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Should any of these events, by themselves, serve as evidence for the supernatural or some missing law of nature that may be operating on it? More curiously, should any of these events rationally even move the needle on your credence of this?

1.) John predicts every single sporting outcome event for the next year in every single sporting event in the world

2.) John claims that he can move a coin with his head, gets someone else to flip it, and gets it to land on his predicted side millions of times. Assume he can do this for anyone flipping the coin.

3.) John guesses whatever you’re thinking of, every single time. He’s able to do this with any person every single time.

Now, none of these events are physically impossible. Arguably, they’re not even any more unlikely than what we consider normal events. They are just as unlikely as any particular incorrect guess sequence that John would have if he failed. Thus, should any of these scenarios change your degree of belief in supernaturalism?

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    If an event can be explained under a law of nature, why would we appeal to a law of supernature as well? Or if we can explain the attitudes and behaviors of prophets naturalistically, why suppose instead that the prophets were communicating with divine beings? Note, though, the Maimonidean picture of prophethood: we have an a priori concept for the word "divine" and a prophet is someone more adept at rationally applying the concept (even if as a mental exercise, like a mathematics of divine simplicity). No prophecies, here, I suppose, are needed besides the naturalized predictions. Aug 26, 2023 at 19:59
  • I agree. Wouldn’t those events atleast instinctively cause you to be suspicious of the current laws of nature not being enough to explain it though? Or no? If so, is this just a failed instinct? Aug 26, 2023 at 20:03
  • I'd guess this is why the issue is rephrased as, "But the events are improbable unless produced intentionally; the only intentionality that could see into the future that much and control history, etc. would be divine," and off we go... For as far as laws of nature go, it is enough to realize that a claimed law is false, when we find exceptions, but probability is not what is at stake (for a truly exceptionless law, a fail rate of even one instance calls the whole proposal of that law into question). Aug 26, 2023 at 20:10
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    It all boils down to the statement: There is something (we don't know) Aug 27, 2023 at 3:00

2 Answers 2

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All of these questions are questions about evidence for parapsychological phenomena, not for "supernatural". All of these are natural experiments, and are replicable. That a model to explain the results might be non-material, does not make it supernatural. The AAAS has answered this question with a strong affirmative. The Parapsychological Association is a member science society.

Most of the theorizing in the PA leans between pure idealism, dualism with a much stronger ideal side than Descartes assumed, and idealism with the physical emergent. None of these theories are "supernatural". They are characterizable, and predictive.

Positive test results for parapsychology do not require 100% success. Very little (virtually noting) in our world has 100% success, and that is not needed in science, nor in naturalism.

For info about the Parapsychology Association, here is it web site: https://www.parapsych.org/

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  • Don’t the majority of mainstream scientists reject this? Nevertheless, I’ll try to keep an open mind and look through some of the studies Aug 26, 2023 at 19:48
  • That the PA is an AAAS member society is as definitive a refutation as there can be to your claim about the majority of scientists.
    – Dcleve
    Aug 26, 2023 at 20:18
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It depends on your priors. If you have antecedent reason to think that the proposed supernatural mechanism has a non zero probability, then with enough “predictions” or “guesses”, it would certainly be enough evidence.

If you do not, and decide to attach a zero prior, then no amount of predictions or guesses should theoretically “move the needle” as you put it.

Arriving at a prior for supernatural theories is no mean task. Some choose to assign a non zero prior based on Cromwell’s rule in Bayesianism. Others think the very concept is incoherent or doesn’t deserve empirical merit due to its lack of explanatory power (i.e. the usual failure of explaining how God does things, or in your case, John).

In any case, what does seem reasonable, is to arrive at the prior independent or prior to the observations, or in your case, the examples listed. You cannot use successful predictions to justify a non zero prior for that would be circular. You must have antecedent reason (such as arguments for god or supernaturalism or psychic powers or whatever else) to think that they deserve a non zero prior. Simply asserting the possibility of something won’t do.

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    Bayensianism often masquerades under the pretense that is is not subjective. Instead the subjectivity is disguised under the prior and the weighting. NO there is no default under Bayesian statistics to a zero prior. That instead is an explicit statement that one has abandoned science, as then one’s views are unfalsifiable thru any evidence.
    – Dcleve
    Aug 26, 2023 at 20:15
  • Yes, it is subjective. Although I don’t agree that assigning a zero prior implies that one’s views are unfalsifiable. You can assign a zero prior for pragmatic reasons. It could simply mean “there is no reason for me to believe this but will change my mind if evidence comes forth.” This isn’t the same as a non zero prior either and the examples listed in the OP aren’t evidence. Aug 26, 2023 at 20:48
  • Assigning a non zero prior implies that the examples listed in the OP are evidence and hence should make you believe in parapsychological phenomena such as precognition. But without a mechanism or a well defined explanation, and ideally an explanation hard to vary as per David Deutsch, we haven’t actually learned anything enough to rule out chance or normal forces at work. Aug 26, 2023 at 20:52
  • The way Bayesian statistics works, a prior that is very close to zero will not move appreciably under any evidence. Your denial is a denial of the nature of Bayesian statistics. Also a prior has nothing to do with whether one is examining evidence or not. Your denial that empirical observations are evidence, is a strong reinforcement of the implication of your initial post that you are abandoning a scientific perspective.
    – Dcleve
    Aug 27, 2023 at 0:18
  • @Dcleve You are building your conclusion into your argument. You are assuming that the John in the OP making correct guesses is evidence. “Correct predictions” aren’t evidence of anything unless one has a mechanism or explanation of HOW that person is doing it. Lastly, there is nothing in Bayesian statistics that forces you to assign a non zero prior to a hypothesis. You are simply wrong here. Aug 27, 2023 at 17:34

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