By definition the supernatural cannot be explained by any known laws of physics, chemistry, or biology and ‘supernatural’ events tend not to be repeated either naturally or artificially on any consistent basis. This leads some scientists, most notably Richard Dawkins, to vehemently advocate against any belief in supernatural events. Because no universally accepted scientific proof of the supernatural exists, anyone who believes in a supernatural event, whether a religious miracle or a thing that goes bump in the night, is doing so out of faith rather than reason. This unprovability is problematic for people like Dawkins who consider faith to be a “brain virus” (Dawkins Jan/Feb 1997) and draw a line directly from unproven miraculous claims to suicide bombings, genocides, assassinations, and any number of other atrocities. Fortunately, many people of faith do not follow this line to its deadly end; probably because most believers have enough sense to let modern secular values temper their interpretations of ancient sacred texts.
Depending on one’s experiences, however, belief in supernatural beings or events can require varying degrees of faith. It is one thing for a person to believe in the supernatural because he/she has been told to, it is quite another for a person to believe as a result of personal experience. Unfortunately, it is probably not possible to quantify the number of people who believe they experienced the supernatural. Some people who claim they have are lying and some people who believe they have experienced the supernatural probably keep that information to themselves for fear of ridicule or unfavorable psychiatric diagnoses. In my own life, however, I know two people who claim to have communicated with their dead mothers, one person who claims to have seen the ghost of his dog, another who claims to have worked in a haunted building, and two people who claim to have been chased by La Mona. Even Michael Shermer, a noted skeptic, claims that he and his family may have once communicated with a ghost (Shermer 2014). Admittedly, I do not know if I believe these stories or not, but I can say that the people who told them do not seem either crazy or dishonest, well except for one of La Mona’s victims, but that has more to do with other aspects of his personality. I know that human perceptions can often deviate wildly from reality, but in the absence of other conflicting evidence, I do not feel comfortable telling someone what he/she “really” saw when I was not there.
In the end, whether I believe that these events actually happened or not, is irrelevant. If they never happened they pose no challenges to my generally evidence-based worldview and if they did, the few events that cannot be explained by biology, chemistry, or physics do not negate the fact that science explains the overwhelming majority of the universe much better than any sort of magical thinking. I exhort my readers to never accept a faith-based explanation when a demonstrable scientific one exists, and for the love of any and all deities that may or may not exist do not commit atrocities in their names. I do not, however, think it is important to challenge supernatural beliefs not (yet?) disproven by science. This is partly because I believe that science only deserves that title when it does have evidence to back it up and partly because I would like the general public to develop a love of science, particularly of ecology. I do not think attacking beliefs that people hold dear without justification will win science or scientists much affection.
Atrocity: An action, which does demonstrable unnecessary harm to people, animals, or the environment. Examples of atrocities include murder, rape, and nuclear testing. Atrocities do not include being gay, drinking coffee, using condoms, drawing unflattering portraits of prophets, or any other action prohibited by a sacred text that cannot be demonstrated to cause actual harm.
La Mona: A half monkey half woman Central American monster known for bothering men.
Dawkins, R. Jan/Feb 1997. “Is Science a Religion”. From The Humanist.
Shermer, M. Oct 2014. “Infrequencies”. http://www.michaelshermer.com/2014/10/infrequencies/#more-4510