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Suppose you believe in naturalism. Now, there are things that happen in the world explainable by natural laws. One can also conceive of events happening that are not explainable by current natural laws.

The question is two fold.

1.) Should any events explainable by current natural laws make you doubt naturalism?

The answer to this may seem obviously no but one can imagine situations where this doesn’t seem so intuitive. Think of an event that we consider improbable and meaningful such as one being able to have dreams that are predictively accurate every single time. This is still technically explainable through natural laws (I.e. chance) but many, I wager, would believe in some other force being the cause if enough correct dreams occurred and were measured.

2.) Should any events not explainable through natural laws make you doubt naturalism? For example, if your dead grandmother revived tomorrow and said that God did it, should you doubt naturalism, or should you assume that there is some sort of natural law (as opposed to God for example) that is causing this?

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    How is this a polemic question? Stop reading things into questions just because you want to.
    – user62907
    Commented Sep 5, 2023 at 10:12
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    Anyways, that can’t be true. You do realize that every event that occurred in the world is technically improbable right? Me tossing a coin 100,000 times results in a sequence that has a probability of 1/2^100,000. Thus, this sequence is incredibly improbable under chance. Yet this is no reason to rule out chance.
    – user62907
    Commented Sep 5, 2023 at 10:13
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    But we do not live computing probability of events.. What is the reason you think so? Commented Sep 5, 2023 at 10:19
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    "Does this mean chance didn’t cause it?" there is no randomness in the macroscopic world, so random chance can't cause anything. Randomness is just a statistical model used to predict regularities in the behaviour of a system that you cannot model directly, ususaly because it is chaotic and sensitive to unknown initial conditions or it involves too many variables for the calculation to be feasible (e.g. statistical mechanics). I have pointed that out to you repeatedly, including in an answer to a question you have already posed. Commented Sep 5, 2023 at 10:32
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    "It’s a colloquial term to refer to a process that isn’t intentioned. " what do you mean by "intentioned"? "Again, does a coin landing on a particular sequence 100,000 times invalidate it occurring without intention?" again, what do you mean by "intention"? Commented Sep 5, 2023 at 12:29

4 Answers 4

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Your first question is

1.) Should any events explainable by current natural laws make you doubt naturalism?

Such events would provide reasons to believe current natural laws (subject always to allowing for the possibility of a refutation). They could not possibly provide any reason to doubt it.

You seem to recognize this, but continue

Think of an event that we consider improbable and meaningful such as one being able to have dreams that are predictively accurate every single time. This is still technically explainable through natural laws (I.e. chance)

"Chance" is not an explanation. It amounts to "cause unknown". That's all. (Quantum physics is a special and complicated case.) See the answer to your second question.

Your second question is

2.) Should any events not explainable through natural laws make you doubt naturalism?

An event not explainable by natural laws should make you doubt those laws and look for some as yet undiscovered laws that can explain it (and all the events explained by existing laws). For naturalism (as I understand it), inexplicable phenomena are classified as "anomalies" and the locus of a search for new natural laws (or elaborations of existing natural laws).

Naturalism in this context is not an empirical hypothesis to be refuted by events. It is a methodological principle which guides the search for natural laws. Different definitions of them are available. See Wikipedia - Scientific Laws or SEP - Natural Laws

But if you are inclined to believe your imagined resurrected grandmother's claim, I suggest you consider Hume's argument against miracles - Wikipedia. Hume claims that a naturalistic explanation of an anomalous event will always be more plausible than a super-natural one.

It's worth adding that Hume does admit to believing in one miracle - the resurrection of Jesus, but on grounds of faith, not of reason. In other words, he accepts that to believe your grandmother would not be rational, though you may have other motivations to believe it.

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  • ""Chance" is not an explanation. It amounts to "cause unknown". That's all." The proponents of ontic randomness in quantum physics would disagree. But this answer is good altogether (+1). Commented Sep 6, 2023 at 8:48
  • Yes, I forgot to include the usual qualification for the quantum world. My mistake. Thanks.
    – Ludwig V
    Commented Sep 6, 2023 at 8:55
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The Catholic Church & Canonization is a good starting point ex mea (humble) sententia. Gives us a rough idea or at least a grainy picture of when naturalism should be doubted.

The Catholic Church has a long list of saints, each one of them has (a) miracle(s) (inexplicable within naturalism, aka science) attributed to them. The process, as far as I can tell, is a bona fide court case, complete with an advocatus Dei (God's advocate) vs. an advocatus diaboli (Devil's advocate).

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    I've often wondered about the rules of evidence for those courts. But somehow, there's always been something more interesting to look into.
    – Ludwig V
    Commented Sep 6, 2023 at 11:35
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Let's start by being clear on our terms. Naturalism, according to Brittanica is:

a theory that relates scientific method to philosophy by affirming that all beings and events in the universe (whatever their inherent character may be) are natural. Consequently, all knowledge of the universe falls within the pale of scientific investigation
https://www.britannica.com/topic/naturalism-philosophy

To be clear, this is a belief system. Its core assumptions are unprovable, since we can't observe all beings and events in the universe, and since we don't have uncontroversial purely natural explanations even for all of the things we can observe.

With that said, it's not an actual religion. There's no book of Naturalism to outline the dogmas and heresies, and no Pope of Naturalism to make a definitive ruling. So there's really no objective answer to your question. If you are a naturalist, you'll have to make your own decisions on whether or not there's a breaking point to your faith. (I could tell you where I would personally jump off the wagon, but that's of limited value, since I'm not a naturalist in the first place.)

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Should any events not explainable through natural laws make you doubt naturalism?

My HPS is bad, but no many things are or have been inexplicable, even needing an entirely new paradigm and language, and that's not sufficient to give up on explaining them naturally.

Should any events explainable by current natural laws make you doubt naturalism?

Any event whatsoever? This has come up, and a violation of natural law as we presently understand them is usually thought of as necessary for a miracle claim.

Do you mean that only miracle claims can be used to argue against naturalism, and that these are of course impossible? Yes, science is a very successful enterprise empirically. Have you heard of the word scientism?

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scientism

Yours is quite full blooded. I might ask why you assume it? There is a lot of disagreement in philosophy, but that does not mean that it goes nowhere, that we don't learn more and more about what is right and wrong about our unscientific claims.

It may not generate substantive positive knowledge, but that's a question for philosophy and not scientism.

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  • Could you please clarify the paragraph about miracle claims? The sentences individually make sense, but I can't see the connection between them. Thanks.
    – Ludwig V
    Commented Sep 6, 2023 at 16:55
  • OK is that clear @LudwigV ? I can see why it might be a little confusing, and perhaps i try to be too didactic.
    – user67675
    Commented Sep 6, 2023 at 19:34
  • i was just going for no but who cares @LudwigV
    – user67675
    Commented Sep 6, 2023 at 19:42
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    It is much better. I can at least see what you're getting at. Thanks.
    – Ludwig V
    Commented Sep 6, 2023 at 23:25

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