Most mornings recently I've been reading a chapter from Michael Strevens' marvelous book, "The Knowledge Machine." It describes why science is so effective at understanding reality.
I find the book inspiring, both scientifically and spiritually.
Ever since I started this blog in 2004, I've been using the term demonstrable evidence frequently. Often I ask for that -- demonstrable evidence -- when someone makes a supernatural claim.
Maybe they claim to have seen God, or something Godly. Maybe they claim to have experienced a cosmic realm beyond physical existence. Maybe they claim some sort of special power like ESP.
There are lots of possible "maybe's," because the human mind is capable of imagining all kinds of things that aren't real, yet seem like they could be, or should be.
Strevens makes clear that scientists aren't immune from those sorts of wishful thinking. Scientists are just like everybody else: imperfect, flawed, prone to thinking errors.
But modern science has something that enables it to generate valid knowledge about reality that other fields such as religion and mysticism lack: the iron rule.
I wrote about it in "The iron rule of science is empirical evidence."
The title of that blog post sums up the iron rule. When scientists argue about whether this or that is true, they must "conduct all disputes with reference to empirical evidence alone."
Now, this doesn't mean that scientists, or anyone else for that matter, can't entertain ideas unfounded in empirical evidence.
So if someone wants to leave a comment on this blog about how they are certain that God exists, I'm totally fine with that. They believe strongly in God. Fine. Everyone is entitled to their own beliefs.
However, the moment someone claims that God or some other supernatural entity is objectively real, we have a problem. We also have a problem if someone expects that other people should respect their claim as being valid.
To make the problem a non-problem, I like to ask people, "What is your demonstrable evidence?" In other words, empirical evidence.
If someone is claiming that they're privy to secrets about the cosmos that turn upside down the scientific understanding of reality, asking for proof is entirely appropriate.
Sure, I understand the objection religious believers have to this request. This is what I said in my previous post about the Iron Rule.
Now, I realize that religious people say that an experience of God or some other supernatural entity can't be proven, since it takes place within the psyche, not anywhere outside.
OK. But that means a supposed supernatural experience is akin to a dream. It is available only to the person having the experience, and there's no way to tell whether the experience points to a reality outside of the consciousness of that person.
So religious believers need to stop claiming that what they experience has any sort of objective truth. Like a dream, the reality is in the consciousness of the beholder, not anywhere else.
Of course, a religious believer can continue to have faith in their supernatural entity, whatever it might consist of, without demonstrable evidence. They just have no right to expect that anyone else will take them seriously if they claim that this entity has any effect in the physical world.
For if there is such an effect, it falls within the domain of science. Thus a miracle or a miraculous capability, such as knowing what is in the mind of someone else, must be demonstrated through empirical evidence.
Otherwise it is just an unfounded belief. And the world is full of them. Nothing special to see here if there is no demonstrable evidence.