We shall take advantage of the holiday lull in creationism stories to indulge in a bit of theological speculation. This is risky, not only because your Curmudgeon knows virtually nothing about theology, but also because there is probably a vast library on this subject of which we are ignorant. We admit that this is virgin territory for us, so we’ll offer our thoughts for whatever they’re worth — probably little.
Our subject today is miracles. For background, we’ll repeat something we’ve said before:
[T]his isn’t an atheist blog. We’re never bothered when someone is religious, not even if he has faith in a few miracles. What does bother us, however — aside from acts of raw aggression which some commit in the name of religion — is bad reasoning. It pollutes the environment.
Religion is based on faith — belief in something for which there is an absence of evidence or logical proof. That goes for miracles too. It’s irrational to maintain faith in some alleged miracle when verifiable evidence clearly contradicts it — as with young-Earth Creationism. But as for the existence of deities — despite the lack of evidence — that’s what faith is all about. Your Curmudgeon is easy to get along with. If you don’t bother us, we won’t bother you.
Here’s Wikipedia’s definition of miracle: “A miracle is an event not ascribable to human power or the laws of nature and consequently attributed to a supernatural, especially divine, agency.” That will do for our purposes. They also mention phenomena that are sometimes called miracles, but which don’t fall into the foregoing description:
The word “miracle” is often used to characterise any beneficial event that is statistically unlikely but not contrary to the laws of nature, such as surviving a natural disaster, or simply a “wonderful” occurrence, regardless of likelihood, such as a birth. Other miracles might be: survival of an illness diagnosed as terminal, escaping a life-threatening situation or ‘beating the odds’. Some coincidences may be seen as miracles.
Those events aren’t actual miracles, because despite their perceived improbability, they’re not impossible. A miracle must be something which is literally impossible. Improbable events occur all the time. And here we’ll quote something else we’ve said before. It’s our favorite example of improbability — your own existence:
Human conception is preceded by the release of roughly 20 million sperm per milliliter, and the number of milliliters varies with age and other factors. The average for a healthy young male is estimated to be 300-500 million spermatozoa, per, ah … event. To be on the conservative side, let’s say that a specific human zygote has less than a one-in-100 million chance of being conceived. And that’s for one particular fertile moment for the female. A month earlier or later, the zygote will be different. In other words, dear reader, considering the odds against your turning out to be precisely you, it’s obvious that your existence is quite improbable. Nevertheless, there you are.
Okay, improbable things aren’t miracles — they’re the stuff of which reality is made. Now that we know what miracles are — and what they aren’t — what does your Curmudgeon have to say about this peculiar subject?
We sort miracles into two groups — and we unimaginatively call them Category One and Category Two. Both types are impossible, but Category One miracles are those that, having been said to occur, don’t leave any contradictory evidence to discredit the tale — other than the event’s inherent impossibility, of course. It requires faith to attribute any credit to such tales, but that’s the nature of faith — it’s belief in the absence of evidence or logical proof.
Examples of Category One miracles abound in the bible, such as the conversation Moses had with a burning bush, or the resurrection and ascension of Jesus. Things like that obviously aren’t possible, but — assuming one has faith that they occurred — there’s no evidence lying around after such events to contradict the tale.
Category Two miracles occupy the next level. They’re also miracles, but — like the claims of innocence from a criminal whose crime was recorded on videotape — they’re easily refuted because they’re contradicted by verifiable evidence. The best example of this category would be the whole package of young-earth creationism.
Everything in the universe provides consistent evidence that young-earth creationism is nonsense. Astronomy reveals an old universe. Geology and nuclear physics (radiometric dating of rocks using known decay rates of isotopes) reveal an old Earth; and biology reveals the fact of evolution over hundreds of millions of years. Although creationists desperately insist that each of those sciences relies on its own set of false assumptions, all of those allegedly false, wildly ad hoc assumptions seem to be remarkably “fine tuned.” Creationists can’t explain how so many different lines of evidence somehow converge on the same conclusions about the age of the universe, the Earth, and evolution. That couldn’t happen unless each branch of science is accurately describing the same reality.
Skepticism is inevitable whenever miracles are alleged. In the case of Category One miracles, skeptics can be ignored by the faithful. But in the case of Category Two miracles, flat-out refutation shouldn’t be confused with mere skepticism. It’s a fatal weakness. Belief in a Category Two miracle requires far more than mere faith — which is difficult enough. It also requires a truly massive amount of reality denial. This is where faith crosses the boundary into the realm of fanaticism, from which few ever return. That degree of faith is inexcusable.
So where does this leave us? Here’s our conclusion — an admittedly temporary conclusion: Belief in Category One miracles, although utterly unscientific and unjustifiable by any rational means, is said to be pleasant for believers and is also tolerable by others — at least in our humble opinion. What we mean is that one can live peacefully alongside people with such beliefs — provided those beliefs are voluntary and not used as a pretext for violating anyone’s rights.
But that’s where we draw the line. Any adult who believes in Category Two miracles is stark raving mad and should be treated accordingly. Well, there are other possibilities — see Ignorant, Stupid, Insane, or Wicked. Whichever may be applicable, it isn’t good.
Copyright © 2013. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.