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The term supernatural or supranatural (Latin: super, supra "above" + natura "nature") pertains to an order of existence beyond the scientifically visible universe. Religious miracles are typically supernatural claims, as are spells and curses, divination, the belief that there is an afterlife for the dead, and innumerable others. Supernatural beliefs have existed in many cultures throughout human history.

Characteristic for phenomena claimed as supernatural are anomaly, uniqueness and uncontrollability, thus lacking reproducibility required for scientific examination. Supernatural themes are often associated with paranormal and occult ideas, suggesting for possibility of interaction with the supernatural by means of summoning or trance for instance.

Controversy

Adherents of supernatural beliefs hold that such occurrences exist just as surely as does the natural world. Opponents argue that there are natural, scientific explanations for what is often perceived as the supernatural. Controversy has surrounded the issue for as long as there have been those who believe in the supernatural. One complicating factor is that there is no universal agreement about what the definition of “natural” is, and what the limits of naturalism might be. Concepts in the supernatural domain are closely related to concepts in religious spirituality and occultism or spiritualism. Additionally, by definition anything that exists naturally is not supernatural. The term "supernatural" is often used interchangeably with paranormal or preternatural — the latter typically limited to an adjective for describing abilities which appear to exceed the bounds of possibility (see the nature of God in Western theology, anthropology of religion, and Biblical cosmology). Likewise, legendary characters such as vampires, poltergeists and leprechauns are considered supernatural.

Views on the supernatural

Speculative views on the "supernatural" include that it may be:

Distinct from nature

Some events occur according to natural laws, and others occur according to a separate set of principles external to nature. For example God (in most definitions) is considered to be the ultimate creator of the universe and the natural laws. Those who believe in angels and spirits generally assert that they are super-natural entities. Some religious people also believe that all things which humans see as natural only act the same way consistently because God wills it so, and that natural laws are an extension of divine will.

A higher nature

Others assert that God, miracles, or other putative supernatural events are real, verifiable, and part of the laws of nature that we do not yet understand.

A human coping mechanism

Others believe that all events have natural and only natural causes. They believe that human beings ascribe supernatural attributes to purely natural events (eg. lightning, rainbows, floods, the origin of life).

Magic

Many people have sought to use both magic and science in hopes of empowering humanity for improvement and to achieve a clearer picture of humanity's place in the cosmos. In some of the earliest Christian art (from the 3rd century) Jesus Christ is portrayed as a bare-faced youth holding a wand as a symbol of power (See: Images of Jesus). There may be a persistent link between supernaturalism, the paranormal, and the desire for immortality.

Another part of a larger nature

This is a view largely held by monists and process theorists. According to this view, the "supernatural" is just a term for parts of nature that modern science and philosophy do not yet properly understand, similar to how sound and lightning used to be mysterious forces to science. Materialist monists believe that the "supernatural" consists of things in the physical universe not yet understood by modern science, while idealist monists reject the concept of "supernatural" on the grounds that they believe "nature" is the non-material. Neutral monists maintain that "nature" and "supernature" are artificial categories as they believe that the material and non-material are both either equally real and simultaneously existent, or illusions that stem from the human mind's interpretation of reality.

Arguments in favor of a supernatural reality

Many supporters believe that past, present and future complexities and mysteries of the universe cannot be explained solely by naturalistic means and argue that it is reasonable to assume that a non-natural entity or entities resolve the unexplained. By its own definition, science is incapable of examining or testing for the existence of things that have no physical effects, because its methods rely on the observation of physical effects. Proponents of supernaturalism claim that their belief system is more flexible, which allows more diversity in terms of intuition and epistemology.

Arguments against a supernatural reality

  • Our knowledge of the world is continuously increasing. Some occurrences, once assumed supernatural, can today be explained by scientific theories.
  • Some suggested supernatural phenomena vanish when they are examined closely. There have been, for example, various studies on astrology, most of them with negative results(a single positive result cannot outweigh many negative ones, as it can be expected by mere chance).


Naturalization vs. supernaturalization

Some people believe that supernatural events occur, while others do not.

"Naturalization"

The neologism naturalize, meaning "to make natural", is sometimes used to describe the perceived process of denying any supernatural significance to events which another presumes to be supernatural. It rests on the believer's presumption that supernatural events can and do occur; thus, their description as "natural" by the skeptic is seen as a result of a process of deliberate or unconscious denial of any supernatural significance, thus, "naturalization." (This meaning of the word should not be confused with naturalization, the process of voluntarily acquiring citizenship at some time after birth. Also, plants, for example many wildflowers and bulbs including lilies, will "naturalize"; that is spread and develop beds without extra cultivation.)

"Supernaturalization"

The neologism supernaturalize, meaning "to make supernatural", is sometimes used to describe the perceived process of ascribing supernatural causes to events which someone else presumes to be natural. This perceived process may also be referred to as mythification or spiritualization. It rests on the presumption of the skeptic that supernatural events cannot or are unlikely to occur; thus, their description by the believer as supernatural is seen as the result of a process of deliberate or unconscious mysticism, thus, "supernaturalization". Supernaturalization can also mean the process by which stories and historical accounts are altered to describe supernatural elements.

The subjective nature of the issue

Two people may come to completely different conclusions based on identical evidence. One may automatically "screen out" possible explanations simply because they conflict with one's paradigm, or world view, and create cognitive dissonance. There can also be many other motivations, conscious or unconscious, for this selective awareness. For example, to make oneself "look good" to others and thus avoid isolation, or perhaps the desire to imitate personal heroes. Generally we criticize and question the picture of reality held by others; it is rare to question one's own, rarer still to admit our own is distorted.

Competing explanations and criteria of preference

For some people it is not a matter of supernatural events versus natural events; they are all events, but there may be many competing explanations. The question then becomes what criteria shall one use to prefer one explanation over another, and one must be careful not to confuse the phenomenon with the explanation. We may agree that a bush has burst into flames; where we may differ is in the explanation for the cause of that event. The supernaturalist in that instance prefers the supernatural explanation based on one or more criteria of preference. It could be because the explanation includes constructs such as an immortal soul and other purported phenomena, such as the soul rising to a place of great joy upon being released at death, and they find this very attractive. The naturalist may prefer the natural explanation because such explanations are required to have predictive power, and being able to predict in a reliable way what will happen when a certain set of circumstances is present is something they find attractive. There are many people that are comfortable with accepting both explanations to satisfy several preferences; a supernatural explanation that provides comfort from the thought of death, and a natural explanation because of its utility in reliably controlling fire. For example, a Christian may accept the theories of Evolution and the Big Bang, but still explain reality as a deliberate creation of their god. One person may be a naturalist because they are driven by a preference for predictability, rather than comfort; another person may be a supernaturalist because they prefer an explanation that makes them feel better about their eventual death, rather than how useful it is in explaining actual reality.

Alleged instances of supernaturalization

  • The Tunguska Eventmarker reported as an instance of supernaturalization through an examination of the Bible and compared to historical events published in the contemporary public record.
  • English Protestants believed that the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588 was a sign of God's favor for their cause.
  • Some fundamentalist Muslims and Christians have interpreted the attacks on the World Trade Centermarker in New Yorkmarker on September 11, 2001 as a sign of God's anger at various and sundry things, including secularism.
  • In Japan the scattering of aggressive Mongol-Koreanmarker fleets in 1274 and 1281 was attributed to the kamikaze or "divine wind".
  • Some "fringe" religious groups like the Westboro Baptist Church routinely expound supernatural explanations for current events, such as the jihadist attacks of September 11, 2001, the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquakemarker or soldier deaths in the Iraq war, typically framed as some instantiation of divine punishment over a perceived social evil, such as homosexuality.


In fiction

The supernatural is a topic in various fictional genres, especially horror fiction and fantasy fiction.

See also

  • Dualism, the view that the mental and the physical have a fundamentally different nature as an answer to the philosophical mind-body problem.
  • Idealism, any theory positing the primacy of spirit, mind, or language over matter. It includes claims that mental structure or function plays some crucial role in forming the world of experience.
  • Magical thinking, including the fallacy that correlation equals causation.
  • Monism, the view that the mental and physical are ultimately part of the same super-reality which both the physical and non-physical world(s) compose. The view that differing realities are not the end-all-be-all in themselves. Monism can involve material monism, the view that only the physical is real and all else are manifestations of the physical; idealist monism which holds that only the mental is real and all else are manifestations of the mental; or neutral monism.
  • Miracle
  • Paranormal
  • Preternatural
  • Vitalism, the doctrine that life cannot be explained solely by mechanism. Often, the nonmaterial element is referred to as the soul, the "vital spark", or some kind of spiritual energy.
  • Quantum physics / quantum pseudo-telepathy: a measurable occurrence that seems to demonstrate some kind of communication has taken place between people when none has.
  • God of the gaps, the ascription to a supernatural cause of that which science does not explain.
  • Ex nihilo, (Latin, "out of nothing"), refers to a doctrine of creation that claims the world, by divine fiat, emerged from a state of absolute nothingness.
  • Supernatural fiction


References

Further reading




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