Once we arrive at the conclusion that mere matter and natural laws are not sufficient to explain the existence of the universe and life, but a super intelligence is, then what? For some, this begins a life of exploration. Others turn the matter over to organized religions that claim to be a conduit to the creator. For yet others, who assume supernatural is synonymous with superstition, it means stopping before they begin.
The word supernatural is laden with emotion and confusion. It connotes a surrealism, subjectivity and phantasm that makes it easy to set aside, reject or use to justify an agenda. In religions it circumscribes a sacred domain where profane and mundane science cannot tread and where religious leaders can claim special knowledge and exert power. Materialists use the word to smugly describe the place where people go when they have abandoned science and reason.
Here’s the point I would like to make that will clear the air for all sides and create common ground for progress: there is no supernatural; there is only natural.
This is why I can say such a thing. To know what supernatural is, natural must be defined. The prefix, “super,” means beyond, or exceeding. So we must know where “natural” ends before we can know what is beyond it. The problem is, no one would (a better word is should) be so silly or bold as to define the limits of natural. That’s because philosophic and religious ideas that separate natural from supernatural have fallen one after another to the revelations of scientific exploration. Lightning turned out not to be arrows in the quivers of supernatural gods, disease was not supernatural devil possession and the universe was not a supernatural firmament circling the Earth.
In earlier times, the state was religion and the church defined science. Ancient Egypt and Rome typified this. There was no real separation of secular from religious. All was hunky dory. Then along came the scientific revolution, beginning in the 17th century, and science decided to depart from the fold. A truce was made and a deal struck whereby the church could have the supernatural, and science would take the natural. The fear of being shot down yet again by science has created a mood of capitulation by religions. They have surrendered even where they need not have, such as with the issue of evolution.
In any case, this unwritten agreement about a division of authority worked out pretty well until quantum physics showed that there was no real divide between the physical and non physical (the supernatural). Now we are once again at the point where all knowledge properly belongs under one header: reality-truth-nature.
This is an interesting state of affairs, not particularly comfortable for either side. Religion sees its supernatural being whittled away by advancing science; science sees its materialism vaporizing into a quantum world that has flavors of religion.
Exploration is the enemy of the supernatural. The more we learn, the more natural there is and the less supernatural. That does not bode well for the word. When a concept keeps caving in to the pressure of advancing knowledge, it may be a good time to retire it. If we do, a reason for much of the conflict between science and religion will disappear.
Since truth is our objective, discarding a word should not be a problem. That which is revealed from nature, natural things, is just truth. There is neither super-truth nor super-nature. Truth is truth. We may not have fully discovered all the truth nature contains – and we certainly haven’t – but that does not make the yet unknown super-truth or supernatural.
All things of truth are natural, even that which we cannot see, hear, feel, smell, touch or even conceptualize. Radio waves are natural, X-rays are, as are microbes, molecules, atoms and quanta, even though they are invisible, unknown to our naked senses and fundamentally inconceivable. There are infinite unknowns beyond our perception and even our technology. Is it all supernatural or is it just nature yet undiscovered or poorly understood? That’s rhetorical. Is it not the height of egocentricity and an outrageous curiosity of humans that we would define the world as divided into natural and supernatural based upon what we humans have or have not discovered or understand?
Extraordinary, miraculous and paranormal events are actually only glimpses of reality beyond normal human bounds, not aberrations beyond nature. They are just preternatural, meaning outside the normal course of nature, unusual, not supernatural. If a person can walk through a wall, materialize objects out of thin air, see through matter, rise from the dead or predict the future, that means they have a special ability to tap into a part of natural reality that most people cannot, not that they are supernatural.
To disprove events such as near-death and out-of-body experiences, some skeptical investigators duplicate elements of these experiences with drugs such as DMT and LSD and with centrifugal g-force experiments. The assumption is that if unusual phenomena can be induced by a physical act, in other words shown to be natural, that that diminishes their merit by proving they are not supernatural. The logic of that escapes me. The fact that physical natural factors can induce extraordinary phenomena does not prove that such events cannot occur outside of the laboratory in the private lives of individuals. It proves that apparently “supernatural” events are natural. Exactly my point: there is no dividing line between the two.
Weird extraordinary things are not that at all, in a more expansive understanding of reality. The point needs to be whether things are true, if they are facts and actually happen, not whether we can classify them as supernatural or not.
So let’s strike the word “supernatural” from vocabulary (put in quotes henceforth) and from our logic. That way we will not be surprised by discovery or disappointed that our special little “supernatural” thing turned out to be natural.
Understanding that all is natural opens the mind, removes fear and makes everything fair game for study and exploration. On the other hand, the more “supernatural” we accede to, the more we are helpless victims and supplicants. Religion – constructed around the “supernatural” – can be an excuse to escape responsibility for our own actions and put things in God’s “supernatural” court: “It was God’s will,” “God made me do it,” “God is punishing me,” “God is blessing me.” How convenient for those not wanting to take responsibility for their own actions. Life is better lived as if an atheist (no irreverence or disrespect intended): Don’t blame God and don’t expect God to step in.
Those who claim special knowledge of the “supernatural” can gather power to themselves to lord it over those who buy into their claim of privilege. We mere natural creatures can only bow to that which is beyond nature and to the agents who claim their guesses about it are sureties. But how can any mere natural creature speak with certainty about that which is “supernatural,” and therefore unreal?
Not only do some within religion take advantage of the “supernatural,” so too do materialists. The latter assume, with no little bravado, that because the “supernatural” has had to constantly retreat in the face of advancing science, that eventually everything will be measured and tallied with their machines. They see “supernatural” as an excuse for intellectual laziness. To them the “supernatural” is either unreal, fraudulent, or a part of nature waiting to be harnessed by scientific instruments and nomenclature.
The failure of the “supernatural” in the past to stand up to scientific scrutiny gives materialists an excuse to reject all nonmaterial phenomena and assume that materialism is an accurate explanation of all of reality…which it most certainly is not. In other words, since science defeated the supernatural doctrine that the Earth was the center of the universe, it is reasoned that science will defeat any religious, spiritual or metaphysical idea. To them no investigation is needed. Something being “supernatural” is enough reason to reject it out of hand. “Supernatural” becomes an easily defeated straw man.
By assuming that things beyond measuring are just religious fantasy or psychic voodoo, materialists close off discovery and condemn themselves to a narrowed and constricted viewpoint that reveals only a smidgen of reality. On the other hand, by attempting to strictly define the “supernatural” and then having that definition constantly gnawed away by advancing science, the religionist is faced with constant intellectual dilemmas. However, if “supernatural” is stricken from vocabulary, everything then becomes natural. The materialist cannot so easily dismiss nonmaterial events no matter how weird they may be; the religionist can welcome any discovery science has to offer.
Omitting “supernatural” opens the whole panorama of reality for exploration and discovery. The more we learn about nature, the greater its girth. What lies out there yet to be discovered, however, is natural even if we never discover it, are incapable of doing so – or it has no corpus and is infinite, omniscient, omnipresent and omnipotent.
In the end, the term “supernatural,” (and remember it is only a word) seems to only create utility for those who make pretentious claims to know all about it, and to provide an excuse for materialist’s rejection of anything that falls under its rubric. Demystifying reality by releasing it from the artificial bonds of “supernatural” is the necessary beginning to rational, scientific and spiritual (three words that should mean the same thing) discovery.