I Don’t Believe in Miracles, But…

No, I am not a Scrooge or a Grinch, just a pragmatist.

The holiday season is, for many, a reminder of tales of miracles, whether of the story of the birth of Christ as a savior, of Chanukah’s menorah that was lit for eight days with only enough oil for a single day, Bodhi Day to honor the enlightenment of Siddhartha Gautama or the Islamic Day of Ashura, to name a few.

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manymeez’s Flickr photostream

I envy those who can embrace such miracles; try as I might, it is something I could never do. A common theme of these miracle stories is a spirit of giving towards a greater good. One of my favorite quotes expresses it:

I believe that whether a person follows any religion or not is unimportant, he or she must have a good heart, a warm heart.

Dalai Lama

What does the giving spirit have to do with science? I became a scientist because I have an insatiable curiosity to understand our world. I hope that someday my contributions, as insignificant as they might seem in isolation, may someday benefit society through education and better public health.

With Christmas Eve upon us, let me share this classic editorial for those who believe what they cannot see.

“DEAR EDITOR: I am 8 years old.
“Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus.
“Papa says, ‘If you see it in THE SUN it’s so.’
“Please tell me the truth; is there a Santa Claus?

“VIRGINIA O’HANLON.
“115 WEST NINETY-FIFTH STREET.”

VIRGINIA, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except [what] they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men’s or children’s, are little. In this great universe of ours man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect, as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.

Yes, VIRGINIA, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus. It would be as dreary as if there were no VIRGINIAS. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.

Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies! You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas Eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if they did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that’s no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.

You may tear apart the baby’s rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived, could tear apart. Only faith, fancy, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, VIRGINIA, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.

No Santa Claus! Thank God! he lives, and he lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.

Newsman Francis Pharcellus Church wrote The Sun’s (Sept. 21, 1879) response to Virginia.

Happy Holidays!

Comments

  1. #1 Isis the Scientist
    December 23, 2010

    Lovely, Jeff. It is worth remembering that there is even something magical in the rational.

  2. #2 Jeff
    December 23, 2010

    Yes, rationality has unappreciated magical properties as it can unleash creativity in unpredictable ways.

  3. #3 tideliar
    December 28, 2010

    What a brilliant post! Merry..uh…thing to all and long may the wonder and curiosity in our hearts drive our curiosity.

  4. #4 Jeff
    December 28, 2010

    Very kind of you; yes, to insatiable curiousity…

  5. #5 curious
    January 1, 2011

    What don’t people give credit to where credit is really due instead of inventing characters of dubious origin. Well written none-the-less

  6. #6 concerned
    March 6, 2011

    Miracles happen every day of the year. It seems people choose to think of miracles only when the commercial element in the world goads their minds along to actually open up their eyes to them so they can buy their products.

  7. #7 Metal Roofing
    March 15, 2011

    I agree, one does not need a religion to have a kind heart.
    Caring for others is a biological trait, our mind finds comfort.

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