“Supernatural” is a concept we’re given at an early age, that roughly maps to “things we don’t understand or can’t explain.” The concept is demonstrably incoherent.

The word supernatural means “more than natural,” and implies that supernatural things outside of, or on top of, our normal physical reality, which we describe using physics. Can something exist without being described by physics? Maybe, I have no evidence to the contrary. Can such a thing exist that can interact with physical objects? No, that’s where the concept becomes incoherent.

The Magic Man Behind the Curtain

Let’s suppose we’re asked to believe that something, like God for example, exists outside of physics, and that he affects the workings of nature: healing the sick, turning liquids into other types of liquids for the convenience of his followers, that sort of thing.

A scientist says that if this external actor exists, then we must be able to detect it experimentally. We should be able to shine the spotlight on it, and see what it’s made of and how it works. A believer then responds that God is something that can’t be put under scrutiny.

Let’s examine that claim. Suppose that a supernatural God is real. Two possibilities exist:

  1. God interacts with the physical world, in which case, by the definition of “interact,” he will have a measurable effect on something.
  2. God doesn’t interact with the physical world, in which case we can’t measure his effect, and in which case he has no effect on the world whatsoever. No healing, no free booze. No effect.

Combining the two into a God who has an effect on the physical world yet is undetectable is not merely wrong, it’s just not a coherent possibility.

All is not Lost

That’s not the end of the story. I think we need to replace the concept of “supernatural” with something that makes sense. That’s what my next article is about. Read on »