Methodological Naturalism and the Supernatural

Every once in a while, I get in the mood to be philosophical to a certain degree.  I never do so in the extreme and usually it’s at the behest of someone who either, religiously or politically, “starts it” but really doesn’t understand what they’re talking about.  This time, I ran into a religious moron who kept ranting that science is biased against the supernatural, almost to the point of entering conspiracy theorist territory, that science knows the supernatural is real, they’re just pretending it isn’t.

That’s ridiculous.

Science does have a methodological naturalistic bias, but it’s for a reason.  Naturalism is all that science, or anyone else, can actually objectively test for.  There is no means whatsoever to detect anything that falls outside of the natural world.  Last time I checked, the supernatural, by definition, falls outside of the natural world.

The problem is that the supernatural has no objective evidence, adherents can’t even really define what it is and because they cannot do so, they cannot explain to anyone how they actually know that it’s there.  That makes testing for it not only impossible, by definition, but a fool’s errand.  What objective test can we put the supernatural to?  What rigorous examination can we perform on the supernatural that can be verified through multiple independent  experiments?  Keep in mind that nothing that falls into the supernatural camp has ever been objectively verified to exist in the first place, nobody can be certain that the supernatural is even real, not one thing that can be defined as supernatural has ever been observed in any meaningful way.  And because there’s nothing anyone can point to and say “that’s supernatural”, the whole question is moot.  The supernatural doesn’t even have a demonstrable meaning.

But believers insist that somehow, naturalism is biased against the supernatural, which is about as ridiculous as saying that reality is biased against fantasy.  The best science can do, the best anyone can do, is stare blankly at the religious and say “what the hell are you talking about?”  Because they can’t actually come up with an example, they can’t come up with a credible explanation of what they’re talking about, the supernatural is defined by what it is not, it cannot be defined by what it is.  It’s not natural.  Okay, then what is it?  What are its defining characteristics?  Come on, religious people, throw us a bone here. Tell us what you’re talking about and show that you have any means of knowing anything about it.  Go ahead.  We’re waiting.

And I suspect we’ll be waiting a very, very, very long time.  Methodological naturalism isn’t a bias, it isn’t even a choice, it’s what has to be done in order to make any sense of the world around us. The supernatural just doesn’t make any sense.  It never has, it never will and until the religious actually come up with a workable definition or a single example of what they mean when they say “supernatural”, there’s no reason for science, or anyone else, to take them seriously.

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