What does it mean for something to be supernatural?  We might think of the parting of the Red Sea, Jesus turning water into wine, the resurrection of Lazarus, or even the creation of the universe as supernatural events.  These are all great examples of God’s power.  But is that what makes them supernatural?  Isn’t the normal operation of the universe also an example of God’s power?  After all, the universe continues to exist only because God upholds it by the expression of His power (Hebrews 1:3).  By Christ, all things hold together (Colossians 1:17).  Doesn’t God cause the sun to rise and the rain to fall (Matthew 5:45)?  If “supernatural” merely meant that something happens by God’s power, then everything would be supernatural.  God is in control of every atom in the universe.

Laws of Nature

Many people have been influenced by deistic thinking.  Deism is the concept that God (or “a god”) created the universe, but then stepped back and allowed the universe to run on its own.  Deism implies that the universe is self-sufficient: that it may require a creator but does not require a sustainer.  In such a worldview, laws of nature are considered to be descriptions of the way the universe runs itself in absence of any intervention by God.  “After all,” says the deist, “the word ‘natural’ means that God is not involved.” 

But this is not the Christian position.  God is intimately involved in all aspects of the universe.  Even with something as trivial as flipping a coin, or casting lots, the outcome is determined and controlled by God (Proverbs 16:33).  The normal operation of the universe is not by its own power, but is by God’s power.  Therefore, in the Christian worldview, “natural” refers to the normal way that God sustains His creation.[1]

God alone upholds His creation, and so the universe depends upon God’s power for its continued existence.  And God upholds the cosmos in a very logical, mathematical, and consistent way for our benefit.  This is why we can often write down equations that describe the precise way in which God rules.  The formula for gravity, for example, describes one of the ways in which God causes masses to accelerate.  To the Christian, laws of nature are not replacements for God’s power; they are examples of God’s power.  Laws of nature describe the normal way that the Lord causes things to happen in the universe.

Sometimes, a critic of the Faith will attempt to portray Christians as anti-science by playing upon the deistic thinking so prevalent within the church.  They might say something like this, “In the past, people believed that God caused lightning and thunder.  But we are much more scientifically enlightened today.  We now know that natural forces cause such phenomenon.  We can explain how things fall by appealing to the law of gravity.  What need is there for God?”  They might even ask the Christian, “Do you believe God causes things to fall to the ground, or do you believe it is the force of gravity?”  Of course, a well-informed Christian would answer something like this: “Both.  It is a bifurcation fallacy to say ‘either natural laws explain the universe or God does.’  In reality, natural laws are mere descriptions of the systematic way God rules His universe.”

Christians embrace dual causality.  We reject the unbiblical notion that there is only “one true cause” for all events.  God uses means to accomplish His will.  Indeed, God still causes lightning and thunder (Psalm 135:7; Exodus 9:23; Jeremiah 10:13, 51:16) and all weather (e.g. Matthew 5:45; Genesis 2:5, 7:4; Exodus 9:23,33; Leviticus 26:4; Deuteronomy 11:14, 17, 28:12; Job 5:10; Jeremiah 5:24, 14:22).  This is not contrary to the fact that natural forces cause weather since natural forces are manifestations of God’s power.  God is ultimately behind all natural phenomena, for His will determines what happens in this universe (Isaiah 14:24, 46:9-11).  If there were no mind behind natural phenomena, then why would they obey mathematical laws that are consistent over time and space? 

Laws cannot create themselves.  Therefore, the existence of laws of nature is evidence of God.  Consider civil laws.  We might ask, “Why is it illegal to run a red light?  Who made that law?”  Wouldn’t it be ridiculous for someone to respond, “That’s just the way it is.  No one created that law; it has just always been that way.”  Or, “Well, we certainly don’t need to appeal to some ‘law-maker.’  Those laws made themselves.”  Of course, civil laws aren’t the same as natural laws – and that’s the point.  If civil laws (which are completely ignored by nature and can be disobeyed by men) require a mind, how much more do natural laws (which are obeyed by everything in the universe and cannot be disobeyed) require a mind?  And the mind behind natural laws is therefore beyond nature and hence supernatural.


So, ‘natural’ refers to the ordinary operation of the universe: the predictable and systematic way that God normally upholds His creation.  ‘Supernatural’ therefore refers to something that goes beyond natural law – an unusual and extraordinary manifestation of God’s power.[2]  We cannot violate laws of nature.  But God can.  Since these laws describe the normal way God causes his will to be accomplished, when God accomplishes His will in an unusual way, we call this supernatural.  We must understand that both natural phenomena and supernatural miracles are equally demonstrations of God’s power – for He is in control of everything that happens.

Natural Selection

Given our understanding of such terms, we might expect the term ‘natural selection’ to describe the ordinary and predictable way in which God selects organisms for survival.  And indeed, such an understanding would be consistent with the established definition of the phrase.  Natural selection describes the fact that organisms with traits well-suited to a particular environment tend to survive and reproduce in greater numbers than organisms with traits less suited to that environment.  In some cases, the organisms with the less-suited traits are unable to survive at all in that particular environment and are eliminated.  This is where the phrase “survival of the fittest” comes from. 

Jesus provided an example of natural selection in one of His parables.  He described seeds planted in an environment better suited to thorns; the thorns choked out the resulting plants and they yielded no crop (Luke 8:7).  The thorns reproduced in greater numbers because they were better suited to that particular environment.  The Lord normally selects organisms with traits well-suited to their environment for survival and reproduction in greater numbers than organisms with traits less-suited to that environment.  Since this is the normal way God selects, from a Christian point of view, it makes sense to refer to this as ‘natural selection.’

Supernatural Selection

But the Bible also gives an example of God selecting organisms for survival in an unusual and extraordinary way, never to be repeated.  When the wickedness of man became exceedingly great upon the earth, God rightly judged mankind by sending a global flood (Genesis 6:5-7).  But Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord (Genesis 6:8).  We know the account; God instructed Noah to build an enormous ark in order to survive the flood.  Then God brought two of each kind of air-breathing land animal aboard Noah’s ark in order to preserve life (Genesis 6:19-20).  Noah did not have to find and collect the animals; God said that the animals would come to Noah (Genesis 6:20).

Have you ever wondered how God selected which animals would come to Noah?  Perhaps He selected varieties that still had a large amount of genetic diversity so that many different variations could arise after the flood.  Perhaps He selected them on the basis of minimizing deleterious mutations.  Then again, the Lord may have had some purpose we haven’t thought of, and perhaps one that we cannot even comprehend. 

But there is one criterion that the Lord apparently did not use: traits that would allow the organism to survive a global flood (outside the ark).  Under normal circumstances, a global flood would destroy all air-breathing, vertebrate land animals, and only aquatic creatures would survive.  This would be an example of natural selection because aquatic animals have traits that are well-suited to surviving in water whereas land animals do not.  And indeed, natural selection occurred with all the animals outside the ark. 

But without supernatural intervention, no man or air-breathing land animal would have survived the global flood.  The animals (and people) that God selected did not have sufficient traits to endure a flood, but God enabled them to survive anyway.  He preserved them in an extraordinary and unusual way.  His selection was therefore supernatural.  And so the land animals aboard the ark were able to reproduce in greater numbers than those outside the ark – but not because of their traits.  They were no more “fit” to survive a global flood than those land animals outside the ark.  Instead, they survived because God did something extraordinary.

God’s People

Additionally, there is a spiritual application of this same principle.  Which people have traits suitable for entering God’s presence?  Who can stand before God and live?  The answer of course is: no one.  For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23; Exodus 33:20).  If God selected His people by their own natural merit, God would have no people.  Hence, God selects His people supernaturally – not based on their spiritual traits since we are all insufficient.

In Deuteronomy 7:7-8, Moses says to the Israelites, “The LORD did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any of the peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but because the LORD loved you and kept the oath which He swore to your forefathers, the LORD brought you out by a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.”

God selected the Israelites to be His people in the Old Testament.  But He did not select them on the basis of their internal merit, for no human has any.  God didn’t select them on the basis of their great numbers, for they were few in number.  In fact, God selected the Israelites before they were born when He made His promise to Abraham (Genesis 26:4, 17:8; Romans 9:11-12).  It was a purely supernatural selection.

Likewise, God’s people in the New Testament have been supernaturally selected (John 6:37, 17:2).  No one is saved due to his own natural merit.  God normally allows those who rebel against Him to experience the repercussions of their treason – an eternal death of separation from God (Revelation 20:11-15).  Left to our own sinful desires and without help from the Holy Spirit, no one would come to faith in Christ (1 Corinthians 12:3; Romans 3:11).  This is the natural situation for man – his ordinary condition as a fallen creature. 

But to some people, God extends mercy and grace, granting them repentance (Acts 11:18, 5:31) and blessing them with faith (Romans 12:3; Philippians 1:29; Hebrews 12:2) and a new heart that desires to serve Him (Ezekiel 36:26).  God resurrects their dead spirit, and gives them spiritual life (John 5:24; Ephesians 2:1-6).  Resurrection from the dead is an extraordinary and unusual manifestation of God’s power, and hence is rightly classified as supernatural.[3]  But God does not grant us faith and salvation on the basis of any works that we have done (Ephesians 2:8-9, Titus 3:5).  It has nothing to do with our natural state.  He does it by His grace and his own sovereign choice.  If you have been blessed with saving faith in Christ, it is not by your own righteousness; by God’s grace you have been supernaturally selected.[4]    

[1] This is consistent with the Merriam-Webster dictionary definition of ‘natural’ in the sense of being contrasted with supernatural.  Namely, ‘natural’ means “occurring in conformity with the ordinary course of nature: not marvelous or supernatural.”

[2] This is also consistent with the Merriam-Webster dictionary definition of ‘supernatural:’ “(1) of or relating to an order of existence beyond the visible observable universe, especially: of or relating to God or a god, demigod, spirit, or devil.  (2) departing from what is usual or normal especially so as to appear to transcend the laws of nature.”

[3] Salvation is “unusual,” although it may not seem that way at first.  After all, God saves people every day.  But for any one person, his salvation (his spiritual resurrection from death to life according to Ephesians 2:1-5) is not something that happens every day!  A typical human being lives about 25900 days.  And for 25899 of them, the individual does not experience the miraculous transformation of God removing the person’s “heart of stone” and giving him or her a “heart of flesh” (Ezekiel 11:19, 36:26).  Only on one of those days does the Lord perform a spiritual resurrection – a unique and extraordinary event.  Indeed, the spiritual resurrection is more spectacular and rarer than a physical resurrection from the dead; all people will be physically resurrected (John 5:28-29), but only believers are spiritually resurrected (John 5:24-25).

[4] Strangely, this realization seems to inhibit evangelism in some Christians.  “Why proclaim the Gospel if God decides who will be given saving faith?”  The obvious answer is: “God may intend to use your proclamation and defense of the Gospel as part of the means to save those whom He chooses.  God ordains not only the ends but also the means.”  Your actions are part of God’s plan.  He will either use your obedience to pour out His blessings, or He will use your disobedience to demonstrate His wrath.