While McCaw's play is meant to be comedy, it's not so far off from what a lot of people believe -- that some divine agent, be it God or an angel or something else, takes such an interest in the minutiae of life down here on Earth that (s)he intercedes on our behalf. As an example, take Paula White -- the "White House Spiritual Adviser" -- who just yesterday led a prayer service in which she called on "angelic reinforcements" to make sure that the vote counting went Donald Trump's way.
You'd think if interference in human affairs is allowable, up there in heaven, that helping innocent people who are dying in misery would be the first priority.
It's why I was so puzzled by the story in The Epoch Times that a loyal reader of Skeptophilia sent me. It's called, "When Freak Storms Win Battles, Is It Divine Intervention or Just Coincidence?" The article goes into several famous instances when weather affected the outcome of a war, to wit:
- A tornado killing a bunch of British soldiers in Washington D. C. during the War of 1812
- The storm that contributed to England's crushing defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588
- A massive windstorm that smashed the Persian fleet as it sailed against Athens in 492 B.C.E.
- A prolonged spell of warm, wet weather, which fostered the rise of the Mongol Empire in the 13th century, followed by a pair of typhoons that destroyed Kublai Khan's ships when they were attacking Japan in 1274
And I'm sorry, I refuse to believe that a divine being would be pro-British in the sixteenth century, and suddenly become virulently anti-British two hundred years later.
Although that's kind of the sticking point with the last example as well, isn't it? First God (or the angels or whatever) manipulate the weather to encourage the Mongols, then kicks the shit out of them when they try to attack Japan. It's almost as if... what was causing all of this wasn't an intelligent agent at all, but the result of purely natural phenomena that don't give a rat's ass about our petty little squabbles.
But for some reason, this idea repels a lot of people. They are much more comfortable with a deity that fools around directly with our fates down here on Earth, whether it be to make sure that I win ten dollars on my lottery scratch-off ticket or to smite the hell out of the bad guys.
I more find myself identifying with the character of Vertue in C. S. Lewis's The Pilgrim's Regress -- not the character we're supposed to like best, I realize -- when he recognized that nothing he did had any ultimate reason, or was the part of some grand plan:
"I believe that I am mad," said Vertue presently. "The world cannot be as it seems to me. If there is something to go to, it is a bribe, and I cannot go to it: if I can go, then there is nothing to go to."
"Vertue," said John, "give in. For once yield to desire. Have done with your choosing. Want something."
"I cannot," said Vertue. "I must choose because I choose because I choose: and it goes on for ever, and in the whole world I cannot find a reason for rising from this stone."
This week's Skeptophilia book recommendation of the week is about one of the deepest mysteries in science: the origin of time.
Most physical processes are time-reversible. If you looked at a video of a ball bouncing off a wall, then looked at the same video clip in reverse, it would be really difficult to tell which was the forward one and which the backwards one. Down to the subatomic level, physical processes tend to make no distinction based upon the "arrow of time."
And yet our experience of time is very, very different. We remember the past and don't know anything about the future. Cause and effect proceed in that order, always. Time only flows one direction, and most reputable physicists believe that real time travel is fundamentally impossible. You can alter the rate at which time flows -- differences in duration in different reference frames are a hallmark of the theory of relativity -- but its direction seems to be unchanging and eternal.
Why? This doesn't arise naturally from any known theory. Truly, it is still a mystery, although today we're finally beginning to pry open the door a little, and peek at what is going on in this oddest of physical processes.
In The Order of Time, by physicist Carlo Rovelli (author of the wonderful Seven Brief Lectures in Physics), we learn what's at the cutting edge of theory and research into this unexplained, but everyday and ubiquitous, experience. It is a fascinating read -- well worth the time it will take you to ponder the questions it raises.
[Note: if you purchase this book using the image/link below, part of the proceeds goes to support Skeptophilia!]