Those who are familiar with such human characteristics can take advantage of our irrational way of thinking. They can manipulatively assign varying significance to things that deserve a much simpler interpretation, if analyzed using simple statistical tools and rational thinking. Consider the following experiment: 128 people are watching a preacher tossing a coin, instructing them to concentrate hard on the desired result, according to which half of them leave the set. Then the same exercise repeats itself with the remaining 64. Eventually, following seven such steps, there is a single person left who was right all along. A good preacher and a suitable atmosphere will find it easy to convince this individual that he or she really shares some of the divine spark. What would you feel after finding out that you (of all people) guessed right all along, so many times? (Similar examples are described in various books and articles, e.g., Michael Shermer’s Why People Believe Weird Things.)
Along the same lines, people often show their wonder of life on Earth. How come the Sun is exactly at the right distance or the atmosphere is exactly at the proper thickness? Everything is sort of built especially for us, to survive in here – what better proof does one need for the existence of God? Switching to rational thinking, we are simply one lucky planet of 128 (actually many more).
It should be noted that life on Earth, as far as humans and animals are concerned, is far from perfect. Almost each and every living creature completes his or her lifetime with great pain, being served as food to some other creature, whether a lion or a virus. The bottom line is that everything is coincidence, and nothing is “from God”, except in our imagination, which has evolved to think that way by the same coincidence.
Anyway, if you enjoy such examples, then consider the following question: When tossing a coin several times, we sometimes get heads and sometimes get tails. Let’s mark them by ‘H’ and ‘T’. So, which of the following sequences is more likely to occur when a coin is tossed ten times: ‘HHHHHTTTTT’ or ‘HHTHTHTTTH’? Actually, both of them stand exactly the same chance, but our mind is in love with patterns that make some sense to us, and tends to think more irrationally about them. Furthermore, psychological evidence indicates that people have different perspective of their initial thinking about a probability of an event, after it occurs.
Miracles play a major role in various religions and traditions, probably due to the fact that the stories about them tease our mind. As strange as it may sound, the formal declaration of a Catholic saint involves several stages, where in a few of them the candidate has to generate miracles. An example of such miracle may be curing a patient without doctors having a scientific explanation for the cure. Hence, there are probably hundreds of undeclared potential Catholic saints walking among us. Besides, what’s the connection between miracles and believing in God? Suppose you see the cup of coffee on your desk suddenly lifting itself up in the air, singing ‘Hava Nagila’. Should you start praying now on a daily basis? Should you now stick to kosher food? Perhaps a better way to tackle this would be to explore the phenomenon and/or the human mind?
Now, if you think we’re done with miracles, you’re wrong.
We already discussed the wealth of excuses and explanations that are available to bridge the gap between what’s dictated by the religious mode and what’s known by the reality mode. Come to think of it, why should any excuse be made when miracles – whatever they are – are possible?
Let’s take Noah’s ark and the great flood story for example. There have been many miserable attempts to scientifically (or pseudo scientifically) explain the Biblical story. It does require some explanation: There is not enough water on our planet to cover all the land. Where did all the water come from? Where did it go after? Still, since the Biblical story categorizes the event as a sort of miracle under God’s supervision, then why bother explaining at all? Actually, why bother researching anything if we assume in advance that the world does not have clear rules and all things can happen at anytime? Who needs science when you can walk on water?
Maybe we do bother because we actually have two different definitions for miracle. We’ll call the first one a natural miracle – this is where God supposedly interferes and changes the course of events, however the events themselves remain natural. The second type of miracle’s definition is the super-natural miracle. This is where God appears in a multimedia show, lightning and thunder come out from nowhere, objects appear or disappear, cups of coffee start singing and the rules of physics are seemingly bent.
It seems that somehow we prefer miracles to reside under the natural definition. Perhaps it makes us feel easier with our worldview and consequently, we need to invent all those explanations and excuses. However, let’s try to examine these definitions further.
The definition of the natural miracle lacks something very important: Since the ingredients of the miracle are purely natural, and the course of events does not contradict anything we know, then we humans have no means of checking whether it is a miracle or not by definition. So, there is no point in discussing whether a miracle actually took place. The events, irregular as they may seem, fall within the known statistic distribution, which also includes extremely good events and extremely bad events. If it doesn’t, then it’s not a natural miracle. If someone chooses to proclaim it a miracle, then it’s his or her business. It’s nothing more than assigning a new title to something that exists already, without this title.
The definition of the super-natural miracle, on the other hand, includes some internal contradiction. If something happened, then by the sheer event of happening, it became part of nature. Therefore, the ‘super-natural’ adjective should perhaps be replaced by ‘not yet understood by us’. Science has never pretended to fully understand the universe, for if it did, all scientific research would stop.
Science does, however, recognize the fact that most of the miracles we discussed so far did not take place exactly as described in the Holy Scriptures (what’s holy?) – literally, the world was not created in six days, water never covered the entire Earth – at least not in the era of humans, Moses did not turn water into blood, Jesus did not walk on water, and Muhammad did not travel from Mecca to Jerusalem over night.