Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Silly Calculations

P Z Myers (or 'Pharyngula') is one of the best science-bloggers around. He's also generally reasonable. When he uses the word 'silly', it's interesting to see what he thinks is silly. In this case, he thinks that it's silly to call something a miracle just because there are low retrospective odds against it. Of course, his argument is right. No single contingent product of the universe's history is more or less miraculous than any other in a statistical sense.

Like Myers, I hate it when people misuse language. (Hey, I hate it when I myself misuse language, and if you point it out to me, I will self-flagellate with the best of them.) So let's define miracle: a true miracle is an event that has NO chance at all — it has no logical antecedents, no explicable cause or chain of causation — and yet it happens. By Myers's lights and my definition, the only miracle should be the hypothetical origin of the universe ab nihilo; I would agree with him about its miraculous status.

The difference between humanity and what humans do, and the rest of the universe, is what humans think is significant. It's purely subjective. Do you think Myers would bother getting off his ass to write this article unless something provoked him sufficiently? And that provocation is of course subjective.

He closes by exhorting humans to "go forth and feel and act like you aren't any more special than anyone else on Earth." Clearly, however, the act of exhortation betrays his subconscious belief that this doesn't include him.

Which of course leads back to the point about atheists. When confronted with meaningless, they put up spirited arguments which must also lack meaning or be the deterministic (or random) fruits of physics. They (and we) shouldn't have free will. They (and we) shouldn't care. And if they (and we) do, that too should pass.

Me, I don't think my physical body is a miracle. What is a miracle is that I should not be redeemed by the body and blood of Christ. I am not redeemable; I cannot have been redeemed. But... it has happened, and I have been. No chance at all, and yet here I stand. This is the miracle.

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