Unknown vs. Supernatural

I do not believe in the supernatural. I do believe in the unknown. Some people might hear those words and think they are describing completely different things. Others might think I'm quibbling over semantics. But I think it's an important distinction.

The term 'supernatural' typically refers to things that exist outside of our natural world or against our laws of nature. This can includes ghosts, ESP, telekinesis, mythical creatures and other paranormal phenomenon. It also includes god(s).

I have a very basic problem with the concept of the supernatural: It is not possible for anything to exist outside of our laws of nature, because our laws of nature are based on what we discover to exist.

The "laws of nature" are manmade. They are based on observation and experimentation. They are a description of how we understand and describe our universe. And they are open to change as we continue to learn through further observation and experimentation.

Let's consider an example: For hundreds of years scientists believed in spontaneous generation, the idea that life forms could appear from non-living things. For example, maggots springing to life from grain or rotting meat. It took years of experimentation and debate, but, in 1859, Louis Pasteur finally created an experiment that settled the matter, proving that this "spontaneous" life was actual created by propagating microorganisms.

In today's world we can easily verify the existence of microorganisms. We even have the luxury of being able to see them under microscopes (an invention that early scientists did not have on hand).

But that, of course, is not the end of the story. While scientists once believed that life could spawn from non-living matter, Pasteur helped bring about a shift to the idea that life could only come from life (the law of biogenesis). Which leads to the question: how did the first life originally form?

This is another case where science answered one question, but led to another unknown. Can that unknown only be filled with a supernatural answer? Of course not.

Today we know that living organisms are much more complex than we had imagined just a century earlier. Scientists have many theories on the origins of life and recent discoveries are shown that it's possible to create metabolism without cells, shedding light on how life could have originated through environmental chemistry alone. And those discoveries will again change the way we view our universe.

Getting back to the concept of the supernatural, I believe that there are many, many things that we do not know about the natural world. But that does not mean that those unknowns exist outside of the laws of nature. It just means that there are things we haven't figured out yet.

Does that mean I believe in ghosts? Well, no. I do believe that people often experience a feeling of being watched or a sense that there is an unseen presence in the room. I've felt it myself, particularly late at night and usually after reading/watching/thinking something disturbing. And there are scientists exploring some interesting theories of ghostly presences.

Read up on quantum physics, time theory, parallel universes, etc. and you can't help but see how much we don't know about the world around us. These unknowns are exciting. They open the door to new discoveries and even more unknowns.

Yet these unknowns, these gaps in knowledge, are simply things we have not yet discovered about the natural world. There's no reason to assume that these gaps are filled by god(s), ghosts or other "supernatural" beings.


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