Hypernaturalism: Integrating the Bible and Science
Though the views of naturalism and supernaturalism often pit science and religion against one another, hypernaturalism is proposed as an alternative that combines divine power and natural law. It is hoped that such a synthesis of science and faith can help religious people become more accepting of science, and place Christianity in a logical framework that the scientifically minded can accept.
Much of the modern “creation debate” devolves into two competing perspectives: naturalism and supernaturalism. Naturalism, often considered the scientific point of view, states that the universe and all life-forms came into being via undirected, natural processes. Supernaturalism, considered the religious view, argues that a supernatural God created the entire universe and life itself.
We believe there is a third point of view that can unite religion and science. We call it hypernaturalism.
Hypernaturalism might be considered a form of progressive creationism. We define it as the extraordinary use of natural law by the God described in the Bible. Hypernaturalism postulates that when God created the universe ex nihilo (from nothing), He also created the laws of nature. He integrated natural law into the created order to make a universe with what has been called “relative autonomy.”1
God the Creator is necessarily outside of the universe He made—hence, He is able to control the forces of nature. Natural law is God’s servant. God has the authority to use the forces of nature to implement His will. Hence, through hypernaturalism, many of God’s miracles can be explained as a combination of divine power and natural law. When God acts hypernaturally, He employs natural law and natural phenomena in an extraordinary way to bring about His will. This encompasses extraordinary timing (including both duration and start and stop time), an extraordinary selection of location, and/or extraordinary magnitude (including severity and intensity). An event is not necessarily hypernatural because it is extraordinary; it is hypernatural if God exercises extraordinary control for a particular purpose (since His miracles always have purpose).
Hypernaturalism vs Supernaturalism
Hypernaturalism differs from supernaturalism, which might be compared to the philosophy of young earth creationism. If God acts supernaturally to effect His will, He operates outside of natural law by overriding the laws of physics, such as gravity and the second law of thermodynamics.
The usual Christian understanding of a miracle is that God supernaturally brings about something that is otherwise impossible. An omnipotent God can surely do this—but hypernaturalism could provide an even greater demonstration of God’s power. A supernatural miracle overriding the forces of nature shows that God has greater power than nature—yet it could also imply nature is God’s adversary. Such a depiction was typical of ancient myths, in which pagan deities representing forces of nature competed to prove who had greater power.
By contrast, a hypernatural miracle demonstrates that God created the forces of nature to serve His purposes. This is evident in Genesis when God commanded Earth and the waters to “bring forth” vegetation and animals, respectively, and nature complied (Genesis 1:11, 20, 24, KJV).
Before the scientific revolution, when humankind could observe but not explain natural phenomena, it seemed logical to believe God acted supernaturally. People believed rainfall (or lack thereof), fertility, and other natural phenomena were God’s supernatural will at work. Today we recognize natural laws and can explain many miracles as God’s extraordinary use of those laws.
Parting of the Red Sea: A Hypernatural Miracle
The Bible explicitly describes some of God’s miracles as the result of hypernatural activity. An example is the parting of the Red Sea (Ex 14:21-28)—one of God’s greatest and most important miracles. Scripture states that God brought this about hypernaturally by causing an extraordinarily strong wind at an extraordinary time in an extraordinary place:
Moses stretched out his hand over the sea; and the LORD swept the sea back by a strong east wind all night and turned the sea into dry land, so the waters were divided. The sons of Israel went through the midst of the sea on the dry land…[Then] Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and the sea returned to its normal state at daybreak, while the Egyptians were fleeing right into it (Exodus 14:21–22a, 27a, NASB, emphasis original).
This scene might describe a storm surge, a rather common phenomenon; storm surges as high as 48 feet have been recorded.2 In 1990, meteorologist Allan Brunt found such a storm surge plausible in the northward extension of the Red Sea.3
Alternately, the parting could be likened to a “wind setdown” such as observed on Lake Erie and in Florida. In 2010, atmospheric scientists Carl Drews and Weiqing Han reported a suite of model experiments that demonstrated the plausibility of the biblical account based on a wind setdown on an ancient coastal lagoon in the Exodus area where a strong wind was recorded in 1882. They estimated that a uniform 63 mph easterly wind would produce a land bridge “3-4 km long and 5 km wide, and it remains open for 4 hours.”4
These two peer-reviewed articles demonstrate that it is scientifically plausible that the biblical narrative correctly describes a hypernatural miracle.
Another aspect of hypernatural miracles is God’s power to manipulate nature by overcoming ridiculously small probabilities within natural law. The story of Joseph is one example. It was extraordinarily improbable that Joseph could go from slave to prisoner to second-in-command of Egypt to savior of his family—yet God made this happen without any direct evidence of His involvement (Genesis 37–50, especially 50:19–20).5 The same is true of other stories such as the anointing of King Saul (1 Samuel 10), the coin to pay Jesus’s temple tax found in a fish (Matthew 17:24–26), and others. In this context, a straightforward reading of the biblical text suggests that many miracles are indeed hypernatural or, at least, potentially hypernatural.
In closing we emphasize that hypernaturalism is not a new concept, nor is it God’s only tool for interacting with the natural realm. Rather this is a restatement of orthodox Christian beliefs in a modern context—one that we hope will allow the religious and the scientific to find common ground while holding a high view of both science and Scripture.
In future articles we will elaborate on other aspects of hypernaturalism and examine the details of specific hypernatural miracles.
- C. B.Kaiser, Creation and the History of Science (William B. Eerdmans: Grand Rapids, MI, 1991), 15.
- Jeffrey Masters, “World Storm Surge Records,” Weather Underground, date accessed March 12, 2014, http://www.wunderground.com/hurricane/surge_world_records.asp.
- Allan Brunt, “The Red Sea Crossing: A Meteorologist’s View,” Investigator 14 (September 1990), http://ed5015.tripod.com/BRedSeaCrossing.htm.
- Carl Drews and Weiqing Han, “Dynamics of Wind Setdown at Suez and the Eastern Nile Delta,” PLoS ONE 5 (August 30, 2010): e12481. See also Jeff Zweerink “Maybe the Bible Was Right about the Exodus,” Today’s New Reason to Believe (blog), last modified September 29, 2010, http://www.reasons.org/articles/maybe-the-bible-was-right-about-the-exodus.
- In theology, this is often referred to as deus absconditus, in which God is the cause of various events without any direct evidence of His involvement. However, at the conclusion of the event the results are of such magnitude that God’s guidance is easily inferred.
By Daniel Dyke and Hugh Henry
Daniel J. Dyke, MDiv, MTh
Mr. Daniel J. Dyke received his Master of Theology from Princeton Theological Seminary 1981 and currently serves as professor of Old Testament at Cincinnati Christian University in Cincinnati, OH.
Dr. Hugh Henry, PhD
Dr. Hugh Henry received his PhD in Physics from the University of Virginia in 1971, retired after 26 years at Varian Medical Systems, and currently serves as Lecturer in physics at Northern Kentucky University in Highland Heights, KY.
*Article updated March 24, 2014, 11:54 AM (PDT)