Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Further notes on "the supernatural"' and testability

In the Elijah case the result came out positive. Of course we can ask whether it happened that way. And we can ask what would happen if we tried to do the same thing ourselves. But the claim is about testability, not the result of the test.

In 1993 the minister Harold Camping predicted that the world would end in 1994. That's a testable claim. When I was young there was a very popular Christian book by Hal Lindsey called The Late Great Planet Earth. It claim that Jesus would return in "this generation" and that a generation is about 40 years, and the clock for that started when Israel became a nation. That's a testable claim. Of course, Lindsey changed is concept of a "generation" and still has a show on TBN. Jesus didn't rapture the Church in 1981 and didn't return in 1988 or anytime close to 1988. If Christ had returned, it would be ridiculous for someone in the fires of hell to say that there is no scientifically verifiable evidence of God's existence.

Do we have a clear enough concept of "the supernatural" to identify ID as committed to the supernatural? That's the question I should have asked first. Are all unobservables supernatural? Philosophies of science have historically limited science to the observable, taking only an instrumentalist view of unobservables. But except for van Fraassen this position has been abandoned.

If "supernatural" just means kind of weird, quantum mechanics and string theory are a whole lot weirder than theism.


Anonymous said...

Did Camping or Lindsy stop believing in God because their predicitons were wrong? If not, then their predictions were not real tests of the supernatural.
If the intelligent designer were really a natural being, why do these discussions so quickly turn to the supernatural? Why aren't the proponents of ID trying to locate and describe this natural being?
And if it is a natural being ID is going to have to provide the mechanics of his creative work. Doesn't ID at heart abhor mechanistic descriptions?

Victor Reppert said...

Camping and Lindsey did not stop believing in God because if it, though I don't wonder if some of their followers didn't. What would have been refuted would be the claim "Christ will return in this generation."

Before we can continue, we need a definition of the term "supernatural." What does it mean? Can it be defined in such a way as to exclude God but include unobservable theoretical entities?

Anonymous said...

You seem eager to include the supernatural into science.
Isn't it incumbent upon you to define what you think the term supernatural means?

Lippard said...

A big difference between theism/religion and the unobservables of modern physics is that the former postulates unobservable *agents* and the latter doesn't.

Inferences about actions in the world being caused by unobservable agents seems to be the central component of religion. I recommend Pascal Boyer's _Religion Explained_ for a naturalistic account of why people make such inferences (and more particularly, why they make the specific kinds of inferences that they do and not others). His account addresses the phenomenon of religion in general, so even if you believe that some religion in particular is true, his account is worthy of consideration as an explanation for *other* religions.

Victor Reppert said...

So is there a principle reason for believing that even if there are unobservable agents at work, science has to ignore it?

Should the opponents of ID be using "in principle" arguments? Are they better off just going with "in fact" arguments.