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Supernaturalism

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Supernaturalism is a secular designation for those who believe that there are beings, forces, and phenomena such as the human soul, God, angels, miracles, pixies, faeries, hobbits, etc. which claim to interact with the physical universe in remarkable and unique ways.[1] The belief in an unseen spiritual realm is a fundamental premise of theism, who hold to a spiritual worldview standing in contrast to the atheistic premise of naturalism, which denies the existence of any spiritual phenomena.

The Scripture does not differentiate between supernatural and natural. These are secular definitions to separate what secularists view as "reality" (the natural world) from "make-believe" (the supernatural world). In their view, the natural world is where God is "not", and the supernatural world is where God, faeries, pixies and miscellaneous deities cohabitate. In contrast, God upholds the entire creation by the word of his power (Hebrews 1:3), so there is no place in the entire creation where God is "not". The irony here is that the world the secularists describe as "reality" (the world where God-is-not) is actually a make-believe world.

The Bible uses the words "God", "eternity", "heavenly", "spirit", "angel", "demon" etc. in regular accounts as if the inhabitants of the unseen spirit world actually cohabitate the creation with mankind. This page will use the word "supernatural" sparingly and instead focus on the heavenly or unseen.

The word supernatural comes from the Latin word super meaning "above" + nature. It should however, be noted that although some spiritual phenomena may not be perceived by natural or empirical senses, a great many spiritual events have been witnessed in biblical and modern times. Numerous events in Earth's history require a spiritual worldview before they can be correctly understood or interpreted.

Concerning Miracles, the Scripture is clear that God does not bend, set-aside or break his words (Matthew 24:35). His creation is a completed architecture (Genesis 2:1-3). Any events or actions he must take within the creation, whether they use earthly forces (such as the Red Sea) or spiritual forces (the Resurrection), God has already accounted for their utility, their need and how he will implement them. They are not spontaneous suspensions of his laws or the created order, but an integrated part of it. That humans experience them in ways that are clearly outside a routine existence, does not mean that God is violating the laws of the creation. Like the laws of aerodynamics can overcome the effects of gravity, it does not set aside or violate gravity, but invokes another set of laws. Clearly powered flight depends on gravity to operate, or the atmosphere would not have predictable behavior and pressure.

Secularists generally believe that science and technology will ultimately explain anything that is now viewed as supernatural, even from a religious point-of-view. For example, we cannot see ultraviolet light, so in former times when humans received a sunburn, pagan deities were invoked to explain it. When a rainbow was seen, gods and godesses, leprechauns and pots-of-gold were invoked, even though science can now explain it by simple refraction of light in water droplets.

Secularists see these and others as clear examples of how science dispels so-called supernatural phenomenon. Some secularists have asserted that even though the Resurrection of Jesus Christ is a real, historical event, and Christ in fact raised from the dead, they also believe that Christ was a scientist and had mastered the realm of scientific knowledge required to accomplish this feat (and that science will eventually catch up to him). Jesus Christ himself anticipated this sort of reaction to his own resurrection in (Luke 16:31) "And he said unto him, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead." His clear assertion is that if someone does not accept the testimony of Moses and the Prophets, which give historical and spiritual foundation to the Resurrection, the actual Resurrection will have no meaning at all.


Contents

Science and the Supernatural

Science can and does acknowledge things that are outside the understood, visible universe. Secular scientists however, define supernatural as outside the realm of science entirely, and squarely, irreversibly within the realm of make-believe. As such if it is perceived as supernatural, it is rejected as non-scientific. It is important for creationists to define terms in context of a completed creation, without differentiation to supernatural or natural. These terms are so deeply ingrained into common language that it makes the task difficult.

Science

By definition, science involves the study of nature by the scientific method and the construction of falsifiable theories about the universe. Both creationists and evolutionists agree on this. It is with the secular definition of supernatural that things become somewhat problematic. If indeed the supernatural is, "outside the natural world" or "attributed to a power that seems to violate or go beyond natural forces," then science can do very little to study it. For how can science, as the study of nature, study what is outside of nature? Evolutionists make this argument ad nauseum.

Science according to Wiktionary is as follows;

The act and embodiment of performing the Scientific method in order to discover empirically proven truth.

The act and embodiment of constructing falsifiable theories which are not subsequently falsified. [1]

If the definition of supernatural is, "outside the natural world" or "violating the laws of nature." then these serve no useful purpose for a creationist. God does not violate his own laws (they stand forever) nor does he perform things in the creation "outside of the creation". The "natural" world is an artificial distinction that is solely based on "acquired knowledge and understanding" rather than objective truths. The problem here is in allowing the secular definition to drive the conversation. For example, if the supernatural world contains pixies, faeries, Wookies, elves Zeus, Odin and Iron Man, then the supernatural world is nothing we care about anyway. It is truly the world of make-believe. But if the secularists choose to lump God, angels and demons into the supernatural world, we cannot stop them but we also don't have to agree with them. In short, some shock-value is to agree that we don't believe in the supernatural either (it's their definition, after all, and Wookies aren't real).

The Mpemba effect [2] for example is the demonstrable fact that hot water freezes more quickly than cold water. This doesn't make sense to us. It violates the laws of nature as we know them, yet it still happens and fully natural, we just don't understand it. Why then, in our ignorance would we define the laws of nature as how we think things work? Nature is bigger than us. If we tag all events that we don't understand as supernatural and don't study them because they "violate the laws of nature", science will cease progress entirely. Obviously, this definition of "the laws of nature" is a failed one. In this page's preamble, we note that many things have moved from "supernatural" to "natural" simply by improvements in technology. And of course, God never violates his own laws, so the laws of nature will never be broken.

We could on the other hand, define the laws of nature as how things actually work. Then we have a different question. Because if nature is how things actually work, then there is no such thing as a supernatural phenomenon. Things either happen or they don't happen.

  • If Jesus was born of a virgin, it was natural, because it happened. If he wasn't, then the event wasn't "supernatural," it was a false story.
  • If Moses parted the red sea, it was natural, because it happened. If he didn't, then the event wasn't "supernatural," it was a false story.
  • If Yahweh sent the flood, it was natural, because it happened. If He didn't, then the event wasn't "supernatural," it was a false story.

In the Gospel of John, chapter three, Jesus Christ of Nazareth is speaking to Nicodemus said (John 3:12) "If I have told you earthly things, and ye believe not, how shall ye believe, if I tell you of heavenly things?" Clearly the earthly things (natural order) are integrated to the heavenly things (spiritual order).

These assertions set aside the secular definition of supernatural and accept that the creation has many facets, some visible and "earthly" (trees, light, water) and many invisible (ultraviolet/infrared light, gravity, electricity) and some "heavenly" or spiritual (angelic beings).

Supernatural

When we define nature as how things are, then the word supernatural loses its meaning. Things either happen or they do not. If things happen they are natural and science should study them. If they do not happen they are not supernatural, they are simply false and science should prove them false.

According to The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language: Fourth Edition, released in 2000 the word supernatural means;

Of or relating to existence outside the natural world.

Attributed to a power that seems to violate or go beyond natural forces.

Of or relating to a deity.

Of or relating to the immediate exercise of divine power; miraculous.

Of or relating to the miraculous. [3]

It should be noted that materialistic scientists today do not define nature as how things work. They define it as how we think things work. If you don't believe that God exists and does things, then you'll naturally conclude it's unscientific to claim that God did one thing or another. But the premise that God doesn't exist and doesn't do anything is not a scientific position, but a philosophical position. Essentially science cannot approach such a thing because it cannot be falsified, in other words since it cannot be observed it can't be experimented on or base predictions upon.

Thus, if we begin with the philosophical premise that it is possible that God exists and does things in the universe, then we conclude that supernaturalism is potentially scientific. If someone would rather use the philosophical premise that it is not possible that God exists and does things in the universe then we conclude that supernaturalism is not and could never be scientific. It is important to note that no matter which philosophical assumption one chooses to interpret the observable scientific evidence, either naturalism or supernaturalism, are equally unscientific.

To a supernaturalist, the point is not whether miracles are supernatural or not, but whether they occur at all. God either does things or he does not. Yahweh either created Eve from a rib taken from Adam's side, or he did not. Jesus either rose from the dead on the third day, or he did not.

There is no room for supernatural here. There is room only for history. These events, amazing and unique as they were, either happened or they didn't. There is nothing supernatural about them. That is why science by any reasonable definition must permit creationism as a possibility. If Elohim created the Earth and life in six days, then it happened, it is history, and we should find a great deal of evidence consistent with this conclusion, and no evidence inconsistent with it. If he did not, of course, then Genesis is not supernatural, but false, and it is the duty of science to falsify it.

Inference of intelligence

The supernatural as violating laws of nature are dealt with below, but to the issue of whether science can allow for intelligent cause outside of nature itself rather than the blind process of naturalistic evolution, there are two issues involved here:

  • Can science explain phenomena with reference to intelligent agents?
  • Can science explain phenomena with reference to non-human intelligent agents like God?

The first question is rather easily dispatched. Science regularly infers intelligent action when studying phenomena, inferring that rock paintings, Stonehenge, and the pyramids were all created by intelligent agents. The scientists often do not know who did it, when they did it, or sometimes even how they did it. Nevertheless, scientists know that somebody made those things. There is nothing "unscientific" about such an inference.

The second question is more subtle. Can science attribute things to God? Let us consider some possibilities:

  • If God neither exists nor acts, then giving him credit would be false, therefore unscientific
  • If God exists and acts, then failure to give him credit would be false, therefore unscientific

The premise that God neither exists nor acts an unfalsifiable premise with deeply religious implications that excludes a range of possible explanations without justification. Secularists have accepted this premise without objection and made it part of their definition of science. Creationists on the other hand see every reason to believe that God exists and has acted (and are essentially more so open-minded in this regard). They believe that because science's goal is to explain the universe. Our attempts to do so should not arbitrarily exclude possible explanations.

The question is simply one of which explanation is best supported by the preponderance of Evidence. Creationists believe that their interpretation of the evidence is more consilient:

  • Reputable historical accounts indicate specific acts by God;
  • The physical evidence is reasonably interpreted as consistent with these accounts;
  • The only other possibility that has been presented, evolution, is demonstrably impossible and cannot be reasonably reconciled with the observable scientific evidence we have today within mutations, fossils and natural selection.

Objections from Naturalists

The first issue to address is whether the supernatural can be observed or not.

Observability

Clearly, the Bible is full of accounts of events and experiences that are entirely outside the expectations of a routine existence. Most of these were visible in nature.

  • Adam and Eve spoke with God in the Garden of Eden, and explained what they had done;
  • God spoke to Noah, telling him to build a boat to save him from the flood; and then he saw the flood;
  • Abraham saw angels, spoke with angels, and then observed his wife become pregnant at such an old age that the prospect of pregnancy made her laugh;
  • Moses saw a burning bush, turned staffs into snakes, parted the red sea, followed a pillar of smoke and flame, and saw the face of God on Sinai;
  • Mary watched herself become pregnant when she was still a virgin;
  • Thomas saw Jesus after he rose again, and touched his hands.

It would appear, in the context of the Bible, that miracles are routinely seen, touched, and experienced. That is not to say that all heavenly/spiritual beings or events are observable. But it does mean that the fact that some spiritual events are observable gives us reason to believe that spiritual beings exist, and the fact that we can't observe them is a consequence of our limitations, rather than any inadequacy on their part.

By analogy, humans were unable to see the far side of the moon for thousands of years; Nevertheless, we had reason to believe there was a far side to the moon, because we could see its near side and infer it had a far side. It was no surprise, then, that once our technology permitted us to travel there, we found that what had once been unobservable did, in fact, exist.

Results of prayer

Many scientists document or demonstrate that prayer (and faith) have the power to, beyond a placebo effect, aid in the recovery of an individual who is ailing. This is medically, scientifically documented in various studies and reports, and is an observable change brought on by belief (or appeal to) spiritual agents.

  • Research from Arizona State University concluded from 17 other observations and experiments that God (or "some other type of transcendent entity") answers prayer.[4]
  • Research in 2007 concluded that "Strong religious beliefs can protect stroke patients from emotional distress, perhaps aiding recovery ..." [5]
  • A 2001 study by Duke University showed that "Cardiac patients who received intercessory prayer in addition to coronary stenting appeared to have better clinical outcomes than those treated with standard stenting therapy alone." [6] Researchers suggested that "rigorous scientific methods to study the therapeutic value of prayer and other noetic interventions appears feasible and warrants larger-scale, more definitive investigations." (Later research seemingly contradicted these findings.)
  • A researcher with the Graduate School of Psychology at Fuller Theological Seminary found that prayer may help reduce stress and depression in the spouses of individuals coping with lung cancer. [7]
  • A 2001 study by Columbia University that was "carefully designed to eliminate bias" found that "prayer seems to almost double the success rate of in vitro fertilization procedures that lead to pregnancy". [8]. The secularist would discount this observation, wondering why God could not make the woman pregnant naturally without the intervention of science.
  • In 2000, a researcher with the University of Maryland Medical Center reviewed 23 studies on the healing effect of prayer and other belief-based methods. Dr. John Astin (who described himself as an open-minded skeptic) reported that "57 percent of the studies showed a positive impact on the patients, such as less pain or a faster than expected recovery time" and that the number was "highly significant."

The research does not all point one way. A 2006 study found that those confident that they were being prayed for experienced more adverse complications in their recovery process. [9] Yet even this would suggest that, positive or negative, prayerful appeal to the supernatural has observable results.

Can creation be scientific if it cannot be observed?

Creation is essentially the act of creating the natural world. There are two issues involved in this question.

  • First, are unobservable theories unscientific simply because they are unobservable?
  • Second, is the Genesis account of creation and the evidence for it unobservable?

The first argument fails, because it proves too much. If we say that "Nothing that cannot be observed can be scientific," then we define a wide variety of scientific theories as unscientific. The structure of subatomic particles, dark matter, dark energy, string theory, quantum mechanics, and general relativity are all unobservable in and of themselves, but are (to some degree at least) inferred from physical evidence. There is no naturalistic mechanism (abiogenesis included) that has been scientifically tested, or observed by science to actually create life from non-life as evolution predicts. Life by way of the spiritual, or by way of a naturalistic mechanism for evolution, are both equally untestable, and unobservable. Evolutionists would be better off finding, observing and duplicating in a lab a natural mechanism that creates life from non-life before criticizing the creationist view.

Obviously, a lot of science is "unobservable", but it is still science. Why then should creationism be unscientific because it is unobservable, while other theories be scientific even though they are unobservable? Obviously it should not, unless one wishes to apply a double standard.

The second is not one of definition, but of evidence. Creationists think there is observable evidence from which to infer creation, but evolutionists do not. Substantive discourse is of course impossible when creationist papers are excluded from secular scientific journals simply for making creationist claims, and without addressing the evidence itself.

The primary problem then, is one of worldview. The secularist has a worldview that only includes "naturalistic" explanations of phenomena. The creationist has a worldview that allows both earthly and spiritual explanations of phenomena. By contrast, a secularist will use evidence of DNA, fossils and geology to prove evolution. The creationist will use the same evidence to prove creation.

What is the difference? The interpretation of the evidence, where the interpretation is driven by the worldview. The two are essentially "talking past each other" and will never agree. The public ear however, is interested in the debate and can make reasonable conclusions about such matters if they are presented in a coherent and understandable way. This is why nearly half of the American population rejects evolution.

Other Objections

One supernatural explanation cannot be distinguished from another

This presupposes that all supernatural explanations are the same. It implies that invoking the supernatural is a blanket explanation. That supposition exposes another attribute of the objection itself: it is based on materialistic naturalism, which assumes a priori that no supernatural event can ever occur at all. While for a single event it may be impossible to distinguish between different supernatural explanations, the same thing is true of natural explanations. Distinguishing between different explanations, whether natural or supernatural, requires repeated events so that a pattern can be observed.

Spiritual explanations can produce predictions about future, similar events. Ghosts provide a good example, since there are some basic competing theories here:

  • Ghosts are spirits, in other words intelligent entities, being formerly living humans. This predicts different behavior at each sighting, which is consistent with their being individual personalities. This may include unique interactions with viewers.
  • Ghosts are psychic recordings of past events. This predicts repetition of the same behavior at different sightings This also predicts no interactions with viewers.
  • Ghosts are demonic spirits masquerading as dead humans to deceive living humans who are foolish enough to attempt contact with dead humans (contact with whom Scripture says is impossible (Luke 16, Deuteronomy 18)).
  • Ghosts are deliberately faked using technologies or trickery (e.g. spirit mediums)

Each theory makes predictions about how ghosts should behave. In this case there are different sightings that match each theory such that studying a ghost's behavior can distinguish between different explanations for ghosts, each of which will ultimately find their way to debunking the paranormal entirely.

  • For example, Harry Houdini and more recently The Amazing Randi have had significant success debunking so-called paranormal phenomenon based on what is expected if natural effects are not in play. In one case, Uri Gellar tells his radio audience to think of a mechanism in their home that is no longer working, then with this object in mind, shout "move!". People began calling-in from all over saying that everything from old clocks to vaccum cleaners were working again. Randi did the very same experiment on a local radio station, proving that the objects-in-question were already operational but the person did not know it.
  • In another case, people called-in from all over the country to guess the patterns on one of six different cards while people offstage "concentrated" on just one of the patterns. When the calls were tallied, they were spread-out no better than what is achievable with random chance.
  • Lastly, a program is created in a computer to sample random numbers between 1 and 100 and record them one-hundred times per second. The average of the numbers should always be "50". When the program is running, the subject is told to command the numbers to "aim high" or "aim low". When the observation ceases, the numbers are examined and indeed show a pattern of the average moving lower or higher on the subject's command. The cause of the effect is not an actual movement of the average, but of selective recording. When the experiment doesn't work, the subject is asked to try harder. "Bad" samples are thrown out for arbitrary reasons.

It is impossible to generalize supernatural explanations

This is not true, as demonstrated by a simple look at the history, and the abundance of them. The above theories on ghosts are generalizations. There are difficulties in generalizing supernatural explanations but that does not mean that it is impossible. Difficulties in generalizing supernatural explanations can result from several causes:

  • Rarity of a supernatural event. Some supernatural events do not happen frequently enough (maybe only once) to make a generalization possible, but the same thing could occur with natural events, if similar events do not occur frequently enough to observe more than a few occurrences. The conquest of the lands of the ancient Greek Empire happened apparently only once, and may never be repeatable, but few would doubt that it happened, nor would anyone deny the validity of making historical generalizations.
  • Insufficient data on a supernatural event. If similar supernatural events are not adequately observed then generalizations may be impossible because of the lack of information. The same thing could occur with natural events that are not adequately observed.
  • It is difficult to generalize intelligent activity. Many supernatural events clearly involve intelligent entities and the behavior of intelligent entities would be hard, but not necessarily impossible, to generalize, particularly when dealing with more than one non-human intelligent entity. The is true of natural intelligent entities since, even among humans, some people will always behave outside any generalization. If one is dealing with more than one type of natural non-human intelligent entity, a generalization is impossible.

Some events once thought to be supernatural are now known to be natural

While this is true, it is a false analogy. Such events were deemed to be supernatural because nature was poorly understood by those who made such claims. However a scientific application of supernatural explanations concludes that natural process are inadequate, not because of lack of knowledge but because of the actual inability of chance and natural law to provide an adequate explanation. It is possible that a supernatural explanation could be replaced by a natural one if more data becomes available, but the reverse is also possible. In both cases, this is just one hypothesis replacing another; such is the nature of science.

Finding the natural causes of things, does not totally negate spiritual causes and purposes. For example some aspects of Quantum physics suggest that even natural causes have underlying non-natural causes. A non-natural explanation can only be postulated by eliminating all possible natural explanations. This depends on what one means by eliminating all possible natural explanations.

  • Sometimes it is claimed to include natural explanations not yet conceived of. This is absurd since it is impossible to eliminate a theory that does not yet exist.
  • It would have to be restricted to natural explanations that are consistent with the theoretical system under consideration, since any that is not consistent with it would be eliminated by definition.
  • Sometimes all possible natural explanations can be eliminated, by virtue of inconsistency with the laws of nature or being impossibly improbable.

Supernatural explanations hinder science

The same can be more accurately said of absolute naturalism since it eliminates a large class of phenomena and possible explanations. This objection presupposes that spiritual explanations are magical as if simply invoking the spiritual is an explanation; this is not the case. A proper spiritual explanation would explain how the event happened, but simply not be limited to the understood laws of our physical universe. In other words creationists are quick to point out that the spiritual is the cause for the existence of life and natural laws to sustain it.

For example a scientist observes water running uphill, and he eliminates water pressure or some other normal mechanism such as a local mass anomaly. He then concludes that the water's behavior is consistent with spacetime's being bent to produce a gravitational field, but there is no mass to do the job. He might conclude, since this behavior is not within understood natural law, that something from outside spacetime (spiritual by definition) is causing the spacetime bend. This would be no different in principle than inventing some supposed natural object that is equally unseen, such as dark matter or energy.

If a spiritual event is studied long enough or multiple spiritual events were studied, some details about the spiritual cause might be deduced, just as is done with unseen natural objects like subatomic particles. This objection equates the spiritual to superstition, but the two are not equivalent. It is one thing to use natural cases where they suffice but it is quite another to assume that they always do and must suffice.

The very nature of spiritual phenomenon is that they are non-repeatable. We cannot capture an angelic being, put them in a cage and examine them. Nor can we repeat one-time events that were initiated from the spiritual realm. This is no different however, than being unable to repeat a wartime victory, a United States President, or the discovery of dynamite. The event requires a legal-historical proof, not a scientific one.

Ancient people believed in miracles because they were superstitious

All argument against these plain facts [that miracles occur] is always in a circle. If I say, 'Mediaeval documents attest certain miracles as much as they attest certain battles,' they answer, "But mediaevals were superstitious"; If I want to know in what they were superstitious, the only ultimate answer is that they believed in the miracles. (G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy, p. 144)

Historic Supernatural Events

Numerous events in Earth's history require a spiritual worldview before they can be correctly interpreted or understood.

Conclusion

There is nothing in the definition of science that precludes a spiritual hypothesis. In fact, many of the scientific fathers who created the very science still in use today relied upon God or a spiritual, divine force that created first and sustained that creation with natural laws of physics, chemistry and mathematics to govern it. Furthermore a spiritual hypothesis can meet the qualifications of prediction and falsification. Spiritual hypotheses are not the same as superstition or magic, but are simply explanations that are outside the routine existence of mankind. Such explanations can but need not include God. The denial of the spiritual that is part of naturalism is a purely philosophical and essentially atheistic position. By excluding spiritual hypotheses from consideration, materialists eliminate out of hand a large body of possible explanations for past, present and future phenomena.

In origins and historical research, a total denial of the spiritual will cause grave error where spiritual events have indeed occurred; therefore spiritual explanations must be considered where appropriate. The fossil record itself is an prime example of how rigid naturalism has caused a fatal flaw in interpretation of Earth history, with far-reaching ramifications. Instead of interpreting the fossil record as being the result of a catastrophic global flood, a naturalist is forced to believe these deposits accumulated gradually over millions of years. This erroneous perspective of Earth's history is the principal evidence used to support the theory of evolution and ultimately promote the rise of atheism.

Although it might seem obvious that such an event had taken place whether you believe in spiritual matters or not, it is important to recognize the depth and breadth of the strata covering the Earth before a person can understand the reliance of this interpretation upon one presuppositional belief system or the other. Given the volumes of rock involved, it simply would not be possible for any land animal to survive a flood able to create the entire geologic column without spiritual intervention, and yet the world is filled with a plethora of fragile lifeforms. Either these organisms were spared from extinction through an act of spiritual intervention (i.e. the ark), or the layers of rock accumulated at a rate they could survive naturally.

References

  1. Supernaturalism by Merriam-Webster

Further reading

See Also

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