Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Are supernatural claims testable? You bet

Anonymous: No one has ever been able to devise a test that provides evidence that there is such a thing as the supernatural.
Do you know of one?

VR: Yes.


Anonymous said...

Do you have a record of a recent attempt to duplicate this so-called experiement? Remember it is not a single "report" of the supernatural. It has to be testable. That means repeatable.

Blue Devil Knight said...

300 Proofs for God's existence!!!

Proof number 13 (ARGUMENT FROM THE BIBLE):

(1) [arbitrary passage from OT]
(2) [arbitrary passage from NT]
(3) Therefore, God exists.

Anonymous said...

Do you have a record of a recent attempt to duplicate this so-called experiement? Remember it is not a single "report" of the supernatural. It has to be testable. That means repeatable.

It seems to me that the kind of test you are asking for (a scientific one, it seems) would be applying the laws of cause and effect (which function in the deterministic, material world) to a (libertarian) free agent. It seems to be a category fallacy to try to apply deterministic laws to a free agent.

Anonymous said...

Victor is the one trying to include the supernatural in science.
Thanks for giving another reason why he's mistaken.

Anonymous said...

Victor is the one trying to include the supernatural in science.
Thanks for giving another reason why he's mistaken.

The ID debate is not my area, but, assuming human beings are libertarian free, and hence, you cannot predict with 100% certainty what they will do all the time, it is still possible to look at a situation and reasonably infer when it is likely that an intelligent agent has been the cause of the situation. (For example, you go into a house and there is a cake baking in the oven. Though no scientific test could prove that that past even was indeed caused by a human and not molecules roaming around in the oven and win blowing the oven on, it would still be rational to assume a person had put it in the oven.)

To the best of my knowledge, this is what the ID movement is trying to do with the world. Look for things in our world that favor intelligent design over randomness. That's all I know about it.

It would not be correct to try to determine what the free agent will do in the future, but it is not unscientific to test for past intelligent agency.

Jason Pratt said...

Personally, I'm curious why Victor answered yes--period, full stop, no details. (After saying "you bet" in his tag line. um... if he's working on a post to flesh that out, perhaps he should have said so?)

When I sat down several years ago to work out a synthetic metaphysic on paper, I eventually entitled the first volume "How Should I Be a Sceptic". In it, I give no positive argument for theism (Christian or otherwise); my goal being to consider first what I should rightly believe if I was someone who doesn't believe the specific religious propositions which I do in fact believe to be true--i.e. someone who is sceptical of my beliefs. (It ended up being the largest of the five volumes I eventually wrote for the book. I haven't tried to publish any of this, btw.)

When I thought about what I might say here, on the question of evidence and supernature, it occurred to me that the first things worth saying would probably amount to excerpts from the book anyway.

So, here are the excerpts. {wry g} (Caution: this post is somewhat lengthy, though not as long as some I've put up, so you may prefer to skip past it. I'm hoping sceptics will appreciate it, though--the whole book was written in honor and appreciation of honest scepticism.) Both selections are from near the end of the respective chapters; which are the concluding two of the first volume.


excerpt from Chapter 12 ("Supernature and evidence")

[I]f I was a sceptic who cared about believing true claims rather than false ones, I would be acting responsibly to require sufficient evidence of _some_ kind. Psychologically speaking, different people will require different levels of 'evidence' before they choose to accept a belief. But if I wanted to maximize my chances of choosing the most 'realistic' belief--the one that most closely matches the way reality 'really' is--what kind of evidence should I responsibly look for?

Let me go a bit further: as a 'sceptic' I am not sitting around in some positivistic vacuum, even for purposes of argument. Even if I _am_ a 'sceptic', then I already have a definable opinion of some sort (with attendant reasons of varying strengths) for believing (or doubting) reality to be a certain way. The question should be: what kind of evidence might I responsibly require to actively reject my (sceptical) belief and accept another view of reality as being more accurate?

As I think about it, it becomes clear that not just any evidence will do. The best type of evidence would need to have the following characteristics:

a.) It must be evidence I actually have access to, and that I can clearly detect that I have access to.

b.) It must be evidence that is clearly distinctive without question-begging. It might take a lot of detailed and difficult study to ascertain that some documents claiming to be God-inspired are more historically grounded than others (especially if I am a sceptic); and even then, that conclusion _doesn't_ immediately demonstrate that the documents may be trusted to convey _metaphysical_ truth. [...]

c.) It must be evidence which can in fact provide a solid foundation from which a deductive argument can be developed; because only a deductive argument can be functionally exclusive. [Footnote 174: An inductive argument, which suggests a hypothesis and then tests system integrity of theories drawn from that hypothesis (especially in conjunction with evidential data), does not exclude other alternatives, even if successful. It only provides a working option.] This would be important to me as a sceptic; because I am not being asked to reinforce a belief I already have, but instead to _reject_ a belief (or beliefs) I already have in favor of another belief; and this requires some type of exclusive conclusion. Furthermore, it is, perhaps, technically possible that the deductive argument will _not_ exclude my belief I am being asked to reject; the result may be parallel and complementary to my own belief, in which case you (the believer) would be unfair (and making a logical misstep) to ask me to give up my belief. So if I am asked to _reject_ my belief in favor of the alternative, the alternative _must_ be functionally and formally _exclusive_.

d.) The argument deduced from this evidence must be valid. If the logical pathway from the evidence to the conclusion is broken, then by default I should not be expected to reach that conclusion via that pathway.

I think these general guidelines are fair ones for an apologist to work within when arguing a position with an intelligent, informed sceptic. These are the general guidelines I would apply if I was a sceptical opponent of Christianity; and they are the general guidelines I _do_ apply _as_ a Christian when _I_ am asked to reject my belief for an exclusive alternative!


excerpt from Chapter 13 ("the leveled playing-field")

As a sceptic, I would be very interested in 'evidence', for both my own side and another's. But I would require the burden of proof to be on the instigator of the debate (although if I was going to counter-convince I would need to be ready to marshal my own arguments and evidence).

Also, if I was going to be fair, then as a sceptic I would recognize that a purported supernatural event would very probably leave evidence not much (perhaps not any) different from a natural event. The good news (if I happened to be a naturalist) is that this usually cuts both ways. If a city buried by volcanism is found near the Dead Sea, or another city in Mesopotamia turns up the base of a large ziggurat with attendant documents suggesting that a confusion of language prevented the ziggurat from being completed, then although I might be inclined to accept that the historicity of these accounts in purported scriptures has more strength than I originally allowed, I am not necessarily obligated to assign a supernatural _cause_ to the natural _effect_--no more than I am necessarily obligated to accept the existence and character of the Greek pantheon after Troy's existence and history are finally corroborated by archaeologists. Then again, if on other grounds I was persuaded that something exists which could be expected to exert supernatural influence to produce those effects, and if the stories tended to match in metaphysics the characteristics of the entity in question, I would be much further along the road to accepting the accounts as presented in the documents. Similarly, if the Greek pantheon could be established metaphysically, I might decide to take Homer's stories as being even closer to history than I originally thought.

So the evidence would have to be something that didn't depend solely on (purported) historical documents; because how I interpret those documents is always strongly affected by my trans-historical beliefs. This is true, even if that trans-historical belief reduces simply down to: "My parents and teachers (and/or preacher) told me so, and I find them to be otherwise trustworthy."

Therefore as a sceptic, I would require that the evidence in favor of, for example, a Sentient Independent Fact (SIF) should be of a type closely related in character to the proposed SIF--and that I should be able to figure out this close relation from inferences about the evidence (not have it dictated to me as an unexaminable premise). In other words, if I thought reality had only two dimensions (length and width) and did not have depth as a third dimension, I would require evidence from the 3-D proponent that some kind of 3-D effect takes place where I can detect it.

I might possibly allow that the effects would be immediately represented in terms of a 2-D effect, and so not hold this necessarily against the 3-D proponent. [Footnote 182: When a sphere progressively intersects a plane by passing through it, the 2-D man would see a circle grow from apparently nothing and shrink back to apparently nothing--he would not see what we would consider to be the 'shape' of a 'sphere'.]

However, I would at the same time require that this proposed evidence should not be effectively reducible (or fully explainable) in terms of 2-D causes. If the evidence can be explained that way, then although I might still allow that the evidence _might_ perhaps still be explainable by a 3-D cause, I cannot see that I would be under any fair obligation to exclusively accept the 3-D cause over the 2-D cause. The evidence must be such that in principle it _cannot_ be the product of 2-D causes--even if I am naturally restricted from directly perceiving the 3-D cause by being an entity with 2-D perception.

Similarly, the evidence for supernatural ultimate sentience should be such that the evidence cannot in principle be fully explained as a product of the Natural system (taking into account whatever characteristics of the Natural system we can discover, or at least agree upon). Otherwise, although I might allow that the evidence _could_ perhaps be caused by the SIF, I would be under no fair obligation I am aware of to accept the existence of the SIF _rather than_ accept the explanation of purely non-sentient natural causation.


Jason Pratt

Anonymous said...

Anon. said:

“To the best of my knowledge, this is what the ID movement is trying to do with the world. Look for things in our world that favor intelligent design over randomness. That's all I know about it.”

There is an important clarification that needs to be made here. One misrepresentation of the theory of evolution its opponents like to promote is that is a wholly random process. While there is a component of chance involved, the entire process is much more complex and incorporates, among other things, nonrandom interactions between individual organisms and the surrounding environment. The modern synthesis of the theory of evolution represents a robust, well described and exhaustively tested set of mechanisms that can account for the diversity of life better than any other ideas put forward thus far.

This is why the cake in the oven analogy fails to work in ID’s favor. We are not simply guessing about the origin of species, we have overwhelming evidence in support of the involvement of evolution in the process. In the Dover ruling, Judge Jones agrees. He found that the “ID argument is dependent upon setting a scientifically unreasonable burden of proof for the theory of evolution” (p78).

To apply the cake analogy, evolution is analogous to the assumption that a person put the cake in the oven. The burden is in ID proponents to put forward evidence for an alternative explanation. The have yet to do this. Dembski seems to agree in today’s NY Times he is quoted as saying:

"I think the big lesson is, let's go to work and really develop this theory and not try to win this in the court of public opinion. The burden is on us to produce."

I wish him luck, but since his past arguments have relied so heavily on misrepresenting facts I am quite skeptical that he is the one to do it. Time to find another champion IDers