When I press on certain keys on my MacBook Pro keyboard, magic happens!
Which you can see. Because I can touch type, words form on my laptop's screen. After I publish this post, the words appear on my Church of the Churchless blog.
Of course, all this isn't really magic. There's a chain of causes that leads to the words appearing in a blog post. Underlying those causes are hidden mechanisms -- software, hardware, internet functions, and such -- that most of us don't understand very well.
But what we're certain of is the overall way someone typing out thoughts at home can share those ideas on the internet, or worldwide web, even if we don't grasp the finer details of this.
When it comes to the realm of the supernatural, though, and religiosity in general, both causes and mechanisms are lacking. Well, let's make that believable causes and mechanisms with a foundation in demonstrable evidence.
This is a big reason why, after 35 years, I couldn't continue believing in the India-based religion that I once embraced wholeheartedly.
I became a devotee of Radha Soami Satsang Beas (RSSB) because I liked the supposedly scientific nature of this mystical approach to meditation and God-realization. However, over time the RSSB teachings made less and less sense to me.
I was asked to believe that I had a soul that could be separated from my body. But there was no evidence of this soul. I was asked to believe that the RSSB guru could know what his disciples were doing from afar, but there was no reasonable cause or mechanism that allowed this to occur.
Many other examples could be given of how the RSSB teachings basically involved a lot of mumbo-jumbo, ideas that made sense only if you didn't think about them very much. This "science" actually turned out to be as much of a faith-based religion as Christianity.
Now, it's true that science often doesn't completely understand the mechanisms underlying causes. For example, gravity causes apples to fall from a tree. Einstein figured out that the mechanism is curved space-time.
But quantum theory doesn't have its own explanation for gravity that fits with Einstein's. So many physicists suspect there's a deeper mechanism that explains gravity which is compatible with both relativity theory and quantum theory.
Still, modern science is hugely better at describing how the world works than religion and supernaturalism is. In large part this is because science seeks causes and mechanisms that can be tested empirically, not just talked about in vague ways.
RSSB taught that consciousness is immaterial. That allows the conscious soul to survive the death of the material body. Left unexplained was how immaterial consciousness was so obviously affected by changes to the material brain such as being hit on the head with a baseball bat or undergoing anesthesia.
If the soul goes offline when you have surgery, how does it survive death? If the soul is who we really are, why doesn't it manifest when consciousness is temporarily absent from the brain?
In his book, "Rationality," Steven Pinker speaks about causes and mechanisms.
Even once we have established that some cause makes a difference to an outcome, neither scientists nor laypeople are content to leave it at that. We connect the cause to its effect with a mechanism: the clockwork behind the scenes that pushes things around.
People have intuitions that the world is not a video game with patterns of pixels giving way to new patterns. Underneath each happening is a hidden force, power, or oomph.
Many of our primitive intuitions of causal powers turn out, in the light of science, to be mistaken, such as the "impetus" that the medievals thought was impressed upon moving objects, and the psi, qi, engrams, energy fields, homeopathic miasms, crystal powers, and other bunkum of alternative medicine.
But some intuitive mechanisms, like gravity, survive in scientifically respectable forms. And many new hidden mechanisms have been posited to explain correlations in the world, including genes, pathogens, tectonic plates, and elementary particles.
These causal mechanisms are what allow us to predict what would happen in counterfactual scenarios, lifting them from the realm of make-believe: we set up the pretend world and then simulate the mechanisms, which take it from there.