ENTURIES ago it was easier to believe in a realm beyond the material (apart from the tooth fairy) when anyone could reason thus:
We came from somewhere. Since tools of humans were crude and simple, only a most-powerful incorporeal being could be capable of a feat such as assembling a cognizant, feeling person out of raw earth (no wonder we like our earth raw). Therefore such a creative entity must exist, it being God.
As technology improved, so did economics, diet, health, communication, and education— hence intellectual and ratiocinative capabilities, if not prime-time television.
But it wasn’t until evolutionary hypotheses started coming our way— followed soon after by Jerry Springer— that many of us could entertain the idea that everything in our existence might ultimately have a natural explanation.
While some kind of long-term incremental process for human development has been generally accepted, many still believe that it all bears witness to a guiding force, a sentient creator, giving when needed a push or a tug— human beings (much less laptops) being far too intricate to be entirely the result of unconscious force.
This could be true were it but a matter of atoms being randomly assembled in different ways until a human was hit upon with a lucky guess (tonight’s lotto: 5-9-11-31-32-43) but that ain’t the way it’s set up.
Because the fittest are most likely to survive, a trial and error process is in place which empowers nature as a great albeit unconscious architect (albeit— that’s a strange word when you stop and think albeit).
How this operates may be described as follows (apologies to Ken Ham :):
Imagine selecting groups of ten letters at random, one new group every second— 60 times a minute, 3,600 times an hour, 86,400 times a day, etc.
Since there are about 144 trillion possible combinations (an American trillion equals a British billion which equals a Zimbabwian zillion) even after a million years the chances are less than one in four (do the math) that we’ll have hit upon the first ten letters of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, much less be visited by the prize patrol.
Let’s try a slightly different technique. No, nothing sneaky.
We’ll still randomly search for letters of the Britannica, one try every second, but now only one letter at a time, beginning with the first. It wouldn’t have to be done by monkeys, but could be.
When a match is made, we’ll call that the fittest, and lock it into position. Then we’ll randomly search for the second letter until we establish it, and so forth.
With this system it will take on average less than five minutes to find those first ten letters, and only about a hundred and fifty years to complete the entire Encyclopaedia— even throwing in Catcher-in-the-Rye.
By such a process of trial and error it becomes possible to explain everything from the most primitive life-form through Captain Kirk in terms of natural forces, without the need of a supernatural architect working outside the realm of known physical laws.
In fact naturalism (the belief that scientific laws are sufficient to account for any phenomena) seems adequate to explain most if not all entities or occurrences that we would otherwise have had reason to call supernatural— the Cubs winning a World Series, for example.
Even a credulous person, much less one more strictly-scientific, would admit that beings, objects, or events which are truly unexplainable via our present knowledge (if any actually exist— UFO’s don’t count, since they’re explainable as hoaxes or aliens) cumulatively represent at most but a small portion of perceived reality.
Even a strictly-scientific person, much less one more credulous, would admit that far from every natural law is now known, at least by us; there’s still a lot that our best investigatory minds with today’s finest instruments (Steinway, Gibson) do not understand or have not even discovered, every answer begetting new questions.
Therefore it’s likely that any and all experience heretofore regarded as preternatural or supernatural— and not misconstrued or fraudulent— isn’t beyond all science, but simply outside the range of current knowledge, and not necessarily repeatable with stuff you can order from Edmund Scientific. Yet, anyway.
Preternatural and supernatural as adjectives— in this world at least— can both be replaced with cryptonatural, meaning apparently extra-natural, yet known (even if only in principle or theory) to be natural and ultimately explainable as natural— the crypto- designation is temporal.
Also attitudinal. Whether something’s natural or cryptonatural is in the mind of the beholder.
For most people, the stage-magic trick of sawing a woman in half is natural— many have been wanting to do it for years. Even though they may not be able to explain exactly how the illusion works, they know it’s nothing more than that— an illusion.
Some mentalist acts are a different story. If a performer claims or implies real extrasensory powers, to those in the audience who believe in such and are convinced, a stunt might be seen as cryptonatural; to those who still write it off as trickery— again even if they can’t figure out exactly how it’s done— it will be seen as natural.
Alien spacecraft, whether or not they exist, are a good object lesson— an unidentified flying object lesson, to be precise. Let’s say a UFO appears in the sky, lands, and disgorges a being that is definitely not native to our planet, or even has eyes like Ted Koppel’s.
Our first reaction (after cardiac arrest and defib) would be that we were witnessing the arrival of a craft bearing an ambassador or explorer from another solar system who was, while evolved differently and more advanced in space travel, still a natural phenomenon— an entity perhaps remotely like ourselves, even to the extent of having opposing thumbs.
However, our reaction three thousand years ago to the same event may have been that while the craft was perceivable as some kind of vehicle comprised of natural material (a chariot-of-the-gods perhaps, or King Tut on a Harley) the occupant was more like a deity than an equal.
Thirty thousand years ago the occurrence would likely have