The answer to Life, the Universe and Everything is not 42 but this...

...some reflections on the core beliefs of Catholicism in the context of a discussion on miracles and the nature of our relationship with God. This was originally written in the context of a question posed by Silent4Bells on my scepticism about miracles.


I am researching a major article on this matter at the moment. I hope to have it published in the next month or so. A few weeks ago during the time my father was in hospital I shared with the board that I passed a lot of my time in the hospital sitting with him reading a series of papers published by the Gregorian University entitled Special Divine Action – Key Issues in the Contemporary Debate (1965-1995). It was written by then Australian priest, Fr Paul Gwynne OMI, who returned to Australia after doing this piece of research and was rector of one of the seminaries on the East Coast. I understand he has subsequently left the priesthood. His research is probably the single best study anywhere in the world of the enormous spread of theological opinion, from across the board, on this whole area of miracles and the ways in which we are seeking to understand the relationship God has to us, and that we have to God. There IS, when you are able to have access to this high quality research which the Church sponsors at the very highest levels, an enormous range of opinion amongst the best theological minds on these sorts of questions that you are asking and which I was referring to in my post.

My current endeavour arose out of a series of interviews I did some months ago with another eminent theologian, Dr Gerald O'Collins SJ. He is another Australian and is one of the leading Christologists and is Professor of Systematic and Fundamental Theology at the Gregorian. I don't think I'm being unkind to Dr O'Collins to suggest that he sent me the study in order to convince me of the "error" of some of my ways and thinking. Unfortunately his giving me access to this study has had precisely the opposite effect. (I've known Fr O'Collins for a long time. He was a scholastic [Jesuit priest in training] at the school I attended as a boy in short pants.)

A transcript of one of the interviews I conducted with Fr O'Collins can be found HERE and some previous posts from this discussion board are archived HERE.

Obviously these are very deep questions you are asking and I won't be able to do full justice to them in a quick answer here.

One of the things I was surprised to learn from this study is that there are a significant number of eminent theologians who, like myself, are actually sceptical that God runs around intervening in his Creation like some dyspeptic magician on steroids, or even the "occasional and for good reasons" sort of interventions that Dr O'Collins was seeking to convince me might be allowable. Some of them are eminent names that many people here would recognise as contributors to the big debates in the Church in the last half century. And they are not all radicals and lefties. They, like me, would argue that this is the wrong picture of God and, for that matter of the Saints, or of the Blessed Virgin Mary, or of our dead rellies in heaven. (I'll leave out the saints, the BVM and our dead rellies for the rest of what I write here but put that last sentence in to indicate that this extends further than just our perception of our relationship with God.)

By the way, I am not claiming to be a theologian in these matters. My professional training was as a Physicist and I am doing this present research as a journalist. There are four main factors that motivate this present research. (i) Firstly my professional background in the sciences and trying to reconcile what I have learned there with my equally strong interest in the spiritual and theological. I do believe in God, both as Creator and as a personal guide and mate. I'm trying to reconcile all the Church says about these things, with what we are learning from what science is telling, with what I myself am discovering in this developing personal relationship I believe I have with God. (ii) Secondly, I'm motivated by this BIG problem the Church seems to have in the modern world where so many do not believe in her anymore and in the religion that I do believe has a heck of a lot to offer humankind. I'm trying to understand "what went wrong?" In this I join with people such as Pope John Paul II and his call, in such places as his Apostolic Letter on Faith and Reason – Fides et Ratio (1998) – where he called for greater dialogue and discussion between scientists and theologians, and philosophers and theologians. (iii) Thirdly, I simply think this is probably the "best story" yet to be told at the moment and a lot of people are becoming very interested in it. (iv) Fourthly, I am, at the end of everything in my life, literally interested in the pursuit of the truth and, specifically, what is "the truth" in these matters — is God some kind of magician or conjurer mixing up his "Wizard of Id" brews in heaven that cure Aunt Bessie's tumour or isn't that picture true and we have to find some better picture, or explanation, to give to Aunt Bessie?

What I am going to give you now is probably the best answer I can give to your questions. It is really the conclusions I'm coming to in my research rather than the detailed arguments as to how I have arrived at these conclusions. I will basically set them out as a series of dot point hypotheses:


  1. I believe there was/is a Creator of everything whom we endeavour to condense into this term G-O-D.

  2. I believe that Creator not only started everything but he/she/it/this Mystery was the architect of everything. God is the one who invented everything, including the laws of science and nature that enable "everything" to hang together. (Science is not some invention of humankind. Humankind, through science, discovers the laws and mind of God.)

  3. I believe G-O-D is essentially a Mystery to us. This Mystery exists both within and external to the four dimensions of length, breadth, depth and time that are the boundaries to everything that humankind can know and exist in (at least during our time of temporal existence). We do perceive though, imperfectly, that there is "something" beyond the boundaries of what we can know and directly experience. Theologians have traditionally referred to this as "the Supernatural".

  4. I believe God exists both within the natural and within the supernatural. In traditional Churchese: God is omnipresent and omniscient.

  5. I believe as part of his Creative plan God did call one part of his Creation into a special relationship with him. I don't know if we human beings are the only part of Creation that God has called into this special relationship. There may be other sentient forms of life in the vastness of the Cosmos which we have not yet discovered or explored who may have a similar relationship to God to the one we are called to. For the moment though, and as far as we can presently determine, human beings are the part of the animate or inanimate parts of creation who have this special relationship to God. The "special relationship" is that we are invited by God to participate in the unfolding of creation. We make decisions and are given choices that affect and mould in some way the future of Creation in some dynamic and, I would suggest, intensely personal way with this Mystery we call God.

  6. I believe the stories of the Old Testament are inspired writing from human beings given to us by God which are not only seeking to explain the unexplainable of "This Mystery we call God", they are actually inspired by God for that very purpose. In particular the OT, and especially Genesis, is seeking to set out for us both an understanding of God as original Architect and Creator and some beginning understanding of the "dynamic relationship" God calls us into both with himself and with Creation (the physical environment, the "other" creatures, and "our neighbours").

  7. I believe though the Old Testament picture was incomplete. It needed to be "completed" by a particular and very personal message from God. That "personal" message was eventually given to us in the Messiah promised in the OT understandings and is in fact the Son of God whom we worship as Jesus Christ.

  8. I believe we were created "in the image and likeness of God". Furthermore I don't just believe this is some "cute phrase". It is "a seminal idea" that provides direction both to the whole Creation enterprise and to the personal journey of every human being and sentient participant in the Creation enterprise.

  9. I believe that through the original "choice" given to us, and described apocryphally in the story of Adam and Eve and the Garden of Eden, the choice we collectively made (i.e. all humankind/sentient life has to take some responsibility for that decision even though it may have been made on our behalf by our "first parents") we are flawed or imperfect.

  10. I believe the role Jesus Christ plays in the Creation enterprise is he is personal emissary (God-made-Man messenger) from God who both "models" (through his life, passion, death and resurrection) and "explains" (through "the Word") the "Way" for us to regain our "perfection". In other words through the journey of our lives, and through "the Way (of thinking and acting)" like Christ we can again become "perfect" and "all-knowing" and "all-powerful" "and omniscient" as God is all of these things. God invites us, through our life journey to become God-like also. This is what all the language of "getting to heaven", "salvation", "redemption" and all these concepts are about.

  11. I believe this gift of "participation" and "relationship" God calls each of us into is awesome, exciting, daunting and something that is, in our present state, ultimately beyond full understanding simply because of its humungous nature. It is something that transcends the four dimensions of our being: the physical, the emotional, the intellectual and the spiritual. The ultimate objective of this "participation" and "relationship" is what we try and describe as "holiness". I think that word is useless today though as it has lost its true meaning through all this nerdy pious crap that has come to be associated with it. It's about achieving "balance, equilibrium and wholeness" across those four dimensions of being but, ultimately, it is about us literally again being able to fully share in the Divine or Beatific Vision. In other words, in the state called heaven where all this happens, we will again "see, hear, smell, taste, touch, and intuit" as God "sees, hears, smells, tastes, touches and intuits". That is our ultimate destination and objective. That is what we all "yearn" for at the most fundamental part of our being.

  12. I believe all of the foregoing, when it is reasoned through and meditated upon, does lead to an inescapable conclusion that because of the participative nature of the relationship that God calls us into, that God cannot and does not break the laws of his own creation. If he were to do that it fundamentally stuffs up, or causes a disjunction in, the nature of the relationship he has with us. It turns him into one who "plays favourites" or "is unpredictable" or is himself "serendipitous" rather than the serendipity being part of the nature of his Creation and our participation in it. God, as originator and architect of all, does not "play favourites", is not unpredictable but is equanimous - he "loves" each part of his creation and each of us equally. God does not "whisper" secret messages in some peoples ears, either directly or via his saints, that are exclusive for certain people. His Creation and "love" are offered to all of us without fear or favour. We though are also given this awesome gift, and responsibility, as to whether we cooperate in the Divine Plan or choose to do our own thing. There is a cost but not a punishment for us choosing to do our own thing. There is a particular to-be-sought-after-result, but no "reward" (as in elephant stamps), for choosing to be participants in the Divine Plan of Creation.

Silent, and any others interested in this, and this is the bit I don't have the space or time to explain at the moment but am just basically presenting as a conclusion, there are a couple of implications that do flow out of all this. One is that God is not "sitting up in heaven" like the Wizard of Id mixing up chemical or biological "brews" or "waving some magic" wand that causes physical changes to the laws of his creation at his whim. I believe God has to obey all the laws of his creation just as we do. If he were to "break, suspend, or change" any of those laws the whole dynamic of life would actually break down. All of Creation "hangs together" very delicately. I do believe though that God is in dynamic relationship with us. This means that we act and God reacts to our actions. And that we can react to God's actions and he welcomes that interaction. That is an intrinsic part of his Creative Plan.

The part of this study I am working through at the moment is "how then does this dynamic relationship work if he is not some kind of Wizard of Id magician?" Some theologians, in the studies that I have read, argue that there is a "mental" intervention by God. In other words, God suggests things to us. In my work I think I might be extending that to suggest that he works through the subconscious — both collective and individual. All of this still allows, at least in some sense, for the possibility of "miracles" but it is not miracles in the sense of "Wizard of Id magic". It is "miracle" in the sense that we actually participate in our own "inventing and healing and creativity" even if a heck of a lot of the time we ourselves might not know what in the dickens we are doing or how we achieve certain results or end up thinking some brilliant solution to something or other. It's, as it were, "the God factor" that makes the difference not the "Wizard of Id" factor.

My apologies that I can't be more forthcoming than this at this stage. I'd be happy to try and answer any specific further questions based on all of this though but cannot guarantee that I will have adequate answers.

©2005Tom Scott/Brian Coyne/Vias Tuas Communications
Posted: 25Feb2005

Tom Scott

"In spite of all that might be said against our age,
what a moment it is to be alive in!" James McAuley