Science And The Supernatural
When it comes to
philosophical subjects there are not many concepts that are agreeable to all. I
have found a couple however that can unite most of us.
1. Rationality: Rationality is claimed by people of most religions and philosophies. As humans, our complexities go far beyond the limits of our rational boundaries, but for purposes of this discussion, let’s at least try.
physical realm expresses the spiritual realm: Everyone I've spoken to so far
agrees with this one. A good example of the unifying power of this statement is
the similarity of the following quotes from two very different people; Try and
guess who they were.
"My religion consists of a humble admiration of the illimitable Superior Spirit Who reveals Himself in the slight details we are able to perceive with our frail and feeble minds. That deeply emotional conviction of the presence of a superior reasoning power, which is revealed in the incomprehensible universe, forms my idea of God"
"..for since the creation of the world, His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through that which has been made."
The real challenge comes when we attempt to apply rationality to the interpretation of observed phenomenon. In some cases we will see science telling us things other than that which we have assumed, and in some cases, cherished -- for instance:
Time and the universe... It had been assumed for millennia that the universe was in some sort of eternal equilibrium. This was rationally compatible with philosophies such as Hinduism and its various children, with their endlessly cyclic patterns and "balanced universe". The big-bang however, models a starting point in time, and the eternal imbalance of gradually dissipating energy. Einstein by the way, was quite annoyed at this. Speaking of Dr. E, he is the one responsible for the first of the above two quotes. His partner in philosophy -- interestingly enough -- was the apostle Paul.
Ethics from science? The second law of thermal dynamics tells us that things go from an ordered state to a disordered one -- Houses deteriorate, mountains wear down, etc.
Consider the house: The boards are all the right length and in the right places. Now detonate a case of dynamite under it. The material all still exists, but it is now scattered and disordered. The material had value while it was in order; the same material in disorder is only a mess to be cleaned up.
A well ordered brain is a beautiful thing. Randomize it with hallucinogens or a bullet, and it loses function.
Some of the most enduring music in history is the mathematically structured work of Bach. His themes continually resurface in movies and various other productions. Music that strives for random and shock effects makes for fads and interesting experiments, but most of us would rather not live there.
A man or woman works long and hard to select and acquire belongings according to their tastes and desires. A far less disciplined intruder steals, scatters, and dumps these belongings for pennies on the dollar. Great value is lost. The obvious theme here is that that which builds order and structure tends to increase value, and that which randomizes and scatters decreases value. Could the terms "good" and "evil" relate to these properties? It is interesting that this form of ethic, while not based upon absolutes, does propose a direction.
Is atheism is a blind-faith religion? (rhetorical of course) Now we're getting personal. Anyone who admits to holding a position is in that respect, as vulnerable as that position. Atheists generally have a good time debunking various systems of religion based upon the inconsistencies that permeate all temperaments and cultures. I have a simple question: Does atheism have a better reason for their belief than something that sounds like "If I can't find a book in my library it doesn't exist?" In the 90’s an atheistic astronomer determined to find planets orbiting stars quoted the adage "A lack of evidence of existence is not evidence of a lack of existence." (He was ultimately successful in his search by the way, verifying his quote.)
Since there is no known matter in the universe that predates the big bang, science can only touch that area through the extrapolation of well-proven natural laws. The first law of thermodynamics states that energy can be changed, but not created or destroyed. If we are to apply this law to the instigation of the big bang, we see contradicted.
There are a
variety of theories available to explain this however, as the ancients had
theories concerning natural phenomenon they did not understand. Some theories
for instance hold that particle pairs of matter and anti-matter can
spontaneously appear out of nothing, but if you read the fine print you will
find that an energy field is required (requiring the preexistence of matter).
To the best of our scientific knowledge – unproven theories aside -- the only
real evidence that we have concerning the origin of the universe i.e. the first
law of thermodynamics, indicates that its origin lies outside known natural
laws, and is by definition therefore supernatural. An atheist would have to
assume by pure faith that suitable natural laws do exist, but we simply don’t
Paranormal: There are a couple of tools I personally apply to things that frustrate scientific comprehension: I find statistics to be a powerful tool. When I see a lot of data that defies a statistical analysis capable of understanding or predicting behavior, I suspect that we are dealing with something that operates outside statistical -- and presumably other -- natural laws. Good or evil in such cases can then be suspected from the effects such phenomenon have on people (as defined from the human perspective obviously). For possible candidates, consider such things as telekinesis, UFO's and "mind reading"
Because of the hot and smug rhetoric on both sides of the evolution-VS-creation issue, I think it bears comment: Both Atheists and some theists require their respective versions of origins to validate their faiths. I wish both would quit stuffing their religions down my throat in the pretext of talking about science. As absurd as the other’s perspective may appear, we are in danger of bigotry if we do not at least consider the challenges of both camps.
The taxonomy of living species has been refined for millennium, and Bible accounts are among the earliest of these in recorded history. The field of paleontology has extended this cataloging to include species that are long extinct, and would be far behind its current state if not driven by religious connotations.
The current version of the Salton Sea of Southern California was created by a breach in a man-made cannel that flooded an ancient sea bed. California decided to turn this lemon into lemonade by making it a recreational site. Part of this project was to stock it with corbina for sport-fishing. In order for corbina to survive however, they needed to provide corbina food – a few varieties of shrimp-like creatures. In order for the shrimp to survive, they needed to provide plankton. In short, they had to “evolve” the Salton Sea.
Being forced to go to Sunday school as a child I was puzzled by teachers railing against evolution, when I saw the same sequence claimed by the evolutionists documented in the Bible itself. Somehow, I had the sense to keep my mouth shut (one of the few times). A developing sequence of species would be the logical path to either create or to evolve – so why the big fuss?
On the other hand, for all the millions poured into the study of fossil records, within the resulting taxonomy there are none of the theory-required transitional species identified between either the fossils our current species.
So what do we have? Based upon what we can observe within the physical realm, we have a non-cyclic universe of supernatural origin with a built-in ethic, unproven classical evolution, and ongoing spiritual phenomenon.
Assertions beyond available evidence by definition depend upon tricks of preference, and supernatural encounters. The bottom line is that the existence of an ultimate purpose in the universe, and therefore our existence, can be neither confirmed nor denied on the basis of rational thought. This lack of intellectual compulsion leaves us with the freedom to love or to not love the ultimate cause of the universe. Ironically, such a love could not exist without this freedom to choose.