A Bias Toward Naturalism?

In my own personal discussions with theists, and in those I have observed involving others, one accusation that seems to come up frequently is that atheism presupposes or is biased towards naturalism, and averse to the supernatural. This accusation is made so that the atheist will appear to have made a closed-minded and dogmatic denial of the supernatural based only on their commitment to naturalism. This portrayal is inaccurate and deliberately misleading, and in this post I shall attempt to explain why.

 

One thing which I do presuppose is the null hypothesis – which is the default position. When testing a treatment for example, the hypothesis would state that ‘this treatment will have an effect’ whereas the null hypothesis would state that ‘this treatment will have no effect’ (an analogous concept would be ‘innocent until proven guilty’). Why should I be justified in presupposing the null hypothesis? Because it’s important to start at the default position and seeing whether that is falsified before drawing conclusions. You assume a defendant is innocent until the evidence presented in the trail falsifies that hypothesis. It would be completely unworkable if you assumed their guilt before seeing the evidence, just as it would be dangerous to assume that a treatment works before testing it.

 

From this perspective naturalism can be redefined as that which has been shown to falsify the null hypothesis. I don’t presuppose that, I can demonstrate that. Supernaturalism on the other hand has not falsified the null hypothesis – there has not been any evidence put forth to demonstrate that the assumption ‘supernatural phenomena do not occur’ is false. For that reason I maintain the default position. Not out of presupposition or bias, but because there is no good reason not to.

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2 Comments

Filed under Critical Thinking, Science

2 responses to “A Bias Toward Naturalism?

  1. chasingimagination

    “From this perspective naturalism can be redefined as that which has been shown to falsify the null hypothesis.”

    I’m sorry if it may seem like a dumb question, but can you give an example or further explanation on this? Can the supernatural not be made falsifiable if naturalism is true? Or is it akin to, you have to prove the most ridiculous one first?

    • Doctor Bad Sign

      Well naturalism is based upon that which can be verified scientifically. In order for something to be verified scientifically the null hypothesis has to be falsified. For example the naturalistic world view would state that the earth orbits the sun. The null hypothesis is that the earth does not orbit the sun – we have falsified that.

      The supernatural is generally defined beyond the realm of that which we can falsify. If there is no way of falsifying the statement ‘the supernatural does not exist’ then it is useless to science.

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