Posts Tagged ‘tornadoes’

Belief in miracles subverts understanding: David Hume

April 29, 2011

I arrived on campus Wednesday just as the sirens started to wail, but we were given the all-clear in time for our last NW class to proceed. Heard good reports on alt-energy and pre-Pueblo/pre-Columbian civilization from Matt & Nathan. Another of George Washington’s walnut trees hit the ground in front of Cope Hall, but on the whole we were very lucky. They weren’t so lucky a couple hundred miles to our south.

The storms knocked out our Internet at home, making “Dead Day” (aka Study Day) an especially good one for reflecting on luck. I guess I’d call that Tuscaloosa firefighter whose 8-year old survived a terrifying Oz moment lucky.

 I said, R.J., which is my older son, get up, son. And right when I said get up and I put my hands on him, the walls went, and he went. He just – he left. The tornado took him right then. I held onto what I have which is James Peter, and my wife held onto my other son, which I could hear her praying to my left. And I was praying over my boy, and I said -and I could see his little face (unintelligible) I could see him. He was looking up. I said it’s OK. It’s OK. And I was getting hit, you know? I was just shielding him. And my wife yells – she said: Do you have R.J.? I said no. I said I don’t. And then, I heard her get louder praying. And then, I started – I kept going, and I look up, and my oldest son come walking right through the rubble. And I got…

NORRIS: He walked back.

Mr. EPPES: He walked back the rubble.

NORRIS: How old is R.J.?

Mr. EPPES: R.J. is eight. My boys are eight, six and four.

Despite Older Daughter’s insistence I wouldn’t call the youngster’s incredibly lucky survival a “miracle,” for all the good reasons David Hume gave us.

No testimony is sufficient to establish a miracle, unless the testimony be of such a kind, that its falsehood would be more miraculous, than the fact, which it endeavours to establish….’

Whoever is moved by Faith to assent to [miracles] is conscious of a continued miracle in his own person, which subverts all the principles of his understanding, and gives him a determination to believe what is most contrary to custom and experience.

It was astonishing, extraordinary, inexplicable, sure… but not a sign of divine grace or intervention, unless your notion of the divine includes arbitrary cruelty and death for all those whose luck ran out, and hell on earth for so many of the survivors.

And yet the man in Alabama says, astonishingly: “I do know that neither my wife nor I would have lost any of our faith if we lost any of our children.” The claim to know such a thing, and to boast of it, is as close to miraculous as David Hume or I can imagine. And “contrary to custom and experience,” in this context, is a nice way of saying crazy.