Thursday, August 22, 2013

What about miracles?

Today, on Facebook, the page Together - people of all faiths, humanists, agnostics and atheists, posted a piece on Miracles.  Suffice it to say, I do not agree.

His first paragraph starts out just fine.
Some consider miracles proof of the working of the divine, for others those events are a source of inspiration to investigate reality and gain insight in the laws of nature, again others simply accept them as a stroke of luck or some strange exception. 
No problem, simple statement of something fairly commonly understood.

But then,
But no matter what, we all agree such events as called miracles exist. 
Not quite.  First, you've got to define what a miracle might be.  This is where he goes off the rails.

A miracle is a benificial, or a least meaningful insightful event, coming out of the blue without a logical explanation for its meaningfulness, and can be one of these three kinds: 
- miracles, based on meaningful coincidence
- miracles, based on the event being a statistically very unlikely exception - like winning the lottery
- miracles, not ascribable to human power or the laws of nature, consequently attributed to supernatural or divine power, sometimes performed by a saint or a religious leader - like the parting of the waters of the sea.
Really, I see no difference between the first and second "kinds" he defines here.   A coincidence is just that - a coincidence, and is merely an artifact of statistical likelihood.  What is a "meaningful" coincidence or "meaningful insight" event, anyway?  What may be meaningful to one may mean nothing to another.  The only thing he got right there was the term "beneficial".  Most people do appear to see miracles as positive things.  If it isn't positive, it isn't a miracle, we call it "bad luck"!  (Sometimes, we call on Murphy's Law to explain it.)

But, really, the third one is the one that gets my goat.

History is full of purported miracles.  Purported, because nobody can verify that any of them actually happened.  The fact is, to claim a miracle is to claim the occurrence of an extraordinary event.  Something, like he says, that is not ascribable to the powers of humanity or the natural world.  Divine intervention, if you will.

Proof.  Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof.  Solid, verifiable, repeatable, and scientifically valid proof.  Anybody can statistically show the likelihood that one person out of a couple hundred could survive an airliner crash.  All of us at one time or another have had a close brush with something that could have injured or killed us, like a car or something heavy falling.  Again, one can trot out statistics to show the likelihood of that event turning out differently.  Mathematics has some very specific ways of calculating such things.  Easy.

But miracles?  At no time, can anyone prove that an event has occurred that violates the laws of the natural world around us.  Time and again, events that look at first that they may be a miracle turn out upon examination to have been the result of hidden forces or unseen elements - sometimes even optical illusions - that prevent us from seeing the truth.

Many folks don't care to look that closely.  They prefer the miracle.  But those of us who look at the world skeptically prefer to actually KNOW what happened.  Proof.

Eventually, he does concede that miracles, as divine intervention, are not there.
Therefore, the third category is actually empty, as believers and non-believers alike have no means to decide whether a certain event belongs to this category.
 Then, off the rails he goes again.
There is - at least - one scripture agreeing with this conclusion, which is The Qu'ran. It uses miracles in the sense of signs; signs to recognize the workings of Allah. In that sense, only events in the first category of miracles - meaningful coincidences - qualify as such a sign. Supernatural phenomena or humans performing something absolutely out of the ordinary, are either a known-in-advance interference of Allah as creator and manager of the universe - and therefore not a miracle - or they are not, in which case they don't fall in the last category as we miss the requirement of divine intervention.
<Sigh>  And here I thought rationality was back.  Again, proof!  Nobody has ever proved that Allah exists, so how could a miracle be attributed to him?  And also again, just what is a meaningful coincidence?  What makes it meaningful?  And to whom?
 So a miracle is a meaningful coincidence, with no explanation for the synchronicity. Two - or more - things just happen out of the blue at the same time to our benefit, getting us out of trouble or giving us a very important insight.
This assumes the existence of something or someone with a purpose.   A superior knowledge combined with the purpose of providing that knowledge to us as a lesson through the vehicle of a miracle.  Assuming, of course, we are smart enough to get the point.
The point is, the mere fact that miracles exist, the fact that we all from our own experience have experienced a few of them, form just one more scientifical, secular proof of the principle of interconnectedness, a very intricate interdependence.
Interconnectedness?  Who is connected?  How and by what mechanism?  Where is the scientific research that shows this mechanism?  It doesn't exist, not in any new agey, spiritual kind of way, that's for sure!  Just because you use the word science doesn't make it scientific.

Sure, we are all, as animals, interconnected with each other within the ecology of our world, such that human actions can affect other humans and animals in negative or positive ways through our own interactions with the ecology we live in and are part of.

But, somehow, I don't think that is what the author of this piece means.

Yet to see the interconnectedness is to see the miracles; to see the miracles is to be filled with wonder; to be filled with wonder is a huge source of inspiration, joy, zeal, hope and life.
Oh, yeah!  Connectedness!  Wonder!  Inspiration!  All that sounds great, and includes words that uplift and inspire.  (including the word "inspire" itself!  Win!)

 But they don't really mean anything.  Not in the sense in which miracles may or may not exist.

Now, if you want to start talking about nature - the whole, truly inspiring, wide wonderful span of nature, from the very smallest quantum particles to the vast expanse of ultra-galactic superstructures forming the universe itself, then, yes, you can talk about a form of interconnectedness, as all of nature is connected in myriads of ways science is only beginning to understand.

But, please, stop nattering on about miracles, unless you want to get lost in a conversation with mathematicians.  Plenty of them will bend your ear for hours about the almost miraculous manners in which math fits together and describes this universe so perfectly!

While I can appreciate the wonder of it, math will put me to sleep.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This the admin of the Together page - just to clarify that I shared this post from another page for discussion and debate; I didn't write it.