether we use the term “supernatural” or “paranormal,” IMHO.

    OK. Thanks for clarifying.

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