Oh joy, a lump of paper survived. It’s a miracle!


I wish religious nuts could get a little perspective when they talk about “miracles”. The latest “miracle” is a piece of Ilan Ramon’s diary that is going on display in Israel; Ramon was one of the astronauts on the space shuttle Columbia.

“It’s almost a miracle that it survived — it’s incredible,” Zalmona said. There is “no rational explanation” for how it was recovered when most of the shuttle was not, he said.

The diary was fragmentary, charred, and soaked, and it required months of restoration to be rendered partially readable. The human being Ilan Ramon was similarly fragmentary, charred, and soaked, and no amount of work will ever bring him back. There was no miracle here, only tragedy, and that some piece of a prayer Ramon wrote in his diary survived is an awfully tawdry relic to celebrate the existence of a beneficent deity. It seems to me that it is actually a testament to the refutation of what they believe — not that they will see that, not when every scrap of pain and sorrow in the world is twisted into a prop for their faith.

Comments

  1. Sven DiMilo says

    (pssst…open blockquote tag…did the KoT post this?)

    What? Religious people not making any sense? Color me shocked!!!!! An omnipotent God that permitted the pointless death of brave humans but made sure to save part of a diary? Mysterious Ways, indeed!

  2. BobC says

    It’s almost a miracle that it survived

    He said almost. That’s not quite the same thing as saying it was a miracle, which is what Christian retards say every day. Millions of Christian idiots think miracles occur all the time. To them everything is magic. They believe the human apes in this little corner of the universe are so important that their Galaxy Boss has nothing better to do than perform magic tricks for them.

  3. says

    Isn’t this an argument from incomplete destruction? You’d think said deity would have saved the person instead of the small piece of his diary…

  4. Mike from Ottawa says

    LOL!

    You’re really having to scrape to find an object for your outrage, aren’t you? Next up: a guy strikes his thumb with a hammer, shout’s ‘Christ!’ and becomes headline material at Pharyngula?

    You’re becoming self-parodying. Or were you hacked?

  5. Tamar says

    I think you might be reading a bit too much into it. “Allmost a miracle” is a thing that people say – maybe they shouldn’t, but it still doesn’t mean they’re actually invoking god in this matter.
    Ilan Ramon was the first Israeli astronaut. It may not mean much to you – thinking about it, why should it mean much to anyone?
    But comming from a country that appears far too often on the world’s news reports, and usually not in a very positive context, this was a chance for us to feel part of something big, and beautiful, and *normal* – so different from out daily life problems.
    We all followed the Columbia mission, and we all grieved when it ended the it did. Ramon is not some Israely saint (by the way, he was not religios), but he is someone that a lot of us felt represented us to the world, and in a very good way. So we do feel some kind of relationship with him.
    Yes, it is a tragedy. I don’t think anyone clame that finding these papers makes it any less so, not to mention calme it as a proof for a loving god (I can tell you nothing of that sort appeared in the Israeli media). But it might give some people a bit of comfort.

  6. Abbie says

    IIRC the captain brought a copy of Weezer’s The Blue Album on board. Wish they’d found that instead :-(

  7. says

    (2/5/03, 4 p.m. ET) — Weezer is expressing sadness for the loss of the Space Shuttle Columbia, and one of its biggest fans, Commander Willie McCool. Prior to his mission, McCool contacted Weezer to let the band know that he planned to take a picture of himself holding the group’s self-titled debut album while in orbit. He even invited the band to witness the shuttle’s launch of January 16.

  8. says

    Come on, people take a face on a sandwich as a miracle. A diary would be like three miracles rolled into one.

  9. John C. Randolph says

    My dad used to remark on the habit of TV preachers of telling the story of some child who survived some horrible disease or accident, and they’d always say “God wanted this child to live!”, which of course begs the question of why it afflicted the child in the first place.

    Reminds me of this:

    http://www.theonion.com/content/node/28812

    -jcr

  10. amphiox says

    Can’t we please reclaim the word “miracle” for its properly rational usage, as a description of any highly unlikely and yet unexpectedly beneficial event, and leave the supernatural out of it completely?

  11. Tim H says

    I was under the impression that a good deal of Columbia survived. I’m not sure what percentage of the orbiter (by mass) was recovered, but it had to be substantial. Recovering parts of a diary is hardly surprising; I bet quite a few ring binders full of checklists survived also. Most of the damage was due to aerodynamic forces, not thermal, right?

  12. says

    LOL!

    You’re really having to scrape to find an object for your outrage, aren’t you? Next up: a guy strikes his thumb with a hammer, shout’s ‘Christ!’ and becomes headline material at Pharyngula?

    You’re becoming self-parodying. Or were you hacked?

    What a delightfully shitty analogy.

    I see no outrage in the post. Just pointing out the silliness of someone claiming a miracle because a piece of paper survived the disaster.

  13. David N says

    BobC the troll…

    Since the statement also included the phrase “no rational explaination”, this piece of dreck is fair game for PZ to point out how utterly stupid the statement was. The implication is clear – this is an example of Big Daddy in the Sky sending us a message. Too bad BDS didn’t take care of the astronaut instead.

  14. says

    Tim, once it broke up, papers and light parts decelerated rather quickly and only had some superficial burns. much of it didn’t have enough momentum to keep it traveling at the high velocity necessary to continue burning due to air friction. So, smaller, lighter parts burned up far less… Even some experiments survived:
    http://www.liebertpub.com/prdetails.aspx?pr_id=428

  15. says

    It’s a well-known fact (or should be) that lightweight objects such as paper are most likely to remain relatively intact in a plane crash. I would assume the same would hold true to some degree in a space shuttle breakup as well.

    It’s interesting, but not a miracle.

  16. David N says

    OOps – should have adressed that reply to Mike – a serious troll, as opposed to Bob C who may have just not read the statement correctly.

  17. Pantrog says

    “Each plane, however, will bear a request in several languages asking its finder to contact the Japanese team”

    They should put postage stamps on them too.

  18. Richard from Red Deer says

    I wonder why they failed to capitalize on the fact that the paper was found near the town of Palestine Texas?

  19. Oz says

    Much as I hate evidence of ‘miracles’, I think this is an example of people noting the bizarre. In Australia we always seem to note someone being eaten by a crocodile, pretty rare but spectacular/messy when it happens. Car accidents, very frequent, very fatal but ho hum! Paper survives stupendous explosion, wow! Man immolated, too bad.

  20. The Cheerful Nihilist says

    Wait a second. Parts of an Israeli astronaut’s diary survived a fall from how many thousand feet, but the tablets that God gave Moses fell apart (and disappeared)?

    What’s wrong with this picture?

  21. Tamar says

    PZ – I’m sure there was a rational explanation. And it’s not that hard to come up with one. So yes, he shouldn’t have put it like this. But I still think that you are the one invoking divine interference in this case, not Zalmona – I just don’t think he meant it this way.

  22. clinteas says

    //You’re really having to scrape to find an object for your outrage, aren’t you? //

    Its not that PZ had the Columbia explode mate,what sort of a stupid thing to say that is LOL

    As to painful restoration of that bit of paper and calling it a miracle,thats whats called “clinging to straws” in English I guess.

    //An omnipotent God that permitted the pointless death of brave humans but made sure to save part of a diary? Mysterious Ways, indeed!//

    You know SvenDiMilo,I had a 4 month old kid die on me the other night,the parents kept insisting on praying for it long after it was dead,deeply religious folks,kept asking to have it back from the Coroner so they can resurrect it by prayer,I felt reminded of the Python’s parrot sketch and King’s “pet semetary” somehow,it was rather eerie.
    When things like that happen I always want to scream at the faithful,why the fuck is your god killing this person?

  23. Richard from Red Deer says

    Tamar wirtes

    But I still think that you are the one invoking divine interference in this case, not Zalmona

    Exactly what do you propose he meant by this

    “There is “no rational explanation” for how it was recovered when most of the shuttle was not, he said.”

    It seems like he was doing some rather obvious hinting at woo-woo if you ask me.

  24. says

    clinteas, no deity did it… the child died for reasons we may not know, but simply because we do not know does not mean something supernatural occurred… I think that’s the point many of them miss. It is completely acceptable to not have an explanation without enough evidence.

  25. Falyne says

    ….sorry Richard from Red Deer. Didn’t see you. You’re exempt from the rule. I meant Mike from Ottawa, and that silly libertarian from Oregon.

  26. rebelest says

    The credulous and gullible theists never miss a chance to insinuate their childish belief system into any and every minutiae of life and death-a teen-aged boy tries to cross the tracks ahead of the train, doesn’t make it and is killed; his family insists on erecting a cross at the site of his death.

    Imagine what our roads would be like if every time someone died in an accident a memorial cross was erected.

    Our highways in the south and the west are littered with these disgusting displays.

  27. Tamar says

    To Richard @ 30
    I think he was doing exactly what Oz said – noting the bizzare. I’m sure he was very surprised to find those papers, and in a way also glad to find them. Irealy do think that is all he meant.
    I would say it again: nothing in the Israely media, which of course covered it, hinted to a religious miracle, as oppose to “almost a miracle” as a figure of speech. And I assure you our media is not much more rational than the american one.

  28. Your Name's Not Bruce? says

    If I recall correctly, there was also an experiment invoving earthworms which survived, worms alive and intact, providing annelids with better proof of the existence of a protecting diety than that offered for a “human” (vertebrate? mammalian?)god.

  29. Richard from Red Deer says

    Tamar writes

    “I think he was doing exactly what Oz said – noting the bizzare.”

    That something is bizarre hardly qualifies it as being something that has “no rational explanation now does it?
    Unless of course we are going to move goal posts as to the meaning of bizarre for this article.

  30. frog says

    YNNB: If I recall correctly, there was also an experiment invoving earthworms which survived, worms alive and intact, providing annelids with better proof of the existence of a protecting diety than that offered for a “human” (vertebrate? mammalian?)god.

    I thought he had an inordinate fondness for beetles? Or is it invertebrates in general?

  31. Jadehawk says

    clinteas in #29

    that’s really bizarre and creepy (well, not the parrot sketch. that’s funny). that’s an extreme case of the denial stage, i’d think… i wonder sometimes if religion really is a good crutch even… it seems to make it more difficult to come to terms with harsh realities if you can continue to home for some miracle :-/

  32. says

    Not to defame an Astronaut who died tragically, but what would these people say if the only thing that survived from this diary were a screed about how much he hated his mother or a violent masturbatory fantasy?

    Would it be going on public display then?

  33. Jadehawk says

    beetles, squids, now worms. yeah, looks like God likes invertebrates better than us.

    I guess “the meek shall inherit the earth” was a mistranslation from “the spineless shall inherit the earth”

  34. clinteas says

    Jadehawk,@ 39,

    //that’s an extreme case of the denial stage, i’d think//

    Youre right,but it is only made possible by this whole irrational religious BS clouding these people’s minds,we have well-recognized stages of mourning in cases of unexpected death,but its only ever a drama,and even I cant recall a bizarre case like the one I had this week,when religion is involved.

  35. Your Name's Not Bruce? says

    I’m thinking that the Worm Religion (TM) might use the Fish Hook as its Symbol of Ultimate Sacrifice and Mysterious, Unfathomable Purpose. They’re cool with Darwin because he Understood them. Nobody sits at the Right Hand of God because the Worm God (TM) has no hands! No sexist patriarchal nonesense; the Worm God is hermaphroditic! Their favourite religious fiction? Dune. (Worms Rule! Much better written than all that “Left Behind” nonesense.) And the Christian fish? The Mark of the Beast. Please feel free to extend and elaborate the tenets and creed of the Worm Religion as you see fit.

  36. E.V. says

    By Jove, I think Frog is on to something!
    God Has Nipples! Nippled God IS Mammalian!
    He has a penis and testicles but no other God/Goddess to get nasty with so He knocks up a mortal girl. Does God masturbate or were his genitals just a prescient vestige just like Adam’s package? Oh, I forgot that He’s omniscient and must have foreseen his own need to rape a virgin and supply Adam with a nookie receptacle as an afterthought! Oh, I forgot that before that temptress Eve ate the fruit of knowledge, they were supposed to be unaware of their fiddly bits.
    (here come the apologists to set the record straight);)

  37. Jadehawk says

    clinteas, that’s kind of what i figured… the religion won’t let them pass through the stages naturally, they get stuck in denial because it’s the most comforting one and they can’t really get out because there’s always a chance for a miracle.

    very sad.

  38. E.V. says

    Whenever anyone claims “It’s a MIRACLE!”, I am always reminded of the scene in “The LIfe Of Brian” concerning juniper berries and the old hermit who took a vow of silence.

  39. says

    Oh look, I tossed fair coin 64 times and got the sequence: ‘TTHTHHTTHTHHHHTHHTHTHHTHHHTHHHTT
    THTHHTTTHHHHTTTTTTHHHTTHTTTTHHTHH’

    The probability of getting exactly that sequence is 1 in 18446744073709551616! It’s a miracle I tells ya!

    Morons the lot of ’em.

  40. davem says

    “NASA searchers found 37 pages from Ramon’s diary, wet and crumpled, in a field just outside the U.S. town of Palestine, Texas….The diary is being displayed as part of a larger exhibit of famous documents from Israel’s history, held to mark the country’s 60th anniversary this year.”

    Ooh, the irony, it burns…

  41. Sili says

    The credulous and gullible theists never miss a chance to insinuate their childish belief system into any and every minutiae of life and death-a teen-aged boy tries to cross the tracks ahead of the train, doesn’t make it and is killed; his family insists on erecting a cross at the site of his death.

    Imagine what our roads would be like if every time someone died in an accident a memorial cross was erected.
    Posted by: rebelest | October 4, 2008 12:00 PM

    I vaguely recall there being campaigns along those lines – I almost think here in Denmark, actually.

    Of course the point of the exercise is to make a horrid spectacle in a (vain) attempt at making people drive less mornically.

  42. Sili says

    Oh, and paper doestn’t really burn that well. I can’t count the number of times I’ve pulled out fairly wellpreserved pieces of newspaper with the ashes from the furnace.

  43. WRMartin says

    Worm Religionists, pshaw. Them and their Fish Hooks. Blaspheming Bait Chuckers that’s all they are. The One True God(TM) is an artificial fly. Wait, did I just say that? Um, The One True God(TM) is a wet fly drifted cross then downstream on a sinking tip leader.
    Yeah, that’s it.

  44. says

    Apparently, my supervisor’s experiment partially survived the crash somehow and they were even able to gather data amidst the tragedy (was some plates with moss)… I guess God has chosen botanists as His People then? And spiraling growth of moss is proof of His Holiness?

    Brb, gonna write an ammendment to the holy texts…

    Despicable.

  45. amphiox says

    An alternate explanation for all the beetles isn’t that he was inordinately fond of them, but that he wasn’t particularly good at making them, so he had to try again and again until he got one just the way he wanted.

    An alternate explanation for the conundrum of the naughty bits before the fall was that they weren’t there. The eating of the fruit caused the organ systems in question to spontaneously appear, ex nihilo, at the moment of the fall. Not really that difficult a feat, if you think about it, for an entity that supposedly constructed the visible cosmos in 6 24h days.

  46. Carlie says

    Imagine what our roads would be like if every time someone died in an accident a memorial cross was erected. Our highways in the south and the west are littered with these disgusting displays.

    But they can serve a somewhat useful function of pointing out treacherous curves and intersections. The more crosses, the more you’d better pay attention.

  47. tracieh says

    Just to agree that “almost a miracle” didn’t hit me nearly as hard this morning when I read this (before logging on here) as, “There is ‘no rational explanation’ for how it was recovered when most of the shuttle was not…”

    I mean, it didn’t even survive intact. All the astronauts surviving unscathed–maybe I’d be more impressed with that as coming pretty darn close to defying rational explanation. But this is basically _debris_. Does the fact the debris is pages rather than a bolt make it beyond rational explanation?

  48. d says

    People seeing significance in surviving objects is shocking. It’s like watching a battle and being overwhelmed that a large piece of fabric survived the battle. A poem about that piece of fabric that goes on to be the nation’s anthem andmillions are spend to keep that piece of fabric in a viewable state for the next two centuries.

    You are being needlessly bitter and oversensitive to the fact that someone uses the phrase “almost a miracle” over having a small memory to display of a respected person.

  49. Luger Otter Robinson says

    I suppose the question is; if you had the opportunity of being able to go and see the display, would you? I think I would, if only to remind myself of the frailty and transience of life. “No rational explanation” means “no rational explanation that I can think of”. The fact that it did survive albeit badly damaged means that there must be a rational explanation for it, similar to the fact that a cat can survive falls from heights that a human won’t.

  50. York says

    Well. That is really callous.

    A guy goes up in a scientific mission and dies. Quite an example for those of us that believe there are things in life that are worthy of a sacrifice. A sacrifice that doesn’t invoke a greater being or the slaughter of fellow human beings, just the pusuit of knowledge and whatever comes with it.

    And here you are PZ, denigrating some fellow traveller just because the wording in a press release is not up to scratch.

    Sad.

    Dies. Hopefully inspires many that Science and acquiring knowwldge is much more worthwhile than killing people.

  51. E.V. says

    York:
    Your concern has been noted. Thanx …wait. what?

    denigrating some fellow traveller just because the wording in a press release is not up to scratch.

    Exactly where does PZ do this? If you could read (and weren’t a troll) you would see that Zalmona was being denigrated not the “fellow traveler”. But what do we expect from intellectually dishonest people like you?

  52. Kendo says

    amphiox #54

    An alternate explanation for the conundrum of the naughty bits before the fall was that they weren’t there.

    Ah, but the naughty bits must have been there even before Eve was created. The bible is quite clear on this. Reportedly, God had brought all the other animals to Adam to see which one would be a good mate for him. Eve was only created after it was seen that none of those animals were suitable. So much for omniscience! (I’m not even going to comment on God’s reported taste in pornography.)

  53. E.V. says

    Let’s see… Adam was created in the image of God.

    An alternate explanation for the conundrum of the naughty bits before the fall was that they weren’t there

    So, are you saying God is dickless? (and lacks balls?)

  54. York says

    E.V. #62
    I was referring to this sentence by PZ in the original post:

    “I wish religious nuts could get a little perspective…”

    The post referred to an AP bulletin via Yahoo News which referred to Israeli Museum curator Yigal Zalmona. I have never before heard of him (or her) so PZ may have better information and the guy is a batshit insane wingnut.

    Or not. Very possibly PZs information base isn’t better than mine and Ilan Ramos’ memory has in fact not been hijacked by religious fanatics. Just by some guy with a penchant for clichĂ©es. ClichĂ©es are not high literature, but greater people than me have used them.

    Which is to say that this is very much the wrong target and a facile one at that and I would very much appreciate it if we could concentrate on people and issues that are actually harmful and not just fun and easy to bash.

    If that makes me a troll and intellectually inhonest – roger.

  55. Helioprogenus says

    The same can be said about the passport of one of the hijackers that survived in the 9-11 attacks. Yet, nobody around here in the west dared call it a miracle. When will people realize that things are much less significant then they would like to believe, and there might just be very significant things lurking in the Oort cloud that they haven’t even considered that might just wipe human life off this planet?

  56. Sarah says

    Wouldn’t it be a miracle if no space shuttles ever blew up? I’m sure the families of the astronauts would rather have them back instead of just a few scraps of paper.

    Religious people are weird. It’s like they have it backwards. They see the good in bad things and the bad in good things. Just my opinion, though…

  57. E.V. says

    York:
    I responded to the tone and content of your post. It’s all I had to go on. Your second posting was measured and more thoughtful in tone -less trollish.
    Since I can’t seem to find fault in the statement, ” I wish religious nuts could get a little perspective when they talk about “miracles”, I still am not entirely sure what your complaint is; that an Israeli man died is a tragedy, yes, but beside the point. The gist was someone claiming that the diary’s survival and recovery was miraculous and expressly guided by the invisible hand of a sky wizard who happens to be the Israeli’s personal deity; and the speculation of ” Very possibly PZs information base isn’t better than mine and Ilan Ramos’ memory has in fact not been hijacked by religious fanatics”, is your conjecture.

    This blog is a blog; not a draft for Scientific American. Since it is PZ’s blog, any content is at his discretion. We are merely guests here; and when we misbehave, we are banished.;-)

    If you want to mount a soapbox and chide everyone for publishing clichĂ©es and mere opinion, then start a weblog of your very own. Feel free to be a prig or a wag and express all the concern you want there. It is unbelievably difficult to establishing and maintaining a significant number of readers and just as importantly – coming up with content… so good luck with that.

  58. The Lodger says

    Reminds me of another “miracle” – the cross made of girder fragments found in the debris of the World Trade Center. People wouldn’t shut up about it. Considering that just about all the girder joins were 90-degree angles, it’s pretty likely you’d find at least one cross-shaped fragment sticking out of the rubble. (Plus, no one really knew the proportions of the long member of the cross until some time after it was first photographed.)
    Now, finding a Star of David made out of girders in the wreckage – that would be improbable.

  59. The Lodger says

    Reminds me of another “miracle” – the cross made of girder fragments found in the debris of the World Trade Center. People wouldn’t shut up about it. Considering that just about all the girder joins were 90-degree angles, it’s pretty likely you’d find at least one cross-shaped fragment sticking out of the rubble. (Plus, no one really knew the proportions of the long member of the cross until some time after it was first photographed.)
    Now, finding a Star of David made out of girders in the wreckage – that would be improbable.

  60. Stewart says

    Having had dealings with Zalmona (though the last time was about four years ago) I doubt he was making any statement inspired by deep religious conviction (I could, of course, be wrong there). It’s more likely that he was using that language to hit an emotional chord in people in order to hype the exhibit. The choice of words may have been unfortunate, but sillier things that don’t hint at the supernatural (to which we’re all particularly sensitive here) are written and said every day in the course of routine PR work. I never knew him well enough to have insight into his beliefs, but, considering the extremes of religious nuttiness on offer in Israel… well, he’s super-sane compared to that.

  61. says

    Ah, the thought of invertebrate religions reminds me of the old “Eyes in the Sky” — there was a British cartoon called The Perishers in which a character called Wellington had a dog called Boot.

    On the family’s yearly holiday excursions to the seaside, Boot liked to look into a rock pool inhabited by a society of crabs (see about 2/3rds down that page). This created a stir amongst the crabs, one example of which can be seen in this strip, another here.

  62. Robert Byers says

    Its a sad and wrong thing for this mans death and the others however there is mopre too the story.
    First there should not of been a jewish Israeli on the shuttle. They are a small country that gets great wealth from Americans. They are not worthy to have a “astronaut” on the shuttle. this is from Jewish and establishment agendas to give Israel the prestige of a great advanced country like America without earning it. Having this Israeli was like having a bedouin. It denied a slot to a american or some worthy foreign nation.

    Then I think this Israeli was the pilot for a bombing long ago of a claimed nuclear site in Iraq.
    so its fair to be suspicious that his being picked was to be symbolic of why america should go to war in Iraq. to finish the job.
    if the trip had been successful it might of been said in many quarters and by the President to be a sign of Gods blessing on Iraq.
    I seem to remember some of the wreckage fell in palestine, Texas. I might be wrong but if so a greater sign of the source for americas woes in the middle east.
    Since v.p nomine Biden said he has a passion for israel one can presume more injustice, and trouble for America.

  63. Robert Byers says

    Its a sad and wrong thing for this mans death and the others however there is mopre too the story.
    First there should not of been a jewish Israeli on the shuttle. They are a small country that gets great wealth from Americans. They are not worthy to have a “astronaut” on the shuttle. this is from Jewish and establishment agendas to give Israel the prestige of a great advanced country like America without earning it. Having this Israeli was like having a bedouin. It denied a slot to a american or some worthy foreign nation.

    Then I think this Israeli was the pilot for a bombing long ago of a claimed nuclear site in Iraq.
    so its fair to be suspicious that his being picked was to be symbolic of why america should go to war in Iraq. to finish the job.
    if the trip had been successful it might of been said in many quarters and by the President to be a sign of Gods blessing on Iraq.
    I seem to remember some of the wreckage fell in palestine, Texas. I might be wrong but if so a greater sign of the source for americas woes in the middle east.
    Since v.p nomine Biden said he has a passion for israel one can presume more injustice, and trouble for America.

  64. Loki says

    First there should not of been a jewish Israeli on the shuttle.

    So… a Christian Israeli would have been A-OK, right?

    Having this Israeli was like having a bedouin.

    Why do you hate the children of Abraham?

    It denied a slot to a american or some worthy foreign nation.

    “Worthy” meaning white, you mean?

    if the trip had been successful it might of been said in many quarters and by the President to be a sign of Gods blessing on Iraq.

    The President says lots of stupid things, but that would have been pretty stupid even for him.

    I seem to remember some of the wreckage fell in palestine, Texas. I might be wrong but if so a greater sign of the source for americas woes in the middle east.

    No.

    It was just a coincidence.