Supernatural

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The concept of the supernatural proposes that something cannot be explained by scientific understanding or the laws of nature. Examples often include characteristics of or relating to entities and concepts such as ghosts, angels, gods, souls and spirits, non-material beings, or anything else considered beyond nature like magic or miracles.

Over time, things once thought to be supernatural such as lightning, seasons, and human senses have been shown to have entirely naturalistic explanations and origins. Some believe that which is considered supernatural will someday be discovered to be completely physical and natural. Those who believe only the physical world exists are called naturalists. Those who believe similarly often maintain skeptical attitudes and beliefs concerning supernatural concepts. Belief in the supernatural can also occur in secular contexts.[1]

The supernatural is featured in paranormal, occult, and religious contexts.[2] However, belief in the supernatural can also occur in secular contexts as well.[1]

Etymology[edit]

Occurring as both an adjective and a noun, descendants of the modern English compound supernatural enters the language from two sources: By way of Middle French (supernaturel) and directly from the Middle French's term's ancestor, post-Classical Latin (supernaturalis). Post-classical Latin supernaturalis first occurs in the 6th century, composed of the Latin prefix super- and nātūrālis (see nature). The earliest known appearance of the word in the English language occurs in a Middle English translation of Catherine of Siena's Dialogue (orcherd of Syon, around 1425; Þei haue not þanne þe supernaturel lyȝt ne þe liȝt of kunnynge, bycause þei vndirstoden it not).[3]

The semantic value of the term has shifted over the history of its use. Originally the term referred exclusively to Christian understandings of the world. For example, as an adjective, the term can mean 'belonging to a realm or system that transcends nature, as that of divine, magical, or ghostly beings; attributed to or thought to reveal some force beyond scientific understanding or the laws of nature; occult, paranormal' or 'more than what is natural or ordinary; unnaturally or extraordinarily great; abnormal, extraordinary'. Obsolete uses include 'of, relating to, or dealing with metaphysics'. As a noun, the term can mean 'a supernatural being', with a particularly strong history of employment in relation to entities from the mythologies of the indigenous peoples of the Americas.[3]

Epistemology and metaphysics[edit]

The metaphysical considerations of the existence of the supernatural can be difficult to approach as an exercise in philosophy or theology because any dependencies on its antithesis, the natural, will ultimately have to be inverted or rejected.

One complicating factor is that there is disagreement about the definition of "natural" and the limits of naturalism. Concepts in the supernatural domain are closely related to concepts in religious spirituality and occultism or spiritualism.

For sometimes we use the word nature for that Author of nature whom the schoolmen, harshly enough, call natura naturans, as when it is said that nature hath made man partly corporeal and partly immaterial. Sometimes we mean by the nature of a thing the essence, or that which the schoolmen scruple not to call the quiddity of a thing, namely, the attribute or attributes on whose score it is what it is, whether the thing be corporeal or not, as when we attempt to define the nature of an angle, or of a triangle, or of a fluid body, as such. Sometimes we take nature for an internal principle of motion, as when we say that a stone let fall in the air is by nature carried towards the centre of the earth, and, on the contrary, that fire or flame does naturally move upwards toward heaven. Sometimes we understand by nature the established course of things, as when we say that nature makes the night succeed the day, nature hath made respiration necessary to the life of men. Sometimes we take nature for an aggregate of powers belonging to a body, especially a living one, as when physicians say that nature is strong or weak or spent, or that in such or such diseases nature left to herself will do the cure. Sometimes we take nature for the universe, or system of the corporeal works of God, as when it is said of a phoenix, or a chimera, that there is no such thing in nature, i.e. in the world. And sometimes too, and that most commonly, we would express by nature a semi-deity or other strange kind of being, such as this discourse examines the notion of.

And besides these more absolute acceptions, if I may so call them, of the word nature, it has divers others (more relative), as nature is wont to be set or in opposition or contradistinction to other things, as when we say of a stone when it falls downwards that it does it by a natural motion, but that if it be thrown upwards its motion that way is violent. So chemists distinguish vitriol into natural and fictitious, or made by art, i.e. by the intervention of human power or skill; so it is said that water, kept suspended in a sucking pump, is not in its natural place, as that is which is stagnant in the well. We say also that wicked men are still in the state of nature, but the regenerate in a state of grace; that cures wrought by medicines are natural operations; but the miraculous ones wrought by Christ and his apostles were supernatural.[4]

— Robert Boyle, A Free Enquiry into the Vulgarly Received Notion of Nature

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 what is possible within the boundaries of the laws of physics.[5] Epistemologically, the relationship between the supernatural and the natural is indistinct in terms of natural phenomena that, ex hypothesi, violate the laws of nature, in so far as such laws are realistically accountable.

Parapsychologists use the term psi to refer to an assumed unitary force underlying the phenomena they study. Psi is defined in the Journal of Parapsychology as "personal factors or processes in nature which transcend accepted laws" (1948: 311) and "which are non-physical in nature" (1962:310), and it is used to cover both extrasensory perception (ESP), an "awareness of or response to an external event or influence not apprehended by sensory means" (1962:309) or inferred from sensory knowledge, and psychokinesis (PK), "the direct influence exerted on a physical system by a subject without any known intermediate energy or instrumentation" (1945:305).[6]

— Michael Winkelman, Current Anthropology

Many supporters of supernatural explanations 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.

Views on the "supernatural" vary, for example it may be seen as:

  • indistinct from nature. From this perspective, some events occur according to the laws of nature, and others occur according to a separate set of principles external to known nature. For example, in Scholasticism, it was believed that God was capable of performing any miracle so long as it didn't lead to a logical contradiction. Some religions posit immanent deities, however, and do not have a tradition analogous to the supernatural; some believe that everything anyone experiences occurs by the will (occasionalism), in the mind (neoplatonism), or as a part (nondualism) of a more fundamental divine reality (platonism).
  • incorrect human attribution. In this view all events have natural and only natural causes. They believe that human beings ascribe supernatural attributes to purely natural events, such as lightning, rainbows, floods, and the origin of life.[7][8]

History of the concept[edit]

Dialogues from Neoplatonic philosophy in the third century AD contributed the development of the concept the supernatural via Christian theology in later centuries.[9] The term nature had existed since antiquity with Latin authors like Augustine using the word and its cognates at least 600 times in City of God. In the medieval period, "nature" had ten different meanings and "natural" had eleven different meanings.[10] Peter Lombard, a medieval scholastic in the 12th century, asked about causes that are beyond nature, in that how there could be causes that were God's alone. He used the term praeter naturam in his writings.[10] In the scholastic period, Thomas Aquinas classified miracles into three categories: "above nature", "beyond nature", and "against nature". In doing so, he sharpened the distinction between nature and miracles more than the early Church Fathers had done.[10] As a result, he had created a dichotomy of sorts of the natural and supernatural.[11] Though the phrase supra naturam was used since the 4th century AD, it was in the 1200s that Thomas Aquinas used the term "supernaturalis", however, this term had to wait until the end of the medieval period for it become more popularly used.[10] The discussions on "nature" from the scholastic period were diverse and unsettled with some postulating that even miracles are natural and that natural magic was a natural part of the world.[10]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Halman, Loek (2010). "8. Atheism And Secularity In The Netherlands". In Phil Zuckerman. Atheism and Secularity Vol.2: Gloabal Expressions. Praeger. ISBN 9780313351839. "Thus, despite the fact that they claim to be convinced atheists and the majority deny the existence of a personal god, a rather large minority of the Dutch convinced atheists believe in a supernatural power!" (e.g. telepathy, reincarnation, life after death, and heaven)
  2. ^ Pasulka, Diana; Kripal, Jeffrey (23 November 2014). "Religion and the Paranormal". Oxford University Press blog. Oxford University Press.
  3. ^ a b "supernatural". Oxford English Dictionary (3rd ed.). Oxford University Press. September 2005. Retrieved 24 October 2018. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  4. ^ Boyle, Robert; Stewart, M.A. (1991). Selected Philosophical Papers of Robert Boyle. HPC Classics Series. Hackett. pp. 176–177. ISBN 978-0-87220-122-4. LCCN 91025480.
  5. ^ The paranormal. Books.google.com. 2009. ISBN 9780824210922. Retrieved July 26, 2010.
  6. ^ Winkelman, M.; et al. (February 1982). "Magic: A Theoretical Reassessment [and Comments and Replies]". Current Anthropology. 23 (1): 37–66. doi:10.1086/202778. JSTOR 274255.
  7. ^ Zhong Yang Yan Jiu Yuan; Min Tsu Hsüeh Yen Chiu So (1976). Bulletin of the Institute of Ethnology, Academia Sinica, Issues 42–44.
  8. ^ Ellis, B.J.; Bjorklund, D.F. (2004). Origins of the Social Mind: Evolutionary Psychology and Child Development. Guilford Publications. p. 413. ISBN 9781593851033. LCCN 2004022693.
  9. ^ "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." Benson Saler: Supernatural as a Western Category. Ethos 5 (1977): 44
  10. ^ a b c d e Bartlett, Robert (14 March 2008). "1. The Boundaries of the Supernatural". The Natural and the Supernatural in the Middle Ages. Cambridge University Press. pp. 1–34. ISBN 0521702550.
  11. ^ "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." Benson Saler: Supernatural as a Western Category. Ethos 5 (1977): 47–48

Further reading[edit]