Science: Materialism and the Supernatural

A long argument exists over whether supernatural or metaphysical things should be mentioned in the same breath as science. Those in the physical sciences hold that anything supernatural or metaphysical is not science because it is not material, and therefore belongs in the realm of religion or elsewhere. Whenever anyone attempts to discuss other sources, such as a religious source, they loudly scream “psuedoscience!” and promptly ridicule the offender into submission, or at least away from the discussion table and back to the reservation.

As long as the physical scientists (materialists) are claiming that the physical sciences only deal with the physical, and do not deal with the extra-physical, then all is well and good, and there is not much to discuss. In such a case we will gladly retreat back behind the boundary between the areas of study into our own realm, and everyone will be perfectly happy. However, they seem to insist on crossing the boundary while claiming they are not crossing it, then accuse us of meddling in their area. How do they do this? They study physical science, assume that the material world is all that exists, then conclude that the supernatural does not exist. This is an amazing feat of circular gymnastics, for how can one remain behind their own boundary and then conclude that there is nothing on the other side of the boundary? Only by making a metaphysical claim about all that exists, on both sides of the boundary, can they conclude that there is no supernatural forces at work. They can claim that they will not study supernaturalism, or that they find no evidence of it. But to conclude that miracles do not exist and have never intervened into the physical world is to cross the boundary and make a claim about the whole scheme of things.

In fact, they are regularly leaping across the boundary into philosophy, all the while claiming to be remaining on their side, only observing physical forces. Yet when a philosopher makes a claim about the material world they shrilly force him back across the boundary, saying he does not belong in their area. Therefore, if the physical scientists insist on leaping onto my side, and making circular philosophical claims that conclude miracles have never existed, or that supernatural forces do not exist and have never impacted the physical world, then people on my side of the boundary will not shut up. We will not be ridiculed away from the discussion table, and will continue to ask questions………questions such as “how can you conclude that there are no supernatural forces when all you’re looking at are physical forces?” and “How can you continue to make philosophical conclusions, while you refuse to engage in philosophical discussions?”

The atheist members of the physical sciences are fond of saying that the philosophers don’t know how to use the tools in the sciences, and should therefore go back to the reservation and not pretend to have anything intelligent to say about science. What is good for the goose is good for the gander: If the physical sciences don’t know how to use the tools of philosophy, then they should stop making philosophical claims. There is nothing wrong with not studying philosophy as long as one does not make philosophical claims. I tend to think they don’t realize when they are doing it, for if they did, they would not make the mistakes that they make.

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About humblesmith

Christian Apologist & Philosopher
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3 Responses to Science: Materialism and the Supernatural

  1. Mike says:

    As long as the physical scientists (materialists) are claiming that the physical sciences only deal with the physical, and do not deal with the extra-physical, then all is well and good, and there is not much to discuss.

    Couldn’t a materialist just as easily say that as long as theologians and apologists are claiming that their religious faith only deals with their subjective spiritual beliefs, and does not deal with the natural world, then all is well is good, but when theologians try to make scientific claims from their theological beliefs (e.g. creationism) then they are stepping over their boundary and should “gladly retreat back behind the boundary between the areas of study into [their] own realm”?

    It seems that theists routinely step over the line and think they’re scientists after they read Genesis. Sorry it doesn’t work that way. Your theological beliefs are based on faith, not science, and it doesn’t belong in science, and certainly not scientific classrooms in public schools.

    In fact, they are regularly leaping across the boundary into philosophy, all the while claiming to be remaining on their side, only observing physical forces.

    If there is no evidence for the supernatural, it is perfectly reasonable to educe that the supernatural is the product of man’s imagination. Especially when we have good scientific evidence of how the mind works and how it is easily fooled by superstition and wishful thinking.

    “how can you conclude that there are no supernatural forces when all you’re looking at are physical forces?”

    Because the supernatural hypothesis offers no explanatory power and is contradicted by all the evidence. It has to be taken as faith. Scientists have learned their lessons over the centuries not to invoke supernatural agents as it has always failed. What do you honestly expect scientists to do? Believe wild supernatural claims on zero evidence? Especially when good evidence that purely natural forces are involved? And that the human mind is prone to hallucination? If scientists were all supernaturalists it would be the end of science: as soon as they came to a difficult problem they’d close the book and say “God did it!’

    “How can you continue to make philosophical conclusions, while you refuse to engage in philosophical discussions?”

    Some scientists are bad philosophers. Some tow the line between both. There are philosophers of science that I think do a great job between both fields. But scientists are the most qualified people about the natural world. So I’d trust their musings a bit more than I would an apologist who isn’t studied in the sciences at all and who thinks he knows the true nature of reality because he read it in an ancient book.

    • humblesmith says:

      What I expect materialistic naturalists to do is stop making ridiculous statements, such as Richard Dawkins’ claiming in one breath that the universe has “at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind pitiless indifference” then a few minutes later in the same short talk saying “There is a logical path from religious faith to evil deeds. There is no logical path from atheism to evil deeds.” Such statements are absurd on their face, historically false, and disqualify Dawkins from speaking on the subject. Yet he and his ilk continue to do say these things. What I expect is someone who says they only look at natural causes and effects to restrict themselves to natural conclusions. Yet the problem presented in this post so permeates modern thinking that even your response here continues to think you can restrict yourself to natural observations and make philosophical, metaphysical conclusions about supernatural claims, as you’ve done here. A true materialist scientist would simply say, “We do not deal with that in our studies.”

      As to supernaturalism and design being the “end of science,” this is an invention of the modern mind. It’s been repeated so often, many even believe it. See here: http://humblesmith.wordpress.com/2010/11/23/are-science-and-faith-compatable/

      • Mike says:

        I don’t always agree with Dawkins’ musings, but in context he was saying that from the perspective of nature, nature does not have any apparent design or purpose. Most theists who disagree are creationists who deny evolution. A greater understanding of science can often lead one to see how purposeless it is and how insignificant human beings are in it.

        Now obviously you disagree, but preachers from the pulpit are making huge statements about science, nature and morality from little more than their faith-based beliefs in their religion. And it makes us who are scientifically inclined cringe when we hear theists say evolution is a lie, or that homosexuality is unnatural, or that the universe was all designed just for us. Most, if not all of these people have no idea what they’re talking about.

        Using natural observations I can certainly make certain philosophical conclusions. How do you even make a metaphysical conclusion without some evidence backing it up? I wish that theologians would simply say, “We deal with religious faith and what it means to us, science is not in our domain.”

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