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Discussion 14 to Meditation 832
Defining the Supernatural

by: Will Petillo

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Since the question of what "supernatural" actually means was raised in this discussion, and JT went to the trouble of defining "God," I thought I would take on the easier task of defining the supernatural. The following is something I came up with when reflecting on the concept of magic, and I think encompasses the way the term is used pretty well.

Supernatural: Any case of intention having a direct effect on the physical world.

Notice here that it is not the event, but the manner in which an event comes about that matters. For example, I look at a candle, I decide I want it lit, and then it lights. Supernatural? Depends. If one could accurately describe what happened through purely physical processes (neurons firing, telling my hand to move, striking a match, causing a reaction that produced a flame), then the event is not supernatural. But, if the physical connection between my thought and the candle being lit were severed--if it lit as a direct result of my intending it to do so--then the event was a supernatural occurrence.

This definition, I believe, could also be used in the case of an incredible cosmic event to differentiate between God and a highly advanced alien species. The key is how the act was performed. If the sight of stars being rearranged or whatever were accomplished through the use of physical laws--subtle in understanding and complex in application as those laws may be--then the perpetrators were not the Supreme Being. If, on the other hand, the phenomenon occurred simply because they willed it to be so, then that would be demonstrative of a more divine power at work.

As it stands, everything we have studied seems to be explainable through physical processes, and it seems likely that trend will continue indefinitely. If prayer worked, that would be evidence of the supernatural...but it doesn't. The same goes for ESP, clairvoyance, and so on. However, it seems unlikely that the question of whether, in the entire universe, there exists even one example of supernatural phenomenon will ever be conclusively put to rest. For the confounding variables are just too many. Something for which no physical process quite seems to fit may be explained at a later date when science advances; no matter how many claims of supernatural occurrences are debunked, there are still an infinite number of places left to look; and in the case of aliens messing with us, their technology may so advanced that it is indistinguishable (at least to us) from divine intervention.