Let’s you and me see if we can figure out what caused little Jimmy Engstrom to crawl back from the brink of death. I’m not a physician and I’m assuming you’re not, either. But so what. This used to be a free country. Let’s talk anyway.
In 2012, little Jimmy was being pushed out of his mother when his umbilical cord knotted, cutting off his oxygen supply. He was born at home and those gathered performed CPR until the ambulance arrived twenty minutes later. According to one story, “At the hospital, James was described as ‘PEA,’ for ‘pulseless electrical activity.’ Medics tried two injections of epinephrine. Neither worked.”
More than an hour after he was born, just as the docs were about to “call it”, Jimmy’s engine sputtered to life. He’s fine now.
So what caused the dramatic reversal?
Heck if I know. It can’t have been nothing. Nothing can’t cause anything. It can’t have been chance or randomness. Chance and randomness aren’t real things, merely states of information, and states of information can’t cause anything. So it must have been something. I don’t see any indication that it was something biological, so it must have been a miracle.
“Listen, Briggs. You’re no doctor, so how do know it wasn’t a clot clearing, or some other thing?”
What’s a clot?
Skip that. Isn’t the definition of a miracle the absence of a known cause in the presence of a known effect? If it is, then because I don’t know of a cause, and we surely witnessed the effect, then little Jimmy’s cure must be a miracle.
Or maybe the definition is wrong. A miracle isn’t just the absence of a known cause in the presence of a witnessed effect, it’s that in conjunction with a known prayer for intercession. In this case, there is such a prayer. Jimmy’s mother prayed. “I just kept repeating his name over and over in my head: Fulton Sheen, Fulton Sheen, Fulton Sheen.”
So prayer plus unknown cause equals miracle. In this case put down an intercession in the charming Archbishop’s column.
“Wait! I’ve already said you’re no doctor, Briggs. Must you be so stubborn? Your opinion of medical causes is worthless. The definition should be the absence of a known cause given the best information we have, plus a known prayer.”
Right. I forgot that I’m not a doctor. Good thing, then, that a team of real doctors—a “seven-member panel of medical experts”—reviewed the case and couldn’t discover a cause. A miracle still.
“Seven whole doctors couldn’t discover any cause? You’re beginning to win me over, Briggs.”
That so? I shouldn’t be, at least not yet. Because imagine those seven doctors were transported to our time from the year of our Lord 1800 via a time machine. And suppose those doctors couldn’t discover a cause. They probably couldn’t, either. In those days physicians still reached for the fleam. So conditioned on their knowledge, Jimmy’s cure is still a miracle.
But why settle for the past when we can reach into the future? Let’s gather seven docs from 2400, a year which we imagine will be full of technological delights and burgeoning medical knowledge. Could those doctors discover a cause?
Maybe they could. If they do, no miracle.
If this definition of miracle stands, then the observed increased knowledge in medicine and physics might account for some of the decrease in notable miracles over the last few hundred years. The more physics we know, the fewer causes can be attributed to God.
Smells like there is something not quite right with the definition. Let’s pick two other miracles to see what it might be. Jesus walking on water and the time he turned water into wine. If you already don’t, then accept them arguendo (if you are able). This means, just like in Jimmy’s case, we’re accepting these events happened as reported. Now something caused that water to turn into liquid truth, and something different, but still something, caused Jesus not to slip under the waves.
Nobody (so far as I have heard) knows how either of these events occurred. There are plenty of alternate, fanciful histories that turn the deep waters into a puddle and the water into wine before it was turned into wine, if you take my meaning, but we are believing or assuming here that these alternate reports are false. The events happened. We can assume that Jesus prayed, therefore by our working definition these events are miracles.
So what’s the difference (besides the intercessors) between Jimmy’s case and Jesus’s?
Part II: The anticlimax!