What is supernaturalism?

supernaturalism
Question: "What is supernaturalism?"

Answer:
Supernaturalism is essentially a worldview that includes more than what can be observed and tested by the natural sciences. Supernaturalism allows for the possibility of the supernatural.

Today many people, and especially those who are steeped in the sciences, hold to a philosophy called naturalism, which is the belief that everything is the result of purely natural processes. Whereas pre-modern people often ascribed natural phenomena (rain or drought, volcano eruption, plague of locusts, thunder, etc.) directly to actions of God (or the gods), modern people know that these things are simply natural phenomena that can be scientifically explained. Those who hold to the philosophy of naturalism go further than recognize natural causes for certain events; they exclude God and the supernatural by definition. Supernatural causes are rejected as impossible.

Supernaturalism, on the other hand, allows for the possibility of supernatural intervention—that is, that there is more to the world than what is found in nature or that can be observed and proved by the sciences. God, angels, demons, and the human spirit are all part of the supernatural world; therefore, miracles are possible. For someone holding to the philosophy of naturalism, a miracle is ruled out as a matter of course. For someone holding to supernaturalism, a miracle is a viable explanation for an unexplained event.

Those in the sciences who are hostile to religion and the supernatural often place science at odds with the supernatural. However, there is no inherent conflict between science and supernaturalism. Science can describe for us how God does certain things. We live in an orderly universe in which God has established laws of nature to govern the normal course of events. An erupting volcano can be attributed to natural causes that can be scientifically explained. At the same time, the eruption can also be attributed to the purposes of God, fitting under the general heading of “God’s Providence.” In recent years there has been an effort to explain the plagues of Egypt by identifying natural causes. Even if the plagues were proved to be the result of natural phenomena, it would not rule out the fact that God can use natural causes to bring about His purposes.

The supernatural is above and beyond the laws of nature (like the resurrection of Jesus). A miracle is always supernatural. A miracle is an occurrence in which God intervenes and overrules the “laws” of nature to do something that could never happen “naturally.” However, this does not mean that a miracle cannot be verified by scientific inquiry. After Jesus’ resurrection (a supernatural event), He invited Thomas to verify the results by natural means—examining the wounds that were still evident (see John 20:24–29).

Christians are by definition supernaturalists, but this does not mean that they cannot also be scientists who operate with great competence in the natural world. Johannes Kepler, along with many other pioneering scientists, was a supernaturalist. Kepler once wrote, “I was merely thinking God’s thoughts after him. Since we astronomers are priests of the highest God in regard to the book of nature, it benefits us to be thoughtful, not of the glory of our minds, but rather, above all else, of the glory of God.” Christians affirm that God is the Creator and that creation is a supernatural act, but that God designed the universe to operate in an orderly fashion. It is this order and design that make the study of science possible.

Recommended Resource: Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview by William Lane Craig & J.P. Moreland

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