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The supernatural and the Truth

James Knight has been pondering the existence of the supernatural, but concludes that the challenge is to determine what is true.

If there’s a problem that’s hard to solve, economics usually provides the best chance of solving it. How would economics help solve the problem of whether the supernatural exists? Here’s a good way to think of the problem: Imagine two alternative realities - a reality in which the supernatural does not exist (Reality 1), and a reality in which the supernatural exists (Reality 2). Think what it would be like to live in each of these two realities, and then think what it’s like to live in the reality of today (Reality Now) that we currently experience. Here are the three realities:

  • Reality 1 - The supernatural does not exist 
  • Reality 2 - The supernatural exists 
  • Reality Now - The reality of today as we know it

What we know of today’s reality (Reality Now) is that a huge proportion of all the people who’ve ever lived believe the supernatural does exist. The world is full of claims of supernatural experiences: miracles, healings, communications with God, answers to prayer, ghosts, prognostications, and countless other testimonies of where people report a relationship with God as evidence that goes beyond natural explanation. Not all these claims are credible, but whichever way we cut the cloth, human history is absolutely replete with belief in the supernatural - and people 'really' believe this stuff in a way that radically changes their life like nothing else in creation.
Given the foregoing, how, then, do we try to determine whether Reality Now is consistent with Reality 1 or Reality 2?  An economist method would be to imagine what a Reality 1 and a Reality 2 would be like if it did exist, and see which Reality seems most like Reality Now.
First off, then, what would a Reality 1 look like if it did exist - a world in which the supernatural does not exist? I do not believe that it would look anything like the Reality Now in which we live. If there was no such thing as the supernatural, I feel sure that we would not live in a world like this, where claims of supernatural experience and insight have been so prominent throughout history that they have this kind of overwhelming impact on our lives.
If Reality 1 is the real reality, then it is not self-evident to me that the concept of the supernatural would have been invented at all. Here's why; I know of no other type of human invention that creates a metaphysical reality that isn’t true and then confuses that invention with actual reality. It’s true that humans are immensely creative with the truth when it comes to art and literature and poetry and film, but no one is confusing the reality embedded in those disciplines with an actual reality they think exists but doesn’t really.
It’s also true that people get confused a lot about empirical matters, especially in politics and economics - but we can’t count that as being anything like the same thing, because it merely creates a metaphysical reality that isn’t true and then confuses that invention with actual reality. These errors are actually cases of poor reasoning and being unapprised of facts, and are easily corrected with fewer emotional biases, better arguments and improved reasoning.
Next, what would a Reality 2 look like if it did exist - a world in which the supernatural does exist? I think it would look exactly like the world in which we currently live, where claims of supernatural experience and insight have been so prominent throughout history that they have this kind of overwhelming impact on our lives.
I think it is only by virtue of the supernatural existing that we would have such a world in which it is so prominent. We simply do not make up a new reality that prominent, that influential and that life-changing and confuse it with the truth. There is nothing else in human existence that's even on the same playing field as the significance of the supernatural in our lives.
And if the supernatural is true, you would expect it to consist of an indefinite number of human claims where a small fraction of them are based on the truth, and most of them are either flatly false, or misleading distortions of the truth*. Because that is what Reality Now is like. There are uncountable ways to be wrong, and far fewer ways to be right - but like everything else, the mass falsehoods and the ubiquitous delusions exist, not because everything is false, but because almost everything is false, and the most important things are true.
If Reality 1 was the real reality, there would be no supernatural claims - possibly ever (it may not have ever been invented, although it's possible it might have) - and certainly not anymore, as any claims from the ancients that bore no resemblance at all to the truth would have died out before we ever got to find out they existed. Even with my economist hat on, it is infinitely likely that the supernatural exists.
* Wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.  Matthew 7:13-14

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JamesKnight300James Knight is a local government officer based in Norwich, and is a regular columnist for Christian community websites Network Norfolk and Network Ipswich. He also blogs regularly as ‘The Philosophical Muser’, and contributes articles to UK think tanks The Adam Smith Institute and The Institute of Economic Affairs, as well as the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity (LICC).


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