« Life In A Backwater Blog | Main | New Yorkers: Know Your Fire Escape Routes »

Do You Believe In Magic?

I was listening this morning to a report on a meeting or convention or something of science teachers. One of the most highly attended events at that meeting was a seminar on how to deal with students who wonder about the teaching of evolution (those students presumably being in favor of the teaching of Intelligent Design).

During the report, someone referred to a common framing of the relationship between science and religion which is, in essence, if you allow science to explain what it can explain and allow religion to explain what it can explain, you pretty much have a way to explain everything there is to explain about the universe.

I find it useful to occasionally stand around naked while pondering your deeper type questions. Taking your clothes off makes you feel vulnerable, and vulnerability is good when you're thinking about the Big Stuff. So this morning, standing there naked in the bathroom, listening to the report and running the faucet full-blast into the sink, waiting for the hot water to show up, I wondered: is that really true? Is a tag-team effort of science and religion sufficient to explain everything we want or need to know about the universe?

Me, I'm long on the science side of that tag-team effort and short on the religion side. As I've said before I'm a spiritual atheist/cognitive agnostic. That is, I sense deeply there is no God, but I understand that I can't possibly prove there isn't one.

But I mean, why just those two members of the "team"?

If you populate the team with "the natural" and "the supernatural" explanations, it seems to make sense that there could only be two. But what if there are some explanations that are "below nature", "hyponatural explanations", so to speak? Whatever the hell "hyponatural" might mean. But that's the thing, it doesn't have to necessarily mean anything to me, but if you are going to divide things into "nature" and "above nature" then you can't really say it's impossible to have something that is "below nature". There's an open seat there, after all.

But that's really just a fault in the way we are using the language. So is it "safer" to say something like "ultimately explainable by the scientific method" and "ultimately not explainable by the scientific method"? I don't know. Beats the hell out of me, but if that is a better way to say it, it occurs to me that "ultimately not explainable by the scientific method" is not necessarily synonymous with religion.

See, I don't really get any of this. I have no idea if there are other members of this tag-team besides science and religion, and I have no idea what to call these other members of the team if they, in fact, exist. I just like wondering whether the explanations we've been handed are actually, you know, true, or complete, or even useful.

Standing around naked and thinking deep thoughts is useful for launching your morning teleological investigations, but showering and putting on your clothes is helpful in organizing your first thoughts. Also, you probably want to put on your clothes before leaving for work. I generally do, and I certainly did this morning.

I love my morning walk to work. I think about all sorts of things. Most of them stupid, of course, but never mind. It's the thought that counts.

So I'm walking along this morning thinking about what these hypothetical other members of the teleological tag-team might be and I passed a public phone with an advertisement on it. The ad was for the Turkish Tourist Board or something. It had a photo of a vaguely Turkish looking guy using a magnifying glass to inspect a vaguely Middle-Eastern looking rug, and the copy said something about "magic carpets".

Ah, I thought: Magic.

Is there some sort of religious explanation for magic carpets? Hmm. I know from having read the 1001 Arabian Nights that there is some sort of Islamic explanation for genii. Or, if I'm remembering correctly, at least the genii believe in Allah. So I don't know if that means Allah is responsible for magic carpets or not. But I do know there is a lot of magic in the 1001 Nights, just as there is a great deal of magic in European literature, past and present.

I guess there isn't any particular reason why we couldn't think of magic as being somehow the responsibility of a god or gods. It's all just a guess anyway so I don't imagine anybody can claim to have a better answer than the one I, or you, come up with. In any case, what the hell difference does it make? Who believes in magic these days? Not me, that's for sure.

But here's something I do believe in: placeholders. That is, in this case, it's possible for me to believe that magic, and maybe other things we crackpot humans have come up with, serve as placeholders for these other members of the teleological tag-team -- things we don't have the cognitive wherewithal to actually conceive of, or even name. Except by calling them "magic", of course.

Sort of like all those "curled-up dimensions" the superstring theorists tell us about. What the hell is a "curled-up dimension"? There is no way that our brains can actually experience such things. We can apparently give them a name by way of higher mathematics, but we can't really experience them, at least insofar as we now understand ourselves.

Do I believe in "curled-up dimensions"? Well, I believe they could exist because people whose judgment I more or less trust tell me there is a place for them inside the math.

Do I believe in magic? No, not really. But I do believe that the notion of magic could be a placeholder we have come up with for other members of the teleological tag-team we don't know how to describe or even think about.

I don't know... I just don't like people telling me that science and religion, taken together, pretty much covers all our bets. I think people who say that they do should be required to stand around naked while making their argument. In fact, come to think of it, it probably wouldn't be a bad idea if philosophy majors, scientists, and theological students went around naked all day long. Not so much for our benefit, but for theirs.

Me, I'd probably adopt the philosophy of whoever looked the best without any clothes on, but that's just me. I'm sure the rest of you would be much more mature about it.


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Do You Believe In Magic?:


Post a comment

If you have a TypeKey or TypePad account, please Sign In

In Memory

May 2006

Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
  1 2 3 4 5 6
7 8 9 10 11 12 13
14 15 16 17 18 19 20
21 22 23 24 25 26 27
28 29 30 31      


  • Technorati search