Saturday, June 30, 2012
At Last Coyne Is Clear
Jerry Coyne is again going on about how science can test the supernatural:
That is palpable nonsense. Science can, and has, constantly tested supernatural claims. Refuting creationism is the premier example. So why do accommodationists constantly make the erroneous claim that science can't test the supernatural? Boudry et al. explain it in their paper. ("IDC" below refers to "intelligent design creationism").Because, after all, science isn't about the natural world, it is about how people see it.
Perhaps some will object, saying that the supernatural encompasses things that are by definition immune to empirical investigation. And you can define "supernatural" that way, but that is not only tautological, but doesn't comport with how most people see the idea.
He's so close. Science can, and has, constantly tested claims about the supernatural.
But if he can point to this person "supernatural" who keeps making the claims he's talking about, maybe it would clear things up.
My impression is that the "supernatural" exists largely as a domain into which are herded all those things that people, for various reasons, want to shield from any form of critical scrutiny.
My own view is that naturalism is the study of natures where nature is the label for whatever makes something itself and not something - or nothing - else. If an entity exists such that it can be observed, even in principle then it is natural.
A deity that exists largely in some separate domain but still has its fingers in our world "pie" is, in my view, a natural phenomenon. A deity that is hermetically sealed off from our world such that we can never under any circumstances obtain any information about it would still be a natural phenomenon. We just wouldn't know about it. But then who says that only things we can observe are the only things which exist?
The only thing (as far as I can tell or have been told) that makes something "natural" is if it acts in a lawlike manner. God(s) are, by every "report," capricious. That is why the notion of "testing" the supernatural by statistical studies of the effects of prayer on health are so wrong-headed (though Coyne is right that, if the studies had turned out otherwise, theists would have trumpeted them).
But then who says that only things we can observe are the only things which exist?
That is the essential error of Coyne, et al.. They assume that, simply because something effects the material universe, it is discoverable by science. They ignore the fact that, out of the nearly infinite "events" that occur every second, humans sample only the tiniest fraction. It might or might not take some effort on the part of a god to avoid our scientific notice, but why would humans expect to understant the motives of an ineffable god in the first place? To the extent that humans claim to have penetrated those motives, they can be slapped around by scientists (atheistic or not) but that doesn't go to the existence of the "supernatural."
This is surely a testable claim, and one that has been amply refuted.
Or am I being unsophisticated?
So statistical studies won't work because we can't tell between some ineffable choice of who to heal and statistical noise.
You would reject the hypothesis that a human doctor was able and willing to cure a disease if, despite many opportunities and despite having promised to do so, he never did. Why treat God differently?
[Shrug] So now you are expounding theology? It still doesn't have anything to do with science ... and, frankly, with any of the theology I was forced to learn. But, hey, whatever floats your boat. Just don't expect me or anyone else to think you are doing science instead of theology.
The funny thing is when Coyne, et al., complain about "sophisticated theologists" when they insist on playing that very game themselves.