I don’t understand the distinction between the natural and the supernatural: if a God does exist in some plane beyond us, surely God considers Itself to be natural; if science were to discover a reliable way to get information from the minds of people that have passed to the other side (i.e. died) the concept of a ghost would quickly be considered a natural concept. So, “supernatural” does not describe an event, it is an excuse. “Supernatural” is the buzz word for when you want to protect an idea from scrutiny, investigation and exploration.
Take a religious claim, like the idea that Jesus rose from the dead. In an earlier post I argued that history can only tell us what most likely happened, and it cannot tell us with high levels of confidence what did happen. The historical method, at best, can give a list of options in descending order of likelihood. But by calling Jesus’ resurrection “supernatural” we have made it completely immune from the normal investigation or, in fact, any investigation. We then have that idea so culturally ingrained on us that we don’t question its absurdity; we don’t challenge the idea that a human being came back to life is more likely than any other explanation.
Stephen Hawking, in his book A Brief History of Time, recounts a similar story. He was at a conference on Cosmology, held at the Vatican organised by the Jesuits. This is the story he tells:
“At the end of the conference the participants were granted an audience with the pope. He told us that it was all right to study the evolution of the universe after the big bang, but we should not inquire into the big bang itself because that was the moment of Creation and therefore the work of God.”
– Stephen Hawking, A Brief History of Time.
Again, this idea that it is supernatural (still a word without any meaning) had protected it from scientific investigation. Why, if the Pope honestly believes creation was the work of God, did the Pope not want people investigating it?
This is the problem I have with people throwing around the word “supernatural”, especially when they mean to use it to discredit science. Some theists assert that science assumes naturalism. If you don’t think that is an assertion people make, just see here where a blogger quotes a Harvard educated geneticist, who was in turn quoting Dinesh D’Souza. That’s three people asserting the same unsubstantiated words. Alternatively, if you don’t know what naturalism is, it is the view that the entire universe can be explained by entirely natural phenomena. But that seems to be a tautology, because as soon as something we understand something we consider it natural. So science is the process of making supernatural things natural; it is not the assumption that only natural things exist.
Here’s an example for you: can you think of something that was once considered supernatural but is now considered natural? Tides, seasons, harvest, crop failures, pestilence, disease, natural disasters etc. There are plenty. The pattern is that we started to understand them. This is the same point I made about ghosts and God at the start: if we can get to investigate them we consider them either natural or false by the end.