Miracles, magic and myths are interesting. Everybody likes a good story. But truth has a magic of its own.
Just imagine how people in medieval times — even the most intelligent and educated — would react to a jet plane or a laptop computer.
They would call them "supernatural, miraculous." But we know how they work; we know how engineers have built them, following scientific principles. There is no need to invoke miracles or the supernatural.
A gang of Victorian criminals equipped with modern mobile phones could have coordinated their activities in ways that would have looked like supernatural telepathy to Sherlock Holmes. In Holmes's world, a suspect who could prove that he was in New York the same day a murder was committed in London would have a perfect alibi.
Never miss a local story.
Not so today, of course. The distinguished science-fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke summed up the point as Clarke's Third Law: Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.
If a time machine could carry us forward five centuries, we would see wonders that today seem impossible. But soon our best minds, using scientific principles, would figure out these wonders, and we would realize again that the very idea of the supernatural is unnecessary, meaning nothing more than, "We don't understand it."
What might tempt us to flirt with a supernatural explanation? An uncanny coincidence that makes us suspect telepathic communication?
But among all the millions of people in the world, some are bound to be experiencing an uncanny coincidence on any one day: their stories are the ones we hear. Nobody ever says, "I dreamed that my friend died, and today I found that he had not died — what a coincidence!"
Or does somebody apparently read your mind and tell you what card you are thinking of?
We've all seen stage conjurors perform even more amazing feats than that. And there's nothing supernatural about them.
If an event is reported that appears to be inexplicable by science, you can safely conclude one of two things. Either it didn't really happen — the story has become garbled, the observer was mistaken or was tricked. Or if, after exhaustive investigation, we are satisfied that there is no trickery, no mistake, something truly strange really did happen, then it is possible that we have exposed a shortcoming in present-day science.
But that is nothing more than a challenge.
We must not rest until we have improved our science so that it does provide an explanation. If that requires a radically new kind of science, a revolutionary science so strange that older scientists scarcely recognize it as science at all, that's fine too. It's happened before.
But don't ever be lazy enough — defeatist enough, cowardly enough — to say "It must be supernatural" or "It must be a miracle."
Say instead that it's a puzzle, it's strange, it's a challenge that we should rise to.
Whether we rise to the challenge by questioning the truth of the observation or by expanding our science in new and exciting directions, the proper and brave response to any such challenge is to tackle it head-on. If we use the tools of evidence-based science, it's perfectly OK simply to say, "We're working on it." Indeed, it is the only honest thing to do.
Factual science has a "magic" of its own: the magic of reality.