Tag Archives: CS Lewis

Mauna Kea Hawaii

Do you believe in the supernatural?

While there are many ways people arrive at the conclusions that form their worldview — many people determine what they believe to be true about the world based on how their life experience has led them to answer the question: “Do you believe in the supernatural?”  That is what I want to discuss today.

Mauna Kea Hawaii

For many, the word supernatural conjures up all sorts of uncomfortable, at times even embarrassing and confusing feelings.  It evokes fear and mystery in others.  Some dismiss its existence as irrational and superstitious.  Either way, most people associate the term with something mysterious — something they do not fully understand, and for those who do not believe in it at all, something silly.

But first, I want to bring the conversation down to its basic level.  Dictionary.com defines supernatural with eight definitions.  For the sake of time, we will go with the first one: of, pertaining to or being above or beyond what is natural.  This of course leads us to define what we mean by natural and nature.  Again, let’s go with the first definition listed for both.  By natural, I mean anything that exists inside nature, and by nature, I mean the material world.

Pinning down these definitions of supernatural, natural, nature, and material world, is necessary for the sake of this discussion due to their multiple meanings.  If, when we use the word supernatural, simply as “anything that is above or beyond what is natural (material)” then I believe the only logical explanation is that at least on some basic, very fundamental level, the supernatural must exist.

Painted Desert, ArizonaThe primary evidence rests in the fact that we have a consciousness — a non-corporeal element of our being that is not material, not tangible to our five senses, and is the source for our ability to exercise rationality — namely to think and to do so with reason.

Defining what comprises one’s consciousness in totality is for another blog entry.  The main point here is that this invisible element of our being that puts our thoughts and desires into material action, displays our character and personality, is not a natural (in this context more precisely defined as material) thing.  It, therefore, lies outside and beyond nature or what is natural, and therefore must be supernatural according to the definition mentioned above.

Strict materialists will disagree with me.  Materialismreferring to the second definition listed, is a philosophical theory that posits natural matter is the only “thing” which comprises the universe and its inhabitants and that it alone is responsible for actions and events.  A strict materialist would make no distinction between a person’s brain and his mind; in fact, he would deny the existence of the mind.  But I see this as illogical because to deny the existence of the mind, is to express a thought — something that is invisible, intangible, and lies outside the bounds of natural reality; it therefore must itself be supernatural.

I will conclude by taking a rather strong stand and saying it is illogical and irrational to deny the existence of the supernatural, at least on some level.  To argue otherwise is to implicitly give credibility to your opposing belief, or thought, and that thought itself is not material, lies outside the scope of the natural, and is therefore, supernatural.*  do you believe in the supernaturalIt would be like concluding: “Natural matter is all that exists , oh, except for the conclusion that ‘natural matter is all that exists, and the instruments I used to draw that conclusion (namely, my mind and reason).”’

Either way, I would say that although there are various different worldviews, most fall into two main camps — those who are strict materialists, who deny the existence of the supernatural, and those who believe in some type of supernatural element to our existence.  I will call these people supernaturalists from here on.

**This issue of the necessity of acknowledging the credibility of something not a part of nature, i.e. a person’s reasonable thoughts, as a requirement to make a reasonable claim about the universe, is explored in greater detail in chapters 3 and 4 the book Miracles by C.S. Lewis.

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Copyright © 2013 RationalWorldview.com
Sheldon Cooper

Why Science Can Never Tell Us Why

Like millions of other Americans, I too am a fan of The Big Bang Theory.  On last week’s episode, in a conversation between Sheldon (a socially inept but highly intelligent physicist played by Jim Parsons) and his neighbor Penny, Sheldon says:

Sheldon Cooper” if (Stephen) Hawking’s theories are correct, …they prove where the universe came from, why everything exists, and what its ultimate end will be.”

I realize Jim Parsons is only playing a genius, but this line really expresses the sentiment of our culture and the spirit of its current age, particularly in academia.  Often times, without realizing it, we make the jump from: Because a person is an expert in explaining certain ways of how the universe works, to: that person is capable of telling us why those laws and the universe exist.

For all its merit, its necessity, and its study, science — which contributes to our way of life in so many wonderful and innovative ways — cannot answer such questions as “why everything exists,” as the loveable Sheldon Cooper claimed.  Science cannot and never will be able to explain the metaphysical questions that nag us as human beings.  For a list of some of those questions, refer to the previous post What is a worldview? Part 2.

Picture of Mars by Nasa
Science — and all the many fields of academic study that fall under its umbrella (mathematics, physics, biology, chemistry etc.) — often over-extends its reach into territory where it has no business doing so.  I am not disparaging the importance of science with that claim.  The breakthroughs in science made, particularly in the past century, have been amazing and those discoveries will only increase to make our lives better.

However, I think it is important to realize that when determining the components of a worldview, one must keep the role of science in its proper place.  The role of science is to provide laws and substantiated reliable theories about the natural world based on observations and experimentation.  Those laws often come with the caveat “given nothing interferes.”

For the sake of simplicity, I will give an almost too simple example.  If I ask my friend the following questions:

  1. “Am I correct in asserting that if I mix a blue highlighter and a yellow highlighter on paper, the colored portion of the paper will turn green?”
  2. yellow and blue make green“If so, would it also be true that yellow and blue will always make green given the same set of circumstances in my experiment the future?”
  3. “Finally, am I correct in claiming the colored portion of the paper will definitely still be green tomorrow?”

Her answer, based on what we all learned in kindergarten, would most likely be respectively:

Mixed Primary Colors

  1. “Yes.”
  2. “Yes.”
  3. “Yes, but only if no one or nothing else tampers with the colored portion of the paper. If someone comes along and marks over the colored portion with a pink highlighter, the colored portion will no longer be green, thus making your third assertion untrue.”

This illustration is meant to convey that the purpose of science is to explain a result, conclusion, or phenomena of the natural world based on repeated observation and experimentation in controlled conditions.  In short, the role of science is essentially to make and record observations about the natural world and for humanity to progress by using those observations for innovation, which improve our quality of life.

However, science falls short in that it cannot explain the phenomena that exist outside or beyond the natural material world — what I defined as the supernatural in my previous post titled Do you believe in the supernatural? Here, I am not using the term ‘supernatural’ in any religious sense, but only as those elements found in our universe that are not natural or material but yet we believe to exist e.g. the non-corporeal parts of our being such as our consciousness and mind.

Throughout my life I have heard over and over again statements such as “the supernatural and God do not exist because the laws of science cannot explain such things or because there is no scientific evidence to prove it.”  However, I believe this to be a fallacy.  Just because science falls short of explaining anything outside or beyond the natural world does not logically necessitate the nonexistence of anything outside or beyond the natural world.

the limitations of scienceNor does it mean we should allow science’s limitations to become a stumbling block leading us to fall short ourselves in our pursuit of knowledge and understanding of the universe, which most would agree likely includes something outside of or beyond material nature.  

I would say no matter how “complete” science becomes, it will never provide an explanation for everything associated with our existence.  In cruder terms, the explanatory power of science will almost always fall short.  For one, the laws of the natural world are unable to explain the “why (not causal use but purpose) of existence” — that is the existence of the universe, its inhabitants, and all of the events that take place within it.  To observe something is one thing.  To claim to know why it came into being is entirely another.  The latter is not a matter of science (Lewis, 1980). Surprisingly, though, both the intelligent and unintelligent alike conflate these two issues just like Sheldon Cooper did in the season finale of The Big Bang Theory.

Science is wonderful, but it only makes sense to turn to other forms and methods of obtaining knowledge to better understand our universe as a whole and to throw off, or at least attempt to throw off, the heavy yoke placed on us by the perpetual myth we were taught in school our whole lives that science has some sort of monopoly on knowledge or that knowledge obtained by science is somehow truer than knowledge obtained by other methods.  If we are honest with ourselves, we must admit that most of the knowledge we accept as valid was not obtained in a scientific lab, but through other “less certain” and “less precise” methods that have nothing to do with the hard sciences.

Please feel free to leave a comment, agree, or disagree.

Works Cited

1.  Lewis, C.S. Mere Christianity.  New York: MacMillan, 1980.

Copyright © 2013 RationalWorldview.com

What is a Worldview? Part 2

The short answer

Not everyone has time for a phD in philosophy, but at some point most of us realize it is in our best interest to pursue the truth about life — ultimately a worldview.  I began the discussion in my last entry What is a Worldview? Part 1.  My short definition of ‘worldview’: a logically coherent set of rational beliefs based on reason about the world and our relation to it.

The longer answer

IMG_0155When attempting to nail down a vast definition of a topic such as this, I like to use a list form for the sake of clarity and simplicity.  That said, I would say a worldview is an ideological framework an individual holds that includes, but is not limited to and not in any particular order:

  1. what a person believes to be true about nature, or more precisely the material world
  2. what a person believes to be true about knowledge and its various forms
  3. whether a person believes in God, or rather a Being that is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent (one’s religious/theistic point of view)
  4. how we, as human beings should relate to God if we conclude God’s existence to be probable
  5. that person’s set of moral beliefs

These five basic beliefs are directly connected with how we answer and approach such common philosophical questions as (again not a comprehensive list):

  1. What is the meaning of life?
  2. What is my purpose in life and how is it connected to my fellow human beings?
  3. Is there a God, and if so, how does that affect me?
  4. Is there any sort of life after death, and if so, does the chaos, cruelty, disease, and decay the present world includes exist in that one as well?
  5. What is the purpose of art and its various forms?
  6. Where do “natural gifts” and “talents” come from?
  7. Are emotions “real,” and what is the purpose of having them?
  8. Why must every single human being experience some sort of pain?
  9. Does reason exist?
  10. Do we have a free will to exercise?

Many times, it is these questions that nag most of us and are the source for what leads us to form our belief system involving the five philosophical categories in the definition I laid out in the beginning.

Forming a worldview, especially a coherent one, can take decades, because the experiences we all have at different stages of human development, add to our depth and breadth of knowledge.  This knowledge — including its many forms — causes us to shape and re-think the truth of reality, in many cases, over many years.  I mean, who hasn’t heard of cases of noted intellectuals having dramatic paradigm shifts — where their worldview by the end of their lives was diametrically opposed to one they held in their youth.

Fyodor Dostoyevsky (author of my favorite work of fiction – Crime and Punishment (Vintage Classics) – and The Idiot) is one noted literary figure whose worldview dramatically changed by the end of his life.  Another is C.S. Lewis, whose most famous works include both fiction such as his seven book series Chronicles of Narnia Box Set, the most popular of that series being The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, and his non-fiction The Problem of Pain and his auto-biography Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life.

These two authors, both whose works I have read and re-read extensively, have been enough, at least for me, to constantly question my worldview and whether my belief system is a rationally coherent one.

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