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Durham e-Theses
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Can Science Investigate the Supernatural?
An investigation into the relationship between science, the supernatural and religion.

WINTHROP, JONATHAN,PETER (2016) Can Science Investigate the Supernatural?
An investigation into the relationship between science, the supernatural and religion.
Doctoral thesis, Durham University.



Throughout the last century there has been much discussion over what it is that makes an activity or a theory 'scientific'. In the philosophy of science, conversation has focused on differentiating legitimate science from so-called 'pseudoscience'. In the broader cultural sphere this topic has received attention in multiple legal debates regarding the status of creationism, where it has been generally agreed that the 'supernatural' nature of the claims involved renders them unscientific.

In this thesis I focus upon the latter of these issues, arguing that although there may be merit in the larger demarcation project of separating science from pseudoscience, the notion of 'supernaturality' does not belong in this adjudication. Due to the complex cultural issues that have played a role in the history of this topic, this will involve a degree of historical and normative analysis alongside more philosophically abstract considerations.

Complicating the discussion is thefact that neither the term 'science' nor 'supernatural' enjoys a widely agreed upon definition. In order to assess the question then, I will survey a wide variety of definitions of each term in order to identify areas of potential conflict. I argue that in none of the prevalent understandings can we find impediment to scientific investigation inherent in the supernaturality of a claim, but rather posit that where difficulty arises it does so for more mundane reasons.

I conclude that not only is there no inherent issue with scientific investigation of the supernatural, but that the term 'supernatural' itself is too poorly defined to provide a useful role in philosophical discussion. While I argue that notions of supernaturality should be abandoned entirely when assessing demarcation criteria, I concede that numerous extraneous factors, including the significant degree of overlap between the supernatural and the 'religious', warrant consideration of a compromise position.

Item Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Award:Doctor of Philosophy
Keywords:"Science"; "Religion"; "Supernatural"; "Natural law"; "Philosophy"
Faculty and Department:Faculty of Arts and Humanities > Philosophy, Department of
Thesis Date:2016
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:06 Oct 2016 09:06

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