It is obviously … pleonastic to state that there can be no effect without a cause.  But can there be a reality without a cause ?  Theists believe so : that “reality” they call God.  Surrounded by, and themselves incarnating, what are already effects – their own bodies, their food, their home, clothes, furniture, children, neighbors, their planet and their universe – they jump to the conclusion that there must be a First Uncaused Cause of all these effects : “He who is who He is” (“Yahweh”, in the Judeo-Christian tradition), the Ultimate Given.

No one can dispute the necessity of a cause to explain an effect.  But to identify “the ground and source of being” (Paul Tillich) as some divine Person(s) – depending on whether your tradition is Judeo or Christian – is a jump atheists refuse to make.  We prefer to speak of the Big Bang, rather than the Big Being.  But, theists will object, what caused the Big Bang in the first place ?  The glib answer would be “God knows !”.  The honest answer of atheists is “We don’t know”.  You believe that God is the Ultimate Cause.  We affirm that He is not, given the total lack of evidence.  Neither you nor we will ever know.

The reflection on causes and effects has multiple repercussions.  Let us examine just one of them.

A terminally-ill patient is wheelchaired into the miraculous waters of Lourdes.  Doctors who gave the patient no hope of recovering are flabbergasted to have to recognize, post factum, a complete cure.  An amazing, incredible, inexplicable … miraculous effect !  The cause ?  Why, the “Immaculate Conception”, of course, the name which Bernadette Soubirous said Mary the Virgin Mother of Jesus revealed to her as her title (coincidentally with a papal, “infallible” doctrine, misunderstood by most Catholics), along with the gift of a miraculous spring, and the request-command to have a church built in her honor (she knew all about mothering but also marketing) in the mountains of southern France.

Science and scientists cannot (yet) explain such effects.  To attribute their cause, however, to the quaint figure we recognize in statues of the Virgin in Catholic churches throughout the world, and even in the plastic bottles in her effigy (!) filled with water from Lourdes which pilgrims bring home, is a quantum leap easy for the credulous, impossible for the rationalist.

The unexplained does not equate with the unexplainable.  We have already spoken, in the previous post, of the extraordinary power of the Placebo Effect in such “miraculous” cures.  It is the best explanation we presently have – better anyhow than the imagined object of the credulity of the poor, pious, uneducated adolescent later to become Saint Bernadette and the wishful thinking of the sick and invalid who count on Pyrenees spring water to cure them.

RIDENDA      RELIGIO