Sunday, July 01, 2012

Naturalism has defeated supernaturalism

By Mathew Goldstein

There are at least two possible general approaches to obtain knowledge about how the world works. One way is methodological supernaturalism, another way is methodological naturalism. An example of the former is divine revelation. An example of the latter is matching empirical observation to a logical model by using the model to make predictions and verifying the predictions with reproducible experiments.

It is commonly claimed that science is intrinsically, and therefore a-priori and by definition, dependent on methodological naturalism. As will be shown here, this is false. This false assertion that methodological naturalism is intrinsic to science should not be confused with the similarly common and false claim that science can say nothing about whether the universe is naturalistic or supernaturalistic. Nevertheless, both falsehoods are logically related to each other and most people who assert one of these two falsehoods also asserts the other falsehood.

The fact that methodological naturalism is not intrinsic to science should also not be confused with the claim that methodological supernaturalism is a proper way of obtaining knowledge. This is because methodological supernaturalism is unproductive. Methodological supernaturalism has simply failed to produce any knowledge whatsoever and therefore has been universally abandoned by all knowledge dependent vocations and avocations for being a complete failure. Not just scientists, but everyone employed in any knowledge dependent vocation or avocation relies exclusively on methodological naturalism for obtaining that knowledge because methodological naturalism is the only method for obtaining knowledge that is productive.

Even though in practice it is the case that the universe that we were born into relies exclusively on methodological naturalism for acquiring knowledge about how the university's works, in theory it could have been otherwise. We could have been born into a different universe where the best way, or maybe even the only way, to obtain knowledge about how the universe worked was methodological supernaturalism. In this mirror image universe, all people engaged in knowledge based vocations and avocations would obtain knowledge through divine revelation by worshipping a deity, or deities, and closely following the rituals, rules, practices, beliefs, behaviors, etc. dictated by the deity or deities.

A universe where methodological supernaturalism prevails is the universe that the authors of the Tanakh, Bible, and Quran were convinced they lived in. It is the universe where uneducated and mostly illiterate people intuitively imagined themselves to be living for thousands of years. In those days, the knowledge that was considered most important was to know the future and what displeased and pleased god. Prophets like Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel were said to have received divine revelations about God's current opinion of, and the future of, God's chosen people. The Christian bible added more prophets such as John the Baptist. Psalm 119:66 appeals to God to "Teach me good judgment and knowledge, for I believe in your commandments." “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge” is the instruction of Proverbs 1:7. Furthermore, 1 Timothy 6:20-21 indicates divine revelation that supports biblical based religious belief is the only source of knowledge: "Turn away from godless chatter and the opposing ideas of what is falsely called knowledge, which some have professed and in so doing have wandered from the faith”. According to the Quran, all prophets through history, starting with Adam, have consistently preached the same main belief of worshiping Allah, and Muhammed is the final prophet.

If we lived in that mirror image, alternative universe, where knowledge was obtained by divine revelation, then we should all be theists. This is why it is important to understand and appreciate that all knowledge based vocations, and avocations, pragmatically rely exclusively on methodological naturalism provisionally because this method alone works, and not because of some a-priori, ideological bias or logical requirement. Furthermore, for the same reason that the success of methodological supernaturalism would constitute strong empirical justification for theism in a mirror image, imaginary, alternative universe, the exclusive success of methodological naturalism in the real universe that we inhabit is strong empirical justification for atheism. Given the universe we are all born into, we should all be atheists.

The close logical connection between methodological naturalism's monopoly for obtaining knowledge and philosophical naturalism is understandably awkward for those who, regardless of the evidence, are pre-committed to theism. This could explain why we so often hear this falsehood that methodological naturalism is intrinsic to science. If methodological naturalism was intrinsic to science, if methodological naturalism was a-priori a logical necessity, then methodological and philosophical naturalism can be declared to be logically separate and unrelated. But again, this is not true. The truth is that the strong success of methodological naturalism relative to methodological supernaturalism over the previous several hundred years is the primary reason methodological supernaturalism is rejected by scientists. Add to this the consistently naturalistic explanations we have acquired over this time that reliably answer so many questions and the supernatural worldview reflected in the holy books becomes archaic. It is long past time for people to recognize those books are fictional.

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