Naturalism is connected very much to Inductive reasoning. In science, if we see something happening again and again we generalize it into a law and we believe it as true. It will be only considered as false if it is falsified.

Everything we see in our life can be explained using the laws of physics. By induction, we can say that there is no supernatural stuff. Naturalism should be considered true until it is falsified.

Can someone explain how a person can consistently believe in the supernatural without denying induction and science?

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Philip Klöcking
    Dec 2 '21 at 16:51
  • 5
    "Everything we see in our life can be explained using the laws of physics" is simply blatantly false. It is a reduction of reality to reproducible, inter-subjectively perceivable phenomena. This reduced subset is then proclaimed to be all there is, which is entirely explicable through physics, the science exploring reproducible, inter-subjectively perceivable phenomena. Well, zero surprise there, is it? Dec 2 '21 at 23:40
  • Counterpoint: Everything we see in our life can be explained by the action of one or more supernatural beings. By induction, we can say that there is no phenomenon brought about any other way. Theism should be considered true until it is falsified. Dec 3 '21 at 5:14
  • @JohnBollinger by induction we can claim that. But using Occam's razor we can say that the simpler explanation is naturalism. Dec 3 '21 at 5:16
  • To be clear: I do not accept either line of reasoning. Nor do I accept Occam's razor as a valid tool for judging them, in part (but not in whole) because I deny that it is clear which is the simpler explanation. The point is that both arguments are flawed. Accepting, arguendo, the premises of each, Induction does not allow us to conclude that there is no supernatural stuff, nor that everything is brought about by divine action. Rather the conclusions would be that there are both natural and supernatural explanations for everything. That doesn't say which explanations are right. Dec 3 '21 at 5:36

Short Answer

Can people who deny naturalism consistently believe in science?

Yes. The belief in naturalism does not preclude supernaturalism. If one starts from faith, and then accepts science, then there is no inherent contradiction. Likewise, it's likely most philosophically sophisticated scientists recognize Hume's scandal of induction and fallibilism. More pronounced and radical forms of scientism do reject supernaturalism and endorse forms of skepticism, but one needn't be a proponent of scientism to believe and know science. In Christianity, natural revelation figures heavily into doctrine to accommodate the success of science.

Long Answer

The simplest way to do that is to partition reality, as into non-overlapping domains of magisteria, a view put forth by biologist Stephen Jay Gould. Of course, there are metaphysical first principles that can be invoked, such as claiming multiple realities exist, and even more interestingly that there doesn't exist a natural-supernatural dichotomy. Theologians probably have the most intricate philosophies that recognize the importance of both the natural and the supernatural, and argue they complement each other. Thomas Aquinas believed in general revelation:

In theology, general revelation, or natural revelation, refers to knowledge about God and spiritual matters, discovered through natural means, such as observation of nature (the physical universe), philosophy, and reasoning. Christian theologians use the term to describe knowledge of God purported to be plainly available to all mankind. General revelation is usually understood to pertain to outward temporal events that are experienced within the world or the physical universe.

So, here we can see that the reasoning reduces to that the natural world is subordinate to the will of God, and therefore science is important to understand him. Humorously, the Deist Benjamin Franklin infamously claimed that God's love was evinced in the existence of wine:

"Behold the rain which descends from heaven upon our vineyards, and which incorporates itself with the grapes to be changed into wine; a constant proof that God loves us, and loves to see us happy."

Lastly, attacking the natural-supernatural dichotomy is possible. One famous quotation from Arthur C. Clarke and his three laws touches on this point:

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

Note, built into this claim is not a denial of the existence of magic, but rather the presumption it is an endpoint on a spectrum. In fact, it might quite some effort pinning down what 'supernatural' means. From WP:

Views on the "supernatural" vary, for example it may be seen as:

indistinct from nature. From this perspective, some events occur according to the laws of nature, and others occur according to a separate set of principles external to known nature. For example, in Scholasticism, it was believed that God was capable of performing any miracle so long as it didn't lead to a logical contradiction. Some religions posit immanent deities, however, and do not have a tradition analogous to the supernatural; some believe that everything anyone experiences occurs by the will (occasionalism), in the mind (neoplatonism), or as a part (nondualism) of a more fundamental divine reality (platonism).

incorrect human attribution. In this view all events have natural and only natural causes. They believe that human beings ascribe supernatural attributes to purely natural events, such as lightning, rainbows, floods, and the origin of life.[15][16]

  • I think Non-overlapping magisteria is wrong in the way Gould said. It should be science and philosophy. Not science and religion. Morals etc are not related to science and contained in ethics which is contained in philosophy. It is not completely wrong to say that science is contained in philosophy also. In that sense philosophy is the only magisteria. Dec 2 '21 at 16:14
  • I accept that the difference between natural and supernatural is unclear. If our universe had stuff like Psychokinesis etc we could still call it natural and say that there are no concrete mathematical physical laws in that universe. Dec 2 '21 at 16:28
  • I would suggest that Gould was taking a shortcut in language, that he meant religious philosophy.
    – J D
    Dec 2 '21 at 16:34
  • Well, religious philosophies are not better than atheistic philosophies. In fact, most of the time atheistic philosophies are morally superior to religious philosophies. A lot of things like slavery etc which were considered to be morally ok centuries ago were all considered ok by religions also. Dec 2 '21 at 16:46
  • According to Gould "The magisterium of religion extends over questions of ultimate meaning and moral value. ". Both ultimate meaning of life and moral value are parts of philosophy but not necessarily religious philosophy. I don't know why he used a completely different word than what he meant. Dec 2 '21 at 16:47

Can someone explain how a person can consistently believe in the supernatural without denying induction and science?

By starting from a different premise.

Everything we see in our life can be explained using the laws of physics. By induction, we can say that there is no supernatural stuff. Naturalism should be considered true until it is falsified.

A believer would accuse this line of reasoning of question-begging. If you begin from an axiom that there is no stuff going on which can't be explained by physical laws, it's trivial to arrive by induction at the conclusion that there is no supernatural stuff! But spend some time talking with, and actually listening to, people who have experienced miracles in their lives, and you can see how they can arrive at the opposite conclusion based on the exact same process of inductive reasoning.

That doesn't mean they don't believe in science; they simply don't believe that science is complete, that it necessarily holds (or is capable of holding) all the answers.


Most of the modern science is theory-laden, which means that it is not so much inductive, but deductive:

  • Induction: Observation -> Generalizations -> Paradigm
  • Deduction: Theory -> Predictions -> Experiments

We form any hypotheses by deduction, and then we conduct experiments. Of course, induction is heavily used within any such theory locally but is not necessarily a way through which we would ultimately validate or create scientific models of the world. Models are a web of propositions and each of these is individually shaken or simply makes the whole theory false if falsified. If a claim is non-falsifiable in principle, it is typically pseudoscience. (There are, however, many historical exceptions.)

The problem of induction is what drove Karl Popper to consider Marxism a pseudoscience. Namely, consider dialectical materialism. A person sitting on his/her chair might read a newspaper and see the news of a union strike. But once the union strike ends, the union members have negotiated better wages. A person might conclude on each subsequent event of the world that this is dialectical materialism at work, where there are tensions and then synthesis. There is no way to falsify such material tensions. In the end, you just can't help but see those events and each subsequent event confirms your axiomatic assumptions. For Popper, this is also a strong case against verificationism.

All that aside, many scientists and mathematicians are Platonists that believe in the immaterial existence of ideas such as mathematical sets, Euclidian space, triangularity, mathematical constants (i.e. PI), physical constants (i.e. gravitational constant), or say, the principle of least action.

The big question is whether those rules, principles and constants do exist prior to first instantiating themselves in the world. If you are a nominalist then perhaps you can say that those laws don't pre-exist until first observed, but then you have to accept a type of 'hocus pocus' emergence, or Peircian evolutionary cosmology. Therefore, contrary to any such claim, physicists like George Ellis state that those entities exist in the possibility space which is itself immaterial. The claim is that those entities or laws only instantiate in the material world, but they have to already be somewhere to start with.

G. Ellis also claims that the phenomenon of consciousness, which is an entity not to be found in the natural world, is already a way to falsify reductivist naturalism (that is if you accept the premise of the hard problem of consciousness). Qualias are not to be found in the natural world and they fail logical identity to physical processes.

Another problematic assertion is the current definition of physical. In post-Newtonian physics, objects are no longer spatial, solid, and generally observable. Sometimes they only involve mathematical abstractions that lack spatiality, while other times we assume their existence due to the outcome of predictions we gather. Yet, we still operate with a dated definition of physical that was framed in the age of mechanical sciences without any leading notion of what 'physical' really means (other than simply 'described by physics').

A philosopher Jessica Wilson made recently some attempts in defining physicalism (and physical) in general, by employing a non fundamentally mental constraint (NFM) 1:

The physics-based NFM account: An entity existing at a world w is physical if and only if

(i¢) it is treated, approximately accurately, by current or future (in the limit of inquiry, ideal) versions of fundamental physics at w, and

(ii) it is not fundamentally mental (that is, does not individually either possess or bestow mentality) (Jessica Wilson's paper)

At first glance, this resembles the regression to the old Galilean claim that natural sciences can only examine quantitative claims (length, mass, weight etc), but not qualitative ones (colour, joy, depth etc).

In ethics, one example is non-naturalist moral realism as espoused by G. E. Moore following his open question argument. Otherwise, naturalist, this account is founded on the supernatural account of Good.

  • Thanks for the nice answer. I accept that these days deduction is also very important in science. But I think in the end induction plays a more important role. Take for example string theory (ST) and loop quantum gravity (LQG). Both are trying to explain gravity at the quantum level. They started with different postulates, ST postulates are closer to quantum physics and LQG postulates are closer to general relativity. People used deduction and deduced many things from them. Like from ST we can deduce that higher dimensions exist. From LQG we deduce that spacetime is discrete. Dec 2 '21 at 13:30
  • But in the end, we should use experiments and see if one of them is correct. If an experiment matches with one of those 2, we will do more experiments to see if it is correct again and again. As long as it is not falsified we use induction and say that it is the correct theory. Dec 2 '21 at 13:32
  • You have said many things related to my question. But you haven't given a specific answer to my question. Do you think denying naturalism is compatible with science? Dec 2 '21 at 13:34
  • I do accept that physical is not a well-defined word. Today we think that at the fundamental level nature is made up of quantum fields. This will sound very unphysical/supernatural to those who lived before the advent of quantum physics. Dec 2 '21 at 13:36
  • @KasiReddySreemanReddy it is true, however, if you take a large portion of the modern enquiry, say Einstein's theory of relativity, it was formed purely by the hypothetico-deductive method and then its predictions were confirmed by experiments. It was tested by improving the motion calculation of Mercury versus Newton's theory of gravity. In the case of Higgs Boson, it was first made a hypothesis which predictions came true by experiments. Dec 2 '21 at 13:39

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.