Miracle Or “Cheating”?

C.S. Lewis at his deskI recently re-read C.S. Lewis′ book Miracles (you can read my full book review by clicking here). As you may have noticed, after reading and reviewing books on this blog, I also like to share some quotes that caught my attention. Doing this with Lewis is difficult, because in order to get the context of a particular quote, I think I would have to cite almost a full page or more. So over the next few weeks I plan to share some quotes from Miracles that require not as much context, or I will provide a bit of background to set the stage.

This particular quote is fairly long in itself, but I think you will understand the context within the quote—

“It is certain that the billiard balls will behave in a particular way, just as it is certain that if you divide a shilling unequally between two recipients then A’s share must exceed the half and B’s share fall short of it by exactly the same amount. Provided, of course, that A does not by sleight-of-hand steal some of B’s pennies at the very moment of the transaction. In the same way, you know what will happen to the two billiard balls—provided that nothing interferes. If one ball encounters a roughness in the cloth which the other does not, their motion will not illustrate the law in the way you had expected. Of course what happens as a result of the roughness in the cloth will illustrate the law in some other way, but your original prediction will have been false. Or again, if I snatch up a cue and give one of the balls a little help, you will get a third result: and that third result will equally illustrate the laws of physics, and equally falsify your prediction. I shall have ‘spoiled the experiment.’ All interferences leave the law perfectly true. But every prediction of what will happen in a given instance is made under the proviso ‘other things being equal’ or ‘if there are no interferences.’ Whether other things are equal in a given case and whether interferences may occur is another matter. The arithmetician, as a arithmetician, does not know how likely A is to steal some of B’s pennies when the shilling is being divided; you had better ask a criminologist. The physicist, as a physicist, does not know how likely I am to catch up a cue and ‘spoil’ his experiment with the billiard balls: you had better ask someone who knows me. In the same way, the physicist, as such, does not know how likely it is that some supernatural power is going to interfere with them: you has better ask a metaphysician. But the physicist does know, just because he is a physicist, that if the billiard balls are tampered with by any agency, natural or supernatural, which he has not taken into account, then their behavior must differ from what he expected. Not because the law is false, but because it is true. The more certain we are of the law the more clearly we know that if new factors have been introduced the result will vary accordingly. What we do not know, as physicists, is whether Supernatural power might be one of the new factors. … Miracle is, from the point of view of the scientist, a form of doctoring, tampering, (if you like) cheating.”

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