Miracles vs Classical Physics

Many healers who try to explain how their miracles are possible tend to invoke quantum mechanical concepts, even though these people are not scientifically educated and have no real idea how even basic physics actually work. I think that’s neither helpful nor necessary. My experience suggests that it’s possible to explain miracles in terms of only classical (i.e., non-quantum) physics.

Miracles are events that do not appear to follow the “natural” laws of our physical universe. For example, if you pray to a god, and your wish is mysteriously granted, and it was unlikely to happen otherwise, then you might consider that a miracle.

Clearly, the job of shamans, faith healers, and such, is essentially to invoke miracles on demand. In the Western world, the reason a lot of people do not believe this is possible, is because of a logical fallacy: miracles not appearing to follow the known laws of physics, is interpreted as them actually not following the laws of physics. And if breaking these laws were possible, then why not break those laws so spectacularly and thoroughly that there would be no doubt? Wouldn’t someone have done that?

But this assumption is incorrect. As far as I can tell, miracles actually must follow the laws of physics (Newton’s laws, etc, even the laws of thermodynamics). As such, many possible miracles could also be accomplished using some sufficiently advanced technology. It’s just that the physical forces seem to not come from technology, but from “somewhere else”. (In my experience, these forces from “somewhere else” appear to generally be electromagnetic, but this doesn’t matter much for this discussion. Here, it only matters that the forces follow Newton’s laws.)

Small miracles also do happen frequently. When people perform the symbolic, ritualistic act of taking a medicine, with the belief and intention that it will help them, even if the medicine does not actually have any physical healing properties, then, as if by magic, some mysterious force often actually do help them. Medical science calls this “the placebo effect”, it is real, and it happens so frequently that it’s part of their statistical models and needs to be accounted for in testing. Yet science has absolutely no explanation for it; it’s not even consistent with what we think we know about biology or evolution. So the placebo effect is a clear example of something which appears to violate the “natural” laws of the universe (even though a number of self-styled rationals wish to believe otherwise), and regularly so. But if it happens so often, then clearly it must not violate the actual rules.

Now, obviously, if miracles do follow the rules of physics, then they must not violate conservation of momentum. In physics, the principles of conservation of momentum and energy are founded on the universality of Newton’s third law: these conservation laws only hold if every force in the universe involves two bodies, both bodies are in-universe and have momentum, and an opposite (but equal in magnitude) force exists for every such force. If some magical force came from “nowhere” and involved only one body, then conservation of momentum (and probably energy) would be violated, and that is not possible in this universe.

Here it might be possible to say that a divine force which wanted to mess with your body could still pick some arbitrary other body, say the ground or the air around you, so that every time it moved an atom in you, some nearby air molecule would be moved the other way (while being careful not to add kinetic energy). Unfortunately, this would still be thermodynamically problematic. Fortunately, we can do better: what if the origin of the force was also in-universe, but with the following properties:

Conditions for miracles to be physically possible

  1. A kind of matter must exist that is almost everywhere there’s life.
  2. As with other matter, it must have mass, energy, and momentum. (As such, by the general theory of relativity, it must also be affected by gravity.)
  3. However, it does not interact directly with normal matter unless it chooses to. (This means it can move unhindered through almost anything. Kind of like ghosts.)
  4. If it does choose to interact, it must be able to generate a force that could affect regular matter. (The best candidate for this is an electromagnetic force, of course. This also allows it to change its movement, thus letting it go anywhere it wants, and also gives it many options for communication, up to and including directly triggering neurons in people’s brains.)
  5. Its choices are not trivially predictable (otherwise we would consider its actions natural). (If it’s able to heal humans, it may even be intelligent, say a kind of hive mind. If that sounds implausible: well, we know the universe has given rise to intelligent life at least once (here on Earth), so why couldn’t there also be other kinds of intelligent life? Alternatively, couldn’t this be the medium through which advanced aliens communicate and observe, since our SETI programs (which only look for primitive radio signals) can’t find them, even though most of us think they could be out there?)

(Also note how the last condition would explain why this miracle stuff has been so hard to scientifically prove. Science doesn’t work well without some degree of predictability.)

Now, question: does cosmologists know of something which could perhaps match this description? Oh, yeah: they’re currently puzzled by something which seems to make up 85% of all the matter in the universe (and, conveniently, is important for the formation of galaxies that could harbor life), but does not seem to interact with anything (as far as they can tell), and that might very well be abundant here on Earth: dark matter.

Sure, this is not proof, some may not find this scenario very likely or plausible, and this is not even necessarily how I believe things work, but my point is this: Miracles do not automatically violate the laws of physics as we currently know them (even without considering quantum mechanics). Perhaps a future discovery would change this, but at present, it seems to me that any firm belief that physics lets you conclude that miracles are impossible, is not really scientific, objective thinking. I’d call it pseudoscience. And if we’re ever going to get to the bottom of what’s really going on, it seems to me we need to be able to get beyond the pseudoscientific beliefs, prejudices, and taboos of our Western culture.