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Miraculous April 16, 2010

Posted by markgeil in Philosophical musings.
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Every now and then I remember to view the world with a fresh sense of wonder. Just yesterday, for just a minute or two, I watched a tiny spider lower itself from ceiling to floor, and I marveled.

For us big oafish humans it’s usually a very bad thing that spider webs are so transparent. But yesterday, it was marvelous. I could not see the strand of web at all. To me, the spider hovered in mid air. Now, this certainly wasn’t the first time I’d not seen a spider web, but I’m a jaded movie-goer in an age of CGI and this was real and I took the time to notice.

More impressive to me was the miraculous way the little tiny spider lowered itself, all staccato-like, down this span of eight feet, using only its own body to produce the filament. Here’s where the engineer in me took over, and I started thinking about strength-to-weight ratios and curing times and wondering what chemical reaction in that diminutive arachnid could produce so much web, so quickly.

People tend to think of “miraculous” as something that defies explanation. I don’t like that definition. It’s a moving target, based on our ability to explain. By that definition, a once-miraculous solar eclipse becomes ordinary when we develop the telescopes and charts to explain and even predict it.

By that definition, miracles are subjective. The spider remains a miracle for me, because I honestly have no idea how it accomplishes its remarkable hovering act. For an entomologist, it’s a well-understood scientific process that’s probably covered in introductory bug classes.

The trouble is, I want miracles, but I want to seek explanations, too. I don’t want a tension between the two, and I don’t think there should be any. I’m inspired by the spider in two ways. I’m inspired to go and learn just how web-spinning works. When I get some time, I just might do that. The internet sure makes it easy. Once I’ve learned, though, the feat is no less miraculous to me. See, I’m also inspired by the spider to praise the clever Creator who dreamed up spider webs in the first place. My study will not rob me of my awe. In fact, my study might even amplify my awe.

For me, miracles are everywhere. Some do defy explanation, and I think they always will. I believe in the supernatural. I believe God wrote the laws of physics and chemistry and order and He can suspend them if He so desires. Or maybe He just stretches them every now and then. But those laws of physics and chemistry and order and miracles all by themselves. The order of the universe – the “natural” – is awfully impressive, and I’m afraid that when we just hold out for the supernatural, we miss the marvel of the natural.

Find a spider to watch. Plant a seed. Watch a bumblebee. Then go study them all, if you’re so inclined. But don’t forget to marvel.

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