Crossing Over With Tobe
Many people hold the view that if God exists, then he is supernatural and, therefore, beyond the realm of science – which can only study the natural – to discuss. The same could be said of anything supernatural, from ghosts to telepathy; if science can study it then it is no longer supernatural. It is, quite simply, natural. Many believers use this line of reasoning as a sort of get-out-of-jail-free card, thinking that it forms a protective shield for their beliefs against the scrutiny science would apply. They see it as a limitation of science and rationalism, and that their beliefs are above them.
The argument is flawed and ultimately self-defeating. Science can only study the empirical world, and our senses are themselves empirical. If science can only study the natural, human beings can only experience the natural.
A commonly heard phrase can help us understand this more clearly: “I’ve just seen a ghost”. Excuse me? You’ve just seen a ghost? With your eyes? How exactly would that work? A ghost is, by all common definitions, supernatural. Our eyes are sense organs that detect light waves and distinguish the varying frequencies to make us aware of our surroundings. They detect only the natural. If you think about it, to talk of someone seeing a ghost is actually quite absurd.
Anything supernatural is, by definition, beyond the scope of human experience. If anything supernatural did actually exist, the only way we could ever be aware of it would be if it found a way to manifest itself in natural terms. In order to interact with the natural universe, the ghost would have to find a way to be seen. If it succeeded, then it would no longer be entirely supernatural, it would have found a way to ‘cross over’ into the natural world where it could be sensed and experience by humans and, more importantly, studied by science. Although, we would still not be experiencing the supernatural, only natural indicators thereof. (As far as ghosts go, some believe that “psychic mediums” are the phenomena used to cross over, hence the slightly facetious title of this article. That discussion is for another day, but the claims of mediums are without evidence, as many have observed.)
A popular defence of this problem is the appeal to the infamous ‘sixth sense’. “Of course we don’t sense the supernatural with our natural senses, that would be impossible. We all have a supernatural sixth sense with which to detect the supernatural”. This does not solve the problem, it simply relocates it, and it is a retreat rather than an advance. If we do have a supernatural sense with which to detect supernatural phenomena, that sense would, at some point, have to report its data back to the brain, just like the empirical senses do. If not, how would we know that anything supernatural had happened? The only way we could know that we had just experienced something supernatural, in fact, the only we can know anything at all, is through our brains. Our brains our natural, so once again, the supernatural would have to find a way to cross over. Instead of detecting the supernatural with natural senses, we are now detecting them with a supernatural sense, the data of which has to be interpreted by a natural organ.
If the believer tries to relocate the problem again, there is only one place for it to go, and that is into pure fantasy land. If the supernatural and the natural both exist, then there has to be a point where, or a method by which the two can cross over. The only way to solve this problem permanently, is to remove either the natural or the supernatural from the equation. Before I’m accused of attacking a straw man, let me be clear that I have never actually heard anyone argue a case for the following: the only way the advocate of the supernatural could maintain its existence, without concluding that we ourselves don’t exist, would be to discard the term ‘natural’, and claim that everything, the entire universe, is in fact supernatural. This would be ridiculous and simply an argument through redefinition, because the existence of the supernatural is dependent upon, and indeed defined by the existence of the natural. It literally means “above the natural”. If we accepted that all that existed is what we can empirically sense, than that could only be called the natural. Of course, with a little help from Occam’s razor, we can see that the universe which needs to be discarded, in order for us to make sense of anything, is clearly that of the supernatural.
The same principle applies to God. In order for god to create the natural universe, he would have to interact with it. Anyone who believes in a personal god who does intervene with the natural universe, has to concede to science a cross over point which they can study. The existence of God is a hypothesis science can address.
The response to anyone using the science-can-only-study-the-natural-get-out-of-jail-free-card is this: if you can experience it, we can study it, so do not pass Go, and do not collect £200.