Thursday, July 12, 2012


It has been something of a sport for skeptics such as myself to debunk the so-called miracles of the Bible; that is, to suggest that events deemed miraculous –- Noah's flood, the parting of the Red Sea, the fall of the walls of Jericho, and so on –- have natural explanations. As much imagination has gone into the debunking as went into the accounts themselves.

This always seemed to me a fool's errand; one might as well offer up natural explanations for the fantastic events of a Grimm fairy tale. My proper work, it seems to me, is not to show that miracles are natural, but to celebrate the natural as miraculous.

Remember this from Augustine's City of God?
Nor are those to be listened to, who say that the invisible God does not perform miracles, for even according to them he made the world, which surely they cannot deny to be visible. Indeed, whatever miracle may occur in this world, truly it is far less than the whole of the world, heaven and earth and all things that are in them, which God certainly made. But just like the Maker himself, even so the mode of his making is hidden and incomprehensible to man. And so, although those who constantly behold the miracles of visible nature hold them in small regard, nevertheless, when we consider them wisely, they are greater than the rarest and most unheard-of things.
It is a theme you have heard here a thousand times: Why get excited by some imagined violation of natural law -– raising Lazarus, ESP, the face of Jesus on a cheeseburger, crop circles –- when far more spectacular things are happening all around us every day, indeed in every cell of our bodies at every instant. Why should I get excited about a fairytale story of water into wine when the plant on my windowsill turns water, air and dirt into red, ripe tomatoes?

The "mode and making" of the universe may be "hidden and incomprehensible to man," as Augustine says, but we can probe that incomprehensibility, as the perhaps-successful pursuit of the Higgs boson makes clear. The Higgs doesn't debunk the miracle of creation; it is part of the miracle.

I think of something the Irish naturalist Tim Robinson says in Stones of Aran: Miracles are explainable; it is the explanations that are miraculous.