Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Why the choir was late

Here's a striking example of a coincidence miracle:

It happened on the evening of March 1 in the town of Beatrice, Nebraska. In the afternoon the Reverend Walter Klempel had gone to the West Side Baptist Chruch to get things ready for choir practice. He lit the furnace — most of the singers were in the habit of arriving around 7:15, and it was chilly in the church - and went home to dinner. But at 7:10, when it was time for him to go back to the church with his wife and daughter Marilyn Ruth, it turned out that Marilyn Ruth's dress was soiled. They waited while Mrs. Klempel ironed another and thus were still at home when it happened.  
Ladona Vandergrift, a high school sophomore, was having trouble with a geometry problem. She knew practice began promptly and always came early. But she stayed to finish the problem.  
Royena Estes was ready, but the car would not start. So she and her sister called Ladona Vandergrift, and asked her to pick them up. But Ladona was the girl with the geometry problem, and the Estes sisters had to wait.  
Sadie Estes' story was the same as Royena's. All day they had been having trouble with the car; it just refused to start.  
Mrs. Leonard Schuster would ordinarily have arrived at 7:20 with her small daughter Susan. But on this particular evening Mrs. Schuster had to go to her mother's house to help her get ready for a missionary meeting.  
Herbert Kipf, lathe operator, would have been ahead of time but had put off an important letter. "I can't think why," he said. He lingered over it and was late.  
It was a cold evening. Stenographer Joyce Black, feeling "just plain lazy," stayed in her warm house until the last possible moment. She was almost ready to leave when it happened.  
Because his wife was away, Machinist Harvey Ahl was taking care of his two boys. He was going to take them to practice with him but somehow he got wound up talking. When he looked at his watch, he saw he was already late.  
Marilyn Paul, the pianist, had planned to arrive half an hour early. However she fell asleep after dinner, and when her mother awakened her at 7:15 she had time only to tidy up and start out.  
Mrs. F.E. Paul, choir director and mother of the pianist, was late simply because her daughter was. She had tried unsuccessfully to awaken the girl earlier.  
High school girls Lucille Jones and Dorothy Wood are neighbors and customarily go to practice together. Lucille was listening to a 7-to-7:30 radio program and broke her habit of promptness because she wanted to hear the end. Dorothy waited for her.  
At 7:25, with a roar heard in almost every corner of Beatrice, the West Side Baptist Church blew up. The walls fell outward, the heavy wooden roof crashed straight down like a weight in a deadfall. But because of such matters as a soiled dress, a catnap, an unfinished letter, a geometry problem and a stalled car, all of the members of the choir were late - something which had never occurred before.  
Firemen thought the explosion had been caused by natural gas, which may have leaked into the church from a broken pipe outside and been ignited by the fire in the furnace. The Beatrice choir members had no particular theory about the fire's cause, but each of them began to reflect on the heretofore inconsequential details of his life, wondering at exactly what point it is that one can say, "This is an act of God." Edeal, George. "Why the Choir Was Late." Life (March 27, 1950), 19-23.

What are the odds that 15 people would all be late for choir practice due to 15 different, independent reasons? Seems like a strong candidate for special providence.

i) However, skeptics will raise a familiar objection. And even some Christians may have nagging doubts. We might be more likely to credit that as divine intervention if it fit into a larger pattern of divine intervention. But why would God save those people when so many other Christians die in terrible accidents and natural disasters? Considered in isolation, it appears to be too lucky to be sheer luck, but compared to what happens generally, it appears to be random. After all, anomalous events happen. Like someone who survives a plane crash when all  his fellow passengers die. 

ii) But there are problems with that objection. Suppose a gambler is dealt three royal flushes in three successive games. Would it be reasonable to discount the outcome by pointing out that most gamblers aren't dealt three royal flushes in three successive games? Is it just a coincidence that he was dealt three royal flushes in three successive games? 

iii) Suppose we lived in a world where events like this happened routinely. It's easy to imagine atheists adapting to that challenge by saying it just goes to show some people have precognition and telepathy. They have a premonition, which they telepathically communicate to their acquaintances. The synchronized delay was due to natural factors. Turns out some humans naturally have telepathy and precognition!

iv) What makes examples like this so arresting is precisely because they're so rare and naturally inexplicable. To be recognizably miraculous or providential, it can't be too routine.

v) In addition, a world in which God constantly intervenes is a world in which people become careless and irresponsible, since they don't fear the dire consequence of their actions. They do reckless things because they expect a deus ex machina to spare them. Unless our actions have reasonably predictable results (at least in the short-term), we become morally frivolous and callous, since we don't think our actions, or negligence, will be harmful to ourselves or others. 

1 comment:

  1. Seems very much miraculous to me. I actually heard about this example recently on the following podcast:

    The host is not a Christian - some liberal fuzzy theist. The person being interviewed is a skeptic.