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Posts Tagged ‘miracles’

I have defined miracles, [Jan 9, 2011] but now I would like to talk about them, not as events in themselves, but from the perspective of the believer. In particular, let us think about what belief is required of the hearer compared to the belief required of the observer or of the messenger who tells us about a miracle. For example, let us consider one of the miracles from the life of Jesus, such as His making of the wine of Cana, and compare that with the miracles that the creationist has in mind for, say, the Third Day of Creation. This is the day when, says Genesis, God made the dry (actually the moist) earth and all the grasses and herbs and flowering trees that naturally grow on land.

In the case of the wine of Cana, we and St. John are on the same page and bring the same experience to the story: wine is mostly water, but water is not wine, and good wine is not made quickly even from the best of grapes. Our experience is the same as St. John’s and what he is proposing for our belief is something he must have found hard to believe, or at least most astonishing, himself. He was there, so that helped him, but he did know the unlikelihood of it, which was the precisely the same for him and for us.

But for the Third Day of Creation, the situation is quite different. What we and the author of Genesis bring to this verse of the Bible are very different. Creation itself is astonishing; in that we are the same. But, on a creationist interpretation, what are we to think of grass that must be green without the sun? You may answer that there was light on the first day, but what sort of light was that when there were no stars? Was it electromagnetic radiation like the light we know now? If so, something had to radiate it; what? If not, then was it a spiritual light, not really what we mean by light, but something analogous? And if so then how did it support the activity of chlorophyll in the leaves?

One might imagine that the grass was there but was white until the fourth day when the sun turned up. But that is not so easy, because grass cannot even grow or stand up straight without the energy that is packed up by chlorophyll in the sunshine. You could reply that God could have kept the grass in a mature state, either white or green, whichever he chose, until he made the sun. God can do anything.

Yes, God can do anything, but the question I ask the creationist is: what is being proposed for our belief? That all the green herbs and flowering plants were created in mature but bleached form and then waited for the sun of the fourth day? Or that all were created only as seeds, waiting for the fourth day to sprout? Or that they were created mature and green, but static, only reaching active stature on the fourth day?

Not that it matters, but the point is, what are we talking about? What is it that we are asked to believe? None of the problems I have listed were within the consciousness of the sacred writer. It took him no extra leap of faith to deal these logical consequences of the Genesis sequence, because he was not aware of them. God made the land and its plants: fine. In that case, what he understood himself to be proposing for our act of faith is not the same as what a creationist asks us to believe a few thousand years later. In the case of the wine, it is the same. Even in the case of the Resurrection is it the same, for the deadness of dead bodies is not a new idea; modern medicine does not change it. But for the creationist interpretation of Genesis, it is not clear what is proposed for our belief, and whatever it is, the Genesis author was not conscious of it.

Of course being able to distinguish two types of miracles does not mean one kind did not happen. God can do anything.

But the issue remains: if you cannot tell me what I am supposed to believe, then you cannot fault me for not believing it. I believe that God designed everything with infinite wisdom, and that He is fully aware of every detail of the outworking of even the most law-bound processes. Within Catholic doctrine, that suffices for the Third Day. Whether it took place over a few hundred million years, and whether a good number of animals (such as bees) were actually also created at the same time as the plants they pollinated is of no consequence.

In that interpretation, what is proposed for our belief – that our Father did it all, right to the last apple blossom – is the same for us and for the author of Genesis. Seems only fair.

 

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Starlight old or new

Here is another piece from Jeannie Fulbright’s Astronomy text in the Apologia series:

“Some people claim that since some stars are billions of light years away, the universe (and therefore the earth) must be billions of years old. After all, they think that the light from those stars had to travel from the star to the earth, and since the light is hitting the earth, it must have had billions of years to travel. They do not understand that God is so wise that He could create things to be exactly as He wants them to be… He could create stars and their light to be fully grown and fully developed … He could create an earth with starlight that was already upon the earth, even starlight from billions of light years away. After all, nothing is impossible for God.

Many believers who accept the Resurrection of Jesus still think the universe is old. I do. I am sure that God has the power and wisdom to create things exactly the way he wants them, but I doubt that he wants them to be deceptive. It’s a matter of honesty, and it is an implicit matter of fatherhood. We are made in his image so we can perceive what he is doing and rejoice in it as sons and daughters admire their fathers.

What is the meaning of astronomy if the things we measure are wrong because God made them to look like something they are not? Why would God make stars far away with a beam of light strung across the whole of space, so that this light appears to travel from that star to our earth, day by day and night by night, when in fact this light was never part of the star at all? Why would God bother to string it out like that instead of just making the universe and letting the stringing take place according to the laws he built into the universe? Was the eternal God in a rush to create an appearance that would turn up by nature’s laws if He just waited? Is He not outside the press of time?

In the end, there are a few things that even God cannot do. He cannot make a beam of light that is both from a star and not from a star in the same sense of “from a star.”  If a beam of light shining upon the earth was never the product of the burning of a star, then it is not starlight no matter how God strings it about.

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