Miracles

I was asked to speak today at our Quaker meeting as many religious organization celebrate “Evolution Sunday”. This day (a Sunday close to the anniversary of the birth date of Charles Darwin) we celebrate science as a human endeavor within our spiritual life. As I was thinking about the dichotomy between science and religion the idea of miracles came to mind, so I talked about miracles. This is what I share this morning 2-12-2017.

It seems to me that when one thinks about the difficulties of bringing science and religion together we immediately think about the difficulties of bringing the supernatural and the natural together. And the impossibility of having both at the same time. Some times that is the case because by definition we want to keep the natural world separate from the supernatural, but it is not necessary that we do it. The main problem I find is the limiting shackles of language. There are many instances in the Bible where certain stories are enhanced by metaphorical descriptions of unbelievable events that we called miracles, let me start with one found in the book of Exodus, it describes the event when after crossing the Red Sea the Israelites are complaining about getting to a place in the desert where they couldn’t drink the water. This is the passage called “The Waters of Marah and Elim (Exodus 15:22 -27)”

“22 Then Moses led Israel from the Red Sea and they went into the Desert of Shur. For three days they traveled in the desert without finding water. 23 When they came to Marah, they could not drink its water because it was bitter. (That is why the place is called Marah.[f])24 So the people grumbled against Moses, saying, “What are we to drink?”

25 Then Moses cried out to the Lord, and the Lord showed him a piece of wood. He threw it into the water, and the water became fit to drink.

There the Lord issued a ruling and instruction for them and put them to the test. 26 He said, “If you listen carefully to the Lord your God and do what is right in his eyes, if you pay attention to his commands and keep all his decrees, I will not bring on you any of the diseases I brought on the Egyptians, for I am the Lord, who heals you.”

27 Then they came to Elim, where there were twelve springs and seventy palm trees, and they camped there near the water.”

In this passage we clearly see the miracle of Moses turning bitter (alkaline/basic) water into drinkable potable water, neutral water in chemical terms. We read also that in order to fix these bitter waters Moses had to throw a piece of old wood that has been for long sitting on the sun, could it be that the cellulose and other wood materials were affected by the sun and maybe transformed into some kind of acidic solid alcohol? If so casting this piece of acidic wood into the basic water would indeed neutralized it, therefore making it drinkable.

Now let me be clear, understanding this phenomenon doesn’t take the miraculous nature away, on the contrary it makes it even better because we now have the miracle of our understanding, the miracle of humans being able to think and to develop  theories like evolution that help us live better lives.

After talking about Marah I performed a demonstration, using phenolphthalein as a color indicator. I used a diluted solutions of sodium hydroxide (a base) where the phenolphthalein becomes bright rose color and hydrochloric acid where the phenolphthalein is completely clear. Mixing these we can have an acid-base neutralization reaction to show how we could change the color of water (making the joke that it was wine) from clear to “rose” and to clear again.

Finally I said something about water and how I believe in miracles.

First let’s look at how Galileo around 1600 being a devout Catholic got in trouble with the church because he didn’t believe that the earth was at the center of the universe, he was trying to prove that the world was moving. [Of course everybody knows the earth is not moving! Just look out of the window, the earth is not moving, it is just common sense!] So if nobody can see that earth is moving how can we explain why we can’t see it moving if it is moving. Galileo thought that the movement of the ocean tides was proof of the earth’s motion but he was mistaken, when people said that there was a correlation between the tides and the faces of the moon he could not believe it as he thought that was kind of supernatural or occult. It was of course about one hundred years later that Isaac Newton came with the idea the theory of gravitation that connected the motion of the moon with the tides of the oceans. So Galileo develop a thought experiment and came with the explanation that if we couldn’t see the earth moving it was because we were moving with it! Of course today this principle of relativity is obvious as we have been traveling inside vehicles for a long time.

The birth of a baby is a miracle. We experience a deep sense of awe when a new being is born, we sense deep harmony as the newborn is suddenly functioning as an independent individual, breathing by itself.

Water is a miracle. Water is not a normal substance, its molecular structure allows water to have properties that are not common, for example: when material cool they normally contract becoming more dense, water doesn’t do that when it freezes for example it expands, that is why ice floats on water. As a liquid water conducts heat but as a solid ice is a thermal isolator,

So when there is cold weather in a lake, say in Minnesota, water freezes on the top and the ice keeps the water below warmer than the air above the surface of the lake. Fish can survive the harsh winter thanks to the “behavior” (properties) of water, Wouldn’t you say that water is a miraculous substance?

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