Tag Archives: supernatural

Mauna Kea Hawaii

Do you believe in the supernatural?

While there are many ways people arrive at the conclusions that form their worldview — many people determine what they believe to be true about the world based on how their life experience has led them to answer the question: “Do you believe in the supernatural?”  That is what I want to discuss today.

Mauna Kea Hawaii

For many, the word supernatural conjures up all sorts of uncomfortable, at times even embarrassing and confusing feelings.  It evokes fear and mystery in others.  Some dismiss its existence as irrational and superstitious.  Either way, most people associate the term with something mysterious — something they do not fully understand, and for those who do not believe in it at all, something silly.

But first, I want to bring the conversation down to its basic level.  Dictionary.com defines supernatural with eight definitions.  For the sake of time, we will go with the first one: of, pertaining to or being above or beyond what is natural.  This of course leads us to define what we mean by natural and nature.  Again, let’s go with the first definition listed for both.  By natural, I mean anything that exists inside nature, and by nature, I mean the material world.

Pinning down these definitions of supernatural, natural, nature, and material world, is necessary for the sake of this discussion due to their multiple meanings.  If, when we use the word supernatural, simply as “anything that is above or beyond what is natural (material)” then I believe the only logical explanation is that at least on some basic, very fundamental level, the supernatural must exist.

Painted Desert, ArizonaThe primary evidence rests in the fact that we have a consciousness — a non-corporeal element of our being that is not material, not tangible to our five senses, and is the source for our ability to exercise rationality — namely to think and to do so with reason.

Defining what comprises one’s consciousness in totality is for another blog entry.  The main point here is that this invisible element of our being that puts our thoughts and desires into material action, displays our character and personality, is not a natural (in this context more precisely defined as material) thing.  It, therefore, lies outside and beyond nature or what is natural, and therefore must be supernatural according to the definition mentioned above.

Strict materialists will disagree with me.  Materialismreferring to the second definition listed, is a philosophical theory that posits natural matter is the only “thing” which comprises the universe and its inhabitants and that it alone is responsible for actions and events.  A strict materialist would make no distinction between a person’s brain and his mind; in fact, he would deny the existence of the mind.  But I see this as illogical because to deny the existence of the mind, is to express a thought — something that is invisible, intangible, and lies outside the bounds of natural reality; it therefore must itself be supernatural.

I will conclude by taking a rather strong stand and saying it is illogical and irrational to deny the existence of the supernatural, at least on some level.  To argue otherwise is to implicitly give credibility to your opposing belief, or thought, and that thought itself is not material, lies outside the scope of the natural, and is therefore, supernatural.*  do you believe in the supernaturalIt would be like concluding: “Natural matter is all that exists , oh, except for the conclusion that ‘natural matter is all that exists, and the instruments I used to draw that conclusion (namely, my mind and reason).”’

Either way, I would say that although there are various different worldviews, most fall into two main camps — those who are strict materialists, who deny the existence of the supernatural, and those who believe in some type of supernatural element to our existence.  I will call these people supernaturalists from here on.

**This issue of the necessity of acknowledging the credibility of something not a part of nature, i.e. a person’s reasonable thoughts, as a requirement to make a reasonable claim about the universe, is explored in greater detail in chapters 3 and 4 the book Miracles by C.S. Lewis.

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Reason as a Source of Knowledge

Reason as a source of knowledge continues our series on obtaining knowledge.Atheism based on reason sign

Because many atheists base their beliefs on reason, I decided to use their claim to both illustrate how we obtain knowledge from reason and ultimately whether atheism is reasonable at all.

Many times, our view on atheism is determined by what we take for granted to be true about reason — many times without realizing it. So, let us begin there.  (If you don’t have time to read this entire post, skip down to the sections below entitled Reason as a Source of Knowledge, Is Atheism based on Reason?, and The Origin of Reason and the Matter of God.)

Whether you agree or disagree with the reasonability of atheism, you must first believe in:

  1. brain scanthe existence and validity of reason
  2. our ability, by way of our thoughts, to access reason
  3. that knowledge is possible

It follows logically that if you disagree with any or all of these presuppositions, than you have no legitimate grounds to make any type of justifiable claim about the reasonability of atheism or the universe, whatsoever.

These three assumptions make the debate possible and provide the common ground for both theists — those who believe in God, or a supreme being or beings and atheists — those who do not believe in the existence of God or a supreme being(s).

But to prevent any confusion about such an important issue, we should first define reason, then explore its nature. 

The Definition of Reason

The term reason is unwieldy and has multiple definitions, so for the sake of brevity, I will again refer to a common definition found in the Merriam Webster’s online dictionary.  Throughout this post, by “reason” I mean both:

  • that thing that makes a fact, theory, or principle comprehensible
  • the power of comprehending and inferring in rational ways

Reason as a Source of Knowledge

Declaration of IndependenceReason as a source of knowledge occurs when we draw logical inferences i.e. you know something to be true because it is self-evident (Lewis 31).

For example, if I have one dollar and you give me a dollar, then I will have two dollars.  No one needed to tell me that because it is evident to me.  I can look in my hands and see that I have two dollars.  Another common example is: If a equals b and b is equal to c, logically, it must follow that a is equal to c.

Therefore, if reason necessitates that we draw inferences, and if both the atheist and theist alike agree that such inferences must be possible and valid (Lewis 31), then it follows that we should draw logical inferences to determine the reasonability of atheism.

Reason and Emotion

As humans, we all, at one point or another, have made decisions or drawn conclusions based on our emotions or desires rather than reason.  That is not to say, however, that our reason, emotions, and/or desires cannot also be working in tandem either.

human desireRegardless, if we have the capability of employing reason or disregarding it in any given situation, then we must infer and hold to be true that reason does not cease to exist when we do not use it to make decisions or claims.

Reason is there at our disposal, but we do not contrive or invent it.  Therefore, reason must exist on its own — independent of human beings and/or what we choose to believe about it.

People who believe reason is a human construct will, of course, disagree with me but wouldn’t the reasonable conclusion that 2 + 2 = 4 still remain true even if all 7 billion people on the planet believed 2 + 2 = 3?

The Nature of Reason

Reason not only exists independently, it is a constant force or thing that is accessible at all times, in all places, to all healthy minds simultaneously.  Reason outlives us.  Reason is something we “tap into,” for lack of a better term.

But reason is immaterial, even supernatural — not in any religious sense, but as defined in my previous post Do you believe in the supernatural? — in that it lies outside nature.  Therefore, reason is separate from nature.

If we are dependent on reason to live, even survive, (it certainly does not depend on us for its existence) then we must infer that reason is, at least in one way, superior to us or supreme.  Time and time again we realize the constant, unbending superiority of reason, over our natural feelings and desires particularly when we suffer the consequences from a bad decision.

overweight peopleThe classic example: how many people struggling to lose weight walk past a few Danish pastries, and comprehending with all the reason in the world that eating one takes them further away from a slimmer body, still proceed to eat them?

The next day they berate themselves for not using reason.  In this scenario, the decision based on reason — abstaining from eating the pastry to prevent weight gain — is superior to the decision made based on desire.  This is a very trivial example, but the point is to illustrate that reason is supreme and unyielding, but beneficial if we use it to guide our actions and decisions.

So, based on the inferences we’ve draw about reason itself, is it reasonable or unreasonable to believe in the validity of atheism, as the sign above claims?

Is Atheism based on Reason?

By denying the existence of a supreme being, atheism (at least in the West) implicitly posits that nature is all that exists — that it is one self-contained system (Lewis 6, 31).  This view of the world seems congruent to me, until you try to base it on reason.

beautiful natureTo claim nature i.e. the material world is all that exists, and then base it on reason — this independent, supreme, constant, omnipresent, immaterial, even supernatural thing that is separate from nature — seems very unreasonable, and even contradictory.

We’ve established so far reason is separate from nature and does not have its origin in it.  After all, nature does not reason, human minds do.  But if reason exists independently of human beings, regardless of how we feel or want, then where does reason come from? Better put, what is the origin of reason?

The Origin of Reason and the Matter of God

To draw a probable, though, not certain conclusion about its origin, we should do what reason tells us to do — begin to draw rational inferences.  So, I will start…

Kona,HIIs it reasonable to say reason came from nothing and fell out of the sky to be ready at our service? No.  Then, it must be more reasonable to claim it most likely has a source. If that source is not nature and if reason is not a human construct or invention, then like reason itself, wouldn’t this source also exist separate from nature i.e. that it also must be something supernatural? Yes.

Also, like reason itself, wouldn’t that supernatural source also possess the supremacy reason seems to display over our carnal wishes and emotions? Yes, that is reasonable.

If reason has a supernatural and supreme source, and if we access reason by using our minds, by way of our thoughts, can we not then conclude with some rational probability, that this source also has a mind? Otherwise, how could this source, if it did not have a mind, provide the very “thing that makes a fact, theory, or principle comprehensible to our minds,” as defined above?

Based on the rational, though not certain, inferences we’ve drawn above, we conclude that the source, or origin of reason appears to have the following qualities:

  •  that it is supernatural (existing outside nature)
  • supreme over our natural desires, emotions, and basic instincts 
  • most likely has a mind, and if it does have a mind, then it must be a being with a conscious, animate existence.  And, if it follows from examples in our own world that beings (from human beings to dogs and cats) are alive and active, then this being must also be alive and active.

If these three characteristics of the origin of reason are reasonable to assume based on the rational inferences that lead us here, then we have to concede that what we just described is a God, not the absence of one…  because, the definition of God is a supernatural, conscious, supreme being.

Mauna Kea Hawaii

Therefore, this question of the origin of reason seems to present a problem for people who positively deny the existence of a supernatural, supreme Being.  Do the characteristics of reason made by the inferences above, point to a larger probability that God exists rather than that God does not?

monotheistic religionsAnd, if atheism seems more unreasonable than reasonable, would it not logically follow that it is more reasonable and thus, more probable, to believe in a God, based on reason alone, not on the scientific method or even any study of religion?

One thing should be clear in all of our minds — the issue of atheism vs. theism (in whatever form) is not a question of certainty — it is one of probability.  Neither side can ever prove their claim in the scientific sense of the word.  So, when determining our belief and claim on such an important matter, we should dispense with the language involving certainty and draw our conclusion based on what is more reasonable and thus, has a greater probability of being valid.

References

Lewis, C.S. Miracles.  New York: HarperCollins, 2001.

Copyright © 2013 RationalWorldview.com
Sheldon Cooper

Why Science Can Never Tell Us Why

Like millions of other Americans, I too am a fan of The Big Bang Theory.  On last week’s episode, in a conversation between Sheldon (a socially inept but highly intelligent physicist played by Jim Parsons) and his neighbor Penny, Sheldon says:

Sheldon Cooper” if (Stephen) Hawking’s theories are correct, …they prove where the universe came from, why everything exists, and what its ultimate end will be.”

I realize Jim Parsons is only playing a genius, but this line really expresses the sentiment of our culture and the spirit of its current age, particularly in academia.  Often times, without realizing it, we make the jump from: Because a person is an expert in explaining certain ways of how the universe works, to: that person is capable of telling us why those laws and the universe exist.

For all its merit, its necessity, and its study, science — which contributes to our way of life in so many wonderful and innovative ways — cannot answer such questions as “why everything exists,” as the loveable Sheldon Cooper claimed.  Science cannot and never will be able to explain the metaphysical questions that nag us as human beings.  For a list of some of those questions, refer to the previous post What is a worldview? Part 2.

Picture of Mars by Nasa
Science — and all the many fields of academic study that fall under its umbrella (mathematics, physics, biology, chemistry etc.) — often over-extends its reach into territory where it has no business doing so.  I am not disparaging the importance of science with that claim.  The breakthroughs in science made, particularly in the past century, have been amazing and those discoveries will only increase to make our lives better.

However, I think it is important to realize that when determining the components of a worldview, one must keep the role of science in its proper place.  The role of science is to provide laws and substantiated reliable theories about the natural world based on observations and experimentation.  Those laws often come with the caveat “given nothing interferes.”

For the sake of simplicity, I will give an almost too simple example.  If I ask my friend the following questions:

  1. “Am I correct in asserting that if I mix a blue highlighter and a yellow highlighter on paper, the colored portion of the paper will turn green?”
  2. yellow and blue make green“If so, would it also be true that yellow and blue will always make green given the same set of circumstances in my experiment the future?”
  3. “Finally, am I correct in claiming the colored portion of the paper will definitely still be green tomorrow?”

Her answer, based on what we all learned in kindergarten, would most likely be respectively:

Mixed Primary Colors

  1. “Yes.”
  2. “Yes.”
  3. “Yes, but only if no one or nothing else tampers with the colored portion of the paper. If someone comes along and marks over the colored portion with a pink highlighter, the colored portion will no longer be green, thus making your third assertion untrue.”

This illustration is meant to convey that the purpose of science is to explain a result, conclusion, or phenomena of the natural world based on repeated observation and experimentation in controlled conditions.  In short, the role of science is essentially to make and record observations about the natural world and for humanity to progress by using those observations for innovation, which improve our quality of life.

However, science falls short in that it cannot explain the phenomena that exist outside or beyond the natural material world — what I defined as the supernatural in my previous post titled Do you believe in the supernatural? Here, I am not using the term ‘supernatural’ in any religious sense, but only as those elements found in our universe that are not natural or material but yet we believe to exist e.g. the non-corporeal parts of our being such as our consciousness and mind.

Throughout my life I have heard over and over again statements such as “the supernatural and God do not exist because the laws of science cannot explain such things or because there is no scientific evidence to prove it.”  However, I believe this to be a fallacy.  Just because science falls short of explaining anything outside or beyond the natural world does not logically necessitate the nonexistence of anything outside or beyond the natural world.

the limitations of scienceNor does it mean we should allow science’s limitations to become a stumbling block leading us to fall short ourselves in our pursuit of knowledge and understanding of the universe, which most would agree likely includes something outside of or beyond material nature.  

I would say no matter how “complete” science becomes, it will never provide an explanation for everything associated with our existence.  In cruder terms, the explanatory power of science will almost always fall short.  For one, the laws of the natural world are unable to explain the “why (not causal use but purpose) of existence” — that is the existence of the universe, its inhabitants, and all of the events that take place within it.  To observe something is one thing.  To claim to know why it came into being is entirely another.  The latter is not a matter of science (Lewis, 1980). Surprisingly, though, both the intelligent and unintelligent alike conflate these two issues just like Sheldon Cooper did in the season finale of The Big Bang Theory.

Science is wonderful, but it only makes sense to turn to other forms and methods of obtaining knowledge to better understand our universe as a whole and to throw off, or at least attempt to throw off, the heavy yoke placed on us by the perpetual myth we were taught in school our whole lives that science has some sort of monopoly on knowledge or that knowledge obtained by science is somehow truer than knowledge obtained by other methods.  If we are honest with ourselves, we must admit that most of the knowledge we accept as valid was not obtained in a scientific lab, but through other “less certain” and “less precise” methods that have nothing to do with the hard sciences.

Please feel free to leave a comment, agree, or disagree.

Works Cited

1.  Lewis, C.S. Mere Christianity.  New York: MacMillan, 1980.

Copyright © 2013 RationalWorldview.com