Thursday, March 13, 2014

Mysteries, Jokes, and Miracles

We are attracted to puzzles and mysteries. No doubt this trait has played a key role in humans becoming the dominant ecological factor on our planet. We like to organize our world and this organization led to science and many other human institutions. Events which don't fit our expectations are called mysteries, or sometimes, miracles - with mysteries presumably being puzzles that we just haven't figured out while miracles supposedly involve God tinkering with the otherwise reliable clockwork of the Universe. For me, and I would think most of the scientifically inclined, the real miracle is that there aren't any actual miracles.

Canonization of Roman Catholic Saints apparently requires some miracles. It turns out that these miracles, in accordance with the principle that there aren't really *any* miracles, are always very small miracles: somebody supposed to be very sick prayed for the intervention of the Candidate and mysteriously became better, or something of the sort. Those who pray for big miracles, like "make everybody's cancer go away" are invariably disappointed.

It seems to be the case that the word miracle is derived from the Proto-Indo-European root meaning 'to laugh' or 'to smile'. So maybe miracles are God's little jokes on the Universe. But, luckily for science, he doesn't seem to have that kind of sense of humor.