Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Science and the Supernatural: Converging and Conflicting Mythologies

By John Berling Hardy

During the Middle-Ages the Catholic Church maintained a monopoly over determining what was and was not acceptable to believe. When the upstart Florentine Galileo Galilei came to them with a challenge, arguing that the Earth goes round the Sun, and not the other way around, he was dismissed as a rogue and an heretic.

Today the Church is no longer the enforcer of the accepted norm. Instead, we now look to science to provide us with the answers we still seek. The scientific method holds that is something is not provable, it is not believable. Take Extra-Sensory Perception (ESP), a phenomenon for which there is much anecdotal evidence. Science dismisses this trait as something unacceptable because it is not proven to exist. The same applies to anything which cannot be quantified: if it is not material, it does not exist.

Yet this is not the whole story, for all but the most extreme proponent of the scientific method would agree that there is much in our world which can be neither proved nor measured: kindness, honour, justice, love and so forth. Few scientists would wish to test for these phenomena; they are simply accepted as truth.

Consider now the way in which the rich and the powerful justify their methods by means of constant recourse to a litany of so-called facts. These need not be objectively true; they need not even be provable. What matters is that they are presented as irreproachable, and that they therefore come to be accepted by the speaker's audience as undeniable and fundamental. Note also how every society on earth has its own individual set of "fundamental" facts.

This supreme conceit of the modern scientific establishment is reminiscent of the inverted logic used by the Inquisition when determining the piety of one of those brought before it. The accused would be tied down and then submersed in water. If they were able, through some divine intervention, to survive, then it was considered proof that God had spoken and they were innocent. In the event that nature took its natural course and they drowned, it was seen as a testament to their guilt. It was a no lose proposition for the Church. If the accused died, the legal system was validated. If they should survive the ordeal, then it was declared a miracle and it provided the Church with a public relations triumph.

Now consider society's objections to the supernatural. The very word now carries pejorative connotations of something fanciful. Since science is concerned only with explaining what is natural, anything which cannot be accounted for is lumped in together to this growing category of the "supernatural". This system fails to acknowledge that if any higher order exists it must govern both the natural and supernatural fields according to a single set of rules. To label something "supernatural" because we can provide no satisfactory explanation for it is a cop out, which only goes to show how limited the scientific method really is.

So why do we rely on it so heavily? It is because human nature fears what it does not understand. If we cannot explain something, then it stands to reason that we cannot control it, and this makes us seem weak. To admit that we have limitations is to undermine the supremacy of the human - the doctrine upon which our society is predicated. How is it such a struggle for us to admit that there are some things we simply cannot know or understand?

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