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More Problems With Supernatural

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Posted by Harvey on August 7, 2003 03:06:48 UTC


The problem with the word supernatural is that things either behave in a natural way, or they don't behave at all. The term natural has many meanings, but it is typically viewed as a principle that conserves action/energy/time/space/etc in a minimalist manner that in the end provides a good explanation to our human sense of rationality. For example, the principle of least action is a principle of naturalism. So are the conservation laws of energy, principle of least time, random walks, random mutations, genetic drift, etc. They all have in common a certain minimalist behavior that conserves something important to the system in a manner that makes for a good human explanation.

So, when someone says that something behaves supernaturally, the way that I interpret that is that it behaves in a manner which contradicts our sense of a good explanation in terms of this minimalistic/conservationist approach to the universe.

The use of the term 'nomological' has none of these liabilities. Nomological systems maintain a minimalistic account. Even suggesting that God follows certain minimalist tendencies (e.g., a la Maupertuis) falls under this nomological concept of God versus the ancient view of God as acting unpredictably and violently for no rational reason. I think of that as a real supernatural cause.

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