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Monday, April 8, 2013


Some people say that 'physical' miracles are impossible, since they by definition violate the laws of physics.

On the surface that looks convincing, especially when a renowned scientist says it. I mean, a scientist should know, right?

Partly true. A scientist should know...better than to say that.

The fact is that we don't know the laws of physics. We have mathematical models that describe how the physical world that we can observe works. These models are validated by applying them to a large variety of events. But they are still our invention.

Newtonian mechanics ("every action has an equal and opposite reaction") works quite well in describing the arc of a thrown baseball, or the flight of a rocket to the moon. But when you go faster - much faster - the model breaks down. Close to the speed of light, Newtonian mechanics goes into the dustbin.

Did you know that as you get up to that speed (about 186,000 miles per second) time actually slows down? And an objects length is reduced? This really happens - it's been measured.

It was first suggested by a patent clerk named Albert Einstein. Riding a streetcar, he tried to imagine what would happen as the speed got close to light speed. From this, Einstein developed the Theory of Relativity.

Relativistic mechanics works beautifully in describing the physical world. We can use it to describe a baseball's path, or the movement of a photon (a 'packet of light'). the reason we don't use it for everything is that it's really, really complex - and Newtonian mechanics works well enough for all practical purposes, for the thing's we're interested in.

But relativity is still a mathematical model, and there are areas where it breaks down, and becomes inaccurate.

And that means that we really don't know what's happening. The real physical laws still elude us, and they probably always will.

To say that a miracle is impossible because it violates physical laws only means that we can't reconcile it with the equations we have. Nothing more than that.

To say anything more is an act of belief, that in fact there do exist laws that preclude the miracle. We just can't see the laws, or prove their existence. But we believe they exist.

In other words, to say that a miracle is impossible is just as much a statement of faith as saying one is possible.

So, yes, a scientist should know better...or when it comes to their 'faith' do they abandon reason?


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