Should we stop using the word 'supernatural'?


(Daniel Fisher) #81

Quite true… the problem is you can find very learned, qualified, experienced, recognized, and qualified scholars who say entirely opposite things. So by what standard do we choose which we will trust? Gut instinct, personal preference? Hair color? :open_mouth:

In my example, there’s no way I could compete with the volume of knowledge and study of the scholars involved in the Jesus Seminar. But when I read their works, I found all sorts of unjustified assumptions, question begging, blind importing of their own cultural biases, cases where their exact same methodology led them to opposite conclusions, and in their case, their core methods were entirely fallacious: it required me to believe that Jesus was not influenced by his Jewish culture, and that Jesus’ teachings had no influence on the beliefs of the early church. I could not compete with their knowledge or learning, but I knew ludicrous reasoning when I saw it.

I was able also to read critiques, and see other scholars recognized the same fallacies I saw, and brought up other critiques that I was able to recognize were substantial.

So yes, I agree we shouldn’t just live in skepticism… but just because there is a knowledge gap between any of us lay people and great experts and scholars, it doesn’t follow that there is a logic gap. I can still recognize bad reasoning when I see it, and for me at least, it is those factors which lead me to trust certain scholars or methods over others.


(Christy Hemphill) #82

Honestly, I trust people I identify with and consider “us.” I am aware there are problems with that sometimes, but it is how human social dynamics works.

Sure. But I don’t have time to even begin to evaluate the logic of everyone in every area, especially if there is controversy. And you can reason very well based on wrong facts or assumptions, which I as a non-expert would not necessarily be able to recognize. There are plenty of areas I am just going to accept the conclusions of people I trust, assuming they have done a good job.


(Phil) #83

Good thoughts and a good question. There is no way we can know everything and have to trust others to some extent. While on matters of opinion and interpretation, it becomes less clear and we probably fall back on confirmation bias more than we should, in most situations these sort of judgements are not done in a vacuum, and we have some framework to go on. Both in science and other fields, peer review is important. What do other people in the field with specialized knowledge think of the ideas put forth? Is there a consensus or is the item considered an outlier? What is the strength of the basis of the ideas? Is the research flimsy or robust? Has it been confirmed?
I also am cynical enough to look for motivation. Are they trying to sell me something, be it a book or a seminar or an appeal for a donation? Do they have a financial interest in whatever they are pitching? Does their job depend on it or do they make money off of it? (Not that that is always bad, but you have to look for bias. )
Ultimately, we all try to use wisdom in looking at things, and do well to listen to Paul’s advice to Timothy.


(Daniel Fisher) #84

Appreciate the thoughts… speaking of motivation, I know this may not be a popular thought here, but that is at least a factor in my skepticism of Evolution. 100% of atheist scientists, without exception, have a philosophical need to find a natural explanation for origins be it of life in general or human life in particular.

Which is why I end up being so dubious of the conclusions of Christian scientists who choose to utilize the same method that philosophically guarantees that the only conclusion permitted will be a naturalistic one.

I am far more interested in the conclusion of a Christian scientist that is entirely open to exploring the claims of ID, who is willing to follow the evidence absolutely wherever it leads, yet then concludes certain phenomena are the result of strictly natural causes.


(Phil) #85

Of course many EC folks here started as YEC adherents, moved through ID and wound up accepting EC based on the evidence having looked at the options. Philosophically, I think virtually all EC folk, myself included, agree with intelligent design by God and accept it as an integral part of creation, but reject ID as an organized movement because of the lack of evidence and the difficulty in seeing how science could detect it as other than a warm fuzzy feeling.


(David Heddle) #86

That is, in fact, what many of us did. We sympathetically examined ID (1) and found it lacked predictive power and falsifiability. It works as an apologetic, but fails miserably, IMO, as a science.

Although I will add that I’d personally quibble with your phrase “strictly natural causes”. Still preferring the term “theistic evolution”, I (speaking only for myself) believe in a sovereign, omnipotent, omniscient God who, the evidence strongly indicates, used evolutionary means as a secondary cause to create biodiversity. But the process was never out of his control, nor does it preclude his performing a supernatural intervention whenever it pleases him to do so.


(1) I was an early (circa 2003) signatory on the DI “Dissent from Darwinsm,” but a few years later asked them to remove my name.


(Marshall Janzen) #87

This is a really interesting example. Not only is wind described as blowing in the quail, a strong east wind also blows apart the sea to make a path for the Israelites to cross (Exodus 14:21). By this criteria both the provision of quail and the parting of the sea become “natural” events.

But “wind” is even more interesting than that. In Hebrew (and other semitic languages), the same word underlies “wind” and “spirit”, two concepts that to our minds occupy different categories of natural and supernatural. This is why there’s debate over whether Genesis 1:2 speaks of the “spirit of God”/“Spirit of God” hovering over the waters or a “mighty wind”/“wind of God” blowing over the waters. In English and our culture, we feel the need to reduce these terms to something that clearly falls on one side or the other of the natural/supernatural divide. Yet the very practice of doing so shows our distance from the worldview and language of the Bible.

So was it a strong easterly wind that drove back the sea or a mighty spirit from the east governed by God? Perhaps seeing wind as something not animated by a spirit – as if it must be either natural or supernatural – shows we live in a different world than the authors of Scripture.


(Christy Hemphill) #88

In the minority language I study (the culture has an animistic worldview) the word for wind (and current in water) and spirit are the same word as well. Also they have an animacy/inanimacy gender system where non-living things take different forms of modifiers and verbs than living things. But some inanimate things in nature are grammatically animate (sun, moon, stars, thunder, lightning, waterfalls, rainbows) because they are seen to have spiritual dimensions. All this to say I think you are right on in pointing out that just because something is obviously natural not supernatural to us doesn’t mean it is perceived that way in other languages and cultures.


(Marshall Janzen) #89

That’s interesting! Genesis 1 has something similar, even though Hebrew doesn’t mark nouns as animate/inanimate. The days are arranged in two groups of three, the first being about forming realms and the second being about filling those realms with animate creatures. While the plants are within the forming-the-realm section (day 3), the sun, moon and stars are within the filling-with-creatures section (day 4). Even more, the sun and moon are described as “ruling” day and night. While we instinctively write this off as merely poetic expression, it is unlikely that it was originally intended as such, especially given the arrangement that groups sun and moon with creatures.


(Jay Johnson) #90

How many atheist scientists do you think there are? Here’s a 2009 Pew Forum survey:


The percentage of scientists who actually say that they are atheist is only 17%, while the number of scientists who believe in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is more than double the number of atheists. As well, the total number of religious believers among scientists is 48%, which is exactly equal to the those on the atheist, agnostic, and “nothing in particular” side.

Scientists are only “philosophically bound” to reach naturalistic conclusions in relation to their scientific work. It seems that in their personal beliefs, they are just as likely to reach a theistic conclusion as an atheistic/unsure one.


(Tim) #91

If the case is to preserve the spiritual nature of a phenomenon, should we avoid interpreting non specified and ambiguous mentioned terms in Genesis 1 as being literal physical phenomenon we can physically observe today?

I doubt it would weaken any argument on either side of the creation debate. It may just remove what is stated from being used as an argument altogether and let each individual decide for themselves what to believe or accept.

If we assume we know exactly what happened in Genesis 1 we are removing it from any debate, and making a fixed stand that can not be “unfixed” in our minds. Is it feasible to put Genesis 1 in a position that it can not be fluid? If God wanted to give us the exact historical account that could never be refuted, ambiguous terms would have been avoided at all cost.


(Christy Hemphill) #92

No. The point is we should understand that the Hebrews had a different worldview than ours and recognize the text represents their worldview. We interpret incorrectly when we assume they saw the world exactly the way we do and impose our modern perspective on them.


(Mitchell W McKain) #93

Yes… AND… if we see God as the author then we can apply the same principle to understand His meaning in the text. But in this case our best clue to understanding God’s perspective is to found in the universe He created and the information He sends to us via the universe like the fossil record, the light from far away both in space and time, and all the rest of the scientific evidence. If we have faith in God then why would we not believe that the information God sends us from all creation is trustworthy and truthful? Otherwise are we not calling God a liar.

But what of the lies of the devil? Where are they to be found? In God’s creation or in the lying hearts of sinful human beings, even as they twist the Bible on its head to justify doing the most horrible things to other people? Where did Jesus say the lies of the devil were to be found? Jesus found the devil’s lies in the religious leaders who tried to poison the minds of others against those doing good because it threatened the stranglehold of their own power.


(Dennis Venema) #94

I was once a big fan of Behe in particular, and ID in general. I “lost my faith” in ID before I decided I was an EC. That’s not to say that I’ve concluded that everything within biology is strictly due to natural causes - that’s a very large claim and I don’t see how science could rule that out - but that I don’t find the ID approach helpful or plausible.


(Erik Nelson) #95

Not so sure that’s accurate. If there were regions of the universe where the laws of physics were different. The domain boundaries between the regions would have very peculiar and very obvious characteristics.

The laws of physics are integral to the fabric of space time. One cannot change them Willy Nilly.


(Erik Nelson) #96

If the word “supernatural” is not in the Latin Vulgate. What about Latin translations of any of the Creeds? Where exactly did the term come from?


(Christy Hemphill) #97

The question isn’t “where did the word come from?” The question is “how is it being used now”? The way we use supernatural in modern philosophical discussions is influenced by Hume’s Enquiry concerning human understanding which defined a miracle as a violation of the laws of nature by the Deity or some invisible agent, i.e. a supernatural agent.


(Erik Nelson) #98

Offer that the best translation of the Hebrew word ruach is “breezy breath” Which covers all bases?

Hence the entire Trinity is present in the first few verses of Genesis 1:

God the father.
God’s Breezy breath.
God’s spoken word. “Let there be light”.


(Erik Nelson) #99

Think Frank Turek takes exception to the word “violation”, suggesting instead. More of a manipulation of the laws of physics, so as to bring about an event. Contrary to end surprising to. Human expectations.

He uses the example of Grabbing a book. Out of midair as it falls towards the ground. Not actually a violation of the law of gravity. Rather, overpowering the law of gravity with another law.

God’s interventions into human history on Earth appear to be surprising and miraculous because God is non visible. Unseen. Like an invisible hand grabbing the book holding the book up against gravity. Not a “violation” of the laws of physics. Merely, a manipulation of them overpowering one with another.

By means even the best human scientists do not yet understand.

Think David Hume’s definition is very leading. The very definition, paints theists into a corner. And creates a divide. An intrinsic conflict between religion and science. Which is not logically required?


(Tim) #100

That is a big issue. The Hebrews were not supposed to have their own worldview. They had a covenant with God. It was God’s worldview. In the NT, Paul said let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus. The church is also supposed to have God’s worldview. How are we to do that without a record of God’s worldview?

How do we reconcile a modern view with God’s? Was God explicitly ambiguous so we could reconcile Genesis 1 with a changing worldview? As an aside, I do not need to have the Hebrew’s worldview if it was not inline with God’s.

If that is what the “No” was for, then I can understand the thought process, that the Hebrew’s and their OT, was just another worldview, and had nothing to do with God at all.

If I am seeking God’s worldview, I am not imposing mine onto anyone else’s worldview. I am testing to see how close God would come to what we think ourselves. Unless having the mind of God is a pointless endeavor?

The point of my original question was, “Should we avoid using a literal interpretation in Genesis 1, in any existing or future worldview?”. At least in an atempt to say dogmatically what was what, because humans may never get to a realization of what was recorded regardless of the when.

A figurative interpretation is even more unstable than a literal interpretation. But one could insert any interpretation at any level of understanding without necessarily producing contradiction elsewhere. Given the fact that is why some interpret it as figurative.