The Ubiquitous Supernatural

Question from Kelly:
I am curious about how atheists reconcile their belief in only the natural world, i.e. what can be seen and touched and scientifically proven, etc., with the mass amounts of eyewitness accounts of the supernatural? Every time we turn on our televisions we are presented with such accounts of these unexplained supernatural happenings. If you look back through history these occurrences are nothing new. I personally have witnessed such an occurrence. I am just curious as to what atheists have to say about this aspect of our world that has no other explanation than that it’s supernatural. Thank you

Answer by SmartLX:
Not everything in the natural world can be seen or touched or scientifically proven. A lot of it is too far away, or too small, or can only be detected in parts of the electromagnetic spectrum to which human bodies have no access. Fortunately, evidence for many of these otherwise invisible things can be gathered through scientific experiments and technological advances. In most or even all cases (depending on your philosophy) it doesn’t amount to absolute proof, but it makes these things likely enough to exist that we can confidently behave as if they do.

Supernatural phenomena, by contrast, have no such evidence available. Yes, there are countless accounts and claims of the supernatural, but the more one hears the more important it is to ask why none of these people have ever managed to produce substantive evidence for their claims. Not one verified ghost caught on camera, not one psychic established as reliable, not one faith healer with a better success rate than a placebo. Why? How?

My answer to this question has two major parts. One is that there are countless natural phenomena which can be mistaken for supernatural activity, or cause other natural phenomena to be misidentified. There are an infinite number of ways to be wrong about this stuff. The second part is that getting your supernatural story on television can be very financially rewarding if you spin it right. Whether or not it’s true, amazing = ratings, and everyone wants a piece of that. In these ways, an abundance of supernatural claims is entirely plausible in a world with no supernatural phenomena whatsoever.

It’s important to remember that to be wrong does not imply anything further. I think you’re probably wrong about the nature of what you experienced, even without hearing the story, simply because my opinion is that the influence of any supernatural entity is not present to be sensed or detected. But that’s all, I think you’re wrong. Not stupid, not crazy, not lying, not clinically delusional, just wrong.

You can tell us about your own supernatural occurrence and we’ll all see what we think of it, but in the end it will just be another account, another claim. You’re entitled to believe in it if you were convinced by your experience, but that won’t convince the rest of us. If you can’t back it up, you need to find someone else with a story they can back up, if you’re going to increase acceptance of the supernatural by even a tiny bit.

One thought on “The Ubiquitous Supernatural”

  1. Hi Kelly,

    It is also important to note that atheism isn’t a rejection of supernatural claims. There are some (or many) spiritual atheists. Atheism is only the lack of belief in a god or gods. Werewolves, fairies, ghosts, and telekinesis are all separate beasts to tangle with.

    I’ll add that it is very likely an atheist will reject supernatural claims, because if a person applies the same skepticism to the idea of a supernatural claim, as they do to a deity claim, then the conclusion will likely be the same. I’m just pointing out that this isn’t always the case. For the record, I don’t believe in anything supernatural.

    As far as actually answering your question, I think the original response did that well enough. If there were evidence to suggest any supernatural phenomena were real, that’d be great. Unforunately, as there is not, it seems no more likely than a god, or a magician. I don’t particular like the whole “science” vs “religion” thing. I think that war is a mindset that is largely pushed by the religious. I have never had any religious belief, and I have no particular love of science. In fact my atheism predates my knowledge of science completely.
    To me it would make more sense to call the war religion vs skepticism.

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