Why so much Supernatural even in an Age of Reason? (Part 1/2)

There were still things that could not yet be explained by science. It left a gap between experiences and frameworks, and opened people's minds to alternative possibilities.

Rational vs. Rationale

The Industrial Revolution saw the rise of many dichotomies that somehow managed to live side by side. During the 19th century science itself was akin to magic. This seems strange to us when we can get information on anything we want by poking a little box we carry in our pocket. But scientific advancements came so quickly, it could be hard to keep it. People did not yet understand the how or why things worked, only the results.

For instance, improving sanitation in a city could reduce the effects of cholera. People believed that it was because plumbing cut down on bad smells. They didn’t even know about contagion or germ theory yet. Electricity brought light into their homes, but the average person couldn’t tell you why that collection of glass and wires could outshine a candle. (And honestly, I would be hard pressed to explain exactly how a telephone works myself!) In other words, people were willing to accept things that they could not explain.

Losing Faith in Faith

Another symptom of this era was a challenge to mainstream religious beliefs. Many felt that in Charles Darwin’s 1859 treatise, The Origin of the Species, he had effectively “killed” God. By replacing God’s will (and whim) with scientific principles and data, it shook the foundations of the Christian faith. Charlotte Barrett put it this way, “The insertion of humans beings into this biological continuum meant that, for Darwin, humans were part of nature rather than above it.” Darwin was aware of how revolutionary his theories were, which is why he had originally planned to wait until after his death to publish them.


One might assume that this would be the perfect precursor to pave the way to a totally rational public, but people are far more complicated than that. Though many may have felt that the answers did not lie in words from the pulpit, there were still things that could not yet be explained by science. This left a gap between their experiences and their frameworks, and opened their minds to alternative possibilities. Some people turned to Spiritualism, which offered a blending of science and belief in the afterlife. The fantastical, pagan figures of myth held great appeal for people floundering in the face of religious upheaval.

Come back Fri or attend Phoebe’s “How to Punk Your Steam: Make it Supernatural” talk at TeslaCon to find out more!


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