How should we define the supernatural?


(Jordan Mantha) #21

I want to push back a little on this. We need to be careful to separate the difference between inaccessible knowledge (in the Copenhagen interpretation) or probabilistic knowledge, and unpredictability. Quantum mechanics is very predictable, it’s not just random “who knows what we’ll get?”

(Dale Cutler) #22

“Hypernatural” is a useful term when speaking of God’s activities and frequent M.O. in interaction with the physical world. Many of the miracles recorded in scripture are of this type, even the crossing of the Red Sea. No physical laws are broken, and the degree or extent of events may be extreme (or not), but the timing is what is particularly extraordinary and beyond the reach of science.

I had a Christian friend whose office overlooked the shallow and muddy Schuylkill River in Philadelphia years ago, and one very windy day and with the particular topography (above and below water), wind speed and direction, he was excited to see the muddy bottom of the river in a trough made of water all the way across, with water on the left and on the right, upstream and downstream.

That, of course, reminded him of the Exodus and the Israelites’ crossing of the Red Sea. I suspect that the sea might have parted without Moses and the Israelites being there. But they were.


Correct. We got sidetracked by discussions on MN instead of natural vs supernatural.

I don’t agree with this, but it’s not like I have a better definition.

Perhaps this is what he is trying to say, and given his relationship with religion, I wouldn’t be surprised if you were right. This turns natural/supernatural into something akin to god-of-the-gaps, as @nwrickert said,

I believe that @dga471 disagrees with this. Is that right?

(Dale Cutler) #24

I certainly do. Big bang cosmology is not a small corner.

And regarding God’s M.O., there is evidence that is consistent with the idea that the universe was designed to be discovered. From here.

In the summer of 2017, around the time of the total eclipse of the sun, I read where one secular astronomer called the fact that the disc of the moon in the sky matches the disc of the sun “magic”. Huge amounts of knowledge about how stars work has been discovered – and more is still being discovered – during total solar eclipses. And that is not to mention all of the other details about why so much of the cosmos is visable, unobstructed, from here.

(Retired Professor & Minister.) #25

Well stated. I too am hesitant to say that methodological naturalism is tautological. It depends on the definitions employed.


Yes, God created them. Thus, they are part of some creation. But there are various views among theologians as to whether they were created in the same creation as is described in Genesis 1:1.

Most will agree that multiple creations are mentioned in the Bible. The New Heaven and the New Earth in Revelation 21 and 22 is another creation.


Which physical laws allow someone to throw a stick on the ground and have it turn into a snake?

(Dale Cutler) #27

You missed:

Frequent does not mean exclusive.

(Dale Cutler) #28

Regarding small corners, try this on for size:

(Neil Rickert) #29

That’s my impression.

This discussion shows that there’s considerable disagreement about what we mean by “natural” and “supernatural”.

(George) #30


With a definition like that… there is no wonder you think Science can “test for God”.

(George) #31


I believe I tried to accommodate that perspective. If anything, it makes Quantum reality part of the Natural realm, rather than the Super-Natural realm. And I’m certainly ok with that.

(George) #32


How do you know that no natural laws were broken?

Are you making that assertion based on the idea that the wind simply separated the waters? If so, or if you have some other natural phenomenon in mind, then I would agree… and that would make it a “Natural” event - - not a hyper-natural one.

When the Pilgrims said there was a miracle… because there was a lot of fish caught in a day … that is what others on this list call a “sign” or a “providential miracle”. And that is certainly what the original meaning of the term “miracle” meant. But having lots of fish caught would be “Natural” as well … unless God literally did some “Poooooof” thing … and made the fish materialize!

(Dale Cutler) #33

Okay then, no natural laws are apparently broken, and no physical laws are necessarily broken.

The major implication and feature of hypernatural miracles to me is the timing aspect of them, and not their physicality or ‘naturalness’, although those features can be spectacular, as well. I have had numerous instances in my own life, not necessarily anything particularly spectacular physically, but of occasions of providential timing – sometimes startling, fun or even funny, and some were life-path changing. It is not counterintuitive that the Creator of time and space should be sovereign over timing and spacing.

(George) #34


And that is my point. Since you are comfortable using the term “Providential”, why would you add a term to which most people would not be comfortable: “Hyper-Natural”?

(Dale Cutler) #35

Everyone that I have explained it to is quite comfortable with it, and it is descriptive. (I did not originate that use of the term.)

(George) #36


You can say it … but there has to be a a simple terminology to reflect the dichotomy of “Physics vs. Metaphysics” for those who are not Atheists or Agnostics.

If God can create “instantaneously”… and God can create by “evolution”… there needs to be a term that separates the two categories of events… at least for Christians treating metaphysical concepts like Acts of God.

Further, if there is no such thing as “super-natural” events, then how do you explain to ID supporters why Science can detect natural processes … but Science cannot detect the natural processes of God?

Are you really planning on explaining to ID supporters that the difference is: God doesn’t exist?


Not sure if you mis-typed that or if you’ve got me confused with someone else, but I don’t believe science can test for God.

(George) #38


Okay… now you can no longer say “everyone that I have explained it to” is comfortable. You have explained it to me and I think it is unnecessary and confusing.

That should simplify things for you. Who coined the phrase? Was it launched in a journal article?

(Dale Cutler) #39

‘Providential miracles’ can be redundant, and ‘hypernatural’ makes a useful distinction.

(Dale Cutler) #40

Why does it matter so much?