The Supernatural

I often frequent a site called Online Debate Network where I argue with a handful of other debate faithful on the usual hot topics of the day or timeless classics. The question was posted, “Can deductive reasoning alone prove the existence of a supernatural being?” The debate started to involve a deep discussion of the term “Supernatural” and I decided to try and coalesce my thoughts on the matter. For me the term is somewhat dependent on your world view.

The Base Human Perspective

I think at our core we understand the supernatural to be events well outside our common experience which we cannot explain in terms we are familiar with. When something happens we don’t understand it is categorized as supernatural, and when something well expected occurs it is considered normal or natural.

It is when you dig deeper into those things that are not expected that we start to form more sophisticated and complex opinions about what supernatural means to us. On the surface we all have a pretty good take on it, if different specifics. But if you delve into philosophical questions you have to dig deeper.

In Dualism

In a dualistic world view you see creation divided into matters of spirit and matters of the physical. There is a belief, generally, that the spirit world can hold sway over the physical world if sufficient power or skill is brought to bare and that what would otherwise be the course of natural events can be shaped by spiritual will. In this world view supernatural tends to mean “Spiritual” or more specifically a spiritual act manifesting in the physical world.

Many spiritual systems see an order of a sort to the spirit world, much as the natural world has an observable order. Priests and shamans and the like tend to be the practitioners claiming knowledge and insight into these rules.

Human beings for the most part are seen as having very limited access and power in this spiritual world unless training, ritual, or some type of divine grace is present. Therefore despite the idea that there is some order to the spiritual, it remains largely mysterious and not fully understood.

In Naturalism

Naturalism as you might know, pretty much pre-supposes that there is nothing supernatural that is real. Its underlying notion is that all things are ordered and and causal and that through observation and deduction one can come to understand reality and more critically make predictions about it.

The methodology of science is to observe and test to determine predictable outcomes of given actions. The very idea that some force from outside of the observable that can defy the normative rules at will would make any kind of deduction impossible. Any given test or observation could be a supernatural rather than natural act.

Which is not to say that naturalism rules out the idea of something like a ghost or a god, it is just that such an entity would have to be part of the natural world and follow some kind of deterministic set of rules. Science is always discovering new phenomena, gaining at least some understanding of events that in the past were considered entirely mystical and unknowable.

What science has often done is show that the claims of many spiritualists don’t stand up to rigorous testing and therefore don’t up to the tests for knowledge that science sets for itself. While they could in theory be possible, science offers no reason to suspect they truly are.

My View

I am by and large a naturalist. I would suspect if there were agents of will and spirit they would like all other things have some order, but I’ve not seen any compelling evidence to suspect such things do exist. My reading of the history of both science and religion and their ongoing practice is that science has a far better track record of making predictions about how the world works and putting those predictions into useful practice.

Science is by no means without flaw, and any good naturalist will admit it has its limits, but when I need to take action, I take action informed by the natural order of the universe as I understand it and not in the power of the spirit world or unseen entities beyond the scope of the universe.

As to the question

I think that reasoning and logic can only be applied to the supernatural if you have a dualistic world view and believe in an ordered spirit world. If you think the world of spirit is without order, or if ordered is fundamentally beyond our understanding, then I don’t think you can make deductive statements about it because any underlying premise is entirely conditional.

The TV Show

The television show “Supernatural” is quite excellent and I highly recommend it. 🙂

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