Thursday, May 6, 2010

Guardian Angels

      Recently I read that 50% of Americans believe in guardian angels – supernatural beings that protect individuals from harm. Stories abound about people who were in dire trouble, and an angel showed up to remedy the situation. Here are two:
A lady is driving down a deserted country road at night, and gets a flat tire. Not having a cell phone, and with no idea how to change a tire, she apparently will be stranded for quite some time. Suddenly a man shows up out of the darkness, and changes her tire for her. When she goes for her purse to offer him some money, he is no longer there. He must have been an angel.
A driver is waiting at a red traffic light. When the light changes to green, he tries to drive, but his car refuses to move. While he is trying to get going, a careless driver speeds through the red light, after which our driver's car moves just fine. If his car had moved when he first tried, the other driver would have crashed into him. He was protected by an angel.
      But whose angel was it? The speedster was also saved from becoming involved in a serious crash. Perhaps his angel was the guardian.
      In 14th century England there lived a Franciscan friar known as William of Occam. He advanced a principle – Occam's Razor – that is still in vogue today. Boiled down to everyday language, it says that if a given event has more than one explanation, accept the simplest one.
      In the first instance above, the simplest explanation is that a nearby resident was out for a stroll when he spotted a lady in distress. He helped her, then took off into the night from which he came. She may consider him to be an angel, but there is nothing supernatural about him.
      In the second story, Occam's Razor would suggest that the car refused to move because of vapor lock, dirt in the fuel line, or other mechanical failure – again nothing supernatural.
      In neither case is it necessary to postulate some sort of divine intervention. I find it hard to believe that the creator of the universe set up a series of "laws" which He is deliberately going to break whenever one of his creatures gets into trouble.
      It has been said that it is very difficult to prove that something does not exist. For example, Bertrand Russell wrote, "If I were to suggest that between the Earth and Mars there is a china teapot revolving about the sun in an elliptical orbit, nobody would be able to disprove my assertion provided I were careful to add that the teapot is too small to be revealed even by our most powerful telescopes." I am sure that almost everyone would agree with Russell that the probability that such a teapot exists is very, very low.
      So for all I know, somewhere among the billions and billions of stars there may be planets overflowing with unicorns, or on millions of them there may be a man named Santa Claus, who delivers toys to tots from a flying sleigh once a year.
      Likewise, there may be gazillions of angels flying around in outer space. But because there is no real evidence that any of these are true, I would set the probability of finding them very low.
      Here is a question for angelophiles: If everyone has a guardian angel, why are there any accidents?
      Certainly a lower mammal is capable of fleeing from a threat, or enjoying a good meal, but he can react to a situation only as it transpires. He cannot sit down and plan what he will do if the dog in the next block threatens him, or even what he will do if he finds himself in a generally threatened position. Nor can he plan ahead in other than the most rudimentary way, such as going hunting when he is hungry, or sleeping when he is tired.
      The Growth of Language – The Spirit Runs Through It.

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