Sunday, April 29, 2012

Definition: Supernatural

In a recent post in the comments of another blog, I was accused of being biased against the supernatural. My first thought was to question whether or not this was supposed to be an insult. Why yes, I am biased against the supernatural, I don't believe that the supernatural exists.

But then I was wondering if we were really communicating properly, I wonder if we all think of the same thing when we hear the word "supernatural". I think we can all come up examples, things that we would consider supernatural "God, ghosts, magic", but what exactly does it take for something to be considered supernatural? I think it basically means something that we perceive to be unexplainable.

Let's take magic, which we currently would consider to be supernatural, and suppose it were real. There would presumably be some rules by which that magic operates. There is potentially some energy that most of us cannot detect, but magic users could sense and somehow gather. They can then channel this energy and use it to create fireballs or whatever. Perhaps there is a certain amount of time it takes to rebuild this energy, perhaps they can only build up so much at a time, perhaps they have to go to certain places where the energy is plentiful.  The specifics don't matter, the point is, there are some rules which govern the way this magic works. If we could create the correct diagnostic tools we should be able to figure out how it works. Suppose we were able to peel back this curtain, would we still call it supernatural?

But this example is silly, as far as we can tell, magic as I have described doesn't exist. But let's think about how this has played out in the past. What happens when we get sick? Clearly there is some supernatural entity that has caused the sickness. We are possessed by demons, or evil spirits, or God is upset with us. We can see that people are getting sick, but we don't know why. I wonder if people in those times would have thought that sickness itself was supernatural. Obviously we know that there is really some microscopic thing that was causing the sickness, but the people of the time had no way of detecting them.

So am I biased against the supernatural? absolutely! Do I think ghosts are real? Nope. What if ghosts did turn out to be real? Would we say they are supernatural? Probably. But what does that really mean? I think it mostly means that they are just very mysterious and poorly understood. If we learned a lot about them I bet they would stop being called supernatural after a while.


  1. Preach it, brother! The supernatural is the unexplainable. The unexplained may sometimes seem supernatural, but if one day can be explained, it isn't.

    I doubt anything truly unexplainable exists.

  2. I agree with you guys. I doubt anything truly unexplainable exists. I agree with this. For lots of things, we don't have explinations. That's fine. There are a lot of things which we now know, that would have been impossible to figure out even fifty years ago.

  3. If the definition is "beyond scientific understanding, observable universe, outside the laws of nature", for you to say there is no such thing you would have to know absolutely everything. So share the cure for cancer or AIDS with the rest of the world if you know everything. You can't do it can you, so therefore you can not say there is no such thing because you don't know you are only guessing. By your own scientific standards you have proved you can't say that.

    1. Would I say that I know 100% that these things don't exist? No. I would never say that. I doubt such things exist, but I certainly can't say for sure.

      I agree with what JKerber said above, I also doubt that anything truly unexplainable exists. There are things we can't explain right now. There are probably things that we will never be able to explain. But do I think there are things that we couldn't explain even in theory? I would say no. Again, this is just my personal opinion, but it makes the most sense to me.

      "You can't do it can you, so therefore you can not say there is no such thing"

      Did I say there is no such thing? Am I claiming knowledge? No. I am saying that in my opinion there doesn't seem to be any reason to believe the supernatural exists.

    2. As someone else pointed out elsewhere, science doesn't claim to know stuff. It's ignorance that drives it. Science reveals knowledge as time goes by. Religion claims to "know absolutely."

    3. "beyond scientific understanding, observable universe, outside the laws of nature"

      I have been thinking about this a little bit more, and I would like to turn it around. Based on this definition of supernatural, do you think supernatural things do exist? If so, why? What makes you think such things are real? As you said, I can't prove that they don't exist, but you can't prove they do either. So we are really both just guessing.

    4. But if your stating its real then show us..but you cant so its Supernatural...A fairytail..


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