The Problem of Miracles

ocean sunset

A commenter in a previous post on the subject of faith and reason made the following observation:

The most Christian apologetics can accomplish is to show faith in Divine revelation to be a reasonable proposition. I would say the challenges presented by various content in the Holy Scriptures are significant. As you pointed out, “we evaluate scriptures claiming to be revelation with the tools of archeology, linguistics, textual analysis for internal consistency and external verification, to validate, in some measure, the veracity of such claims.” This is all very good, but what of the more difficult propositions hidden in the texts: creation stories, Noah’s Ark, the parting of the Red Sea, a talking ass, sword wielding angelic messengers, chariots of fire swooping in to carry men to heaven, floating ax heads, the regeneration of limbs, a virgin birth, or Lazarus raised from the dead?

The subject raised here is a challenging one, and a common point put forward in any discussion about faith and reason: what about the miracles spoken about in Scripture? The events such as those mentioned above lie entirely outside the realm of our experience, and it appears utterly reasonable and rational to dismiss them as fabrications, myth, or at best allegorical tales intended for moral teaching. The belief in miracles by people of religious faith is perhaps the area most incomprehensible to the skeptic. Such events are logically and physically impossible, reside outside the laws of nature and science, and therefore no rational, intelligent person could or should believe such unadulterated nonsense. Even those of religious conviction often struggle with this aspect of their faith. Some will simply dodge the issue: “The Bible says it, I believe it.” End of discussion — and not terribly satisfying for those seeking more rational evidence for faith than mere assent to the truth of revelation alone.

For most who reject the possibility of miracles, their impossibility arises less from evidence found lacking — for they rarely objectively evaluate the evidence — than from the presuppositions fundamental to their view of the world. If the universe is purely material, randomly engendered and devoid of any possibility of divine existence, then miracles must, by necessity, be either mythical in origin or have other, naturalistic explanations. For those who believe in some sort of divine entity or power — especially one which is impersonal or abstract — the intimate intervention of a personal, supernatural Being into the natural world in any demonstrable way is inconceivable. Even for those who may believe in a personal God, the idea that the divine would intervene demonstrably in ways contravening the laws of nature and their daily experience of the world seems highly implausible and impossibly remote.

Yet the problem of miracles is central to the integrity of faith. If in fact miracles cannot occur, if in fact they are naught but myths and morality tales, then faith itself must be without substance or certainty, and becomes nothing more than a comfortable belief system without basis in reality, history, or objective truth. The problem of miracles must be met head-on if we are to have a faith grounded in reason rather than diaphanous desire.

It is not imperative that every miracle held by faith be provable — indeed, were such a thing possible, it would destroy the very essence of faith, for we do not believe in what we see, but rather in that which is unseen. Once the premise that the divine can intervene, and indeed has intervened in tangible ways superseding the dictates of logic and the constraints of the material universe, however, the largest hurdle to accepting their possibility has been bridged. Reason demands that faith be reasonable: that the injection of the divine and transcendent into the temporal and material ought not lie purely within the realm of the easily-deceptive determinations born of mere thought or mental theorems. If God has stepped into history, we should expect to see His footprints.

Christianity at its very heart is about just such an injection of the timeless into time, of the transcendent into the material. The ripples of this event radiate throughout history, with implications unspeakably vast and ever-widening. At the vortex of this widening gyre lies a miracle: the God-man come to earth, unjustly executed, and subsequently raised from the dead. That a man should claim to be God is hardly unique; that a man be unjustly tortured and killed, and esteemed thereafter as a martyr, is no rare event. That a man should make such claims, and meet such an end, and rise thenceforth from the grave, recasts preposterous claims as profound certainty and transforms his death into something transcendent and immensely powerful. If this event is but myth, Christianity becomes nothing more than platitudes and powerless moralizing; if true, no event in time is more significant, no aspect of life untouched by its enormity and seriousness.

If belief in this miracle be reasonable, if we may trace these long-traveled waves of faith back to their source, and in the inspection of their origins find evidence substantial and compelling, then the world becomes a vastly different place from that seen through a myopic focus on superficial pseudo-reality and all-too-comfortable denial of the divine.

By their very nature as supernatural phenomena, one cannot “prove” a miracle as one might prove a math theorem. Nor will mere facts or historical evidence of themselves be sufficient to document with unquestioned certainty those things upon which so much rests — for the human mind often proves stubbornly intransigent when new conclusions run counter to cherished beliefs or worldview conviction. Were such a point-by-point approach fail-safe, there would be no Holocaust deniers nor 9/11 conspirators.

If God exists, if He intrudes in human history in ways unexplainable by mere reason and material experience, then such a manifestation has profound implications for all who encounter it. For a God who intervenes thus in time stands face-to-face thereby with each of us, wherever we may stand. We may thereby hate Him or bow down to Him, but we can no longer live comfortably in delusional denial about such a reality.

It is my hope over the following posts to lay out such evidence in some detail. I break no new ground here; this evidence has been garnered and sifted many times over, by many other far more qualified to present it than I. But it seems apropos to present it again in some measure at this time, in an age increasingly skeptical and cynical, in a culture dismissive of truth and obsessed with the glorious glitter of vacuous beauty, of knowledge without wisdom, at the pinnacle of civilization yet ignorant of its stories and the substance of its soul.

The Endless Mandala

nebulaCourtesy of PajamasMedia, I was drawn to a rather interesting site, Bad Astronomy, run by Phil Plait, an astronomer and self-described skeptic. He writes of a new interpretation of a theory called Loop Quantum Gravity, which he believes explains the behavior of the universe at its figurative Ground Zero: the instant of the Big Bang, where T=0.

Now our astronomer seems to be quite a nice fellow, very bright and a talented writer, skilled at explaining complex scientific problems in layman’s terms. He expounds on this new and most interesting mathematical theory, which concludes, if I understand him correctly, that the zero point of the universe, where its volume in current Big Bang models is theoretically zero and its density infinite, there may actually have been instead the extreme collapse of a preexisting universe — one quite different from the universe we now observe.

Toward the end of this fascinating essay, a few paragraphs caught my eye:

Also, and what’s perhaps most exciting about these theories, is that they make predictions, predictions which can be verified or falsified based on observations. These are delicate experiments to be sure, but some will be possible to perform in just the next few years …

These theories may seem like mumbo-jumbo or magic, but they have that very basic property of science: they’re testable.

And of course, I have to use this to stick it to the creationists once again. One thing they love to talk about is “fine tuning”, how so many physical constants (like the charge on an electron, and the strength of gravity and the nuclear forces) appear to be incredibly well-adjusted to produce not just our Universe, but intelligent life in it: us.

Well, some of us.

The creationists claim that the only way this could possibly happen is if some sort of Intelligent Designer — and let’s not be coy, they mean God — set these values to be precisely what they are…

But now we see another answer to the creationists: maybe this isn’t the only Universe. There might have been a string of them, reaching back in time, in meta-time beyond time. In those other Universes, maybe the electron had more charge, and stars couldn’t form. Or maybe it had less, and every star collapsed into a black hole. But if you get enough Universes, and the constants change in each one, then eventually one will get the mix right. Stars will last for billions of years, planets can form, life can evolve, and on one blue green ball of dust, chemicals can get complicated enough that they could look inside themselves, understand what they see, and marvel at the very fact of their own existence.

And maybe, just maybe, they can also figure out how it all came to be. This isn’t fantasy, folks, it’s science. It’s how things work.

Far be it for me to challenge this new mathematical theory of the origins of the universe. I dreamed of being an astronomer in my youth, actually — until I realized it involved more than just looking through telescopes. I had just enough of the wretched discipline of physics to satisfy my requirements as a chemistry major — and when chemistry began to look more and more like physics at its higher levels, I suffered my own Big Bang and ditched it all for medicine.

Now I’ll forbear, as a gentleman, our cheerful astronomer’s gratuitous slap at the intelligence of any and all yahoos who are stupid enough to believe there might be a God, Who in infinite goodness, wisdom, and extraordinary graciousness, created — for His pleasure and ours — this almost unfathomably-complex universe which we struggle to understand. And I’ll ignore — for the moment — the metaphysical Deus Ex Machina our astronomer friend employs, positing an endless recession of universes, an eternal quantum Cuisinart which finally hits the cosmic Lotto big-time, producing, in its billion-to-the-billionth-power iteration, the ultimate jackpot: a scientist who understands exactly what just happened — or thinks he does. (So much effort for so little return, no?). And as for the creationist straw man who understands God merely as a mighty supercomputer fine-tuning variables at T+n, well, … some things are best left to wallow in their own watery stew.

Now, it’s not my style to beat up on scientists — even on astronomers who paddle in the shallows of life’s meaning using self-inflated metaphysical water wings. I am, after all, a man of science, and some of my best friends are scientists (which makes for rather dull dinner parties, I’m told). But I am also something of a big-picture guy, and from my quantum-physics-challenged perch, looking upward with unbridled admiration at our supremely confident scientist-priests, this all looks, well, kinda silly to this simple fool.

My first observation is one of puzzled bemusement, wondering why our good astronomer, and so many of his friends, seem compelled to bother with those crazy creationists. After all, their own superior scientific knowledge of How Things Came To Be is a mere cosmic accident; the inferior knowledge, ye ignorance, of those who assert divine origins is itself simply another random facet of this grand cosmic crap shoot. Since we are all freakish accidents of a billion big bang beginnings, why all the condescension?

Yet there is implicit in such superciliousness a notion of better and worse, of good, and evil. Such moral judgment is inherent in the contempt for those espousing divine origins whenever they are ridiculed or castigated by scientific materialists.

The logic runs something like this:

  1. Science finds truth in fact, i.e. measurable physical properties or events;
  2. Creationists find truth (so-called) in the physically immeasurable, spiritual (i.e., imaginary or fantasy) realm;
  3. Science is based therefore on knowledge, and faith and religion, on fantasy and ignorance.
  4. Knowledge (science), therefore is good, ignorance (faith & religion) bad.

Yet against what objective standard is such value-assignment established? For implicit in judging something good, or better than something else, is the imperative that it stands closer to some objective ideal than that which is inferior. Why is knowledge better than ignorance in a universe engendered by random chance? What is good or evil in a system dictated by mechanistic, mathematically-determined natural selection? One may say that knowledge improves the chances of species survival — but this is simply untrue. The industrial age in the 18th and 19th century, with its rapid and extraordinary advances in science, engineering, industrial production and metallurgy, culminated in utilizing this knowledge to create the carnage of World War I, with 20 million of the species destroyed, and many millions more injured and crippled. Knowledge, after all, is agnostic: it can create antibiotics to save lives, or virulent bacteria to kill thousands by intent. It can target gamma rays to cure brain tumors — or target nuclear weapons to destroy mankind.

Knowledge, if it is to benefit rather than destroy the species, must be subservient to some absolute good which stands above and apart from the species itself — i.e., it must be transcendent. It is not sufficient that the species of man merely establish such absolutes by self-preserving convention from within; the Germans established just such a “good” — Aryan racial superiority — which led directly to the slaughter of 6 million Jews and between 50 and 70 million civilian and military casualties in WWII.

And if knowledge — accurate knowledge of the science of the universe, factually verified in all its intricacies — is the crowning accomplishment of countless eons of cosmic regeneration, then why does it matter? What is its purpose, after all? Does purpose, meaning, accomplishment, achievement make any sense whatsoever in such a world? In the endless mandala of creation and destruction of universes, what does it matter that some intelligent chemical concoction understands what has happened, and some others do not, in our instantaneous slice of time we call Today?

Purpose, aahh purpose: a funny notion this, is it not? Our astronomer finds purpose in understanding the universe, explaining it to others, and poking some fun at those whose insights do not align with his. So this is intelligent life, the culmination of endless ages: to be born, acquire some trivial portion of total knowledge through education and study, write a book, author a blog, get old, and die. To think we waited trillions of years to be but a pitiful ember from a party sparkler, ridiculing our intellectually-inferior time-travelers as we arc downward, our light quickly extinguished to insignificant ash. Pathetic and pointless, if true — perhaps the Epicureans were right: eat, drink, and study astronomy, for tomorrow we die.

Now, I detect a hint of hubris in our astronomer’s assertion that we can test, yes even prove such a theory of our origins. Not being versed in quantum mechanics or the nuances of nuclear physics, I must defer to others far brighter than I to assess this claim. But I must admit to a healthy skepticism about the likelihood of reproducing in the laboratory the tumultuous raging chaos of a universe imploding and instantly exploding outwardly again. Even our astronomer speaks of “bizarre quantum laws” taking effect, making it “impossible … to know everything about the universe at that moment.” Let’s just say my own Uncertainty Principle is hard at work here.

But perhaps this hubris is a window into our astronomer’s disdain, and that of others like him. Theirs is a curious condescension toward any who look beyond the intellect of man for answers our feeble minds get wrong in ways far more important than some immeasurable instant when the universe took shape. For our brilliant minds have failed spectacularly at grasping the far simpler issues of surviving in time. Why do we hate? Why does a man strap explosives to his body, immolating himself to kill those he does not know? Why do we crave ever more power and wealth, in a lunatic larceny which destroys others while culminating in an empty death devoid of meaning? Why do we fight with our wives, rape our women, abuse our children, deaden our mind and spirit with drugs and alcohol, or sexual profligacy, or garish gluttony, or ostentatious materialism?

Perhaps the key lies in this very hubris, this ascendancy of the self at the expense of others. At its heart, the rejection of an intelligent Creator is not about fact or fantasy, math or magic. It is about power and pride. Man must reign at the intellectual apex of the universe, with none higher. If his mind cannot understand it, it cannot be understood; if he does understand it, he can thereby control it. He who is brightest stands tall at the top of the heap, having scrambled over his intellectual inferiors in his climb to the top.

But God forbid our Gnostic priests should accept any such higher power or any intellect superior to their own. For if such a Being exists — One Who in unlimited knowledge, and foresight, and wisdom, created a universe of unspeakable beauty and immeasurable complexity — including the extraordinary mind and spirit of man — such a Being by all rights must be honored, worshiped, sought out and served. But to bend the knee breaks the will — and thus we see instead the extraordinary contortions. To deny a Creator we blithely play statistical roulette, whose odds are light-years long. We invent reincarnated universes whose physical laws are infinitely malleable, whose constants are variable, whose god is Chronos, whose existence we can barely imagine much less prove — and then call foolish those who find in a personal, wise, intelligent, beneficent Being, answers not only to our origins but to the deepest need and emptiness of our very souls.

So let the search continue for the mathematical answer to the meaning of life. Spare no efforts, leave no theory unturned. We fools at peace with our Creator and His glorious creation will watch in quiet bemusement as you spin your endless circles in the feverish pursuit of your tails.

What’s Wrong is Wright

Courtesy of the Drudge Report, I was drawn to read a New York Times article (login required) on Barack Obama,, his faith and conversion, and his pastor, Jeremiah A. Wright, Jr.

The article presented some interesting background on Mr. Obama and his church — a topic with which I had been previously unfamiliar. But what I found of greater interest was the broader perspective highlighted by the Times article regarding the role of religious beliefs in public figures, particularly politicians, and how secular political movements in the postmodern age use religion.

Not surprisingly, the New York Times — along with virtually all major media outlets — come across as pleasantly confused about the nature of religious conversion, particularly as it applies to Christianity. The focus of this article is on the theology and controversial teachings of his spiritual mentor Reverend Wright, who pastors Trinity United Church of Christ, and addresses its potential impact on Mr. Obama’s presidential candidacy.

My eye was drawn to the description of Reverend Wright, who is identified as:

… a dynamic pastor who preached Afrocentric theology, dabbled the radical politics and delivered music and profanity-spiked sermons.

Antennas pop up when someone alludes to Christian pastors with “Afrocentric” (or any other “-centric”) theology. Additional research quickly disclosed that Reverend Wright is indeed, shall we say, “controversial.” It appears that the good Reverend espouses a form of Christianity, so-called, which depicts America as deeply — and intractably — racist; which believes America to be a far greater threat to the world than murderous tyrants who slaughter millions; who believes there are two types of white Christians — those “who lynch people in the name of Jesus”
and those “who ain’t got time to lynch people”; who, rather famously, after a fiery sermon about all the injustices which white America has promulgated on blacks, the poor, third world countries, women and children, and the usual litany of complaints about lack of healthcare, the homeless, etc. is quoted as saying, “God is tired of this shit!”

One wonders if God is also tired of ministers with potty mouths. Or tired of pastors who view their white Christian “brothers” as lynchers-in-waiting.

In short, Reverend Wright and his theology fall squarely on the radical left, racial-hating-and-baiting side of the political and religious spectrum.

As Seinfeld might say, “… not that there’s anything wrong with that!”

Oh, wait — maybe there is something wrong with that.
Continue reading “What’s Wrong is Wright”

Moving the Ancient Boundaries – IV

This is a series on the erosion of moral, cultural, and ethical boundaries in modern society:
 ♦ Part 1 — Moving the Ancient Boundaries

 ♦ Part 2 — The Rebel & the Victim
 ♦ Part 3 — Undermining Civil Authority

stone walls

Do not move the ancient boundary stone
   set up by your forefathers.

        — Proverbs 22:28 —


 ♦ The Assault on Religious Authority

Undermining the legitimacy of civil authority and mutating the role of government into an instrument for protecting personal licentiousness — while endlessly chasing solutions to the incorrigible problems thus generated — is a key element in the secular postmodern pursuit of a utopian dream of unbridled freedom without consequences. But it is not sufficient; other centers of authority must likewise be transformed to serve the individual over the common good, or neutralized to overcome their resistance to such trends.

Religion, which promotes transcendent values, and strives to restrain destructive individualism and promote the common good through the development of character strengths such as service, charity, self-restraint, and accountability, is a prime alternative source of authority to government — and serves to restrain its excesses and aberrant tendencies as well. As such it is a prime target for the individualist committed to promoting an unrestrained and unaccountable utopia, enforced by the levers of government power.
Continue reading “Moving the Ancient Boundaries – IV”

On Faith I: Faith & Reason

Grand opening, first Tacoma Narrows BridgeIn July 1940, an engineering marvel was completed: the first Tacoma Narrows Bridge. One of the longest suspension bridges in the world at the time, it exemplified the light, graceful architectural trend of suspension bridges built in this era. Called the crowning achievement of his career, designer Leon Moisseiff — the architect of the Golden Gate and Bay bridges in San Francisco — later declared “our plans seemed 100% perfect.”
Yet 4 months later, on November 7 1940, the Narrows Bridge catastrophically collapsed in a windstorm into Puget Sound.

Gertie collapsesLeon Moisseiff had unshakable faith in the reliability of his newly-completed masterpiece. He would have had no qualms whatsoever trusting its dependability in any weather conditions. Yet had he stood upon his own creation on November 7th, 1940, his faith would have been fatal. The object of his faith was unreliable, and the strength of his faith irrelevant.

Faith has become the diametric of reason … practiced only by deluded fools who reject the graceful catenary and steel-plate certainty of scientific rationalism.

Faith is an idea frequently voiced, but little understood. It is commonly mentioned in the pejorative sense in today’s secular society, where it has become a proxy for belief in the unbelievable, the unprovable, the superstitious and the mythical. Faith has become the diametric of reason — unreasonably so, as we shall see — practiced only by deluded fools who reject the graceful catenary and steel-plate certainty of scientific rationalism.

Yet faith–not love–makes the world go ’round. You exercise faith when you place the key in the ignition and start your car. You have faith when you flip a switch, expecting light to rush forth from a fixture, or music from stereo speakers. You have faith that your coat will keep you warm and dry; your plane will stay aloft; your surgeon will bring you through a heart bypass. The atheist has utter faith in his reason, that belief in God is beyond logic and therefore must be rejected. Such faith is nothing more than trust: a confidence that the object is reliable, the tool is trustworthy, its behavior predictable, its nature dependable. In the physical realm, such trust may be based in part on knowledge — one can study the flow of electrons and principles of resistance which make a light bulb glow — but such erudition is entirely optional, and rarely grasped by those who rely on its behavior. The object of faith may be entirely reliable yet utterly beyond our comprehension — or, as Leon Moisseiff discovered to his great dismay, deeply understood yet profoundly unreliable.
Continue reading “On Faith I: Faith & Reason”

The Engine of Shame – Pt II

This essay, the second of a two-part series, was originally posted in October 2005.
DRGWIn my previous post on guilt and shame, I discussed their nature and differences, their impact on personal and social life, and their instrumentality in much of our individual unhappiness and communal dysfunction. If indeed shame is the common thread of the human condition–fraught as it is with pain, suffering, and evil–it must be mastered and overcome if we are to bring a measure of joy to life and peace to our spirits and our social interactions.

Shame is the most private of personal emotions, thriving in the dark, secluded lairs of our souls. It is the secret never told, the fears never revealed, the dread of exposure and abandonment, our harshest judge and most merciless prosecutor. Yet like the Wizard of Oz, the man behind the curtain is far less intimidating than his booming voice in our subconscious mind.

The power of shame is the secret; its antidote, transparency and grace. Shame thrives in the dark recesses of the mind, where its accusations are amplified by repetition without external reference. Shame becomes self-verifying, as each new negative thought or emotion reinforces the theme that we are rejected and without worth. It is only by allowing the light of openness, trust, and honesty that this vicious cycle may be broken.
Continue reading “The Engine of Shame – Pt II”

The Engine of Shame – Part I

This essay, the first of a two-part series, was originally posted in October 2005.

Steam locomotiveA wise friend–a man who helped me emerge from a period of considerable difficulty in my life–once taught me a simple lesson. In less than a minute, he handed me a gift which I have spent years only beginning to understand, integrating it into my life with agonizing slowness. It is a lesson which intellect cannot grasp or resolve, which faith only begins to illuminate–a simple principle which I believe lies close to the root of the human condition.

My friend taught me a simple distinction: the difference between guilt and shame.

While you no doubt think I am devolving into the linguistic morass of terminal psychobabble, I ask you to stick with me for a few moments. What you may discover is a key to understanding religion, terrorism, social ills such as crime and violence–and why the jerk in the next cubicle pushes your buttons so often.
Continue reading “The Engine of Shame – Part I”

Rewriting History


In a previous post, I discussed the nature of our current war against Islamic terror, and the importance of understanding the religious nature of this war. One of my commenters left a note expressing his dismay that I should have such a poor understanding of history, and asserted that Christianity and Islam were brothers, and had been so throughout their history. He subsequently left a link to a post expanding his thoughts on the matter at considerable length.

His comment and post provided an opportunity to address what I believe are common misconceptions about Islam, and which seem to have percolated through our culture. Whatever the source of my commenter’s opinions, he is far from alone in these conclusions–which have been widely promulgated in the cultural studies, media, and postmodern history so widespread in our higher education system.

The problem I have with such beliefs is not merely one of disagreement based on religious conviction or personal opinion–nor is my position motivated by some blind rage against the Islamic world. The problem is that such opinions rewrite history. In the years since September 11, I have made an effort to familiarize myself with the teachings of Islam, its history, and the historical events which have touched upon it, such as the Crusades. I make no claim to be an expert in such matters–but I have found a number of excellent sources which are both complementary and consistent, and which shatter quite effectively the illusions of Islam as a peaceful religion, happily coexisting for the most part with Christianity, with the exception of a few “excesses”–carried out equally by both sides, of course.
Continue reading “Rewriting History”