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Supernatural

Supernatural literally means transcending the natural. Generally, it involves the belief in conscious forces that cannot ordinarily be perceived except through their effects. Sometimes it is used to characterize or explain events that people consider extraordinary (see also preternatural or paranormal).

A concept of the supernatural is generally identified with religion, although there is much debate as to whether a conception of the supernatural is necessary for religion (see The nature of God in Western theology and Anthropology of religion). Generally, people contrast the supernatural with the natural and some believe that these two concepts are compatible or complementary (in other words, religion and science fulfill different but equally valid functions), while others believe that they are incompatible and in competition.

Nevertheless, many claims of supernatural phenomena often conflict directly and fundamentally with current scientific understanding.

There have been many attempts to verify claims of supernatural phenomena scientifically. All are generally considered failures, although proponents often claimed to show startling and unusual results. Most scientists claim that the experiments are best classified as pseudoscience, that they have been experimentally flawed, statistically invalid, and/or not repeatable. Other events appear to be manifestations of a natural, explainable nature that are misinterpreted. Most religious people claim that these phenomena, being essentially "unnatural," are not appropriate for scientific study (see also William James, The Variety of Religious Experience).

The supernatural is also a topic in various genres of fiction, such as fantasy and horror. Some examples of supernatural phenomena are miracles, ghosts; psychic abilities like telekinesis and telepathy are better classified as paranormal than supernatural.

Table of contents
1 Arguments against supernaturality
2 Arguments in favor of supernaturality
3 "Supernaturalization"
4 The supernatural in monotheistic religions

Arguments against supernaturality

The following arguments are frequently cited against the existence of supernatural events:

The most savage controversies are those about matters as to which there is no good evidence either way. Persecution is used in theology, not in arithmetic, because in arithmetic there is knowledge, but in theology there is only opinion. So whenever you find yourself getting angry about a difference of opinion, be on your guard; you will probably find, on examination, that your belief is going beyond what the evidence warrants.

Where science is able to address issues in dispute, to correct errors of fact, or to call into question claims of authority grounded in history, it has at times been able to soften antagonisms based on competing supernatural claims. This is because in issues of observable fact the truth of opposing claims can, at least in principle, be objectively tested, eliminating the temptation toward violence to resolve a difference of views and silence dissent.

Arguments in favor of supernaturality

Following are some common counter arguments to the above.

Not unrelated to this is a more general philosophical scepticism towards any document whether ancient or modern, that appears to give credence to the possibility of the occurrence of unique, or apparently miraculous happenings. Academic biblical study still generally operates within a mechanistic world-view, according to which the universe is understood as a closed system, operating according to rigidly structured 'laws of nature' which are entirely predictable and never deviate. By definition, therefore, the unpredictable cannot happen, and on this view it is inevitable that the gospels should be seen as something other than history, for they do contain accounts of a number of unique happenings which appear to violate the 'laws of nature' as set out by Newtonian science. Physics, of course, no longer operates on that paradigm, and the work of more recent theorists has led to the emergence of a far more flexible understanding of what might be possible within the physical universe. Philosophers and theologians frequently have a lot to say about the emergence of so-called postmodernity, but on the whole they have yet to accept its implications, not least because it would put their own work in a wider context, as just one possible way among many others of understanding the nature of reality.

There is similar epistemological diversity among members of the Christian theological communities vis--vis evolution, and some scholar of religion express the hope that the more nuanced and sophisticated range of belief-positioning available in terms of supernaturality may influence science. As the John Drane again observes vis--vis the centrally-positioned role of science in perpetuating normative ideologies of racism and xenophobia (Postmodernist drivel):

To say that unique events can never happen, or that the supernatural does not exist, when most people of most ethnic groups at most points in history have claimed otherwise, is merely to perpetuate the intellectual arrogance of previous generations of Western thinkers, and far from providing an answer to the questions raised by history it merely begs larger and more important questions about the nature of Western intellectual culture.

"Supernaturalization"

The neologism supernaturalize, meaning "to make supernatural", is sometimes used to describe the process of ascribing supernatural causes to natural events. This process may also be referred to as mythification or spiritualization. Because the assumption of the skeptical reader is that supernatural events cannot or are unlikely to occur, their description is seen as the result of a process of deliberate or unconscious mysticism, thus, "supernaturalization".

Alleged instances of supernaturalization

Until there was any proper understanding of the causative factors in disease and the actual disease processes themselves, there was a tendency to see sickness as a result of divine visitations and punishment for wrongdoing. (Oxford Companion to the Bible (1992), entry for "Medicine and the Bible")

The supernatural in monotheistic religions

Many modern skeptical readers of the Bible hold that its authors gradually reinterpreted historical and natural events as miraculous or supernatural. The article on The supernatural in monotheistic religions thus concerns itself with the junction between monotheistic religions, such as Judaism, Christianity and Islam, and the supernatural.


Supernatural is also the name of an album by Santana, released in 1999.