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  1. #1
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    Definition of the supernatural

    We often go back on forth on the issue of the supernatural, but exactly what is the supernatural?

    Personally, it seems to me that while we discuss "does the supernatural exist" quite often very few seem to have a clear conception or understanding of what it is or how to define it. Is it merely an event with a very low probability? Does it have to defy laws of nature? But then if it defies known laws, many then take the stance that it is merely the fact that we dont fully understand the known laws. Many demand evidence, but it is the nature of the supernatural after all to be not likely or impossible. Before any real discussion of does the supernatural exists I think it should be established a definition of what the supernatural is that we may debate on.

    This is to debate a definition of the supernatural, not its existence.
    Last edited by chadn737; November 13th, 2007 at 05:42 PM.
    I typically cite original research papers and reviews that are available only to a personal or institutional subscriptional. If you wish a PDF copy of the papers I cite, send me a request.

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    Re: Definition of the supernatural

    Quote Originally Posted by chadn737 View Post
    Is it merely an event with a very low probability? .
    yes

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    Re: Definition of the supernatural

    Quote Originally Posted by chadn737 View Post
    We often go back on forth on the issue of the supernatural, but exactly what is the supernatural?
    The antithesis of natural. Anyone who has understanding of the basics in science will know what natural is. So, how about this:

    su·per·nat·u·ral adj
    1. relating or attributed to phenomena that cannot be explained by natural laws
    2. relating or attributed to a deity
    3. relating or attributed to magic or the occult

    n
    1. supernatural beings or phenomena
    2. the realm of supernatural beings or phenomena

    Encarta® World English Dictionary © 1999 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved. Developed for Microsoft by Bloomsbury Publishing Plc.

    Personally, it seems to me that while we discuss "does the supernatural exist" quite often very few seem to have a clear conception or understanding of what it is or how to define it. Is it merely an event with a very low probability? Does it have to defy laws of nature? But then if it defies known laws, many then take the stance that it is merely the fact that we dont fully understand the known laws.
    As someone involved in the sciences, you know very well that assuming supernatural causes contributes nothing to knowledge. It has been science that has been sqeezing out magic and gods as a common explanation for natural phenomenon. I have no objection for individuals who prefer to believe in supernatural beings, but they should realize the very dubious nature of this belief when compared to objective standards and reason.

    Many demand evidence, but it is the nature of the supernatural after all to be not likely or impossible.
    The problem is that a concept does not earn exemption just because its content includes supernatural elements. It is still just an idea. And it is still just a mortal whose mind is thinking it. Those who make supernatural claims cannot avoid this, and must address their own thinking process, especially with a lack of evidence. Now, if claimants had evidence, they could simply present it and let the evidence speak for itself, as in science. Until then, the dilemma for theists is themselves.
    Just another hostile non-theist.

  4. #4
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    Re: Definition of the supernatural

    Quote Originally Posted by chadn737 View Post
    We often go back on forth on the issue of the supernatural, but exactly what is the supernatural?

    Personally, it seems to me that while we discuss "does the supernatural exist" quite often very few seem to have a clear conception or understanding of what it is or how to define it. Is it merely an event with a very low probability? Does it have to defy laws of nature? But then if it defies known laws, many then take the stance that it is merely the fact that we dont fully understand the known laws. Many demand evidence, but it is the nature of the supernatural after all to be not likely or impossible. Before any real discussion of does the supernatural exists I think it should be established a definition of what the supernatural is that we may debate on.

    So zhav, F1, etc dont even bother to post your usual posts. This is to debate a definition of the supernatural, not its existence.
    Good one Chad.

    I tend to think of it as areas which lack scientific understanding. I think ghosts are just a real a possibility as the excitement of a particle in one location can excite a particle in another...

    The SUPERnatural is, by definition, above nature. But, historically, we as a species have had TONS of things that fit this category over time. Thunder comes most readily to mind....

    I think because of the stigma of researching things like ghosts and the paranormal, most researchers shy away from them. I don't blame them really. Money gets research done, and there aren't many people willing to be associated with this kind of thing...

    Overall, a fair to middlin' definition might be something like:

    Supernatural: Events usually attributed to or associated with superstition and/or magic, but most likely are simply misunderstood or unexplored vistas of science.
    But if you do not find an intelligent companion, a wise and well-behaved person going the same way as yourself, then go on your way alone, like a king abandoning a conquered kingdom, or like a great elephant in the deep forest. - Buddha

  5. #5
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    Re: Definition of the supernatural

    "Supernatural" is anything that contradicts our scientific understanding of the world / universe. I go by Dawkins' explanation of claims and point out that supernatural claims are most often unsupported scientific claims about the universe. Most all of them either are or are not true. When dealing with religion, theists often present supernatural supernatural claims taken from religious dogma and attempt to treat them as supported.

    I also like Sam Harris' call for intellectual honesty. Harris points out that theists have a special set of rules they invoke for the supernatural claims of their chosen religion. As I've stated often, most theists are indoctrinated from their formative years to adopt this different set of rules and it's because of that extra set of rules we're having this discussion.

    Does anyone here really need a clarification as it pertains to Superman? No? We all agree that the things Superman can do are supernatural? How interesting...

  6. #6
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    Re: Definition of the supernatural

    Quote Originally Posted by Zhavric View Post
    "Supernatural" is anything that contradicts our scientific understanding of the world / universe.
    I think this goes a little too far, supernatural need not directly contradict known scientific understanding, it could be something that is merely unexplained by science as of yet.
    "Suffering lies not with inequality, but with dependence." -Voltaire
    "Fallacies do not cease to be fallacies because they become fashions.” -G.K. Chesterton
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    Re: Definition of the supernatural

    "Supernatural" in religious contexts (at least in debate) seems to be phenomenon that science and reason cannot verify, yet some people claim knowledge about somehow, generally through feelings and experience. Feelings and experiences are discounted since they rely on certain states of mind that are of questionable acuity.
    Just another hostile non-theist.

  8. #8
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    Re: Definition of the supernatural

    Quote Originally Posted by Squatch347 View Post
    I think this goes a little too far, supernatural need not directly contradict known scientific understanding, it could be something that is merely unexplained by science as of yet.
    No, Squatch, the Supernatural isn't "unknown" as you're implying because "unknown" implies a degree of possibility / probability. We don't know how giant squids behave in the wild because we've only recently filmed them alive. That doesn't make them "supernatural".

    Nor are scientists hard at work trying to figure out how it could have happened that the Red Sea parted to let Jews go by only to slam shut to drown Egyptians. The Red Sea story in the bible is a good example: we know how water behaves. We know how Oceans behave. We know water doesn't spontaneously part. This brings us to the heart of the matter: theists don't want to be responsible for providing evidence for the supernatural claims made dogmatically by their religions.

    so, I'm not surprised you offered the above quoted text, Squatch. It shows the tendency of theists to try to move the goal posts to account for their own untenable claims. Honestly, would you really be happy with the statement, "The behavior of the giant squid is supernatural"?

    Yes or no?

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    Re: Definition of the supernatural

    Thats a good point Zhav, my definition does lack something, clearly the nature of the giant squid is not supernatural.
    However, there are objects that do not fit your definition. At one point very existence of the Giant Squid was considered supernatural, as was the movement of the stars, or many of basic scientific principles like magnetism, and radiation.
    "Suffering lies not with inequality, but with dependence." -Voltaire
    "Fallacies do not cease to be fallacies because they become fashions.” -G.K. Chesterton
    Also, if you think I've overlooked your post please shoot me a PM, I'm not intentionally ignoring you.


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    Re: Definition of the supernatural

    Hmm... The very existence of the Giant Squid might have been considered myth. But I would hardly call it supernatural. "Supernatural" stuff is an effort to explain something we can observe and yet cannot explain through scientific means. Movement of the stars we can observe, but at one point couldn't explain it. So it would have required a supernatural explanation (well, not required, but would have been subject to, regardless)... something like "Oh, god makes the stars move."

    Take ghosts, for instance. We observe that objects move when we're not looking, without an obvious mover. My neighbor tells me that stuff on the top of her fridge moves by itself all the time. Any attempt to call it a "ghost" would be a supernatural explanation because we have no scientific explanation for it, and no conclusive proof of the existence or non-existence of ghosts, per se...
    "And that, my lord, is how we know the Earth to be banana-shaped." ~ Monty Python


  11. #11
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    Re: Definition of the supernatural

    Quote Originally Posted by Squatch347 View Post
    At one point very existence of the Giant Squid was considered supernatural, as was the movement of the stars, or many of basic scientific principles like magnetism, and radiation.
    Ummm... support please?

  12. #12
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    Re: Definition of the supernatural

    Does it have to defy laws of nature?
    It doesn't defy anything in nature, but rather brings more. "Super-" means beyond, not in defiance of. If we understood the makeup of a particular supernatural event or entity, we would adjust the laws of nature accordingly. The difference between natural and supernatural is in our own understanding. If we had access to all knowledge, a supreme being, or creator, would be considered natural, and there would be no such thing as supernatural. But in terms of our mortal, finite minds, whatever is supernatural extends beyond our ability to explain, categorize, or interpret. This does not mean, however, that anything unexplainable is supernatural.

    Supernatural:
    1. In the secular sense, various causes transcending naturalistic explanation, in another dimension of understanding. By its very definition, since the properties of the supernatural are not understood through natural processes, determining specifically what isn't supernatural is not easily done. Many things that occur in the natural world could seem to be supernatural but not be.

    2. In the more religious and specific sense, the force which formed the universe, which could not have occurred via our presently defined naturalistic means. Matter cannot be created through naturalistic processes out of nothing, according to these very naturalistic laws. It would require a supernatural process.
    You can invoke neither time, nor space, nor matter, nor energy, nor the laws of nature, to explain the origin of the universe. General relativity points to the need for a cause that transcends those domains.
    —Stephen C. Meyer
    3. In the scientific sense, there is no working definition of supernatural, because if it isn't natural, it doesn't exist.

    I would also caution those who leap to conclusions about "natural" forces, such as lightning. Understanding the process of what generates lightning does not tell us whether lightning is supernatural or not. We could still not infer that lightning isn't a process used by a supernatural being. While it's true we seem to pretty much understand how lightning works, we don't understand how it originated. There's a big difference there. Looking at the train tracks doesn't tell us where the train came from.

    So, to say that gravity isn't supernatural because it's natural, assumes the premise that anything that can be at least partially discerned or observed in the physical realm could not have supernatural explanations. But this is undetermined and mere speculation. If there is a creator, it's quite reasonable for the creator's power to be manifested through observable physical phenomena as well. Why wouldn't a creator use lightning, or gravity, or various forces? Whether natural phenomena are the embodiment of a supreme being or mere tools He uses is another matter entirely, but whether the use of these forces is supernatural or not doesn't depend on that issue.
    Last edited by Xanadu Moo; November 13th, 2007 at 08:20 PM.
    anything could be an illusion and we wouldn't know the difference... proof schmoof...

  13. #13
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    Re: Definition of the supernatural

    Quote Originally Posted by Dionysus View Post
    Ummm... support please?
    You're kidding right? I thought it would fall under the common knowledge category that at one point the Squid was mythical, or that the movements of the 'wandering stars' were considered supernatural. Things like ball lightening have been considered supernatural at a much more recent date. Do you want me to find the exact fables and parables?
    "Suffering lies not with inequality, but with dependence." -Voltaire
    "Fallacies do not cease to be fallacies because they become fashions.” -G.K. Chesterton
    Also, if you think I've overlooked your post please shoot me a PM, I'm not intentionally ignoring you.


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    Re: Definition of the supernatural

    Quote Originally Posted by Squatch347 View Post
    You're kidding right? I thought it would fall under the common knowledge category that at one point the Squid was mythical, or that the movements of the 'wandering stars' were considered supernatural. Things like ball lightening have been considered supernatural at a much more recent date. Do you want me to find the exact fables and parables?
    Yes. Who said giant squids were "supernatural" creatures? And I don't know of anything where the movements of stars were considered to be "supernatural". At best they were misunderstood, but that doesn't mean anything beyond that.

    BTW, "fables" and "parables" probably won't help your case.

  15. #15
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    Re: Definition of the supernatural

    Didn't people worship the planets? Doesn't that merit the "Super Natural" label?
    Also the whole Astrology "stars tell us the future", bit. That doesn't fall into the "Super Natural"?
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    Re: Definition of the supernatural

    Quote Originally Posted by MindTrap028 View Post
    Didn't people worship the planets? Doesn't that merit the "Super Natural" label?
    Also the whole Astrology "stars tell us the future", bit. That doesn't fall into the "Super Natural"?
    No.

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    Re: Definition of the supernatural

    Quote Originally Posted by MindTrap028 View Post
    Didn't people worship the planets? Doesn't that merit the "Super Natural" label?
    Also the whole Astrology "stars tell us the future", bit. That doesn't fall into the "Super Natural"?
    In his testimony at the court case in Dover, PA, over the legality of Intelligent Design in public schools, Michael Behe (ID proponent) said that astrology fits in with his definition of science. It was worth a very good laugh.
    Just another hostile non-theist.

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    Re: Definition of the supernatural

    Quote Originally Posted by Slipnish View Post
    Supernatural: Events usually attributed to or associated with superstition and/or magic, but most likely are simply misunderstood or unexplored vistas of science.
    This is an inadequate definition from someone like yourself who deems the supernatural to be real. You should probably give your honest appraisal instead of a generic one.
    anything could be an illusion and we wouldn't know the difference... proof schmoof...

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    Re: Definition of the supernatural

    Quote Originally Posted by Xanadu Moo View Post
    This is an inadequate definition from someone like yourself who deems the supernatural to be real. You should probably give your honest appraisal instead of a generic one.
    XM:

    I think the supernatural is just a bunch of "stuff" that we haven't figured out how it exactly works...yet.

    I used the thunder analogy already, so let me expand a bit.

    I am a skeptic first and foremost. However, I don't disbelieve in the possibility of things unseen or unknown. Bigfoot, ghosts, shadow people, those kinds of things are possible in my world, but I don't necessarily have to have them either.

    (The word "skeptic" for me just means I don't believe because I don't have access to a preponderance of evidence to sway my opinion. I allow for the fact that there may be evicdence, but I don't accept it just for the sake of so doing. There really has to be a "smoking gun" of evidence before I would be willing to say any of these kinds of things are real, much less supernatural.

    A skeptic has an open mind, not a fixed or closed one. At some point, Michael Shermer has killed the definition of the word. )

    Now...here's the deal. Are they SUPERnatural? Really magical creatures that science can NEVER explain?

    I don't think so...

    I think bigfoot might be an undiscovered species of ape. It could be some guys in suits. It COULD be a lot of things. I believe that something is out there making people think they see this giant ape-like biped. Do I believe it's a SUPERnatural creature? No. Just one about which we have very little information who having an interest in carries the stigma of being crazy, so most real scientists won't touch it with a ten foot test tube.

    You can say the same for ghosts, shadow people, ufo's and the like. (Though having witnesses a couple of UFOs, I'd be dishonest in saying I was skeptical about their existance. Their cause yes, but existance I believe in, same as...doorknobs.)

    I hope this helps you understand where I am coming from XM....


    _________________________________ Post Merged _________________________________


    Quote Originally Posted by Dionysus View Post
    Yes. Who said giant squids were "supernatural" creatures? And I don't know of anything where the movements of stars were considered to be "supernatural". At best they were misunderstood, but that doesn't mean anything beyond that.

    BTW, "fables" and "parables" probably won't help your case.
    Dude...the kraken.

    Kraken - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

    But I see what you are saying, being a giant doesn't mean it's magical... Though in tales I think that is sort of inferred without being actually said. I certainly see why Squatch would use the example, though it may ultimately fail as an analogy.
    Last edited by Slipnish; November 20th, 2007 at 04:57 AM. Reason: Automerged Doublepost
    But if you do not find an intelligent companion, a wise and well-behaved person going the same way as yourself, then go on your way alone, like a king abandoning a conquered kingdom, or like a great elephant in the deep forest. - Buddha

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    Re: Definition of the supernatural

    Supernatural refers to anything that is not governed by the laws of nature. If you say that something is supernatural, you literally mean that science can never understand it, since science can only find naturalistic explanations to phenomena. For phenomena that have naturalistic explanations but are just yet to be understood, I've always maintained the proper term should be "unexplained phenomena".

    And that is also why I have never accepted "the supernatural" as a valid concept. Unless you can prove that something cannot have a naturalistic explanation, you have no business calling it "supernatural". That's very presumptuous; it assumes that the phenomenon is out of the bounds of physical laws and that science can never comprehend it. We would be like the ancient Greeks, thinking that lightning is the work of Zeus just because we are not scientifically advanced enough to understand that it is the flow of electrons.

    Thus, theists who seek to shield miraculous phenomena in the Bible from scientific scrutiny by calling them "supernatural" are merely using a yet-to-be-proven-valid concept to support yet-to-be-proven-true phenomena. Until theists prove that "the supernatural" really exists, it is not an admissible concept. It's like me saying that my arguments are "superlogical" and hence immune to logical criticism. Before I want to invoke the concept "superlogical", I have to first demonstrate that there are things that are not governed by the laws of logic. If I can't or won't, no one has to accept my cop-out.
    Last edited by Trendem; November 20th, 2007 at 07:51 AM.
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