Riker's Mailbox

Friday, May 30, 2008


I took part in the hardest debate I've had in ages yesterday evening. The funny thing about it is, it was not a debate with a believer, it was with an atheistic agnostic.

This opponent of mine is a good buddy; he's just really tough to argue with. He spends so much time aggressively nitpicking semantics and other details that the person speaking to him never gets to present a coherent statement.

It's like door-to-door salesmen trying to sell their respective encyclopedias and vacuum cleaners to each other, only the vacuum cleaner salesman's pitch consists of knocking his opponent's encyclopedias out of his hands.

Anyway, the primary point of contention boiled down to this: I'm a naturalist, and he's a scientifically-minded nonbeliever who insists on reserving space for the supernatural.

Here's the argument that came to me in the shower this morning.*

Everything that has ever been believed to be supernatural, has remained supernatural right up to the point at which it became scientifically understood. Sounds almost too simple to need to be put into words. The point is, we've never once found anything in nature that, once we learned a certain amount about it, determined that it was actually a supernatural phenomenon. It just doesn't work that way. The progression, for every phenomenon in recorded human history, has been from supernatural to natural... never the other way. So, why is it reasonable to keep insisting that something truly supernatural must still be out there? Isn't it more likely that it's all 'apparently supernatural' phenomena that just haven't been understood yet?

If the 'supernatural' set has been diminishing since its inception, and nothing has ever transitioned into it, don't you just take a step back and say, "Okay, this isn't a sound hypothesis after all."?

I see a string of zeros trillions long, and I make the presumably safe assumption that it's probably more zeros to come. He looks at it and says, "well there's gotta be a 1 at some point..."

He says that looking at the information out there and defaulting toward the negative "there's nothing supernatural" is equally as ignorant as any believer of any specific faith arguing for the existence of their god.

But when the score is Natural: Countless to Supernatural: 0, how much more evidence does one need before a natural assumption is seen as the more appropriate conclusion?

* - Just in time to be a day late... nice work there, Kev.

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