Persons and Other Absolute Miracles
In other words, it is not possible to do a controlled study of the one-of-a-kind, since there are not two of them to subject to variable conditions.
Science can only deal with aggregates and statistics, but it cannot disclose the secret of the individual for the same reason it can't reveal the nature of the One.
Science must assume the existence of this One, for all science is predicated on the reduction of multiplicity to unity.
At once this reveals a possible totalitarian temptation, since there are some things that simply cannot be reduced to anything less than themselves. But the state never stops trying.
Science divorced from theology leads toward an incomprehensible one -- incomprehensible because it has no other to comprehend it -- no genuine partner in the climb.
What is unique in the world? First and foremost, persons. I assume that even the most jaded materialist -- if only for the sake of propriety -- will concede that each and every person is a unique and unrepeatable cosmic event.
One can always speculate about how things "might have been different" if one had made this or that choice, but it is impossible to subject oneself to a controlled experiment in order to examine the alternate outcomes.
But just because it is what it is, this doesn't mean that you am what you am, with no I in the matter.
This metaphysic can also lead to the stubborn illusion of an absence of free will, since there aren't two of you to prove the case scientifically.
And even then, the two of you couldn't have identical circumstances, so there would still be no way to prove that the differences weren't a result of free will.
What else is unique? I just said "first and foremost," persons. But that can't be correct -- at least without a qualification.
That is, First and Foremost must be God -- or what we should probably call O, since "God" can be compared to other gods. We can always assign a name to the unique, but that hardly means that we understand it. Rather, to the extent that something is truly unique, there is no possibility of complete understanding.
This shouldn't be confused with the necessary existential barrier that forbids complete understanding of anything whatsoever. In other words, we can all gain sufficient understanding of, say, rocks or gravity, without knowing what either is in its essence.
But in the case of a human being, we can keep knowing more and more without ever getting to the bottom. The unique individual is a kind of inexhaustible fount of his own uniqueness.
As we have said before, the world is only relatively intelligible because it is absolutely unintelligible. In other words, it is only because the world is created that we can understand it at all.
But for the same reason, we can never completely understand it, since we can never be the Creator. Therefore, in the ultimate sense, the cosmos too pours out its own inexhaustible stream of truth and beauty.
In a cosmos that could be completely "contained" by science, science would be impossible, for the same reason that a person who could be completely understood wouldn't be a real person, but more like a machine.
This is not to say that many, if not most, persons end up living like machines, but that is a different story. It is difficult being unique, and in the absence of a unique God who cherishes uniqueness, there is a tendency toward conformism or rebellion, blandness or eccentricity, dependence or pseudo-independence, group identity or faux individualism. Two sides of the same worthless coin.
Science necessarily deals with a world of accident and necessity, but then covertly assimilates the view that all reality is governed by them.
Thus, if necessity rules, then free will is an illusion. But if accident does, then identity is an absurd and pointless iteration of material shuffling. There would be no point to self understanding, since there would be no self to understand (although, curiously, there would still be an impoverished "scientific self" to understand this banality).
What else is unique? For the faithful, the Incarnation is unique, for the same reason God is. The one follows from the other, if not strictly "necessarily," then certainly logically.
But more generally, one could say that any miracle is unique. To put it the other way around, anything that is scientifically repeatable is not a miracle.
Wait a minute, SlackMeister. You just said that human persons are not repeatable. Does this mean that each person is a miracle?
It most certainly does. How could it be otherwise, and still be? As Bob has said in his uniquely annoying way, human persons are "mirrorcles of the Absolute." What does this even mean?
It means that each human person is somehow a unique image of the singular uniqueness at the bottom -- or top -- of it all.
But... wouldn't that make us all the same?
Yes, precisely! This is the common source of our cosmic brotherhood. But the Absolute is absolute, whereas we can only be his middling relativities who are here for a brief visit, so we can mirror without ever completely exhausting the One we reflect.
In Salt of the Earth, Ratzinger is asked how many ways there are to God. His answer may surprise you: "As many as there are people."
For otherwise we wouldn't be persons, nor could God be One.