It’s probably not magic

creationofmanThe other day my friend said to me: “A magician in the park made a rabbit disappear”. A few things crossed my mind when I heard that. Was my friend just telling me a story? Was he trying to play a joke on me? Did he hear this second hand from someone else who may have knowingly or unknowingly misreported the facts of the story? Was he actually in the park and did he think he saw a rabbit disappear when really the magician just used some slight of hand and misdirection to make it look that way?

All of these are reasonable explanations for what my friend said to me. But one explanation that never crossed my mind was that the magician actually performed a magical act. That is to say, I never thought that the rabbit actually disappeared out of thin air (violating the laws of physics as we know them) and that my friend was reporting this miraculous event. I can’t say for sure that magical events cannot occur, but I can safely say that a violation of the laws of physics as we know them (magic) is the least probable explanation for what my friend said.

What my friend said to me is only one example of a story that claims that a magical/supernatural/miraculous event occurred. One of the most well known collections of such stories is found in the Bible. Christian religions are built on the belief that magical events (events that violate the laws of physics as we know them) actually occurred. Examples of such events include a man rising from the dead, a man ascending into heaven, and communication through thoughts (also known as prayer).

Upon reading a story that claims such events actually occurred, a few things come to mind. Is the author just telling a story? Is he distorting the facts towards some end? Did he hear this second hand from someone else who may have knowingly or unknowingly misreported the facts of the story? Did the author actually think he witnessed these miraculous events when really his eyes deceived him?

These are all possible explanations for the stories of magic we read in the Bible. However, Christians – citing the Bible’s legitimacy as a factual document along with their personal testimony – might say that these are unlikely explanations. Let’s agree with that for argument’s sake: the non-magical explanations for the stories we read in the Bible are highly improbable. But one explanation is even more improbable, and that is the magical one.

Throughout recorded history, the laws of physics as we know them have never been violated in any reproducible scientific experiment. This of course does not prove that it cannot happen, but it is useful information. And based on this information, when trying to explain a story, the most probable explanation to assume (no matter how improbable it seems) is one that does not include the violation of the laws of physics (magic).

Choosing to accept the most improbable explanation of a story is unreasonable, yet this is what Christianity is founded on. No one can claim that the Christian god does not exist, or that Jesus never rose from the dead: these things cannot be proven. All that can be said is that the explanations that Christians offer for the stories in the Bible are unreasonable. In the face of other explanations that agree with the laws of physics, they choose magic: always the least probable explanation.

At the beginning of this article I told you a story. I said that a friend of mine told me: “A magician in the park made a rabbit disappear”. In fact, I don’t have a friend who told me that, and I wasn’t trying to convey to you the facts of an actual event. I told you a story about a magical event to make a point.

2 thoughts on “It’s probably not magic

  1. Most theists would respond to your post with something to the effect of “religious faith transcends physical laws and reason; one must have faith in the creator and it’s greater purpose and emulate it’s qualities to confer good-will upon humanity”. But I always wonder why one can’t have both – reason and altruism.

    My main complaint about theism is the persuasion to follow dogmatic directions without critical thought, to act not because there is a well-thought out purpose to your actions, but because a script told you to. Living a life of meaning should be intrinsically motivated, not to please anyone or anything.

  2. Amen NJCB.

    And I’d be happy if my post prompts theists to say something to the effect of “religious faith transcends physical laws and reason”. The more you say it, the more absurd it sounds.

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