Saturday, March 21, 2009

Woo Enthymemes #1: "I Know What's Supernatural"

Welcome to a possible new series. Since I started the Doggerel series with "Supernatural," it seems appropriate to start this series on a similar note. While Doggerel deals with cliches skeptics like me are sick of dealing with, this series will deal with unstated assumptions that probably need more exposure.

Today's entry is "I Know What's Supernatural." The unstated assumption: That there's some unifying, identifiable quality possessed by supernatural things and/or natural things that separate them.

But what is this quality? It's not invisibility, because that'd make most of the electromagnetic spectrum supernatural, as well as even more boring things like air. For much the same reason, it's not stuff beyond our senses. There's no reason why our having particular sets of senses would define something's nature.

Instead, I'd say the barrier between the "natural" and "supernatural" is an arbitrary construct of our culture and level of familiarity. Take any electronic gizmo far enough back in time, and it'll be regarded as magical by the locals. Heck, many of our ancestors thought lightning was supernatural, but we do not. Why's that? Because we as a civilization, if not as individuals, understand how lightning works and what it is. That understanding dragged lightning down from the mystical mumbo-jumbo the priests attached to it, and put it firmly in the natural world.

There is no objective difference between "natural" and "supernatural" that would merit treating them differently. We've gained great understanding of our world and are continuing to learn through methodological naturalism, where we treat everything with an effect on the world the same way.

If I'm wrong, tell me: How can you know if something's "supernatural"?

6 comments:

King Aardvark said...

I don't know what's supernatural or not, but I'd like to say that all the modern electronic gizmos like IPods, GPS, Blackberries, Bluetooth, etc seem like magic to me.

Akusai said...

I have a friend like that. We like to joke with him that he doesn't dial the phone to send a connection signal particular to his intended recipient, he performs the touch-tone ritual, following the sacred number of the person he wants to talk to while exhorting the phone gods to direct his voice correctly.

It's like cargo-cult telephoning.

Bourgeois_Rage said...

Shed the shackles of Telephonism that are binding your mind. Telephonists have been LYING to you for a a very long time. If you were walking in the woods and came across a RAZR, you'd probably conclude that is was DESIGNED... Just like birds with feathers, fish with scales, rocks with smaller bits of rocks, you have phones with numbers. And show me a cell phone with a rotary dial! Or how about a cell phone with a cord. You can't becasue they didn't evolve. Clearly God wanted us to talk to our minister and so he gave us his only begotten son Jesus who invented the telephone which was rediscovered later by a dead guy. See Mark 3:31 "Then Jesus' mother and brothers arrived. Standing outside, they sent someone in to call him." They were outside and sent some to call him. Where did they send him? Since they were outside they must have sent him inside where the phone was, which was recently installed by Babylonian Bell. Also see John 21:5 "He called out to them, 'Friends, haven't you any fish?' 'No,' they answered." Can you ask for any more confirmation than that. Clearly Jesus was not with them otherwise he would see if they had fish or not so he pulled out his LG and rang em up. When they said no, he switched over to call waiting and had God put some fish next to the boat so they could get some food. Proof that Jesus also invented the 3-WAY call.

Without JESUS on your line you are only talking to SATAN. Accept Jesus NOW! If you do not, and remain an EVIL Athiest of Atheists hen you will forever be tormented in the burning fires of HELL where you have to walk over burning coals every time you want to talk to someone. Don't believe what the so-called phone company tells you, they are tools of the DEVIL. Only Jesus can connect you to Israel at the low price of $.04 a minute. The devil will pull your eyes out and urinate in your ears. Be careful. Praise him!!! Best wishes, BR.

Dunc said...

I've been suspecting for a while that part of the reason for the whole anti-renaissance we seem to be suffering is that technology has reached the point where most people have essentially no understanding of how it works - it's all magic. And that daily familiarity with magic leads to magical thinking: "Hey, if this little gizmo in my pocket can let me talk to someone on the other side of the world, why can't homoeopathy / LoA / bullshit of choice work?"

There was a time when a well-educated person could really understand all the technology they were ever likely to come into contact with. Now, no-one can - you need to be a highly-trained specialist to fully understand even part of one group of technology. I understand the basics of semiconductor physics, a bit of circuit design, and I've programmed at every level from assembler upwards, but I couldn't claim to really understand how a computer works. There's a whole grey area between basic transistor logic and a full-blown CPU, which in my head is labelled "Here be dragons...."

pendens proditor said...

Believing in the natural and the supernatural (or at least believing that humans have access to both) requires a sort of dualism which suffers from the same problems as mind-body dualism.

Two things made of separate stuff cannot interact unless they have something in common... some sort of interface or influence over each other. They have to touch in some way. A tree sways in the wind because if you squint hard enough it's all just atoms repelling atoms.

Something supernatural is by definition made of different stuff than the natural (otherwise it'd merely be natural). If our natural bodies can interface with it, then even if we don't yet understand how, what we deem supernatural must also be natural.

The ad hoc response is to argue that we ourselves have a supernatural component by which supernatural influence is possible. But that does nothing to solve the problem; it just shifts the gap. The question then is how do the natural component and the supernatural component within a person interact?

Something truly supernatural is inaccessible to us, so there's nothing we can say about it. It's forever irrelevant to humanity. Our exploration of it ends before it starts.

Those who make supernatural claims just don't realize what their claims demand of the universe. That's what it all comes down to.

King Aardvark said...

Dunc, the difference between me and the magic-minded people is in the appreciation and respect for the science and effort that goes into the technologies. Even though I don't have a clue about any of these new technologies, I'm familiar with what's required to get these technological marvels. To the magic-minded, it's just guys in a room who suddenly appear with a new product everyone once in a while for us to buy.