Do we really know enough to honestly tell ourselves that a thing cannot be explained, utterly beyond the knowable on only our limited understanding? Or might there be an explanation waiting for us to find if only we look? When must we throw up our hands and despair of ever finding an answer? Are we merely confusing the currently unexplained with the utterly unexplainable?
In doing so, we may be invoking what David Kyle Johnson has referred to as the “mystery, therefore magic” fallacy. Like the X of the Gaps fallacy, it’s related to the argument from ignorance, and it is every bit as dangerous in most contexts.
This is common, and easy to commit, as each of us has only a limited stock of ready explanations at any given time. That’s why we’ve invented science.
Through science, we generate new explanations for things we don’t currently understand, and more, we can quantify what we explain and make use of it ourselves. Science allows us to explain, predict, describe, and control what we come to understand.
That’s its power.
First, what is the unexplained?
Next, what is the unexplainable?
Finally, how do we tell them apart?
Anything currently without a known explanation may perhaps have an explanation somewhere waiting to be found, even if you, anyone you know, or anyone at all, is unaware of what it is.
The point is that you cannot say that something is unexplainable for all time until you actually look, and in your search exhaust all explanations and find none.
And that is impossible in practical terms.
No matter where you look, you cannot a prove universal negative on limited information.
And all information at any given time is limited, as limited as the time spent gathering it. You can never be absolutely certain that someone, somewhere, doesn’t, can’t, or won’t know the answer.
Humans are not all-knowing. It is impossible for any one person to know what everyone in the universe knows, or ultimately can know, and from this, safely assume an explanation is both unknown and unknowable anywhere and any time else.
Merely because YOU don’t know, or can’t, doesn’t apply to everyone else. Presuming that it does is arrogant and unreasonable. The limits of your knowledge don’t restrict others.
There is always someone who knows more, or who imagines or can imagine things you don’t. To paraphrase science communicator Bill Nye, “Everyone you will ever meet knows something you don’t.”
As for the truly unexplainable, philosopher Massimo Pigliucci has noted two different sorts:
First, those things which absolutely have no reasonable explanation, and second, those things having an explanation somewhere out there, but unavailable due to human limits in thinking and understanding. That would be like my cat understanding quantum physics (sorry, Mister Eccles). As much as I love my cats, and as smart as they are, that isn’t going to happen.
Scientific inquiry, and any useful process of gathering knowledge, requires some humility and open-mindedness in understanding the limits of what we currently know and a willingness to consider new ideas.
So saying that “ID did it,” “God did it,” “ET did it,” “a ghost did it,” “Evil Secret Conspirators™ did it,” or “psi did it,” explain nothing and most definitely will not get you past peer-review nor win you a Nobel Prize.
Everything that science has ever fully examined has turned out to be both natural and normal. The natural and the normal are not merely presupposed by science, but defined by science because they are testable, and tested, using its methods, and found to be real.
Consider that before proclaiming something to be inexplicable, when the explanation you don’t know about may be just where you don’t, can’t, or won’t look.
Tf. Tk. Tts.