When I was a kid, I had a best friend everyone called Booby. His real name was Bobby, but we called him Booby because he was a little chunky and he had man-boobs. He was all right with us calling him Booby instead of Bobby. What he wasn’t okay with was coming down with a rare form of leukemia right after he turned 10. It really scared him and it terrified me. Not only did I not want to lose my best friend, but I also hadn’t ever thought about death before and it scared the living snot out of me. Booby’s doctors told him that he had very little chance—they actually effectively said that he was a lost cause and to just enjoy the rest of his time on Earth as much as he could.
Well, I didn’t accept that, so, I prayed. Having had been raised by devoutly agnostic mother, I had never prayed before that and I really didn’t know how to do it or to whom I should pray, so I offered an earnest plea to God or to the universe, I’m not sure what. I asked for Booby to be healed and in exchange I would give up the one thing my pre-adolescent mind could imagine being a beneficial sacrifice: McDonald’s French fries. Well, months passed and Booby stuck it out. He got bad, but eventually started to improve. After his improvement, the doctors took note and put him on a controversial treatment and after a year Booby went into full remission. He lives in New York with a wife and kid and I still see him from time to time. I haven’t had McDonald’s fries since.
That’s why, when I heard of another miracle recently, I wasn’t surprised. A few hours ago, I met a beautiful young woman (that’s not the miracle). She told me that she was a virgin and was pregnant. That’s right—she’s pregnant without having had a conjugal experience. Oh, and by the way, her name is Mary. Yeah, Mary, as in the same name as that other virgin mother they like to talk about around the winter solstice.
I was presented with two options: (1) take her word for it or (2) write her off as crazy, albeit irresistibly beautiful. I decided to take her word for it because I know miracles happen. Now, I’m not some naïve country bumpkin religious zealot who falls for religious chicanery and I’m not crazy, but I believe in miracles and believe it or not, you believe in miracles too.
You read me right. You, with the ‘Darwin is my homeboy’ T-shirt, you believe in miracles. Let me explain. To believe in a miracle, you must believe three things: (1) a highly improbable event was (2) caused by a supernatural being for which (3) you cannot prove scientifically. I’m going to attempt to explain how this is not only reasonable, but how it is essential in our daily lives and that, believe it or not you in fact do believe in miracles.
First, you believe that highly improbable things happen and that they happen all the time. Nassim Taleb has written volumes explaining the black swan theory that shows how nearly all major scientific discoveries, historical events, and artistic accomplishments are extremely rare, unpredictable occurrences. “Black swan” was a term used for an impossibility since black swans weren’t thought to exist until an explorer found one in eighteenth century Australia. The rise of religions, cultural phenomenons like “Harry Potter”, and terrorist attacks are all black swan events, according to Taleb. Most every big event in history is rare, unpredictable, and difficult to predict. So, paradoxically, highly improbable events are actually highly probable, just not predictable.
Second, you believe in supernatural causation. Because you’re smart, you probably believe science, and if you believe science, you believe the principle of causality and that everything in the observable universe has a cause. That applies to the universe and nature as a whole also. Scientifically speaking, it would be unnatural for something in nature to create itself especially out of nothing, or without a cause—there simply is no empirical data showing such a phenomenon. So either science is wrong or something supernatural created the universe and all of nature. If that’s the case, it only stands to reason that such a supernatural cause influences events throughout history, either spontaneously at each event or just once at the beginning of the universe, which is a mechanical reaction to that creator. Regardless of the method by which this supernatural being influences events in nature, it makes sense to believe it does.
Lastly, and most importantly, you have faith even in things you cannot know scientifically. For instance, you have faith that when you jump into a cab that the driver is going to take you where you want to go and not kidnap you. I have faith that when I bite into my chicken sandwich at lunch, that the chef fully cooked the bird and I won’t get sick. And your friend has faith that the anesthesiologist won’t harvest her organs when she goes under for her dental surgery. We don’t know any of these things for sure—we cannot since they’re in the future—but we act as if we do because we have faith that is the case. If we all didn’t consistently have faith in things we can’t absolutely know, no one would get anywhere. We’d be trapped in our homes afraid to take cabs, eat chicken, or go to the dentist. Some people say that truth is only that which is proven by science. But science itself can’t prove that, so it is contradictory. You must believe in things not proven by science, if only that science is true.
So there you have it. You believe in highly improbable events, a supernatural cause, and things for which you can’t have scientific proof. What are miracles but highly improbable events with a supernatural cause that are impossible to prove scientifically? When you add that all up, you’ll see that belief in miracles is not only reasonable, it’s essential to your daily existence.
The interesting thing is that I didn’t know the reasoning behind all this when I prayed to the universe for my best friend Booby. I just knew that it would work. And when I heard Mary’s story I knew that she was experiencing a miracle. I believed it.
And you should too. Why? One’s beliefs make a difference. In my forthcoming book Believing Is Seeing I describe exactly how. The field of theoretical physics has recently uncovered some shocking findings, specifically regarding belief. Through quantum uncertainty, we’re learning that there’s no such thing as a predetermined outcome and that the single most important factor in one’s life is belief. The great Napoleon Hill wrote, “Mental attitude controls, very largely, the space one occupies in life, the success one achieves, the friends one makes, and the contributions one makes to posterity. It would be no great overstatement of the truth if we said that mental attitude is everything.”
Belief is what makes the difference in sports between a clutch play and a choke. Knowing an idea will work against all odds is how inventions lead to products that change the world. And it’s always the confident ones who get the dates on Friday and the self-doubters who suffer alone at home. And it’s becoming clear that you can believe in anything, just as long as you believe in something. Simply believing is integral to our lives and actually shapes our destiny.
Viktor Frankl wrote of Jews who made it through Nazi concentration camps not because they were the healthiest prisoners, but because they believed that they had something to live for. Belief can also change the world. Joan of Arc gained control of the French Army and turned the tide of the 100 years war because she believed she heard voices from St. Michael the archangel. And who knows, the young lady I met in a coffee shop who believes she’s carrying a miracle baby could bring in a new era of hope throughout the world if only people believe.
A 30-year-old cancer survivor, a drop-dead gorgeous virgin mother, and I all believe in miracles. And whether or not you like to admit it, so do you. You might as well make the most out of it.
Taken from the forthcoming novel: Now and at the Hour of Our Death.