Don’t confuse human ability with miracles.

(Update: As usual, Roger Ebert does a far better job discussing the issue; and, he has person experience with it.)

As I write this, the last of the Chilean miners, trapped underground for more than two months, has been rescued successfully! I can’t even imagine the trials they must have faced, and the joy and relief felt by their family and friends must be overwhelming.

It’s a wonderful, amazing accomplishment of human determination, courage, and ingenuity. What it isn’t, is it isn’t “a miracle” as many are professing.

I understand that many say things like “it’s a miracle!” figuratively, and don’t actually mean a deity has altered the laws of reality to willfully change events in the world in ways that can’t be explained in any naturalistic manner — which is what a miracle is. Some people throw the term around when they really mean to say something is wonderful and amazing (as this story is), without thinking about the physics-altering nature inherent in “miracle.” I and other non-believers have been known to exclaim a “thank God!” now and then, but we shouldn’t be accused of being closet believers.

But there are many who do refer to the Hand of God when they say this rescue is a miracle, and I find that horrifically insulting, belittling, and dismissive of the enormous work, toil, cost, tenacity, and bravery of those who did all the work and shouldered the cost of the rescue.

What kept the miners alive was that there were caches of food and supplies placed throughout the cave because hey, mining is dangerous and collapses happen. Humans thought to do that.

Some of the men were well-experienced professionals who had the skills and abilities to keep them organized and calm and able to ration and stay positive.

Human skill and industry drilled the air and supply holes down to them. And enormous human skill and labor went into drilling and constructing a rescue tube and cage that worked flawlessly.

Human compassion and ability kept those men alive and saved them. Human skill and ingenuity has continued to battle nature and make a dangerous industry somewhat less so, not divine intervention: how far mine safety has come. (Ironic article source.)

If the mine had collapsed and an unknown person appeared among them from nowhere, staying with them and helping them through the 69 days, only to disappear before the rescue tube was finished, that’d be miraculous. If their store of food literally never depleted, that be a miracle. If the ground had shook and a perfectly straight tube opened up from the surface to the miners on its own: miracle. If the 33 miners had suddenly been poofed to the surface, instantaneously, definite miracle. But instead, every component of what saved them was purely natural, explainable, human. Wonderful and amazing! But human nonetheless.

And to give credit to an unseen force that has no marks of having done anything, is to crap all over the very human bravery and fortitude, intelligence and experience, strength and will everyone involved added to the rescue. We should rightfully be celebrating life saved, as well as human qualities that help us, more often than people realize, rise to the occasion!

Same with when someone says, “God/Jesus/angels/happy-thoughts fixed my organ/cured my cancer/brought me back to life.” No, ungrateful: a staff of humans who spent years and ridiculous money in medical school and nursing school, and years in residencies and practice, who read journals and attend conferences to learn latest techniques and treatments, and who spent significant time and energy and effort on you and your condition, fixed/cured/saved your whatever.

If a deity is to be thanked for being responsible for the rescue, it should also get the blame for the collapse: