How should we define the supernatural?

George, maybe I burnt too many brain cells today at my day job, but I can’t figure out what would be metaphysical but perceived by the senses. Can you give an example.

That’s one is easy. Physics has more rigorous standards :stuck_out_tongue:

ID proponents mostly already believe that evolutionists (including TEs) are saying that.


It’s always difficult to predict when someone will invoke metaphysical reality and equate it to the real world… but let offer some possible excursions into the “many fantastic worlds” of Creationists:

Exo 24:11: And upon the nobles of the children of Israel he laid not his hand: also they saw God, and did eat and drink.

Gen 3:8: And they heard the voice of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day:

Some more complex renderings of the issue can be seen here:
Pope John XXII (1316–1334) caused a controversy involving the Beatific Vision.[14] He said not as Pope but as a private theologian that the saved do not attain the Beatific Vision until Judgment Day, a view more consistent with soul sleep.[15] The general understanding at the time was that the saved attained Heaven after being purified and before Judgment Day. He never proclaimed his belief as doctrine but rather as an opinion (see ex cathedra , as defined at the First Vatican Council in 1870).

The Sacred College of Cardinals held a consistory on the problem in January 1334, and Pope John backed away from his novel views to the more standard understanding. His successor, Pope Benedict XII, declared it doctrine that the saved see Heaven (and thus, God) before Judgment Day.

And of course, there are the more celebrated “visions”, like Our Lady of Fatima!

You’re right. I would classify all of this under the concept of “natural” my definition is somewhat deficient. Tools that “extend” our senses as well as statistical predictions that can be evaluated these tools should be included.

As someone who believes in a supernatural God, I believe can interacts with us in ways that not perceptible to our physical senses, e.g. through direct interaction with our mind/subconsciousness.

Ok, Gotcha. Yes I would say those are supernatural events but probably fall under my definition. Back to to the drawing board for me. My definition doesn’t take into account “miracles”.


If only more people could see, and react, as quickly as you do!

How do you know there are “natural laws”?
The idea of laws in nature itself is dependent on a mind/will setting the universe into a particular pattern.
The entire problem is the assumption that regular patterns in nature occur without any reason other than the fundamental nature of particles of matter.

Materialism is definitely a basic assumption of MN. If not in theory, then definitely in practise.
Yet no one can know whether matter is fundamental, or a mind is… or even if both are.

I am not sure this is how it started “long ago”… In the past, people assumed that the mind was fundamental and thus all actions (even of nature ) can be traced to consciousness beings. They ascribed things like rain, thunder etc to conscious agents and gave them names.
Nowadays, people “understand”, these things in terms of “material interactions”… Though matter itself seems to be a dream.

I’m not sure what that means. However, I’ll agree that what we mean by “matter” is not at all clear.

Ya, that’s another way to say it.
The earliest understanding of matter was that it could be broken down into an indivisible particle and different materials would have different such fundamental indivisible particles(proposed by Democritus as early as 400BCE approx).
Turned out to be true… except that the fundamental particle that gives unique properties to materials is the atom and it is divisible…
Hence a broken dream…
Now we have a lot of wierd stuff (I don’t think “stuff” is the right word either) which we still call particles because we don’t really have a word to describe them…
Edit: to be a accurate, it wasn’t the earliest understanding of matter… just one of the early ones.


My concern here is that science itself keeps on extending what we can sense. Mostly indirectly through instruments, but also what we can sense directly, eg by discovering people who sense more colors than normal.

That is why I think it is futile to try to predefine natural and better to rely on looking at what science does.

Thanks for clarifying why you used ‘physical’ to describe senses used by scientific work.

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In theology, the categories would be “creator” and “creation”…
It would be impossible to define supernatural without defining natural… and “natural” doesn’t really have a clear definition.

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Here are some thoughts on this.

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Too long a thread for me to read thoroughly from scratch. But George specifically asks me to comment on “hypernatural,” and I agree with you that since there’s no decent definition of “natural,” no useful words can be derived from it.

The orginal poster suggested a definition of natural about “independent of mind.” If you look at my piece on Berkeley, you’ll see that the immaterialist denies that anything is independent of mind, and yet can have a concept of the natural.

But leaving Berkeley aside, and just considering a conventional “materialist Christian” view… the doctrine of creation is that all things that exist were creted by the Father, through Christ the Logos. Furthermore, all things are sustained in existence by him - even the semi-deists at BioLogos affirm that.

So all things at least are embodiments of thoughts in the mind of God, and all things at least are maintained in their existence by the activity of the mind of God. So where are all these “mind independent events” lurking, I wonder?

But there’s more. Unless one dispoenses altogether with the doctrine of special providence, then it is through the wisdom of God that, for example, the Christian obtains his daily bread by apparently “natural” means in answer to his dutiful saying of the Lord’s prayer. Somehow, God is able to provide us with our specific needs, or else intercessory prayer is of nothing but psychological value. So, once more, how are the events that deliever the bread to the table “mind independent”?

My answer is an old one: “natural” is a synonym for “regular,” or “predictable,” and says nothing more or less about the activity of God than my getting up at the same time every day implies I have no say in it.

“Supernatural” on that basis has very little definable meaning, as far as I can see, and is probably best avoided.


Well, I read natural as that which arises from nature or is a part of nature… The only problem being that nature is no longer defined as or understood to be God’s creation. Especially in science.
In a certain sense science is getting pushed into a pantheistic metaphysic as it tries to make sense of the universe and life without God. In many cases nature designs, creates, is purposeful etc.
The “third way” of evolution and some ideas in physics (esp those dealing with conscious) already seem to be going down this path in earnest.

I agree.

True story about the murkiness of these concepts – “natural,” “supernatural,” and the like.

One of my graduate school mentors, the late philosopher of language Leonard Linsky (1922-2012), once told me about a conversation he had with a pair of lawyers, who fancied themselves as astute philosophers. The lawyers said it was easy to define “miracles” – these were events, they said, that could not be explained by current physics, i.e., for which no physically sufficient causal pathway was available.

So Linsky stood up out of his chair, walked around the perimeter of the room, and then sat back down again.

“Was that a miracle?” he asked the lawyers.

No, they replied, smugly – we can explain what you just did via physics. We have a physical explanation for the event.

“All right!” Linsky shouted at them, holding out his hands, palms up, “let’s have it! If you really know, give me the physical explanation – but with no agent ‘Leonard Linsky’ in it, making a point.”

The lawyers were silent.

Agency does a lot of genuine explanatory work for us (think per example of intellectual property law). Problem is, bona fide agency does not fit comfortably, or at all, with a materialist or physicalist metaphysics.

But letting physicalism run the show, at the expense of practical reason, seems a high price to pay.


I like @jongarvey definition. I’m also working on my own.

Supernatural- the uncreated acting upon the created
Natural- the created acting upon the created.


I believe the members of the “Association for Jesus is a Dream” are meeting down the hall. You must have turned into these rooms by accident…

@T.j_Runyon and @jongarvey:

If the Archangel Michael was created by God … and the Archangel Michael makes the entire Russian Navy disappear … that would be the “created acting upon the created” … and thus be labeled a natural event?

Created means universe here. But you already know that. You just like making things more complicated than they need to be