Saturday, February 16, 2008

Scientific Study of the Supernatural

This morning I found an excellent paper by Dr. Yonatan Fishman, an Assistant Professor of Neurology at Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University in New York, titled “Can Science Test Supernatural Worldviews?”. Fishman argues that no field of knowledge is inaccessible to scientific study. He points out that this contradicts the idea of "non-overlapping magesteria" that is often used to exempt supernatural concepts from rational analysis, as well as to exclude Intelligent Design and other religious ideas from science curricula.

This is something I’ve thought about many times and wanted to write about, but Fishman’s paper covers the subject with much more rigor and detail than I’d have been able to supply. Here are some quotes (with page numbers):

9 The findings of modern neuroscience strongly support the dependence of perception, cognition, emotion, memory, decision making, and personality on the function of the physical brain.

11 In general, most believers hold that gods, spirits, and paranormal phenomena have real effects on the world and on their lives. These effects should be testable by the methods of science.

12 The history of science has been characterized by the progressive ‘naturalization of the world’, providing non-supernatural alternative explanations for phenomena that were once thought to be explicable only by appeal to supernatural agents.

17 Demarcating ‘science’ from ‘pseudoscience’ or ‘natural’ from ‘supernatural’ is not only problematic but unnecessary. The crucial question is not, Is it science? or Is it supernatural?, but rather, Is there any good reason to believe that claim X is true?

17 If the fundamental aim of science is the pursuit of truth - to uncover, to the extent that humans are capable, the nature of reality - then science should go wherever the evidence leads. If the evidence were to strongly suggest the existence of supernatural phenomena, then so be it.

17 Naturalism is not a premise or presupposition of science - it is a conclusion of science, albeit a tentative one, based upon the available evidence to date.

18 The best explanation for why there has been so far no convincing, independently verifiable evidence for supernatural phenomena, despite honest and methodologically sound attempts to verify them, is that these phenomena probably do not exist. Indeed, as discussed earlier, absence of evidence, where such evidence is expected to be found after extensive searching, is evidence of absence.

18 Contrary to the positions expressed [in the 2005 Dover Pennsylvania school district trial] by Judge Jones, the AAAS, and the NAS, the reason why supernatural or religious claims, such as those of ID/Creationism, do not belong in science classes is not because they have supernatural or religious content, but rather because there is either no convincing evidence to support them or science has debunked them.

1 comment:

OpenJoe said...

Hi Joel. Very interesting stuff here. All the references down to the one from p.17 made sense to me, but the two from p.18 didn't because the author may very well be speaking of scientific measuring tools that are not effective perceptors and measurers of the supernatural phenomenon being referred to, though I'm not sure what he's referring to.