Reading Time: 11 minutes Heiko S.
Reading Time: 11 minutes

A dramatic rescue unfolded in Thailand this past month. Now, with its successful conclusion, people begin to bandy about words like miracle to describe what happened. Because I’m very helpful that way, I want to gently point out that the rescue is indeed very inspirational. It shines as a testament to human ingenuity, bravery, and resolve. But it is not a miracle, for those exact reasons. Let me show you what I mean here, today.

Pha Thai Cave. Not the same one as in this story, but impressive all the same. (Heiko S, CC.)


This past month, the whole world seems like it caught its breath together at the news of 12 boys (aged 11-16) and their coach trapped in a Thai cave. First, we agonized when they all went missing. Then, we fretted when rescue workers found possessions belonging to the boys in a massive cave system in that country. Our fears boiled over when rescuers found the boys–but in the most precarious situation imaginable. Finally, our hopes rose as those rescuers began the laborious process of retrieving all thirteen of them.

And man oh man it was precarious going.

See, the boys, most of whom played for a local sports team called the Wild Boars, had entered the cave right before the Thai rainy season. On June 23, they had just finished a practice session and a picnic, and apparently thought that a lovely afternoon exploring in the nearby caves would be a lark. One source makes it sound like the excursion was intended to be a sort of “initiation ritual.” They were going to a particular cave, where they would write their names on the wall and then come back out again. Yay Team!

Then the unthinkable happened. They all got trapped there by rising rainwater causing a flash flood. The big problem they had was that none of the kids could dive or even swim, so they were well and truly screwed. 

Even worse, the caves continued to flood–so they had to keep moving further away from the cave entrance to stay above water. In Thailand, once the rainy season begins, the rains don’t come constantly but when they do, they typically come hard. The season typically begins in July and lasts until October. So time was very much of the essence. Nobody knew when the next downpour would occur–and the caves were already filling with water.

Against All Odds.

Days later, rescuers found the boys and their coach all huddled on a ledge two and a half freakin’ MILES into the cave system.

They were all alive!

The discovery felt simply unthinkably fortunate. The boys had escaped impossible odds already. But retrieving them would prove tricky.

As crews frantically pumped water from the caves, divers set oxygen tanks wherever they could along the route. Each boy needed to learn the basics of swimming and diving–and of course everybody trapped needed food, warmth, and oxygen. When everything was as ready as it could get, divers escorted each boy individually along a system of lines. At one point, everyone taking that route needed to remove their masks and tanks to crawl through a tight squeeze, then dive back into the dark waters for the last leg of the journey.

(My claustrophobia has my entire body tensing up, just typing that sentence. I cannot even begin to imagine what a child would make of such a requirement.)

And with surprisingly few hiccups, things went pretty much as planned.

Yes, thanks to an international team of rescuers and support personnel including Thai Navy SEALs and divers from several other countries, every one of the boys and their coach survived their ordeal.

A cave around Krabi, Thailand. (eric molina, CC.)

Connecting the World.

Through social media–like the Twitter hashtag #ThailandCaveRescue and others–and news sites, we followed the story as it developed. Thanks to the 24/7 connected internet, we could exult as each boy emerged from the caves.

Like many people all over the world, I eagerly followed the news about the rescue. From the time the boys were missing to the time they were discovered hiding to when workers fought to save them, I held my breath. I didn’t want to give in to relief until every one of the rescuers emerged after all the boys got out. And then that moment came, and finally I felt relief wash over me.

What an absolutely incredible story this turned out to be! So many people worked together to accomplish such a daring rescue. At any point this whole operation could have gone completely pear-shaped. And yet very little went wrong. I must concur wholeheartedly with CBS News, who showed a photo of four Thai Navy SEALs themselves and described them as “badass.” (That term raised a few eyebrows in replies to their post, but I’m 100% in favor of it. These are exactly the people you want with you if zombies ever invade.)

It amazed me to see how people all over the world united in concern, hope, and elation over this story. Maybe we felt so riveted because we’re exhausted from bad news. Maybe this story felt like something any person of any political persuasion could share with the rest of humanity.

Whatever it was, a lot of people loved this story.

That’s why this next part is so important.

“A Miracle, A Science, Or What.”

As rescuers rushed the rescued cave-explorers to a nearby hospital, expressions of relief and gratitude began to erupt among those who’d helped or observed.

As the rescue operation concluded, a Twitter account that appears to belong to the Thai Navy SEALs issued a statement.

Click to embiggen.

It reads, “We are not sure if this is a miracle, a science, or what. All the thirteen Wild Boars are now out of the cave.”

I don’t know what religious ideology that tweeter believes. Whatever it might be, a lot of people have assumed that the “miracle” might well have been Christian in nature.

I mean only the greatest of respect to the person who wrote that tweet, who clearly only wanted to express joy that the rescue was winding to a close. I don’t think he was trying to definitively assert that any gods were involved here. He is completely not at fault and not the focus of my observations today.

Rather, I’m talking about the Christians who took the tweet as a sign of agreement that a real live miracle had occurred, and then took it upon themselves to decide which god had orchestrated it.

OMG, it is so tiresome to deal with Christians’ miracle claims. They sprout up like mushrooms after rain!

In coming days, we’ll see Christians writing in awe about how the cave rescue was totally an example of a miracle. To be sure, this is the sort of outcome that Christians almost always glom onto as a bona fide miracle. It was improbable, it involved children in very serious danger, and it ended with the children surviving.

Really, all most Christians would need to call this rescue miraculous is at least one person alive at the end.

With the greatest of respect, I must make a gentle suggestion. In reality, this rescue was a science and a what. It was a lot of science and a lot of whats. But it wasn’t a miracle at all.

That’s why it worked, and why it was so grand that it did.

On the Miracle Side.

Besides Christians crawling out of the woodwork on social media trying to hijack the rescue for their own purposes, a few outlets have bandied about the M-word.

The Christian Post has already called the boys’ discovery last week a “miracle in Thailand.” Some Catholic site called Aleteia said the rescue represented “prayers answered.”

Charisma News was issuing “prayer alerts” over the rescue for ages. The post they just put up about the finish to the rescue has already begun collected Christian glurge in comments. One commenter thinks angels totally helped out.

A Christian site in the UK called Premier also published a statement or interview or something with the parents of one of the rescued boys. The parents are Christians, it appears. Their son enjoys a sponsorship through Compassion, which is a Christian-to-the-gills international charity. These parents told Compassion that they were very sure that their god had totally saved their child. Apparently a British missionary in the area totally concurs.

Give it time. It won’t take long. Christians love miracle claims generally, and this one’s too good to pass up even if it occurs in a country that is 93% Buddhist and less than 1% Christian. Mark my words: Christians will come claiming that the Thai cave rescue occurred to persuade people there to join Christianity.

They might get some pushback over such a grotesque claim, but they’ll try to make the case for it.

Why This Was No Miracle.

I’m nothing but happy that the rescue went so well and that all the children are safe again. I just can’t call the rescue miraculous. I can’t even call it divine. Really, I wouldn’t want to.

And if Christians were thinking this one through, they wouldn’t want to, either.

Too many people were involved. Almost 10,000 people helped with the rescue. Besides the divers and direct coordinators of the rescue itself, a small army–including a thousand people in the actual Thai army!–assembled nearby. More than a hundred actual rescuers got into the cave, all told. Outside, people pumped water out of the cave (sending a river of water flowing from the site that destroyed some farmers’ fields), brought meals and food to the site, set up communications, and even served up coffee and massages.

What does a god need with 10,000 helpers? Either he needs the assistance, in which case wow, that is really a non-god-like being Christians worship, or he doesn’t, in which case he’s a dick who let 12 boys and thousands of helpers suffer needlessly to, I don’t know, prove a point nobody needed proven?

Someone died. Petty Officer Saman Gunan, 38, died during the rescue. He was delivering air tanks to the caves. But he passed out in one of those narrow passageways–he didn’t have enough oxygen to get back. His partner couldn’t revive him in time. He was an experienced diver who’d served in the navy, as well as a recreational runner and cyclist. This guy knew his stuff! And he still paid the ultimate price.

Some people’s farms got destroyed. Some land damage occurred during the rescue as well. The water-pumping operation sent deluges of water into various fields, destroying them. The average income in Thailand for farmers is 6000-8000 Thai baht per month, which amounts to USD$180-240. I’m guessing having a crop wiped out would do some serious damage to that total.

As hard as being trapped undoubtedly was, too, the recovery period is only just beginning now, for the people rescued. The after-effects of being trapped underground in a really dangerous situation, not to mention any potential health risks the boys faced while there, could last for years.

In the end, I simply refuse to accept as “miraculous” any event that causes harm and damage to others. This situation reminds me way too much of American Christians who think it’s a ZOMG MEERKUL YAWL whenever a tornado kills everyone else in their town except their Nana and Papaw.

But the situation gets worse when we consider that Christians think their god is omnimax, meaning he can do literally anything and everything.

Everyone, Say Hi to the Problem of Evil.

The main reason I can’t buy the Thai cave rescue as a miracle is because this situation contradicts the existence of an omnimax god.

Every time a Christian drones on about how miraculous something was, I can’t help but wonder why this omnipotent, omniscient god allowed the situation to happen at all. I can see many points where someone–natural or supernatural–could have stopped this whole dramatic event from happening at all. (We’re talking here of the Problem of Evil.)

Some adult there could have realized that maybe it was kinda risky to take 12 boys who can’t swim into a cave at the brink of the rainy season. (Indeed, their 25-year-old coach apparently missed a warning sign outside the cave. He’s apologized, but he might get in trouble over it still.) A god certainly could have fixed it so the rains didn’t fall yet, so the team could enter and leave without incident. Or perhaps he could have fixed the cave system itself so escape wouldn’t be so treacherous.

If I allow something terrible to happen, I don’t get points for fixing the damage later. That’s like dating someone who starts fights just to get the make-up sex later.

Aside: Make-Up Sex As An Explanation of Miracles.

Make-up sex happens as a fighting couple find some kind of resolution to their conflict. Their emotions run very hot and high at such times, then abruptly translate to sex. Consequently, make-up sex can be mind-blowing for some people–enough so that yes, they start fights just to get it.

Psychologists call that process arousal transfer. That link talks about it like a drug. If so, it’s one that gives a very intense temporary high that can cover up the relationship’s flaws and keep a bad relationship going for way longer than it needs to.

I’m sure you can see where my thoughts are leading on this one.

As long as Christians can get their cheap high from imagining a purely natural situation as a miracle, they’re making it that much harder for themselves to critically examine their religion’s claims and potentially escape to freedom from an oppressive ideology.

Why Being a Non-Miracle Makes This Rescue Better.

Thing is, being a purely natural situation actually makes the Thai rescue more meaningful and inspirational.

People did this. People came together from all over the world. They wrote words of encouragement for the rescuers. They brought food and supplies–and sent it if they couldn’t get to the rescue site personally. Now they will be helping the rescued people recover.

The whole story is absolutely amazing to me. I won’t cheapen what happened by giving credit anywhere but where it is very obviously due.

Narongsak Osottanakorn, who was chief of the rescue mission itself, said in a post-rescue address:

“Nobody thought we could do it. It was a world first. It was Mission Possible for Team Thailand. The heroes this time are people all over the world,” he added, referring to the multinational team that assisted in the operation. “This mission was successful because we had power. The power of love. Everybody sent it to the 13.”

And that assessment is way closer to what happened.

Given the track record of the gods we’ve invented over the eons, if I were in serious trouble, I’d want to see people coming my way–not offers of prayer or assurances of divine intervention.

I’m not sure where this cave is in Thailand, but it’s worth clicking the photographer’s link to see the full-size version. (Nick Gray, CC-SA.)

The Power of Love (Is a Curious Thing).

Love. You can learn all the math in the ‘Verse, but you take a boat in the air that you don’t love, she’ll shake you off just as sure as the turning of the worlds. Love keeps her in the air when she oughta fall down, tells you she’s hurtin’ ‘fore she keens. Makes her a home.

Captain Tightpants

The power of love can move mountains. Knowing we were rooting for them may well have helped the rescuers complete their herculean task. Hell, even in our comment section here, on this blog, people talk about how potent and powerful a sympathetic community can be. Studies consistently support our perceptions in this regard. Ultimately, maybe knowing people believe in us can give us courage to do what seems impossible. Having a bunch of qualified experts on hand to help probably doesn’t hurt either.

When religious people–Christians, in particular, considering that this time the event didn’t even happen in a Christian country or involve more than a couple of Christians at all–paper over amazing events with misused words like miracle, they piss on their own shoes. They cheapen their religion and they cheapen the rescue itself–all to try to score unearned points for their religion. (Hey, you know what’d push my thrill buttons? If the Christian god magically made his followers less hypocritical. But we’ll talk later about why even defining miracles is so problematic for them.)

Today was a good day in a lot of ways. A lot of awful stuff is still going on, but at least we had this little bright spot. When push comes to shove, people can get together and do some absolutely remarkable things. I won’t let a bunch of Jesus Jukers ruin any of it.

Someone else gets it. (Carolynn Valbuena.)

NEXT UP: Still no SBC Annual. I’m getting kind of worried about them–shall we check on them? (BLINK FOUR TIMES FAST IF YOU NEED BAT-HELP, GUYS. I’m in a helpful mood.) But we have a book review, an apologetics breakdown of Last Ideology Standing, and more of the Unequally Yoked Club to check out! See you soon.


You might like this review of a Royal Thai Army MRE. I love this guy’s channel. He’s cray-cray in the best way, and he’s found his niche. He has no idea I’m linking this video.

YouTube video

You’ll never, ever, believe what I ran across while researching this post. My eyes got so huge when I realized I’d stumbled across that Sokai Gakka Soka Gakkai cult Lambchop was in! Holy cow it just all looks so S-K-E-T-C-H-Y! If you’d told me they were a multi-level marketing (MLM) scam, I’d have believed it without hesitation.

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ROLL TO DISBELIEVE "Captain Cassidy" is Cassidy McGillicuddy, a Gen Xer and ex-Pentecostal. (The title is metaphorical.) She writes about the intersection of psychology, belief, popular culture, science,...