Is Anything Really a Miracle?
Is anything really a miracle?
The word ‘miracle’ gets thrown around a lot. Apparently, it’s a miracle if you pass your exam without revising and it’s a miracle if the underdog beats the reigning champions. But, what really is a miracle? And, once we have determined that, is it really that miraculous? Hopefully after reading this you truly will believe anything is possible.
I’ve never been struck by lightening and I doubt many people would call it a ‘miracle’ if this ever happened. Well I hope not anyway, as that wouldn’t be particularly kind…. But, if we take the common definition of a ‘miracle’ to be an exceedingly surprising event, then it seem like it would be pretty miraculous if I were struck. However, the truth is, there is a 1 in 3000 chance of being struck by lightening in your lifetime if you live in the USA, that would mean over 100,000 of you will be struck by lightening before you die. For some in that lucky group, it will be the reason you die. Doesn’t seem like much of a miracle now.
The Really Unbelievable
If you woke up one morning and you saw your teddy bear wave at you, you’d be pretty freaked out. However, is it enough to be regarded as a miracle? If we look inside your teddy bear, other than fluff we will find loads of molecules fighting to move in different directions. If all the molecules in your teddy’s paw moved briefly to the left and then briefly to the right then it is – technically – possible for Ted to wave at you. The chances of this happen are ridiculously slim, but it is possible to calculate the possibility of it happening. Nevertheless, the chances of this are so tiny you would have similar odds on being able to throw a tennis ball over the moon. But is something truly a miracle if we can determine the chance of it happening? Certainly it is exceedingly surprising, and I’m probably just being pedantic here, but there is a chance of it happening.
Yet, all that being said, there is a significant problem: the spontaneous movement of our bear’s hand would violate the laws of conservation of energy and linear momentum (the velocity of a body in a straight line multiplied by its mass). It is really not easy to explain this event using our pre-existing scientific laws.
Is life a miracle?
Sit and think about a range of lucky events. On the left hand side, you have the ‘twenty-first century miracle’ – that is, the miracle of passing your exam without revising or rolling a winning pair of sixes in a particularly heated board game on Christmas day. In the middle of our scale, there are minor miracles, such as surviving a fall off a mountain. And on the right hand side of the scale, we have your teddy waving at you.
When it comes to life there are only three real possibilities that enable us to determine to what extent it is a miracle. Life either exists in just a single place in the entire universe (Earth), it exists in approximately one planet per Galaxy (for us, Earth), or life exists on one planet in every Solar System (again, we live on Earth). Put on to a graduated scale, if life exists in every solar system that would make life as common as rolling a pair of sixes meaning we probably would have found other life by now. On the other end of the spectrum, if Earth is the only planet with life there is a very good chance we could calculate that possibility (like our waving teddy) and would be in accordance with scientific laws (not many would dispute that we actually exist, but that is a much deeper question for another day).
As a result, the miraculous nature of life itself probably lies somewhere in the middle of the spectrum. The apparent paucity of life in our universe doesn’t mean it isn’t there and, statistically speaking, given the infinite size of our universe (or multiverse) it may even be a miracle if there isn’t life out there.
The meaning of life is one of humanity’s biggest and most-troubling questions and yet I struggle to call it a fully-fledged miracle. Certainly the odds against it are incredibly slim, but maybe we are exaggerating the miraculous nature of life itself. For example, although chemists have not been able to spontaneously create life they have managed to spontaneously synthesise organic compounds, which are normally only found in living things. I believe, then, that if your mind is open enough nothing should be deemed a miracle and every day is an opportunity to transcend the boundaries of apparent possibility.