The Assumption of Naturalism is Unfalsifiable

July 15, 2010

There are two ways that one would think that the “supernatural” could be proven but both of the available options are rejected outright by those who assume that there is no supernatural. The two ways are: 1) Miracles and 2) Unexplained Phenomena.

The biblical word for “miracle” is actually “wonder”. The point of a miracle, biblically speaking, is to draw attention to a certain event in history so that people can be clear as to what God is doing. Miracles would only get attention if they were infrequent. The person who walks around yelling all the time gets ignored. The person who yells once in a while and only for a good reason gets attention.

Naturalists reject miracles because they are not repeatable. They can’t be brought into a lab and “confirmed”. You have to rely on testimony. They reject the testimony by definition if it claims a miracle.

Regarding unexplained phenomena let’s look at gravity. It is interesting that when Newton defined gravity as an immaterial force, he was roundly ridiculed by most of the European intelligentsia because an “invisible force” that had no known natural cause sounded to them like God. Was Newton saying that God held the planets in line? That is one of the critiques Newton had to deal with. But Newton, who was completely at peace with the idea that God held things together, didn’t shy away….the math worked. Is gravity a supernatural force that is so common we don’t think of it as supernatural? I sort of think so but I don’t know. It is not a biblical question because the bible doesn’t say one way or the other.

Today there are many models that attempt to explain gravity naturally. For example idea posits that gravity is an emergent phenomenon of the 2nd law of thermodynamics. So, let us not mistake ‘is not explained for certain’ with ‘is not explained yet’ and ‘cannot be explained at all’. That is not what I am saying. I actually don’t have a dog in the fight on gravity. Maybe it is a natural phenomena. Maybe gravity is pure miracle all the time. I don’t really care. My point is simply to note that naturalists have a deep trust that whatever phenomenon are not currently explained by natural explanations will some day.

So naturalism is unfalsifiable:

1. Miracles are rejected

2. Current unexplained phenomenons are assumed to be natural even without evidence.

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6 Responses to “The Assumption of Naturalism is Unfalsifiable”

  1. Adam Says:

    “My point is simply to note that naturalists have a deep trust that whatever phenomenon are not currently explained by natural explanations will some day.”

    This is because phenomena we could not previously explain had a good track record of turning out to be naturally explainable – a perfect track record in fact.
    If every unexplained effect has been found to have a mechanical cause, what reason do naturalists have to not assume all other unexplained effects will not either?

    “1. Miracles are rejected”

    Rightly so. The cause of an effect must have been observed in order to suffice as an explanation.

    “2. Current unexplained phenomenons are assumed to be natural even without evidence.”

    Since there have not been any observations of a non-natural cause, we have no reason to assume a non-naturalistic cause. All consistent explanations for effects have been naturalistic, however.

  2. W. Vida Says:

    Hi Adam,

    //This is because phenomena we could not previously explain had a good track record of turning out to be naturally explainable – a perfect track record in fact.//

    Let’s look at this logic:

    1. We have a bunch of unexplained phenomenon
    2. A certain percentage of those have been proven naturally
    3. Therefore all phenomenon can be explained naturally

    The perfect track record you refer to only applies to the phenomenon that has been explained. There are many things that can not be explained by science.

    //Since there have not been any observations of a non-natural cause, we have no reason to assume a non-naturalistic cause. All consistent explanations for effects have been naturalistic, however.//

    What would a “non-naturalistic” cause look like? An invisible force?

    • Adam Says:

      “The perfect track record you refer to only applies to the phenomenon that has been explained. There are many things that can not be explained by science.”

      You’re missing out that no phenomenon has ever been concluded to be supernatural. Any phenomena that have been tested so far all have naturalistic, physical explanations.
      When you say “things” that *cannot* be explained by science, do you mean physical things? If so, what are these things? You’re not talking about consciousness and gravity again are you – because I addressed that.

      “What would a “non-naturalistic” cause look like? An invisible force?”

      No because forces are physical, natural. When a force is observed which has no current explanation, theorists wait until they have uncovered more evidence on its physical structure before making any more assumptions. They don’t simply say “well, it must be supernatural”. That will never happen.

  3. W. Vida Says:

    //You’re missing out that no phenomenon has ever been concluded to be supernatural.//

    The whole point of this post is that I do not believe it is possible for a naturalist to come to that conclusion regardless of the phenomenon.

    //Any phenomena that have been tested so far all have naturalistic, physical explanations.//

    Well. That is not true. What is the naturalistic explanation that mathematics work to describe the universe?

    //When you say “things” that *cannot* be explained by science, do you mean physical things? If so, what are these things? You’re not talking about consciousness and gravity again are you – because I addressed that.//

    You did? Where? What is the natural cause behind gravity? What physically causes two bodies to be attracted?

    //No because forces are physical, natural.//

    They are? So if I stretched out my hand and lifted a car across the street you would say that was a natural thing? You can’t observe forces, just their effects.

    //When a force is observed which has no current explanation, theorists wait until they have uncovered more evidence on its physical structure before making any more assumptions. They don’t simply say “well, it must be supernatural”. That will never happen.//

    I agree. It will never happen. Unfalsifiable.

    • Adam Says:

      “What is the naturalistic explanation that mathematics work to describe the universe?”

      I’m not completely sure what you mean. Mathematics is a system that approximates what we observe in the universe. Whether or not it is actually part of the universe is much debated by philosophers.

      “You did? Where?”

      https://religionannarbor.wordpress.com/2010/07/04/640/#comments

      “What is the natural cause behind gravity? What physically causes two bodies to be attracted?”

      Are you familiar with an area of science called ‘particle physics’? You’ve conveniently chosen gravity since that’s the force we understand the least about. The force carrying particle of gravity – that is, the particle OF gravity – is theorised to be the graviton:
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Graviton
      It exists only in the realm of mathematics, and given the track record of mathematics for predicting the existence of things before the laboratory, I’d assert that the graviton DOES exist.
      It has not yet been observed and may never be because we *know* that its energy is *extremely low*.

      “So if I stretched out my hand and lifted a car across the street you would say that was a natural thing? You can’t observe forces, just their effects.”

      … You see, in physics, there are a class of particles called ‘gauge bosons’. They are the particles of the forces. All of them (edit) have been observed apart from the graviton.

      Edit: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gauge_boson
      ‘Beyond the Standard Model’ includes hypothetical bosons that I wasn’t familiar with. Suffice it so say that the bosons of the forces of electricity, weak nuclear and strong nuclear have all been observed and proven rigorously to exist.

      “I agree. It will never happen. Unfalsifiable.”

      And we come back to what I’ve been saying the whole time – if you’re not going to base your convictions about the universe on observations, what are you going to base them upon?
      Naturalism is based on evidence; if it isn’t observed, it doesn’t exist. And that’s the way it should be since I don’t have any reason to assert the existence of something if I haven’t observed it.
      What’s the only alternative to naturalism? Asserting the existence of things without evidence.

  4. Firzul Firaz Says:

    Adam, there is perfect track record of us constantly observing new things we previously haven’t. If your definition of naturalism is to apply, “if it isn’t observed, it doesn’t exist”, given the track record, you either have to agree that every new thing we observe began to exist the moment we observed it (ignoring how supernatural that sounds, consider the paradox: it was observed because it existed and it existed because it was observed), or that naturalism is false. With your definition, naturalism is not only falsifiable, but also is false.

    Then again, naturalism doesn’t give any physical explanation about why laws of logic should apply. So naturalistic-ally speaking, it could be possible for naturalism to be true, even if it is logically impossible. Then it becomes not only unfalsifiable, but also it becomes impossible to have a discussion about it, since we are yet to figure out how to discuss without logic.


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