Can the "supernatural" be detected and influenced?

Many a times I have witnessed a conversation similar to this one:

Theist to the Atheist: How come you do not believe in God?
Atheist: Simply, because I see no evidence for God’s existence.
Theist: If you only accept physical evidence, you will never find it, since God is not a physical being.
Atheist: So one cannot detect a supernatural being using physical means?
Theist: That is correct.
Atheist: And one cannot use physical methods to influence a supernatural being?
Theist: Also correct. Don’t forget, we are talking about supernatural beings, and they are not subject to the laws of physics.

At this point the conversation usually veers off onto a tangent of “how can one gain knowledge” about the supernatural, if direct discovery is impossible, and one cannot influence supernatural beings. This time let’s look at a different approach.

The church maintains a sizable number of exorcists. These exorcists perform some kind of “discovery method”, and attempt to find out if someone is possessed by “demons”. Then they also perform some physical rituals, and claim that the demons were expelled. The precise method of discovery and the method of the rituals is of secondary interest, the main point is that they are both observable, repeatable, physical endeavors.

As such the usual assertion that supernatural entities cannot be discovered or influenced by fully physical means is contradicted by the church’s own application of physical activities vis-à-vis some supernatural beings - aka demons.

Any observations?

I think if you can find an open and honest atheist who truly has an interest in finding out if God exists or not, then get him to pray an honest prayer of an unbeliever for God to reveal himself in some way, that might influence God to intervene in that person’s life in a palpable way to the atheist, but God is not constrained to act, for he also looks upon the heart of the “atheist” to see if it is rightly disposed to receive Him among other things, it seems to me.

Been there, done it, have a t-shirt to prove it. But I am interested in the logical inconsistency of asserting that the “supernatural” cannot be detected / influenced by physical means and the activities of exorcists, who (allegedly) do exactly that, find out if someone is possessed by some “demon” and expel that demon by performing some physical action.

Great post :thumbsup:

One needs to first distinguish between God and demons. From a purely empirical scientific standpoint, demons cannot be detected, far as I know. I’ve heard of volt-meters, oscilloscopes, geiger counters, but never a demon recorder, unless you want to count Ghost Busters movies and the like.

When an exorcist ferrets out an unclean spirit, there is a manifestation, but the 100% secular scientist will 90% of the time attribute what he’s seeing to other causes. He won’t conclude that a supernatural phenomenon is presenting itself.

Some exorcists have published their experiences. I do not know if others are allowed to observe the process of if it is appropriate to have a video camera running. After mental illness has been ruled out, the possibly possessed person is studied. If possessed, one aspect is the person shows unusual physical strength and other unusual physical attributes. You can read about it here:


We still are on different wavelengths. I am interested in the purely logical problem of denying the possibility of detecting ANY supernatural by physical means, and then performing some physical activity and then declare that a demon has been detected (possessing someone). In other words, denying the existence of a method, and then taking a 180-turn and applying that non-existent method and declare it to be “successful”. The reaction of secular people (scientist or not) is irrelevant. The difference between God and demons is irrelevant for the purposes of this question. In the OP I did not even mention God - I made sure that I only referred to some generic “supernatural” being.

Just to add to what Ed stated, levitation has also been attested to be a multitude of witnesses. However, it’s not been documented on video unless I’m mistaken.

God cannot be compelled to act, however, like fallen angels can. The strongest of the fallen ones can resist manifesting themselves for extremely long periods of time as has been documented in certain cases.

This phenomenon can’t be studied, it seems to me, very easily if at all. The church for one thing forbids video and perhaps even audio recording during exorcisms.

The one exception I’m aware of is the recording of the exorcism of Annelise Michele which took place in Germany around 1975. This footage is not common nor does it explicitly show phenomenon that cannot in any way be explained by other more natural explanations.

Well, you are correct. The supernatural can be detected by some physical means, if you will, but Faith must accompany that physical means.

You use the term “supernatural” but that is not a term that the Church employs. Perhaps I’m mistaken.

So, to be clear, are you saying that the Church denies the existence of the method, as you phrase it?

I was mistaken. The term “supernatural” is used 26 times in fact in the Universal Catechsim.

I think the very first question that needs to be addressed in order to have this conversation is: “What is your definition of supernatural?”

Supernatural covers a broad range of phenomena. People have observed objects spontaneously fly from their resting place to a spot across a room, multiple times. People have been driven from their homes due to this. There are also reports of either ghostly or apparently real looking people appearing in homes and disappearing.

Recently, complete amateurs with expensive equipment have tried to document this but they do not follow any rigorous procedure that I’ve observed. All they have is speculation or video footage that could easily or with some difficulty, be faked. They are making no discernable progress.

I have studied this wider subject for some years. House blessings were not uncommon in the past. However, one must be careful to separate folklore from contemporary accounts. There is a spectrum of people who are subject to suggestion, some actually believing that they saw or heard something that wasn’t there. Or people who have some mental issue that when coupled to certain beliefs like curses, the evil eye and others, may manifest physical symptoms, but that is where psychiatry comes in.

Exorcism falls into the category of a real phenomena that could be examined but due to prohibitions, does not lend itself to direct scientific study.


I got the impression that Hee Zen is looking for a logical inconsistency in the faith, but perhaps not.

It is true that you cannot compel God to disclose His being unless He chooses to, but other preternatural phenomena may more easily be discerned.

Unfortunately then you are witnessing a conversation with someone who is not a Christian. Your ‘theist’ in this conversation has missed the entire existence of Jesus, who is God, who was a physical being, who influenced people, and was detected, and was influenced, etc.

The entire premise of your question is wrong and using it to look for a logical inconsistency is an exercise in straw-man reasoning.

Once your theist has agreed that God can not be detected, etc. the whole rest of the argument is moot.

It is also a basic tenant of the faith that God is directing his creation, but that he has given us a share in that process too. That means that God can work through a person to accomplish and influence creation. We are the means. Or in Christian terms, we are the body of Christ.

Therefore, when a person makes a difference in the world for God’s sake, because of his faith, that is God directly influencing creation and this can be detected of course.

To be more precise - I am not “looking for it”, rather “I am pointing out the logical inconsistency”.

How would you know that? How can one say with any level of certainty that a “demon” (or a “guardian angel”) has been detected? What is the epistemological method employed here? In a previous post you mentioned that one also needs “faith” in order to detect a supernatural phenomenon… which sounds very similar to the proponents of “paranormal”: a skeptic will not experience paranormal events, because one needs to BELIEVE first, otherwise the paranormal will not manifest itself. Strangely, when there are professional stage magicians in the audience - who can see through the shenanigans of Uri Geller and other hoaxsters - then the paranormal will fail, each and every time.

I think paranormal phenomena occur rarely, so that makes them hard to document and deal with in an empirical way.

Have you ever heard of the Miracle of the Sun at Fatima? You might be interested in looking into that. It was a “supernatural” phenomena observed by hmmm I think the number is like +50,000 and many of these were people of no faith at all. This sort of things happens not very often obviously. (ca. 1917)

On a smaller scale, Demons have manifested supernatural behavior that cannot be explained to people who had no faith at all, far as I know. I could dig these cases up for you, but they are few and far between.

As Catholics, there are some things we “know” by reason and other things we know by “faith”.

Fides et Ratio make for the best combination for getting at the truth of the universe in my opinion.

There is a one million dollar reward for anyone who can demonstrate any “paranormal” activity in controlled circumstances. There are few takers, and no successes - so far.

Sure I did. It was some strange local meteorological phenomenon. Similar events are not infrequent, personally I witnessed one a few years ago. Of course the Sun was not “moving”, it was just an optical illusion. As far as it has been “predicted”, that is just an urban legend without any evidence.

If reason can demonstrate something, there is no need for faith. “Faith” should not be necessary for those events which can be observed in actual reality. Allegedly there are “incantations” which will summon a demon for studying. So if a group of exorcists wish to study demons, this alleged “tool” could be used.

Exorcists are not scientists, nor do they study demons in a way known to an academic. I suppose they may to a certain degree, but only for the purpose of expelling it. We Catholics believe in demons, but they are our enemy, so we don’t show them much interest.

Sounds to me like you’re a quintessential skeptic so not sure what I can tell you. I wonder if you put any stock in personal testimony of individuals. You didn’t see it yourself with your own eyes, etc. so how do you know for sure if it’s true?

There have been individuals who have gotten involved with the occult, worship of fallen angels, themselves becoming possessed, and then repented of their ways and turned back to God, but those are just stories. I don’t suppose you would put much stock in them.

Faith is something of a choice, it seems to me. I’m curious, have you ever tried praying?

Those involved in worshiping the devil have become Catholic. They have told their stories. Possession by demons is more common than people think, which is why Pope Benedict issued a call for more exorcists.


DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit