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Supernatural Science


Paul Stevens: Director, The Institute for Design in Science

Asst: Assistant to Paul Stevens

Thomas Wolf: an old friend of Paul Stevens

The Setting:

We open in Paul Stevens’ office. Paul is sitting at his desk poring over some documents when his assistant, looking somewhat agitated, enters the room.

Author’s Note: The following is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely coincidental.

Assist: Sir, there are some protestors outside.

Paul: Really? That’s odd. Who are they?

Assist: I believe they call themselves “SHIS,” for the Society for Hinduism in Science. They are demanding to see you to discuss their concerns.

Paul: I’ve never heard of them. What do they want?

Assist [reading from a document]: It looks like they have three main complaints or demands. First, they object to what they call the “political maneuvering” our organization has allegedly engaged in to promote Intelligent Design. Second, they demand equal time in the classroom for their own “scientific” alternative to evolution. And third, they apparently want us either to back off promoting our cause or to join forces with them.

Paul: Well, we’re not going to stop promoting Intelligent Design just because they want us to. Tell them I can’t meet with them right now, but if they’d like to leave some materials, someone will get back to them.

Assist: Sir, their leader was very insistent that if you refused to meet with them, I was to tell you that he knows you, that you went to school together. His name is Thomas Wolf.

Paul: Thomas Wolf! I haven’t heard that name in twenty years. Well, in that case, send him in.

[The assistant leaves the room and shortly returns with Thomas Wolf.]

Paul: It’s good to see you Thomas. It’s been a long time. How have you been? More importantly, what in the world are you doing with this fringe group? You can’t seriously believe them.

Thomas: It’s good to see you too, Paul. I’m with this “fringe group,” as you so affectionately call them, because I actually do believe in their cause.

Paul: You’ve got to be kidding! You really believe in their Hindu Science, or whatever they’re calling it?

Thomas [with a slight smile on his face]: Oh sure. There’s no doubt that mainstream science has a naturalistic bias. This is its dogma, its a priori commitment that it refuses to question. We simply want to make room for a kind of science that has different metaphysical commitments, namely Hindu ones. We simply want to get a fair hearing.

Paul: I can’t believe you, of all people, are telling me this. You were the most dogged skeptic back in our university days. What are you up to?

[They are interrupted by Paul’s assistant, looking rather harried and breathless.]

Assist: Sir, another group of protestors has just shown up. They are also demanding to see you.

Paul: What? What a strange day this is turning out to be. Who are they?

Assist: They call themselves “KBS,” for Koran Based Science. They have the same demands as the SHIS group, but they are also demanding that their proposal for djinn energy be recognized as a valid scientific hypothesis.

Paul [with a sigh]: I’ll probably regret asking, but what in the world is a djinn?

Thomas: I believe the Koran talks about them as beings made of fire–spirits, I presume.

Paul: Well, I doubt I’ll be meeting with them anytime soon. I can’t see how the “djinn hypothesis” would explain anything or even how we’d test it. Tell them to leave some materials and someone will get back to them.

[The phone rings in the background and Paul’s assistant hurries off.]

Thomas [with a grin]: Don’t you find this rather ironic?

Paul: How so?

Thomas: You have campaigned long and hard to get your own supernatural hypotheses into science, and now that you have competitors, you still don’t see the problem.

Paul: I think I’m beginning to understand why you’re really here. Did you just want to get into a debate with me?

Thomas: Yes, partly. Remember the conversations we had when we were graduate students? We had our disagreements then, but at the time, I still thought you wanted to do real science. Now, I’m not so sure. I thought maybe it was time to give you a taste of what opening the floodgates to “supernatural science” is really like.

Paul: Ok, fine, now that you have me, let’s discuss it then. I take it you are referring to my position, and the Institute’s position, that science should not be blindly committed to naturalism only, but that it should make room for supernatural hypotheses?

Thomas: Exactly. Can’t you see that there is no such thing as a supernatural method, that by definition the supernatural does not operate in a lawful fashion, and that there are very few, if any, scientific grounds for preferring one supernatural hypothesis over any other–in other words, that they are all scientifically illegitimate?

Paul: But aren’t you just confirming what myself and others in the Intelligent Design movement have suspected all along, that science rules out the supernatural a priori, that naturalism is a dogma, and that supernatural hypotheses haven’t even been given a fair shake?

Thomas: No, I don’t think so. I don’t think that science necessarily rules out the supernatural. As you know, philosophers of science distinguish between naturalism as a method and naturalism as a claim about what exists. The key point is that naturalism as a claim about what exists is the best explanation for the great success of naturalism as a method. Every successful naturalistic scientific explanation is more confirmation of the claim that all that exists is natural and increases its probability. Right now, naturalism about what exists is confirmed to such an extent that it would be unreasonable to reject it. In contrast, supernatural “scientific” hypotheses have failed utterly.

Paul: I don’t deny that naturalism as a method has worked very well overall. However, there are some things we don’t have any natural explanations for, such as the complexity of living organisms and the origin of life, and so we must consider other hypotheses.

Thomas: For the sake of argument, I’ll grant you your first point, that we currently have no natural explanations for these things. It doesn’t follow that we won’t come up with natural explanations for them in the future–in fact, given the great success of naturalism so far, that seems quite likely.

Paul: I think the complexity of living organisms and the origin of life are either in principle naturally inexplicable or so unlikely to be explained naturalistically that we must consider alternatives, such as intelligent design.

Thomas: You remind me of the pious folks who no doubt declared lightning and thunder to be explicable only as the wrath of Zeus. Thankfully, scientists ignored them. But suppose we move on. Is this intelligent designer God?

Paul: Scientifically, I couldn’t prove so, but I think that’s a probable identification and one consistent with my faith.

Thomas: It’s always dangerous to insert God into the gaps, you know. The gaps are liable to be filled, pushing God out. Moreover, plenty of other things can fit into those same gaps.

Paul: Like Hindu deities and Islamic djinn? What kind of scientific explanation is it to say “The djinn did it” or “Shiva did it”?

Thomas: No scientific explanation at all, of course. But humor me a bit here. Why are these not scientific hypotheses?

Paul [with a frustrated tone]: Obviously because they are not testable and they debar asking further questions such as “How was it done?”

Thomas: Exactly, and claims like “the intelligent designer did it” and “God did it” are in the very same boat.

Paul: Yes, but . . .

[Just then, Paul’s assistant returns, even more breathless and harried.]

Assist: Sir, you won’t believe it. Another group of protestors has arrived! And they’re even louder and more adamant than the others.

Paul [with a groan]: On any other day I wouldn’t believe you. Who are they and what do they want?

Assist: They’re called “ORBS,” the Organization for Rabbit Based Science, and they demand equal consideration for their views.

Paul: I think I’ve heard of them. They believe the universe was created by a Cosmic Rabbit and the stars and planets are–well, there’s no delicate way to put it–his spiritual droppings, don’t they!?

Assist: I believe so.

Paul: This is too much, too much. . . . Wait, just a minute–did they say who their leader is?

Assist: I think it is a Mr. Morrison, sir.

Paul: Whew! For a minute I thought you were their leader too, Thomas.

Thomas: I’m afraid I can’t take credit for that, though I admit I did call Morrison and arrange for his protestors to be here today, and the same for the others.

Paul: But why? Why do things this way instead of just coming and talking to me?

Thomas: Tit for tat. Hasn’t your organization been doing an end run around the normal process for years? Instead of proving intelligent design scientifically, which you can’t do because it isn’t a scientific hypothesis, you’ve been trying to ram it through politically. Moreover, you’ve been interfering in the educational system, trying to curtail the teaching of evolution and promote the teaching of intelligent design as if it were some kind of legitimate competitor, which it isn’t.

Paul: I can’t believe it. All these groups with their pseudoscientific agendas. And you organized all this, Thomas, just to make a point. The whole thing is absurd.

Thomas: That’s exactly my point. Letting the supernatural into science leads to absurdity. Well, I suppose I can go now. Don’t worry, the protestors will be gone in a few hours, when the media attention turns elsewhere. Good-bye, Paul.

[Thomas Wolf exits the room, whistling as he goes. Paul and his assistant are left standing, staring incredulously at Thomas. The curtain falls.]