Well That About Wraps It Up For God
I’ve always thought Jesus was suspiciously lacking in imagination in creating only one beverage at the wedding at Cana. For those not familiar, this is the famous ‘water into wine’ miracle from the book of John in the New Testament. Jesus, his mother and the disciples are at a wedding. The reception is in full swing, Judas Iscariot’s bawdy and ill-judged best man speech has been largely forgotten, and everywhere you look middle-aged Judean uncles are strutting their sandaled funky stuff.
However, all is not well, because the wine has run out. And who’s not been to a wedding where the parents have been a bit tight with the bar tab? But at this wedding no one is worried, because everyone is seeing the same easy solution — yes, they all know who’s here. And so Jesus is reluctantly cajoled into action. He sighs and protests, but before long he’s asking the servants to fill six stone jars with water. In moments the water has been turned into wine — actually, fine wine, and we’ll give him that. The son of God could hardly have gone with a supermarket under-five-shekels-a-bottle blend — Jesus was poor, but he wasn’t cheap. But even so, his horizons didn’t lift beyond merely providing more of the same.
Club Tropi-Cana drinks are …wow, have you tried THIS?
Well, what a missed opportunity. He could have turned one of the jars into wine, to keep the less adventurous happy, and the rest into beers, spirits and a range of memorable cocktails.
More wine solved the problem, but an espresso martini in 29 AD? Now that would have been a miracle.
The poverty of the story tells us more than you might think. Because despite the ostensibly impressive quality of being impossible, it suffers from the problem that afflicts all miracles. Throughout the Bible, throughout all sacred texts — in fact, any account of a miracle you can find anywhere, ancient or modern — you won’t find a single example that isn’t impoverished by being constrained to the knowledge of the times. In the case of Bible miracles, we’re talking:
Life, death, sickness
Food and drink
Plants and animals
The Sun, the stars, the Moon
Weather and natural disasters
Gold, silver, money
Clothes and sandals
Believers Portal cites 120 ‘recorded miracles’ in the Bible yet not one features anything anachronistic. And I reckon that’s a problem if you believe that these things really happened and are the work of a god, because a god would suffer no such constraint. Why does that matter? Well, lets dig a little deeper. Let’s assume for a moment that miracles are real and are the work of gods. In each case, the creator of the miracle would need to make two key considerations:
One — The Means
Any god worthy of the title would always select the perfect optimal means of delivery, the ideal weapons of choice. So why are the means in so many miracles so lacking?
Let’s take the famous example of the great flood, from Genesis. Setting aside the stark moral bankruptcy of the story, if God’s aim is to murder all of humanity and start again, would it not be simpler and more effective to manifest a short-lived airborne pathogen that is only lethal to humans (with the exception of Noah and his family, whom God have vaccinated)? The result would be only marginally less heinous — it would still be just as terrifying and it would still be genocide on an immense scale, but at least no animals would have to suffer and die.
If you believe God created all life, including viruses, then he would be able to create new viruses and vaccines with a click of his fingers. So why didn’t he? The only explanation is, of course, that the great flood never happened. It’s a story invented by men who processed insufficient knowledge to conceive of the optimal means, or even just more effective means.
Two — Mortal Accounts
Any god worthy of the title would also be acutely aware of how reports of the miracle would be regarded by people of the time and, crucially, by later generations. It is hard to conceive of any scenario where a god would a) not know that mortals would talk and write about what they had seen, and b) not be concerned that if poor means are chosen, the account may lack credibility or, worse still, appear ridiculous (a talking donkey, for example). So, deliberately restricting your palette to the parochial facets of everyday Bronze Age life is setting yourself up for failure, because the results are always going to look depressingly mortal and therefore unconvincing. ‘More wine’ sounds an awful lot like the barman finding some extra jars out back.
Contrast this with Jesus making everyone espresso martinis from water (or even just making everyone espresso martinis). Men in Cana in 29 AD would never be able to make this up, because no one in Cana in 29 AD could ever envisage the drink’s eventual creation.
And it wouldn’t have mattered that they wouldn’t recognize the cocktail’s name or ingredients. The witnesses would still have been able to describe it using words of their day, the Aramaic equivalent of:
‘…a drink of exotic flavours and textures, never tasted before or since.’
‘…it woke me up, then it fucked me up.’
That would have improved the miracle’s credibility. Could it even have hinted at some otherworldly supernatural knowledge? Indeed there are Bible verses that look rather like this, for example, the burning bush from Exodus:
There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire, it did not burn up.
So Moses thought, “I will go over and see this strange sight — why the bush does not burn up.”
When the Lord saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, “Moses! Moses!” And Moses said, “Here I am.”
One could argue that this could be someone from the ancient world doing their best to describe an anachronistic phenomenon that they couldn’t possibly understand. However, like John describing an espresso martini, the description could have been conceived with nothing more than the knowledge of the time and a vivid imagination. It’s all still painted from the palette of ancient Judea, so it’s still unconvincing.
A Higher Standard of Miracle
So what would be more compelling? What palette could a god paint from, but a Bronze Age man could not? Well, how about deploying some basic physics — knowledge that any self-respecting god would have learned on day one of deity school?
Again, Noah cast his eyes upon the boundless expanse of waters, and again there appeared no token of land to greet his searching gaze. With faith as his compass, he took once more the lengthy, sturdy hollow rod, a creation forged under the divine instruction of the Almighty Himself, the rod that bore at its ends, stones polished and wondrous, fashioned to transmit the gift of light.
Noah raised this rod to his eye, aligning it with the distant horizon, and lo, a form did manifest itself betwixt the realm of ocean and the vastness of the sky. It stood revealed as land, a deliverance from the endless sea!
I don’t think this would constitute solid evidence, but it would be much harder to account for rationally than any other passage in the entire Bible. How could a mortal in 1400 BC have written about a working telescope (a device that would not be invented for another three thousand years)?
Of course, if this verse had been included in the Bible, it could have inspired a much earlier invention of the telescope and so to our modern eyes would now not seem obviously anachronistic. So, a believer might argue that these sorts of things are in the Bible, but we just don’t recognize them as anachronistic because their very mention led to their rapid adoption and erosion of any anachronistic qualities.
So let’s try harder still:
In but moments, the celestial radiance ebbed away, unveiling a wondrous contrivance of mystical nature.
Moses reached out and took hold of this enigmatic artefact. It was dark as the deepest charcoal, yet smooth as the purest marble, yet in turn light as pumice. Upon its uppermost face, there were imprinted five commandments, etched as if by the divine hand itself.
This curious object possessed, upon its edges, nodules cast in but separate from the main. And when Moses pressed one of these nodules, the very text upon the surface underwent a miraculous transformation, revealing a second page, unfolding before his eyes. This second page bore an additional five commandments, a second revelation of divine wisdom.
With further presses, further text was unveiled, page upon page of profound teachings, elucidating the sacred context and offering heartfelt apologies for the mostly selfish and most un-godlike content of the initial two, a testament to the boundless mercy and wisdom of the Almighty.
If this had been in the Bible, then with all the will in the world, there’s no way an e-reader could or would have been invented much sooner, it being dependent on so many prerequisite technologies. So do we have a winner, a new gold standard for what a genuine miracle might look like? Well, I’m not so sure. Even this might not constitute wine-tight evidence. Rationality rightly sets a high bar.
But that’s not my point. My point is that the flip side, the total absence of any such cases not just in the Bible but anywhere in the entire canon of human religious scripture, is a problem for anyone claiming miracles really happened and are evidence of gods. A real god could and would have done so much better. And, well, my friends, that about wraps it up for God.
P.S. The article subtitle is, of course, a reference to Oolon Colluphid’s best-selling philosophical blockbuster, “Well That About Wraps It Up For God.” 😊
For a real mircle (of human creativity!) why not check out Thirty Things To Do After You Die. The fate of your non-soul is unlikely to depend on it, but best to buy a copy anyway, just to be on the safe side.