Chapter 10 is entitled, At Home with Miracle Max: How Science Expands Our Understanding of Miracles. Wallace begins the chapter by reviewing the Miracle Max scene from the movie, The Princess Bride where the characters Inigo and Fezzick bring the seemingly dead “Man in Black” to Miracle Max in a last ditch effort to get their quest back on track.
The money quote from the scene is when Miracle Max (Billy Crystal) says, “Well it just so happens that your friend here is only mostly dead. There is a big difference between mostly dead and all dead. Mostly dead is slightly alive. Now all dead – with all dead, there is usually only one thing you can do.”
“What’s that”, asks Inigo.
“Go through his clothes and look for loose change.”
Wallace says this scene has something to teach us about miracles that challenges the common understanding of the word. He then recites the story of Grayson Kirby who in 2014 was thrown from a vehicle and thought to be dead on arrival at a hospital. He was put on the array of machines and was in a coma for ten days. Doctors gave him a 5% chance to survive and even if he survived he would never be the same.
He made a full recovery, which the doctors could not explain. But his friends and family credit to it to their Christian faith and prayers of people around the world who responded to their pleas on Facebook. He appeared on the Steve Harvey show and told Harvey there wasn’t a doubt in his mind that prayer got him a miracle.
Wallace says that in most people’s minds there are two worlds. First is a natural world where doctors and other scientist see and understand. In that world Kirby had no hope. But prayers lifted to God enter the second world of the supernatural where God hears the prayers and reaches down into the natural world and heals someone like Kirby. But Wallace says the biblical authors did not have this strict dichotomy:
“The biblical authors felt no such need, because for them, the division between natural and supernatural did not exist. Miracles were special events, but they were easily integrated into a world in which God acted everywhere, sometimes in small ways, sometimes in big ways, but all the time and with human beings in mind. There were miracles and there were non-miracles, but no bright line was drawn between them. Miracles were woven seamlessly into the Bible’s cosmic tapestry.
Our worldview is unbiblical. This a fact, not a judgement. We see things differently than the authors of Scripture did. The world has changed in many ways since the Bible was written. In particular, science has radically altered our view of God’s creation and our place within it.”
Wallace then points out that a number of prominent scientists claim that science disproves miracles. In their viewpoint scientific knowledge trumps every other form of knowledge, and there should be no room anymore in anybody’s thought process for parting seas, virgin births, water turning into wine, or resurrection from the dead. Science has proved all these things impossible, they didn’t occur because they couldn’t occur, and any other explanation for them, no matter how far-fetched, is more reasonable than miracle.
He then lays a large part of the blame for this on Isaac Newton. Newton formulated the basic laws of mechanics and gravity in his 1687 brilliant work Principia. Newton’s overall view was that objects move because external forces make them move. Newton ruled out freedom because every effect had a cause. Causes lead to effects, which themselves are causes for subsequent effects, and so on forever. Now Newton himself did not eliminate God or miracles, but his mechanical viewpoint eventually spread out to encompass all things and events, including biological, cultural, artistic, and religious activities. He effectively removed God from the universe except as divine tinkerer, who only occasionally intervened. As Wallace says:
“There are no surprises in such a universe, and no miracles. If we could somehow know the precise location and speed of every particle in Newton’s cosmos at the present time – and in that cosmos, there’s no reason in principle why we couldn’t – then we could know the past and predict all events out into the infinite future. This impersonal and closed universe, fixed and predetermined, hold little in common with the God-saturated, miracle-rich world of Scripture… Newton as much as anyone, separated the natural from the supernatural and laid the foundation for our definition of miracles.”
This mechanical view of the universe has largely ruled Western thought since Newton’s time. It why scientists like the late Stephen Hawking viewed reality as fully explained by natural causes: “Because there are laws such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing. It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the Universe going.” Or Richard Dawkins to say: “The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference.”
But here’s the thing, Wallace says, science has moved on since Newton (and Hawking and Dawkins as well). Quantum mechanics contradicts Newton. At the quantum level, well defined and absolute limits restrict what we can know; the future can’t be predicted, and the past can’t be known, even with perfect knowledge of the present, which we absolutely can’t have. Newtonian cause and effect does not exist; matter smooths out into waves, indefinite and ghost-like; systems occupy multiple states at the same time; particles spontaneously pop into and out of existence; and information seems to travel instantaneously from one place to another, apparently breaking even Einstein’s cosmic speed limit. This counterintuitive but real world lies at the roots of everything.
Quantum mechanics points out the insufficiency of the mechanistic view of the cosmos. In addition, we have no idea what theory may lurk beneath quantum mechanics. But we do know now that the world has not been sealed off as a kind of closed mechanism; it unfolds moment by moment, open and always new. The science of quantum mechanics has taught us that the division we have created between natural and supernatural does not correspond to anything in reality. There is only one world, and God is always working in it. Sometimes this looks like science and sometimes it looks like miracle, but it is always there, ever drawing us toward new understandings, new relationships, and new life.