Pensées
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Pensées

I Believe In Miracles. Professional Magicians Perform Them All The Time.

Something is miraculous if it you can’t explain it. Professional magicians do things you can’t explain.

The first miracle that Jesus performed was turning six pots of water into six pots of wine. The circumstances were a Jewish wedding where the pots contained the filthy water left after the wedding guests had washed their hands. Through His divine power, Jesus transformed the six pots of water into six pots of the finest wine. What a miracle that was!

Now change the context: a professional magician stands on a stage and asks her assistant to place six pots of water on a table. She ostentatiously dumps all kind of filth into the pots: some mud. some chicken entrails, some bird droppings, several rotten apples. She invites six members of the audience to come to the stage and inspect the pots to confirm that all six are filled with filthy, indeed stinky, water.

Next, with the chosen audience members standing by, she drapes a cloth over the pots. She passes a broom handle under the table from one side to the other. Her assistant brings out six glasses and a ladle and invites each of the audience members on the stage to take a glass. She then lifts the cloth from the pots, ladles a cupful of liquid from each pot into the glasses, and invites the guests to drink it. Lo and behold, the glasses contain delicious wine. The audience applauds wildly.

What happened? Did a miracle take pace? Perhaps the magician even claims, tongue in cheek, that it did. But both the magician and the audience know better: the whole performance was a very clever trick. The magician knows how it was done, but the audience members don’t. Maybe a couple of them even believe that it was a miracle; they certainly can’t explain it. But another professional magician has attended the performance. Afterwards, the two of them have a lively discussion about just what the trick was and how to make it seem even more “miraculous”.

Many miracles have been recorded in history. They are often cited as proof of the omnipotence of God. But as this story illustrates, the fact that something seems inexplicable is no proof of the existence of God. Nature has its own magic tricks.

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This publication records some of my thoughts about the world and my life. Blaise Pascal was a seventeenth-century philosopher and mathematician, one of the key figures of the Enlightenment. I like the title even though I don’t agree with the contents, a defense of Catholicism.

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Paul Abrahams

Paul Abrahams is a retired computer scientist living in Deerfield, Massachusetts. President of ACM from 1986 to 1988, he now writes philosophical essays.