Sunday, December 21, 2014

When science and technology work "miracles" do you thank god?

Back when I was a teenager, I loved going to the Park Club in order to watch movies in the open.  Well, ok, it was also look at that girl.  As one classmate put it during the reunion thirty years after high school ended, I was "besotted with her" ;)

Every once in a while, before the movie--usually a decade or two old--began, a short documentary or information piece for a few minutes played.  One that I remember all too well was about industrial safety.  I suppose they showed that because of the setting--a company town that it was.  The bottomline in that was "accidents do not happen but are caused."

It is a surprise that I paid attention to it despite my "besotted" mind ;)  

Thinking back about it, I suppose that bottomline stuck with me because those were also the days when I began to systematically think about cause and effect, and doubting the powers of the "divine" and "astrology" and all such, ahem, crap.  "Miracles" slowly stopped appealing to me, and "saints" working miracles were mere master magicians.

Thus, when disaster strikes, when people "thank god" for sparing them, the cause-effect exploring person in me feels so compelled to ask them for evidence and, even more, reasons for why their god saved them but killed the other person.  

Our life now is phenomenally miraculous.  Life expectancy is long, way too long for my liking!  We speak into the air and a person on the other side of the planet hears us, and even sees us.  We get into a heavy container that lifts up by itself and floats through the air at previously unimaginable speeds.  And more.  When a gazillion such "miracles" happen, nobody thanks god.  Nobody!  Because, we know god did not create them. 

In such a setting, I find it fascinating that the mother of a son, who was in a horrible car crash but suffered not even a scratch, wrote a letter to Honda expressing thanks:
I want to extend my thanks to the engineers who used their intelligence and skill to create a car that safe, to the crash test dummies who have died a thousand horrible deaths and to your executives who did not scrimp on safety. Thank you, Honda.
She did not "thank god" for saving her son but, understanding and appreciating the science and technology that saved her son, wrote to thank Honda's commitment to safety.  
over many years of thinking about religion and faith, I have noticed that something sad and somewhat strange happens when we thank God: We tend to stop there. We simply overlook the decisions, the science, the policies and the people who contributed to the “miracle.” To put it another way: When we focus on supernatural deliverance from harm, we often ignore all of the human ways we can improve our own safety. I am concerned that we may associate survival of serious accidents with the unpredictable hand of Providence, not with airbags, safety testing and the regulations that have put them in place.
Accidents also are not an act of God. No matter what you believe about a divine creator, I think most would agree that an all-poweful and all-loving being would not need encouragement to do the right thing. Unlike people, God does not require regulations and oversight – or even thanks – to be sure that human beings are never sacrificed for profit. The truth is, we cannot make our roads and our cars safer if we ignore what makes them that way: science, regulations and corporations that prioritize safety.
How about an "amen!" ;)


Ramesh said...

No way amen.

Of course science and technology are key to, for example, the issue featuring in your post - road safety. An idiot who ignores safety precautions, and "leaves it to God" is an idiot - period.

But that does not negate God. Believing in miracles is not equivalent to being religious. We'll never agree on this debate, but I'll state a point for you to refute and then leave it at that. The sense of values, of good and evil, also derives from the concept of God (yeah I know you will disagree). If everything were to be strictly attributed to material cause and effect, then of course, we should be doing a lot of evil things as long as we can get away with it.

Sriram Khé said...

We will agree on this: there are way too many idiots in this world, who end up threatening your safety and mine as well ;)

On the other, yes, we will disagree.
History alone provides us with horrors--from abuse to torture to death--that were all committed with god's blessings. The people who committed those horrors (like, remember Torquemada?) believed that their understanding of good and evil came directly from god himself. (yes, himself, not herself!)
I try to understand the material cause and effect in my personal life and in the global happenings, and do not look to any god for my sense of good and evil. Yet, my born-again Christian neighbor once remarked that I am more Christian than most who attend even her own church. You are implying in your comment that atheists have no sense of good and bad, and that we will do a lot of evil things as long as we can get away with it. I would argue that it is the god-fearing believers who are confident that god is on their side and that, therefore, they can get away with everything.
As Carl Sagan observed, when it comes to miracles and gods and such notions, "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence."