Methodological Supernaturalism: Better than Methodological Naturalism
June 4, 2013
In methodological naturalism the only acceptable explanations are those that provide physical evidence in support of a step-by-step causal-mechanical procedure leading up to the event’s occurrence. Example: The bridge collapsed because a truck trailer collided with one of the critical support beams, which caused the rest of the structure to fail in a cascading fashion. The step-by-step causal-mechanical procedure shows us exactly how the event came about. Seeing exactly how the event came about is called understanding how the event happened. The physical evidence in support of each step gives us reason to think that our proposed step-by-step procedure is the correct one. But this is all so limiting!
Methodological naturalism doesn’t let us appeal to supernatural entities in explaining our observations. This is a really big problem in lots of areas of human conduct, like: the law, science, engineering, medicine. Most people believe in God and other supernatural entities, so it is just silly for them to ignore the supernatural domain in the aforementioned domains.
Criminal investigators try to find eyewitnesses to a crime. Later on, attorneys ask these eyewitnesses if they can point to the person they saw, and they point to the defendant, or say “no”. Attorneys and judges think this is powerful evidence. It’s like these idiots haven’t even heard of demonic possession. Any defense attorney worth his salt in silver will point out that, yes, his client’s physical body was there committing the crime, but it was not him. It was a demon.
A good defense attorney should provide evidence for such a theory. That’s easy. Faith.
“Your honor, the defense submits into evidence exhibit F, our collective faith in the supernatural. Why else would we swear on the Bible?” Boom. Done. Now the jury won’t convict the defendant, because after all, coulda been a demon what did the crime.
Got video evidence?
Correspondingly, the prosecutor’s job is super easy. The defendant is guilty, and all the jury needs is the inner testimony of the Holy Spirit.
“Your Honor, the State submits exhibit H, the inner testimony of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit testifies that the defendant is guilty, as the jury can see by praying and fasting tonight; the Holy Spirit has assured me that He will appear to them, to Your Honor, and to the Defense. The State rests.”
Jeff Ashton, Casey Anthony’s prosecutor, relied on evidence, rather than the inner testimony of the Holy Spirit. Result: Not Guilty.
See, when you throw methodological naturalism out the window, as you do when you believe in supernatural entities based on faith, trials become trivial. Why don’t we just rely on the inner testimony of the Holy Spirit? We know it works, because that’s how Alvin Plantinga and William Lane Craig know that God exists.
Also, a detective’s job becomes really easy. Instead of going out and finding clues, collective evidence, etc, the detective should just pray and ask God who did it. That’s what divination is! Why haven’t we been training our detectives in the art of divination?? They are wasting their time crawling around on the floor looking for hairs and fingernails and other minute pieces of physical evidence. Plus, even if you find the evidence, there’s no ruling out a demon, so it’s all useless anyway! Silly naturalism!
We can just as easily understand how an event happened by saying it is God’s will. Saying it is God’s will is a reliable explanation because Faith, and this is so much simpler than causal-mechanical mumbo jumbo. So that’s parsimony.
We can easily see that methodological supernaturalism is much more powerful than methodological naturalism. Methodological naturalism hasn’t explained consciousness, and maybe it can’t! But methodological supernaturalism can easily explain it: souls. Humans have immaterial souls, meaning not made of matter or energy, and these souls are the seats of our consciousness.
What are souls made of? Luckily, we don’t even need to ask that question, because we are methodological supernaturalists. They are made of soul stuff.
Where exactly are the souls in relation to the physical body, and how do they connect? Again, not our problem. There are two types of substances, physical, and soulish (AKA spirit), and the soulish stuff just sort of floats inside the physical stuff somewhere, and sends it instructions and receives information.
On the physical body side, we know the instructions and information move by electrical pulse through nerves and neurons. Methodological naturalism tells us that. But we don’t care about step-by-step causal-mechanical procedures on the soulish side, so we consider that side to be already explained.
A diagram of how the soul and body work. Courtesy of a Bible Belt science textbook, probably.
Methodological naturalism is a big drag, and it slows down all kinds of human investigation. We could speed up criminal investigations and trials, and all of science, if we would just stick to methodological supernaturalism.
When Apollo 13 broke down, we could see these two competing methodologies at work. The engineers at NASA tried to use methodological naturalism to identify the step-by-step causal-mechanical procedure explaining the explosion, and then fix it and bring the astronauts home through an engineered step-by-step causal-mechanical procedure, which they called a solution. But the Pope and the rest of the world just prayed for the astronauts. Which do you think had more effect on bringing them home: The naturalistic tinkering of a handful of engineers, or the prayers of billions and all the power of God the Almighty Father? Easy. God is more powerful, so He had more effect.
Of course, we have a really interesting case study in Apollo 12, which was almost a tragedy. At liftoff, lightning struck the shuttle, and it lost power, but the rockets continued firing. Everyone was freaking out because there was an out of control rocket hurling over the Atlantic. But God, in His wisdom, divinely inspired NASA systems engineer John Aaron to remember one of the many simulations the team ran in which he saw similar data. Thanks to all the practice, and God’s inspiration, Aaron remembered an obscure switch that would fix the problem. How could methodological naturalism explain this? It can’t. That’s how.
But it gets even more interesting. Apollo 1 really was a tragedy. They were doing a routine test on the launchpad, and they put too much oxygen in the cabin. Also, there was a bunch of highly flammable material in the cabin. Something sparked, and it set the cabin’s oxygen and its highly flammable materials on fire. The astronauts couldn’t get out because the door was forced close from all the pressure inside the cabin (it opened inwardly).
It all happened so fast that no one had enough time to pray to God, so they couldn’t fix the problem and save the astronauts. For all the explanation and understanding of the tragedy that methodological naturalism has since given us, it couldn’t save those astronauts while they were burning. Only God could. But since the Pope didn’t know about it in time, he couldn’t ask God to save them, so God didn’t. If this doesn’t prove that methodological supernaturalism is superior to methodological naturalism, then I just don’t know what would. Faith I guess.
Well, technically, prior to the launch test the Apollo 1 crew did indeed pray to God that nothing would go wrong. But as I said, they forgot to ask the Pope to pray to God, so God didn’t stop the fire from happening. Also, at the time, they meant it as sort of a tongue-in-cheek joke, thereby taking the Lord’s name in vain.
Apollo 1 astronauts praying to God their capsule doesn’t explode.
After the Apollo 1 tragedy, NASA engineers built a new type of cabin hatch, removed the highly flammable material, and made the oxygen content lower during the tests. They haven’t had any more tragedies related to those reasons. But I think it’s really just that, after the tragedy, people, including the Pope, prayed to God and asked Him not to let that happen anymore, and He said, “Okay, I’ll make sure it never happens again. By the way, if you wanted to go to the Moon, why didn’t you just ask me to take you there on a winged horse or something? I would have done it.”
About the Author: Seth KurtenbachSeth Kurtenbach is pursuing his PhD in computer science at the University of Missouri. His current research focuses on the application of formal logic to questions about knowledge and rationality. He has his Master's degree in philosophy from the University of Missouri, and is growing an epic beard in order to maintain his philosophical powers. You can email Seth at Seth.Kurtenbach@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter: @SJKur.
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