Should we stop using the word 'supernatural'?

Fair enough

Mark, you are clearly right. If God created the universe ex nihilo then the universe is in some sense an expression of Who God is. In fact the Bible says the heavens are telling the glory of God.

Now there a several problems here. Some people, who are pantheists or panentheists, say that the universe is God, which is not true, because the universe is separation from God, just as something that we make or create is a product of our thinking, but not an integral part of ourselves.

God created the universe, but is not a part of God. This is good because if the universe were a part of God then it would be timeless and perfect, which it is not.

The problems of the natural/supernatural dualism does not arise from theology, but from philosophy. Aristotle wrote the books on Physics (the Natural) and Metaphysics (the Supernatural.) The logic of the excluded middle reinforces philosophical dualism.

Science and theology study two different and complementary aspects of Reality. Philosophy needs to reconcile them, but it does not for ideological reasons. I have written a new paper on this basic issue and I am looking for a publisher.


logic implies the existence of SOMETHING transcendent beyond our fabric of space time. Something if you will in the “bulk of hyperspace” which caused our Universe to exist.


Christianity identifies that supernatural something with God the Father of the Bible.

I think of logic as assessing the validity of conclusions drawn from premises. It would be impossible to arrive at the implication drawn here without starting with a premise regarding what is within and what is outside “our fabric of space time”. The Kalam doesn’t show that there is something beyond. It merely shows that if one starts with assumptions regarding a beyond one can arrive at a conclusion regarding the same. Like most of the people I’ve met on this website I think apologetics is futile.

1 Like

Not sure that is an accurate characterization of the argument:

  1. Everything known (from within the fabric of space time) which transitions from non-existence to existence had a cause
  2. the universe had a beginning
  3. so the universe had a cause

that cause had to be something beyond the fabric of space time and all the mass and energy residing therein… For all of those things were results of some prior first cause.

If we define “nature” to be the universe and all of those things. Then the First Cause was supernatural.

That supernatural First Cause could also be God the Father of the Bible

Exactly. It all comes down to how we make definitions and the premises which they contain. If we start out defining nature as deficient in a manner that can only be compensated for by something entirely beyond the known universe, then indeed there must be something beyond the known universe. But from what vantage point can we assay what is properly in or out of the known universe? We cannot reason our way beyond our own limitations.

1 Like

Well, just about to leave for my Pentecostal church,
so I guess that reveals how I feel about miracles.


Both “miracle” and “supernatural” are umbrella terms coined from Latin to describe various events that the Bible calls “signs” and “wonders.” As I said in another thread:

The same distinction applies to “supernatural.” It’s a useful category in the English language, but it’s not the language of the Bible, so the connotations are different. As for myself, I try to avoid both “miracle” and “supernatural,” but it’s almost impossible.

1 Like

That sounds like other things I’ve read from Dr. Walton. But in any case, I cannot disagree with him more strongly. Granted, the ancient Hebrews had an understanding of God which was more eminent, that is, they recognized his presence and activity far more readily in the natural course of events.

But the idea that the ancients could not or did not recognize a distinction between the natural and the supernatural is, forgive me, downright ludicrous.

When Hezekiah was asked for a sign, whether he would prefer to see a shadow progress on its natural course, or see the shadow proceed backwards, he did not reply “either one, God would be involved in both.” Rather, he recognized that one event would be common and natural, and the other an unmistakable deviation from what is natural.

When Joshua stopped the sun in the sky, people were able to recognize “there was never a day like that either before or after” when God did something unique and special, and they recognized it as requiring God’s special imtervention in a way that God doesn’t normally do.

And I really could go on and on, but I’d think the point was obvious. Of course the ancient Hebrews could tell the difference bwetween the natural and the supernatural, between the regular way God works within nature, and the times that he directly does things that are contrary to the way nature ordinarily proceeds without his direct intervention.


The point wasn’t that they couldn’t recognize ordinary and extraordinary. It was that they did not make a distinction between the natural world and the supernatural world. The real world for them had both what we would call supernatural and natural elements intertwined and expected as a normal part of reality. This is how many animistic cultures still see the world. The modern distinction between natural and supernatural is influenced by Hume and his definition of miracles, which is philosophical not biblical.


We only know a small part of the Universe, we cannot say for certain that everything follows these laws.

1 Like

I can’t help but think C. S. Lewis would disagree in the strongest terms that his distinction between natural and supernatural was influenced by Hume, for what it is worth. I don’t know of a more insightful critic of Hume.

Beyond that, I would still disagree with the concept.

I struggle to understand what you’re getting at. They of course recognized (as I do) that larger reality, taken as a whole, had elements that we today would call “natural” and “supernatural.” But they also recognized that these elements inhabited two entirely distinguishable spheres within larger reality. God and his angels could cross that boundary, and enter into and interact with our reality at will, and be frequent visitors in our world. But we could not do the same. They inhabited some part of reality which’s was entirely inaccessible to us, without their permission. I don’t see how that is not recognizing essentially the same thing we mean when we speak of “natural” and “supernatural”?

Besides that, my philosophical understanding of miracle, coming as it does from Lewis, perhaps you could tell me where you object to his philosophy:

But there is one thing often said about our ancestors which we must not say. We must not say “They believed in miracles because they did not know the Laws of Nature.” This is nonsense. When St Joseph discovered that his bride was pregnant, he was `minded to put her away’.’ He knew enough biology for that. Otherwise, of course he would not have regarded pregnancy as a proof of infidelity. When he accepted cepted the Christian explanation, he regarded it as a miracle precisely because he knew enough of the Laws of Nature to know that this was a suspension of them. When the disciples saw Christ walking on the water they were frightened: they would not have been frightened unless they had known the laws of Nature and known that this was an exception. If a man had no conception of a regular order in Nature, then of course he could not notice departures from that order: just as a dunce who does not understand the normal metre of a poem is also unconscious of the poet’s variations from it. Nothing is wonderful ful except the abnormal and nothing is abnormal until we have grasped the norm. Complete ignorance of the laws of Nature would preclude the perception of the miraculous just as rigidly as complete disbelief in the supernatural precludes it, perhaps even more so. For while the materialist would have at least to explain miracles away, the man wholly ignorant of Nature would simply not notice them.

Sorry to keep crossing over, but I can’t keep up with two threads at once:

Edit: Speaking for myself, I don’t object to anything you posted from Lewis regarding miracles or the supernatural. It’s just that those categories are extra-biblical and, thus, often don’t fit the biblical data or the worldview of the ancient audience. If we seek to let the Bible shape our worldview, we should recognize the biblical categories, not the philosophical ones.

1 Like

I embrace these categories Lewis describes because I find them to be Biblical categories.

The Bible of of course emphasizes that God is at work in both what we call the miraculous and the natural. And both occurrences can most certainly be “signs” or ”wonders” in the Biblical sense. I have no disagreement there.

But I object most strenuously to the idea that there was no distinction, corresponding in general to the ideas of natural and supernatural in their mind. Recognizing God”s involvement in all things as they did, it may well have not been a distinction they emphasized or felt the need to distinguish with particular specialized words. Whether or not God was at work was often more important than whether he used natural or supernatural means. All granted. God was at work when he naturally used a wind to drive the locusts away, when he used a wind to bring quail to the Israelites in the desert, when he flooded the earth, etc.

But the idea that distinguishing between “natural” and “supernatural” was not something they did in any way I find far-fetched. I already mentioned Hezekiah and the shadow. Some more…

  • Jesus was at work doing God’s kingdom work both when he said to the invalid, “Son, your sins are forgiven,” and when he said “get up, take your mat, and walk.” But one was clearly recognized as categorically different than the other. “Which is easier…”, he said, as he and his observers both knew quite well that one involved something anyone could do, and the other only could be done by Divine power.

  • Thomas said, “I won’t believe unless I put my fingers in his hands…” because he knew the natural course of events means that after someone dies, they stay dead. When he finally saw Christ, he recognized that something extraordinary, outside of the regular laws and processes of nature, had occurred.

  • Moses turned aside “to see this great sight, why the bush is not burned.” Bushes made of wood that burn consume their fuel short of some, and this one that didn’t. He recognized a categorical difference between the two which is what piqued his curiosity.

  • Nebuchadnezzer knew that very, very hot fire usually kills people thrown into it. We can even assume he had determined this empirically through many previous experiments. So when the three Israelite men emerged unscathed (even when their captors were killed) Nenuchadnezzer recognized that something happened which was not “normal” according to basic principles of Physics that even the Babylonians were aware of. Moreover, Shadrach et al recognized that if they were going to survive, it was going to be only if God intervened in a way to override the regular processes of nature. He may have chosen not to miraculously intervene, at which point they knew what the properties of really hot fire would do to them. As they faced the furnace, they recognized… If
    God intervenes and overrides the regular pattern of nature, we will stay alive. If he doesnt, and “nature takes its course,” we will be dead.

And I could go on and on and on. Simply put, the categories of “_what is expected, or at least not outside the regular occurrence of the world which needs no special or unique intervention from God to happen _” and “what would have been utterly impossible short of God’s direct intervention overriding what normally happens over the course of nature” are mindsets, perspectives, or categories that we certainly find all over the Bible. We just use “natural events” and “supernatural events” as shorthand in our day, but those two categories are not difficult to find clearly understood throughout both the old and new testaments.


Find the words “miracle” and “supernatural” in the Hebrew Bible and Greek New Testament, then.

Because you are being deliberately obtuse.

Because for them nature was inextricably intertwined with God’s activity. Their view of reality was holistic. The divisions natural and supernatural imply a sphere operating without God’s “interference” and a breaking in and “suspension” of the natural when God acts. That wasn’t their worldview. They saw everything in nature as part of God’s activity, the ordinary and the extraordinary. Everything was infused with a spiritual dimension.

I don’t object to his philosophy, but he is speaking as a philosopher and not an anthropologist. “Laws of Nature” is a construct the ANE and the early church did not have. The idea of a miracle being a “violation of the laws of nature” was also not a construct they had. It does not follow that because they had different constructs for understanding reality and categorizing the ordinary and extraordinary, that they could not recognize God’s activity. On the contrary, they saw God’s activity in places we would see “natural causes;” reproduction, droughts and famines, health and illness, wars and conquests, seasons and harvests. For example, fertility and pregnancy were always seen as controlled by God. A virgin birth or a barren woman conceiving were considered signs because they were extraordinary, not because it was God being involved in a “natural” process that he was normally not involved in.

This is not necessarily a wrong view of reality. But it isn’t a modern scientific one. Walton was speaking from a cultural anthropology perspective about worldviews and he wasn’t saying anything different from many other people who have studied the ANE. I don’t think Lewis understood worldviews in the way we understand them today and I think in the paragraph you quoted he failed to suspend his own worldview and projected it on to people who did not share it.


Definitions? Isn’t that definition of nature = fabric of space time with all mass energy residing therein…

Essentially the historic traditional definition for the past 2000 years?

If it ain’t broke don’t fix it?

1 Like

I fear I will side with Lewis on this one. Joseph would have acknowledged “fertility and pregnancy were always seen as controlled by God”, but that didn’t stop him from planning to divorce Mary when he found out she was pregnant. He didn’t take her pregnancy as a sign of “God’s activity” but rather as a sign of, um, “her activity.”

And if God was understood as being involved in all preganancies equally, what new information was conveyed by the angel telling him, “what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.”

Perhaps Joseph, being steeped in ANE culture as he was, should have responded, “EVERY pregnancy is from the Holy Spirit, please tell me something I don’t know.”


1 Like

I have been following this discussion and only commented once early on that supernatural not sufficient to describe the issues. For me, this is a fundamental discussion for BiloLogos. It leads back to the doctrine introduced to Christianity but the emperor Justinian.

  1. If anyone says or thinks that the power of God is limited, and that he created as much as he was able to compass, let him be anathema. [1]

This declaration was one of the most deadly created by the Roman Empire, because it allowed the church unlimited power. By exposing the lie, we can return the logic it overturned, and this is - God created the Laws of Nature and the Spiritual Laws, and He chooses not to violate them.

Therefore, a “miracle” is merely accomplished because those experiencing it, did not understand God’s Laws. We are challenged to understand God’s Laws that allowed Him to act while not violating His Laws. In an enlightened age, we should be up to this task, without using the word “mystery”.

Obviously. The pregnancy wasn’t a sign until the angel confirmed she was telling the truth about the whole virgin birth thing. And then, I don’t know, maybe to him the most extraordinary part was the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophesy, not the “suspension of natural laws.” They did not understand pregnancy as a meeting of two human gametes that produced an organism with genetic material from both parents. Babies were seeds planted in the mother’s womb that God caused to grow.

That there was no human father involved.

Evidently you have as much trouble as Lewis trying to suspend your own worldview. If you have a chance some time, you should take an anthropology course or a cross-cultural communication course.

1 Like