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God Squad: Miracles and science can coexist without contradiction

January 11, 2013|By Rabbi Marc Gellman

Q: The Bible states that the Red Sea was parted by God and the Hebrews walked on dry land with a wall of water on each side. The History Channel claims this is a fantasy. In fact, they claim it wasn't even the Red Sea but the "Reed Sea," and it was shallow and the Egyptians couldn't get at the Hebrews because their chariots got stuck. Can you comment on this? — P., via godsquadquestion@aol.com

A: Questions about miracle turn up nearly every week in my e-mailbox. Miracles seem to be a great obstacle to faith for many people. I think this need not be the case.

I believe in miracles and I believe in science, and I don't think there's a contradiction. The key spiritual move here is to divide miracles into several types. Some things are impossible even for God because they're a contradiction in terms. God cannot make a married bachelor or a square circle because this is an impossible contradiction. A bachelor must be unmarried and a circle cannot be square.

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The second type of miracles are also impossible because they contradict the laws of nature, and a law of nature must be true for it to be a law. There cannot be talking snakes because a snake doesn't have a larynx. The stories of these miracles are meant as fables intended to teach higher and completely true teachings, like the need to follow God's commandments, which is, I believe, the real purpose and meaning of the Garden of Eden snake story. The meaning is true, but not the talking snake.

Finally, there are miracles that look impossible but are not really impossible because they don't violate the laws of nature. The crossing of the Red Sea (or the "Reed Sea") and most all the plagues in Egypt seem to me to be miracles of this type, and I believe in them.

I recently heard a story originally reported on the wonderful NPR show/blog, Radiolab, which recounted the amazing, improbable, miraculous and true story of Laura Buxton, a red-haired 10-year-old girl with a black lab and a guinea pig with a furry brown rear end in the north of England who released a balloon from her backyard with a note asking the finder to call her.

The balloon traveled 140 miles and landed in the backyard of another red-haired 10-year-old girl with a black lab and a guinea pig with a furry brown rear end. The girl who found the balloon was also named Laura Buxton! The odds against this happening are enormous and yet, miraculously, it happened.

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