The supernatural or supranatural (Latin: super, supra "above" + natura "nature") is anything above or beyond what one holds to be natural and exists outside natural law and the observable universe. Science limits its explanations for phenomena to natural explanations, a process known as methodological naturalism, and cannot consider supernatural explanations, as they cannot be investigated empirically. Those who hold mystical or theistic beliefs may have no conception of supernatural phenomena, but might perceive the scientist's natural laws, on their own, as being subnatural. To explain something using natural causes and excluding supernatural causes is to naturalize it. To explain something as resulting from supernatural causes is to supernaturalize it.
Supernatural themes are often associated with paranormal and occult ideas, suggesting the possibility of interaction with the supernatural by means of summoning or trance. In secular societies, religious miracles are typically perceived as supernatural claims, as are spells and curses, divination, and the afterlife. Characteristics for phenomena claimed as supernatural are anomaly, uniqueness, and uncontrollability. Thus, the conditions in which such phenomena are thought to manifest may not be reproducible for scientific examination.
Adherents to supernatural beliefs hold that such occurrences exist just as surely as does the natural world. Opponents argue that there are natural, scientific explanations for what they often perceive as the supernatural.
One complicating factor is that there is no universal agreement about what the definition of “natural” is, and what the limits of naturalism might be. Concepts in the supernatural domain are closely related to concepts in religious spirituality and occultism or spiritualism. Additionally, by definition anything that exists naturally is not supernatural.
The term "supernatural" is often used interchangeably with paranormal or preternatural — the latter typically limited to an adjective for describing abilities which appear to exceed the bounds of possibility (see the nature of God in Western theology, anthropology of religion, and Biblical cosmology). Likewise, legendary characters such as vampires and leprechauns are not considered supernatural.
Many supporters of supernatural explanations believe that past, present, and future complexities and mysteries of the universe cannot be explained solely by naturalistic means and argue that it is reasonable to assume that a non-natural entity or entities resolve the unexplained. Those who consider only natural explanations to be acceptable in science would support such as explanations as The Big Bang, abiogenesis, and evolution for the origin of the universe and the origin and development of life. By its own definition, science is incapable of examining or testing for the existence of things that have no physical effects, because its methods rely on the observation of physical effects. Proponents of supernaturalism say that their belief system is more flexible, which allows more diversity in terms of intuition and epistemology. Some opponents argue that many supernatural claims involve physical phenomena that can be tested, but believe that scientific tests to date have failed to uphold the validity of those claims.
Views on the "supernatural" include that it is:
- Indistinct from nature: From this perspective, some events occur according to physical laws, and others occur according to a separate set of principles external to known physics. For example, those who believe in angels and spirits generally think that they are naturally present in the cosmos. Some religious people also believe that all things that humans see as natural act in a systematic fashion only because God wills it so, and that natural laws are an extension of divine will.
- Incorrectly attributed to nature: Others believe that all events have natural and only natural causes. They believe that human beings ascribe supernatural attributes to purely natural events, such as lightning, rainbows, floods, and the origin of life. Opponents of the idea of the supernatural say that humanity's knowledge of the world is continuously increasing. Some occurrences, once assumed supernatural, can today be explained by scientific theories. Studies suggest supernatural phenomena are not detectable in scientifically controlled conditions. There have been, for example, various studies on astrology, most of them with negative results.
- Part of a larger nature: This is a view largely held by monists and process theorists. According to this view, the "supernatural" is just a term for parts of nature that modern science and philosophy do not yet properly understand, similar to how sound and lightning used to be mysterious forces to science. Materialist monists believe that the "supernatural" consists of things in the physical universe not yet understood by modern science, while idealist monists reject the concept of "supernatural" on the grounds that they believe "nature" is the non-material. Neutral monists maintain that "nature" and "supernature" are artificial categories as they believe that the material and non-material are both either equally real and simultaneously existent, or illusions that stem from the human mind's interpretation of reality.
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- Dualism, the view that the mental and the physical have a fundamentally different nature as an answer to the philosophical mind-body problem.
- Ex nihilo, (Latin, "out of nothing"), refers to a doctrine of creation that claims the world, by divine fiat, emerged from a state of absolute nothingness.
- God of the gaps, the ascription to a supernatural cause that which science does not yet explain.
- Idealism, any theory positing the primacy of spirit, mind, or language over matter. It includes claims that mental structure or function plays some crucial role in forming the world of experience.
- Magical thinking
- Monism, the view that the mental and physical are ultimately part of the same super-reality which both the physical and non-physical world(s) compose. The view that differing realities are not the end-all-be-all in themselves. Monism can involve material monism, the view that only the physical is real and all else are manifestations of the physical; idealist monism which holds that only the mental is real and all else are manifestations of the mental; or neutral monism.
- Quantum mysticism
- Vitalism, the doctrine that life cannot be explained solely by mechanism. Often, the nonmaterial element is referred to as the soul, the "vital spark", or some kind of spiritual energy.
- Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry
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- Wonders of the Invisible World, Cotton Mather, Boston, 1693
- More Wonders of the Invisible World, Robert Calef, 1700
- The Supernatural Side of Maine, C. J. Stevens, 2002
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