Have you ever seen a miracle or had a supernatural experience? I have.
But I don’t believe in miracles or the supernatural.
I defining difference between the religious and non-religious is their attitude to the supernatural. Most religious people accept supernatural ideas (gods and miracles for example) and are critical of atheists for not accepting these possibilities as realities. Often the criticism is derogatory (see Atheism scary in its sheer conceit). We are accused of not accepting the possibility of things we don’t understand and described as arrogant for this.
But, of course, atheists aren’t arrogant – they don’t reject things just because they don’t understand them. And there is a lot about ourselves, our consciousness, the world and the universe that we don’t understand. The important thing is that doesn’t make the unknown supernatural (or, in the end, unknowable).
What we reject is the idea of “explaining” something we don’t understand with a story or claim for which there is no evidence and “ring-fencing” this “explanation” to prevent any proper scientific investigation.
We can see this conflict, for example, in the creation/evolution conflict. The creationists explanation doesn’t allow for scientific investigation of the origin of life or species whereas evolution does. Charles Darwin asked if creationists “really believe that at innumerable periods in the earth’s history certain elemental atoms have been commanded suddenly to flash into living tissue?” Put this way we can see that creationists are really advancing an untestable hypothesis “ring-fenced” to prevent proper scientific investigation.
What about miracles?
Well, if these miracles actually happened they are part of the natural world, not supernatural. If they happened they can be investigated scientifically. Of course, to do this requires objective information. Anecdotal evidence, especially when it is several thousand years old, is really of no use. Similarly modern stories of visions are difficult to investigate, unless they can be replicated and then this is usually the province of psychiatry.
I personally would be interested in a process of converting water into wine but without good evidence there is no way we can investigate this claim or derive a possible mechanism for it.
So what about my supernatural experience?
As a child I was taken for a ride on the Wellington Cable Car. While waiting to board I saw a cable car enter through the solid brick wall. That was definitely supernatural, for my young mind the experience was very real and I can still clearly remember it more than 60 years later.
I don’t believe it really happened. Maybe it was just my tired young mind trying to make sense of the cable car experience. Most people would see that as the best explanation. But if my family environment had been religious I may have seen a bearded man in a white robe appearing through the wall. Religious people may then have interpreted that as a miracle!
Have you had a supernatural experience or seen a miracle? If so, would you refuse the normal human desire to investigate and make sense of that experience?