We live in a universe where all things are possible, though most things are highly improbable. We often mistake the high odds for or against something happening for certainty. Nothing is certain.
The birth of my daughter Michelle was an improbable thing. We were too old when we started. We spent quite a lot of time and money fighting the odds and we beat them. Within days of her birth, she began to exhibit a weird thing with her eyes that the pediatrician thought might be hydrocephaly. What are the odds? We prayed that it would not be so. It turned out it wasn’t. A week later she was diagnosed with a completely unrelated protein disorder that makes it difficult for her to metabolize branch chain amino acids. She showed no outward symptoms. It only showed up in the bloodwork and, then, only on the margin of the statistical curve. We prayed that she not be afflicted with a disease that could impact her intellectual capacity and general health. It turns out that the one in a million chance that she’d have the protein disorder was trumped by the even less likely probability that she had a form of the disorder that could be easily managed by diet alone.
We call these low probability outcomes miracles and we shouldn’t let the math get in the way of celebrating them as such. I believe in miracles, because I live with one. And I don’t dismiss the possibility that prayer works, because I have prayed and had my prayers answered. I’m also human and we humans rationalize the irrational.
I don’t pray very much, because I believe that we celebrate that divine purpose for the universe we call God by doing good works. I practice what I call Zen Deism and believe we should thank God with our good deeds, not empty words and the hope of divine intervention. I save my prayers for the big ticket items – healthy children, healthy planet, healthy universe, but I believe these goals are achieved through my actions, not passive pleas to the only thing greater than ourselves.
Whatever the outcome of the recent presidential election, someone will break out the word miracle. Many will claimed that the outcome was produced by divine intervention and prayers. I won’t be able to argue against that notion, but I would argue that getting cancer or being struck by an asteroid is no less miraculous than beating cancer or having that asteroid miss us. We color our perspective with hubris and self-interest. Hubris and self-interest will be the death of us. We all have expiration dates. At some point miracles fail the individual, probably because they were never about the individual to begin with.
Albert Einstein, the source for the quote that titles this essay, was both architect and skeptic in the creation of Quantum Mechanics. He recognized the predictive power of the statistical math that describes a quantum universe. He also believed in a purposeful God and could not fathom a universe that was so seemingly random at its core. But we find God through the miraculous, those low probability statistical outcomes. We ask God for miracles and we deny God when the miracles break in the wrong direction. We have the temerity to claim that miracles are a reward or a punishment. We take them personally. The miracles we witness may well speak to a higher purpose for the universe, but our ability to define that higher purpose is certainly lacking and some miracles, like the Cretaceous comet that killed off 75% of all the living things on Earth and in turn brought about the rise of intelligent shrews, should serve as a warning to all of us about how we interpret a miracle.
We do, after all, continue to live in a universe where all things are possible, but most things highly improbable. And sometimes we have to live with the consequences…