Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Natural vs. Supernatural

In a discussion about my post on the Atonement, a couple of people didn't see why I don't think the Law of Justice that necessitates the Atonement could be a natural law. This gets right to the heart of the difference between the natural and the supernatural worldviews, so I thought I'd try and answer that more clearly.

The naturalist, or scientific, worldview asserts that things behave the way they do because they are following laws. The laws of quantum physics appear to fully describe the behavior of certain particles, such as protons, neutrons, electrons, photons, and others. Because these laws have been accurate in predicting the behavior of these particles in virtually every case, it seems likely that inside anything composed of these particles, the particles are behaving the same way. The behavior of whatever is composed of these particles is therefore almost certainly the result of all of its particles following the laws that govern each particle's motion.

Everything we've learned seems to confirm this conclusion. The laws of chemistry conform to, and can even be derived from, the laws of quantum mechanics. The behavior of cells can be explained using the laws of chemistry, and so on. Our behavior, and the behavior of everything composed of matter, can ultimately be explained, at least in theory, even if not in precise detail, by the laws of quantum mechanics.

So now back to the Atonement: it's necessitated by a Law of Justice, that apparently governs us, but can't be derived from more basic laws like the laws of quantum mechanics, even in theory. What could you possibly decompose the Law of Justice into that could be derived from more basic laws? That's what I mean when I say that it couldn't be a natural law, and it can only make sense if you accept the supernatural.


gavinomics said...

I agree with all that you have said up until the last sentence. I am going to argue that the "law of justice" can be natural.

There are observer-independent facts like the existence of particles and forces etc. There are also observer-Dependent facts like the existence of money, marriages, and cocktail parties.

The existence of money and marriages do not arise out of particles. Nevertheless they exist. How do they exist? They exist because they are social facts dependent on consciousness.

The mistake I believe you are making is that you assume that since the "law of justice" doesn't arise out of particles, it doesn't exist. Using that same logic, money and elections don't exist either.

The important point is that there are observer-independent facts about observer-Dependent facts. For example, no one decided to have a recession, but recessions arise naturally within observer-Dependent situations. Therefore, recessions exist, but they do not arise out of particles, and no one person has any power to prevent or control a recession.

Therefore, it does not logically follow that the "law of justice" has to be supernatural. It could exist naturally just like recessions.

Most LDS people who have heard of the "law of justice" probably think that it is supernatural though. If they do, then I think they are mistaken.

gavinomics said...

On a side note, I don't think the "law of justice" is even mentioned in LDS scriptures. It is just a fancy expression that means that there are consequences to actions. And it is important to recognize that there are natural observer-independent consequences that arise out of observer-Dependent contexts. Again, recessions are the clearest example.

Bennion said...

Gavin, you've got some really good points: I haven't really disproven an observer-dependent, natural explanation. Let me try to add to my argument a bit.

I can understand the existence of money and recessions, because they can arise because of the interactions we have with each other, or are useful concepts for facilitating interactions. They're observer-dependent social facts. But the Atonement is asserting effects where there aren't any interactions. Let's say that someone sins in the privacy of her own home, and then repents for it, also in the privacy of her own home. "Guilt" is description of the state of her brain. If the Atonement alleviates guilt, how did it do it? I think we know enough about neurons and brain chemicals to know that none of the four basic forces (gravity, electromagnetic, strong and weak nuclear forces) had anything to do with it. Obviously God physically didn't come in and change her brain state with some scientific equipment. If he changed her brain state at all, it was using a method that's outside of the laws of physics as we know them, therefore "supernatural."

Stephen said...

The comment that gavin made on the blog seems to ring true to me, somewhat. I think that there is a component of comparing apples to oranges. You can't make a particle out of it. I don't think that is your point, though. You could also argue this with waves or even gravity, which, to my understanding, is undefined with a "smaller" law. There is nothing smaller seated within gravity. There are larger concepts, like space-time concepts, i.e. Hawkings "blanket" theory. Nevertheless, this is possibly part of the problem. We want to argue that justice is "natural" but perhaps it is symantics.

I think that most of the LDS argument boils down to justice being "eternal" which many Mormons may equate as "natural." In Mormon-ese, "natural" isn't really a good word. Paul went to great lengths to distinguish the temporal and natural from the eternal and spiritual. I would argue then, that these "natural" laws can be seated within the "eternal" laws. They are unchanging and behave predictably.

Justice, I contend, behaves predictably and can be measured and demonstrated. However, our time frame is too small. Chemistry is easy because we can combine and force reactions easily. Physics is not too hard either, but can be depending on the scale and scope. Einstein was only able to prove some of his concepts of gravity effects on light and space during a solar eclipse - a rare event in solar-planetary cycles compared to our lives.

I argue that the test of Justice will occur eventually at Judgment. I believe that it has occurred in the past, as well. Therefore, cyclical and continuing backward and forward - just like all "eternal" laws. Justice was enforced, we believe during the Flood. The wicked were killed and the righteous saved. Judgment Day will occur at the end of the world, the prophets have foretold. So, there is a time to measure Justice and, if the prophets are to be believed, everyone will experience it and be able to test it on their own.

So, in summary, Justice can be considered an "eternal" law, similar to other "natural" laws in duration and existence. It is demonstrable on a cycle longer than any individual lifespan; historically, longer than world Ages. Therefore, it is only recorded historically in a span long enough to be doubted by many. If able to see the beginning and end, the law would be accurate in predicting behaviors as any "natural" law. And (here's where the metaphysics really comes in) we have been told by men who purport to have seen the evidence that it exists and it is something worth avoiding.

Thanks again for the interesting debate.

gavinomics said...


No one has as much knowledge about the how the mind and brain works to justify the assumptions you are making about what is and is not possible concerning the brain.

Bennion said...

On re-reading my comment, I don't think I stated it very clearly. What I meant was that we know enough about the brain to know that none of those four forces were applied from a long distance away to change her brain state. I think that's easily demonstrable.

Post a Comment