Miracles and Statistics

I had read that McCain’s aides, the ones trashing Sarah Palin this week, called Barack Obama, “the one.” This, I believe, is the reference from The Matrix series. It comes from the moment where Morpheus, the leader of the human resistance, reveals to Neo, “You are the one.” The Christ references came in spades as well as all kinds of Buddhist and Exodus references. The movie poses a serious question about miracles and statistics.

Science is never about absolute truths, but a series of questions and answers based on logic and statistics. If explanation A describes phenomena X 99% of the time compared to explanation B which works only 95%, theory A is the better explanation. Even so, there is no establishment of absolute truth, but support of a stronger theory. It is this process which refines the understanding of phenomena X -but this confounds people of faith.

People of faith believe in incontrovertible truths. They see the world in black and white and are highly suspicious of the shades of gray offered by theories. Science is a process that offers increasing degrees of certainty measured by statistics -some theories become established and become principles, but are always open to exceptions. These exceptions require new theories or amendments of theories, but on their face, they can seem miraculous because they occur in a vacuum of explanation. This happened when whole ecosystems were found around volcanic vents at the bottom of sea trenches. This will happen when we find extraterrestrial life. This will happen when a computer demands civil rights.

In the Matrix, the presence of Neo, and his antagonist, Agent Smith, are said to be the result of a statistical anomaly that occurs every few millennia. I have often thought that if something has a 1 in a billion chance to occur, it is likely to have occurred if there are billions of people. There is that great Youtube video of a baseball bat flung to the ground after a hit, ending up standing perfectly. Of the millions, perhaps billions of times, a bat has been flung to the ground, it usually should come to rest in a state of lowest potential energy. Because the bat has a flat surface on its end, there is a potential energy state that is metastable standing up. This seemingly miraculous event occurred and may likely occur again before the Cubs win the Series again.

So what are miracles? Are they statistical anomalies? Phenomena that occur in the vacuum of theory? People mystified by a standing bat? I believe in miracles as I have been the beneficiary of one requested on the tails of falling Perseid metorites in 2001. I cannot explain how it occurred or why. Miracles are the impossible made real. In a world where you can wish on a falling star and get your life’s wish a few months later, I cannot argue against the miraculous.

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