The word ‘supernatural’ implies miracles can happen and supernatural beings can intervene to break the laws of nature. Supernatural belief goes back centuries e.g. the worship of Neptune and Apollo by the ancient Greeks. Most scientists regard it delusional to think that the rules of nature can be violated by supernatural beings.
And so we tend not to believe in ghosts, and demons, which have not been proven to exist. And we are sceptical of psychics who claim secret knowledge unknown to science or of magicians who say they use occult powers.
Also these days we rightly dismiss a traditional image of God, as a supernatural figure – an old man sitting in the clouds determining everything in the universe and condemning wrongdoers to the torments of hell.
Question about the supernatural
So is there no supernatural reality behind how things appear? Are there no higher forces within the cosmos that science cannot observe? Was Shakespeare ‘s Hamlet wrong to say “there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in our philosophy’?
The paranormal and the supernatural
In the classic bestseller ‘Supernature’, biologist Lyall Watson astonished his readers by describing the paranormal wonders of nature. Take what he says about smell. He describes the ability of salmons to return across thousands of miles of ocean to the same rivers and streams in which they hatched. The gift of eels in recognising a thimbleful of rose scent diluted in a lake covering fourteen thousand square miles. And the talent of male moths in detecting the presence of a female of their species as much as thirty miles away.
“Supernature could become something really supernatural”
Transcendence and the supernatural
You may be unsure about any supernatural reality but be interested in a transcendent dimension to life. Perhaps you recognise there is a deeper aspect of experience involving higher values and principles, such as those to do with feeling humane compassion, having integrity of conduct, and finding meaning and purpose to life. There is a common idea growing that transcendence is possible without its traditional supernatural trappings.
Alternative views of reality
So what is an up-to-date view of reality and the supernatural?
It used to be thought that there are only four possible answers to the question about what is real.
- Only conscious ideas are real and material things are illusory (Idealism).
- Only material things are real and conscious ideas are merely a by-product having no independent reality (Materialism)
- Both conscious ideas and material things are equally real but they exist in different realms of reality which do not influence each other. (Dualism)
- There is no difference between conscious ideas and material things as they are equally part of the same one reality. (Monism)
Swedenborg’s holistic view of reality
Spiritual philosopher Emanuel Swedenborg’s position is a kind of holism. It has been seen as saying that all four of the above answers are correct except in what they deny about reality. Conscious ideas are real and enduring as the idealists said. For Swedenborg they are part of the reality he called the ‘spiritual world’ which includes thoughts, feelings, motives and values.
Material things are also real as the materialists said. He refers to them as the ‘natural world’.
So for him both conscious ideas and material things are real, as the dualists thought, but instead he said they are not disconnected. Every material thing corresponds to some aspect of the realm of conscious mind: the source of both consciousness and material things being a transcendent reality of love and wisdom. For example when I consciously feel affection this is likely to show automatically in my facial expression.
New concept of the supernatural
I would like to suggest that just because there are psychic and spiritual phenomena not easily measurable by science, it does not mean that such things defy the laws of nature: in other words that transcendence is made possible by a new rather than outmoded concept of what is supernatural.
In rejecting an obsolete supernatural idea of God, is there not a danger of turning one’s back on the possibility of a divine force for good in the universe? This would be like throwing the baby out with the bathwater. You do this when you forget about a mysterious power that can create a better level of heart and mind present within your soul. You also do it when you forget that this power acts as a divine source of humane love and wisdom in which spiritually-minded people can put their trust.
New concept of a supernatural divine being
Swedenborg challenged the old notion of a God who controls everything in our world. Instead his idea of God is one who gives power to people to choose for themselves how they live their lives rather than interfering to get his own way. This is like a loving parent who allows the growing children to make mistakes in order to learn the lessons of life. His idea of God is therefore one who allows us inner freedom over what we intend even if this means us at times creating our own unhappiness. We can do this it seems by rebelling against our inner conscience and falling into the disorderly ways of our times.
At the same time Swedenborg maintains that the Divine Being provides everyone with countless good impulses and opportunities and this can help compensate for their foolhardiness. This is a God of compassion who wants every one to be deeply happy but who knows this is not possible when people allow themselves to be infected by selfish desire. According to this view, it is not a supernatural being but rather each person living a life of crime and corruption who is responsible for adding to the social evils of our day.
“God exists in all time independently of time and in all space independently of space. … Nature and its time and space had to have a beginning; God, who exists apart from time and space, did not. “ (Emanuel Swedenborg, spiritual philosopher)
Copyright 2015 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author Heart, Head & Hands (https://spiritualquestions.org.uk/2012/10/heart-head-hands-ebook/)