In the news: Science confronts the supernatural (again)

A common misconception regarding science is that it is so biased against the supernatural that it won’t even look at any evidence which might support it. Science’s opinion about the supernatural, therefore, is not to be trusted, because it’s based on mere narrow-mindedness. Fortunately, recent news from Texas may help demonstrate that slanderous accusation against science is simply not true.

Canion believes she may have the head of the mythical, bloodsucking chupacabra.

“It is one ugly creature,” Canion said, holding the head of the mammal, which has big ears, large fanged teeth and grayish-blue, mostly hairless skin.

Canion and some of her neighbors discovered the 40-pound bodies of three of the animals over four days in July outside her ranch in Cuero, 80 miles southeast of San Antonio. Canion said she saved the head of the one she found so she can get to get to the bottom of its ancestry through DNA testing and then mount it for posterity.

What’s interesting about this story, apart from the legend of chupacabra itself (vampire? space alien? mutant?), is the fact that in this report we have not only an unsubstantiated story, but actual, physical evidence which we can subject to various tests and analyses to find out if what people are saying is really true.  And not just “really true” regarding chupacabra, but really true concerning science as well.

If it were true that science refuses to look at any evidence which might substantiate the existence of the supernatural, we would predict that scientists, knowing that some people attribute supernatural characteristics to chupacabra, would refuse to look at the physical remains which Canion and her neighbors have to offer. They certainly wouldn’t take any tissue samples, and they most decidedly wouldn’t give them a DNA test like the one Canion is suggesting.

I’d like to make a prediction, based on what I know about science: scientists will look into this evidence, and will do so with considerable interest and enthusiasm. Because it’s simply not true that science is biased against evidence for the supernatural. Scientists love evidence, and they love to study it and analyze it and test it and learn from it. Whatever difficulties exist between science and the supernatural are not because of any scientific bias against it, but because the supernatural steadfastly refuses to have anything to do with any form of verifiable evidence.

Ok, that was a bit cheeky. It’s not that the supernatural is biased against evidence either. What actually happens, in practice, is that people only apply the label “supernatural” to something after it has failed to produce any evidence which science could use to verify its existence. It’s not that science refuses to look into the supernatural, it’s that people don’t call something “supernatural” until after science has looked and found nothing. By definition, therefore, never the twain shall meet. By definition, a thing must first lie outside any possibility of scientific verification before it can be properly classified as supernatural.

I would hope that this example would suffice to show people how foolish it is to claim that science is somehow to blame for the fact that the supernatural cannot be scientifically verified. It’s really not science’s fault at all, it’s just the way people use the words that stacks the deck so that science can never win. Meanwhile, science stands ready to examine any genuine, verifiable evidence that anyone might care to produce in support of mythical creatures or supernatural beings or whatever, just as it stands ready and willing to study “chupacabra’s” mortal remains. All it takes is for the evidence to actually exist.

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