OPINION

On miracles

Lee,

Thanks for this. This morning I spent an hour in recorded conversation with one of the Church's top theologians on these matters, Dr Gerald O'Collins SJ. You'll be pleased to know that he would support your proposition. (Fr O'Collins is Professor of Systematic and Fundamental Theology at the Gregorian University in Rome and is presently in Perth to fulfil commitments as Chair of Jesuit Studies at the University of Western Australia.)

Our conversation is continuing and I'll let you know where and when it is going to be published.

I have a different position to yourself and Dr O'Collins and what I am about to write is at the heart of my conversation with him. In his lecture the other night, and printed in the notes he handed out (see copy attached to the story HERE) he asked if "God created the world, but always respects the laws of nature?". I have been asking him would if he would be prepared to go one step further and accept the proposition that "God created the world, but always respects the laws of science which he also created"?

It's a pretty nuanced discussion we've been having and I've not yet finished transcribing it. I've no doubt there will be further input from Dr O'Collins when I send the transcript back to him for revision and further nuancing.

At heart though he has argued to me today that God might "suspend" the laws of science/nature but not "violate" or "break" them. Here's the verbatim response he gave: "Suspend them, suspend them not violate or break but suspend them."

As you may realise I have put the proposition forward in this forum on a number of occasions that from my own background in the sciences, particularly physics, I find it increasingly unlikely that God would even "suspend" the laws of his own creation. The laws of science that humankind has been uncovering for the last 400 years are not some construct of the human mind. I submit they are all a construct of the mind of God. We are merely slowly uncovering these insights into the genius and wisdom of God. I have no doubt whatsoever that we have a long, long way to go yet.

In his interview with me, he cited a story of an English woman similar to the one you have told. My argument though is that I do not believe God runs around like some circus magician outside the laws of his own creation healing people, making statues weep, rosary beads glow and all these other paranormal events. His interventions, I surmise and submit, will eventually be found to be always within the bounds of the laws (physical, biological, etc. etc.) with which he created the universe and us. I fully and totally accept that we might not yet have access to a lot of those laws and, for all intents and purposes, they might look like "miracles" to us at the present time. In other words they might appear to have come about as a result of some "supernatural" intervention by God whereby he might seem to be suspending, violating or breaking laws within our present knowledge.

It is already abundantly apparent that many "miraculous" events of past centuries are no longer considered to be "miraculous" because we do now have access to better medical and scientific knowledge and we can see that the explanations as to what happened can easily be explained within the laws of science or medicine. God simply was not acting as some kind of "circus magician" to bring these things about, like the parting of the Red Sea, as might have seemed to be the case at the time.

Just because we do not have an explanation, I submit, does not entitle us to run around suggesting that God is entertaining or amusing us with circus tricks.

I actually do believe that God does intervene in human affairs. I suspect he does not intervene in the affairs of inanimate and non-sentient creation. The non-sentient parts of the universe bore on driven precisely, beautifully and almost musically by the "miracle" of the laws of his original creation. THAT IS WHERE THE MIRACLE IS the laws of science each year as they are further unravelled merely elevate the genius of the original creator that he could build into them the perturbations and nuances that lead today, billions of years later to the magnificence of the night sky and the magnificence and creativity that is apparent in every single human brain.

Why, oh, why do we have to get our rocks off with weeping statues and aunt bessy being cured of her chill brains? These things are simply not on the scale of the original miracle of creation. They are not even on the scale of the "miracle" that many of us partake in when we join in partnership with God in the creation of a new child. I am sorry, but all this Lourdes, Fatima and Medjugore stuff really does leave me cold, motherless speechless. To my mind it is on the scale of Leprechauns and Gnomes at the Bottom of the Garden compared to the miracle to be seen in just looking at any new-born baby. When I looked at my children when they were first born I wasn't filled with wonder at what I had created. I was filled with wonder at the genius of God who thought the whole box and dice up from the wonder of DNA and genetics through to the wonder of how the joints in the human body work. I look at them today as the giants they've grown into and I still think that is the greatest "miracle" I'm ever likely to participant in so intimately. The other night on television there was an image of the knee surgery that Jana Pittman has undergone. You don't have to look at her knee though, just look at your own. IT is a friggin' miracle. Last night on the ABC Science Program, Catalyst, one of the Eureka Awards for Science went to a researcher who has developed an artificial glove that holds the hope of returning dexterity to the hands of quadriplegics. Look at the bunky, awkward technology he has had to come up with to try and replicate the "miracle" of God's original creation from 15 billion years or longer ago before there were any computers, and miniature motors and pneumatics.

I honestly do think a lot of people look at Catholics today and think they are friggin' dingbats and fruitcakes for all this obsession with the sort of "magic tricks" that purportedly go on in places where the Blessed Virgin Mary is making appearances.

I am confident, as I've already stated, that God DOES intervene in human affairs. It IS NOT magic wand stuff though. In time I expect it will be by various ways of suggestion where the sick person effectively cures themselves by a change of attitude and "heart". I am sure a heck of a lot of the "disease" in the world is literally that: it is dis-ease. A lack of "ease" in our lives. Much that is physical disequilibrium derives from mental, emotional and spiritual upsets and anxieties. And I do not believe it is in the realms of circus entertainment for God to plant an idea in a person's subconscious that "blossom's forth" and leads to physical healing once the person has experienced some "conversion of heart, mind or spirit" in those non-[physical realms. That is the very "business of life". It is at the very heart of this whole endeavour of the relationship we are in with the Divine with God where we are called up to listen AND discern AND to act as a result of that listening and discerning. This is the whole "partnership" Christ and the entire Church calls each of us into. That's where the freakin' miracles are to be found. Not in this superstitious, child's entertainment clap-trap that waters from a certain place if sprinkled on your forehead each morning and going to cure your cancer or your carbunkles.

Thanks for the opportunity you have opened up here to clarify my own thoughts in my ongoing discussion with Fr Gerald O'Collins. That, in itself, is part of the real miracle i.e. how we can be interacting with one another over the space of a continent and, unwittingly, something that you wrote over in Brisbane this morning has caused more than a butterfly's wings to flap all the way over here in Perth. I am suggesting, as I did in a post the other day, THAT IS THE WAY GOD INTERVENES IN HUMAN AFFAIRS. He simply does not need "magic trick" type "miracles". I find it an infinitely greater "miracle" that a small thought that someone had in Brisbane this morning can influence the course of a conversation on the other side of this continent. That "serendipity" is happening all around us, 24 hours a day. God IS in the ordinary. He permeates all our conversations and that is his true intervention in the universe and in human affairs and it is far more spectacular and awesome than anything that goes on at Lourdes, Fatima, Medjugore or Inala. We DO literally ALL share in it. Each one of us is a flamin' "miracle" and we perform "miracles" each day just by living and breathing and speaking and acting.

Thankyou, thankyou, thankyou for triggering all these thoughts. They have provided some very precise "keys" that I have needed in the work I have been doing today.

©2005Tom Scott/Brian Coyne/Vias Tuas Communications
Posted: 14Aug2004 1:37 AM

Tom Scott

"In spite of all that might be said against our age,
what a moment it is to be alive in!" James McAuley