A paper I wrote a while back for a world religions class at KCC
28 April 2017
Does it continue to make sense to believe in supernatural entities in an age of science?
The idea that science can be defied with the amount of convincing evidence it brings is very faint. The word “science” has evolved over the past few 600+ years with inexplicable results. While it is of course possible to choose not to believe in science, many would call this irrational thinking. For the span of human existence, there have people of both sides, those believing in a “higher power” or supernatural spirit, and those who believe only that which can be proved to the senses. Regardless of perspective, it is apparent that there is a balance of positive and negative, the idea that everything has an opposite. There are infinitely items or ideas on both poles of dualism. North and south, night and day, praise and blame, joy and sadness, to like or not to like, the list is endless. To say that it makes no sense to believe in supernatural entities in an age of science is just as plausible as saying it makes perfect sense.
The perceived notion of what the word “supernatural” means, what it even means for something to “make sense” and how science is merely a perspective or an understanding are all factors in answering the above question. It will always make sense to believe in supernatural entities in an age of science just as it will make no sense to do so. For the sake of clearly stating the thesis of this paper, the short answer to the above question is yes. It is very important to keep in mind though that life is up to the individual, what to believe and not believe, and therefore both sides of this question can be equally valid. What this comes down to is personal preference of each individual, and each path has countless hours of curiosity and learning, triumphs and downfalls to be had. It is a choice.
Depending on where, how, and who by the reader of this was raised, believing in supernatural entities may be the only way to understand why we exist, and for others this may sound absurd. Therefore, to ask if it continues to make sense to believe in supernatural entities in an age of science is the same as asking if it continues to not make sense to believe in supernatural entities in an age of science. Due to the nature of human beings creating language to accommodate our growing and ever changing perspectives, this question hints at the word science having the authority of being superior over all, that science is a belief itself. This already is a very diverse and intricate topic, and further defining what a belief is seems to be needed.
But how to do this? One can go to a dictionary or the internet and find the word belief, and accept that these symbols, “b-e-l-i-e-f” and the sounds associated with it, are what we agreeably call a definition. Although it may be very difficult, and very irrational, at any given time one may say “I no longer wish to agree with the English (for example) language, and I would like to take all of these symbols and sounds, change them up and make my own.” Expressing this aloud or to one’s self requires an initial use of the person’s language, but rarely, if anyone, will do this. But the very fact that this is an idea, means it is possible. In saying this, we can determine that while it is possible to believe in this or that, one’s experiences shape what one is bound to choose. There are those who completely expel any notion of science and put all faith in the hands of a god, a ritual, substance, or action.
There are others who do the exact opposite. It is important to note here that the point of saying all of this is to be aware that there are many, many ways to interpret a very open ended question such as the one stated. With that being said, the word “supernatural” and its interpretations must be examined.
The word supernatural indicates that the word “natural” is a defined set of parameters for a given practice, idea, or action, and that adding “super” makes something extraordinary, outside of the “naturalness” of the situation. “It is natural for trees to grow, for a parent to hold their child, for the wheels of a car to turn when the hand turns the wheel.” There are numerous interpretations of what natural is, and supernatural can be used in different contexts as well. Supernatural entities may be the paranormal, such as ghosts, haunts, spirits, souls, or the idea of god(s). Supernatural entities can also mean being strongly communicated with by a figure in a dream, or while intoxicated from a substance. Yet further, a supernatural entity could be a vampire or a werewolf or an alien. For the sake of this paper, any and all of these terms will fall under the word supernatural. To ask if it “…continues to make sense to believe in supernatural entities” implies that for the sake of asking, both parties already believe, or that the vast majority across the world has believed so, and now science can disprove it. The popular notion is that we used to use god or supernatural entities as reasons for things happening that we could not explain otherwise. Now that we have scientifical explanations of events like thunder and lightning, hurricanes, or any other “natural” event, we can say that we no longer need to say that it was caused by god or a supernatural entity. Science even attempts to explain consciousness, and the human mind. Emotions, thoughts, feelings, and ideas are all placed into the psychology and neuropsychology.
Although these do a good job of explaining what is happening physically, and in a sense, explain how these things happen, they have absolutely no notion of why other than to keep the system functioning. There is understanding of what the brain does and how it does it, the understanding of energy intake and expenditure, of thoughts, feelings and behavior being affected by changes in neurochemistry, but there is no science to explain why it exists. If a person is weighed 5 minutes before death, and then 5 minutes after death, the weight is the same, and yet there is no longer life. Yes, science can explain that decomposition begins immediately, but this does not account for the presence of aliveness that a creature has. We have knowledge that neurotransmitters such as serotonin fluctuate with mood, but no idea how much serotonin a human has. Memories are stored in the limbic system, but does anyone have an idea of what a memory looks like? What does love or lust look like inside the brain? These things science has yet to explain. Just because human consciousness and our internal state is vaguely understood, does this mean that it will make sense to believe in supernatural entities only until these things are mapped out?
In order to fully understand what it means to be human, every single human being and their actions would have to be considered when attempting to say that “science can explain all of it” or a “super natural entity can explain all of it”. To believe or not believe in supernatural entities is subjective, and one may adopt characteristics of both sides. Of course, the neurochemistry of each individual plays a huge part in whether or not supernatural entities are even considered, let alone believed in. Most American people have the same routine and stimuli intake, the same diet and thus the same general experiences. Many of these people go to school, get a job, and spend free time possibly doing a variety of activities, but most stay within the guidelines of the social norm as far what substances are consumed. (This example is defending science, presuming that the person has no religious affiliation.) This person is presumed to believe in what is taught at school, or by their environment, thus meaning that belief in supernatural entities is something only for movies or religious people. This person may never encounter a conversation discussing supernatural entities, let alone take time to consider believing in one.
On the flip side, a person living in the heart of the Amazon, or in any places where entheogenic compounds are regularly consumed, supernatural entities are a regular occurrence. This person is likely to say “the white man” is absurd and out of touch with himself for not understanding the spirit that connects every molecule in existence. Of course, there are people in the western world (and everywhere else) that believe in supernatural entities, and this belief has come about due to traumatic experiences, dreams, a guiding notion from a relative, or an internal spur. It ultimately comes down to who is being asked.
Something “makes sense” when it feels right. Understanding how and why something “feels right” is a whole other paper in and of itself. For its use here, something making sense can be understood as the individual person choosing “x” as what belief they will adopt. Personally, I believe that it will always make sense to believe in supernatural entities, as we ourselves are such beings. We are creatures learning how to learn, constantly evolving and changing our environment through changing ourselves, and while we do not yet fully understand the universe or ourselves, supernatural entities in one way or another have been guiding forces in our growth and experiences. I also believe that it is very important to use science whenever possible, not as a tool to limit what we can discover, but as a way to approach unknown territory, to collect information in order to form opinions and new questions about what is being observed.
The issue most people have, is that because we cannot directly talk to or see god, it is not real. But now, more than ever, do we have the opportunity to understand supernatural entities. Because people believe in the idea of them, they are real. I am a firm believer in the notion that because something is thought of or conjured in the mind, it is real, even if it is only a thought or idea. We have this mindset as a society to only believe what we can prove with logic, or math. We generally do everything by the book, and do not wish to consider taboo topics or ideas outside of the norm. Those who use science as a means of shutting down the belief of supernatural or unexplained phenomena are not, in my opinion, using science in its truest sense. Ask a four-year-old if they have any imaginary friends, or your dog as to why it seems to bark at nothing, and we step into territory that logic and math cannot yet or has not explained. All over the world, there are individuals who, through entheogenic experiences with psilocybin mushrooms, LSD, Ayahuasca and many other substances, have claimed to have talked to entities and/or god. Chris Langan, known as the “smartest man in the world” has claimed to “Have proved the existence of god, the soul, and an afterlife, using mathematics”.
There are shows about the paranormal being caught and recorded on camera, and the human imagination has come up with a number of works considered “fiction” such as E.T. or the terminator. We may say that these things are fake or not real, but many believe that they are good stories. Why? Humans are fascinated by that which we do not know, and even in proving concrete things, we have this drive to understand that which we do not. Why not use science to understand supernatural entities? Now more than ever is it appropriate to consider everything that anyone has to say or offer on any topic, and science is a great way to approach it. Not to disprove, but to further our use of science, and to broaden what the word means.
When we teach a four-year-old that his imaginary friends are not real, we are missing out on an opportunity to understand the development of human consciousness. When we disregard the experiences had under the influence of psychedelic substances, we miss out on a valuable part of the Earth that can teach us about our minds and the belief systems that we have. When we disregard paranormal or supernatural shows or ideas manifested by the human consciousness, we are deciding that only a certain type or category of experiences are allowed and also important. This here is missing the point. The point, although subjective as well, is to learn and understand as many perspectives and ideas as possible. Humans flourish when put in a position to expand. We are negative and have a sour attitude when we stay in the same cycles, never giving ourselves change or challenge.
The issue of belief, and whether or not one should believe in supernatural entities is something that is very subjective indeed. It is foolish to say that supernatural entities do not exist if one has not accounted for all human experiences, and gone through those experiences themselves. We are microscopic on the spectrum of both time and space, and arrogant when we say that we are the only planet with life in the universe. We are conceited to think that only that which we can see and prove interaction with is real, and that humans (according to hard science) are nothing more than molecules and biological systems, essentially just bags of flesh. Take several Ayahuasca sessions, psilocybin mushrooms sessions, as well as talk to people who have taken these things with serious and purposeful intent, and come back from these saying that humans are not supernatural, and that there are no other entities. It is very difficult to argue about something in which the arguer has not yet experienced for themselves.