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The Supernatural and “Supernatural” November 7, 2016

Posted by Ubi Dubium in Rants, Responses.
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Oftentimes, during a conversation between a theist making a conversion attempt and an atheist, the topic of lack of evidence for the supernatural comes up.  And sometimes the atheist demands, not only evidence that the supernatural exists, but some kind of an explanation for the mechanism by how it operates.  But I don’t need that second part, and don’t think we need to demand it.  If I had strong enough evidence that the supernatural existed, I’d accept that it did.

The theist will then usually protest about how there’s tons of evidence.  Faith healing that’s not statistically better than placebos!  A plane crashed and somebody survived!  Just look at the trees! And other such stuff that isn’t good evidence for the supernatural.

What would a world look like where there was good evidence for the existence of the supernatural?  I’ve found a really good example.  I’ve just finished a binge watch on Netflix of the first eleven seasons of the series Supernatural (go figure).  The basic setup, for those of you unfamiliar with the show, is a pair of brothers who travel the country saving people from various supernatural bad guys and monsters.  In their world, this stuff really exists, and behaves in predictable ways.  The brothers are often testing solutions to see what works, and researching into records to see what has been successful for other monster hunters in the past. For example, what works on a werewolf always works on a werewolf, but is not necessarily effective on a skinwalker or a vampire.  The trunk of their car is filled with dozens of different weapons, to be prepared for anything they run into.

I’d like to look at the show’s treatment of demons in particular, since often theists claim that demons are real.

In this show, if someone is possessed by a demon, there’s no vague “I think they’re possessed because they said crazy things” or “I have a bad feeling”.  Nope, in the Supernatural world, if you think someone is demon possessed, throw holy water on them.  If it burns them, and they smoke and scream, there’s a demon.  If they say “what did you do that for?” then it’s not a demon.  (Could be something else, though.  Best to run a few other tests.)

Demons can possess people without their permission, but can be evicted by someone else performing the exorcism incantation, upon which they exit from the possessed person visibly.  No uncertain “I feel better now, so it must be gone” stuff. You can see it leave.

demon-leaving

But if you want to kill it, you need a special demon knife.  And there are specific rules and constraints on their behavior.   They are unable to possess someone who has a warding tattoo:

anti-demon-tattoo

If you trick one of them into standing on a devil’s trap, even if it’s under a carpet, they can’t leave until the trap outline is broken.

devils-trap

If you put specific items in a box, bury it at a crossroads, and say the right incantation, a crossroads demon will appear, ready to make a deal with you.

crossroads-demonAnd if you make a deal with a demon, they will abide by it, no cheating.  But you had better read the fine print first, because they will abide by the letter of the agreement, not the intent.

And there’s a lot more specifics on demons, that I won’t go into here.  Each different sort of baddie in the series also has specific characteristics and weaknesses.  Not some vague woo-woo “I feel a spirit in the room whose name starts with either a C or a J”.  Nope, if there’s a ghost around, the temperature drops, the EM meter goes whoop, the ghost is usually visible and often solid, and they are repelled by cold iron or salt.  You want to be rid of them?  Find out what is tethering them to earth (usually remains of some kind) salt and burn that, and the ghost disappears in a burst of flame.  Usually just in the nick of time, of course.

burn-the-bones

Sam and Dean don’t need to know the actual mechanism that makes all this possible.  They just see it in action, every day.  If theists could pull out examples of stuff like this, that’s predictable and testable and doesn’t line up with the laws of our physical universe, and our most thorough testing was unable to reveal any use of trickery or special effects, then I’d be willing to consider that the supernatural exists.  I wouldn’t need to know how it works, I’d be fine with seeing that it does work.

But Sam and Dean’s world isn’t our world.  The show even made this point by having the characters break through into our world at one point, where they found themselves on a TV set in Vancouver, and to their dismay found out that magic doesn’t work here!

Of course, I would not need a theist to show me exactly this evidence to establish that the supernatural is something more than their imagination.   But extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.  Claiming the existence of an invisible realm full of invisible super-beings that interact with us?  That’s really, really extraordinary.  Show me evidence as strong as the characters are provided with on this show, or don’t bother.

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Comments»

1. keithnoback - November 7, 2016

This is the most interesting question in the whole dispute. Evidentialism isn’t the issue however. It isn’t primarily a problem with knowledge, but definition and consistency. It’s a metaphysical problem primarily.
The question of what makes something physical troubles everyone, but especially those who wish to speak of strictly non-physical…things? …it’s hard to say how one might characterize the strictly non-physical.

Liked by 1 person

2. Godless Cranium - November 8, 2016

Well said.

And I enjoyed Supernatural as well. Bit of a cliche storyline but fune to watch anyways.

Liked by 1 person

3. Daz - November 8, 2016

Thing is, if magic, other realms, whatever, were to exist and be available for use and study, then it would be natural. Hanging the label “supernatural” on it merely because it’s outside our previous experience doesn’t make it so. That’s why, for me, the question of mechanism is the more important. I can’t prove that there isn’t something “outside nature,” but it is reasonable to ask how such a thing could cause effects inside nature.

Liked by 2 people

4. shelldigger - November 21, 2016

I sometimes don’t mind suspending my good sense when watching a good story. I know I might have to suffer through some magic, or a series of events that could never be pulled off by our hero in 1000 years let alone 199 absolutely perfect moves in 30 minutes. But as soon as there are angels, stand ins for gods, or anything following the Ancient Aliens platform of B.S. I’m out!

Liked by 1 person

5. graspatstraws - December 26, 2016

So how would you rate the show from, say, 1 to ten? It kind of lost momentum as the seasons rolled by, didn’t it? It’s only to be expected, however.

Liked by 1 person

Ubi Dubium - December 26, 2016

Hmm. I’m not really one to attach a single number like that to whole show. The first season was kind of weak, because they only had the two brothers as regulars, and it needed a bigger cast to really carry it. The addition of characters like Bobby, Castiel and Crowley really helped. The more recent seasons have focused too much on the christian mythos for my taste, though. I prefer when they encounter figures from many religions, that was much more fun. Haven’t seen any of the recent season yet.

Liked by 1 person

6. Daniel Digby - January 4, 2017

I don’t think you need look any further than whether fairies are real. Like UFOs and unicorns, the existence of fairies is irrefutable.

https://infrequentatheist.wordpress.com/2012/07/28/faeries-are-real/

Liked by 1 person

7. Paul Oxo - January 7, 2017

I’m interested in the responses to criticism from those who are convinced the ‘supernatural’ exists in reality. Although the term ‘supernatural’ itself is a bit like ‘global warming’, labels aren’t always an accurate indication of exactly what’s in the package.
Without exception I encounter extreme animosity whenever I challenge supernatural claims, and tbh the only ones who harbour such beliefs are theists or some form of cult which needs and defends ‘magic’ within it’s ideology, to even make it viable.
So while I welcome the comparison to the fictional representations of the supernatural. I feel we still give too much leeway and credibility to such irrational beliefs in societies. Of course education is key but the insidious nature of these ideologies amounts to brainwashing of the naive, ignorant masses, especially children. These divisive and dangerous doctrines need to be officially regarded as such, and in my humble opinion legislated against them for the greater good. I can hear the gnashing of teeth already and don’t care, it’s time we stopped appeasing ignorance and the extremism it spawns.
If you don’t believe death is the end, and paradise awaits, becoming a human bomb becomes a viable option.

Liked by 1 person


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