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

From: Bill Powers <>
Date: Tue Apr 21 2009 - 17:41:10 EDT


Fishman makes no reference to miracles per se. He is only interested in
verifiable evidence. So for example he cites work on "intercessory
prayer." I've heard results on both sides of this aisle, but he cites
only a study which concluded that the there was no evidence of a
verifiable effect.

His approach is simple and should be familiar to us. You make an
hypothesis and then determine whether the "evidence" supports the
hypothesis or not. The example I gave in a previous post could be
viewed as the confirmation or disconfirmation of a law-like covering


On Tue, 21 Apr 2009, 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 17:41:39 2009

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