Supernatural

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The supernatural (Medieval Latin: supernātūrālis: supra "above" + naturalis "nature", first used: 1520–30 AD) is that which is not subject to the laws of physics or, more figuratively, that which is said to exist above and beyond nature. The supernatural is a feature of the philosophical traditions of Neoplatonism and Scholasticism, and most religions and occultism include concepts of it.

This article is about the philosophical concept; for other uses, see Supernatural (disambiguation).
See also:
Paranormal

Quotes[edit]

  • I am too firm in my consciousness of the marvelous to be ever fascinated by the mere supernatural.
    • Joseph Conrad, Author’s Note to The Shadow Line, in Hitchens ed., The Portable Atheist, p. 123
  • The justification for naturalism is that it works: we have never understood anything about the universe by assuming the supernatural, while assuming naturalism as a working hypothesis has moved our understanding ever forward.
  • The practical track record of naturalistic science is available for all to evaluate, while supernatural science comes up empty handed. Indeed, the enterprise of science is to turn unknowns into knowns, while the business of supernaturalism is to make pronouncements concerning what cannot be known and which therefore requires magic. In other words, it is not unfair to accuse supernaturalists of “bias against the natural.”
    • Ken Daniels, Why I Believed, chapter 6
  • To explain the origin of the DNA/protein machine by invoking a supernatural Designer is to explain precisely nothing, for it leaves unexplained the origin of the Designer.
  • Those people who leap from personal bafflement at a natural phenomenon straight to a hasty invocation of the supernatural are no better than the fools who see a conjuror bending a spoon and leap to the conclusion that it is ‘paranormal’.
  • The most important of all ideas about the natural universe—that the world around us was something we could understand, rather than a magical place where events could have supernatural causes.
  • To me, the benefit of discussing creationism is limited because my sense is that on this issue, there is little room for persuasion and therefore little value to continued discussion. People who adopt supernatural beliefs, it seems to me, tend to adopt them for reasons other than their evaluation of the relevant evidence and logic, so presenting evidence and logic has limited persuasive value. This debate really ended a century ago, when the Enlightenment teed up supernaturalism and Darwin spiked it. The discussion is, to my mind, over, and dissenters are simply history’s stragglers less interested in discovering truth than defending a worldview.
  • If we were to accept the supernatural or extranatural proposals of anti-evolutionists, it would provide little useful information to help us understand the history and diversity of life, and it would put an end to all research into the matter.
    • Antonio Lazcano in Petto and Godfrey eds., Scientists Confront Creationism, p. 193
  • The rose’s fragrance, the garden’s lushness, and the night sky’s grandeur affect us because we are built to appreciate beauty and to experience awe. To leap to a supernatural source for these powerful but ordinary feelings is to indulge in wishful thinking, romantic embellishment, and metaphoric fantasizing.
    • Eric Maisel, The Atheist's Way: Living Well Without Gods, pp. 96-97
  • The more science uncovers, the less places the ‘supernatural’ can hide.
    Sadly, people still cling to 1st century mythology. We should be centuries past the point of supernatural explanations being the default assumption. We should be at the point of considering supernatural explanations as extraordinary explanations that require extraordinary evidence. But religion concocts its own version of science to keep their followers ignorant and under control and unwilling to ask critical questions.
  • And they also overlook the fact that, in the entire history of the advancement of human knowledge, which has indeed (as Kuhn illustrates) meant abandoning earlier theories when new data falsifies them, there is not a single example of a naturalistic explanation having to be abandoned in favour of a supernatural one. Not once. Not ever.
  • This vulgar misrepresentation—often deliberate—of A Brief History of Time reflects a very sad, profoundly disturbing aspect of American society: Science illiteracy is so ubiquitous, and religious dogma so firmly ingrained, that legions cannot read a well-written science book without hallucinating the supernatural on every page.
  • No natural phenomenon, not one, has ever been shown to have a supernatural cause based on objective, material evidence.
    • Barry Palevitz in Kurtz ed., Science and Religion: Are They Compatible?, p. 173
  • Religion does not complement science but preempts and co-opts scientific discourse in support of supernaturalism.
    • Jacob Pandian in Kurtz ed., Science and Religion: Are They Compatible?, p. 168
  • “Man’s responsibility increases as that of the gods decreases” (quoting André Gide). Every step taken by science claims territory once occupied by the supernatural.
    • Robert Park, Voodoo Science, p. 31
  • The most parsimonious explanation for why science has been unable to confirm anything supernatural is because the supernatural doesn’t exist.
  • The eventual development of a clear concept of the supernatural in Christian theology was promoted both by dialogues with heretics and by the influence of Neoplatonic philosophy.
  • Saint Thomas’s important contribution to the emergence of a technical theology of the supernatural represents a special development of the concept of surpassing effects. Saint Thomas and others of the Scholastics have left us as one of their legacies a dichotomy between the natural and the supernatural that is theologically rooted in the distinction between the Order of Nature and the Order of Grace.
  • He couldn’t believe in ghosts or demons. He knew that supernatural happenings tended to break down, under detailed examination, into eminently natural events. The ones that didn’t break down—stopped. Ghosts just wouldn’t stand still and let a nonbeliever examine them. The phantom of the castle was invariably on vacation when a scientist showed up with cameras and tape recorders.
    • Robert Sheckley, in “Ghost V” in David Hartwell ed. The World Treasury of Science Fiction, pp. 350-351. Originally published in Galaxy magazine (October 1954).
  • Scientific explanations are often complicated and require training and effort to work through. Superstition and belief in fate and the supernatural provide a simpler path through life’s complex maze.
  • If you admit the supernatural into your calculations, anything goes. That is why a supernatural explanation is useless to a scientist, however pious he may be on Sundays. It provides no direction for research, suggests no testable hypotheses, and gives no reason to expect one result rather than another from any observation or experiment.
    • David A. Shotwell in Kurtz ed., Science and Religion: Are They Compatible?, p. 49
  • Catholic theologians sometimes call supernatural the miraculous way in which certain effects, in themselves natural, are produced, or certain endowments (like man's immunity from death, suffering, passion, and ignorance) that bring the lower class up to the higher though always within the limits of the created, but they are careful in qualifying the former as accidentally supernatural (supernaturale per accidens) and the latter as relatively supernatural (prœternaturale).  For a concept of the substantially and absolutely supernatural, they start from a comprehensive view of the natural order taken, in its amplest acceptation, for the aggregate of all created entities and powers, including the highest natural endowments of which the rational creature is capable, and even such Divine operations as are demanded by the effective carrying out of the cosmic order.  The supernatural order is then more than a miraculous way of producing natural effects, or a notion of relative superiority within the created world, or the necessary concurrence of God in the universe; it is an effect or series of effects substantially and absolutely above all nature and, as such, calls for an exceptional intervention and gratuitous bestowal of God and rises in a manner to the Divine order, the only one that transcends the whole created world... It is obvious also that this uplifting of the rational creature to the supernatural order cannot be by way of absorption of the created into the Divine or of fusion of both into a sort of monistic identity, but only by way of union or participation, the two terms remaining perfectly distinct.
  • Thought, as a subtle juggler, makes us deem
    Things supernatural, which have cause
    Common as sickness.

See also[edit]