Question from Jacob:
Hello, so it’s me again, got some more questions for ya. Throughout history, there have been many reports of supernatural phenomena. Most of them usually have a religious undertone, for example, some people levitate others do healings, sometimes divine or demonic figures appear. In any case, these reports range from various cultures and time periods seen by hundreds of thousands of people which continues to this day. How could someone have imagined all this?
Answer by SmartLX:
“Someone” didn’t. Millions of people across the globe imagined it all cumulatively over a period of millennia. That’s a lot of imagination.
To say it’s all pure imagination is an oversimplification, of course. Here are some more specific sources.
– Unexplained phenomena will be rationalised in terms of whatever faith-based supernatural concepts people hold, simply because it’s in the right category. It looks like magic, my god is magic, therefore my god did it. This is a formal logical fallacy, but it’s as far as many people’s thinking goes.
– When religion holds social or political power, it affects the historical record. If priests claim an occurrence, or claim credit for an event on behalf of the ruling god, few dare dispute them.
– Any supernatural effect which is faked, or exploited for material gain whether faked or mistaken, is far more effective when linked to the majority religion. It goes from a curiosity to a possible call to action, and compels believers to consider it very carefully. They must think, “Why did my god do this, and how should I react?” This gives it a much bigger profile in the public consciousness.
Similarly to my approach to prophecies, each claim of a supernatural event has more possibilities than the false dilemma that it was either genuinely supernatural or it was made up from nothing. Once you consider a few of your favourite stories from the standpoint of just how many different ways they could have come about, the sheer number of supernatural claims throughout history is severely tempered by the high probability that any given event was something other than an act of God.
Question from Jonathan:
So what is your explanation for Our Lady of Akita whose tears were indeed human?
Answer by SmartLX:
Lucky you, I’ve recently addressed Akita. The short answer is that you sound more confident in that one than the Church is.
First Fátima, now Akita…what next, Our Lady of Lourdes? I know Mary really gets around.
Question from Jonathan:
So how do you explain events life Fatima where over 70000 people simultaneously saw a miracle as it was foretold by a little girl, check it out if you don’t believe me it’s very well documented. If that’s not enough for you it also made accurate predictions.
Answer by SmartLX:
I’ve addressed both of these points quite recently: the mass miracle here and the predictions here. If I’ve missed some detail which you think is important, comment in the appropriate article.
Question from Markian:
Ok so sometimes people make claims that they saw something that some would file into the “paranormal” or “supernatural” category. Two examples come to mind. 1) a girl wakes up at 2:30 am, sees a transparent image of a girl she hadn’t talked to in 10 yrs. Then she sees the devil’s face, prays to God, the images go away. 2 days later she sees in the newspaper that this exact girl died at 2:30 that night from an accident. Another one actually happened to my parents. They were at a Church event, and they claim that suddenly things turned demonic. One blonde haired lady suddenly had black hair, people were choking, and finally the priest shouted at “demonic spirits” to leave and then everything turned back to normal. Both of these events are anecdotal and I know many would reject these as hearsay. Although you are being rational by doing so, let’s just say for argument’s sake that these events somehow took place, just give them the benefit of the doubt for a second. Would that confirm the supernatural or paranormal? Or would it still be more appropriate to say that we don’t know what caused these events therefore we could never say they are supernatural or paranormal? I personally believe that even if these 2 events are totally real that they don’t necessarily confirm the existence of spirits, gods, supernatural etc. I want your opinions on my opinion. I know many will say these events are bull but I want to know hypothetically if they were real, does that mean supernatural or is it just something currently unknown? People used to think thunderstorms were gods fighting. Others thought lunar eclipse was something to do with gods. Now we know this isn’t true, so could these cases (granted that they actually occurred) be placed into that category?
Answer by SmartLX:
Thanks for getting the basic point about whether the stories are true out of the way for me.
So, say as far as we can tell one of these things really did happen as described and wasn’t essentially made up by the witnesses. The first thing to ask would be whether or not a hoax can be ruled out. Someone could have scared the first girl with a projection of a photo from Facebook and a devil mask, and turned the clock back to allow for several hours of preparation after the news of her death. The church could have had a quick spray of a noxious gas or odour that affected people sharply before dissipating, and if the woman was a plant she could have had a wig. Elaborate in both cases, yes, but if something apparently amazing has really happened, it’s not unreasonable to suppose that someone just went to a lot of trouble. Some of Derren Brown’s shows have put people through some incredible stuff and not told them right away that it was a trick.
So then let’s say it can’t have been a hoax (the kind of evidence for this would have to be pretty convincing), and therefore you can finally say with confidence that something supernatural or paranormal (the definitions are practically the same) has happened. The nature of both events you describe have elements specific to Christian mythology: the antagonist is the devil or the location is a church and, most importantly, invoking God makes everything all right. That does suggest that an otherworldly intelligence is behind it if it can respond to a specific declaration, but there are several possible reasons why it might do so. Maybe it really is Satan and he fears God. Maybe it’s some lesser poltergeist pretending to be Satan, or who fears God regardless – whether God is also real or not. (If humans can fear a God who appears to be non-existent, why can’t a spirit?) Maybe a living human psychic/telekinetic is making it happen, consciously or not. Use your imagination, but the point is that even if the supernatural occurs exactly the way believers expect they may still need to wonder whether they’re being supernaturally had. Lots of them fall for false miracles done in old-fashioned ways as it is, or Peter Popoff would never have got anywhere.
Question from Jakob:
I have a question about the supposed Sun miracle at Fátima. An crowd of about 70,000 people saw it; I should note that nobody saw the same thing and thousands saw nothing at all. The Vatican said it’s worthy of belief. Now 70000 people can’t hallucinate at the same time, can they?
Answer by SmartLX:
If thousands saw nothing at all at the so-called Miracle of the Sun that gave rise to the incarnation of the Virgin Mary now known as Our Lady of Fátima, then 70000 people didn’t hallucinate at the same time. It doesn’t mean none of them did.
A multitude of people with beliefs ranging from fervent to non-existent crowded into an empty field with high expectations of something miraculous happening, but no idea what. As soon as exposure, overlong gazing at the sun, rare weather effects like a parhelion (check the Miracle link above for a picture) or pure zealotry drove someone to declare that they saw something strange in the sky, thousands more looked up instead of around them, and were far more prone to have a similar experience. Afterwards, there was much discussion among the lucky subset about what they had seen, which would have resulted in much greater consistency between accounts once they went to write it down. Once stories got out, the crowds got bigger, the expectations were higher and the chances of strange perceptions only went up, until it all peaked on 13 October 1917. The initial stories mentioned the sun, so later you had thousands of poor sods staring right at the thing far longer than they should, which would have played havoc with their eyes.
Several specific explanations have been suggested over the years, but I just look at the circumstances and I think I would have been amazed if no one had had a strange experience. It was a strange thing to do, and to be told to do by three Portuguese preteens.
Question from Jacob:
Hello. Recently I stopped believing to a small degree, probably class 4 or 5 on the Dawkins scale (ATA Note: this indicates neutrality tending towards disbelief), mainly from reading the Old Testament. None of the mainstream Christian arguments are really that great like morality and so forth. But there are 2, well I would not call them arguments, more like paranormal activity. They are incorruptible bodies and the statue of Akita. They are the 2 main things that are still part of my chains of religion. My question is how do you explain them or brush them off at least? I heard atheists had high levels of intelligence.
Answer by SmartLX:
I can save myself some work here because I wrote about the so-called incorruptibles for a similar site: Ask The Atheists. I was SmartLX on that one too, just scroll down a bit. Since I’ve become acquainted with the power of Google Images in the 8+ years that followed, I’ll simply add that the examples available to us today do not exactly look natural or as fresh as a daisy.
As for “Our Lady of Akita”, much is unexplained about the events that brought it to the world’s attention but the most damning factor is the Catholic Church’s own reluctance to hail it as a miracle. See the Wikipedia article: though the local Bishop endorsed it, the Archbishop of Tokyo dismissed it completely in 1990, and then-Cardinal Ratzinger (later Pope Benedict XVI), who would have made the call at that level within the Church, made no call at all. If those with the most to gain from a miracle by the Virgin Mary won’t get behind it, what reason do you have? The Church all but abolished the office of “devil’s advocate” in 1983 so they don’t even actively try to debunk these things anymore, and they still didn’t give this one the rubber stamp.
Question from Alex:
Hi, I am an atheist. But one of my friend told me that she had got some sai baba bread (appam) from her friend. And if she keep it in one vessel and pray him daily, it will become double. As usual i have not believed. And today she said that it becomes double. I want to prove her wrong that it is not because of sai baba.. Can you please explain me the reason.
Answer by SmartLX:
It’s not your job to prove her wrong as long as she hasn’t presented any evidence. All she’s given you is a story, and a pretty vague one at that. If we even assume she’s telling the truth, pretty much anyone could have put a second appam in the “vessel”. Sathya Sai Baba had a lot of followers, and some would probably engage in some mild deception in order to sustain belief in his divinity.
What we have here is a rare example of a supposedly repeatable, and therefore testable, miracle. If your friend wants you to believe, she can do it again with a fresh appam – but this time, ensure by means of surveillance or a locked container that no one can get to it but the spirit of Sai Baba until it’s time to check for the extra bread. If he pulls it off in these conditions, then you’ll have something to disprove. Until then, the burden of proof is not on you.
“A little more detail might help.”
Question…well, more of a spiel from Jeff:
I stumbled onto your website about a week ago and saved your website on my computer. This week I was clearing out my “favorites” in the computer and came across it again. I just listened to your info on you tube and agree with where you are at this point in your life. I was somewhat close to where you are on a spiritual level 43 years ago. I wasn’t sure there was a God. My mom was a spiritual nut in the big pix but I had no reason to believe.
Somehow I got linked up with a guy who happened to become my best friend who was a pastor’s son. I could see strange happenings around him and i wondered what was causing them. Later on he invited me to a chuch camp where everyone was talking about Jesus. I was arogant and doubtful that he even existed. I said these words out loud: “If Jesus is so real, why doesn’t he show himself?
Over the next 40 years I tracked unusual events in my life and they all tied together with this very incident. I’m currently writing a book about it as i believe people should be aware of what i was seeing.
I work in electronics and I analyze things for a living. If my analysis takes me off course, then i waste valuable time and money. So i’ve learned to sharpen my skills. I ended up at a church camp 39 years after this event and saw something I couldn’t quite believe so i asked 6 other people what they saw. The answer tells the story that Jesus is real. The book is “the Cross in the Road” and i’m writing it for the people who can not see God in their life. It explains how i come to realize he was real. I’ve seen the impossible happen right before my eyes many times and even questioned my own sanity. But the other 6 people confirmed that it wasn’t my sanity in question but my belief system.
A little more detail might help.
I realise that you want people to read your book when it’s finished, assuming it becomes available to our visitors the world over. For the moment though, you’re claiming to have seen miracles without even describing them, let alone supporting your claims with evidence. This will probably not convince anybody, or even pique much interest.
What you have done is talk up your own analytical powers, essentially daring people to say you’re wrong about what you saw. This doesn’t count for much, as every religion has sharp people among its devout and they can’t all be right about their conversion experiences.
That’s the general problem with using perceived personal experience of the divine when proselytising: there’s no real credibility to be gained, and plenty to be lost. You’re essentially trading on your existing credibility, which relative to the strangers you’re now trying to reach is zero.
I’m not saying you won’t convince anybody, because at worst some people will believe anything. I’m just saying that the persuasive power of your experiences at church camp will not easily translate into a written account intended for the general public in their living rooms.
“Only faith makes a miracle seem at all likely, all things considered.”
(When the archived ATA site was restored, a short list of unanswered questions were found in the approval queue. I’ll be answering them here in Ask from the Past.)
Question from Mike1234:
What about all the things that people have seen like ghost or anything physical or somthing happening out of the norm, is it all just mental and in your head. There have been so many things that people have seen or strange things happening to people that you may of never heard, but in order to not believe in a god everything would have had to been mental or proved scientifically.
According to what i have heard people have had broken arms healed in front of their face and even someone on tv said they have seen a limb regenerate in front of their face.Yes i know some people can be liars, but for every sigle one to be a lie or just something mental would be really rare out of the all those people who had a experience which is probably tons and tons of people. People have become unblind physically at crusades or other supposable things happening according to what i have heard.
Or somebody on tv said that god took him to hell and then brought him back. He said he came out of his body and was physically in hell and then Jesus took him out telling him that many of his own people don’t believe in this place. His wife saw him on the ground holding his head and then jesus brought him back. He said it wasn’t a dream and it was real.or what about some guy getting hit by a semi or car or something and was told by police that he was dead on arrival but somebody, who happened to be a christian out of nowhere started praying for him for about maybe 15 minutes or so, and im not sure if he even knew the guy or not, and the guy cam back. The guy who was hit talked about his experience and how he actually saw a gate ahead of him and how the bible describes it and all, but as soon as he was approaching it he went back into his body.
I am not saying that this is true or anything even though the people sound like they are really telling the truth, but for every single experience to be a lie or something mental or something that can be scientifical would be hard. It would seem like it would take more faith to say that everyone of those is a lie or something else rather then to believe one and have to believe in some type of divine being.
It would take something akin to faith to say with absolute certainty that every one of those claims was utterly false, especially without hearing them all first-hand. That’s why atheists don’t tend to do that.
Perhaps a man did manage to regenerate a limb on the spot, I don’t know. I’ll wait for the evidence, if any. Since it’s extremely unlikely given the little that I know about human anatomy, I’ll assume for the moment that it didn’t really happen. If I’m wrong and evidence comes along later, I’ll be surprised and fascinated.
You raise an interesting point about the sheer number of extraordinary claims, Mike. Just how unlikely is it that all of these people are either wrong or lying? Not as unlikely as you’d think at a glance. Even if several such claims emerged every day, you must remember that such claims are picked up and trumpeted by the media wherever they’ve come from. Out of six billion people, if something has a chance of a million to one you would still expect it to happen to six thousand of them. If it’s newsworthy, the whole world might well hear about most of them.
What’s more difficult to calculate is the probability of a miracle, versus the probability of a lie or an error. What makes a lie likely is that telling an extravagant lie often gets a lot of attention, and can be profitable. You can usually understand why a claimant would be lying if he or she is. What tends to make an error likely, on the other hand, is usually the state of the claimant at the time of the event. You can imagine what I mean by that.
Only faith makes a miracle seem at all likely, all things considered.