by Steve Goldfinger
“A miracle is a violation of nature,” wrote David Hume, the dour 18th century Scot philosopher. He virtually demolished the possibility of a miracle ever happening by posing the following question double-edged question. Which is more likely–that the event took place, or that the testimony describing it was fallacious?
It is easy to dismiss Jonah and the whale, but it may not be so easy to dismiss the Hanukah story of an oil lamp of burning for eight days rather than one. But if archeologists could somehow recover a like oil, give it to scientists who could then identify an ingredient that increased burning longevity, would we still think of it as a miracle? I don’t know.
Anyway, I began to think about Hume’s argument, asking whether his logic was too dismissive of those who believe in divine intervention, too oblivious of the realm of faith and hope in our lives.This was all occasioned by learning of a recent experience of a close friend.
Late in life, she struggled with advanced renal failure, the possibility of going on hemodialysis hinging on a blood test drawn each week. Then, completely unexpectably, a donor kidney became available, one that was extremely well-matched to her immune system.
Following its engraftment within her body, a couple of remarkable things happened. Her high blood pressure–which had required five drugs, around the clock, to obtain some semblance of control–settled into the normal range without any. But the second remarkable thing, the one that defied belief, was this: her hair–which had long been colored by a beautician–began to grow out in its natural shade. Yes, there it was–as auburn as when she was in her twenties!
No one could explain it. Experts in developmental biology, immunology, dermatology and all other relevant fields were at a loss. Nor, I discovered, had such a phenomenon ever been observed by others.
So, as banal as her hair story might be when compared to Jonah and the whale, was this a miracle? Did my eyes deceive me when I sat across from her at dinner? Did she really sneak off to her colorist on the sly after she had her new kidney? Am I, in writing this, giving false testimony? I know her well and cannot believe she would do such a thing.
When she and her husband describe the blessing that has enfolded for them during the past few months, they are not loathe to speak of a miracle in their lives. No, not the hair. The successful transplant, the avoidance of impending dialysis, the cure of her hypertension.
So where does this leave David Hume?
In the 18th century, in musty philosophy books, and in my own ruminations.
Since joining BOLLI two years ago, after a long career in medicine, Steve has been exploring his artistic side. He has been active in both the Writers Guild and CAST (Creativity in Acting, Storytelling, and Theatre) as well as the Book Group.