Monday, February 21, 2011

A Closing Argument on the Supernaturlist's claim to "Evidence"

A commenter named clamat over at "Common Sense Atheism" added something to a comment string I'm participating in that I find to be brilliant writing.

It creates a perfect argument as to why supernatural-centered thinkers fail to impress me.

He frames his POV as a closing argument to a court case because a fundamentalist Christian "challenged the atheist to present a compelling, rational, and evidential case for your views."

I recommend reading through it and wrestling with the ideas therein.

Here it is:

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury;

You understand the cases being presented by both sides. Your duty is to weigh the evidence supporting each case, and determine whether that evidence satisfies the respective burdens of proof.

[dramatic pause]

We all agree that the Natural exists. When we look outward from the tiny little space we occupy, the Natural appears to be…well…pretty much everything. The Natural stretches out in space and in time as far as we have the ability to measure. Every element of our existence appears to be built on the natural, from clay bricks down to charm quarks. From our daily bread to our nightly dreams, the immediate explanations of virtually all of our experiences appear to be Natural. Indeed, the progress of Man is measured by the ever-increasing set of things for which once we did not know the Natural cause, but now do. This includes the “intangible” qualities that define us as people. For example, its appearing more and more that love really isa matter of chemistry.

In short, the Natural exists on a scope so brain-boggling that we humans, in the infancy of our species, are only just beginning to understand how very little we know about it. The evidence supporting the case for the Natural is so ubiquitous, so omnipresent, that only a madman would deny it, and it satisfies any standard of proof.

But some among us claim there is something “beyond” or “outside” or “other” than the Natural. And not only this. These people claim that this thing is actually greaterthan the Natural. Super-natural. Even more amazing, some people claim this Supernatural expects the people living on this lonely speck of dust in a backwater of the universe to live our lives in very specific ways, and will inflict all sorts of punishments on us if we don’t.

On its face, this is a pretty amazing claim, isn’t it? Doesn’t it demand an extraordinarily high burden of proof? I mean, if you, ladies and gentlemen, were sitting in a criminal case you would be told you could convict only if the evidence showed “beyond a reasonable doubt” that the accused was guilty. Some call this the standard of “moral certainty.” It’s a very high standard. But surely this claim of the Supernatural– which some people think would convict every single one of us of a crime — demands an even greater standard of proof?

So what evidence do the Supernaturalists offer to satisfy their burden?

They don’t offer any evidence of the Supernatural that can be directly seen, heard, tasted, smelled, touched, or measured in any way. Indeed you’ve heard expert testimony that it’s not possible to measure the Supernatural scientifically becauseit is Supernatural. This isn’t evidence; it’s an explanation for why there is no evidence. Ladies and gentlemen, doesn’t it sound just a little too convenient to you?

They can’t say where the Supernatural exists; they can’t point it out on a map. They claim that the Supernatural “created” and affects the Natural, but don’t offer any evidence of a mechanism or how the process actually works. Lots of times, they don’t even really say what it is, and instead say what it is not, using words like “immaterial” and “timeless.” Do you actually understand what these words mean, ladies and gentlemen, because I sure don’t. Whatever they mean, one thing is clear: They are not evidence.

So, I ask you again – where is their evidence? Saying “You don’t know capital-E Everything” over and over again is not evidence. Saying “but it’s possible” over and over again isn’t evidence. Saying “but I’d really, really like it to be true” over and over again is not evidence.

The closest they come is to offer “philosophic” evidence. Now, we lawyers are accused all the time of speaking unclearly on purpose, of using jargon and big words to confuse things and make juries see things that aren’t there. And, ladies and gentlemen, I must admit, sometimes we’re guilty. But don’t the Supernaturalists take the cake? I mean, you remember the witnesses say things like “the impossibility of an actual infinite” and “irreducible complexity,” right? This sounded awful smart, I admit, but I ask you again, do those things actually mean anything to you? Is thisevidence?

I submit to you, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, that it is not. I submit the Supernaturalists have not offered any evidence at all, and simply want you to take it on their say-so. To take it on faith. Don’t let them get away with it.

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