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ARE THERE MIRACLES?

ARE THERE MIRACLES? 

Manifest Wonders

Adapted from an article by Prof. Alvin Radkowsky

There is a close association between miracles and the origin of life.  The greatest miracle is the creation of life by a Divine Intelligence and the manifestation of that Intelligence historically, particularly at the Exodus of the Jews from Egypt and the Revelation on Mount Sinai.  Only in relation to these two miraculous sequences can other miracles have a logical and valid relevance. 

Nobel Prize winning physicist, E.P. Wigner, declares a number of scientific discoveries as coming under the category of miracles: the fact that laws of motion on earth also hold true throughout the universe; the fact that apparently diverse types of wave motion have the same velocity as light; most of all that human beings can grasp so many constructs of nature in terms of relatively simple mathematics. 

miraclesAre startling facts discovered in mathematics miracles? For example elementary geometry students learn that the three altitudes of a triangle meet in a point, a similar relation is true for the three medians and for the three perpendicular bisectors of the sides of a triangle.  Are these facts 'miracles', or rather are they something that is obvious to a person of reasonable intelligence from the axioms and postulates of plane geometry?  It is also true but much more difficult to prove that the above three points lie on a straight line; is this a miracle? We read (Chemical and Enginering News) that "in the fetus prior to birth blood passes through the ductus arteriosus, connecting the pulmonary artery to the descending aorta.  The ductus closes shortly after birth as part of the 'miraculous' transition to respiration and life outside the womb."  In some recent advances in particle physics there is mention of the 'miraculous' cancellation of certain factors making a unified theory feasible.  According to modern particle theory, nucleons (hadrons) are made up of quarks bound by very short-ranged forces. "Indeed, it is a minor 'miracle' that a hadronic field theory is at all applicable to nuclear structure, let alone able to predict and correlate a large amount of diverse data" (Physical Review Letters). 

Professor C.E. Domb has pointed out that for phase transitions in many very different phenomena, such as vapors, superfluids, ferromagnets, and antiferromagnets, there are surprising similarities in behavior near the critical point.  Miraculous? 

Highly intelligent people make use of the terms 'miracle' and 'miraculous' to characterize many surprising properties of nature, while they are quite skeptical of miracles related in the Bible and other religious documents. 

The conventional definition of a miracle as an exception to the laws of nature is unsatisfactory for many reasons.  As pointed out already by David Hume, we can never be sure that we know all the laws of nature so, we will never be in a position to recognize a miracle.

However, in the Bible the important feature of most miracles was not the event itself but the prediction of the event.  Consider Elijah's prediction (Kings I,17) to King Ahab both of a long period of drought, and finally of its termination.  Even to us Elijah's prophecy in the absence of any computer whatever would have to be considered a miracle or an 'extremely lucky series of guesses' or 'coincidences'. 

Another difficulty in defining a miracle as an exception to natural laws comes from quantum mechanics.  Whereas, according to classical mechanics, given the initial conditions, a definite result can be predicted, according to quantum mechanics only a probability distribution for a spread of values can be calculated. 

Even more basic is the question of whether it is correct to assume that the universe is governed by a system of natural laws which is constant in space-time.  If incorrect, then what we consider a miracle might well be simply the result of the space-time variation of the natural laws from the initial point at which we derived the laws.  (There is indeed Rabbinic opinion that embedded in creation was the potential for miracles to occur at designated times in history.) 

Miracles play a fundamental role in Judaism.  The Bible begins with a miracle, the creation of inanimate matter ex-nihilo, then life, culminating in the creation of man.  Then there is the interaction of G-d with man, especially in the Exodus of Israel from Egypt and the giving of the Torah.  Moses constantly cites these miracles to the Children of Israel as evidence of G-d's solicitude for them and as imperatives for keeping the commandments of the Torah. 

There are ways in which miracles have features similar to that of life.  It seems difficult to rigorously define a miracle, yet many scientists recognize miracles in their work.  In the same way we cannot define life, yet we immediately recognize life.  Another similarity between miracles and life is that just as every living specimen of every species from man to the amoeba is different, so no two miracles recorded in the Bible are identical.  A third similarity is that every living specimen and every miracle must have an initiating source, for example, the miracles of the multiplication of oil by Elisha, and that of Chanukkah had to have a small amount of oil to start.  Most of the miracles in the Bible relate to life.  Examples are: the Creation itself; the birth of Isaac, and other miraculous births as predicted; the death of all of Egypt's first born males as predicted; the revival of the dead; and the survival of the Jewish people throughout all persecutions, as predicted. 

We are thus led to postulate a close relationship between miracles and life, but then the question arises: is life itself a miraculous phenomenon, in the sense that it cannot be accounted for by science as we know it today?  To this the answer is an unequivocal 'yes'.  Professor Wigner has demonstrated that the self-replication which is the distinguishing mark of living beings is impossible according to the laws of quantum mechanics (American Scientist) and that quantum mechanics cannot be applied to human beings.  We arrive at a concept of humanity very similar to that of the traditional body-soul duality, in which the individual atoms of a human being are governed by the laws of Quantum Mechanics, but not the person as a whole. 

Dr. Gish has demonstrated the extreme improbability of a spontaneous origin of life by any conceivable natural process.  Drs. L. Soren and M. Goldman have indicated that evolutionists have now practically abandoned the neo-Darwinian school of gradual changes in favor of macro-mutations, in which there are jumps from species to species.  Except for semantics the macromutation theory is in effect the same as that of 'creationism', which states that each species originated independently. 

It is hard to conceive of a natural process that would result in all the myriad living entities, at least above the virus level, being different.  Finally the complete absence of any signs of life on Mars is a devastating blow to the doctrine of the origin of life by natural processes since some areas on Mars have an environment no more rigorous than areas on earth which are teeming with life.
 

miracles2Wigner's result implies that reproduction of a living unit is possible only if instructions from outside are supplied on the molecular level.  We shall call the source of such instructions the Divine Intelligence which, just as at the original creation, is involved with the further creation of life, this time at the reproductive stage.  The use of the term, Divine Intelligence, an anthropomorphism for G-d, is in parallel with similar usages in the Bible, that the only way we can possibly obtain any understanding of G-d is in terms of human qualities and experiences.  (Compare the statement in Genesis that G-d created man in His image.)  Intelligence is innate in all living things and leads to creativity which at least on the scientific level is always associated with the ability to predict future phenomena.  We are thus led to ascribe to G-d greater creative and predictive ability than that of man, since He created even man's creative ability.

As men are often skeptical that a miracle has taken place the Bible placed great emphasis on presenting convincing evidence of the occurrence of the miracles, and having them experienced by a great many skeptical people.  Until the 3rd plague in Egypt, Pharoah's magicians were unconvinced (Exodus 8:15), until they finally stated: "It is the finger of G-d".  Emphasis is given in the Bible to the fact that after the splitting of the Red Sea the nation of Israel 'believed in G-d and in Moses His servant'.  When Elijah contested the priests of Ba'al (Kings I 18:37), he prayed: "Answer me, Oh L-rd, answer me".  According to the Talmud the first request was for the miracle itself to happen, and the second was that the people should not say it was due to witchcraft (i.e. a deception). 

The Revelation of Sinai was made to the entire people of Israel.  The emphasis on the commandment of honoring one's parents assures the familial ties of love and respect so that the information on the Revelation will be accurately transmitted and believed in from generation to generation.

The association of the Divine Intelligence at the molecular level which is necessary to explain the miracle of life at the birth of each living unit continues throughout life and is responsible for what are generally called miracles, as well as for the special concern, the care and solicitude, of G-d for each human being.  A typical miraculous happening has the following characteristics: a prediction of the happening; the happening itself; a relationship to life (or death): information that a miracle is occurring; belief by the participants that a miracle is occurring.  Not every miracle has all these components.  In Jewish tradition there are two kinds of miracles: the concealed and the manifest: the latter involves an obvious deviation from the laws of nature. 

Not only life itself but to a large extent its creations, specifically in the form of discovery and invention (D & I) are manifest miracles.  Certainly D & I are inspired by G-d, in a manner akin to prophecy and, as was the case for prophecy can be used for either good or evil (contrast Moses and Balaam).  In this connection, although D & I make use of nature they are facilitated by a number of unexpected 'hidden treasures' embedded by G-d in nature as if to facilitate man's attaining the blessing given to Adam (Genesis 1:28): "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the Earth and subdue it."  To early man the earth, as a symbol for nature, must have indeed seemed a formidable and relentless opponent to subdue.  But: "There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy" (Shakespeare ). 

For example: The Earth has a magnetic field which facilitated navigation and exploration of the planet.  The provision of large quantities of iron and copper made feasible the mastery of electricity.  The unexpected discovery of radioactivity led in turn to the discovery of the neutron and very soon to availability of nuclear energy, a few years after two great scientists, Rutherford and Lawrence, had predicted that there would never be practical use of nuclear energy.  The utilization of such energy in controlled form depends upon the unforeseen phenomenon of nuclear fission, the availability of the fissionable uranium isotope in a just barely adequate percentage (much larger amounts would have resulted in making life on earth impossible due to natural chain reactions), and the fact that a small fraction of the neutrons from fission are delayed.  The still not completely explained phenomenon of catalysis has led to major advances in chemistry.  The existence of restriction enzymes has led to mastery of the genetic code, and its utilization in bioengineering.  The great advances in particle physics have resulted from properties of the solutions of three fundamental equations (Schrodinger, Klein-Gordon, and Dirac), which were largely unforseen at the time the equations were proposed.  The existence of antibiotics has made possible the conquest of many diseases.

 In the words of the Psalmist (Psalms 118:23): "That which is wondrous in our eyes has come from G-d". 

 

 

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