Difference Between Paranormal And Supernatural

“All of you out there who believe in telepathy, raise your hand. All right. Now, everyone who believes in telekinesis: raise my hand.” —Dennis Owens

In A Nutshell

The terms “paranormal” and “supernatural” are often tossed around to mean the same thing—something we don’t understand. They’re actually two separate terms, though. “Paranormal” refers to something that’s not understood by current scientific knowledge; there’s the potential that something paranormal will someday be explained scientifically, and there’s a likelihood there’s a good, natural explanation for it. “Supernatural” refers to a phenomenon that is beyond our capability to understand, now and simply forever, because it just doesn’t operate under our rules.

The Whole Bushel

We tend to think of paranormal and supernatural things as interchangeable terms. They’re things that we just can’t explain with rational, accepted science. While they’re certainly true, there’s more to it than that.

“Paranormal” refers to the idea that there are phenomenon that occur that we just can’t explain yet—but we might be able to one day. The word itself essentially means “something that exists outside of what we consider to be normal.” There are plenty of things that could have once been considered paranormal phenomena that we can now explain with science. Undoubtedly, the mysterious winter disappearance of birds and summer reappearance of more birds would have seemed bizarre to someone who wasn’t aware that they were actually just migrating south for the winter months. (So bizarre, in fact, that some medieval maps depict “Duck Trees” in an attempt to explain just where more ducks come from.) Rocks that fall from the sky were once a paranormal phenomenon, and now we know that they’re meteorites, and where they come from.

Things that are supernatural can never be explained by our sciences. They are governed by completely different rules than the rules that we’re subject to, and are, by nature, inexplicable. These are the things that we will never be able to document in our scientific methods, these are the things that go against all of our natural rules, they are things that we have no logical basis for.

The realm of the paranormal includes things that we might one day understand, and be able to duplicate in a scientific study or setting and figure out just how they work—once we catch up to them. That includes things like faith healing, telepathy and telekinesis, and clairvoyance. There’s also the field of cryptozoology: One day, Bigfoot might make the jump from paranormal to fact, much like the giant panda, the giant squid, the giraffe, and the okapi once did.

Supernatural things, on the other hand, we will never have a way to document simply because they don’t play by the same rules we do. We’ll never have a way to scientifically observe a god, a guardian angel, or a soul. We’re not going to be able to repeat a miracle in a laboratory. The supernatural is beyond our capabilities of understanding and is instead in the realm of the divine or otherworldly.

Religion and supernatural often go hand in hand. Religion and mythology have long been created to explain things that we just simply can’t. Christianity includes the ideas of a number of things that are defined as supernatural, although they might not commonly be thought of as such. These are things like resurrection, virgin births, and even concepts like grace: by definition, things that simply don’t exist in nature.

The idea of something that’s supernatural has been around most likely as long as people have been creating stories about otherworldly deities to explain what’s going on around them, and the word “supernatural” was first used in the 15th century. The term “paranormal” is a much later invention that came about only in the 1920s.

Show Me The Proof

Milwaukee Paranormal: What is paranormal?
What Does ‘Supernatural’ Mean?
Merriam-Webster: Supernatural
Merriam-Webster: Paranormal

  • ethan

    lol, wrong. soooooo wrong, cant this site get any better writers?!?!?! come visit us on cracked, where at least we do research

    • Nathaniel A.

      Four links isn’t research? If you don’t like the site, go back to Cracked, or better yet point out specific things that are wrong with the article, and maybe they can be corrected.

      • mo

        4 links isn’t, when one doesn’t work, 2 are simply definitions from the same source, and the other is a blog from a televangelist, that is from a guy writing a book on supernatural, in which he states he is only defining it in terms of Christian theology.

  • Nathaniel A.

    Very good distinction, I will be sure to use it from now on.

  • Tamedresser

    There are many things stated in this article, such as distinctions that are not so, that are made up by the author. Too many to point out, as they could fill an article ten times this one’s length.

    But the first clue comes from clicking on the link for Merriam-Webster’s definition for paranormal.

    Its definition reads:

    : not scientifically explainable : supernatural

    So do all 4 of my real world pulp based dictionaries. The words are definitionally so similar that they are synonyms.

    In short, this is merely a made up article trying to sound knowledgeable in the face of a lazy writer not even reading her own ‘research.’ It is put out there as Internet filler, just so this site can produce ‘content,’ regardless of its quality and accuracy, to garner hits. It is static and wastes bandwidth,

    Ethan was correct, and a click on a link proves so.

    • Spartachilles

      Things can be very different and still be synonymous. They just have to have a similar meaning. For example, demolish and decimate are considered synonyms despite one meaning “to pull or knock something down” while the other means “to kill, destroy, or take a large percentage out of something”. Not exactly the same, but close enough to be synonyms.

      Also, the Merriam-Webster links have definitions that pretty much match up with what the author said. You just decided to forgo the large, obvious, detailed description for the smaller, less-detailed one.

      The articles on paranormal and supernatural also match up with the author’s words.

      So, I think I can conclude in saying that you should look at ALL the research from the author, rather than one small bit of it and deem the author’s work “made up”.

      • Blue

        The problem is that the author is trying to compare the paranormal to evidence of absence scientific arguments when that is not the case at all with the paranormal.

        The correct phraseology when dealing with the paranormal is to equate it to pseudoscience.

        The vast majority of the paranormal (99%+) can be laid firmly within the bounds cognitive neuroscience, i.e. these are brain farts caused by stimuli (drugs, sensory deprivation, flashing/strobing lights, electromagnetic interference with normal brainwave activity, hallucinations etc etc) and can be easily explained by scientific means.

        However the science angle is left out for an anecdotal approach rather than a providing of evidence approach, hence why these studies in the paranormal are all pseudoscientific.

        This is why James Randi has never lost his or his institutions money as basically its all nonsense that has no proof.

        Basically the paranormal in the vast majority of cases is an absence of evidence belief and not an evidence of absence scientific question.

        • Charles Ray

          That explained it perfectly for me.

      • Tamedresser

        Things can be very different and still be synonymous. They just have to
        have a similar meaning. For example, demolish and decimate are
        considered synonyms despite one meaning “to pull or knock something
        down” while the other means “to kill, destroy, or take a large
        percentage out of something”. Not exactly the same, but close enough to
        be synonyms.

        Tis whole paragraph is so self-contradictory one hopes the writer of it is invoking Poe’s Law. I did not forgo the other definitions, merely pointed out those that the article writer conveniently ignored. And the other articles similarly make up distinctions that do not exist.

        By definition, all deities are both paranormal and supernatural, The same with Sasquatches and chupacabras, which are, as cryptids, definitionally supernatural, or above nature, since they are beyond natural laws.

        I also stated the article was ‘made up’ ‘as Internet filler, just so this site can produce ‘content,’ regardless of its quality and accuracy, to garner hits.’ You are extrapolating that I meant she made up anything else.

        All in all, an exceedingly weak defense. Blue offers a good riposte, as well. Both things paranormal and supernatural can be tested scientifically, and both fail; it’s merely a matter of semiotics on things that have import only socially, as metaphors, and not anything real.

        • Spartachilles

          Fair enough. However, it would be nice if you explained when you attack my writing in the first paragraph of the first response.

  • UN

    The real difference between two is that paranormal is terrible movie while supernatural is a really amazing show

    • TheMadHatter

      Paranormal activity… Now I get it… I feel so stupid…

    • Lisa 39

      Exactly! Then the kids tried to get me to watch paranormal activity 2, i said no way!

    • Exiled Phoenix

      They both blow my nads… Paranormal had the big tittied chick though.

    • CaptainoftheAnima

      I actually like that movie and the show. But to each his own

  • SAdudue

    Another drab article….just saying

  • Carolyne

    Very interesting

  • CaptainoftheAnima

    Though if faith healing is powered by the supernatural, it in itself would be considered supernatural rather than paranormal.

  • While this article makes a very cute distinction, it doesn’t seem to be the way that “supernatural” is actually used. Take this part:

    “We’ll never have a way to scientifically observe a god, a guardian angel, or a soul.” Really? We won’t? And, for the sake of argument, let’s say we did see such a thing, a ghost or a spirit…somehow that would make the thing not “supernatural”? Plenty of cherished claims of the supernatural, and books and movie and old tales, do indeed involve such things being seen. And even other effects they may have could be detected, counting just as much as an observation as any other kind of observation.

    The article, given it’s exclusion of the supernatural from science, is basically defining the supernatural as fictional, or purely speculative.

  • Charles Ray

    ” refers to something that’s not understood by current scientific knowledge; there’s the potential that something paranormal will someday be explained scientifically”

    Isn’t that what preternatural means?

    Based on what I’ve been looking at they both mean the same things but are used to refer to different beings.

    Sci-fi(aliens and psychics) is to paranormal as Supernatural is to Fantasy (fairies and dragons)

  • Jasmine

    There is evidence of both resurrection and virgin births happening in nature, so can they still b called supernatural? Resurrections happen every time someone has a near death experience. And although the saying is “near” death, most of those people are actually dead, some for several days, and then come back. Then there are the handful of animals (shark, lizard, snake, etc.) that have reproduced their own offspring without sex or a mate, and they are usually female. Yes even human women have reproduced without a male, not just Mary, but it takes ideal conditions and timing for something like that to happen and even then the baby can be born with birth defects/mutations.

  • Miami Sunset

    Paranormal means it IS NOT currently considered scientifically factual, but it COULD BE. Note that this is different from that which is unknown, such as the existence of life (not necessarily sentient) on other planets, which is considered to be scientifically possible. However, given our current state of science there is little left
    classified as paranormal that could turn out to be true. We may one day
    contact aliens on other planets only to discover that they never even
    heard of Earth, let alone visited it.

    Supernatural is stuff that CANNOT BE nor COULD EVER BE scientifically explainable, mostly because they cannot be measured or detected using scientific methods. It’s more about personal experiences and beliefs, such as life after death.