In my last post I discussed an odd, yet cunning semantic way of reducing science to “just another form of knowledge” – no more special than any other. Let’s go down the supernatural rabbit hole a bit further…
In short, the last blog was about rejecting supernatural claims because they can’t conclusively be proven and are superfluous to an argument based on empirical inquiry.
An argument in favour of a supernatural belief was raised recently in an online debate I had with our friend from the last blog entry, Kenneth Hynek at http://www.kennethhynek.net. His claim goes like this:
The quest for knowledge stands apart from the reductionist view. We have certainly discovered all these wonderful physical properties and aspects of the human body… but those discoveries themselves are teleologically neutral. Drawing a reductionist view out of them crosses into explicit dysteleology.
Science is based on methodological naturalism – the view that all effects have causes and therefore can be empirically tested and verified. This, however, does not say anything about the existence or non-existence of God and is far from dysteleological (an argument against God from poor design). Indeed, science is a method and says nothing about untestable entities. It is agnostic and can take no a priori position on God.
Here’s what Kenneth is saying: When, through science, we attempt to understand and explain something, the reductionist view, i.e. reducing complex systems down to small identifiable components and explanations, we are in fact trying to disprove God or purposeful design. But in science, as mentioned above, we can take no justifiable position on a supposed supernatural entity and can merely describe what processes are at work.
The rational conclusion we come to after investigation is that our description of nature, though incomplete, proceeds nicely without the injection of anything “extra” that would be by definition unnaturable, unknowable and unexplainable.
Occam’s razor swipes again
Kenneth moves to evolution, where he makes a rather odd claim:
You say that Evolution is not a random process but proceeds through random mutation. You can’t prove that it [mutation] is random and non-directed.
So because we can’t prove definitely a supernatural force (God) isn’t directing the process of mutation in DNA we can’t make the assertion that it’s random?! But we can never rule out supernaturalism and can’t distinguish Buddha interference from Yahweh or Sky Pixies and therefore it is a pointless non-starter.
People are welcome to believe that there is something going on behind the scenes but until that invisible “reality” has been proven we can’t say anything reliable about it.
Everything determined in evolutionary theory stems from observation of nature. Genetic mutation has no discernible pattern. To suppose their is a pre-ordained direction to evolution seems to stem from human vanity (that we are some special goal of the process). This is yet another reason to be skeptical of such a notion.
Since no supernatural causation can be observed, it is useless to suppose something we don’t even no exists is exerting some force on the process. Occam’s razor shaves off the unwarranted assumptions.
Supernatural claims provide no new knowledge
Again, invoking the supernatural is usually done by those with an emotional investment in a supernatural entity/cause. Further, we could posit as many supernatural causes as we like and never prove any of them.
This is a pointless exercise. There are an endless number of unprovable hypotheses and it is a waste of time giving credence to any one specifically (there is no criteria with which to make such a distinction).
If there is a way to falsify a claim then we can test it’s validity against reality. There is an infinite set of unfalsifiable claims we could come up with which really shows that belief in them is arbitrary.
It’s all a question of probabilities
Science deals with probabilities. Falsification is one way of establishing legitimate certainty because we test to eliminate hypotheses. Since we can never be sure that a future test won’t falsify a hypothesis we can never claim absolute certainty.
This is a good thing because the certainty is the currency of human beliefs is and ideology. Science therefore acts to temper the flaws in our innate reasoning and perception faculties.