User:Bob M/supernatural

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As performed by
Tim the Enchanter

By the powers of woo

Given the traffic accident which our current Supernatural page (along with its talk page) represents I'm proposing a restart.

Belief in the supernatural reflects a failure of the imagination.
—Edward Abbey[1]

Supernatural” is an adjective which can refer to events, entities, or explanations, or to powers claimed to be possessed by certain individuals. What all these have in common is that is that they they do not conform to a naturalistic worldview.

Alleged supernatural events would include interventions by poltergeists or a God, virgin births, or miraculous healings. Injuries or illnesses of unknown origin may be blamed on supernatural causes, or curses. Clearly, if these events could be demonstrated to have actually happened they would cease to be “supernatural” and could be investigated by science.

Supernatural beings include gods, fairies, ghosts, spirits, and suchlike. Were any credible evidence provided for their existence they would leave the realm of the supernatural and enter the world of the mundane.

Supernatural explanations usually entail the interference of an alleged supernatural being to explain a real-world event. For example, the suggestion that the Christian God sent hurricane Katrina to punish the US for something or other. Were it possible to demonstrate both the existence of the supernatural being and its interference in the real world then the explanation would cease to be supernatural.

Supernatural powers are those claimed to be held by people such as psychics, fortune tellers, dowsers etc. As with all claimed supernatural activity these powers cannot be demonstrated — however, if they could, they would leave the realm of the supernatural. [2]

History of supernatural belief[edit]

Supernatural beliefs may have arisen due to a variety of factors, such as the human tendency to seek explanation, pareidolia, and pattern recognition.[3] A strain of prey species whose threat detection system does a good job of spotting potential predators in the background clutter, but with some false alarms, survives better than a strain which does not startle easily, but occasionally misses a leopard in the trees. In other words, we were bred to be spooked by shadows. The inducement of altered states of consciousness may also have played a part.[4]

Although the precise nature of the earliest supernatural beliefs remains hazy and the particular contents of the earliest religions have proven elusive, archaeological remains allow us to to make some general speculations.

One of the earliest pieces of evidence for supernatural beliefs is the first known ceremonial burial at the Qafzeh Cave in Israel, dating to about 92,000 years ago.[5] Ceremonial burial presumably indicates that early humans had some concept of the afterlife and may also suggest some kind of ancestor worship.

Ceremonial burials such as the ones at Qafzeh, along with cave paintings and artefacts such as statuettes have been taken to imply that the earliest forms of religion were animistic in nature.[4] Specific gods, goddesses, and other supernatural entities are apparent in the mythology of early civilizations such as the Sumerians, Egyptians, and Greeks.

Subsequently primitive societies regularly gave supernatural explanations to virtually any natural event for which they had no readily-available naturalistic explanation.

Today science has provided answers to the origin of volcanoes, earthquakes and the rain, thus leaving the supernatural to find refuge in god of the gaps type ideas, the argument being that if science has not yet provided an answer then supernatural explanations are justified.

Origin and history of the term[edit]

The term "supernatural" itself did not come to be used until the 15th century and means, when translated literally from the Latin roots, "above nature."

In the original sense of the coinage, though, it had the connotation of something that was "of or given by god." By the 19th century, its usage had expanded to include other non-material mythical beings such as ghosts, demons, etc.[6] It is, however, worth noting that the natural/supernatural distinction is not universal. Some cultures such as the Nayaka (of India) and the Ojibwe do not have a concept of the supernatural.[7]

Modern supernatural beliefs[edit]

Notwithstanding the advances of modern science and rationality, a vast number of supernatural beliefs remain: this would include such traditional ideas as the belief in gods, ghosts and spiritualism. Furthermore, vendors of traditional supernatural services such as tarot card readers psychics and astrologists remain well-employed.

Nevertheless although many traditional religious/supernatural beliefs are on the wane (fact checking required) they seem to be being replaced by new ideas about "spirituality" which may be linked to ideas such as magical thinking, the power of crystals, pyramids or "quantum".

As a consequence it may sometimes become difficult to draw a hard and fast line between the supernatural and full-on pseudoscience.

The difference can usually be found in the claimed agency: while truly supernatural believers will usually maintain that some hidden supernatural intelligence — a god, daemon or spirit — is at work; pseudoscience practitioners maintain that, if only the scientific community would open its eyes to their wonderful knowledge, then their work should be accepted as no more than standard science. Nevertheless the overlap remains.

See also[edit]


  1. QuotationsBook
  2. Just as alternative medicine that works is called "medicine", so supernatural events that are demonstrable are called "natural".
  3. Justin L. Barrett. Exploring the Natural Foundations of Religion. Trends in Cognitive Sciences – Vol. 4, No. 1, January 2000
  4. 4.0 4.1 J. David Lewis-Williams. (2010) Conceiving God: The Cognitive Origin and Evolution of Religion. Thames & Hudson, London.
  5. Ofer Bar-Yosef et al. Shells and ochre in Middle Paleolithic Qafzeh Cave, Israel: indications for modern behavior. Journal of Human Evolution Volume 56, Issue 3, March 2009, Pages 307–314
  6. Supernatural in the Online Etymological Dictionary
  7. Nurit Bird-David. "Animism" Revisited. Current Anthropology Vol. 40, No. S1, Special Issue Culture—A Second Chance? (February 1999), pp. S67-S91