Saturday, 27 November 2010 05:37 pm
cjbanning: (The Bishop)
[personal profile] cjbanning
The notion of the supernatural assumes that there is a natural order to the universe independent not only of the efforts of human beings to describe it (i.e., scientific models) but also of the will of God whose actions are assumed to be in opposition to, or at least contravention of, it. Why would/should such an order exist?

If an elephant were to suddenly crash through the roof of the Parsonage, that'd certainly be outside of common, every-day experience, but I don't think one would call it supernatural; one would simply assume a plane passed over carrying an elephant, and encountered some type of difficulty. Calling something supernatural seems to me to be a statement not only about what we do experience, but what we could--something which is not only beyond our current scientific models, but in some way beyond the ability of scientists to model ever. Then again, since I'm already working from the assumption that the notion of supernaturalism is incoherent, there's probably plenty of room to accuse me of attacking a straw person.

Aquinas writes of the miraculous being "beyond the order or laws of the whole created nature " ( ST I:102:4); I'd love to think that this understanding is no longer the operative one in Christian and cultural Christian understandings of the supernatural, but I'm unconvinced.

God's existence, which is not an empirical phenomenon, is transcendent (as well as immanent--but there is something implicilty transcendent about immanence, perhaps?). I can't touch the Trinity, although I can experience it mystically, and it can touch me through the sacraments (but there's nothing supernatural about THEM!) But supernaturalism isn't transcendent, but empirical; if a supernatural event occurs, the assumption is that someone can hear or see or feel the event and/or its consequences, but that it somehow still gets to count as Other. It's a confusion of the categories, trying to have one's cake and eat it too.

Yet the question then is how we make sense of the way(s) God moves in and/or through the World, is made manifest in that which is the case, representing the wholly Other impinging on that which is not Other. God's actions in and/or through the world--of which reality's very existence is the most obvious, since God is the creator of heaven and Earth, all that is seen and unseen--ARE empirical phenomena (I think?--but the fact that they are God's actions is NOT empirical). They're simply not supernatural.

My project is basically to try to reconcile Wittgenstein's claim in Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus that "God does not reveal [Godself] in the world" with Christian orthodoxy by making a distinction between "in the world" and "through the world"--which would, I think, (to quote my friend Bryce) "keep the miraculous actions of God within the normal operations of the world."

I think that brings with it a denial of the supernatural, at least as I define it, because in my understanding supernaturalism requires that God, spirits, angels, demons, ghosts, etc. be able to act on the world in a way which falls outside its normal operations.

But if the natural is simply the laws of the universe as they are understood or expected, then every time a scientist gets a reading in her laboratory she didn't expect, she's experiencing the supernatural. That strikes me as a fairly absurd conclusion.

I suppose I define "natural" as something like that which follows the physical laws of the universe independent of how they are understood or expected--and then I question what leads us to believe there are physical laws of the universe which are indepedent not only of a) how they are understood or expected (since we are constantly revising those expectations), but also b) the will of God (since, to the supernaturalist, God can act outside those limits).

It seems that if God does something which seems to not adhere to our understanding and expectation of how the universe operates, then the issue is some failure in our understanding or expectation.
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"This is my prayer: that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you to determine what is best."
-- St. Paul's Epistle to the Philippians 1:9-10

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