Class Warfare Blog

September 15, 2019

More on Meaning

In a recent post I said this: “I suggest that ‘meaning’ doesn’t really exist. Whenever someone asks ‘But what does it all mean?’ they are asking for a comforting story to wrap around events that makes them feel ‘better.’” That this opinion irked John Branyan is to its credit, I think, although I may have been too subtle; “doesn’t really exist” refers to the common understanding of the term. I offered a better definition of the term in my quote, so it “exists” to that extent.

People make good money dispensing “meanings” and I am not just referring to the religious. Our current political commentariat is riddled with people who are constantly telling us what really is going on, what this or that really “means.” We end up feeling as if we understand the political situation and thus feel more in control of our lives.

“Wishful thinking spill cleanup on Aisle 8, Please!”

As further evidence for my opinion, please consider . . . dreams. For all of human history (and I must assume the rest of human existence), people have felt and claimed that dreams “mean” something. Kings and other potentates took major actions based upon their dream interpreted meanings. An entire cottage industry, sometimes breaching over into academic psychology, was created to help people decipher the meanings of their dreams (and has done so for thousands of years).

But we have come to the realization that dream sequences are cobbled together from our very own memories. People have actually exerted some control over what occurs in their dreams (I have done this myself). Dreams seem to play a role in reinforcement of the memories we feel to be important and the pruning away of memories not thought to be important. A hypothetical process for this is for memories to be replayed in a dream and our emotional state is monitored by a subsystem. If there is a significant emotional reaction, the memory is kept, if not it is pruned. Pruning is quite important as it provides capacity for future memories. (Memory pruning has been observed as has memory reinforcement but this entire process is not fully understood as of yet. We are also aware that memories are very, very malleable and change more often than not.)

So, what do dreams mean? They mean absolutely nothing. The fact that people did and still do think they have “meaning” is evidence that “meanings” are what computer science calls “vaporware,” which is software for which there is marketing material, but there actually is no code operating.

If you want there to be meaning in your life, you need to create it. (You certainly do not want to leave this exercise to others, just as those who fear the biographies that might be written about them, often rush to get an autobiography into print.) This is a fiction writing exercise which creates a comforting story that you can wrap around the events of your life. It also has to ring “true” to your inner ear, so you can’t bullshit yourself in a major way, but minor exaggerations are always acceptable.

If the meanings most people think are real actually were real, the odds are we wouldn’t recognize them anyway. In a fit of retrospection I reviewed all of my speculations regarding why “so-and-so did what.” Somebody at work, for example, did a thing. On the way home or at home I would speculate upon why they did that thing. In reflection, I could not remember a time when my speculations were right (and I do enjoy being right so if I had been I am sure I would recall that). I was “oh-fer . . .. many” in this regard. After that, for many years, I continued to speculate as to why “so-and-so did such-and-such” and to date I have been oh-for-a-zillion, I think. I also tried to check on how good others were on determining the rationale or motivation for others’ actions and I didn’t find anyone any better at that than I was, which was abysmal. “Meanings,” as others claim them to be, seem much like reasons to me and as such are as opaque to others as I found them. This means we have no way to check whether another’s “meaning” is valid or even coherent. No fact-checking here, so I have very low expectations regarding what anyone says about the “meaning” they find in X, Y, or Z. I accept that they said something. What they believe and what is actually the case is not readily available.

 

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September 14, 2019

We Can’t Trust Our Senses! . . . Really?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Steve Ruis @ 8:57 am

I have pointed out that we carry around in our heads a mini Matrix-like simulacrum of reality. This mental construct is how we make sense of the world around us, actually it is how we perceive the world around us in an effort to survive. As a recent Scientific American article stated:

“The deeper truth is that perception is never a direct window onto an objective reality. All our perceptions are active constructions, brain-based best guesses at the nature of a world that is forever obscured behind a sensory veil. Visual illusions are fractures in the Matrix, fleeting glimpses into this deeper truth.

“Take, for example, the experience of color—say, the bright red of the coffee mug on my desk. The mug really does seem to be red: its redness seems as real as its roundness and its solidity. These features of my experience seem to be truly existent properties of the world, detected by our senses and revealed to our mind through the complex mechanisms of perception.

“Yet we have known since Isaac Newton that colors do not exist out there in the world. Instead they are cooked up by the brain from mixtures of different wavelengths of colorless electromagnetic radiation. Colors are a clever trick that evolution has hit on to help the brain keep track of surfaces under changing lighting conditions. And we humans can sense only a tiny slice of the full electromagnetic spectrum, nestled between the lows of infrared and the highs of ultraviolet. Every color we perceive, every part of the totality of each of our visual worlds, comes from this thin slice of reality.” (The Neuroscience of Reality by Anil K. Seth)

The reason I bring this up is that materialists, like me, are often challenged by people who are fans of the supernatural that our perceptions are flawed and that something could exist outside of our ability to perceive.

Yeah, “Cleanup of wishful thinking on Aisle 5, please!”

As mentioned above something as profound as color is a mental construct. It only exists in our heads . . . in that fashion. Other animals “see” differently. Some insects see myriad colors, well into the ultraviolet part of the EMR spectrum. Some animals see in duotone, others in black and white.

Sepia duotones were common in the early days of photography.

I have been a fan of black and white photography for half a century and I remember seeing quite a few black and white movies on television as a child, but now with color movies being so dominant, black and white movies seem bizarre somehow. Interestingly enough, the original design of our vision (designed by evolution, not some supernatural designer) was for duotone vision. For those of you who do not understand “duotone” it involves two colors against a white (or single color) background. Photoshop has an “action” to create duotones from black and white photos and you can have great fun creating these. But they pale in comparison to full color photos (see the example photo of one of the first photographic duotone varieties).

The reason we know that we were originally designed (by evolution!) for duotone vision is apparent in the color receptors in our eyes. We have two dominant color receptors. For full color we would need three (just like the RGB—red, green, blue—color monitors/TVs). The two primary color receptors in our eyes are quite different in the color of light they respond to, but the third is clearly a mutation of one of the other two. (There is DNA evidence for this.) The color it responds to is very close to the one which it is a mutation from. But this is enough difference for our brains to interpolate “full color” from the information. If our eyes were computer monitor aligned, that monitor would not be a red-green-blue monitor but a red-green-“bluish-green” kinda sorta monitor. So, basically we got “full color” vision by accident. And, if we had not, we would think that duotone vision was “normal.”

Now, can we “trust” our senses? Of course we can. We can trust them to be what they are. But if you think that what we observe is a direct portal to reality (whatever that means) you are mistaken. We need to understand what out senses are . . . really are, not just what we assume they are.

Scientists have tackled many parts of this issue. For example, when you see a Yellow Banana™ (Ray Comfort) and you describe the color as “yellow” and I see it and say “Yes, it is yellow,” have we just been trained to use that word (yellow) for that color or do we actually perceive the same thing? Rest assured that we do perceive the same thing (brain scanners are wonderful tools) and you are not seeing green and calling it yellow and I blue and calling it yellow, or some other misperception. So, we all seem to be taking in the same information and treating it the same way. So we agree on what out senses “tell us.” Actually our brains interpret the information in the same way. (Normally . . . there are variations enough due to the sheer number of us.)

In addition, we have invented myriad instruments to extend our senses, including ear trumpets, telescopes, microscopes, radio telescopes, eyeglasses, laser interferometers, etc. We do not just depend upon our hard wired senses to acquire “sensory” information. And we have coherent interpretations of what our instruments perceive. (When scientists “measurements” conflict, they hungrily chew on those data because they may be the source of new learning.)

And we just do not perceive “supernatural” phenomena. If we did, then they would be “natural.” For supernatural mental constructs, such as gods, to affect us, they must affect reality, and so they, or their effects, should be observable. They are not observable and sometimes when we have looked and looked and looked, the absence of evidence is evidence of absence. The simplest explanation for why there is no evidence for the existence of gods is they do not exist.

To claim that a god exists outside of time and space (whatever that means) is a desperate claim that puts a god where it cannot be perceived. But it also puts a god where it cannot affect reality. In this we can trust our senses. Anyone claiming that we cannot is building fairy tales out of whole cloth.

Oh, This is a Really Bad Idea

Here’s the blurb announcing a new video game! Hurry, hurry, read all about it. . . .

“The newly released Ancestors: The Humankind Odyssey is an open world survival game where you control a group of “hominins” – our first ancestors – and explore, expand, and lock in new knowledge so your “clan” can evolve. It takes the players from 10 m years ago, and the common ancestor of both chimpanzee and hominins, to 2 m years ago, when you can play as an early version of Homo erectus. The aim of the game is ultimately to evolve to the point when humans began to leave Africa.”

* * *

No matter how much time is involved in the virtual world that has been created, the amount of time in our world that this game takes will be in hours and days, not millions of years. That will leave a subliminal impression. But, too many people now have the impression that evolution should be visible now to us, when in fact it is glacially slow, in fact evolution makes glaciers seem really, really fast. While the process is continuous (some people think that evolution stopped because it had the objective of creating us) being so slow makes it essentially invisible to ordinary observations.

The vast majority of events (mutations, etc.) are either neutral or detrimental, so such a game has to accelerate in the player’s minds the actual causes of positive changes. And the phrase in the blurb “you control a group of ‘hominins’ – our first ancestors – and explore, expand, and lock in new knowledge so your ‘clan’ can evolve” seems to indicate that the game developers do not even have even a foggy notion of how evolution, a mindless unguided process, works. The earliest point at which human “knowledge” might affect our evolution is right about now where we have the ability to modify genes in human embryos. Or possibly, our ability to control our environment will affect our ecological niche and we will adapt over long periods of time to that. (Those who think we can “evolve” to adapt to climate change or our strange new diet are smoking something barely legal.)

Hey, maybe it is part of a Christian misinformation campaign to discredit the theory of evolution. That might explain the existence of this “game.” Hey, if evolution can be guided, then there just has to be a “Big Guider in the Sky,” right?

Sometimes a Blurb is Enough, Part ???

Filed under: Religion,Science,Uncategorized — Steve Ruis @ 7:35 am
Tags: , , ,

I see a great many books recommended by Amazon.com based upon my reading tastes (as indicated by my searches and purchases, I assume). This one caught my eye: Genesis and the Big Bang Theory: The Discovery Of Harmony Between Modern Science and The Bible. This is the blurb accompanying that title:

A ground-breaking book that takes on skeptics from both sides of the cosmological debate, arguing that science and the Bible are not at odds concerning the origin of the universe.

The culmination of a physicist’s thirty-five-year journey from MIT to Jerusalem, Genesis and the Big Bang presents a compelling argument that the events of the billions of years that cosmologists say followed the Big Bang and those of the first six days described in Genesis are, in fact, one and the same—identical realities described in vastly different terms. In engaging, accessible language, Dr. Schroeder reconciles the observable facts of science with the very essence of Western religion: the biblical account of Creation.

Carefully reviewing and interpreting accepted scientific principles, analogous passages of Scripture, and biblical scholarship, Dr. Schroeder arrives at a conclusion so lucid that one wonders why it has taken this long in coming. The result for the reader—whether believer or skeptic, Jewish or Christian—is a totally fresh understanding of the key events in the life of the universe.

* * *

Why the author had to go to Jerusalem on his “thirty-five year journey” is mysterious. The creation didn’t take place there, Genesis is available on the Internet as are several tons of discussion of it, so. . . ?

I have not yet read this beast, but it is a common approach of apologists to establish a correspondence between what we perceive as reality and their scriptures. Since their scriptures have a poor track record in such comparisons it is easy to scoff, but I decided to give this a go. I will report back.

Of course, there are a few minor foundational issues with all such comparisons. While one may establish that the order of the steps of creation as described in scripture is the same as actually occurred, in scripture the process by which they occurred is magic, something that has never been observed. As a colleague of Daniel Dennett put it (approximately) is that “real magic is fake and fake magic is real.” And any sort of physical explanation for a manifestation of nature must include not only the event but the process by which is occurred and “God did it” is not so much an explanation but an admission that one doesn’t know why or how it happened. And, it would be much more convincing if the scriptural account differed from reality and later, our view of reality had to be corrected due to mistakes being made and it came into alignment with scripture. This never happens. More often apologists claim that scripture corresponds with reality perfectly and then we find errors in our picture of reality and this is followed by some other apologist claiming that scripture was in perfect agreement with the new reality. (Note that Christian scripture corresponded exactly with Babylonian cosmogony and then Aristotelian cosmogony and then modern cosmogony (apparently), all three of which are vastly different. But I get ahead of myself. As I said I will attempt to read this book and report back.

For those who object that Yahweh “speaking” the universe into existence shouldn’t be characterized as magic, I offer this definition: magic (noun): the power of apparently influencing the course of events by using mysterious or supernatural forces. If the scriptural creation account is not mysterious and didn’t involve supernatural forces, then it was a natural thing and we don’t need a god to account for it, so scriptural creation is magical, almost by definition.

September 11, 2019

Socialism Bad, Capitalism Good

I am not going to state anything novel here but will reinforce things already said. Currently there is an aspect of our political discourse that is summed up by the title of this post. It is, of course, false. What the “defenders of capitalism” are arguing for is the status quo in which we have a quasi-capitalist system, but one that protects the rich and screws the poor.

Think back on the Great Recession of 2008. If you are a pure capitalist, then a great many financiers, bankers, investors, and brokers should have lost all their money (everything but the bare minimums allowed in bankruptcy proceedings). Through greed they backed the wrong horses.

But the word “bailout” then comes to mind. To coin a phrase “there are no bailouts in capitalism” just as “there is no crying in baseball.” If you have taken college-level courses in capitalism, nowhere will you find governmental bailouts as a structural part of capitalism. These sweet deals are brokered by rich people with the people who serve them to protect their wealth.

It was argued that “we couldn’t let such-and-such a bank or insurance company fail.” Wha? Failures is what capitalists brag about. It is what keeps them sharp. It is the leading edge of “competition.” Without failure, just what is capitalism? All of those people should have failed and learned from the experience . . . or not. So, what did they learn instead? A sucker is born every minute?

So, when you hear anti-socialist rhetoric realize that it is from the wealthy, or paid for by the wealthy, to protect the good deal they have going, nothing more and nothing less. And this is actually rebounding upon the rich. Younger Americans hear the anti-socialism rhetoric and they think “Ah, this is what we need to counter those greedy ass hats.” The young are embracing socialism more and more as the rhetoric against it is ramped up. And the harder the rich squeeze the poor and middle class, the more these younger Americans are embracing some form of democratic socialism.

They also aren’t stupid. They see countries like Sweden which are capitalist, just not capitalist as we are. They have a form of democratic socialism, in which the inherent negatives associated with capitalism are suppressed. The government acts on behalf of the people and offers basic services that seem to be the norm in civilized countries. They recognize, as do all thinking people except captured economists and bought politicians, that capitalism is self-destructive unless it is controlled significantly. In this country, the wealthy have turned phrases such as “government regulation” and “unearned income” into either non-terms or epithets. Why would they want there to be no controls on capitalism? Because in this country, when things go well, they profit enormously, and when the crashes inevitably happen, their paid-for politicians step in and the “public” bails them out. This heads I win, tails you lose system benefits only the wealthy, so their support of it is no surprise. The actual surprise is the support existing in the general population for this robber baron mentality.

September 7, 2019

Beware of Throw Away Lines

I am working my way through Daniel Dennett’s book Intuition Pumps and Other Tools for Thinking and I encountered this:

Live is amazing. When you think of the billions of solar systems that are most certainly lifeless, it is amazing that there is any way of being alive at all. (Chapter 38)

Now, Daniel Dennett is my favorite philosopher, possibly because he eschews the normal jargon rich representations of philosophers for ordinary language, thereby becoming a public intellectual, with all of the negatives that are associated with that position. So, I am not sure why he was saying such a stupid thing.

He seems better educated and more knowledgeable than I, and I am sure he is aware of the basic facts. There are now estimated to be about two trillion galaxies, each with hundreds of billions of stars. This means that there are at least  200,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 “solar systems” or thereabouts. Of these, we have explored exactly one and that one only partially. So far,

Solar Systems Explored = 1 (kinda sorta)
Solar Systems Which Contain Life =1

I call that a 100% hit rate. This means “not rare,’ “not uncommon,” “not unusual,” etc. so far anyway.

Will life prove to be rare elsewhere or not, that is whether life can be found in other solar systems, is entirely unknown. Not only that but we don’t have a way of expanding our knowledge much at all. Even were we to develop the technology to explore other solar systems in our neighborhood of our galaxy, we would still have a very parochial sampling. Other galaxies are, well, far, far away.

Q: So, is life rare? A: We do not know.

Q: Will we encounter life on other planets? A: We do not know.

Q: Will billions of solar systems found to be lifeless? A: We do not know.

We suspect that with 200,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 solar systems a few billion (0.00000000000000001% or so) might be lifeless, certainly, but that does not warrant “When you think of the billions of solar systems that are most certainly lifeless it is amazing that there is any way of being alive at all.” because one could also, based upon probabilities, say “When you think of the billions of solar systems that are most certainly full of life. . . .”

This was a throwaway line, a poor one at that, used to make life sound as if it were unusual (and, as always, us special).

Q: So, is life unusual? A: We do not know, but certainly not on this planet.

 

September 4, 2019

The Meaning of Life and the Problem of Evil

Filed under: Philosophy,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 10:45 am
Tags: , , , ,

It is not a rare occurrence that when theists are chatting with atheists, the theists claim that “without their god, life has no meaning.” This atheist answers, yes, that is the case. I wish to expand upon this a bit and then address another, separate topic.

I suggest that “meaning” doesn’t really exist. Whenever someone asks “But what does it all mean?” they are asking for a comforting story to wrap around events that makes them feel “better.” To support this opinion, I suggest that if you ask people from various walks of life, “what is the meaning of XYZ,” you will get answers quite different from one another, answers that tell you more about the people supplying them than the events themselves. Here in the U.S. you don’t have to wait very long for there to be a mass shooting. Ask a staunch supporter of the NRA what one of those means and they may shrug and say that “it is cost of having freedom.” Ask a soccer mom, and she might say “It means our gun laws are too lax and people with mental instabilities find it too easy to acquire massive firepower.” That different people see different meanings in the same events indicates that those meanings are not embedded in the events themselves. And, if they were impressed from without by some deity, why would people receive different messages?

Life does not impress meanings from without, either spontaneously or being force fed by a supernatural entity. Meanings are human constructs . . . period. If we ever meet an alien species and are able to communicate, they may find the concept bizarre, or have their own meanings, quite different from ours.

Regarding the Problem of Evil (see below), this is an argument against the existence of a benevolent god or gods (for those of you still claiming there are no arguments for the nonexistence of gods, viola), and the main thrust of the theistic response is that the ability to do evil comes from the existence of free will. If our “creator” were to have created us without free will, then we would just be robots, just doing the creators will because we had no choice. Since we have free will, then we have to accept that a small fractions of the free choices will be to do evil.

I have mentioned this before but this is a false dichotomy. If you put “the existence of evil” on one side of a balance, you don’t put “free will” on the other. (We are talking about human initiated evil, not natural evil here, that is another topic.) This is a standard apologetics approach equivalent to throwing out the baby with the bath water. I do not want to get into a protracted discussion about free will. Many people think of it as “the ability to do otherwise,” which suffices for now. If the creator god created us with the ability to do otherwise, except to do evil, we would find our lives virtually unchanged. We would be able to choose vanilla or chocolate at the ice cream store, choose this person or that to consider as a potential mate, choose a baseball team to follow, choose to buy a Chevy rather than a Ford, choose which occupation to follow, etc. The only choice we could not make is to do evil. We would just not want to do that. So, for example, we are really, really mad, so we go down to the gun store and buy an AR-15 and a bunch of ammo, but we don’t feel like gunning down a bunch of school kids, so we go to a local gun range and blaze away for an hour or so. Ta da!

We would not be giving up “Free Will” in totality were we to have been created without the will to do evil, we would just be giving up the will to do evil, which for the vast majority of human beings, is not a hard sell.

So, the Problem of Evil is quite free from the false dichotomy of the Free Will Defense (another zombie idea propped up by theistic apologists). And, there has not been an other successful refutation of this problem. (Much mealy-mouthed mumbling, but no successful logical refutation.)

The Problem of Evil
(Being an argument that gods do not exist.)

Originating with Greek philosopher Epicurus, the logical argument from evil is as follows:
1. If an omnipotent, omnibenevolent, and omniscient god exists, then evil does not.
2. There is evil in the world.
3. Therefore, an omnipotent, omnibenevolent and omniscient god does not exist.

August 27, 2019

The Cosmological and Ontological Arguments Unleashed

Let us start slowly, first with the Cosmological Argument. For those unfamiliar with this argument, here is a common version of it:

The Cosmological Argument for the Existence of God

  1. Everything that has a beginning of its existence has a cause of its existence.
    2. The universe has a beginning of its existence.
    3. Therefore, the universe has a cause of its existence.
    4. Therefore, if the universe has a cause of its existence then that cause is God.
    5. Therefore, God exists.

So as to not run afoul of what we know about cosmology, let us say that this “creator god” created the universe in the form of its incredibly dense form prior to the “Big Bang” event (the sudden expansion of the universe). So, this “universe seed” was created and it was unstable and will fly apart shortly . . . Bang! There it goes! A wait of only 14 or so billions years gives us the universe as we perceive it now. There, science and religion are compatible . . . uh, er . . . um . . . not really. The long wait is not an objection in this scenario as a being that can exist outside of space and time, could step outside of time at the Big Bang event and then step back in “now” and voila . . . no wait. There are, however, many actual objections to the injection of a “creator god” into this scenario, the simplest being “none is needed.” The only reason for injecting a creator god into this scenario is to establish that god’s bona fides as the creator of the universe. The physical situation does not need or even allow for such an injection.

In any case, some theistic apologists now claim the Big Bang event as their creator god’s creation of this universe. But, wait . . . there is more!

As is typical in apologetics, the left hand doesn’t tell the right hand what it is doing and thus creates problems . . . over there.

Now we switch over to the Ontological Argument. Again, for those who need a reminder, here is one version of it:

The Ontological Argument for the Existence of God

  1. By definition, God is a being than which none greater can be imagined.
    2. A being that necessarily exists in reality is greater than a being that does not necessarily exist.
    3. Thus, by definition, if God exists as an idea in the mind but does not necessarily exist in reality, then we can imagine something that is greater than God.
    4. But we cannot imagine something that is greater than God.
    5. Thus, if God exists in the mind as an idea, then God necessarily exists in reality.
    6. God exists in the mind as an idea.
    7. Therefore, God necessarily exists in reality.

Now by the logic of the Ontological Argument we can find that the Ontological Argument is bankrupt, basically beginning with “By definition, God is a being than which none greater can be imagined.” That this is a false premise has been pointed out by many. In essence, if you accept this premise as a basic fact, you have just defined a god into existence. (Does that make you a god, if you create one?) But the “god” being discussed isn’t just any old god, it is the Creator God™ whose name has changed a number of times since this argument was first made but is considered to be the god of the Abrahamic religions (if all of those might be lumped together). This is the One True God™ who did indeed create this universe. So, this is the one god who must be considered as “a being than which none greater can be imagined.” Think about this. If this god could create the universe seed which expanded and became “our universe,” He must be very powerful indeed. But if creating a universe seed is a sign of power, I can imagine a god that can create two such seeds at the same time. And if I can imagine that god, it must be greater than a god which can create only one at a time, no? So, that god must exist also, according to the logic of the Ontological Argument. There is no argument that the god who created the one universe seed, ours, is the same god as the one that can create two simultaneously, so a claim that it is the Abrahamic religion’s god that can create two simultaneously is pure speculation. The Abrahamic god may be just a baby god, playing in a creation sand box until he has honed his skills and can be taught by the greater gods how to create two universe seeds at the same time.

And, if there is a god that can create two such seeds, and there must be . . . according to the logic of this argument . . . then I can imagine a god that can create three such universe seeds simultaneously and that god has to be greater than the god who can create two universes and the kid god in the sandbox who can create only one. And can there be a limit here? If I can imagine that a god could create hundreds of universes simultaneously, why not thousands, billions, trillions, etc.? Soon we will be up to our asses in multiverses!

So, the “premise” that “by definition, God is a being than which none greater can be imagined” means, in all likelihood, that the deity that created this universe is not that god. This also means there is not just one god because there is no support of that idea either and we are now all polytheists. We certainly cannot take the word of the deity that created this universe that there is but one True God™, because it is clearly not that “god” by this definition. (His other comments seem more than a little boastful and one would expect a being of that power would show a little humility.)

So, clearly, monotheism is also bankrupt as are all of the religions worshiping a clearly inferior deity.

And, hey, I didn’t make the arguments. Blame the apologists.

 

August 22, 2019

What’s the difference between science and the supernatural?

Filed under: Reason,Science — Steve Ruis @ 9:06 am
Tags: , , ,

The title of this post was a question asked on the Quora website which had, at the time of my viewing, 52 answers. I was shocked at how many of them implied that science was incapable of studying the “supernatural,” whatever the heck that is. Here is but one example:

“Take a look at the word supernatural. It means above or beyond the natural order. Science by its very nature deals only with the natural order, and cannot even directly detect or deal with the supernatural order. Science can only deal with the natural order, which is why scientists tend to be naturalists in their approach and worldview and treat the supernatural order as nonexistent, because science doesn’t have the tools to measure and test the supernatural order. Only recently with the advent of the field of quantum mechanics, some theoretical physicists have reason to believe there are higher dimensions in addition to the three dimensions we tend to think is the sum total of reality. These theorists being naturalists shy away from terms like supernatural because of its association with the ideas of the spooky or religion, but use similar and other terms to articulate their work.”

Since there were so many such comments, I have to accept that there are many who support claims that “the supernatural” exists. Some of the comments refer to the miracles of Jesus, others with just unexplained phenomena. (One was batshit crazy.)

I was expecting most of the responses to be similar to this one:

“Science explains the ways in which the things we see around us in nature work and behave.

It does this by examining closely the actual data in as much detail as is available, proposing some experiments and some theories and then testing those theories to see if they fit and explain and predict the phenomenon.

The theories are then reviewed by your colleagues around the world rigorously, who test the theory to see if there are holes, or better explanations – and to ensure that they too get the same results. It then becomes accepted scientific understanding which we then build on.

Science deals with what is actually happening.

The supernatural – is a what happens when people don’t do science. People instead ‘make up’ explanations for things that they can’t immediately explain.

The larva coming out of the ground becomes the gateway to hell, until science explains it and then it doesn’t. Old women who live on their own and who provide herbal remedies become witches to burn at the stake whenever something unusual happens in the village that can’t be explained. An old house which will naturally be creaky and have lots of drafty spaces, will become haunted at night, when people see and hear things move.

The supernatural is not real and it is how humans existed before we discovered how to do science right.”

But responses like these were not the majority.

The Supernatural—Real or Not?
So, are supernatural phenomena real or not? Seems a simple question, but of which I have more questions. For example: If someone claims that something is a supernatural phenomenon, how do they know this? Apparently something that cannot easily be explained is observed. The first thing I would challenge is my ability to explain, but. . . . We can rule out the common mis-identifications of old women collecting herbs being witches (would that they had not suffered from that label) and old ramshackle houses creaking in the wind at night being haunted (what else can a loose house do but creak, rot, and eventually fall down?). So, there seem to be many such phenomena that are clearly not supernatural, yet were claimed to be. Let us set those aside for now.

If someone says: “it was clearly a supernatural phenomenon” we have to ask “why do you think this?” If this phenomenon is “beyond nature” then how can we even perceive it as we are “in nature.” How does the supernatural impinge upon the natural? Some dodge this question by stating that supernatural phenomena are just those that do not obey the normal rules of nature. How they know this is also subject to question, but let’s ride with this for a minute, treating it as we would any other hypothesis. So, something is observed and that observation shows a violation of natural laws (the laws of physics, chemistry, etc.). How does the observer know this to be such a violation? Doesn’t one need to know what those laws are to claim the event violated them? How many advocates of supernaturalism know the laws of say, physics, for example.

It seems that people, like Deepak Chopra, are only too willing to claim support for their worldviews by plucking quantum mechanical events out of current theory and use them as justification for their beliefs. For example, the multiverse shows that there are “higher dimensions of existence.” No, it doesn’t. The existence of a multiverse is entirely hypothetical at the moment and thus cannot be used to prove anything. Another example is “quantum leaps.” These are leaps in energy (not space per se) which are incredibly tiny in size. They are grabbed by these folks to explain jumps of large scale objects through space and time. Cherry picking concepts out of a field of science, then misunderstanding and misrepresenting those concepts, seems to be rife in the “supernatural community.” But I diverge from my main point.

How does the observer of a “supernatural event” know this to be a violation of natural laws? Seeing, for example, a disembodied human head floating in front of you is a violation of the principles of gravity and wouldn’t need a theoretical understanding to recognize that fact. But how does one rule out other interpretations? We humans have become adept at showing all kinds of violations of physical laws in movies. These images, being entertaining and graphic, may just get stored away in our heads. Anyone who has ever seen the first Alien movie cannot get the image of the little beastie bursting out of the crewman’s chest. Can you? Could you erase that memory? (If you can, I want to know how you did it. I have a couple of ex-wives I wish to expunge.)

How do you know that you haven’t had a hallucination or a waking dream or even a sleeping dream that you had forgot but for some reason got triggered and you just recalled it (along with all of the associated emotions it evokes)?

It is interesting that these experiences are rarely shared (except, for obvious reasons, by crowds of the religious gathered at, say, a religious shrine, expecting a miraculous event and then after standing out in the hot sun getting dehydrated, someone shouts “I see it, do you?”). Since these experiences are rarely shared and, obviously, not repeatable, we end up discussing personal events which cannot be studied further, which supernaturalists turn around and claim is a weakness of science.

Scientists have studied supernatural claims scientifically many, many times. And nothing comes out of those studies, just <cricket, cricket, cricket>. Telekinesis studies, ESP studies, past life regression studies, on and on.

This is why supernaturalists are now claiming that science “cannot” study these events science is only suitable for studying nature. This is akin to the game of hide and seek played by god believers. Their gods start out walking around being sighted by people and interacting with them. (Consider how many times both Yahweh and Jesus are quoted (Quoted!) in the Bible. You can’t quote someone unless you have “heard” them. But these gods invariably end up in a locale such as “beyond all time and space” whatever that means. (Without space, nothing can move. Without time, nothing can change. Without space and time <cricket, cricket, cricket>.)

If supernatural events can affect people inside of nature, they aren’t supernatural. They could be evidence of advanced aliens invoking Clarke’s Third Law (Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.), and, gosh, don’t you know, that is being claimed right now, right here in River City, as I write this!

Supernatural claims are easy to make. One just opens one’s mouth and poof, out one comes. “I have a theory . . .” No, you don’t, you have an opinion.

The supernatural began in human history as explanations for things not understood. Brooks, rivers, oceans, mountains, you name it, all had gods in them, controlling them. Later gods became more human-like, appearing as human figures (often modified to make sure those gods wouldn’t be mis-recognized as actually being human). We no longer have brook gods, river gods, tree gods, and angels who push the planets along on their heavenly paths. Why? Because we found out what really was happening and we gave up our fantasies. But thousands of years living with fantasies has made us adept . . . at living with fantasies. (Religions, of course, are teaching each new generation that fantasies are believable!) The fantasy of the supernatural is another zombie idea that won’t die, partly because of people wanting to believe that they understand what really is going on. (I do. You do. We all do.) But, at some point, if we want to mature intellectually, we have to ask questions like “How do we know that. . . ?”

What Motivates Trump’s Supporters?

Like many of you, I felt that the primary motivation of Trump voters was the economic stagnation of the middle class and middle America. The elites were getting richer, hand over fist, while we were getting squeezed by employers and creditors, and that left us with the only option of getting mad. That may not have been the primary motivation, however. This a “must read” article from The Guardian.

A New Poll Shows What Really Interests ‘Pro-Lifers’: Controlling Women by Jill Filipovic.

The subtitle is “According to their own survey responses, anti-abortion voters are hostile to gender equality in practically every aspect” (I assume they meant “every respect” at the end there.)

And, of course, at the source of all of this misogyny? Well, you figure it out.

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