Saturday, July 14, 2012

Supernaturalism versus Naturalism: An Open Reply

The following is my reply to a comment left by a person who, in his second post, referred to himself as "Cosmo." His basic assertion is that he found it preposterous that demon possession and exorcism would be considered seriously by "modern" people. He basically thinks we should have moved on from this ignorant thinking by this stage of human development. This is very typical of modern "post-enlightenment" thinking that says much about those who hold this position. [What I mean by that is not to assault or impugn their character, but means that they hold a closed view of the cosmos, and that their epistemology is very narrow and reductionistic-limited only to what we can experience with our five senses. That's what I mean by "says much about those who hold this position." Just want to make sure the reader understands that I respect people, but some of the ideas they may hold are quite another matter.]

My view is that they are stricken with a form of scientific blindness, a disease of worshiping science known as scientific reductionism, because it reduces epistemology (what can be known) to merely what the five empirical senses can "verify." There are so many major philosophical, rational, and experiential flaws with this worldview that it would take a library of books to go into them all. Below is my response to his (or her) thinking. Again, please understand my counter-attack is against Cosmo's thinking and worldview, not the person himself.

"In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the likeness of God."   - 2 Corinthians 4:4

Hi "Cosmo," thanks for your comment. Sorry for the short reply earlier, but I tend to blow off posts from "anonymous" posters who, without honor, love to "hit and run" and post comments and then hide behind anonymity. I also regret that I can't engage in a running commentary, as I currently have my plate full with work and family responsibilities. Thus, below is my best shot in answer to your second comment, in which you did provide at least a pseudonym for your name. I believe a reasonable person can read our very different worldviews and decide between them on their own. Thanks for your interest, and I do strongly encourage you to get out of the epistemological box you have put yourself in and do some more thinking on these issues. I suppose you are doing that, actually, by engaging in this I value that curiosity and drive for truth that you seem to possess. The basic question at issue is: which is a more realistic and reasonable worldview, supernaturalism (the belief that reality is more than what we can see...that angels, demons, God, heaven, hell and life beyond physical death either does exist or at least might exist), or naturalism (the view that this world that we can see, taste, touch, smell and hear is all there is, when we die physically, that's the end for us)? How will I decide on one or the other? How will I know the truth when I stumble upon it, if I ever do?

Your angle is interesting, and I do agree with you on Aquinas (and his approach), who operated by fides et ratio (faith AND reason) and not sola fide (by faith alone), which I view as too fideistic - as it seems you do as well. That's one of the main reasons I left Protestantism behind and became a Roman Catholic. Catholicism has always operated under sola Dei verbum and fidei et ratio, and is far superior to Luther's sola fide. Anselm's fides quaerens intellectum is applicable here also, which of course means "faith seeking understanding." It is likely that you and I perhaps would agree to this point. As a Roman Catholic with strong moorings to the true teaching of the Church (see the Catechism of the Catholic Church and not your local liberal priest or bishop - who often abandon the true Church teachings for their pseudo-enlightened pet theories), my approach is to first use science (reason) as far as it will take me, but to not fall into the trap of scientific reductionism that so many today fall for hook, line and sinker.

However, it seems we part company when it comes to your need to be provided "proof." In paranormal investigating, I have never tried to "prove" anything to anyone. There is so much that is axiomatically wrong with that view...that those who do not believe must be given "proof"...that I hardly know where to begin. You do understand that both science AND faith (belief) are both inductive, and not deductive in how they reach conclusions, right? You do know that science claims that the brain does not "read" data from the five senses themselves (ears, eyes, tongue, touch and nose), but that the brain instead is receiving electrical/chemical impulses sent to it via our central nervous system - through the flow of negative or positive charged ions through dendrites, somas and axons within our neurons. Thus, they potentially can be duplicated or counterfeited by false impulses, such as the shadow-limb itch after a leg amputation, or by applying an electrode probe to different regions of the brain (as in Penfield's famous brains-in-vats experiments).

So, nothing can be completely assured, even by science's worship of the false infallibility of empirical data. Even science has to, in the end, have "faith" that the words you are seeing right now on your computer screen are truly there, and not just a dream or Penfield's famous "brains in vats" phenomenon. It's not that I hate science, it's that I hate when people ignorantly believe (I chose that word on purpose) that science is true and every thing else is ignorance at worst, or superstition at best. The arrogant and sneering attitude is what I thoroughly loathe and despise with all that is in me. Now, I am not saying you have that attitude, but it is certainly there in people such as Bill Maher, Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, etc. But all this is elementary my friend, in the end, that is simply not the way I choose to live my one and only life - trying to "prove" to other people what truth is. I certainly will offer to spend some of my precious time attempting to explain truth, and presenting it to them, but not one darn nanosecond trying to "prove it." That's the problem with the thinking of naturalists - they're always demanding proof... certainty... absolute certainty. They never stop to think how small their little box is and that ultimate reality simply cannot be defined by mere materialistic means. They do not live the rest of your human life that way, but they turn somersaults and back-flips demanding certitude in the realm of ultimate reality, and saw off the very limb that they are philosophically standing on in the process! They will never find God through the lens of a microscope nor a telescope!

I will certainly try to explain and answer questions and refute error, but proving something in the field of religion or paranormal activity is nuts in my opinion (how can one use science to prove something that inherently lies outside of science?). I will REASON with people, converse with people, and try to help people see truth at the same time I am seeking it as well, and trying to learn and grow myself. But don't ask me to "PROVE" something to you. That is your responsibility - to open your own eyes to the truth and crawl out of the scientific, reductionist, primordial rut that the world has gotten you to fall into.

Or, just give it time, maybe you will "evolve." :)    (That's my poor attempt at humor.)

This very thing - the modern demand for proof to the level of absolute "scientific" certitude - is something I wrote a research paper on, and argued that the demand for proof to that degree is three things: unrealistic, unreasonable, and absurd. I wrote a section on each of the three, which I don't have time to go into in detail here. Just suffice it to say that this particular standard or threshold for determining truth is incoherent on many fronts. (In my paper I argued that the proper threshold for determining truth on whether supernaturalism is true, is what we use every day in all other parts of our lives: proof beyond a reasonable doubt. A study of that legal threshold is helpful, because the emphasis is on the word "reasonable." Again, I argue the arrogant demand for absolute proof - or "certitude" is UNreasonable, i.e. ridiculous. It is literally a standard of "proof beyond any doubt." I argued that this standard is impossible - absurd even - and hypocritical.)

For that reason, I can't help but shake my head at colleagues in the paranormal field who say that their mission as a team or with their investigations is to "prove" the afterlife or that spirits exist! That's a fool's game and is chasing pink rabbits. Equally, I dismiss the "demand" for proof by those who first demand it yet would never accept it anyway if it hit them over the head. A closed mind is a closed mind. Helen Keller once said, "There is none so blind as he who will not see." Why should the burden be placed on me - or anyone - to crack open a closed mind? That is each individual's responsibility - to be open to truth, or at the very least - to reasonable offers of truth. We each offer our ideas in the marketplace of truth. Truth is objective and lies outside of us. It is our opportunity and responsibility to recognize it and conform to it. Those who don't are the truly deluded, ignorant and close-minded...NOT the other way around. But, most people don't believe this and continue to sip their kool-aid.

I see both the superstitious/fideistic worldview of "credulity," as well as the adherents of "scientism" (epistemology through science only) as two sides of the same coin - both are locked into closed-minded systems or worldviews that lead them over a cliff into a predetermined outcome. New information and opportunity to grow by discovering reality is thwarted by an a priori denial of anything outside of one's existing matrix. Sorry, but like Neo, I swallowed the red pill, not the blue one. Quite unscientific on both fronts if you ask me. Therefore, I see the dangers in both directions - radicalized "faith" or outright superstition on one end ( a total denial of reason or rationality), and blind "faith" in, and being limited to, the narrow confines of science (limiting oneself to what you can see under a microscope or through a telescope as to what is true or real). So the demand for absolute proof, I respectfully submit, is unrealistic and even absurd when thought about carefully. The key word is "absolute." There is tons of evidence, circumstances, reasonable assertions that can persuade reasonably minded people to a standard of "beyond a reasonable doubt" - but that is not the standard you demand. The idea that "extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof" is exactly the kind of thing a narrow-epistemology would demand, and is the root of your problem, but you have to be able to see the problem with it.

You see, I deny your premise of "extraordinary" claim. The claim that there is more to life than what it seems on the surface is NOT an extraordinary claim!

In other words, I am saying that your position is so radically skewed to the position that "anything non-physical does not exist" then becomes simply that anything and everything proposed to lay outside of your radicalized worldview you will automatically deem as "extraordinary." I'm not buying your position one minute! Just because you claim it is "extraordinary" doesn't make it so. 
I think is is very ordinary and natural. I also reject the premise of the word "paranormal" - at least in this context - is inappropriate as well. If angels, God, demons and Satan do exist, then they actually would be part of the natural order of things, now wouldn't they? Just because we can't always see them doesn't make them any less "natural."

The modern demand (and the notion is indeed recent) for "certitude" in the area of religion or the paranormal is absurd - even nonscientific. There is not much beyond the basic laws of physical science (gravity and such) that we humans live by in our everyday lives. "Certitude" or proof beyond any doubt - which I think your demand for proof is asking - is impossible. No one lives that way. Whether it be in a court of law to decide a person innocent or guilty (I am a full time deputy sheriff); deciding where to put one's nest egg as far as an investment choice; choosing a person to marry; which is the better car to purchase; career to choose; College to attend; infinitem...none of these things are "certain." None of these things can be assured of, or proved beyond ANY doubt. They cannot be "proven" to be true, lasting, or the best way. What we humans DO (or at least should do) in our lives AND in religion or afterlife/paranormal questions (when done properly) is to use our reason as far as reason can take us, and then we act "in fides" (in faith). That is, our reason informs our faith, and our faith informs our reason. It is living and acting in a modicum of faith beyond a REASONABLE doubt. We use our reason as far as it will take us, and then we make our best choice, believing and hoping for - but also firmly convinced - that this is the best, TRUE path. It is not a failing to use reason, and it is indeed a surrender to faith that I am speaking of, but the surrender comes on the far side of reason, after reason has done all its work. The Catholic who is properly Catholic (in line with Church teaching) disagrees with the approach of credulity or not using reason that some "Christians" have. They misunderstand what true faith is. We agree that this approach would result in superstition. So the answer is not in faith alone, and thus Catholicism rejects the fide sola of Protestantism. But, it also rejects ratio sola as well (by human reason alone). It is instead reason and faith working together that gives us the proper epistemology.

In summary, we simply cannot live our lives "in certitude." We live our lives in faith, a.k.a. "proof beyond a reasonable doubt." We doubt yes, nothing is certain, but we have looked at the issue in every way, then we make our best choice. That is faith, because it moves BEYOND reason alone.

So, I do not operate by faith alone, nor do I operate by reason alone.

I operate (or try my best to) by faith and reason. That has always been the position of the Catholic Church, who are experts at exorcism. (Well, a certain subsection of it is. Another part of the Church is, sadly, extremely materialistic in the sense that it has abandoned the Church's teaching and understanding of supernaturalism in favor of scientist worldview...or they say they believe but never live as if they do - known as practical atheism. Thus, your kind - so called "enlightened" thinkers who are actually very much in the dark - have infiltrated the realm of the "faithful" very effectively.) That is why exorcism, correctly executed, cannot be undertaken by a Catholic exorcist until a full investigation has been done (including but not limited to extensive psychological and medical examinations) - and in which these professionals can neither explain or only after these important steps are completed, does his Bishop look over the case evidence and give him permission to proceed with the exorcism, is the exorcism undertaken. It is also only the exorcism itself which can give a final conclusion as to whether it truly was a case of severe demonization. The point is, there is accountability involved - he cannot act unilaterally.

Thus, approaching severe demonization (possession is rare and is only the worst, most severe case of demonization) is not merely a science, but is science, reason, and faith all rolled into a complex, yet intriguing mix. I will agree with you that most of the time, it IS indeed approached immaturely and ignorantly by amateurs and do-it-yourselfers, and there are many dabbling in this that should not be. That upsets me too and is indeed often non-scientific and irrational. Just don't throw the baby out with the bath water. I would also caution you to not judge or see things only through the lens of "science" or psychiatry. Should they be steps along the path of diagnosis and treatment in order to bring a solution to the allflicted, and arrows within our quiver or tools in our toolbox? Absolutely! And, they are very much a part of my approach, and the approach of my like-minded friends who do this also. Again, we are not sola fide but instead are fides et ratio. There is a huge difference. The point: we are not and should not be limited to scientific "tools" alone.

So, in answer to your question, I can't (nor should I be asked or expected to) prove rationally that possession cases are what they are said to be. I can however, show it to be a reasonable or reasoned explanation that is not based upon fideism or emotion. The other point is, when a diagnosis of possession or severe oppression is reached, it is done after exhausting the possible natural explanations and understanding clearly that they are not the reason for what is going on.

I also think it perhaps might be helpful for you to understand that possession - as most people understand it, is much misunderstood. It is more accurate to say that people are influenced to various degrees, by personified evil (diabolical evil). Possession is the absolute and most severe case of this. As said earlier, we call this "influence" demonization. Demonization occurs in various degrees, and possession is the most severe.

As for the scriptural verse that I cite at the beginning of this reply: I have not spoken at all about the notion that you have a diabolical enemy who is dead-set upon convincing you of just what you have fallen for. You should carefully consider that as well. In other words, have you considered, truly considered, the fact that Christians think there is a "person" ( an evil yet powerful fallen angel) called the Devil who is set about to deceive people, and his first deception is to have you think he doesn't exist.

In closing, here is a helpful video wherein Father Barron explains cogently the proper relationship between faith and reason: Please take the eight or so minutes to watch this, he explains it so much better than I can. He also makes the important point that someone such as yourself, who is honestly looking for truth, must do so from within a strong faith community, because otherwise the questions and answers become skewed. I am praying for you personally, and for your family. May the God of all creation, who loves and cares for you and knows you by name, watch over and protect you, and led you to a deep, meaningful and moving relationship with Him, as son is to Father, for all eternity, unending. Amen.

1 comment:

  1. you have given me much to think about. i need to re-read it though, and mull over what you say re. the issue of proof. i forgot that bit about induction. all this makes me realize how much of a dilettante i am and that i need to educate myself. would you be able to provide a reading list, especially as regards your mention of the flaws in scientific reductionism? much appreciated. thank you.