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  1. #1
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    Bias Against the Supernatural

    Several times I have seen "you have a bias against the supernatural" used as a dismissal.

    I hope to show:
    1. Everyone has a bias against the supernatural (although not to equal degrees).
    2. A bias against the supernatural is positive and a bias for the supernatural is negative.
    3. A bias against the supernatural is enough to refute any unsupported supernatural claim.

    Definitions
    supernatural: anything that is not possible within our current understanding of physical laws.
    natural: everything else.

    Since our understanding of science is not static, things can be reclassified over time. Example. Earth orbiting the Sun was once a supernatural claim.

    1. Everyone has a bias against the supernatural.
    Example:
    Think of something perfectly normal. Example. Several people can jump 1 foot.
    Nearly everyone that isn't trying to be difficult can easily agree with this claim because it fits in with our common understanding of science. No additional evidence is required because our shared understanding of how the world works is enough.

    Think of something extraordinary but not supernatural. The vertical jump world record is 5 feet.
    This still fits in with our shared understanding of science but it is at the fringes so this claim needs more external evidence. Such as a wikipedia article, a guinness book of world records entry, a youtube video or confirmation from a trusted sports trivia fan. Evidence is required but not too much.

    Think of something supernatural. I can jump 50 feet straight up. Assume there are no trick gotchas like a jet pack or standing on the moon.
    This is outside our understanding of science. The laws of physics say it is impossible for human to jump 50 feet straight up unaided. This claim requires a mountain of evidence before anyone should believe it. You probably would need statements from several trusted experts who personally saw me do it and examined me to make sure no strings were attached and inspect my shoes for jets and searched for wind machines and even after all that you would still have a hard time believing it wasn't a trick simply because it is a supernatural claim.

    If you do not require the same amount of evidence to believe I can jump 50 feet as you would require to believe I can jump 1 foot then you have a bias against the supernatural.

    2. A bias against the supernatural is positive and a bias for the supernatural is negative.

    Humans are pattern seekers. Very good ones. Computers are not good at pattern recognition. Instead they are good at examining every possibility one at a time.

    A computer can beat any human at chess because there are a limited number of choices in the game and a computer can compare every one before making a decision.

    A computer can NOT beat a human go master. There are too many choices for the computer to examine them all one at a time. Because a human relies on experiences and patterns he can make faster, better moves and win.

    If you ignore patterns and treat everything the same, requiring equal evidence for natural and supernatural claims then you would either A) spending all your time fact checking obvious claims or B) accept too many false claims as true.

    Using previous experience to recognize patterns is wise, effective and the only way you can get through the day.

    3. A bias against the supernatural is enough to refute any unsupported supernatural claims.
    Person A states "invisible elves live in your ear". Person B says "no they don't". Both did nothing more than state their opinion but Person B easily wins because tiny invisible elves are outside of our shared understanding of the way the world works. Person A is making a supernatural claim therefore the burden of proof is on them. While Person B can just state, that is an extraordinary claim and then patiently wait for the other side to present their extraordinary evidence.


    Therefore pointing out someone has a bias against the supernatural is a weak argument that should be avoided.

    And finally an example on how a supernatural claim becomes accepted as natural.
    Once upon a time all of our scientific tests (these were very weak tests that amounted to little more than speculation) pointed to the Earth being the center of the universe.
    Then in the 16th century Copernicus made the supernatural claim that the Earth orbited the sun therefore the Earth was not the center. Obviously just the claim would not be enough to change everyone's mind so he presented a mathematical model that proved he was right but that was not considered extraordinary evidence and so his theory remained classified as supernatural.
    In the 17th century Galileo provided an eye witness account that the Earth was not the center. Still not enough.
    Only when multiple other people used telescopes to see for themselves was the theory finally reclassified as natural and true.

    Obviously how Galieleo was treated was horribly wrong but that is beside the point. The point is extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Without multiple sources of strong evidence your claim will just be discounted and rightfully so because we can not afford to just assume everything is true.

  2. #2
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    Re: Bias Against the Supernatural

    What makes something "supernatural"?
    If I am capable of grasping God objectively, I do not believe, but precisely because I cannot do this I must believe. - Soren Kierkegaard
    **** you, I won't do what you tell me

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  3. #3
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    Re: Bias Against the Supernatural

    It was defined in the first post
    Quote Originally Posted by Kong View Post
    Definitions
    supernatural: anything that is not possible within our current understanding of physical laws.
    natural: everything else.

  4. #4
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    Re: Bias Against the Supernatural

    Quote Originally Posted by Kong View Post
    It was defined in the first post
    Then I'd object to your second point. We naturally seek out patterns, but we can see them when they aren't there (astrology and various defunct scientific/medical theories) and only see them incompletely when they are (Newtonian mechanics, quantum mechanics, etc.). If we trenchantly oppose challenges to our theoretical frameworks, we will find ourselves opposing needed refinements. We should always be willing to evaluate new evidence and challenge old theories (and new ones).

    Your position would have us siding with Aristotle against Newton, with Newton against Einstein, and with Einstein against Bohr. And you'd be wrong every time.
    If I am capable of grasping God objectively, I do not believe, but precisely because I cannot do this I must believe. - Soren Kierkegaard
    **** you, I won't do what you tell me

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  5. #5
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    Re: Bias Against the Supernatural

    A bias implies that the person with the bias is incapable of rationally looking at a situation.
    If I find in myself a desire which nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another. C.S. Lewis

  6. #6
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    Re: Bias Against the Supernatural

    Quote Originally Posted by Kong View Post
    Using previous experience to recognize patterns is wise, effective and the only way you can get through the day.

    3. A bias against the supernatural is enough to refute any unsupported supernatural claims.
    Person A states "invisible elves live in your ear". Person B says "no they don't". Both did nothing more than state their opinion but Person B easily wins because tiny invisible elves are outside of our shared understanding of the way the world works. Person A is making a supernatural claim therefore the burden of proof is on them. While Person B can just state, that is an extraordinary claim and then patiently wait for the other side to present their extraordinary evidence.
    You say that Person B "easily wins", but really don't provide sufficient detail of how or why this is true, or who is judging the conditions for victory.

    To paraphrase Ricky Gervais' commentary on atheism, if someone comes up to me claiming he can fly, and the basis for his proof is him stating, "Well, prove you can't fly." If we accept his argument that absence of evidence to the contrary equates to proof, then how can we avoid any failure of me to fly being simply waved off as a failed attempt, and surely I'll succeed next time? This scenario is a rigged game in which there is only one side that can win.

    Instead, anyone making any extraordinary claims, be it God, ghosts, cold fusion, or a cure for cancer must have the burden of proof placed upon them because A) they're the ones claiming the (currently understood to be) impossible, and B) absence of evidence disproving the claim is not, of itself, proof. The latter is something that a disappointing number of theists seem to not understand.

    I personally find the term "supernatural" completely meaningless. I understand how its defined above, but I reject that definition as a post hoc definition. The word exists in a pejorative context by some, therefore you're attempting to change the definition to something more palatable. Instead, I find it more productive to recognize that, regardless of whether we know how something works, anything that complies with natural laws, which is to say anything in existence, must be considered "natural". (This is distinctly different than "naturally occurring", which narrows the scope to exclude man-made objects.)
    Last edited by wakko; August 11th, 2011 at 09:52 AM. Reason: Cleaning up my grammar.
    "... freedom is not, as we are told, a liberty for every man to do what he lists but a liberty to dispose, and order as he lists, his person, actions, possessions, and his whole property, within the allowance of those laws under which he is, and therein not to be subject to the arbitrary will of another, but freely follow his own." -- John Locke, Second Treatise on Government

  7. #7
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    Re: Bias Against the Supernatural

    Quote Originally Posted by estill View Post
    A bias implies that the person with the bias is incapable of rationally looking at a situation.
    It is not a refusal to be open minded or to rationally look at the evidence. It is a demand for more evidence than is required for common claims.

    A bias against the supernatural is nothing more than a belief that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.
    I need to work on being more concise because that one sentence is by far my main point and probably all I should have said in my first post.

    If you do not agree that the bolded sentence is true and is a positive method of dealing with the world, then I will attempt to prove it in detail, but it seems self evident to me.


    Quote Originally Posted by CliveStaples View Post
    Then I'd object to your second point.
    You are objecting to my example for the second point, not the actual point.

    Your position would have us siding with Aristotle against Newton, with Newton against Einstein, and with Einstein against Bohr. And you'd be wrong every time.
    In all these cases my position would have us siding with the side that either A) provided extra ordinary evidence or failing that B) fit in with our shared understanding of the world at the time. And in all these instances that is exactly what we did, we stuck with the previous theory until there was an enormous amount of evidence to prove the next. We did not accept Einsteins theories until they were extensively peer reviewed. If we accepted them simply because he made the claim then we would have made the right decision for the wrong reasons.

    Quote Originally Posted by wakko View Post
    You say that Person B "easily wins", but really don't provide sufficient detail of how or why this is true, or who is judging the conditions for victory.
    I think you misread my post. I think we are on the same side. I think Person B (the person with the bias against the supernatural) easily wins because the burden of prof is on Person A (the person making the supernatural claim). Which sounds like the same thing you are saying.

    Also if you don't like my definition of supernatural feel free to change it. I think my argument stands under any commonly accepted meaning of the word that includes gravity as natural and elves as supernatural.

  8. #8
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    Re: Bias Against the Supernatural

    In all these cases my position would have us siding with the side that either A) provided extra ordinary evidence or failing that B) fit in with our shared understanding of the world at the time. And in all these instances that is exactly what we did, we stuck with the previous theory until there was an enormous amount of evidence to prove the next. We did not accept Einsteins theories until they were extensively peer reviewed. If we accepted them simply because he made the claim then we would have made the right decision for the wrong reasons.
    First, what is "extra ordinary evidence"?

    Second, shouldn't we have a bias for the truth? You aren't arguing that we should have an unbiased view, evaluating evidence as it comes in and reshaping our theories. You are explicitly arguing for having a bias in favor of our old theories, and against new ones.
    If I am capable of grasping God objectively, I do not believe, but precisely because I cannot do this I must believe. - Soren Kierkegaard
    **** you, I won't do what you tell me

    HOLY CRAP MY BLOG IS AWESOME

  9. #9
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    Re: Bias Against the Supernatural

    Quote Originally Posted by Kong View Post
    I think you misread my post. I think we are on the same side.
    I don't believe I misread, and yes we're arguing the same side. My post was not meant to be a challenge, but an addition of supporting information.

    Quote Originally Posted by Kong View Post
    I think Person B (the person with the bias against the supernatural) easily wins because the burden of prof is on Person A (the person making the supernatural claim). Which sounds like the same thing you are saying.
    Yes. What I was hoping to add was why the burden of proof is where it is.

    Quote Originally Posted by Kong View Post
    Also if you don't like my definition of supernatural feel free to change it. I think my argument stands under any commonly accepted meaning of the word that includes gravity as natural and elves as supernatural.
    I believe that's what I did. ;-)
    "... freedom is not, as we are told, a liberty for every man to do what he lists but a liberty to dispose, and order as he lists, his person, actions, possessions, and his whole property, within the allowance of those laws under which he is, and therein not to be subject to the arbitrary will of another, but freely follow his own." -- John Locke, Second Treatise on Government

  10. #10
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    Re: Bias Against the Supernatural

    Quote Originally Posted by CliveStaples View Post
    First, what is "extra ordinary evidence"?
    I have cited multiple examples already.
    Eistein's claim and his theory of relativity were not extraordinary evidence on their own. His theory eventually being peer reviewed was extraordinary evidence.
    Copernicus' mathematical proof and Galileo's eye witness account through his telescope were not extraordinary evidence. Those combined with the ability to personally look through a telescope and see for yourself was extraordinary proof.

    Second, shouldn't we have a bias for the truth?
    You can not truly know which side is the truth.

    You do not know if I can jump 50 vertical feet or not but your bias against the supernatural says that most likely I can not. And if I want to prove it to you I will need much more than a youtube video of me doing it. But if I wanted to prove I could jump 1 foot, you would just take my word for it without any additional evidence.

    You aren't arguing that we should have an unbiased view, evaluating evidence as it comes in and reshaping our theories. You are explicitly arguing for having a bias in favor of our old theories, and against new ones.
    I am arguing that anything that requires supernatural belief requires much more evidence than something that fits in with our current understanding of physical laws.

    ---------- Post added at 10:36 AM ---------- Previous post was at 10:35 AM ----------

    Quote Originally Posted by wakko View Post
    I don't believe I misread, and yes we're arguing the same side. My post was not meant to be a challenge, but an addition of supporting information.
    OK. Cool. Makes sense now.

  11. #11
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    Re: Bias Against the Supernatural

    Quote Originally Posted by Kong View Post
    I have cited multiple examples already.
    Eistein's claim and his theory of relativity were not extraordinary evidence on their own. His theory eventually being peer reviewed was extraordinary evidence.
    Copernicus' mathematical proof and Galileo's eye witness account through his telescope were not extraordinary evidence. Those combined with the ability to personally look through a telescope and see for yourself was extraordinary proof.
    I'm sorry, but I still don't understand the distinction you're drawing. What you call "extraordinary evidence" seems to me to be perfectly ordinary evidence that is used to draw inferences in fairly ordinary ways.

    You can not truly know which side is the truth.

    You do not know if I can jump 50 vertical feet or not but your bias against the supernatural says that most likely I can not. And if I want to prove it to you I will need much more than a youtube video of me doing it. But if I wanted to prove I could jump 1 foot, you would just take my word for it without any additional evidence.

    I am arguing that anything that requires supernatural belief requires much more evidence than something that fits in with our current understanding of physical laws.
    I don't understand what you mean by "more" evidence. It seems to me that for any claim, there is some kind of evidence which, if found, would demonstrate the truth of that claim. I don't see where "supernatural" or "extraordinary" comes in at all.

    If I want to say that something called a "quark" has a property called "spin", I'm going to need the exact same proof whether the current understanding of science is Bronze Age or Newtonian.
    If I am capable of grasping God objectively, I do not believe, but precisely because I cannot do this I must believe. - Soren Kierkegaard
    **** you, I won't do what you tell me

    HOLY CRAP MY BLOG IS AWESOME

  12. #12
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    Re: Bias Against the Supernatural

    Quote Originally Posted by Kong View Post
    It is not a refusal to be open minded or to rationally look at the evidence. It is a demand for more evidence than is required for common claims.

    A bias against the supernatural is nothing more than a belief that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.
    I need to work on being more concise because that one sentence is by far my main point and probably all I should have said in my first post.

    If you do not agree that the bolded sentence is true and is a positive method of dealing with the world, then I will attempt to prove it in detail, but it seems self evident to me.
    I think the sentence is true. However, I disagree that this is what a bias against the supernatural is. A bias against the supernatural would be saying something along the lines of "the supernatural does not exist" or "no evidence is extraordinary enough to prove the supernatural."

    A bias is a prejudiced view against something.
    If I find in myself a desire which nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another. C.S. Lewis

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    Re: Bias Against the Supernatural

    @Clive, what type of evidence do you require for me to prove that I can jump 1 vertical foot? What kind of evidence do you require for me to prove I can jump 50 vertical feet?
    The difference between the two answers should be the difference between ordinary evidence and extraordinary evidence.

    Quote Originally Posted by estill View Post
    I think the sentence is true. However, I disagree that this is what a bias against the supernatural is. A bias against the supernatural would be saying something along the lines of "the supernatural does not exist" or "no evidence is extraordinary enough to prove the supernatural."
    I agree saying "no evidence is extraordinary enough to prove the supernatural." is going too far and is an unfair bias.

    However numerous times on ODN I have been accused of having a bias against the supernatural when I requested extraordinary evidence. Often it is right after I described what I would accept as adequate evidence.

    For example, if two identical bibles were proven to have been written by two different groups that had no contact with each other then I would consider that extraordinary evidence. When I make statements like that I am accused of being biased.

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    Re: Bias Against the Supernatural

    Quote Originally Posted by Kong View Post
    A bias against the supernatural is enough to refute any unsupported supernatural claims.
    Would you agree that there should also be a more reasonable bias against materialism? Because according to some leading scientists, science often takes the side of science in spite of the “patent absurdity” and lack of support and evidence, and not because of it.

    We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism. It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counterintuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door. -- Professor Richard Lewontin, a geneticists and senior figure in the scientific establishment )
    "The universe is immaterial-mental and spiritual.” --"The Mental Universe” | Nature
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    Re: Bias Against the Supernatural

    Quote Originally Posted by Kong
    supernatural: anything that is not possible within our current understanding of physical laws.
    natural: everything else.
    I hate the term "supernatural" however it's defined. Most theists seem to mean "that which cannot be adequately explained by science" when they use it -- as if the scientific knowledge we have today is all the scientific knowledge we'll ever have!

    There are no supernatural explanations. There are only explanations. To say "X is a supernatural occurrence" is to say no more than "At present, we have no satisfactory explanation for X."

    Perhaps we'll have a great explanation for X next week or next year or next century. Or perhaps we never will. But one thing is certain: to say that "X is a supernatural occurrence" is not to proffer an explanation for X at all.

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    Re: Bias Against the Supernatural

    @Clive, what type of evidence do you require for me to prove that I can jump 1 vertical foot? What kind of evidence do you require for me to prove I can jump 50 vertical feet?
    The difference between the two answers should be the difference between ordinary evidence and extraordinary evidence.
    I don't think there is a difference in the kind of evidence I'd need. There are certain things that would demonstrate that you've jumped x feet--videotape, reproducing the event, etc.
    If I am capable of grasping God objectively, I do not believe, but precisely because I cannot do this I must believe. - Soren Kierkegaard
    **** you, I won't do what you tell me

    HOLY CRAP MY BLOG IS AWESOME

  17. #17
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    Re: Bias Against the Supernatural

    Quote Originally Posted by CliveStaples View Post
    I don't think there is a difference in the kind of evidence I'd need. There are certain things that would demonstrate that you've jumped x feet--videotape, reproducing the event, etc.
    So if I showed you a video of me jumping 1 feet in the air you would believe it? Ok sounds reasonable. But if I showed you a video of me jumping 50 feet you would also believe that too? If that is really true (sorry I have a hard time believing it really is true) then we see life so fundamentally different that engaging in a debate together would almost always be futile. We would nearly always just come back to this fundamental disagreement.

    Can someone explain to me why the amount of evidence should not always be proportionate to the extravagance of the claim? I personally am unable to imagine any reason for this.

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    Re: Bias Against the Supernatural

    Quote Originally Posted by CliveStaples View Post
    I don't think there is a difference in the kind of evidence I'd need [to believe that someone had jumped either 12 inches or 50 feet off the ground]. There are certain things that would demonstrate that you've jumped x feet--videotape, reproducing the event, etc.
    Really? Personally I'd have no trouble taking someone's word, all else being equal, that he'd once jumped 12 inches off the ground. In fact, I'd probably say, "So what? My son can jump a foot off the ground and he's only ten."

    OTOH, if someone told me he'd once jumped 50 feet off the ground, well, video tape would hardly suffice to convince me of the veracity of that story. I'd need to see stories in reputable newspapers and probably even a peer-reviewed article or two from professional journals that deal with human physiology before I'd believe it . . . and I might not believe it even then.

  19. #19
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    Re: Bias Against the Supernatural

    Quote Originally Posted by kong
    Can someone explain to me why the amount of evidence should not always be proportionate to the extravagance of the claim? I personally am unable to imagine any reason for this.
    Evidence is evidence. I'm with Clive here, what is the difference between "extraordinary evidence" and "ordinary evidence?"

    The Big Bang is quite an extraordinary claim, yet the evidence for it is not particularly extraordinary. I can say the same about evolution. In fact there is no singular extraordinary piece of evidence for evolution, just lots of ordinary evidence.

    There is nothing insightful or profound about the claim "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence." Its semantic cleverness meant to impress weaker minds, when in fact all you are doing is moving the goal posts. If there is evidence for something, then it makes no difference how mundane said evidence is, its still evidence.

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    Re: Bias Against the Supernatural

    Quote Originally Posted by Rodriguez View Post
    Really? Personally I'd have no trouble taking someone's word, all else being equal, that he'd once jumped 12 inches off the ground. In fact, I'd probably say, "So what? My son can jump a foot off the ground and he's only ten."

    OTOH, if someone told me he'd once jumped 50 feet off the ground, well, video tape would hardly suffice to convince me of the veracity of that story. I'd need to see stories in reputable newspapers and probably even a peer-reviewed article or two from professional journals that deal with human physiology before I'd believe it . . . and I might not believe it even then.
    But would you say that personal anecdotes count as "evidence" or "proof" of what they claim? It seems more like you're willing to affirm certain claims without proof, not that you're accepting them based on evidence.

    ---------- Post added at 07:48 PM ---------- Previous post was at 07:47 PM ----------

    Quote Originally Posted by Kong View Post
    So if I showed you a video of me jumping 1 feet in the air you would believe it? Ok sounds reasonable. But if I showed you a video of me jumping 50 feet you would also believe that too? If that is really true (sorry I have a hard time believing it really is true) then we see life so fundamentally different that engaging in a debate together would almost always be futile. We would nearly always just come back to this fundamental disagreement.

    Can someone explain to me why the amount of evidence should not always be proportionate to the extravagance of the claim? I personally am unable to imagine any reason for this.
    The evidence should be such that it demonstrates or tends to demonstrate the truth of the claim for which it is offered. Period, end of story.
    If I am capable of grasping God objectively, I do not believe, but precisely because I cannot do this I must believe. - Soren Kierkegaard
    **** you, I won't do what you tell me

    HOLY CRAP MY BLOG IS AWESOME

 

 
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