Third in a series on the search for meaning in a world that doesn't want to bother with it.
Nature is a word we use to cover the whole of the cosmos as humans perceive and describe it. The sciences and liberal arts are divvied up into academic departments because no field of study is broad enough to cover the whole. Defined this way, nature is more than stuff, motion, energy, and physical life; it also includes language, music, and imagination.
We may imagine beyond nature, but we cannot see beyond it. If supernature exists apart from imagination and is to be known by us, it must penetrate nature entirely on its own initiative and communicate with us only on its own terms. If it is unable to do this, it is forever unknowable to us. This makes Stephen Hawking's attempt to discern "the mind of God" (a traditional way of speaking about Supernature) a fruitless effort. Anything discernible from nature is natural, not supernatural. To be itself, supernature must be beyond nature.
So Tennyson?s flower in the crannied wall is a dead-end.
Flower in the crannied wall,
I pluck you out of the cranny.
I hold you here in my hand,
Little flower; but if I could understand
What you are, root and all
And all in all,
I would know what God and man is.
I was briefly taken with those lines when I was in college. Then I realized that Tennyson could go no farther than learning a lot about that flower. He would be guessing about God and man.
Like the impossible, supernature may be imagined within nature but it cannot be inferred from nature. Take "the paranormal" as an example [Paranormal: Term used to denote any phenomenon which appears to be inexplicable by current scientific theories--Koestler Parapsychology Unit, University of Edinburgh.] The paranormal includes such phenomena (or illusions) as ghosts, extra-sensory perception, mythical creatures of all kinds, and anything else that fits the definition. So far, evidence for the paranormal is anecdotal. The phenomena themselves cannot be replicated in a controlled environment, nor can a situation be arranged in which they are predictable. Whether anecdotal evidence is legitimately weird or merely weird is a subjective judgment.
Both the existence and non-existence of supernature is unprovable within nature. On the basis of evidence available to it, physical science cannot even make a judgment as to its credibility one way or the other. It may be asserted with confidence, therefore, that the physical scientist who proclaims the non-existence of supernature from nature is as absurd as the self-styled "creation scientist" who tries to prove its existence from nature.
All Installments of this Series:
1. The Possible Possibility
2. The Legitimately Weird
3. Nature and Supernature, 11/29/2004
4. Designer Jeans, Designer God
5. What Mathematical Certainty?
6. Credible, Not Verifiable
7. The God of Ultimate Meaning
8. Dialogue with a Postmodern Nephew
9. Why the Bible?
10. Why Jesus?