The supernatural (Latin: super- "exceeding" + nature) refers to forces and phenomena which are beyond ordinary scientific measurement. Concepts in the supernatural domain are closely related to concepts in religious spirituality, metaphysics and Schizotypy.
Supernatural claims assert phenomena beyond the realm of current scientific understanding, and may likewise be in direct conflict with scientific concepts of possibility or plausibility. The supernatural concept is generally identified with religion or other belief systems — though there is much debate as to whether a supernatural is necessary for religion, or that religion is necessary for holding a concept of the supernatural.
Those denying the plausibility of the supernatural typically claim that the only events which cannot be studied scientifically are those which cannot be perceived by any means. If an event claimed to be supernatural really has happened, it can therefore be studied scientifically and is not supernatural.
Views on the supernatural
The supernatural as distinct from nature
In this, the most common view, the term supernatural is contrasted with the term natural, which presumes that some events occur according to natural laws, and others do not, because they are caused by forces external to nature. Some believe in forces beyond what is commonly considered natural while others believe all forces can be described as natural.
The supernatural as sovereign over nature
Other people, particularly in Eastern Christianity, deny any distinction between Natural and Supernatural. According to this view, because God is sovereign, all events are directly caused by Him or His creatures, not by impersonal powers of any kind. The only meaningful distinction that remains is events which God causes to happen regularly and events which God causes to happen rarely.
The supernatural as manifested through nature
Another view asserts that God makes himself known through the beauty and order of nature, but is not a personal God concerned with human moral activity, and does not violate the laws of nature which he created.
The supernatural as a higher nature
Others assert that events that appear to us to be supernatural occur according to natural laws which we do not yet understand. In contrast to supernaturalists, they assert that all things operate according to a law of nature. They assert that God, miracles, or other supernatural phenomena are real, verifiable, and part of the laws of nature that we do not yet understand...
The supernatural as a human coping mechanism
Others, particularly among the skeptical academic community, believe that all events have natural and only natural causes. They believe that human beings ascribe supernatural attributes to purely natural events in an attempt to cope with fear and ignorance. Sometimes this belief overlaps with that of the supernatural being of a higher nature.
The supernatural as magic
Since the belief in magic is very old and held a great power over the minds and imagination of earlier generations long before the concept of experimental science, some historians of magic think the supernatural is a surviving form of magic. In the human quest for understanding and survival, magic may be seen as a complement to science. Both science and magic stem from the human imagination, observation and contemplation; but, whereas science requires time, resources, curiosity and flexibility, magic provides an immediate solution, more appealing to the unscientific mind, and requiring few or no resources. There have been many ways in which people have sought to use both magic and science in hopes of empowering humanity for an improvement and longevity of life and to achieve a clearer picture of humanity's place in the cosmos. In the earliest Christian art (from the 3rd century) Jesus is portrayed as bare faced youth holding a magic wand as a symbol of power, as well as the more familiar figure who is bearded and robed, which became dominate with the development of Christian theology as the centuries passed away and experimental science with its view of a universe governed by natural laws gained favor and authority. Today it is impressive and important to many people to have even claims of the supernatural "proved by science". (See Lynn Thorndike's classic study,The History of Magic and Experimental Science, Tarbell Course in Magic, vol 1- Harlan Tarbell, forward and epilogue to Greater Magic- John Northern Hilliard, The Discoverie of Witchcraft- Reginald Scot and the vanishing works of Henry Ridgely Evans, The Old and New Magic, The Spirit World Unmasked, and Hours with Ghosts or 19th Century Witchcraft.) It should be noted there may be a persistent link between supernaturalism, the paranormal, and the desire for immortality.
Arguments in favor of a supernatural reality
Following are some common arguments in support of belief in supernatural phenomena.
However, Jews do not accept the claims made in the Christian New Testament; similarly, Christians do not accept the supernatural claims made by the Qur'an, the sacred book of Islam, and so on. John Drane writes:
Arguments against a supernatural reality
While the exact definition varies, any concept of supernaturality requires that supernatural phenomena are not accessible by the scientific method. Contrary to common prejudices, science is not restricted to laboratory experiments but can be based on any form of experience. If a phenomenon is by definition outside of the realm of science, it therefore cannot be experienced and has by definition no impact on our lives.
Our knowledge of the world is continuously increasing. Some phenomena, once assumed supernatural, can today be explained by scientific theories, while others could be dismissed as myths. Volcanoes were once considered deities and natural calamities the actions of gods and people sacrificed animals or even other people to please their gods. If our current understanding is the gauge of supernaturality, its realm is ever decreasing and very subjective.
Science does not claim that phenomena contradicting our intuitive view of the world are impossible to occur. Scientists study such phenomena every day. In fact, some scientific theories, such as quantum mechanics, are much more counterintuitive than any supernatural concept. But many claimed 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).
Supernaturality is a remnant of a static world view. It comes from a time when the growth of human knowledge was barely noticeable within a human lifetime. The Aristotelian Mechanics were considered valid for more than a thousand years. At that time, human knowledge seemed static and anything exceeding it seemed to be from a different world. But even today some people try to describe the world with unchanging "laws of nature", declaring that anything beyond this framework is supernatural and inaccessible to human understanding.
If a bush suddenly burst out in flames, and the fire would not consume it, a scientist would not call it supernatural, nor would he deny that this is happening, but he would curiously examine it. Science often considers supernatural explanations to be lazy, an immediate throwing up of the hands, and questions such explanations.
Naturalization vs. supernaturalization
Some people believe that supernatural events occur, while others do not. In the process of debate, both sides attempt to discredit the other. People that believe in supernatural events accuse those who do not of naturalizing genuinely supernatural events; people that do not believe in supernatural events accuse who do of supernaturalizing genuinely natural events.
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. This perceived process may also be referred to as reductionism or deconstructionism. 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 should not be confused with naturalization, the process of voluntarily acquiring citizenship at some time after birth.)
The neologism supernaturalize, meaning "to make supernatural", is sometimes used to describe the perceived process of ascribing supernatural causes to events which another 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".
The subjective nature of the issue
An individual's interpretation of events depends upon his conscious or unconscious theories toward the nature of the universe. Since each brings a unique set of personal attributes to a situation, and each situation brings different forces to bear, two people may come to completely different conclusions based on identical evidence. Some have suggested that dogmatically held conclusions regarding the existence or nonexistence of the supernatural prevent one from maintaining an "open mind." Instead, such beliefs supply comfort and satisfy an individual's need for security. According to this argument, selectivity governs phenomenological reality, meaning that one "screens out" possible explanations simply because they conflict with one's paradigm and create dissonance. Conformity to the popular dead end conclusions of the existence or nonexistence of the supernatural hinders human creativity and progress, because it limits the scope of curiosity and other alternative explanations one is willing to consider. For example, to make oneself "look good" to others thus avoiding isolation, and 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.
Alleged instances of supernaturalization
Believers respond to the many instances of supernaturalization by arguing that the fact that supernaturalization often occurs does not refute the existence of the supernatural any more than the fact that scientists often make errors refutes the existence of the natural universe; and that the supernatural by its very nature cannot be explored through science, and must therefore be explored through different means, such as spirituality. Nonbelievers counter that the two forms of explanation cannot be equated, because erroneous naturalistic claims, such as those made for the existence of phlogiston or N-rays, are routinely and often rapidly corrected by reference to nature, while erroneous supernaturalistic claims such as the above are impossible to correct by reference to supernature or by any other widely accepted objective means.
The supernatural in monotheistic religions
From wikipedia, retrieved june 16 2006