The Supernatural

In Medieval natural philosophy, the supernatural made perfect sense: things had their own natures, that caused them to act as they do. But a force other than their nature could intervene and cause them to act otherwise. So bread naturally (per its nature) nourishes us, but a supernatural act can cause it to become the body of Christ.

However the scientific revolution did away with these "natures." There was brute matter, whose only nature was occupy space, and then there were laws imposed on this brute matter by God: in a sense, all of nature only "worked" because of divine commandment. The fact that these were divine commands to nature was why they were called laws! Attempts to explain natural phenomena by "natures" were mocked; see Moliere's parody of medieval natural philosophy where the doctoral student explains that opium causes sleep because of its "dormitive powers."

But many later scientists, under the sway of 19th-century ideologies, forgot the supernatural nature of their own laws, and came to use "supernatural" as a term of derision. But in our modern context the term is what Rand would have called a "stolen concept": any coherent idea of the supernatural is going to catch the modern "laws of nature" in its nets, and that is definitely not something the people using the term derisively want to do!


  1. So for example

    When people engage in acts of sex considered "unnatural" by most religions, is there a force stronger than nature compelling them to act that way?

    1. Yes, there is something other the nature of their bodies LEADING them to act that way: a corrupted spirit. (And of course one think there were demons involved as well, besides the sinners own soul.)

    2. Interesting.

      One wonders if it is possible to live a virtuous life, while always being under a corrupted spirit. (or vice versa?)

      I ask these questions, because a friend of mine once told me, "How come you as an atheist are so prude about sex when many religious people are not? You have no hell to fear of." I had no response.

    3. What in the world do you mean by "UNDER a corrupted spirit"? Do you think the human spirit is something other than us, somehow haunting us?!

      Interestingly, I happen to be reading C.S. Lewis at the moment, and he did not find atheist prudes surprising in the least: a distatste for creation is the common factor in both atheism and prudery!

    4. Indeed, Lewis even said, "The sins of the flesh are bad but not the worst of the sins."

      I remember being shocked when the writer of a traditional Catholic magazine proclaimed that greed for wealth was once considered as bad or worse than sexual immorality.

  2. What’s the distinction, then, between a supernatural force and simply an interaction with another thing that has its own nature? For instance, the nature of a human body is that it will fall quickly if at a height. But a parachute falls much more slowly, so if the body is secured to a parachute, it alters the body’s natural behavior. I don’t imagine anyone would describe that as supernatural.

    1. It is understandable that you'd think this, but there is a very different sense about the sort of nature that Gene is talking about. Once you understand this concept, you'll feel a different pull to it.


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