Post No.: 0907
The words paranormal and supernatural are usually used synonymously and in most cases this is no problem for they both refer to phenomena that’s believable without a basis on empirical observations gathered though the scientific method, because they are believed to be phenomena that transcend the observable universe.
Notwithstanding, ‘paranormal’ technically means ‘alongside the normal’ and ‘supernatural’ technically means ‘above the natural’ – although whether we regard a phenomenon that’s not normal or natural as ‘alongside’ or ‘above’ is debateable.
Another, although highly arguable, distinction is that people who believe in supernatural phenomena precisely do so without regard for empirical evidence because it’s about their faith (e.g. few are trying to find objective methods to test whether angels exist), whereas people who believe in paranormal phenomena do seek for empirical evidence but fall for pseudoscience as their proof (e.g. when using temperature guns to hunt for ghosts).
Confirmation bias pervades much of paranormal thought, prophecies and curses, like twisting or even continually and completely reinterpreting ambiguous words and/or events at will, especially after the events (‘postdictions’ or the hindsight bias, as opposed to predictions), and even when proven incorrect time and time again. For instance, the goalposts for proving a prophecy wrong keep moving away because it gets reinterpreted to mean some other future date instead.
Because science increasingly reveals how complex the universe is, with dispassionate and soulless explanations for natural phenomena, and often throws up more questions than answers too – the cognitive ease or plausibility of many pseudoscientific claims and/or the unshakeable surety of faith-based explanations are attractive alternatives. (Post No.: 0496 explained why faiths are such strong cultural memes.) Many people, even in this modern day, seek the comfort of simplicity and gravitate towards beliefs of the divine or spiritual.
Both sides forward the argument of ‘just because you don’t understand something, it doesn’t mean it must therefore be a load of ****’ – but one side is talking about fundamental physics and the other is talking about the metaphysical or transcendental.
But the overall and increasingly more confident scientific consensus (I guess one should say so far) is that no unambiguous or non-circumstantial evidence has ever been truly found to support claims of the supernatural or paranormal. ‘Magic’ is only stuff that science has yet to explain.
Also, as a logical thought – when supernatural or paranormal phenomena are supposedly attributed to particular human-fabricated objects or concepts, such as TV screens, cameras, coming out at ‘12 o’clock’ at midnight, or numbers aligning according to the decimal number system, then they’re highly likely going to be merely human-fabricated beliefs. Well what did ghosts do before these things were invented or became significant?!
Many spiritual explanations do involve things that have an element of scientific truth behind them but then they’re taken a step too far, such as everything being connected to everything else in some way and everything happening for a reason. For both of these, things are or do – but in a physically causal way rather than by deliberate divine design or intervention.
Our beliefs mustn’t be contradicted by empirical evidence, and must be supported by empirical evidence where testable. And scientific inquiry is the most powerful tool for objectively describing the world. The scientific method builds knowledge through seeking evidence that can be confirmed by any other person if they wish to replicate an experiment or study.
Religion and science aren’t two wholly non-overlapping fields, and where they do overlap, like questions of ‘how’ and ‘is’, then the scientifically-derived answer should hold more persuasive power than an answer based on faith. So questions about the existence of supernatural phenomena, which are questions about ‘is’ or existence, and ‘how’ phenomena actually occur, or questions about whether a scriptural event could’ve occurred or not (e.g. a flood at a certain time and place), will fall under the remit of science. Some facets of supernatural or paranormal beliefs can be studied from the social science of psychology – like hallucinations or why some people believe in phenomena such as poltergeists.
Also, as a logical thought – if ghosts do exist and if one ever harmed me then I’d know that death isn’t the end… hence I could just simply haunt that ghost back with an absolute vengeance when I’m dead too! It’d mean that there’s no need to fear being dead or ghosts. Perhaps if any living being murders me then, with my dying breath, I can confirm that I will haunt them – so bring it! Otherwise if ghosts don’t exist then there’s definitely logically no need to fear them. Or if death is the end then that’d be sad, yet there’d be nothing to fear again – I won’t be bothered about it when I’m personally dead because I literally cannot be bothered since there’d be no ‘me’ anymore except in the memories of any loved ones who survive me; for whom the tragedy would be really reserved for.
Everything that’s real – that has an effect on anything, like us and our lives – involves physical structures or processes, such as particles, waves or fields. We could believe in non-physical phenomena that cannot be empirically detected but if so, we risk believing in anything absurd if we don’t care for empirical evidence. Well if you believe that you’ve seen ghosts then you must believe that they’re physical because to be able to see, hear, feel or smell one means that there are light, sound waves or other physical phenomena involved – so present to the scientific community that physical evidence. (Things like the electromagnetic and nuclear forces, the ‘force’ of gravity (or gravitons), and sound waves or light waves (or photons), don’t have intrinsic mass (according to mainstream theories) but are still nevertheless physical phenomena that must obey the laws of physics.)
So, for instance, if you believe you’ve seen telekinesis happen then that’s a physical phenomenon because physical objects have apparently been remotely moved. Please present to the scientific community that physical evidence and how other people can reliably replicate how you found that evidence.
We’re physical objects with physical senses, so if you believe that something has an effect on us, you should be able to physically prove it. Or if something doesn’t have an effect on us or anything else that’s real in this universe then why believe in it (apart from as a placebo)?
These phenomena are falsifiable, and science can therefore answer whether they truly exist or not. But believers in supernatural or paranormal phenomena simply struggle to find unambiguous and repeatable evidence to prove that they truly exist outside of their own minds. So the chief issue isn’t that we cannot prove them to be false – the chief issue is accepting that they’re false because of the lack of evidence.
Gaps in scientific knowledge are often taken to be proof of God’s existence. A ‘God of the gaps’ reasoning attempts to take advantage of things that cannot be scientifically falsified. But the fallacy is in thinking that if something cannot be proved false then it must be true. Not being able to prove falseness doesn’t necessarily mean something has proved true – it may still be false but one just cannot prove it once and for all, either because of the nature of a question, one doesn’t have the resources to conduct the experiment, or one cannot turn back time to fully observe what actually happened.
Besides, shouldn’t it be up to those who believe that a deity did something to prove that this deity did this thing? The ‘burden of proof’ shouldn’t be on the sceptic but on the party who asserts an extraordinary claim – just like it’s not down to a defendant to prove her/his innocence but down to the plaintiff to prove the defendant’s guilt beyond reasonable doubt. “Why not?” questions should be countered with, “Why so?” responses.
Asking someone to prove a negative is unfair because even if they prove that a trillion things aren’t true, you’ll still not be satisfied. Or it’s like you can perpetually prove that you won’t steal from someone by never stealing from them, but they’ll perpetually conclude that you one day will. (They might also end up interpreting every ambiguous signal as confirming that you are about to steal from them too.) Ceaselessly believing that ‘we cannot find evidence yet but one day we definitely will’ isn’t a healthy or fair way to live regarding beliefs.
One can go on forever proving that something isn’t the correct answer but this won’t practically get us closer to what is the correct answer. It’s therefore up to the party who asserts an extraordinary claim to prove the positive – so if you claim the existence of something then you must unambiguously prove it. It’s not up to others to categorically prove something doesn’t exist otherwise we can believe in any kind of made-up conjecture or absurdity. Meow.
But it’s sometimes not so clear where the burden of proof should lie, and a case of ‘burden tennis’ plays out as both sides of an argument keep passing the burden back onto the other. One example is should the onus be on someone to prove that their new product is safe (the precautionary principle) or on others to prove that it isn’t safe (the presumption of innocence) before determining whether this product should be allowed to be released onto the market? And maybe the response, “Why would you do it?” to the question, “Why wouldn’t you do it?”, or similar, is just throwing a question against a question and isn’t a satisfactory answer.
As science advances, the notion of an intelligent designer or Creator gets progressively pushed into the margins that science cannot seem to explain. According to general relativity, God is pushed to singularities during the Big Bang and in black holes, which can be the beginning and end of things. Now this has yet been empirically supported, if it ever will, but if spacetime formed a closed surface without boundaries then there’d be no beginning or end; as in no singularities that break the theory of general relativity because singularities introduce points of troubling infinities in the mathematics. It’s like the surface of a sphere is finite yet has no boundaries or edges, except this surface would have more dimensions. And if there’s no beginning, is there anywhere left for a creationist God to fill in the gaps?
Nonetheless – what, or indeed possibly who, determined why the laws of nature are the way they are? What or who set the initial conditions of this universe? What or who made this universe (or the multiverse) exist at all? And then what or who made this maker (what or who made God)? And so forth… Science isn’t saying that there 100% cannot have been a creationist God of some sort – science is just showing that there isn’t any need for an intelligent designer. Even the very first thing that kick-started absolutely everything doesn’t need to have had any intentional design or intelligence i.e. it could’ve just been something spontaneous.
So we cannot be categorically 100% sure that goddesses, gods, ghosts, etc. don’t exist, but we can be pretty certain they don’t have to in order to explain the phenomena we experience.
As some say – religion isn’t stupid, just unnecessary. And this applies to the facets of religion that improve our social and psychological fluffy well-being too (e.g. we can have well-functioning and peaceful secular societies, or meditate without a spiritual interpretation for what we experience).
Due to modern scientific explanations for phenomena and a better understanding of mental and personality disorders – if someone tried to pull the stunt of claiming to be a messiah today, most people would just laugh at and ignore that individual(!)
…This is all understandably a controversial subject for many people so if you want to share your perspectives and logics then please do, with composed civility, through the Twitter comment button below.