The pitfalls of naturalism

Carl Sagan was a famed Astrophysicist of the 20th Century.  Admittedly the man was a scientist in his own rank. When his name is mentioned, one popular quote crops up: “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof.”

Unfortunately, some people have taken this quote as if it were an absolute law of logic. And most of us have fallen into this trap. Atheists have not been spared either. They will brush aside, with a wave of the hand, anything to do with the supernatural. In fact, recently I saw one assume that it is an absurdity to believe that Joshua stopped the sun. It is astonishing how some of our atheist brothers and sisters expose their shallowness in disciplines such as literature, ancient writings, history and logic. The burden of proof falls on the one who claims, either implicitly or explicitly, that the ancients interpreted their writings the way he or she interprets. This is pretty disturbing, because by doing that you let people know how ignorant you are. This also borders on the argument from incredulity.

Another one of Carl Sagan’s quote, that has been kissed left, right, centre by the naturalists, goes like this, “The Cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will be.”

From this, naturalists will go ahead to demand evidence for the supernatural. I think this leads them into the trap of begging the question. It is fallacious to limit the definition of “evidence” to completely natural. It even gets worse, to use that definition to deny any evidence exists for the supernatural. It is actually a self-fulfilling prophecy. For example, if you calibrate a thermometer (it is very important to take thermometers and other measuring instruments for calibration, lest they give false readings) to measure in the range of zero to 50 degrees, you can’t use it as evidence that nothing ever gets below zero or above 50.

So in order for atheists to prove their contention that there is no evidence for the supernatural, they would have to devise a way to both affirm and falsify the claim. Since a pure metaphysical naturalism can never observe the supernatural, it cannot be used to disprove it. Just as the negative assertion “there is no God” cannot be either proved or falsified, neither can the assertion “there is no evidence for the supernatural”. This takes us back to the argument from ignorance.

When you work as a scientist you assume a methodology that you will only seek natural causes. There is no room for the supernatural. The supernatural is ejected from the table as methodological naturalism is hugged.

Some atheists have a wrong definition of the supernatural. They equate supernatural with magic, fairy tales, and overall foolishness by definition. The supernatural cannot exist because foolishness cannot exist. That is how we arrive at a strawman argument.

Down the line, they equate God to an anthropomorphic being of some kind with a long beard. And this is the reason you will hear them say things like ‘your buddy in the sky, your sky buddy, your invisible friend’ and things like that. Defining what supernatural means and defining God could go a long way in getting rid of this and avoiding strawman pitfalls.

Laws of nature

The laws of nature explain what would occur in a particular case assuming that there are no intervening supernatural agents. These laws have what we call ‘all other things being unchanged or constant’ clauses implicit in them – namely, all things being equal, this is what will happen in this situation. But if all things are not equal, the law is not violated.

Rather, the law just doesn’t apply to that situation because there are other factors at work. In the case of a miracle, God doesn’t violate the laws of nature when he does a miracle. Rather, there will be causal factors at work, namely God, which are supernatural and therefore what the laws of nature predict won’t happen because the laws of nature only make predictions under the assumption that there are no intervening supernatural factors at work.

So a miracle, I think, properly defined, is an event which the natural causes, spatiotemporally, cannot produce. Or, more compendiously, a miracle is a naturally impossible event – an event which the natural causes at a certain time and place cannot bring about. It is beyond the productive capacity of nature

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