Wednesday, December 21, 2005

On defining the supernatural

Is everything that doesn't have a location in space and time supernatural? If so, that makes the number two supernatural. Does everything that cannot be subsumed under deterministic laws supernatural? That would make quanta supernatural, and human agents, on the libertarian view of free will. Does unobservability make something supernatural? That would make electrons, quarks and strings supernatural.

If you say "something like God, or the soul, or a ghost," then I maintain your definition is question-beggingly trying to include what you want it to include, and is not a principled definition.


Anonymous said...

I'm not the one claiming the supernatural can be included in science.
What is it that you wish science to study? Provide the definition. Maybe it would help if you gave some examples of what is supernatural?
Perhaps the reason science doesn't rely on the supernatural is that no one can give an agreed upon definition of it?

Jim Lippard said...

I disagree that supernatural means outside of space-time--the many worlds hypothesis doesn't involve the supernatural. There has to be more to it than that, specifically involving violations of physical laws or somehow being beyond their scope. I'm not sure the notion is entirely coherent, since if we did discover such entities we'd be likely to revise our understanding of physical law to incorporate them.

Didn't Abraham Robinson call some set of numbers supernatural? Or was that somebody else doing work in non-standard analysis?

The metaphysics of mathematics is an interesting subject, and most mathematicians seem to be mathematical realists/Platonists, but there are still competing ontologies under which numbers are not outside of space-time. George Lakoff and Rafael Nunez address this subject in their book _Where Mathematics Comes From: How the Embodied Mind Brings Mathematics Into Being_ (2000, Basic Books), which I've not yet read, but have read excerpts from and discussions of. I think their approach is very interesting.

Victor Reppert said...

I hate to have to keep repeating myself, but it's the enemies of ID who exclude ID from science because of its supernaturalism. IDers do not introduce the term, the critics do. So I just want to understand their complaint.

Jim Lippard said...

Some critics of ID use "supernatural" as a short-hand for a religious notion that is not productive in generating hypotheses for empirical testing or methodologies of any demonstrable or practical value in scientific work. It's not the term "supernatural" that's the problem, it's the lack of anything of scientific value.

Parapsychology has a better record than ID, by far.