Debate: If not naturalism, how do we decide which supernatural explanation is correct?

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What makes one supernatural explanation of something more valid than another? I feel this is a central problem of religion- we tend to accept the beliefs that are prevalent in our own culture despite there being numerous non-natural explanations for the same things. —The preceding unsigned comment was added by Paddyduffy (talk)

You're missing a question: How do we first decide whether to go for a natural or supernatural explanation?
Answer to both questions: See which explanation is more consistent with the evidence. The implicit assumption that this cannot be done with a supernatural explanation is false.
Philip J. Rayment 10:50, 21 May 2008 (EDT)

Ok, let's assume that we are choosing between two supernatural explanations, having decided to go that path. Are you saying that evidence can be used to prove a supernatural explanation, and therefore, to disprove others?

Paddyduffy

One day, we will realize that these are really the same things. Imagine that science eventually becomes so advanced that we are able to conclusively show that an event has no natural cause, and that supernatural intervention must have occurred. If we assume that supernatural intervention comes from a sentient God, then this would be tantamount to proof of the existence of God, which would in turn invalidate the need for faith. Conclusion? Either God exists as an entity separate from nature, in which case His existence is provable, or God is part of nature in a way in which we do not yet comprehend. --IlTrovatore 15:59, 21 May 2008 (EDT)

That's all well and good, but it doesn't really answer my question. I have two possible supernatural explanations presented to me, and I think what Mr. Rayment is saying is that evidence can be used to show one is more favourable than the other. What I'm really getting at is how are supernatural explanations weighted? Is it equally valid to say something like 'Walking under ladders is bad luck' and 'God created the earth in seven days', and if not, why? If it is equally valid to say both, are all things equally true? : Paddyduffy


The principle of Occam's Razor advises us to accept the simplest explanation of an event as true. The definition of "simplest," however, must be determined on a case-to-case basis based on the circumstances involved. For example, someone could claim that creationism explains the origins of the Earth better than the Big Bang theory, as it involves an intelligent God creating all living beings and eliminates the need to explain how these life forms could have emerged otherwise. Obviously, on this site, that is the viewpoint that will be accepted with open arms. But is it really simpler? Because we do not know for sure what happened, creationists can claim that the scientific evidence is being interpreted incorrectly, or that scientists are making leaps of faith when they assume that carbon dating is a reliable method. But Occam's Razor cautions that assuming that carbon dating is unreliable because the rate of radioactive decay may have changed over time is unwise; it is a rejection of evidence without any sound reason. I don't wish for this to become a debate over the merits of YEC arguments, but I was simply using that as an example.

All things are not equally true, but I also maintain that people often create false dichotomies. They assume that supernaturalism and naturalism are mutually exclusive, when it is highly possible that they are actually the same thing. --IlTrovatore 16:16, 22 May 2008 (EDT)

Ok, but what makes one religion true and another false? They sure can't all be true, and in terms of evidence, it's pretty much all anecdotal. Why are you (let's say) a Christian and not a Scientologist? Paddyduffy

People have a natural impulse to "fill in the gaps," and various religious systems do this in different ways. People simply choose to believe one over another because they are drawn to it for their own individual reason. You're right in saying that we really don't know. It becomes scary when people become so utterly convinced that they have a monopoly on the truth that they shut out all discussion on the nature of belief. That seems to happen a lot on this site. It gives me the worst feeling when I see somebody put something in their profile like "I am a Christian. All other religious systems are false." This is about faith, people, and the whole point of faith is that you don't really know. --IlTrovatore 00:02, 25 May 2008 (EDT)


"Are you saying that evidence can be used to prove a supernatural explanation, and therefore, to disprove others?": I guess that it depends on the particular explanation. But Christianity, for example, makes specific claims about real events. That God created the world "very good", but that we rejected God and things got worse, and that there was a global flood, among others. If a supernatural explanation says nothing about things in the real world, well.... well it's hardly an "explanation", is it? So we can look to see if the evidence fits the explanation. For example, a global flood is going to (a) leave a lot of disturbance of the Earth's surface, including lots of sediments, and (b) kill and bury a lot of creatures. So we look at the evidence, and find that something like 70% of the Earth's land surface is sedimentary rock, and a lot of that contains lots of buried creatures (fossils). So, at first glance, the evidence fits the explanation. Of course there is a lot more to it than that, but the point is that a supernatural explanation of the natural world is probably going to say things about the natural world that can be checked out. If it just said "God created everything" and left it at that, then there isn't really anything to check, but the Bible says much more than that.

"...which would in turn invalidate the need for faith.": Not at all. See further discussion below.

"But Occam's Razor cautions that assuming that carbon dating is unreliable because the rate of radioactive decay may have changed over time is unwise; it is a rejection of evidence without any sound reason.": That assumes that there is no sound reason.

"They assume that supernaturalism and naturalism are mutually exclusive, when it is highly possible that they are actually the same thing": This is like saying that black and white are the same thing. Supernatural, by definition, is that which is beyond the natural.

"...in terms of evidence, it's pretty much all anecdotal.": It is? So what about all the historical and scientific evidence?

"It becomes scary when people become so utterly convinced that they have a monopoly on the truth that they shut out all discussion on the nature of belief. That seems to happen a lot on this site.": What is scary is the evolutionists who are "so utterly convinced that they have a monopoly on the truth that they shut out all discussion" on the issue. That happens a lot in society, including the media and the education system.

"This is about faith, people, and the whole point of faith is that you don't really know.": It is? References please. That is how atheists describe "faith", but that is not the biblical view of faith, which is "trust based on evidence"[1]. That is, we believe the Bible to be true and that God exists because of evidence (not necessarily scientific "proof"). We don't have evidence of every claim, but we have evidence of plenty, and therefore have faith that the rest is true. And "the rest" might refer to future events. So when you have a friend tell you that he will call around tomorrow, there is no way to prove that he is stating the truth (it hasn't happened yet, so there is no possible way of obtaining evidence). But you do have evidence that he's always kept his word in the past, so you therefore have faith that he will this time also.

Philip J. Rayment 03:27, 25 May 2008 (EDT)


The education system teaches the theory of evolution as precisely that: a theory. While YEC's might like to claim that their views are being discriminated against in science classes, this is not the case. Yes, it is true that nobody really knows how the Earth was created, and therefore, all viewpoints on the matter ought to be heard out. But creationism, even when cloaked with the phrase "creation science," does not follow the scientific method. As much as YEC's would also like to further claim that evolutionists "fit the facts" to their assumptions, the theory of evolution was developed by analyzing the evidence and then coming to a possible conclusion. Creationism was held as a belief before people knew anything about modern science, and therefore is unscientific (although not necessarily untrue) in that it will perpetually claim that science only appears to indicate otherwise. Why would God deceive humanity by laying a false record of natural history?

As for naturalism and supernaturalism being the same, it is a matter of perspective. Before humans knew what caused the Aurora Borealis, they assumed it was some sort of supernatural phenomenon caused by spirits or gods. Eventually, however, it turned out that there was a natural explanation. As science advances, we find that more and more can be explained in this manner. If we were eventually able to prove that there are things that are unprovable, this would be tantamount to a proof of the existence of the supernatural. This proof would mean that God could be taken to exist on the basis of reason, not faith. --IlTrovatore 15:57, 25 May 2008 (EDT)

"The education system teaches the theory of evolution as precisely that: a theory.": Meaning what? In science, a "theory" is an explanation of something. It does not mean that it is in any way tentative (except insofar as every scientific idea is). So yes, they teach it as a scientific theory, but they also teach it as fact, partly by saying that it's true, and partly by not mentioning any alternative.
"While YEC's might like to claim that their views are being discriminated against in science classes, this is not the case.": And yet you admit—and attempt to justify—that only one view (and not the creationary one) is being taught!
"But creationism, even when cloaked with the phrase "creation science," does not follow the scientific method.": A substance-free assertion, that, and wrong.
"...the theory of evolution was developed by analyzing the evidence and then coming to a possible conclusion": According to evolutionists Gould and Ruse, it was done with the intention of removing God as an explanation.
"Creationism was held as a belief before people knew anything about modern science, and therefore is unscientific...": That's' a non-sequitur. That it was held as a belief first does not mean that it can't be investigated in a scientific manner.
"...it will perpetually claim that science only appears to indicate otherwise": Given that it doesn't claim that, that assertion is wrong.
"Why would God deceive humanity by laying a false record of natural history?": That's a loaded question, because it (falsely) presumes that the record of natural history shows an evolutionary view.
The fact (assuming it's true; I hadn't heard that one before) that some people incorrectly attributed an event to a supernatural cause does not mean that the natural and the supernatural are the same thing.
Philip J. Rayment 23:57, 25 May 2008 (EDT)


The example of the Aurora Borealis was intended to show that we ascribe supernatural descriptions to things without knowing for sure that there is no natural explanation. Granted, something cannot be simultaneously both natural and supernatural, but what I meant to argue was that, while we might believe at one time that something is supernatural because nothing natural could cause such a phenomenon, we might later find that there really is no logical gap, and that the explanation is natural after all.

"Creationism was held as a belief before people knew anything about modern science, and therefore is unscientific..." That is pure quote-mining. You analyzed this statement without the qualifying clause that followed.

I will reiterate that the THEORY of evolution is not taught as truth, but as a theory. I was never told in a classroom that evolution is the truth, only that it is the most widely-accepted theory to explain the origin of species. As for the personal beliefs of evolutionists, these may vary. Evolution does not necessarily negate God; such alternative views include theistic evolution. The existence of the “alternative” to which you refer is not taught because it is not testable. You may argue the same of evolution, but if this is the case, why practice science at all?

"But creationism, even when cloaked with the phrase "creation science," does not follow the scientific method." Why is this a substance-free assertion?

“And yet you admit—and attempt to justify—that only one view (and not the creationary one) is being taught!” This does not amount to discrimination against creationists. Creationism is taught as a possible explanation in classes that deal with religion, but not in science classes.

"...it will perpetually claim that science only appears to indicate otherwise" Do you therefore argue that creationism is falsifiable? If so, what criteria would you see as necessary for this to occur?

“That's a loaded question, because it (falsely) presumes that the record of natural history shows an evolutionary view.” No, it presumes that the record of natural history indicates an Earth that is much older than 6,000 years. To claim otherwise requires a denial of fundamental scientific epistemology. --IlTrovatore 16:58, 27 May 2008 (EDT)


I did not intend for this to turn into a debate about Creationism, I merely wanted to highlight what I see as tenuousness in the criteria of deciding between supernatural explanations of events, or if I may make an extension of this idea, religions themselves. Upon what grounds may a Christian say that Islam is false, yet Christianity is true? Or that a cult such as Scientology is explicitly false? Paddyduffy

There are no grounds to make such claims. These are matters of personal belief, not objective knowledge. --IlTrovatore 16:45, 29 May 2008 (EDT)

I'd imagine the vast majority of users of this site would disagree with you there. A follower of a religion believes what he does because he thinks it true. I assert that he does this based on false premises.

Paddyduffy

I understand that most of the people on this site would disagree with me, but I understand the difference between faith and empirical knowledge. Faith does not provide "truth" in the way that most of the users here would claim it does, but that does not render it invalid or wrong. --IlTrovatore 18:52, 31 May 2008 (EDT)

Faith provides that truth which can only have a supernatural source, such as the existence of sin and the means of salvation. SarahFan 10:49, 5 October 2008 (EDT)

An event that is truly supernatural could not be used to prove the existance of a specific God. To prove it was a supernatural event would mean to falsify EVERY natural explanation and would therefore require knowing everything including the knowledge that there is nothing left to know. Religions that tolerate other religions are admitting that they may be wrong and the God they worship might be a fake. Markr 12:26, 5 October 2008 (EDT)

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