God, or Not? An Essay on Miracles
AliveTampaBay invites readers to share their stories of miracles, glimpses of God, the afterlife, near-death or other experiences they believe may evidence the hand of God or supernatural power. The editors may wish to interview those who participate, so if willing to speak "on the record" for publication, contributors should include their name, address and phone numbers and a brief description of the event by sending an email to email@example.com
Being a reporter or editor doesn’t make a person an expert on much of anything, with the possible exception of figuring out how to get a story. When the boss asks me to get a story, by golly, I get the story.
So the boss has asked me to produce something on miracles. I tried to tell him there’s not much available in the way of hard evidence or examples I can prove, but he persists. So it may be that I will be forced to fall back on my own observations.
There’s a room in my house that my wife allows me to use where I have a computer and a desk and a collection of old pictures, books and assorted junk I have collected over a lifetime. In this modest room is a window that looks out over my backyard and affords a wide angle view of what residents hereabouts refer to as the “preserve,” which is really just a big swampy area the developers left vacant, thinking, I’m pretty sure, that people would get the idea they were getting a house tucked into a vast woods when in fact it is just a big swampy area in the middle of a large housing development.
Despite this more or less minor deception, the preserve covers an area of maybe a hundred acres and consists of a tangled mass of trees, brush and vines that forms the habitat of a large number of birds and more than just a few armadillos, raccoons, marsh rabbits, lizards, snakes the locals call black racers, and probably some alligators, critters which will venture out of the preserve from time to time and creep into my backyard.
Whenever I gaze out that window I am taken by the way even a gentle breeze moves the tall trees , gets them swaying more or less in rhythm. A Florida thunderstorm seen from this room has all the properties of something created by a super power, but a weather guy I know that works for a TV station assures me it’s only the weather and nothing miraculous. Still, if you have ever been out in one, exposed to the force of the storm, the sweeping upheaval of wind, the sting of the rain on your face, sheets of rain soaking every inch of your body in seconds, that experience will make you wonder.
Then there are birds. Dozens of species of birds zip around the preserve at breakneck speed, but I have never observed even a single instance of a bird crashing into a tree or a branch or landing in a spot he did not pick out precisely, sometimes a very thin branch way up high, a seemingly unlikely place, but always perfectly suited to his needs. I wondered about whether this might be some sort of miracle or at least a very high achievement because I doubt if even a very smart human could build something like a bird that can fly around at sixty or a hundred miles an hour then land on a dime in my backyard without one time crashing into something.
Another thing about the birds I have observed is that at times, they seem to be just playing around, chasing each other like a bunch of kids. Could there by some hint of miracle in that behavior? I know the scientists have warned us against comparing animals to humans. They say, for instance, that it’s a mistake to think my dearly departed golden retriever Penny had “feelings.” Still, if you’d have met that dog, the way she’d look at you, never leaving you alone if you were sick, staying close to you when you seemed to be feeling a little shaky, you’d wonder about it. There were times I was convinced that dog was reading my mind, but I’m sure that was just my imagination. Dogs reading minds? Birds having fun? Seems like a radical notion, but still, I have seen this with my eyes.
So I asked my scientist source, (a real doctor and a real scientist), about the birds and the dog and he assured me it’s not miraculous at all. He says the birds “have evolved.” Same with Penny. She evolved. Takes you back to Charles Darwin, who of course got it right. How can you argue with it? It’s science.
Anyway, the preserve is a great place to contemplate when thinking about, writing or debating, even if only with oneself, miracles, and the obvious question such a topic begs, which is whether there is a God. I remember taking my daughter, Ellen, on a canoe trip in Juniper Springs in the Ocala National Forest when she was around six years old. Canoers must navigate underbrush thick enough to turn daylight into night, maneuver around fallen trees and branches and worry about suspicious looking lumps in the dark water. What Ellen wanted to know was, “Who put all this stuff here?”
As elementary as Ellen’s question seems, it may actually be getting closer to the problem.
Philosopher/mathematician Gottfried Leibniz, who was born in 1646, is attributed with having posed the question this way: “Why do we have something rather than nothing?”
Ever since the ancient days, Leibniz and plenty of others have wondered pretty much the same thing as Ellen did when she first laid eyes on that forest. Same thing when a mere human stares up at the billions of stars visible on a clear night, or swims among the myriad life forms that populate a coral reef.
Let’s just get right to it. The question comes down to two possibilities. Either God did it, or there is no God, which means all this stuff, the forest, the reef, the mountain, the birds, the dog and all those people who jockey for position on the Interstate every weekday morning, all that happened more or less “by itself.”
These two theories have been fairly well worked over by scientists, philosophers, songwriters, school children, and more than a few journalists.
Whether you agree with one side or the other, the explanations are strange.
For the people who believe in God and miracles, it’s fairly simple. God did it. Birds, bees, dogs, trees, thunderstorms, plus everything in my room and even more strangely, all the stuff in my garage, God made it all. Just how he did it, when he did it, even why he did it, all that remains rather murky, in fact a complete mystery. One thing that bothers a lot of people about the God theory is this question: Why does God allow bad things to happen? Especially when it comes to natural disasters like earthquakes and tsunamis. Why would God intentionally cause innocent and unsuspecting people, even children, to be killed?
I have asked many observers this question, but have not yet heard a satisfactory answer, an answer that I think a fair and honest God could say, “Sure, that’s why I do it.”
The non-believers put on the table a very different answer to the question posed by Leibniz and, a few centuries later, my 6-year-old daughter. This answer is, well, fairly fantastic. My personal feeling is if you went out on any street corner in America and tried to convince people of this story, you would be on very shaky ground, and in some jurisdictions, might even risk detention for your own safety.
Scientists say they have figured out just about the time that “time” and “the universe” as we know it, “started,” if it possible to put the proposition that way. Most astronomers believe the universe began with something described as a “big bang” about 13.8 billion years ago. The scientists know this because they have picked up the sounds left over from the actual “bang” that still reverberate through the vast void of space. These scientists want us to believe the echoes of this sound are still around after almost 14 billion years, a fact which, if I didn’t know better, I’d be pretty sure somebody made up.
After that initial bang, which they are fairly well convinced was the beginning of everything, it took approximately nine to ten billion years for the earth to form into the planet we live on. The earth has been around for say four billion years, according to science. The ancestors of humans appeared about six million years ago, although nobody is certain what these early “ancestors” looked like. Fish? Rats? Monkeys? Nobody’s real sure. The creature we now call “modern man,” examples of which can be observed shopping at Wall Mart, evolved from those early ancestors only about 200,000 years ago. It seems odd to me, but using those numbers, for the next 199,800 years, “modern man” hung around not doing much of anything because it’s only been since around the year we now label as 1900 that humans figured out how to build cars, trains, airplanes, and rockets to the moon.
All along, evolution as Darwin explained it was progressing so bang, there appeared all the critters in the preserve behind my house, including birds that live up here called Sandhill Cranes, which are about four foot tall and look like something out of a science fiction movie. They get irritated with people and cars that do not respect their territory and make their feelings known loudly and without fear of reprisal and if there any scientists out there who want to question the motives of these critters, well, come on up here and we’ll have a little experiment and see how willing you are to mess with one of these birds on a “human to animal” level.
Even so, the scientist’s story seems at least plausible. It’s the next part that might get the authorities to wondering about his competency. My question seemed like the most natural thing to ask, but he does not like it. It is this: What do you think might have CAUSED the big bang?
He does not like this question because he says I don’t understand a basic proposition, which is this: There was NOTHING before the big bang. He throws in something I’ve seen in dozens of posts on the Internet: “It’s like asking what’s north of the north pole.”
Now let’s just stop right there. I have been a professional journalist since 1971 when I went to work as a general assignment and police reporter for The Tampa Tribune. I have been an attorney at law licensed to practice law by the Supreme Court of Florida and by the the federal Middle District of Florida since 1989. In addition to that, my father was born in Brooklyn in 1913 and if there is one thing he pounded into my head until the day he died at age 98, was to please just be “nobody’s sucker.” And to me, my scientist’s answer to what caused the big bang is evasion in its purest form. So I am not buying this. I’m not asking about the North Pole. I want to know about cause.
If this is the best the scientists can do when asked what caused the big bang, they’ve lost me. My scientist says the question is “not within our understanding.”
I will buy that whatever occurred that started our universe is “not within our understanding,” at least not in mine. But that does not mean there was not a cause of the big bang. Something happened, of this I am as sure as I sit here and look over my preserve and the birds that populate it. It is something of a stretch, but okay, I can buy into the idea that 13.8 billion years ago, something happened. But I will insist until shown differently that something caused that to happen. Something. We don’t know what. But something. Was it God?
The New York Times published a column under the headline, God is a Question, Not an Answer, on March 27, 2016, in which William Irwin, a professor of philosophy at Kings College in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, said those on both sides of the issue ought to be careful about being so certain. “People who claim certainty about God worry me, both those who believe and those who don’t believe. They do not really listen to the other side of conversations, and they are too ready to impose their view on others.” Professor Irwin went on to say there’s room for doubt either way. “We can all exist along a continuum of doubt. Some of us will approach religious certainty at one extreme and others will approach atheistic certainty at the other extreme. Many of us will slide back and forth over time.”
I have to wonder whether this state of “not knowing for sure” is precisely the condition God, if there is one, intended. I can just see this old man, as George Carlin once famously pictured him, living in the sky, smiling like a cat, rubbing his hands together and saying, “Yes….They can’t figure it out.” (Pretty sure you can find George Carlin’s routine on Utube. I hope so, anyway).
I am at this moment looking out into the preserve. The trees are doing their rhythmic swaying on a sunny and warm April morning. A big black bird, probably a vulture, is cruising around high above the treetops, diving and climbing with the ease of ballet dancer. Suddenly this big black bird is joined by two others, too far away to identify, but they are flying together, not in any sort of formation, but dipping and gliding and rising back up again. They seem to be enjoying the preserve as much as I am. I doubt if they are considering the possibility and nature of the creator, but who knows for sure?
Joe Registrato is editor of AliveTampaBay.
AliveTampaBay invites readers to share their stories of miracles, glimpses of God, the afterlife, near-death or other experiences they believe may evidence the hand of God or supernatural power.
The editors may wish to interview those who participate, so if willing to speak “on the record” for publication, contributors should include their name, address and phone numbers and a brief description of the event and send an email to: firstname.lastname@example.org