The Atheist does not say “There is no God,” but he says, “I know not what you mean by God; I am without idea of God; the word ‘God’ is to me a sound conveying no clear or distinct affirmation”
In my opinion the contention in this quote not only applies to the concept of gods but also to the supernatural in general. The supernatural is defined somewhat spuriously, often described as ‘not natural’ or ‘beyond nature’ or something equally inane. These definitions are not useful at all, for nothing has been said about what it is. You cannot define the colour red as ‘not blue or green’. I have seen some others try to define the supernatural as ‘more natural than nature’, I guess you could draw a comparison to Superman (ignoring that he’s an alien). These attempts at defining the supernatural only raise questions and answer none.
For the first definitions I mentioned, the supernatural, and thus gods (if they are defined as supernatural beings) are ultimately beyond our perception, as all evidence points towards the fact that we’re simply natural beings. All our physiological processes including thought are contained within the physical realm. So we cannot observe the supernatural, then where does that leave us?
It could be suggested that we could detect the supernatural through its interaction with the natural; this too however brings up many more questions. As soon as an effect is observed within the natural world, it is of course a natural occurrence by definition. We would observe something real happening, and search for an explanation within our reality. To assert that this event would be beyond nature is absurd, and goes against all reason. This brings to mind another quote.
“Once miracles are admitted, every scientific explanation is out of the question”
A closely related scenario is the manifestation of something supernatural. Let’s say that Yahweh appears and tells the whole earth simultaneously that it’s time for Judgment Day. Yahweh would be in the natural world, and everything that he did would be natural, so we could say definitively that a god would exist, but we wouldn’t know anything about it unless we could perform experiments on it. We could not however say that it was supernatural, because it is happening within the natural world. If the definition of a god is contingent on it being a supernatural being, we wouldn't even be able to say that one existed in this scenario.
Within science, all good hypotheses have things in common, one of those is falsifiability. A prediction is made, and depending on whether observation confirms or falsifies the theory/hypothesis gains or loses credibility. For example Einstein’s Theories of Relativity could potentially be falsified by one single observation, by observing two objects in otherwise empty space stay separated and by observing something being accelerated to the speed of light. A commonly cited possible falsification of evolution is finding ‘fossil bunnies in the Cambrian’. The God(s) hypothesis has no such feature. Any possible supernatural being is just as likely as any other possible supernatural being, as we have no evidence for or against their existence and they are unfalsifiable. Yahweh, Brahma, Baal, Marduk and Ra are just as plausible as each other. If a theist understands why they reject all of these other gods and beings, then they should understand quite well why I also reject their god.
I propose then that supernatural is not only an incoherent concept, but it is utterly useless. If discussion of the supernatural is limited to incoherent philosophical drivel, mere speculation, how can we ever hope to know anything about it? There is a famous (and famously misunderstood) quote from Einstein, which says religion without science is blind, and science without religion is lame. I want to take that quote and rephrase it in the context of reason and evidence.
“Evidence without reason is meaningless, and reason without evidence is mere speculation”I don’t intend to denigrate pure reason, as some great ideas have been conceived purely through mental processes, but when it comes to matters of fact, without any evidence you have no certainty and have very little with which to convince others. Aristotle used pure reason to arrive at his conclusions about the physical world, and he was wrong, very wrong in fact. The combination of reason and evidence is a very potent one, we call it science.
So, supernaturalists, until you come up with some way of understanding the supernatural outside of imagination, you haven’t said anything meaningful. Any talk of gods, super-nature and anything beyond nature is incoherent, and irrelevant to reality. If you can figure out a way of discovering gods or the supernatural, I’ll be the first person to raise my brow and see what you’ve developed, until then have fun playing in the sand pit.