What is "the natural world"
#1 by andrewk » May 23, 2011 1:19 am
What does a theist mean when they refer to the ‘natural world’? This often occurs in claims like “the explanation for the natural world must lie outside the natural world”, or “Yahweh/Allah/Osiris/Elvis is a supernatural being”.
Sadly, politeness and tact prevent me from finding many opportunities to quiz religious people about this but, on the rare occasions I have managed to ask, the answer is usually some form of:
“ the natural world is all matter and energy, including all the matter and energy in other universes, if there is a multiverse ”.
That makes me wonder what would happen if we discovered a new field that was not matter or energy. Indeed the “vacuum potential” of empty space might be considered to be such a field. To my great shame, I am not very well-versed in quantum mechanics but, from a very shallow reading (a few paras of wikipedia), it appears that vacuum potential is regarded as a form of potential energy. Hence it does not lie outside the realm of mass-energy.
But won’t the same apply to anything that can have an impact on mass and energy? If we were to discover a scalar field that, when it met certain criteria at a certain point in spacetime, generated a burst of energy or a particle, then isn’t that just another form of potential energy (ie it is a “potential” to create “energy”). In fact, anything of which we can conceive that has any potential to
affect the world of mass-energy that we can observe, could be described as a form of potential energy could it not?
Theists who want to rule out all scientifically observable phenomena as potential explanations for existence appear to say:
1. The natural world cannot explain its own existence
2. The natural world consists of all matter and energy, including vacuum potential and other forms of potential energy
3. Anything scientifically observable, or even able to be hypothesised by scientists as affecting the natural world (eg the brane-world ‘bulk’ or the 11-dimensional string-theory manifold), falls within 2 and hence is part of the natural world
If this is indeed what theists believe, then how does it keep gods out of the natural world? As gods can create mass-energy, they are a form of potential energy, and so would be part of the natural world under this definition.
This leads me to the conclusion that the statements
(A) the natural world is all matter and energy, including potential energy; and
(B) gods are not part of the natural world
I’d be very interested to hear what others think about this.
Have I misunderstood what theists mean by the “natural world”?
Am I wrong in concluding that anything that can affect mass-energy is a form of potential energy?
Is it possible to construct a coherent definition of “natural world” that doesn’t include any gods that exist? If so, how?
andrewk THREAD STARTER Name: Andrew Kirk Posts: 728