Why is it that we reject the notion that modern humans have supernatural powers?
Depending on your philosophical and theological perspective, you might have a variety of reasons for this, but I think most reasonable people reject the notion that we’re likely to see any of our contemporaries wielding magic that was caused by supernatural underpinnings.
Some people are not so skeptical, but I’d assert that those people, particularly in countries where literacy is high, are in the minority.
When I was a Christian, I often wondered about this issue. If Jesus “came back”, would anyone notice? What sort of tricks would such a supernatural being have to perform to convince people he was the risen deity?
After all, it’s a fairly common theme among Christians that a poor or homeless person you pass on the street might just be Jesus in disguise.
This matter was one I grappled with for years, and my conclusions on the matter led me to reject the idea that faith is a reasonable substitute for critical analysis of our world.
For a moment, ignore issues like whether it’s even likely that Jesus Christ existed. Ignore the discrepancies and inconsistencies in the bible, or the large number of assholes who wax sanctimonious about what a lot of heathens everyone else is. You can also ignore all the harm various churches cause world-wide – priest pedophila, discouragement of condoms and contraception in AIDS ravaged and poor areas, genital mutilation. You can even ignore half-witted apologist arguments, such as the Watchmaker argument.
When you ignore all these questions, along with pre-conceived notions of what you were conditioned to believe from a very young age, you’re left with a fairly isolated question: Do you believe supernatural phenomena caused the universe to exist?
This was the most difficult question for me to grapple with in my 20s. On one hand, we don’t really know the conditions that gave rise to the universe, or if there was a cause at all; on the other hand, it seems incredible that natural processes could give rise to something from (what appears to be) nothing, particularly such an infinite implementation, such as the universe. To me, this seemed like a paradox.
What made this paradox more vexing to me was the question of why is there now such an inverse correlation between quantity of supernatural phenomena and our ability to record video?
This paradox, in a nutshell, is why I called myself a Deist for several years. This also happens to commit the special pleading fallacy
Here’s the thing that knocked me out of this convenient Deistic paradigm: there is such an absence of supernatural phenomena that we’ve stopped concerning ourselves with it, altogether. We can’t measure it, we don’t observe it, and virtually all phenomena we see can be described natural terms, once we understand them.
So, why should the universe’s creation be any different? We know that humans imagine all sorts of supernatural reasons for natural phenomena. We also know that these supernatural jumping jacks were not necessary once we got a handle on the natural mechanisms that give rise to these phenomena.
In this context, the rejection of supernatural concerns is simply a matter of recognizing that we just haven’t answered everything yet, coupled with the recognition that we don’t observe anything that is not natural.
Aristotle, arguably one of the most important philosophers of all time (and a pretty smart fellow, too), believed the sun revolved around the Earth. This was appealing to post-medieval European scientists, because it seemed to reinforce claims in Genesis. Of course, Aristotle was wrong, as is Genesis (about oh so many things).
Does this mean that Aristotle’s contribution lacked value? Of course not, it just means he was wrong about his assessment of a natural phenomenon, as many historical figures have been.
So if humans are intellectually imperfect, does that mean we should say “well, I guess it’s God’s will.”?
Human progress relies on rejection of supernatural phenomena. Our success at figuring stuff out starts with the assumption that the mechanisms that cause something are natural, and not supernatural. That’s as good as humans get, in terms of optimizing progress, and that is why supernatural explanations are useless.
The paradox I represented above, about the universe’s beginning, isn’t a paradox at all. It’s just a gap in our understanding. There’s no problem there, except for the fact that we’ve got more to learn.
I’m an atheist because I reject the notion that there are supernatural causes.