We interrupt our tour of Summa Contra Gentiles for this brief message.
You’ve heard of the miracle of loaves and fishes? What’s a miracle? How do miracles happen? Read these for a refresher:
A man came from Baal-shalishah bringing the man of God twenty barley loaves made from the first fruits, and fresh grain in the ear. Elisha said, “Give it to the people to eat.”
But his servant objected, “How can I set this before a hundred?” Elisha again said, “Give it to the people to eat, for thus says the LORD: You will eat and have some left over.”
He set it before them, and when they had eaten, they had some left over, according to the word of the LORD.
After this, Jesus went across the Sea of Galilee. A large crowd followed him, because they saw the signs he was performing on the sick. Jesus went up on the mountain, and there he sat down with his disciples. The Jewish feast of Passover was near. When Jesus raised his eyes and saw that a large crowd was coming to him, he said to Philip, “Where can we buy enough food for them to eat?”
He said this to test him, because he himself knew what he was going to do.
Philip answered him, “Two hundred days’ wages worth of food would not be enough for each of them to have a little.”
One of his disciples, Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter, said to him, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish; but what good are these for so many?”
Jesus said, “Have the people recline.” Now there was a great deal of grass in that place. So the men reclined, about five thousand in number. Then Jesus took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed them to those who were reclining, and also as much of the fish as they wanted. When they had had their fill, he said to his disciples, “Gather the fragments left over, so that nothing will be wasted.”
So they collected them, and filled twelve wicker baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves that had been more than they could eat.
When the people saw the sign he had done, they said, “This is truly the Prophet, the one who is to come into the world.” Since Jesus knew that they were going to come and carry him off to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain alone.
So I’m visiting a church and the deacon (I think) mounted the high ambo to give the homily. “Today’s reading is all about food,” he said. He mentioned “foodies” and food television and celebrity chefs. “Imagine you were one of the characters in the story,” he offered. “Imagine you were one of the loaves and fishes waiting to be handed out.”
It was at that point that I stopped listening and started thinking about what the passages—for these are the readings today—really meant.
Let’s accept the reported events occurred. How could they? God cannot do the impossible. He can’t, for instance, make himself not exist. That means if miracles like this are going to happen, there are only one of two ways that I see.
Now we know that matter and energy are related; E = mc2 and all that. So the first way would be to take existing equivalent masses or energies and convert them to the desired form—and in the require short time. So, rocks or grassy fields or whatever (mass or energy from elsewhere in the universe would have to be transported, and that requires even more work) are rearranged, via some mechanism, into sufficient bread or bread and fish to feed a multitude. Given what we know about nuclear physics, that would require a magnificent amount of energy. Think of the apparatus required to manipulate just one atom. Here were talking many.
How many? A good spherical cow problem. Should be able to get within an order of magnitude or two the mass involved, and thus a rough count of subatomic particles, and thus some idea of how to rearrange what’s on hand and what that would cost in terms on energy. Since I’m writing this right now this morning and in a hurry, I’ll leave this as a homework problem. The answer will be incomprehensibly beyond any human capacity.
The second way would be to create the masses (of bread or fish) ex nihilo. That requires infinite energy. Nothing is no thing, not some thing. Energy is something, and so is existing mass. So creating from nothing obviously requires Omnipotence. Nothing else could do it.
Point is, given that these events happened, if they happened by manipulating existing mass and energy, it would require something very like magic (but not). Like God. And if the masses were created from nothing, only God could do it.
Now there are other instances of creation ex nihilo and no reports of missing mass or flashing lights or anything like that. And there is nothing we know that would allow nuclear reactions to occur this quickly. This is circumstantial evidence, of course, but it does hint toward ex nihilo. And God. Of course, even rearranging mass points toward God.
And that’s what these passages are really about.
Since I wrote this as a replacement post and, as I said, in a hurry, I may update it as the day goes along.