In previous reactions I stated my enjoyment at the not-so-subtle jabs of today’s current political and media environment. This third episode delivered on this score, again. ‘Anna’ the head of the Visitors, makes every effort to win the public relations war. She warns that humans are fickle and easily swayed and that the media must be tightly controlled. This is, of course, sadly true. I won’t belabor this, but it was fun again to see this brazen jab… at who exactly? We are left to imagine. 🙂 I guess that’s part of the fun.
The beginning of the episode starts off with a Catholic priest taking confession from one person after another that has been knocked around a bit by the implications of the arrival of Visitors from space. Their faith has been rattled, for example. Or, they are impressed by the ‘miracle cures’ that the Visitors are able to perform. I have already touched on this in my two previous posts but I’d like to approach it again from a different angle.
Is it really the case that space Visitors will serve as a stumbling block to faith in God? I contend that we cannot actually know that until they arrive (if they exist and if they come) and that our speculations in the meantime are inferences from what we already believe about reality.
In light of the Visitor’s ability to perform miracle cures, I would like to reflect on a quote common in atheistic thought (If I recall correctly, even Dawkins cites it in his Delusion). Arthur Clark said, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”
This sort of feeds into chronological snobbery of our modern age (and perhaps some past ages) which tries to dismiss the views and experiences of those in the past as being from an “ignorant gaggle of Bronze age fishermen and peripatetic, militant, marauding, murdering, genocidal goat-herders.”
However, I don’t believe that Clark’s analysis is correct, at least not across the board.
To begin with, the idea that people of the past were not knowledgeable about the laws of nature is absurd. Had they reduced them to formulas yet? Sometimes, but sure, not much. Did they know how to manipulate them like we can? Sometimes, but sure, not as much. But that doesn’t mean they were confused about the general parameters of reality.
You cannot claim to have seen a ‘miracle’ if in fact you are not familiar with the laws of nature, just as you can’t think you’ve witnessed magic. These both presume a knowledge of the laws of nature in order to assert witnessing their exception. But I would like to draw a distinction, here, and create two classes of phenomena.
Skeptics usually conflate ‘miracles’ with ‘magic’ with ‘superstition’ and put them all in the same category. I think you need a category where the laws of nature are so utilized, intentionally or otherwise, in a way that mystifies someone so that they call it ‘magic.’ But note, this is usually still a manipulation of the laws of reality- only the manipulation is of unknown or esoteric laws. They aren’t often in defiance of all laws.
The ‘miracles’ done by the Visitors, which might be perceived by these people of faith having doubts on ABC’s who, are in fact in this category. The Visitors are using advanced technology and so appear as having ‘magic.’ Or something.
But interestingly, most of the miracles described in the Bible are not like these. Despite all of our advances in knowledge and technology, if today we were presented with a person walking on the water, or turning a few loaves of bread into enough to feed 5,000 with bread to spare, or a woman conceiving as a virgin, we’d be as amazed by that today as they were in Jesus’ time.
(Although, in the case of a ‘virgin birth’ I’m pretty sure atheists would just say, “Oh. Well, I guess that just goes to show you that humans are parthenogenetic after all. Who knew?”)
Likewise, if confronted with a person that we had with certainty declared was dead but now saw him bright and shiny and perfectly healed from his wound, we’d still be amazed.
These are things that, despite… or in fact, because… of our knowledge of the laws of nature we don’t ever expect to be able to duplicate.
This is a different class of phenomena and I think it is interesting that a great many of the ‘miracles’ described in the Bible belong to this class, and not the class of ‘magic’ as laid out above.
This reasoning (combined with hubris and arrogance and more than a little willful ignorance) is what lies behind the ‘Why doesn’t God heal amputees‘ argument. Here, the idea is that if God was so great why wouldn’t he do something really remarkable, really impossible, like regrowing or restoring a limb?
But according to modern skepticism, if ‘God’ ever did that, it would be chalked up merely to advanced technology. After all, can’t we restore limbs already, medically? If ‘God’ did it, it would merely be magic, and once we learned how to do it as well, we would see that previously we just lacked the technology. Or, we just didn’t know as much about the human being as we thought- I guess humans can regrow limbs like lizards can regrow tails- “Who knew?”
I guess putting ears back on after they’ve been cut off and having it perfectly healed doesn’t qualify as restoring a limb. (Luke 22:50) And taking a valley of dry bones and making them fully alive again is over-proving the point (Ezek. 37). And I suppose while healing a man who is paralyzed doesn’t come with the same visual effect as restoring an amputation, one is hard pressed to imagine that Jesus healed the fellah from his personal collection of embryonic stem cells that he kept handy for this very purpose. (Mark 2)
(The ‘Why Doesn’t God Heal Amputees” argument is more about ‘why doesn’t God heal that way through prayer, and now‘ which is in fact a different question from why doesn’t he heal them at all- since in the Bible it is clear that such things, greater things, in fact, occur. But I’m not sure that those who make this argument are aware of this).
In conclusion, when we think about miracles as evidence for the existence of God and the veracity of the Scriptures, we need to carefully think about what kind of miracles would really prove a transcendent creator. Essentially, you need to have events that are in open defiance of the rules of nature to show that the MAKER of the rules of nature is present. At the same time, these events must be rare, and mere mortals consistently unable to defy them, in order to recognize the events when you see them.
Great healings by an alien race do not meet this criteria, and as such even if this happened, there would not be- on this basis- reason for Christians to be concerned or have their faith rattled. Unless their faith is not rooted in what the Scriptures actually say, in which case, it should be rattled, and something stronger built in its place. (Matthew 24:24-25)