Politics Magazine

What’s Up With The Supernatural? – Modern Koans

By Andrew Furst @a_furst

Question: Why Do People Not Believe in the Supernatural?

Response: People do believe in the supernatural. A vast majority of people are theists. Christians, Muslims, and Hindus make up a large portion of the world’s population. All of these people have adopted belief in the supernatural. But I think I know who you’re talking about here. There is a small and growing group of people who don’t believe.

Let’s look at the semantics of your questions. You ask about the supernatural and you talk about it in the context of belief. When you talk about belief, you are operating in a very freewheeling world. You can believe in anything you like.

For instance, if you believe that you can drink boiling water, you may suffer for it, but you can believe.

What’s different about belief in the supernatural and belief in being able to drink boiling water is that in the latter case, it’s likely that you will stop believing. If you drink boiling water, you’re going to stop, fast. This will happen with very little effort or control on your part.

Parting Is Such Sweet Sorrow

You’ve been parting with beliefs all your life. You’ve unconsciously learned to stop believing that you can keep your hand over in a flame when you burned yourself with fire. Maybe you stopped believing you could run across the street without looking both ways if you’ve been hit by a car.

On the flip side you can look back at all the times you’ve been able to transition from belief to knowledge. For example, maybe you thought you could climb a mountain. When you actually did, you transitioned from believing, to knowing you could do it.

Belief ends in three ways. It’s either converted to knowledge, it’s contradicted, or it remains eternally unconfirmed. When I say unconfirmed, I mean that if the object of belief is outside of experience. The belief is never confirmed or denied. For instance, you might believe you can climb Everest, but you never get around to it, so you’ll never know.

The supernatural will always fall into this last category. By definition, the supernatural is outside of experience. So it cannot be confirmed or denied. You’ll never really know.


Generally, there are no consequences to this kind of belief. I can believe that the universe is held together by invisible and undetectable marshmallow fluff. As long as this belief doesn’t contradict any of the laws of nature, I can go to my grave holding this belief without being disproven or harmed.

But if I believe that marshmallow fluff will allow me to cross the street without looking both ways, odds are there that belief is going to be contradicted.

We can be attracted to and enchanted by the supernatural. The popularity of fiction attests to this. Humans love a good story. From Gilgamesh to Harry Potter, we’re enjoy the unreal.

Humans have always been more drawn to a good story than to good facts.
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Supernatural themes can make a story more engaging. Supernatural characters carry with them the weight of authority. Humans have always been more drawn to a good story than to good facts. But when we read Harry Potter, we ultimately know that we cannot call out expecto patronum and have a deer appear to guard us from evil spirits.

When we look at ancient religious text, we find and appreciate important themes and beneficial societal norms. But we see their value without belief in Zeus or Muuya. Atheists look at all religious text in this way. Theists look at all but their own with the same sensibility.

The Rodeo of the Mind

Our attraction to fiction is part of our nature, it is a function of humanity’s most advanced adaptation – language. Our ability to imagine and process possibilities has led to our success as a species. With this ability, we can manipulate both real and imagined concepts with ease, drawing conclusions, and applying the lessons to our lives.

The supernatural is just fodder for the language machine. Stories and institutions that incorporate the supernatural are not without merit or function. But they bear out those functions in the context of sincere belief.
Belief lives in rodeo of the mind. They fill in the blanks of our ever evolving world views. The operate as motivators. They do this independent of real world truth. If we think we can accomplish anything we put our mind to, we very often do. Of course, if we decide to put our mind to breathing underwater, we will fail.

The supernatural lives in this rodeo of the mind, independent of real world truth. The power it has to heal, strengthen, give hope, and so on is real. I know many people who have turned to the supernatural for the strength needed to live truly remarkable and noble lives. This fact cannot be denied.

If someone finds a way to achieve the same results that a belief in the supernatural offers, they’re…
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But, there are boundaries that should be acknowledged and adhered to. Belief cannot be imposed by other people. Experience is the only thing that can turn belief into knowledge. When there is an abundance of common experience, like the fact that the sun rises in the east, then those beliefs can be accepted as true. They become knowledge.

The Passing

If someone finds a way to achieve the same results that a belief in the supernatural offers, they’re likely to abandon the belief. If they can accomplish the same benefit based on facts, then they’re more likely to abandon beliefs in favor of facts.

That is one reason why some people do not believe in the supernatural.

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Modern Koans is an ongoing series that recognizes that good questions are often more important than their answers.

The riddles of God are more satisfying than the solutions of man. ― G.K. Chesterton

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What’s Up With The Supernatural? – Modern Koans
Dialectic Two Step, Modern Koans, Verse Us, Say What?, and Minute Meditations all copyright Andrew Furst

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