Author Topic: "Not everything has to be explained scientifically"  (Read 749 times)

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Offline JohnKurwa

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"Not everything has to be explained scientifically"
« on: June 20, 2012, 08:43:01 AM »
A friend of mine with whom I am debating some religious stuff has come up with the following argument:

It's a translation and I hope I can translate it how he meant it:


"I struggle with the way of thinking, that everything has to be explained scientifically. In my opinion, not everything which [exists/which is not 100% untrue] has to be explained scientifically."


How would you react to this argument?

I answere somewhat like: Everything that interacts with the universe leaves traces and the natural sciences cover nearly every part of at least our earth.
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Offline oogabooga

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Re: "Not everything has to be explained scientifically"
« Reply #1 on: June 20, 2012, 09:00:24 AM »
Scientific explanations are based on actual evidence, not 'a feeling' or any other form of personal of mass delusion and/or hysteria. Granted, current evidence on certain matters probably points in the wrong direction, but the beauty of the scientific method is that it's self-correcting. When the evidence changes, theories change with it. The problem with 'spiritual' (can't think of a better term, sorry) explanations is usually the fact that they seem to become dogma in a matter of seconds. Such immutability is something I find quite disturbing and counter-intuitive for our general development.

Anyway, so far science has proven that it can explain just about anything. Religions have proven that they can explain frak-all[1]. Case frakkin' closed. What has science given us? Well, err, everything, from longevity to cars and computers. And religion? Apart from bigotry, hatred and discrimination it's given us a horde of wishful thinkers who firmly believe things will get better precisely because they won't try and make them so.

But to be honest, nothing has to be explained scientifically. It's just that scientific explanations are usually right and others aren't. It's a completely personal decision (and a right) whether someone believes them or not. I'm a firm believer in human rights, even the right to be and remain an ignoramus.
 1. No, I'm not a purist. Yes, I am a BSG fan.
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Offline screwtape

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Re: "Not everything has to be explained scientifically"
« Reply #2 on: June 20, 2012, 09:01:01 AM »
I'm not sure what that really means.  Some more context would help.  Is he saying there are some things that do not follow The Rules of the Universe?  Some things just happen?  If so, on what grounds does he carve out these exceptions?  Or is he saying we should not try to find explanations for some things?
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Offline One Above All

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Re: "Not everything has to be explained scientifically"
« Reply #3 on: June 20, 2012, 09:24:36 AM »
Nothing has to be explained. But the explanations help us advance. If it weren't for scientific explanations, we wouldn't have electricity. Or running water. Or pretty much anything we have nowadays.
The truth is absolute. Life forms are specks of specks (...) of specks of dust in the universe.
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Offline JohnKurwa

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Re: "Not everything has to be explained scientifically"
« Reply #4 on: June 20, 2012, 09:31:42 AM »
Scientific explanations are based on actual evidence, not 'a feeling' or any other form of personal of mass delusion and/or hysteria. Granted, current evidence on certain matters probably points in the wrong direction, but the beauty of the scientific method is that it's self-correcting. When the evidence changes, theories change with it. The problem with 'spiritual' (can't think of a better term, sorry) explanations is usually the fact that they seem to become dogma in a matter of seconds. Such immutability is something I find quite disturbing and counter-intuitive for our general development.

Anyway, so far science has proven that it can explain just about anything. Religions have proven that they can explain frak-all[1]. Case frakkin' closed. What has science given us? Well, err, everything, from longevity to cars and computers. And religion? Apart from bigotry, hatred and discrimination it's given us a horde of wishful thinkers who firmly believe things will get better precisely because they won't try and make them so.

But to be honest, nothing has to be explained scientifically. It's just that scientific explanations are usually right and others aren't. It's a completely personal decision (and a right) whether someone believes them or not. I'm a firm believer in human rights, even the right to be and remain an ignoramus.
 1. No, I'm not a purist. Yes, I am a BSG fan.

Very good point there (1. bold).

2. bold:

I think it is just his way of thinking. And I guess that what he wanted to say is, that not every part of our existance and our universe needs to be explained in a scientific way. He also added afterwards that he believes that in the specific event of the emergence of the universe he believes that some kind of super-natural was involved as we can not explain it scientifically. I then brought up that we don't know YET what exactly happened and am now awaiting his answer.
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Offline JohnKurwa

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Re: "Not everything has to be explained scientifically"
« Reply #5 on: June 20, 2012, 09:39:27 AM »
Is he saying there are some things that do not follow The Rules of the Universe? Some things just happen?  If so, on what grounds does he carve out these exceptions?

With 'some things' he explicitly means ONLY the emergence of the universe in specific. (I guess he thought about other stuff too but I think he has no evidence or good arguments for them so he let them fall as he is usually a really intelligent and reasonable person).
On what grounds? On none, but I'll have to ask him, I think he just WANTS to believe that not everything can be explained scienifically. Which is a fallacy of Whishful Thinking, isn't it?

Or is he saying we should not try to find explanations for some things?

No, not exactly. If it is possible to find an explanation, then we should find one, but he says that in this sepcific cause no explanation CAN be found. I think that is his point.

Nothing has to be explained. But the explanations help us advance. If it weren't for scientific explanations, we wouldn't have electricity. Or running water. Or pretty much anything we have nowadays.

Ok this is a really good point. I have not seen it from this point of view before.

Thanks to all answers so far.
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Offline One Above All

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Re: "Not everything has to be explained scientifically"
« Reply #6 on: June 20, 2012, 09:58:28 AM »
No, not exactly. If it is possible to find an explanation, then we should find one, but he says that in this sepcific cause no explanation CAN be found. I think that is his point.

Give him a history lesson. Specifically tell him that that's what people said before it was proven that the tiny dots in the sky are stars. And before it was proven that the Earth wasn't flat. And before it was proven that it goes around the sun, rather than the other way around.
The truth is absolute. Life forms are specks of specks (...) of specks of dust in the universe.
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We choose our own gods.

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Offline Dante

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Re: "Not everything has to be explained scientifically"
« Reply #7 on: June 20, 2012, 12:25:34 PM »
"I struggle with the way of thinking, that everything has to be explained scientifically. In my opinion, not everything which [exists/which is not 100% untrue] has to be explained scientifically."

Your friend wishes to remain willfully ignorant, so that facts dont interfere with his, as you said, wishful thinking. His god of the gaps keeps retreating, and he fears that one day it will be exposed for what it is: imaginary. And, that's something about which he desperately doesn't want to be shown wrong.
Actually it doesn't. One could conceivably be all-powerful but not exceptionally intelligent.

Offline Samothec

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Re: "Not everything has to be explained scientifically"
« Reply #8 on: June 21, 2012, 04:05:48 AM »
A friend of mine with whom I am debating some religious stuff has come up with the following argument:
"I struggle with the way of thinking, that everything has to be explained scientifically. In my opinion, not everything which [exists/which is not 100% untrue] has to be explained scientifically."

Something most people never think about is that religion explains everything too. That's because people usually want to explain everything. Religion was originally science, philosophy, health codes, social codes and more all rolled into one package. But we have gradually built individual fields for these things. And explaining the universe is now called science.

The only area not yet adequately touched by any field of study is spirituality. We have started but like some other fields it is a very young endeavour. The scientific method is more difficult to apply to the cognitive fields so progress is slow.

The problem enters when people refuse to accept fact: the human race's body of knowledge (science) explains in a far superior manner almost everything other than spirituality so that it is the only area religion covers in an adequate manner. There would be few to no problems if people recognized religion's only strength (spirituality) and that religion is at best weak, if not totally wrong, in all other fields.

Proponents of religion struggle to reclaim what was already lost long ago and as a result are letting it's only strength slip away. Soon, the study of spirituality will be a strong enough field that religion will be empty of all meaning.
Faith must trample under foot all reason, sense, and understanding. - Martin Luther

Online jetson

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Re: "Not everything has to be explained scientifically"
« Reply #9 on: June 21, 2012, 06:24:58 AM »
Samothec,

I would add that religion does not necessarily explain spirituality.  I consider it a very weak explanation based on dogma, rather than anything that gets close to an actual explanation.

If humans have a propensity to think there are gods, or higher powers, or that we are connected to everything in the universe in some way, religion fails miserably to explain any of that, in my opinion.

There are some philosophical ideas that seem more focused on our connection to something bigger than ourselves, and that feel more satisfactory to me than any god or religion I can think of.  I hope that science can start connecting some of those dots to better explain why humans have a need to be spiritual.

Offline screwtape

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Re: "Not everything has to be explained scientifically"
« Reply #10 on: June 21, 2012, 07:43:21 AM »
With 'some things' he explicitly means ONLY the emergence of the universe in specific. (I guess he thought about other stuff too but I think he has no evidence or good arguments for them so he let them fall as he is usually a really intelligent and reasonable person).
On what grounds? On none, but I'll have to ask him, I think he just WANTS to believe that not everything can be explained scienifically. Which is a fallacy of Whishful Thinking, isn't it?

If it is a god of the gaps argument, then he has reduced his god to a finite process.  That makes his god just one finite process in a univers full of finite processes.  Not much of a god.  He has become a black box, a place holder for a better explanation. 

Of course, that is all god has ever been and as human knowledge has expanded, god has had to evolve to fit within those limits.  And as a place holder for better explanations, god have progressively been getting smaller and smaller, and will continue to do so as long as we keep learning.

Also notice your friend only uses god to fill one gap - the one gap he believes is most likely to never be filled.  There are many other gaps in his knowledge, so why no god there?  Ask him how flat screen tvs work.  He probably doesn't know.  So why not use god or angels or some other supernatural hobgoblin as an explanation?  It is no different.  But he knows someone knows and it is a series of natural, explainable processes.  And why should the big bang be any different?  Why is everything in the universe explainable by natural processes, with one giant exception? 

People used to believe ghosts and spirits and demons - invisible people - did things - caused rain, brought luck, illness, made bountiful crops, fertility, etc.  But they gave all that up once they learned how these things really work.  But where they do not understand, they still insert invisible people.  Perplexing, no?  I conclude the human brain is not the awesome thinking machine we like to think it is.  It is barely capable and we are talking, hairless monkeys, just smart enough to be a threat to all life on the planet.

His god is a monument to his ignorance.  A giant idol of anti-intellect, before which he bows and supplicates himself. 

Pathetic.  Shameful.  A total disgrace.  I don't see how he can look at himself in the mirror in the morning. 


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Offline Samothec

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Re: "Not everything has to be explained scientifically"
« Reply #11 on: June 21, 2012, 12:55:33 PM »
I would add that religion does not necessarily explain spirituality.  I consider it a very weak explanation based on dogma, rather than anything that gets close to an actual explanation.

I didn't phrase it well but I intended that post to be a possible defense for John to sway his debate friend. An attempt to get him to see and accept that religion is faulty. Basically back him into a corner then leave him alone to think and work his way out of the corner by accepting the facts.
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Offline JohnKurwa

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Re: "Not everything has to be explained scientifically"
« Reply #12 on: June 22, 2012, 04:53:17 AM »
First of all, many thanks to your answers.  ;D

No, not exactly. If it is possible to find an explanation, then we should find one, but he says that in this sepcific cause no explanation CAN be found. I think that is his point.

Give him a history lesson. Specifically tell him that that's what people said before it was proven that the tiny dots in the sky are stars. And before it was proven that the Earth wasn't flat. And before it was proven that it goes around the sun, rather than the other way around.

Seems very reasonable to me, I was thinking of that before. In my opinion he is wrong in this point, I think some day they can exactly reconstruct the building/emergence of the universe and give evidence for this, or at least I hope so. But, as Hitchens said (reading 'god is not great' at the moment, truly one of the best books I have ever read..), I think that some mysteries will never have a proper explanation nor will we ever understand everything up to 100%, but I do not think this concludes that there is something supernatural.

Your friend wishes to remain willfully ignorant, so that facts dont interfere with his, as you said, wishful thinking. His god of the gaps keeps retreating, and he fears that one day it will be exposed for what it is: imaginary. And, that's something about which he desperately doesn't want to be shown wrong.

Very good observation just from this few words I posted of him. It is exactly how he behaves when it comes to a debate no matter what topic. If there are some facts he cannot denie, he always stays behaving ignorant and does not want to accept these facts.

The problem enters when people refuse to accept fact: the human race's body of knowledge (science) explains in a far superior manner almost everything other than spirituality so that it is the only area religion covers in an adequate manner. There would be few to no problems if people recognized religion's only strength (spirituality) and that religion is at best weak, if not totally wrong, in all other fields.

Proponents of religion struggle to reclaim what was already lost long ago and as a result are letting it's only strength slip away. Soon, the study of spirituality will be a strong enough field that religion will be empty of all meaning.

Also very interesting point here, never thought of it before. Though in my opinion jetson's right here as what he is saying is pretty much my point of view.

If it is a god of the gaps argument, then he has reduced his god to a finite process.  That makes his god just one finite process in a univers full of finite processes.  Not much of a god.  He has become a black box, a place holder for a better explanation. 


Of course, that is all god has ever been and as human knowledge has expanded, god has had to evolve to fit within those limits.  And as a place holder for better explanations, god have progressively been getting smaller and smaller, and will continue to do so as long as we keep learning.

Also notice your friend only uses god to fill one gap - the one gap he believes is most likely to never be filled.  There are many other gaps in his knowledge, so why no god there?  Ask him how flat screen tvs work.  He probably doesn't know.  So why not use god or angels or some other supernatural hobgoblin as an explanation?  It is no different.  But he knows someone knows and it is a series of natural, explainable processes.  And why should the big bang be any different?  Why is everything in the universe explainable by natural processes, with one giant exception? 

People used to believe ghosts and spirits and demons - invisible people - did things - caused rain, brought luck, illness, made bountiful crops, fertility, etc.  But they gave all that up once they learned how these things really work.  But where they do not understand, they still insert invisible people.  Perplexing, no?  I conclude the human brain is not the awesome thinking machine we like to think it is.  It is barely capable and we are talking, hairless monkeys, just smart enough to be a threat to all life on the planet.

His god is a monument to his ignorance.  A giant idol of anti-intellect, before which he bows and supplicates himself. 

Pathetic.  Shameful.  A total disgrace.  I don't see how he can look at himself in the mirror in the morning.


The bold part on top sums it up pretty well. I have also not thought in this way, but it is exactly what my friend has done.

I think it is not important for him that HE knows how it works. More like, we as humanity. But it is a good argument, I will bring this up but I think it will lead to nothing as he will not accept it and/or try to dodge and stuff. He can't just concede he was wrong, but in everything he does, think might be because of his ego/vanity.

A bit harsh what you are saying here if I consider he is a good friend of mine, but actually I think you are right.

« Last Edit: June 22, 2012, 04:56:37 AM by JohnKurwa »
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Offline screwtape

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Re: "Not everything has to be explained scientifically"
« Reply #13 on: June 22, 2012, 07:20:27 AM »
He can't just concede he was wrong, but in everything he does, think might be because of his ego/vanity.

It is a superiority complex.  I know people like that and we've had some like that here.  They cannot lose an argument.  They cannot admit to being wrong.  They always have to have an excuse to wiggle out of it.  This is common in teenage boys. Unfortunately, few of them grow out of it.

A bit harsh what you are saying here if I consider he is a good friend of mine, but actually I think you are right.

Sorry.  Sometimes I get carried away.

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Offline JohnKurwa

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Re: "Not everything has to be explained scientifically"
« Reply #14 on: June 22, 2012, 07:50:26 AM »
He can't just concede he was wrong, but in everything he does, think might be because of his ego/vanity.

It is a superiority complex.  I know people like that and we've had some like that here.  They cannot lose an argument.  They cannot admit to being wrong.  They always have to have an excuse to wiggle out of it.  This is common in teenage boys. Unfortunately, few of them grow out of it.

A bit harsh what you are saying here if I consider he is a good friend of mine, but actually I think you are right.

Sorry.  Sometimes I get carried away.

That exactly describes him when he's about to lose a debate/ an argument.

You don't have to apologize, the truth sometimes hurts ;). I just have not thought in that way as I say he is a close friend but this is an irrational influence. (i.e. if my sister killed someone it would be even sinister as if someone else killed someone [or even worse] just because she belongs to my family does not mean her actions should be judged more mildly).
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Offline Samothec

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Re: "Not everything has to be explained scientifically"
« Reply #15 on: June 25, 2012, 03:26:45 PM »
Also very interesting point here, never thought of it before. Though in my opinion jetson's right here as what he is saying is pretty much my point of view.
Personally, I think the Abrahamic religions do a poor job of explaining things spiritually. Some of the eastern philosophies do a better job.

When dealing with someone who won't accept facts, you need something to trump what each of you is saying: a text you both consider reliable. Unfortunately I doubt there is one for this subject that both of you trust. Which means verbally backing him into a corner where he is even less likely to listen. Letting him have spirituality as a reason to hang onto his religion gives him time to see reason more on his own terms.

The other tact would be to convince him to do some reading:

almost anything by Dawkins or Hitchens - good but he might resist.

The God Virus by Darrel Ray - again good but he might resist.

Religion Explained - The Evolutionary Origins of Religious Thought by Pascal Boyer - excellent - this isn't a quick read but in spite of the depths the author goes into it is quite readable and really gets to the actual origins more than any other book I've read. Also not a book I recall seeing anyone else mention on any atheist website in spite of how good it is. It's good enough to serve as an inoculation against religion even if you have a very active agency detection.
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Offline JohnKurwa

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Re: "Not everything has to be explained scientifically"
« Reply #16 on: June 25, 2012, 05:13:44 PM »
Personally, I think the Abrahamic religions do a poor job of explaining things spiritually. Some of the eastern philosophies do a better job.

When dealing with someone who won't accept facts, you need something to trump what each of you is saying: a text you both consider reliable. Unfortunately I doubt there is one for this subject that both of you trust. Which means verbally backing him into a corner where he is even less likely to listen. Letting him have spirituality as a reason to hang onto his religion gives him time to see reason more on his own terms.

The other tact would be to convince him to do some reading:

almost anything by Dawkins or Hitchens - good but he might resist.

The God Virus by Darrel Ray - again good but he might resist.

Religion Explained - The Evolutionary Origins of Religious Thought by Pascal Boyer - excellent - this isn't a quick read but in spite of the depths the author goes into it is quite readable and really gets to the actual origins more than any other book I've read. Also not a book I recall seeing anyone else mention on any atheist website in spite of how good it is. It's good enough to serve as an inoculation against religion even if you have a very active agency detection.

Bold part sums it up pretty well.

Hitchens: absolutely impressive what he is writing (reading myself at the moment).

Whilst I think the point is that he is already in his corner and refuses to accept any of my arguments. He does not believe in any religion. He is just stating that "there is somewhat supernatural which had some influence at creating our universe." And that is a bad to just see everything in a scientific way, meanwhile he does not believe in anything supernatural than at the beginning of the existence of our universe. So it's kinda difficult to bring him away from his point.
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Offline rickymooston

Re: "Not everything has to be explained scientifically"
« Reply #17 on: June 30, 2012, 08:27:22 PM »
"I struggle with the way of thinking, that everything has to be explained scientifically. In my opinion, not everything which [exists/which is not 100% untrue] has to be explained scientifically."


How would you react to this argument?

I answere somewhat like: Everything that interacts with the universe leaves traces and the natural sciences cover nearly every part of at least our earth.

I would just agree with him. For example, if I am writing a history ppaper, while some references to science (such as dating of artifacts) may be made, for the most part, its not explained scientifically.

There are questions scientists have a hard time dealing with. For example, how do we understand "qualia", the subjective internal aspects of our perception? What is it like to look through the eyes of a bat?

A whil ago, somebody on this board pointeed out, scietists used brain wave analysis to try and tackle that problem indirectly.

While psychology can explain why we find some things beautiful, it is not the best way to discuss art eitther. Science can also date art and even deduce whether a piece was drawn by a certain artist.

In terms of the spiritual, science can explain some of the experiences one has but it won't help much witth a discussion of theology or what people believe

« Last Edit: June 30, 2012, 08:34:42 PM by rickymooston »
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Offline Boots

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Re: "Not everything has to be explained scientifically"
« Reply #18 on: July 01, 2012, 09:16:31 AM »
Whilst I think the point is that he is already in his corner and refuses to accept any of my arguments. He does not believe in any religion. He is just stating that "there is somewhat supernatural which had some influence at creating our universe." And that is a bad to just see everything in a scientific way, meanwhile he does not believe in anything supernatural than at the beginning of the existence of our universe. So it's kinda difficult to bring him away from his point.

In my experience, when folks pull out that "argument" (that it's bad to see everythign in a scientific way), it's an example of intellectual laziness.  Science is hard.  Rigorous.  You are often proven wrong in your assumptions.  And that's why it's great--because it strives to find the CORRECT answer.  It doesn't assume something that's pulled out of yoru butt (like, say, the universe had a supernatural beginning) and cling to it as the answer.

Your friend is being lazy, and overly proud.  If you're fine with that, cool.  If not . . . call him on it.
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