Re: [asa] Can Science Test Supernatural Worldviews? by Yonatan I. Fishman

From: David Clounch <>
Date: Tue Apr 21 2009 - 17:38:29 EDT

" Physical devices can at most detect the physical aspect, say, of a
miracle. "

A most interesting statement. Based on the concept that of all possible
physical events some arrangements of matter have natural causes, some have
non-natural causes, but all are natural effects, and all arrangements can be
observed and investigated.

In the case of the resurrection the film recording is the observer (ie, the
people). Thousands of people saw Jesus dead. A few saw him buried, including
the Roman soldiers assigned to guard the tomb and whose lives were on the
line when Jesus went missing. And thousands who saw Jesus alive after he
left the tomb. Terribly hard to fake without today's technology. But some
want to say science cannot investigate these physical outcomes to
determine if they are fake. Why? Because, the argument goes, the events are
by definition "supernatural" and therefore the causes cannot, by
definition, have produced the alleged effect. I suspect the definition is

On Tue, Apr 21, 2009 at 11:46 AM, Alexanian, Moorad <>wrote:

> I do not know how one can answer the question, Can Science Test
> Supernatural Worldviews? if we do not first define what science is.
> In my view, the answer is defiantly no. Science deals with the physical and
> physical devices can detect neither the nonphysical nor the supernatural.
> Physical devices can at most detect the physical aspect, say, of a miracle.
> The most one can have, therefore, as objective evidence of a supernatural
> event is to actually film it, provided that it activates the chemistry of
> the film, and use that as evidence. Of course, this may not even be
> sufficient, witness magicians.
> Moorad
> -----Original Message-----
> From: [] On
> Behalf Of Bill Powers
> Sent: Tuesday, April 21, 2009 11:41 AM
> To: Bill Cobern
> Cc:
> Subject: Re: [asa] Can Science Test Supernatural Worldviews? by Yonatan I.
> Fishman
> Thanks to Bill Cobern I have had an opportunity to review this paper on
> the testing of supernatural claims.
> First, it seems to me that his general approach is acceptable, indeed, one
> we all employ daily. This commonsense approach to how we deal with
> various claims and evaluate them has been formalized in the Bayesian
> approach to not only science, but to the evaluation of all sorts of
> claims.
> Second, very little, if anything, is gained by adding the word "science"
> to this paper. The empirical difficulties that he mentions have been with
> us since time immemorial and are omnipresent inside and outside the
> literature. Indeed, they probably reside in every believer.
> Third, he only considers probabalistic evidence which concludes the God
> does not exist. There are many examples using the very same methods that
> come to the opposite conclusion, e.g., the Resurrection.
> Fourth, he considers a number of reasons to doubt, including the existence
> of evil, the apparent indiscriminate distribution of evil, and increasing
> "natural" explanations of phenomena.
> He assumes that if there was a perfectly good and all powerful god, the
> evil would be distributed more amongst the "evil" or "nonbelievers" than
> amongst the "good" and "believers." This is what is known as a theory, and
> it
> is a testable theory. He concludes that there is greater likelihood that
> the theory is false than that it is true. Indeed, given some secular
> notion of good and evil, I suspect we would all agree with his
> conclusions. We didn't need science or even Reverend Bayes to draw this
> conclusion, but it sounds so much more "scientific" to say so.
> I am pretty much convinced that Bayes theorem can be roughly applied to
> lots of our rational thinking, including that of science. However, anyone
> who has ever tried to plug in numbers to make this quantitative (as ID
> attempts to do sometimes at least) will be sorely disappointed. Indeed,
> Fishman never makes this attempt. He simply refers to his favorite
> atheists for confirmation.
> Does the argument provided above for the existence of God prove that God
> does not exist? Of course, not. Fishman wants to argue that the failures
> of such empirical tests provide support for His nonexistence. I think he
> is correct. We, however, would suggest that he has suggested a bad theory
> and we can good reasons to suggest that it is bad theory (e.g., the
> crucifixion). Does not, I think, entail that the discussion might not be
> engaged, perhaps not with him or any of his like minded friends. As we
> all probably know such conversations would likely be a waste of time. But
> even this provides evidence for the inadequacy of the method.
> I don't care what Fishman says, evidence is not self-interpreting, and
> certainly what we judge to be the important evidence and what not is
> likewise not unbiased. To mention but one example, I've seen papers
> attempting to use a Bayesian analysis of the order and rationality of the
> world in which they conclude (it might have been Plantinga) it is more
> likely that there is a rational all-powerful creator. But Fishman doesn't
> examine this argument. Of course, this argument is also open to doubt.
> I need to go, but let me conclude by saying that Fishman can legitimately
> apply such lines of thinking to the question of the existence of a
> proposed being with certain properties. Science does this all the time.
> Electrons were originally thought to be waves, later as particles, and now
> as quantum particles. The same can be attempted for God. Just as for
> electrons, any natural theology will change in response to new or more
> thoroughly considered evidence. Many have concluded there is no god based
> upon the evidence, and upon an analysis similar to Fishman's. It is
> likely that not all of them were faulty in their thinking. Their problem
> was that they tested the wrong god. Their god does not exist. Fishman's
> god likely doesn't exist either, just as phlogistin we now think doesn't
> exist.
> The issue of evidence for or against Christianity is a delicate one. On
> the one hand, because God is actively involved with His Creation, He must
> leave evidence. On the other hand, no amount of evidence will persuade
> you. Evidence can support, but not prove, or something less strong.
> Science relies on just such kinds of support. Nothing is proved. Nothing
> is certain. We rely I think upon the relative probabiliy of alternative
> hypotheses and internal coherence.
> that's it for now.
> bill
> On Mon, 20 Apr 2009, Bill Cobern wrote:
> > I would be interested to know if anyone on the list has read the
> following
> > article which is available as a pre-print at the
> > webpage. The article will appear sometime this year in the journal
> Science &
> > Education. I have a pdf copy if anyone would like to see the article but
> does
> > not have access to SpringerLink. As I say, I'm curious as to how people
> on
> > the list might respond to Fishman's arguments, especially those more
> > philosophically trained than I am!
> > grace & peace
> > bill
> >
> >
> >
> > Can Science Test Supernatural Worldviews?
> > Yonatan I. Fishman
> > Abstract Several prominent scientists, philosophers, and scientific
> > institutions have
> > argued that science cannot test supernatural worldviews on the grounds
> that
> > (1) science
> > presupposes a naturalistic worldview (Naturalism) or that (2) claims
> > involving supernatural
> > phenomena are inherently beyond the scope of scientific investigation.
> The
> > present paper
> > argues that these assumptions are questionable and that indeed science
> can
> > test supernatural
> > claims. While scientific evidence may ultimately support a naturalistic
> > worldview,
> > science does not presuppose Naturalism as an a priori commitment, and
> > supernatural
> > claims are amenable to scientific evaluation. This conclusion challenges
> the
> > rationale
> > behind a recent judicial ruling in the United States concerning the
> teaching
> > of ''Intelligent
> > Design'' in public schools as an alternative to evolution and the
> official
> > statements of two
> > major scientific institutions that exert a substantial influence on
> science
> > educational policies
> > in the United States. Given that science does have implications
> concerning
> > the
> > probable truth of supernatural worldviews, claims should not be excluded
> a
> > priori from
> > science education simply because they might be characterized as
> supernatural,
> > paranormal,
> > or religious. Rather, claims should be excluded from science education
> when
> > the evidence
> > does not support them, regardless of whether they are designated as
> 'natural'
> > or
> > 'supernatural'.
> >
> >
> >
> >
> >
> >
> > Dr. Bill Cobern, Director
> > <>The George G. Mallinson Institute for
> Science
> > Education
> > University Distinguished Professor of Biological Sciences and Science
> > Education
> > College of Arts & Sciences
> > Western Michigan University
> > 3225 Wood Hall
> > Kalamazoo, MI 49008-5444
> > Voice: +269.387.5407 FAX: +269.387.4998
> ><>
> >
> >
> > Yes, there really is a
> > <>Kalamazoo!
> >
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Received on Tue Apr 21 17:39:09 2009

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