Natural vs. Supernatural

I don’t believe in distinguishing “natural” and “supernatural.”  Sounds weird, I know.  But just think about it for a moment.

A “supernatural” explanation is a suspension of natural law and explanation.  For an explanation to be truly “supernatural,” it must defy all attempts to explain it inside the natural system, and must come from totally outside the natural system.  It must create a pure miracle, a suspension or violation of the natural order.

Here is why nothing is ever “supernatural:”

If I pick up a box and hold it over a table, that doesn’t violate the law of gravity by supernatural intervention.  By the same token, if God suspends that box, that doesn’t violate the law of gravity, but people have the need to label that “supernatural.” A box floating in midair seems to be a violation of the law of gravity, right?

But is it any different than the human holding the box?  The human creates a situation contrary to what we expect (the box falling to the ground) by normal and natural interactions of agents.

So I believe the same is the case for God holding the box.

Therefore, when God monkeys with nature, he isn’t “supernaturally intervening.”  He is making a change or interrupting the natural flow, but he isn’t rewriting the laws of physics when he does it.  It’s as natural as the human holding the box up in the air.

Natural and supernatural are actually points of view, simple as pie.  What exists in the encapsulated system of space and time that we occupy is “natural” to us, what exists outside of that is “supernatural” to us.  That makes us “supernatural” from God’s point of view.

About Cory Tucholski

I'm a born-again Christian, amateur apologist and philosopher, father of 3. Want to know more? Check the "About" page!

Posted on September 22, 2011, in Apologetics, God, Philosophy and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 9 Comments.

  1. Ah, good; that means we can put the existence of God to scientific scrutiny. If only more people of faith would agree with you …

    It needs to be mentioned that the definition of nature is what science can measure and the reason we call your god’s being and doings supernatural is that when we measure, there is no god there, only natural explanations such as physics and chemistry. If I were you I’d grab onto the supernatural definition instead with all my might ;

    In your example, your god may not be violating the law of gravity, but your god’s existence violates a bucket-load of other laws, from the second law of thermo-dynamics and entropy, general and special relativity, of biology, chemistry and a host of others. At any point your god break any of these laws, it’s supernatural. And of your faith is true (as in, you truly believe in the stories of your bible) then tons of laws have been broken.

    • You forget, however, that I very carefully stated that God *doesn’t* occupy the same time/space that you and I share. Meaning he is not subject to the workings, rules, or laws of our existence. In fact, he created those workings. He was in existence prior to it.

      Your argument works on a god who is part of our own continuum, but the God I herald transcends all of that. He may be able to interact with our surroundings, which I don’t believe to be a violation of our natural laws anymore than my dude-holding-a-box-somehow-violates-gravity example, but he is not *part* of the surroundings. Similar to the way a conductor influences the playing of a symphony without being a musical note on the page.

      I’m not getting into it right now, but this is *not* special pleading. These attributes of God can be deduced, not just believed on the basis of the Bible. William Lane Craig addresses how in his discussions of the Kalam Cosmological Argument.

      So, if you know how we can detect a timeless, spaceless, personal, intelligent entity on instruments designed to measure time-bound, impersonal, blind forces existing within space then fly to Stockholm right now and collect your Nobel Prize. It would be analogous to asking for wet evidence of a dry phenomenon.

  2. >> “He is making a change or interrupting the natural flow”
    Sounds supernatural.

    A person holding a box does not interrupt the natural flow. He is in fact positioning one natural flow against another. God holding the box however “interrupts the natural flow”, by positioning a supernatural flow against a natural one. Of course, the natural flow has only the laws of nature by which to react, and yes God wrote those laws, but it is a supernatural action that nature is reacting to.

    I do agree with you that there is no “versus” when it comes natural and supernatural, but I would distinguish between them as follows: There is a natural reaction to the supernatural; but when the supernatural occurs, all we can measure is the natural.

    • I can actually agree to this. All we can measure is the natural, so when God steps in, he himself cannot be discerned, only the effect he has on the natural.

      Science, by the way, has no problem with this notion. It’s how we detect black holes and subatomic particles, neither of which can be directly measured or observed (just like God). The effects suggest the unseen, unmeasurable cause.

      I really think natural/supernatural comes down to point of view. God is outside nature, and therefore “supernatural.” But that would make us “supernatural” from God’s point of view.

  3. Cory, you have no biblical basis for this definition. In the bible your god is always a part of the narrative. Adam and Even could even hide from him in the garden, plus all the times he;s just a big, powerful character in the story, saying this, and then deciding to do that. I’d say that the poetic language of your god being outside of time is the exception (not to mention that your god is all powerful is a philosophical dud that was based on poetic language as well, but never fleshed out before the damage was done)

    So, you’re using the KCA? Um, the first premise fails and makes it invalid, which is something Lane tries his hardest to hide or gloss over when using it (which I particularly find dishonest of him, but there you go), so I’m surprised to see it here as an argument for the tear-down of the natural wall. I also should point out that time/space is an idea that is only about 100 years old, so you need to be careful with using it for exegesis.

    “a timeless, spaceless, personal, intelligent entity” sounds so close to non-existance and so far removed from the biblical figurehead that I suspect you haven’t given this too much thought, and this is *indeed* special pleading. You know the story of the dragon in the garage, right? Tell me how your timeless, spaceless, personal, intelligent entity is different from that.

    As to us only measuring what is natural where the supernatural has gone, um, well, the reason we call it natural is because what we measure follows the laws of nature and are predictable. If it wasn’t either, then calling it supernatural is spot on. I think you’re creating a false dichotomy to hide this fact.

  4. natural and supernatural (and religion and faith and god) are very loaded terms, they mean a hundred different things to a hundred different people. So it is important to define terms.

    I like the definition of supernatural as: “A mind that cannot be reduced to matter or energy”.

    This makes angels, djinnis, deities, ghosts and spirits supernatural. While the higher-dimensional ‘branes’ of string theory would be natural, but outside the local universe.

    Under the definition in the OP, supernatural is: “outside the local universe”. so, ghosts are natural but ‘branes’ are supernatural.

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