Do You Still Believe in the Supernatural?


It’s the era of science and artificial intelligence and yet believing in the supernatural. According to a 2019 research, thousands of self-identified atheists and agnostics still believe in some supernatural phenomena. In other words, their unbelief in God doesn’t mean they don’t also believe things that are not here and now (i.e. they might still belief in ghosts, spirits, afterlife).

We have published articles here about beliefs in afterlife and ghosts. We mentioned that these beliefs might be crucial to societal function because of their moral implications. For example, belief in the afterlife implies that life doesn’t stop here and we might still face consequences for what we did here on Earth. This then helps us to behave morally and for the common good. It’s the same case with ghosts and their stories tell us that there should be some form of closure before they can completely pass through the other side. It’s about serving justice and they won’t rest until they have achieved it.

What are supernatural phenomena?

To better understand our beliefs about the supernatural phenomena, it helps to define it and explain its scope. For our purposes here in this article, we define supernatural phenomena as events and beings that cannot be explained by science or laws of nature (i.e. going beyond what’s natural).

We can also see the supernatural as something we can’t make sense of yet. As a result, we try to come up with primitive explanations that make sense of what we see or just heard. With our pre-existing belief in the afterlife, the ghost we see reinforces that belief. Some of us will try to rationalise and convince ourselves that it’s just a product of our imagination. However, we might come up with a primitive explanation that considers the context. For example, we see a ghost and try to relate its appearance with our loved one who passed away recently. We even consider the location because it’s haunted and someone met a tragic end there. Our minds are really good at trying to make sense of things, identifying patterns and coming up with quick explanations.

Earlier we mentioned that supernatural can mean as something not yet explainable by science. The “not yet” is crucial because later a concrete explanation could enlighten us of how and why supernatural events happen. For instance, lightning was seen as something supernatural (e.g. Thor might be angrily or joyfully wielding his hammer). But now we’re aware that lightning is caused by the build-up of electrical charges. It’s a similar case with droughts and floods wherein people back then think that gods are angry and animal sacrifices have to be made. In the past there’s no way for people to figure out that droughts and floods were caused by normal weather and climate patterns.

We can see here that it’s possible for the supernatural we know today to be perfectly natural tomorrow. Perhaps right now we just can’t figure out if angels, demons and spirits truly exist. We don’t have the capabilities yet to prove if the other side really exists and what’s there. In other words, there’s that possibility in the near future we could make sense of it all.

Do you still believe in ghosts and the afterlife?

Several studies show that we are primed and have evolved to believe (as summarised in a paper published by the American Psychology Association). Beliefs and religions persist because of our predisposition to believe in something beyond the here and now. For example, in the article it’s mentioned that children as young as 3 years old are already aware of God’s attributes (even if they’ve never been taught about God). It’s like beliefs about the supernatural were already installed in our brains. In addition, it’s interesting that many religions share the same concepts and beliefs about gods, spirits, angels, demons, heaven and hell in one way or another. We can even find the concept of having a punishment or reward after we die for the things we’ve done here in several different religions.

Perhaps beliefs in the supernatural helped our ancestors survived. During random and unusual occurrences, it’s better to be safe than sorry (i.e. we should stop moving for a while, or we don’t want to make the gods angry or else there are consequences). Also, we don’t want randomness to stay as it is. We always try to find patterns and reasons for almost everything that’s happening. If we can’t do that, we feel helpless and powerless.

It’s also possible that supernatural beliefs are crucial to the formation and maintenance of our cooperative societies. For large groups of people to cooperate and live peacefully with one another, there should be laws and beliefs that transcend the here and now for them to become valid and enforceable. This way, the laws are unquestionable because they are something that came from an absolute authority.

What about afterlife and ghosts? The recurring theme is that they remind us there’s something beyond our present lives and there might be consequences for our sins and good deeds. And whenever we’re in a haunted place, their probable existence keeps us on our toes. It’s a frightening experience which might helped our ancestors survived (they stayed alert) and is now helping us better appreciate the past. Perhaps history gets more interesting if we hear that gruesome and bizarre stories occurred and that the memories still linger.