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Thread: The term "naturalism" is vague and bordering on being meaningless

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    Fair dinkum thinkum bilby's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bomb#20 View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by bilby View Post
    I quoted one, with the comment "I agree", as the opening remark of my post.

    So, yes, I have got one - it's the one abaddon presented.

    Quote Originally Posted by abaddon View Post
    That's probably the only criterion: not subject to the same laws as fully physical things.
    Well then, same questions I asked abaddon: what the heck do you mean by "laws" and "physical"?
    Physical - comprised only of those components described by the Standard Model of particle physics:



    Law - A statement that accurately describes (and therefore predicts) what is observed to occur under specified conditions.

    So to be supernatural, an object must either be comprised of substances other than those described by the Standard Model; or must behave in ways not predicted by their prior behaviour under the same conditions; or both.

    No such objects exist, but it's fairly easy to imagine them, as long as you are allowed to wave your hands a lot.

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    Quote Originally Posted by bilby View Post
    So to be supernatural, an object must either be comprised of substances other than those described by the Standard Model; or must behave in ways not predicted by their prior behaviour under the same conditions; or both.

    No such objects exist, but it's fairly easy to imagine them, as long as you are allowed to wave your hands a lot.
    Supernatural objects don't behave scientifically, they behave superscientifically. As yet, however, no one has been able to unravel the laws of superscience, which explains our inability to make predictions about the behavior of supernatural objects and forces.

    See how easy that was?

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    double post
    Last edited by T.G.G. Moogly; 04-23-2020 at 08:53 PM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by bilby View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by Bomb#20 View Post
    Well then, same questions I asked abaddon: what the heck do you mean by "laws" and "physical"?
    Physical - comprised only of those components described by the Standard Model of particle physics:
    When scientists used the word "physical" back in the 19th and early 20th centuries, before the standard model existed, they evidently meant something different by "physical". How did you acquire your understanding of the term?

    So you'd classify "dark matter" and "dark energy" as nonphysical?

    Law - A statement that accurately describes (and therefore predicts) what is observed to occur under specified conditions.

    So to be supernatural, an object must either be comprised of substances other than those described by the Standard Model;
    So that would be, what, 95% of the universe, then?

    or must behave in ways not predicted by their prior behaviour under the same conditions; or both.
    So every radioactive nucleon in the universe is supernatural. At some point it will decay; and "It is not decaying" is a statement that accurately describes its prior behavior under the same conditions.

    No such objects exist, but it's fairly easy to imagine them, as long as you are allowed to wave your hands a lot.
    How do you know no such objects exist? You're asserting there are no gravitons. Show your work.

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    A very central piece of bilbys first post in this thread is this specification on what scale we are talking: "on a human scale"
    If there are "unknown forces" that gods and ghosts uses then these forces must work "on a human scale".
    We know (as sure as we know anything and surer than most we know) that there are no unknown forces "on a human scale".

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    Quote Originally Posted by Juma View Post
    A very central piece of bilbys first post in this thread is this specification on what scale we are talking: "on a human scale"
    The thread topic is whether the term "naturalism" is vague and meaningless. The question I asked bilby was what he means by "laws" and "physical". Are you proposing that what those words mean depends on scale?

  7. Top | #17
    Fair dinkum thinkum bilby's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bomb#20 View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by Juma View Post
    A very central piece of bilbys first post in this thread is this specification on what scale we are talking: "on a human scale"
    The thread topic is whether the term "naturalism" is vague and meaningless. The question I asked bilby was what he means by "laws" and "physical". Are you proposing that what those words mean depends on scale?
    Of course what 'physical' means depends on scale. Dark matter and dark energy might as well not exist for all the effect they have at human scales; The same is true of most quantum phenomena. It's perfectly possible to have an excellent understanding of physics at one scale, while being completely unaware of the physics at other scales - which is why Newton was able to develop an extremely accurate theory of universal gravitation, and a number of important and useful laws of motion, without accounting for either relativistic or quantum effects.

    If we needed to grasp the details of every smaller (or larger) scale before we could make accurate predictions at our own scale, it would be effectively impossible to do any science at all, and we would still be staring at rocks in Olduvai Gorge.

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    Quote Originally Posted by bilby View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by Bomb#20 View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by Juma View Post
    A very central piece of bilbys first post in this thread is this specification on what scale we are talking: "on a human scale"
    The thread topic is whether the term "naturalism" is vague and meaningless. The question I asked bilby was what he means by "laws" and "physical". Are you proposing that what those words mean depends on scale?
    Of course what 'physical' means depends on scale. Dark matter and dark energy might as well not exist for all the effect they have at human scales;
    In the first place, that's a bizarre theory of linguistics. It's rather like saying, now that we realize in opposition to all previous expectation that distant galaxies are accelerating away from us, that "attraction" now means "pushing apart" at the largest scales, and only means "pulling together" on more human scales. In normal speech, we'd say we discovered that at large scales galaxies experience gravitational repulsion rather than gravitational attraction. When things are different in unfamiliar domains, we typically say different things about them, instead of saying the same things while meaning something different. Why on earth would something's lack of effect on us change what the word "physical" means?

    And in the second place, dark matter has a huge effect at human scales: according to current theory, dark matter is what made galaxies coalesce. No Milky Way Galaxy, no humans. Likewise dark energy, if it turns out to be a manifestation of the same phenomenon as the other kind of gravitational repulsion, cosmic inflation. No inflation, no humans.

    The same is true of most quantum phenomena.
    But there are lots of quantum phenomena at human scales. Lasers, atomic bombs, digital cameras...

    It's perfectly possible to have an excellent understanding of physics at one scale, while being completely unaware of the physics at other scales - which is why Newton was able to develop an extremely accurate theory of universal gravitation, and a number of important and useful laws of motion, without accounting for either relativistic or quantum effects.

    If we needed to grasp the details of every smaller (or larger) scale before we could make accurate predictions at our own scale, it would be effectively impossible to do any science at all, and we would still be staring at rocks in Olduvai Gorge.
    Sure, but what's that got to do with language? Why would you need to grasp the details of every smaller or larger scale in order to know what you mean by a word?

    Let's imagine ourselves in 1899. I ask what you mean by "physical" and, presumably, you say "comprised only of those components described by Newtonian physics and Maxwell's laws". Physics was widely conceived at the time to be just about finished -- all that supposedly remained was to add precision to known constants, account for a few anomalies like radioactivity remote from normal human experience, and locate the planet Vulcan that would account for Mercury's odd movements.

    But then somebody discovers space-time curvature and everybody stops looking for Vulcan. So what happened there? Did Einstein discover a "nonphysical" "supernatural" effect? That's what the 1899-bilby definition would imply. Back in 1899, did "physical" perhaps mean one thing at human scale and a different thing at Mercury scale, and then English changed to make "physical" subsequently mean the same thing "between the scale of atomic nuclei and solar systems"? (Even though it apparently still means something different exactly at the scale of an atomic nucleus, in order for us not to have to classify radioactivity as "supernatural".) Or did English-speakers go right on meaning the same thing by "physical", and merely find out the laws of physics are different from what we thought they were?

    Imagine 1899-you subsequently went on to experience 20th-century physics progressing in a different direction. Imagine this weren't a QFT/GM world at all, but one where radioactivity and Mercury and scientifically repeatable observations of ghosts capturable by Ghostbusters-style electrical traps were being explained by some entirely different laws that Newton's were also a close approximation to -- laws that allow for ghosts, afterlife, interventions by gods, and observation by gods. Would 1920-you go on insisting that physical means "comprised only of those components described by Newtonian physics and Maxwell's laws", and declare ghosts and gods to be supernatural, and claim we live in a world with a natural part and a supernatural part? If you would, why would you do that? Why would you categorize observable objects based on whether they follow Newton's incorrect claim about what the world does? Why would you insist F=GMm/r^2 is a law ghosts "are not subject to", instead of simply discarding Newton's so-called "law" as outdated science? That's not what real-you does back in the real world, where it was Einstein who showed Mercury doesn't follow Newton's "Law". Heck, that's not even what imaginary-you were doing back in 1899. After all, Einstein wasn't the first to refute Newton. Newton's theory of light had been refuted fifty years earlier by a bunch of Frenchmen, and 1899-you were accepting Maxwell's laws. 1899-you wouldn't have been rejecting Maxwell and calling optical diffraction "nonphysical", merely because it didn't match the otherwise extremely accurate theory of light Newton had developed, would you?

    "The supernatural" is impossible because it's conceptually incoherent. The idea that "the supernatural" is impossible because of what we know about how the world works amounts to the premise that "the supernatural" would be a viable theory if only the world worked differently; i.e., the premise that the world would have laws that the world doesn't follow; i.e., the premise that when the facts do not fit our theory it makes sense for us to keep our theory anyway. But that doesn't make sense. It's unscientific. "The great tragedy of science - the slaying of a beautiful hypothesis by an ugly fact."

  9. Top | #19
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    Quote Originally Posted by T.G.G. Moogly View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by Tammuz View Post
    I think a more sensible approach is to simply focus on what exists, and what doesn't exist, as far as we can tell, rather than to try to categorize things into categories that have no clear definition and no obvious utility.
    It must be true that nothing unnatural exists. If it's real it's natural. Period. If gods and demons and spirits and souls were real they must be natural.

    Things "supernatural" are clearly not natural becauae they are not known to exist. Mabe the arguments for such things are natural, but the objects themselves cannot be.
    That is a rather circular definition, and not the one typically employed. For example, the Internet Infidels are open to the notion that naturalism may be falsified:

    As defined by Paul Draper, naturalism is "the hypothesis that the natural world is a closed system, which means that nothing that is not a part of the natural world affects it." Thus, "naturalism implies that there are no supernatural entities"—including God.
    Thus something that is not part of the natural world but still affects it would falsify naturalism, by this definition.

    The devil is in the details, though. Ghosts would affect the natural world, indeed even reside in the natural world. Yet they are typically considered supernatural.

  10. Top | #20
    Industrial Grade Linguist Copernicus's Avatar
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    I think that "natural" and "supernatural" are perfectly clear in the context of a philosophical dualism in which reality is split between two distinct domains--the physical and the spiritual (or "occult"). Those two domains can interact causally with each other, so phenomena in the physical world can have supernatural causes and vice versa. So a spiritual being such as a god can perform miracles in the physical world, and events in the physical world can cause effects on spiritual beings. A "naturalist" then would be someone who rejects that concept of dualism and believes that there is just one "natural" domain. All things that happen, including all mental phenomena, therefore have physical causes. Conventional dualism holds that at least some mental activity takes place independently in the spiritual realm.

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