Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Everything is a miracle, yes, everything is grace

Personal reflection.

Brethren, Peace and Good to you.

Yesterday I shared with you a sort of inner monologue or reflection on the subject of miracles, in which I pondered the material "link" all miracles should have in order to be intelligible to us who are material beings, "enfleshed" souls. Today I want to take a different viewpoint, that of their "unlikeliness."

Miracles are few and far between, we say to ourselves, over and against the claims of more pliant believers who say miracles happen every day, often in the context of faith-healing or "prosperity" events. I want to take their belief ("miracles happen every day") and divorce it from their context, and compare and contrast it with what most of all hold, that miracles, if they happen, are rare occurrences.

According to this Rome Reports piece from two years ago, the Medical Bureau at Lourdes has received 8,000 claims of healings at the shrine, but the Church has only acknowledged 67 such events as "miracles." That's a rate of 0.84 percent. I recall a prominent atheist (Carl Sagan? I don't recall) stating that one gets higher rates of healing by a going to a physician than by going to Lourdes, and that in fact such a low rate of healings demonstrated that God - if He exists - is not interested in the suffering of his creatures, theological justifications notwithstanding.

However, it occurs to me how remarkably unlike it is for someone like Sagan, or Dawkins, or even you and me, to exist at all, considering the "tightness" of physical laws, accidents, mutations, etc., that would've ensured our nonexistence. Consider the following:

• The origin of the Universe, popularly known as "the Big Bang" (and first conceived by a Catholic priest Georges Lemaître) not only marks the origin of all matter and energy, but also of space and time itself, as well as that of the four fundamental forces or interactions of nature. These are gravity, electromagnetism, the weak nuclear force, and the strong nuclear force. Their relative strengths and ranges differ considerably, with gravity being the weakest (but with the longest range, in fact, infinite) and the strong nuclear force being the strongest (and with the smallest range possible, an atomic nucleus' radius). Without getting into more particulars, consider how fine-tuned these forces are: any change in their strength or reach would have meant the difference between a universe with no stars or galaxies, or no planets and no life. Their balance makes our universe - and therefore, our very existence - possible. What is the likelihood - even if we admit the existence of other universes beside our own - for this balanced condition to occur, if such conditions are the result of blind chance? Think about it.

• A body of research suggests that the rotation rate in the outskirt of a galaxy is the same as that of the star-bands in its center. This is counterintuitive; because we all know that the farther a body is away from a high gravity object, the slower it rotates around it. That's why Mercury takes only 88 days to go around the Sun, but Neptune takes centuries to do complete one evolution. Scientist propose that one or more giant black holes lying in the center of every galaxy may "transmit" this momentum to the outer layers of a galaxy well before the stars formed, and that as a consequence, black holes are necessary for the formation of galaxies and for the visible universe as we know it. Their absence do not preclude the existence of stars and planets in some sort of other formation, even outside a galaxy, but would make their existence more difficult. How likely is that to happen?

• The Sun is a second or third generation star, which means that long ago, another star had to die as a supernova or even, "hypernova" which in turn created raw material making up the sun and our planets. The same means provides a kind of "birth-control" inside those nebulas serving as "star nurseries," for stellar explosions inside these nebulas can and often disturb the formation of stars and planets nearby. How likely is that? I don't have the data but I hypothesize that, given the amount of star, stellar formation material, nebulas, and the like, it happens a lot. How likely it was that our solar system escaped the fate of being dissipated by the explosion of a nearby supernova during the solar system's early formation? What’s the likelihood for that to happen?

• Now, let's focus on Earth's location. It's located in the "Goldie Locks" region of our Solar System. If it had been closer to the Sun, it would've fried. Further away, and it would've frozen. But it is "just right" for the physical and chemical processes leading to life to have had a good start. How likely is that?

• It is said that our Moon was formed following a "glance collision" on the Earth by a Mars-sized object. A head-on collision would have destroyed the Earth; a "lighter" collision would have resulted in a ring of debris that would have fallen back to the wobbling planet below. Yet, the angle of the impact not only resulted in our Moon, it locked the Moon to the Earth's rotation and also controlled the Earth's "wobble" that made our weather and the seasons stable for billions of years, stable enough for life. A "wee bit to the left" and Earth would have been destroyed; a "wee bit to the right" and Earth would have been left wobbling wildly making the rise of life very difficult, if not impossible. What's the likelihood of such a coincidence"?

• Which brings me to the rise of "life as we know it." Scientists point out that life is a consequence of countless chemical reactions that, through blind chance and trial and error, recombined chemical elements into entities able to replicate themselves. Carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, iron, and other elements - created in the furnaces of older stars - are some of the ingredients for life as we know it. Change one of these elements, or change their local proportion, and life may still have had evolved, but not life as we know it...Their quantity and proportions were set billions of years before, when the primeval star went supernova, and by conditions in the accretion disk that led to the formation of our sun and planets. Given blind chance and a long, long time, how likely is that?

• I do genealogy as a hobby. Throughout my research I've noticed something disturbing, and it is the death-rate due to accident or incident throughout my ancestors' history. Natural catastrophes, epidemics, wars, mining and farming accidents, babies stillborn, are many of the events that, have they ended a life of a direct ancestor, I wouldn't be here. Yet, from the dawn of modern humans - or even hominids - 200,000 years ago, or at least from our Genetic Eve and Adam, the line of ancestors and descendant remain unbroken down to me, and down to you. How likely is that?

• Let's talk about you and me specifically. Scientists estimate that each human male ejaculate contains hundreds of millions of sperm cells. Yet, only one will get to fertilize one viable egg cell. If the little swimmer that hit that egg cell had been different, or if the egg cell has been, you would not be here. How likely is that? Even I can tell you that: is one chance in several hundred million.

If I were to formulate the likelihood of all these events together, I hypothesize that the chances of you (or I) been here at all are infinitesimal. In fact, the chances that you be healed in Lourdes - or that Jesus multiplied the fish and loaves, or that He rose from the dead - are much higher than the likelihood of your existence, or the existence of the entire universe. Hence, compared to the very likelihood of creation and galactic, stellar, planetary, and biological evolution as we come to understand it, biblical (and extrabiblical miracles) are relatively commonplace.

What I propose, though, is that we apply this vision of "commonplace miracles" to each one of the bullets above: the very existence of the universe, with its admirable balance of matter, energy and fundamental interactions, the formation of galaxy clusters, star clusters, individual stars and planets, and life as we know it, are miracles in themselves. In this sense, everything is a miracle, everything is "grace."

Finally, let's come down to you (and me). You are unique, the produce of creative forces billions of years old. It took the Universe 13.5 billion years to produce a single "you" and when you are gone, only half of your genes will survive in the next generation. You are unique, special, and irreproducible. You are a miracle. You are worth a universe since the moment of your conception until you die. It is also a miracle that you can reflect upon those facts, even if you are just a complex reorganization of carbon, oxygen, hydrogen, and iron. At the very least, your worth is the Universe's worth and such is your dignity. Now that's a miracle.

Therefore, if I can believe in these commonplace miracles, that against all the odds throughout the multiverse and deep time you are here then I can believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God who died on the cross for our salvation, and that in His resurrection he reconciled the world to God, making the entire cosmos anew.

Remember, such events are more likely to happen than the fact of your existence.

Everything is a miracle, yes, everything is grace.