Magic Tricks and Miracles
If a magician pulls a rabbit out of a hat, we all know it has to be a trick. Why? Because nothing comes from nothing, and thus everything that comes, comes from something. More precisely, everything that begins to exist has a cause – a cause, we should note, outside of itself, since in order to cause itself, it would already have to have existed. We all generally agree with this, whether we classify causes as Aristotle did, with regard to makers and materials and purposes, or as physical phenomena, or as a broader category that encompasses all causation. You would be hard-pressed to find someone that didn’t agree, and had good reason not to. Even if the magic trick were real, the rabbit is, in a way, caused by the magician.
This means that if we take any object, we can trace it back to a series of causes (or several such series). The chair I’m looking at came from a manufacturer; the metal came from ore which came from a mine which came from a mineral deposit, and so on; the manufacturer came from a business came from an entrepreneur came from his parents came from their parents… and so on and so forth. And so causes seem to multiply and go on and on.
But at the same time, we know that these chains can’t go on forever, anymore than an actual metal chain could hang in midair just by virtue of being infinite, with each link connected to the one above it. Such a chain would still fall down unless it was hanging from some other sort of thing, because somewhere up the line, by the nature of how chains and gravity work, a chain has to hang from something else that’s self-supporting if it’s going to dangle in midair. The length of the chain doesn’t matter. If that’s unclear, picture a regular-length chain hanging in midair. Then imagine that its length is doubled – and doubled again – and again. An infinite number of times, in fact. At no stage does the idea of a chain dangling in midair of its own accord become less preposterous.
So it is with causation. By the nature of cause-and-effect, the line has to stop somewhere; if causation is to occur at all, there must be at the very beginning of it all something of a different sort – self-supporting, so to speak, a first cause. There must be a cause that nothing caused – an uncaused cause, to come to the more familiar phrase. There must be a bringing about by something that nothing brought about.
If we wish to get more specific, let us take different chains of causes and trace them back to their origin. Let us take the interlocking physical causes of the universe – every particle collision and electron orbit that’s ever occurred, the whole universe. Almost all physics is agreed that the universe began to exist, and even if it didn’t, it’s the sort of thing that doesn’t exist on its own, that needs some explanation. And the explanation has to be outside the physical universe, outside the space-time continuum, or it couldn’t have caused them. So we have a cause outside of space and time – which narrows things down a good bit, to either intelligence or abstract ideas.
Now, very few things in nature are caused with nothing preceding them. If a nail is hit by a hammer, the hammer was swung by an arm, and that arm movement was the result of a neural impulse. But now we come to the crux of it – because the neural impulse was the result of a decision, and that’s where the buck stops. If Mary is hanging a picture on the wall, and so needs a nail hammered, it is conceivable that she could change her mind and not hang the picture, and the nail would not have been hit. This is the idea of free will; persons, wills, can originate actions, without anyone coming before them. But of course, all human persons have to come from somewhere (other people, specifically). And so we must go back further, to a person of a different sort, to a causer, we might say.
Now, if we gather these together, then somewhere behind and beyond the universe lies not only an uncaused cause, but an uncaused causer, a person outside space and time – not of the human variety, of course, but what might be termed a ‘mind’ or ‘intelligence’ or ‘will’. And this person caused the universe, and must thus be of enormous power. Now, this of course is not proof that this particular person is the Christian God or even a monotheistic sort of God, but you would be hard-pressed to find someone who disbelieved in God, but was willing to grant a creator of the universe, of this variety.
It is a choice, then, between a sensible system of theistic miracles and this haphazard assertion of magic tricks. I myself would much rather have the miracles. This is a very intuitive argument, but we’ve gotten very mixed up of late. It seems preposterous that the existence of God should be so simple, and so people either start claiming that something can come from nothing, like a rabbit without even a magician; or that the universe has an infinite past and so has no cause, like a chain that can dangle in midair only because it is infinitely long. Both of which every child knows are false, but as adults we can find this very complicated to prove.