Coincidence or divine intervention?

Jan 14, 2014


Discussion by: Post-Amerika

One of the more fascinating arguments that I encounter when explaining why I believe there is no god is one that requires a bit of wonder about the reasoning of people who believe in this. If I mistakenly leave too much room for ambiguity, I do ask for pardon as this is the first time I have attempted to write it down.

On to the question: if there is no god, how could this event have happened on such a meaningful date or at a time, and for what, I was praying? I have noticed that humankind places a lot of weight on coincidences, especially coincidences that happen to someone of a religious background or nature.

For example, "I had been going through such a tough time in my life, and I had been praying and praying for a light, for a sign, or for comfort. I met this person at a bookstore, browsing through self-help books, and we instantly connected. My god has heard my prayers, and I have never been as happy as I am now."

Coincidences seem to hold such weight with some people: parents dying at the same time, an earthquake happening around the same time that some religious violence erupts, the number "666" showing up in random places, the face of evil in the clouds, an airline passenger praying for a safe landing during a violent crosswind at an airport, etc.

I am less confronted with this argument than I am with the irreducible complexity argument, and I wanted to see how many others are presented with this from time to time, and if you are, how do you normally approach your responses? Alternatively, how would you approach your response, considering you have never been confronted?

83 comments on “Coincidence or divine intervention?

  • 2
    Alan4discussion says:

    The superstitious remember, collect, and cherry-pick, the incidences when coincidences turn up, but are quite happy to forget the occasions when they do not.
    It is wishful thinking. – Well exemplified in those who need the services of “Gamblers Anonymous”!

    Gross ignorance and incompetence in statistical analysis, and scientific methodology, are usually a prerequisite for such over-optimistic, supernatural, egocentric, thinking.

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  • 3
    David R Allen says:

    Skinners Pigeons.

    A famous experiment back in the 40’s explains this property of humans to associate random cause with effect. Superstition. It is likely to be in all animals. And we’re just another animal.

    Key quotes.

    In 1948, behavioural psychologist B.F. Skinner published an article in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, in which he described his pigeons exhibiting what appeared to be superstitious behaviour. One pigeon was making turns in its cage, another would swing its head in a pendulum motion, while others also displayed a variety of other behaviours. Because these behaviours were all done ritualistically in an attempt to receive food from a dispenser, even though the dispenser had already been programmed to release food at set time intervals regardless of the pigeons’ actions, Skinner believed that the pigeons were trying to influence their feeding schedule by performing these actions. He then extended this as a proposition regarding the nature of superstitious behaviour in humans.
    AND
    Despite challenges to Skinner’s interpretation of the root of his pigeons’ superstitious behaviour, his conception of the reinforcement schedule has been used to explain superstitious behaviour in humans.

    Details here:- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Superstition

    And Video here:- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TtfQlkGwE2U

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  • 4
    Mr DArcy says:

    I am reminded of Richard’s comments after the Boxing Day tsunami where several hundred thousand people suddenly perished because of a natural disaster. Somewhere, somehow, a baby was washed up alive on a beach. The local religios took the view that “it must be a miracle, isn’t God merciful.” !

    They seem to forget the half million dead, and only remember the one baby !

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  • In reply to #4 by Mr DArcy:

    They seem to forget the half million dead, and only remember the one baby !

    I encountered a similar form of rationalisation after the 9/11 disaster. The speaker recounted the ‘miraculous’ situation in which her family ‘missed’ the ill-fated flight. The logical projection coming from this is that all the victims on board deserved to die. I call this supernatural logic.

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  • 6
    steve_hopker says:

    As others say, I think there is a strong urge, perhaps ancient and deeply instinctual, to see patterns, fill in gaps and mount explanations. Many animals do this perceptually and probably we as humans do so conceptually – ‘seeing’ the coincidences. This means we pay far more attention to the unusual, perhaps in case it is significant, eg potentially useful things (food) or threats (predators).

    By contrast, the mundane and non-coincidental fades into the background and from memory. Why pay equal attention to and memorise every single leaf when what you need is the path to the waterhole, etc.

    If the above is right, this instinctive base may account for why our sense of coincidence can be so strong, emotionally laden and hard to dismiss.

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  • One thing that might help is looking at The Birthday paradox With 23 people in a room the chances are 50% that two of them will have the same birthday. It seems surprising until you look at the math. I think that is an example of a general phenomena, that when you analyze things after the fact it’s easy to find things that look improbable that in reality are totally predictable and that is partly what is going on with the people who find deep and unexpected coincidences in their lives.

    The other thing of course and I’m sure others will touch on this is that human beings are programmed to look for patterns. The reason why — or at least a hypothesis I find pretty convincing — is that being programmed to notice patterns has survival benefit. If you notice marks in the ground it’s a survival benefit to have your mind consider that rather than just being random markings they may be the foot prints of a predator. If you are right then being prone to develop that hypothesis may save your life. If you are wrong and they are just random tracks you haven’t lost much. So we are much more prone to over analyzing and seeing patterns where they may not be any than to do the opposite.

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  • 8
    SurLaffaLot says:

    What about all of the predicted or prayed for things that do not come about? I bet loads of people in the Philippines, for example, prayed for salvation in the face of typhoon Haiyyan, yet were killed en masse nonetheless. Do the religious count those as reasons for NOT believing in an omniscient or prayer-answering god? And what are the statistics on success or failure in those stakes?
    Check this video for a discussion of prayers being answered, being an illusion:

    ===================================

    The best optical illusion in the world!

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jk6ILZAaAMI

    ===================================

    As for prophecy, it seems that no prophesy from supposedly a divinely inspired or source can be qualified as having come true. Most prophesies are vague, imprecise etc., and meaningless on their own. Jesus is prophesised to be coming back to earth sometime. But when? How long must we wait for this to occur? Will another ten years do, or should we expect to wait a millennium, or must we wait another billion years? Well it might happen, but it might not. So long as a billion years will do, it will not be reasonably tested as a true prophesy.

    We should also be mindful that human psychology makes some prophesies to be self fulfilling. If “God” supposedly said that such and such will never happen, then believers will make no effort to bring it about, and may try to prevent it. They will likely explain away anything that looks like a failure of the prophesy. If “God” supposedly said that such and such will happen, then believers may make the effort to bring it about. This is the problem with Armageddon, and the day of judgement. Believers may not fear global war, if they think it would be a fulfillment of the prophesy, and that as a result, they will be off to heaven. Don’t Muslim suicide bombers commit their heinous acts in the belief that it is prophesised that martyrdom in the name of “Allah” will take them to heaven for sure?

    Believers will say that atheists explain away the prophesies which they say have come true.

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  • 9
    QuestioningKat says:

    The time to do any “educating” about the reality of personal experiences is best before it happens. People need to have developed skills regarding various aspects of perception and the ability to analyze. Personal experiences and coincidences are usually the strongest “supernatural” motivators for theists and deists alike. People will either ignore you or dig in their heels. No one likes a know-it-all especially when it concerns someone’s personal life. By using indirect examples, the person can hopefully make the jump to connect an understanding of say optical illusions to their own situation.

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  • 10
    rjohn19 says:

    I do have a counter for that but let me first say that no one who deeply believes god intervened on their behalf will ever be dissuaded. nothing can trump what seems to be confirmation of our solipsism.

    All Christians who have ever lived have either died or they are going to. Assuming they all had Christian family or friends, every one of them was prayed for to be spared the final indignity and all those prayers failed as will your prayers when the time comes.

    If a hundred thousand good Christians are diagnosed with terminal cancer, most will die on schedule, some lucky ones will be treated into remission and gain a few extra years, a few will be medically cured by man-made discoveries not available to those who prayed over loved ones a mere 20 years ago and maybe one or two will be “miraculously” rid of the malady forever after medicine has given up.

    This last tiny group probably falls into three catagories- the misdiagnosed, those with a quirky anomaly in their DNA and perhaps those who quite by accident came in contact with an agent or series of agents not yet identified by medicine. But the point is, there is no way to predict which handfull of the 100,000 were saved by examining the quantity or quality of prayer personally offered or said over them, nor any way to predict the outcome based on the worthiness of the person.

    So think what you want to think but death and misfortune are perfectly random- as are the escapes from them

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  • 11
    plaidandpolkadots says:

    I do have a counter for that but let me first say that no one who deeply believes god intervened on their behalf will ever be dissuaded. nothing can trump what seems to be confirmation of our solipsism.

    I think rjohn19 has said it best. I grew up southern baptist. You have a group of people who will argue for the existance of god with “how do you think you woke up this morning?” To them that is irrefutable evidence. I gave up a long time ago. Not only is god responsible for every measure of fluke, any misfortune is “all apart of his plan.” Rest assured he is up to something great even in the wake of tragedy. This guy can do no wrong. Trying to figure out a clever line to give such people pause, not going to happen.

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  • 12
    Ryan1306 says:

    In reply to #11 by plaidandpolkadots:

    I gave up a long time ago. Not only is god responsible for every measure of fluke, any misfortune is “all apart of his plan.

    But that idea renders prayers for god to change things pointless then considering it’s all ready made a perfect plan about how future events will unfold.

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  • 13
    Ryan1306 says:

    Not that I’m pointing that out to you, plaidandpolkadots. I’m sure you’ve thought of the same thing. It’s just such a basic problem with that particular religious logic that I’m all ways drawn back to.

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  • 14
    plaidandpolkadots says:

    In reply to #13 by Ryan1306:

    Not that I’m pointing that out to you, plaidandpolkadots. I’m sure you’ve thought of the same thing. It’s just such a basic problem with that particular religious logic that I’m all ways drawn back to.

    I have but that argument is lost on believers. I don’t like sounding so bleak. But Dawkins and Hitchens have launched cases for reason during debates with Christians that would put Daniel Webster to shame. I truely admire their persistance. But how many minds did they change? These are supposed to be his intellectual peers–of equal intelligence. And they use the same reasoning that would come from a voodoo queen to justify faith. People just have to come around in their on time, if it’s to happen at all. It’s exasperating and depressing to argue with Christians or any person of faith.

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  • People will pray for a loved one to be cured of things like cancer which will some times go into remission. But they will never pray for a broken bone to set itself or for a severed limb to grow back.

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  • In reply to #15 by Nash33:

    People will pray for a loved one to be cured of things like cancer

    Which would seem entirely pointless because, as has been discussed on so many occasions, God has apparently declared himself disinterested, or possibly more accurately, impotent when it comes to intervening in worldly matter since his little foray into mass murder (can you call it that when God does it) involving a boat, some animals, and lots of rain.

    I am just reading the good book and I was curious how apparently the pope attributed his survival having been shot to some saint. Clearly this goes against everything that Christians are taught, when bad things happen it is not God’s fault. But if he can intervene to spare the pontiff then why not countless innocent children abused by his priests.

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  • 17
    Sheepdog says:

    In reply to #8 by SurLaffaLot:

    What about all of the predicted or prayed for things that do not come about? I bet loads of people in the Philippines, for example, prayed for salvation in the face of typhoon Haiyyan, yet were killed en masse nonetheless. Do the religious count those as reasons for NOT believing in an omniscient or…

    My wife and I were in the Philippines when typhoon Bopha (the one before the last bad one) came through. It past South of Balamban where we lived, and we were right on the water. The proprietor of our residence complex told us on our return from refuge in Cebu City that she had moved all the staff into the big hall and prayed, which was why the cyclone missed.

    When I asked about the 200 hundred odd people on Midanao who died when the church they were sheltering in was washed away, she replied that they had not prayed hard enough.

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  • Coincidence or divine intervention?

    It’s called postdiction (prediction after the fact), or counting the hits and ignoring the misses. This is something the religious mind is really good at doing.

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  • 19
    Zeuglodon says:

    In reply to #6 by steve_hopker:

    As others say, I think there is a strong urge, perhaps ancient and deeply instinctual, to see patterns, fill in gaps and mount explanations.

    In reply to #7 by Red Dog:

    The other thing of course and I’m sure others will touch on this is that human beings are programmed to look for patterns. The reason why — or at least a hypothesis I find pretty convincing — is that being programmed to notice patterns has survival benefit.

    This “overzealous pattern-seeking” concept goes some way to explaining the phenomenon, but I think it needs more parts added and isn’t enough on its own. Optical illusions are also cases of overzealous pattern-seeking, as are hallucinogenic drugs, but it’s generally easy to convince people that there is an illusion at work in both cases. The next question is: Why aren’t people so cautious when it comes to explaining social or cognitive coincidences?

    After all, these are the ones people fight hardest for, whereas fewer people would rationalize their mistake on the optical illusion test. In fact, people only stick to an obviously wrong answer in such tests when peer pressure to conform to an obviously wrong mistake is introduced to the experiment. There’s a good article here on the subject of conformity. Here’s an extract from the conclusion, which suggests that conformity is so strong that it is best countered by conformity:

    In fact, effective nonconformity is in itself a group phenomenon. Psychological research from Asch’s to Milgram’s has shown time and again that, quite ironically, the presence of allies is the best predictor of nonconformist behavior. Our individual courage is a manifestation of group convictions and affiliations. The visible courageous individual is but the tip of a social iceberg. When you go against the group, you do it not on your own, but in the name–and with the backing–of another group. In other words, we can’t avoid conformity. What we can do is raise our own consciousness and become more aware of conformity cues. Then we can try to find good information and the right allies who will help protect us from ourselves.

    I think one should add that there are darker motives at work here. Cognitive dissonance is part of it – trying to resolve conflicts between what one knows and what has just happened – but I think self-deception, and by extension a striving to convince people that one is competent and moral, would introduce the distortion needed to explain why coincidences are treated with more gravity than they should be. In the past, group-living animals fighting for survival would be at risk of losing social support. In such a prehistoric context, our ancestors would have gotten by only if they convinced others that they were good people who knew what they were doing. Thus, they do that best when they convince themselves first before convincing others.

    Being wrong in both senses of the word could literally have been a life-or-death matter, at least probabilistically. Hence, you can get the evolution of the rationalizer, the guy who will shoehorn anything into the first and (to them) best story they invested in. This is especially the case if there’s a pre-existing community based around it that they can appeal to for support, or at least if they think that this is the case.

    I’m not saying this jigsaw is thereby complete. Ha, I should be so lucky. These ideas don’t specify any particular kind of content for such beliefs, and I think that needs explaining, as does the issue of how far a particular rationalizer can go in their stubbornness based on this logic (it might vary, for instance, based on personal inclination). Plus, there are probably a hundred other things I haven’t thought of.

    However, in general, I think people who claim coincidences as proof aren’t basing beliefs on said coincidences, but already had those beliefs and are using the coincidences to justify them, if contesting said coincidences has no effect on their beliefs. Otherwise one would have to suppose they jump from non-committally entertaining their new idea to defending it strongly. I might be wrong, but it depends on which came first: the pet theory, or the coincidences that justify it. It might vary from case to case.

    In Conclusion: The issue isn’t the pattern-seeking; it’s the investment in ideas that precedes it and the self-preserving stubbornness that follows, especially when there are perceived social (and potentially survival) risks to wavering from one’s convictions and coming across as an incompetent dupe. For such a game of survival, coincidences are potentially very useful because, like camouflaged animals towards their enemies, they are (in a sense) deceptive to others.

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  • 20
    Nick LaRue says:

    Personally if you want some good scientific arguments for this situation I highly recommend this book:

    Parnormality

    It’s a fantastic book with real life situations and some personal experiments. It’s even endorsed by Richard Dawkins!

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  • 21
    Red Dog says:

    In reply to #19 by Zeuglodon:

    This “overzealous pattern-seeking” concept goes some way to explaining the phenomenon, but I think it needs more parts added and isn’t enough on its own. Optical illusions are also cases of overzealous pattern-seeking, as are hallucinogenic drugs, but it’s generally easy to convince people that there is an illusion at work in both cases

    I disagree. I can see how you would think that but I think you are clearly wrong there. The optical illusions, while they are an example of over zealous pattern matching, are most likely not the same as the mechanism I was proposing.

    The optical illusions occur due to the problem of navigating in three dimensional space. We take it for granted but that problem is actually very, very complex. Doing things like detecting edges and surfaces has all sorts of complex issues that we didn’t really understand until we tried to solve the problem of computer vision.

    As an example consider taking a ball and moving it back and forth (near then far) in your field of vision. You perceive that as an object that does not change size or shape and that moves in space. Another interpretation of the data would be that the object was changing size and not moving, like a ballon expanding and contracting. We don’t see it that way because our visual system is tuned to assume that things don’t arbitrarily change size like that. It’s assumptions like that which cause optical illusions. And those assumptions for the most part are not in our higher brain centers. They are hard coded into our visual system which is mostly in the “lower” parts of the brain. Edge detectors for example aren’t even in the brain but are in the neurons that pre-process information before it gets to the brain. I would guess that you could replicate many if not all of the optical illusions in a computer vision system because a computer vision system also needs those assumptions about the world to be able to correctly interpret the physical world.

    The behavior I’m talking about is at a higher level of abstraction. At the level of concepts and hypotheses about other agents in the world with goals and plans. Of course there isn’t a clean division between the two there is a lot of overlap. Our concepts about the world very much impact the way we perceive it with our senses. But my hypothesis is that these two types of phenomena: optical illusions on one hand and a tendency to see agency on the other, are mostly different modules in the human brain and nervous system.

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  • 22
    Red Dog says:

    In reply to #19 by Zeuglodon:

    In Conclusion: The issue isn’t the pattern-seeking; it’s the investment in ideas that precedes it and the self-preserving stubbornness that follows, especially when there are perceived social (and potentially survival) risks to wavering from one’s convictions and coming across as an incompetent dupe

    I agree it’s probably not only over zealous pattern finding and probably the things you mention play a role as well.

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  • 23
    SaganTheCat says:

    3.5 billion years of evolution can build very efficient pattern-recognising animals. Or put another way animals very good at dismissing phenomena that doesn’t support the patterns they create in their minds.

    The main problem with coincidences is people have no idea to honestly calculate their odds. the question “what are the odds we were both thinking of thae same song then?” is incorrectly framed within terms of how many songs there are rather than investigating the chain of events that led to 2 people thinking of the same song at the same time (which, if you could do properly would increase the odds to 1:1)

    it’s mostly down to solipsism. god answering prayers for example. this doesn’t just mean god answered my prayer, it means god ignored billions of other more worthy prayers while dealing with mine. god being responsible for a spell of bad luck coming to an end; however you judge good or bad luck, they are both transient, they will come to an end. crediting god is done after the event.

    “proof” that prayers work is actually proof that most prayers don’t. this is handled in the mind by ignoring the facts. your son got good grades, yay god. a child from a superstitious country dies in agony from a water borne infection while their considerably larger family prays, ignore it, that’s god being mysterious, thanks to the fix-all of eternal life, it doesn’t matter because they’ll get more reward right?

    ignore the uncomfortable truths and belief is easy. let god off the good/evil spectrum by creating a good/mysterious spectrum for him. either praise the happy event or be in awe and wonder at the mystery behind the need to cause suffering.

    “eeevyl” is a religious invention. 666 is a (edited) number in the bible. after the event we relive everything looking for the pattern behind it. The most common coincidence is seeing faces in things. a brain evolved to recognise faces will do that. a brain ignorant of this might well insist they saw the face of someone no one has ever seen before, and others will see it and agree it’s definitely the person none of them has ever seen before

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  • 24
    SaganTheCat says:

    another answer could be “do you ever get the feeling the universe was created by satan, given to god to look after and he does such a shit job he blames the MD for everythting bad and takes credit when something good accidentally happens?”

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  • 25
    Zeuglodon says:

    In reply to #21 by Red Dog:

    The behavior I’m talking about is at a higher level of abstraction. At the level of concepts and hypotheses about other agents in the world with goals and plans. Of course there isn’t a clean division between the two there is a lot of overlap. Our concepts about the world very much impact the way we perceive it with our senses. But my hypothesis is that these two types of phenomena: optical illusions on one hand and a tendency to see agency on the other, are mostly different modules in the human brain and nervous system.

    Yes, I appreciate that there’s a distinction between the inevitable quirks that come from the way our perception is engineered, and the more abstract mental tools and logics required to turn the chaos of incoming information into a useful order, especially when trying to make sense of causal relationships. I also appreciate that such reverse engineering is extremely complicated and could take up a discussion of its own. What I intended to say was this:

    • that, compared with pointing out an optical or perceptual illusion to someone, pointing out a more abstract illusion like a social or cognitive one (such as those that inform people’s convictions that coincidences mean something) is much harder. It’s easier, for instance, to convince someone that the two lines are the same length than it is to convince someone that “Linda is a bank teller” is more probable than “Linda is a bank teller and a feminist”, or that the just world fallacy isn’t true.

    • that, in the context of explaining why coincidence seems to be persuasive to some people arguing for, say, religious beliefs, the level of explanation that suffices for explaining why people can be duped by optical illusions doesn’t delve deep enough to explain the strong confidence in coincidences people have when it comes to events that they think justifies their beliefs that something else is going on. This links in to the bullet point above, as no one I’m aware of acts like a lot hinges on optical illusions, but one could find examples of people resisting strongly when coincidences that support their beliefs are questioned.

    Of course, thinking it over again, I might just be reaffirming your point that it’s down to cognitive biases, since they include forms of motivated reasoning. However, I think it’s worth emphasizing that appealing to coincidences isn’t just an innocent fallacy committed by people when they fail at reasoning, but might also be a symptom of less commendable motives, not least of which is a kind of (possibly unconscious) identity politics against “rival” groups.

    To put it crudely but succinctly, I don’t think this is just a case of people being dumb, but of people doing PR, even on themselves.

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  • 26
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  • 27
    Nordic11 says:

    A major reason I believe in God is I have stories that go way beyond coincidence. It would be irrational for me to ignore the miraculous events that have happened in my life.

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  • 28
    Post-Amerika says:

    In reply to #27 by Nordic11:

    A major reason I believe in God is I have stories that go way beyond coincidence. It would be irrational for me to ignore the miraculous events that have happened in my life.

    Would you mind sharing some of these stories? It would be irrational for me to believe something without evidence.

    Sheepdog, fortunately, I haven’t seen much of those “not praying hard enough” stories about the most recent typhoon, Haiyan, but I have seen a lot of humanitarian effort directed towards the affected people. I would suspect that those stories are being whispered, though. As for the relief given to the Philippines, I say that it is because of the want for people to do good and to help those who need it. It is always a wonderful thing.

    I was in Japan on March 11, 2011, and I saw a lot of “that’s what you get for not believing in our god” messages floating through the popular social media sites. I had to wonder if people actually believed that their “eternally benevolent” god would legitimately destroy the lives of over 19,000 people (not to mention injuries and displaced people) for believing differently. Sickening really.

    Nick LaRue, thank you for the book reference! I will have to check that book out sometime soon (Robert Jordan and George R. R. Martin are in my current ‘to read’ list but I can always stockpile more).

    Nash33, I believe that it is because something you can see with your own eyes would discount a god’s existence. It is better that it remain an unseen medium because if, in the end, it fails, one can choose to believe that it is their god giving them a chance to show compassion and love to others who may go through the same thing. Counting the hits rather than the misses, as was stated by RDfan.

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  • 29
    Stephen Mynett says:

    In reply to #17 by Sheepdog:

    When I asked about the 200 hundred odd people on Midanao who died when the church they were sheltering in was washed away, she replied that they had not prayed hard enough.

    I have come accross this “not praying hard enough” excuse quite often and with various wordings, “not sincere in their prayer”, “not trusting enough in Jesus” are among them. Usually it is arguing with those who think prayer can heal, a pet hate of mine as I have spent a lot of time with disabled people. Apparently the RCC rip-off establisment at Lourdes is perfectly capable of curing anyone, providing they “pray hard enough”, are “sincere in their prayer” etc. It makes me sick that the faithheads can be so callous, not only are people left suffering and/or dead but it is their fault and nothing to do with the all-loving, all-caring pie in the sky.

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  • 30
    David R Allen says:

    In reply to #28 by Post-Amerika:

    In reply to #27 by Nordic11:

    I was in Japan on March 11, 2011, and I saw a lot of “that’s what you get for not believing in our god” messages floating through the popular social media sites. I had to wonder if people actually believed that their “eternally benevolent” god would legitimately destroy the lives of over 19,000 people (not to mention injuries and displaced people) for believing differently. Sickening really…

    Why does God beat around the bush. Why does she have to fiddle with the earths tectonic plates just enough, at just the right angle, to cause a tsunami to hit the coast of a country of non believers, and wipe a tiny percentage of these heathens out… Why is god so petty. Why not just kill all the unbelievers in the universe and have done with it. Get it off your chest god.

    Reminds me of that scene in the movie with Mike Meyers playing Dr Evil, talking to his son, and trying to explain why you just don’t kill someone, you have to devise a dastardly plan of malevolent evil to achieve your aims.

    If god is so shallow, that she can’t cope with people not worshiping her constantly, that she has to employ Dr Evil style genocides, she doesn’t have my respect. Or,…. She don’t exist.

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  • 31
    David R Allen says:

    In reply to #19 by Zeuglodon:

    In reply to #6 by stevehopker:_

    As others say, I think there is a strong urge, perhaps ancient and deeply instinctual, to see patterns, fill in gaps and mount explanations.

    I like your argument. Chicken and egg. The belief comes before the coincidental event, that is pasted onto the belief after the event.

    Explains why in conversation with fundamentalists, religious and global warming deniers, that they can’t be reached. Doesn’t matter what you put on the table, their brains are hard wired.

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  • 32
    QuestioningKat says:

    666 is a (edited) number in the bible.

    Actually the number is 616. Some pattern seeking individual wrongly translated the number into three sixes. It conveniently makes a better sounding story doesn’t it. 6 – 1 – 6 is just OK.

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  • 33
    canadian_right says:

    It isn’t uncommon for people to not understand statistics, and how strange things will happen when dealing with large numbers or long time spans.

    I always ask why god didn’t do something a little more helpful, a little earlier. If a building falls down and someone “miraculously” survives I ask why god didn’t just tell everyone to leave 10 minutes earlier.

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  • 34
    Nordic11 says:

    Hi Post-Amerika,

    It’s a valid request, but I would rather not share my stories in this venue (perhaps we’ll meet in a coffee shop one day and things will be different). I’m not trying to convince anyone; just adding my two bits. In reply to #28 by Post-Amerika:

    In reply to #27 by Nordic11:

    A major reason I believe in God is I have stories that go way beyond coincidence. It would be irrational for me to ignore the miraculous events that have happened in my life.

    Would you mind sharing some of these stories? It would be irrational for me to believe somethi…

    Report abuse

  • 35
    David R Allen says:

    In reply to #34 by Nordic11:

    Hi Post-Amerika,

    It’s a valid request, but I would rather not share my stories in this venue (perhaps we’ll meet in a coffee shop one day and things will be different). I’m not trying to convince anyone; just adding my two bits. In reply to #28 by Post-Amerika:

    In reply to #27 by Nordic11:

    A m…

    Courage Nordic, courage. I too was awaiting your explanation of the “miracles” that broke the universal laws of physics for the entire universe. Because that is what a miracle is, something that breaks the laws of physics.

    I know you won’t put them up on a web site like this because they will instantly be destroyed, but remember this the next time you are explaining your “Miracles” to someone, even a believer, you also need to explain why the miracle breached Quantum Mechanics, or the speed of light, or the chemistry of elements interacting, or Einstein’s gravity, et al, because with out attaching that explanation to your diatribe to the recipient person, you are failing to make your case for a genuine miracle.

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  • 36
    OHooligan says:

    In reply to #34 by Nordic11:

    I’m not trying to convince anyone; just adding my two bits.

    It must be difficult for a believer to hang around on this site. You’re wise enough to know there’s no point sharing your first-hand reports, which would become “anecdotes” here, and be readily ridiculed, or at best discounted as insignificant.

    One man’s divine intervention is another man’s coincidence, just as much as the meat/poison or freedom-fighter/terrorist dichotomy.

    I think it’s good that you contribute here, and aren’t driven away by the all too frequent sanctimonious* braying from the Usual Suspects.

    (* – or whatever is the atheist equivalent of sanctimonious)

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  • 37
    Ryan1306 says:

    Hi Nordic. I can understand why you wouldn’t want to share stories that are special to you to an audience that’s only going to view them
    cynically (including myself. I feel a little bit like a jerk for saying that but it’s the truth). But I would like to say that it seems to me that people of faith who have had lives where everything works out well talk about miracles that god performed for them and people who’s life has turn out very difficult talk about mysterious plans that may seem lame now but will be revealed to be great one day. I’m curious what you think about that analysis?

    For example, I saw a documentary about this poor guy who was wrongly convicted of murdering his wife and spent twenty-five years in prison until new evidence was found and he was released. He said this experience proved to him that god exists and intervenes in people’s lives. He thanked god ( and The Innocence Project, who’s lawyers and volunteers worked for free for nearly seven years and found the new evidence that freed him) for freeing him. But what about the people wrongly convicted and sent to death row that weren’t saved? What are they to think? Where was their miracle? Where is the miracle for anyone who experienced a terrible tragedy? It’s a question that’s been asked by many people. Most famously by Jesus of Nazareth, who while dying on the cross was reported to say ” My god, my god, why have you forsaken me”. Or in other words, where’s my miracle?

    Your a nice guy Nordic and like you said , your not trying to change anyone’s mind so I’m not asking you to prove your faith to me. I’m just curious about your take on what I’ve written.

    In reply to #34 by Nordic11:

    Hi Post-Amerika,

    It’s a valid request, but I would rather not share my stories in this venue (perhaps we’ll meet in a coffee shop one day and things will be different). I’m not trying to convince anyone; just adding my two bits. In reply to #28 by Post-Amerika:

    In reply to #27 by Nordic11:

    A m…

    Report abuse

  • 38
    ergaster says:

    In reply to #35 by David R Allen:

    In reply to #34 by Nordic11:

    I know you won’t put them up on a web site like this because they will instantly be destroyed

    Destroyed indeed. He actually gave an account of one “miracle” on the old site and, not surprisingly, it was extremely trivial. It even had voices in head:
    How To Make Atheism Matter

    He never got around to describe the other miracles he’s had… Maybe those involve fullblown apparitions?

    It’s interesting to read how a believer in miracles reason and you’ll learn some here:
    In Personal Experience Does Not Equal Evidence (Nordic begs to differ.)

    Oh, and here is an old classic. It gets really good when Nordic enters: RD Celebrates Reason Ridicules Faith

    Report abuse

  • 40
    rizvoid says:

    In reply to #36 by OHooligan:

    In reply to #34 by Nordic11:

    One man’s divine intervention is another man’s coincidence, just as much as the meat/poison or freedom-fighter/terrorist dichotomy.

    What about those people who have described ‘past life experiences’ under hypnosis? I have just finished reading “Many Lives, Many Masters” by Dr Brian Weiss. Have you read that book? Why do you think the doctor got sidetracked?

    Report abuse

  • 41
    QuestioningKat says:

    I can understand why you wouldn’t want to share stories that are special to you to an audience that’s only going to view them cynically (including myself. I feel a little bit like a jerk for saying that but it’s the truth).

    It is the truth…people can be cruel especially when we are anonymous. I certainly didn’t share anything when I was deconverting. I knew I would get slammed. I found that understanding logical fallacies and misperceptions were crucial. I eventually gave up my precious stories on my own.

    I find that there are common flaws in thinking when someone feels that a miracle occurred or that God has “singled” them out.

    Here is my checklist (cross-off list) or ways to help you sort through personal experiences in order to see their true source:

    During your extraordinary personal experience, did any of the following happen?

    A person with expertise stepped in at one point in the process——–This may have been at any time – the end, the middle, or the entire duration. I recall a man stating that he healed himself (after about twenty surgeries and many years.) Perhaps a few surgeons messed up, but evidently someone did what needed to be done. Time to heal also helped too. What would have happened if no medically trained individuals were involved?

    A random person offers excellent advice or help——–People really want to help other people. It makes them feel good and worthwhile. If you randomly ask someone something, it is likely that they might offer a good solution or know someone else who can help.

    People are closely connected to each other more than we realize. While discussing six degrees of separation at a dinner, someone joked that it would be awful if she was connected to the former president Bush. Well…..chimed the person sitting next to her….”He was my neighbor.” So, from you to me to this individual is Bush who probably knows every world leader. Think about this. scary huh?The world is smaller than we think.

    Something random appeared that seemed to fit perfectly into your life. Consider how you focused on this one event and ignored everything else. Perhaps you even moved other parts of the story to make it more important. If it didn’t poof out of thin air in your kitchen falling from the ceiling, it still was following the laws of physics.

    Events that seem to defy natural laws usually are overlooking something else that is going on Magicians distract you while something else unseen is happening. You see the trick but not the mechanics behind it. Consider how you may be overlooking little details or are unaware of some background information.

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  • 42
    sdelsolray says:

    When my wife and I purchased a new (used) car, I began to notice afterwards many cars on the road were the same brand/model, many more than I noticed before the purchase. Goddidit, no doubt.

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  • ‘Not believing’ is not the same as ‘Believing’. If the evidence is not sufficient then there’s no reason to consider that some thing is believable. Delving into the workings of circular nonsense arguments only leads to exasperation and lost time. If someone believes something on the basis of faith then their thinking processes are faulty and no amount of reasoned argument will remedy the situation.
    Go somewhere else, breath, stand in sun, have a cup of coffee…..

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  • For fans of American football, you ever notice how some quarterbacks point to the sky after making a touchdown pass? The same with field goal kickers who kick a successful field goal. What are they pointing at? God? And how they praise God after the game when they win? But what about the player who was beat on that TD pass or the team that lost? What are they saying to their God? Thanks a lot???

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  • 45
    QuestioningKat says:

    For fans of American football, you ever notice how some quarterbacks point to the sky after making a touchdown pass? The same with field goal kickers who kick a successful field goal. What are they pointing at? God?

    …maybe they are not pointing up and are actually making the “we’re number one sign” with their index finger.

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  • 46
    Blasphemyman says:

    In reply to #27 by Nordic11:

    A major reason I believe in God is I have stories that go way beyond coincidence. It would be irrational for me to ignore the miraculous events that have happened in my life.

    If your ability to reason fails to elucidate solutions?
    Then do some personal research, instead of allocating a solution to the action of imaginary sky fairies!

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  • 47
    Blasphemyman says:

    In reply to #17 by Sheepdog:

    In reply to #8 by SurLaffaLot:

    What about all of the predicted or prayed for things that do not come about? I bet loads of people in the Philippines, for example, prayed for salvation in the face of typhoon Haiyyan, yet were killed en masse nonetheless. Do the religious count those as reasons for N…

    That suggests that God needs his ears dewaxed!

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  • 48
    OHooligan says:

    In reply to #40 by rizvoid:

    In reply to #36 by OHooligan:

    In reply to #34 by Nordic11:

    One man’s divine intervention is another man’s coincidence, just as much as the meat/poison or freedom-fighter/terrorist dichotomy.

    What about those people who have described ‘past life experiences’ under hypnosis?

    Or one man’s past life experience is another man’s imaginary creation. Cue a song by the Incredible String Band, who dealt with this subject much better than I can. The song is Swift as the Wind, and the lyrics are here (among other places). The song is also on YouTube I think but can’t find it at present.

    Hypnosis is a strange and fascinating phenomenon. That doesn’t mean it proves anything even more exta-ordinary. It isn’t all that reliable for recovering memories of THIS life, and has – ironically – been abused during attempts to use it in investigations into child abuse.

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  • 49
    rizvoid says:

    In reply to #48 by OHooligan:

    In reply to #40 by rizvoid:

    In reply to #36 by OHooligan:

    In reply to #34 by Nordic11:
    Hypnosis is a strange and fascinating phenomenon. That doesn’t mean it proves anything even more exta-ordinary. It isn’t all that reliable for recovering memories of THIS life, and has – ironically – been abused during attempts to use it in investigations into child abuse.

    It doesn’t prove anything, I agree, but it raises a lot of questions for sure.

    In the book ‘Many Lives Many Matsers’, Weiss has written that his patient, Catherine she was called I think, told him under hypnosis things about the doctor’s personal life — things that the doctor had never told anyone, expect perhaps his wife and his children. If this is true, and looks like it is, then how did she get that information? Then in one of his interviews, he said he once hypnotized a Chinese doctor, who couldn’t speak a word of English and had to be hypnotized with the help of an interpreter. But, when she got in the state of hypnosis she suddenly started speaking English fluently, like a native…

    True, this doesn’t prove anything, but I think there no scientific explanation here as well….just a big question mark.

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  • 50
    Marktony says:

    I would agree with James Randi that there is always a scientific explanation. But then again, neither Randi nor I know the mechanics of mediumship!

    In reply to #49 by rizvoid:

    In reply to #48 by OHooligan:

    In reply to #40 by rizvoid:

    In reply to #36 by OHooligan:

    In reply to #34 by Nordic11:
    Hypnosis is a strange and fascinating phenomenon. That doesn’t mean it proves anything even more exta-ordinary. It isn’t all that reliable for recovering memories of THIS life, and…

    Report abuse

  • 51
    rizvoid says:

    In reply to #50 by Marktony:

    I would agree with James Randi that there is always a scientific explanation. But then again, neither Randi nor I know the mechanics of mediumship!

    Mediumship? I am talking about real people telling things they do not know of under hypnosis, speaking languages they can’t speak otherwise. There is no mediumship here. They did that under hypnosis, and the hypnosis was performed by a well known medical doctor, not a witch doctor. The doctor himself has said many time in his books and in his interviews that he tried to find a scientific explanation behind these events, but couldn’t find one. Maybe he forgot to contact James Randi?

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  • 52
    Marktony says:

    And why do you think that well known medical doctor wasn’t able to see through the pseudo-science of that pair of witch doctors, in fact Weiss was supporting them against Randi’s very valid criticism.

    In reply to #51 by rizvoid:

    In reply to #50 by Marktony:

    I would agree with James Randi that there is always a scientific explanation. But then again, neither Randi nor I know the mechanics of mediumship!

    Mediumship? I am talking about real people telling things they do not know of under hypnosis, speaking languages they can…

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  • 53
    rizvoid says:

    In reply to #52 by Marktony:

    And why do you think that well known medical doctor wasn’t able to see through the pseudo-science of that pair of witch doctors, in fact Weiss was supporting them against Randi’s very valid criticism.

    As Weiss said, the most important thing here is to have an open mind. Randi’s mind is already made up. There is a big question mark here, but Randi probably believes he’s already got all the answers..

    By the way, I wasn’t talking at all about medium ship or people communicating with dead people through mediums. I was talking about people saying remarkable things under hypnosis. Hypnosis. People remembering what is called past lives, people suddenly speaking languages they couldn’t speak, people remembering and accurately describing places they have never been to… things like that.

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  • 54
    Marktony says:

    Have you heard that expression “be careful not to be too open minded in case your brain falls out”.

    Seriously, do you really see much difference between past life regression and speaking to the dead?

    In reply to #53 by rizvoid:

    In reply to #52 by Marktony:

    And why do you think that well known medical doctor wasn’t able to see through the pseudo-science of that pair of witch doctors, in fact Weiss was supporting them against Randi’s very valid criticism.

    As Weiss said, the most important thing here is to have an open mind…

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  • In reply to #51 by rizvoid:

    , speaking languages they can’t speak otherwise.

    I think that has all the hallmarks of an extraordinary claim and would require extraordinary evidence. If it could be proved that a subject was suddenly fluent in a hitherto unknown language I’m sure James Randi would payout on his million dollar deal. I can see a huge opportunity for deceit, however. The subject would need to prove beyond any doubt at all, to have no prior knowledge of the foreign language.

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  • 56
    rizvoid says:

    In reply to #55 by Nitya:

    In reply to #51 by rizvoid:

    , I think that has all the hallmarks of an extraordinary claim and would require extraordinary evidence. If it could be proved that a subject was suddenly fluent in a hitherto unknown language I’m sure James Randi would payout on his million dollar deal. I can see a huge opportunity for deceit, however. The subject would need to prove beyond any doubt at all, to have no prior knowledge of the foreign language.

    Yep. I agree. If it could be proved, the whole discussion would be over, with or without James Randi and his one million dollar challenge. But the problems is, all claimants claim that when it happens, it happens suddenly and spontaneously. Very hard to obtain evidence for something that can’t be summoned at will….. In the meantime, what would be the correct position a skeptic should take in regards to these claims? Reject them all together, or become indifferent until some sold evidence is obtained either to prove these claims, or to refute them? Or something else?

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  • In reply to #56 by rizvoid:

    If it were my million dollars at stake I’d accept the challenge and make it widely known that I had a large team of investigators out there in case of an attempt at fraud. This would probably scare off most contenders including the identical twins perfecting an identity switch.

    In general, when cases like this come up, my initial reaction is one of skepticism. Perhaps it is intentionally dishonest, or maybe the individual thinks they are speaking coherently in another language when they are really just speaking gibberish ( with an accent).

    I used to dream that I would wake up with the ability to play the piano. It would have been lovely, no hard work or endless lessons. It was just wishful thinking on my part but I can imagine a disordered mind thinking that they were playing like a concert pianist.

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  • 58
    mmurray says:

    In reply to #56 by rizvoid:
    >
    Reject them all together, or become indifferent until some sold evidence is obtained either to prove these claims, or to refute them? Or something else?

    I would assume as a first guess that it is either deception or self-deception or probably a mix. For example here is a debunking of Eblen Alexander author of “Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey into the Afterlife”. These kinds of things tend to all apart when investigated carefully. But it takes effort to do that.

    My reason for making this my default assumption is not just cynicism but more the fact that were these things in some sense true they would overturn a lot of fundamental physics we understand really well. See Sean Carroll’s video.

    Michael

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  • 59
    rizvoid says:

    In reply to #57 by Nitya:

    In reply to #56 by rizvoid:

    In general, when cases like this come up, my initial reaction is one of skepticism. Perhaps it is intentionally dishonest, or maybe the individual thinks they are speaking coherently in another language when they are really just speaking gibberish ( with an accent).

    That’s not the individual making this judgement. The individual is under hypnosis, and it is the doctor who performed the hypnosis making this judgement. The individual has no clue whatsoever what is deep within his unconscious mind, he doesn’t even remember the things he had said during the hypnosis upon waking up from the hypnosis.

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  • 60
    rizvoid says:

    In reply to #58 by mmurray:

    In reply to #56 by rizvoid:

    My reason for making this my default assumption is not just cynicism but more the fact that were these things in some sense true they would overturn a lot of fundamental physics we understand really well

    So, in order to truly live a rational and sane lives, we all must become physicists, or at least have some basic knowledge of physics? What are they? What priests were back in the dark ages?

    How many people today really understand people like Bohm, Einstein and Bohr? Do you know what Bohm said about perception and reality?

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  • 61
    mmurray says:

    In reply to #60 by rizvoid:

    In reply to #58 by mmurray:

    In reply to #56 by rizvoid:

    So, in order to truly live a rational and sane lives, we all must become physicists, or at least have some basic knowledge of physics? What are they? What priests were back in the dark ages?

    I’m not quite sure how you get to this conclusion. No we don’t all have to become physicists. But yes if you want to understand the world around you then some basic knowledge science is necessary. Knowing what DNA is would be handy.

    How many people today really understand people like Bohm, Einstein and Bohr? Do you know what Bohm said about perception and reality?

    Bohm is a long way from a mainstream physicist regardless of how clever he is. I have never read that much of his stuff all though I have the implicate order book somewhere. I understand the mathematics of quantum mechanics. I’ve never been that impressed by writings about the philosophy of quantum mechanics.

    Michael

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  • In reply to #59 by rizvoid:

    In reply to #57 by Nitya:

    In reply to #56 by rizvoid:

    In general, when cases like this come up, my initial reaction is one of skepticism. Perhaps it is intentionally dishonest, or maybe the individual thinks they are speaking coherently in another language when they are really just speaking gibber…

    Sorry, I misunderstood that part of your post. I thought the random, uncontrolled outbursts in another language were happening in ordinary life not while still under hypnosis. If they were not recorded in any way, the hypnotist is the person making the claim. I can’t see how that could be verified unless every patient was filmed, and even then footage could be doctored. Sounds suspicious to me.

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  • 63
    rizvoid says:

    In reply to #61 by mmurray:

    In reply to #60 by rizvoid:

    In reply to #58 by mmurray:

    In reply to #56 by rizvoid:

    I’m not quite sure how you get to this conclusion. No we don’t all have to become physicists. But yes if you want to understand the world around you then some basic knowledge science is necessary. Knowing what DNA is would be handy.

    Wrong conclusion. I agree

    But going back to your previous post, you said:

    “I would assume as a first guess that it is either deception or self-deception or probably a mix. For example here is a debunking of Eblen Alexander author of “Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey into the Afterlife”. These kinds of things tend to all apart when investigated carefully. But it takes effort to do that.”

    When you say this, this hints you really do not accept that these claim could ever be true???

    I think if you approach a matter or a subject with mind already fixated on an opinion or a conclusion, I guess it then becomes really hard to investigate the matter objectively. Science, as you would well know, is open to ANY possibility pending evidence. One debunking doesn’t really prove every claimant in this field is wrong, does it? We have no evidence, but we still have lots of documented cases from all over the world.

    I am not trying to give these events a religious or spiritual context. I am just saying, it is possible the mind is far more complex than we can ever imagine. This is our mind speaking to us.

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  • 64
    rizvoid says:

    In reply to #62 by Nitya:

    In reply to #59 by rizvoid:

    In reply to #57 by Nitya:

    In reply to #56 by rizvoid:

    Sorry, I misunderstood that part of your post. I thought the random, uncontrolled outbursts in another language were happening in ordinary life not while still under hypnosis. If they were not recorded in any way, the hypnotist is the person making the claim. I can’t see how that could be verified unless every patient was filmed, and even then footage could be doctored. Sounds suspicious to me.

    Yeah, I agree. If there is no evidence, no one should believe anything.

    But Dr Weiss did mention in his book ‘Many Masters Many Lives’ that he had made recordings of the sessions when he had hypnotized that girl Catherine and she had said some remarkable things while being in hypnosis. Not sure though if those recordings are available or not.

    Personally, I don’t believe Weiss, but I guess I am also in a position where I can’t say he is lying. There is no evidence for both, and there is not enough information available to come to some conclusion. I am just curious. Maybe he’ll be proven wrong in the future with some solid evidence, or maybe we’ll make some amazing discoveries about the human mind.

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  • 65
    OHooligan says:

    In reply to #63 by rizvoid:

    it is possible the mind is far more complex than we can ever imagine.

    More than that, it is a fact that the mind is far more complex than we can ever imagine. We imagine with our mind, yes? So the mind contains the imagination, and is therefore more complex than the imagination, and what it imagines, can possibly be.

    My mind contains the universe as I perceive it, including whatever I think you are, along with everyone else, and everything else. Therefore my mind is bigger than the universe. Obvious, really. And no, I’m not getting all mystical here, it just seems to me to be a simple and self-evident fact.

    And mind is contained in brain, brain is contained in the real world. So the real world is also more complex than we can ever imagine. The good news is, science will never end, there must always be stuff we haven’t found out yet.

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  • 66
    mmurray says:

    In reply to #63 by rizvoid:

    When you say this, this hints you really do not accept that these claim could ever be true???

    I think if you approach a matter or a subject with mind already fixated on an opinion or a conclusion, I guess it then becomes really hard to investigate the matter objectively. Science, as you would well know, is open to ANY possibility pending evidence. One debunking doesn’t really prove every claimant in this field is wrong, does it? We have no evidence, but we still have lots of documented cases from all over the world.

    I am not trying to give these events a religious or spiritual context. I am just saying, it is possible the mind is far more complex than we can ever imagine. This is our mind speaking to us.

    But it’s not one debunking it’s lots. That was just a recent one I had to hand. There has been lots of research into parapsychology, NDE, OBE, etc. Nothing that has turned up that suggests there is anything going on. Also you always have the stumbling block that there is no mechanism for minds to transmit information, or save information between deaths, or move it around in space-time. That might be OK if there were large parts of fundamental physics we didn’t understand but the point of that Sean Carroll video is that at the level of the brain we understand the basic particles and fields. There aren’t any gaps for information to get in and out of the brain.

    You might like the article by Susan Blackburn on why she gave up research into the paranormal. http://www.susanblackmore.co.uk/journalism/NS2000.html. There is other good stuff on her site.

    Michael

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  • 67
    rizvoid says:

    OK. Thanks.

    In reply to #66 by mmurray:

    In reply to #63 by rizvoid:

    When you say this, this hints you really do not accept that these claim could ever be true???

    I think if you approach a matter or a subject with mind already fixated on an opinion or a conclusion, I guess it then becomes really hard to investigate the matter objectively…

    Report abuse

  • 68
    Nordic11 says:

    Hi everyone,

    Sorry I have not responded recently. We had a long weekend, cold weather and a lot of snow, and I got down right lazy and spent much time with my boys watching old movies and sipping scotch. I’m not sure anyone is till reading this thread but here goes.

    I think it’s interesting that ergaster remembered the miracle I described (I would have thought everyone forgot about it). I assure you that it was not trivial in my life or in the life of my friend. The responses to that post were also interesting but not coherent. Some thought I needed psychiatric attention; others chalked everything up to coincidence including the powerful images and voice I heard along with the astronomical odds of the verses my friend and I shared matching up. Everyone gave reasons for discounting the miracle, but there was no consensus about why it should be discounted, and none of the reasons explained away what I experienced. If I’m telling the truth, and I’m not crazy, supernatural forces were at work. As David Allen requested, if the miracle is true, laws of science were broken. It did not take a series of events that worked out for a person that were then attributed to divine intervention after the fact. If taken at face value, the supernatural was involved. I’ve had two other experiences such as this in recent years.

    Here’s the problem I see with the thinking on this site. When you are biased to believe that nothing exists but matter and energy, you can never except personal experiences that suggest there is something other than the material universe in which we reside. All such experiences are coincidence, lies, exaggerations or psychotic events even when there is little evidence for any of these alternative explanations, and the simplest answer is that supernatural forces were involved.

    It’s like me trying to convince you that I love my wife, but you don’t believe love exists because it is outside the realm of the scientific method’s use of observations, measurements and experimentation. My deepest feelings for my wife are explained away as random emotional responses or, worse, psychological trauma. I ask you to observe my behaviors of love toward my wife, but you dismiss it as efforts for me to keep her in my home because I like her cooking. It is impossible for me to prove, or even supply you with evidence that you find credible, that I love my wife because love is outside the universe of matter and energy, and you don’t believe in it. Still, we all experience love, and if you want to explain it away in biological, evolutionary terms, be my guest, but I don’t think you want to mention that to the one you love this Valentine’s Day.

    The morale of the story is personal experience count as evidence. Sure, lots of experiences are suspect but many are not. I’ve entertained the idea throughout the decades that atheism is right. it’s a shame you guys cannot toss off your tunnel vision and bias for moment and consider that perhaps the supernatural can exist. I’m not asking you to ran down to the river and be baptized, but at least you can pause and say, “maybe”.

    Now, back to my fire and scotch.

    Cheers everyone, enjoy a great evening, and if you live in the NE US, stay warm!

    Nordic

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  • 69
    steve_hopker says:

    In reply to #68 by Nordic11:

    I’ve come back to this thread after a break. One thing you cannot be accused of, Nordic, is posting then running, which I’m afraid a number of theists/believers have done. So for that reason alone I thank you for your input here and feel your points deserve serious attention.

    But even setting aside courtesy, I think your points should be answered. So –

    Here’s the problem I see with the thinking on this site. When you are biased to believe that nothing exists but matter and energy, you can never except personal experiences that suggest there is something other than the material universe in which we reside.

    I think this is essentially correct, though I might dispute ‘bias’ and substitute ‘viewpoint’. But yes, a materialist viewpoint will exclude non-materialist positions. But whether materialism is thereby wrong is another matter. For I think the logic of this point boils down to ‘people don’t believe what they don’t believe’. So theists cannot not believe in God, while atheists cannot. So the issue is – how or why do people change their minds?

    It’s like me trying to convince you that I love my wife, but you don’t believe love exists because it is outside the realm of the scientific method’s use of observations, measurements and experimentation.

    I’m less sure about this. For a start, this is a ‘straw man’ argument ie you are telling ‘us’ that we don’t believe love exists. Another is that ‘love’ can be described in many ways. But perhaps there is some valid point here, in that reductionism (love as so much chemistry etc) misses what makes love what it is. I think a materialist/scientific defence could be that the science of love is still very incomplete and that there needs to be a radical connection between psychology and brain science to validly describe love scientifically. If so, then maybe your point is not so strong in that it is a matter of historical context – we do not live in an age when adequate materialist explanations are available.

    The morale of the story is personal experience count as evidence.

    Your key point perhaps and a very strong one. In the end, most knowledge is based upon experience.

    I say ‘most’ because of uncertainties over where to place what we ‘learn’ from maths or logic. Strictly speaking, we can never ‘learn’ anything from maths apart from a few assumptions eg about numbers or lines. Since the rest can be worked out from those assumptions, in a way most maths is not ‘new information’ ie not ‘evidence’. Yet, in practice apart from a few geniuses people do have to learn maths, and it seems that maths can ‘tell us things we didn’t know before’, like relativity or quantum mechanics.

    But any lessons from maths or pure logic aside, our knowledge is from the experience of evidence our senses present to us. Put over simply perhaps, evidence may be either ‘direct’ eg I see it is raining outside, or by report – someone tells me it’s raining (under which latter category falls books, lectures, internet etc etc).

    So what I think is contended here is not the evidence of experience as such, but whether that experience is shared, or might be shared (eg a lecture) or is inherently private (such as an emotion): specifically, how inherently private experience can be accepted as valid evidence.

    There are many experiences that seem – admittedly only seem – to be common, at least to many. Not everyone has fallen in love, but surely everyone has felt tired or hungry, so while they might not be able to fully describe or explain such experiences, we can often ‘relate’ to them ie we can connect with someone’s ‘hunger’ through our experience of ‘hunger’.

    But what of experiences that are not universal, not shared and cannot be ‘related to’, such as, ‘religious experiences’? There are real problems of words and engagement here and a solution is not obvious. For from the outside of such debate, it is arguably not obvious both why religious people are correct in asserting they have a ‘real’ experience – nor that atheists are correct to deny that experience. This is because there does not seem to be a common ground for shared meanings. So (as often happens here and in other forums) each side ‘talks past’ the other.

    There is another aspect of experience – the empirical as a source of knowledge. This is that knowledge that is truly new cannot be rational. That is, there is no fundamental logical reason why I saw a blue sky yesterday. Of course, there are many logical steps to explain a lot of it – the effect of air on sunlight, local weather patterns etc. But if only logic was needed to say why I saw a blue sky, then that information was already with me, before giving that ‘evidence’. So (by this argument) there is something irreducible, irrational about the actual states of affairs we experience, as opposed to the theoretical models we conjure up.

    However, I am not sure that asserting an irrational core as underlying real and informative world evidence helps the religious view. If anything, religion (perhaps because it operates in the hard-to-account-for world of private experience) is often highly logically structured, over structured, eg systems of doctrine. This might sound strange coming from an atheist, but my contention is with the founding assumptions of religion. But if you accept the basis doctrines, a great deal does flow logically from them (ie in my view good logic based on bad assumptions). (Of course there are many illogical religious arguments but I’m not looking at them here).

    But I would also say that it is the very quirkiness and unexpectedness of scientific evidence that makes it so convincing. It is not neat or easy. There are gaps. Biology has mechanistic explanations, but most of it just is. There is no overarching logical reason for wombats or bananas, they just are.

    But you are right to assert experience as evidence, Nordic – it’s how to give it validity, how to communicate what may be incommunicable that could be your problem.

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  • 70
    petermead1 says:

    Human beings are creatures of habit, schedule and pattern. We attempt to construct order and familiarity in our environment because those things provide feelings of comfort and solidarity. When we encounter a situation that seems foreign, obscure, unstable or chaotic, we attempt to rationalize it in any way that we can because it creates the illusion of being less threatening and intimidating, even if the explanation is unfounded or downright absurd. While this sort of “magical thinking” may be difficult for someone to overcome, especially if they have marinated in it for an extended amount of time, here is a thought experiment that may elucidate that these seemingly miraculous occurrences don’t actually have any special meaning:

    Let’s say that we have a quarter and ample time and space to work. Imagine that I have decided to flip the quarter exactly one billion times and record the results of each flip (the side that lands face up in my hand) and the total number of flips to ensure that I do not miss a single one. It may take me days or even weeks to complete this task, but I will surely do it. After much time has elapsed, my perseverance has paid off; I have finally finished. Perusing my records, we noticed that there are times where the side of “tails” landed face up 17 consecutive times. Does this suggest that the next flip is more likely to follow suit than land on “heads?” Furthermore, as we continue browsing the results, we noticed a section where “heads” was recorded 367 consecutive times. Astounding! Surely, this MUST be a miracle! How could the coin land on the same side SO many times in a row?! It must be “lucky.” Right? Wrong. Each coin toss is completely independent from the one that precedes it and the one that will follow it. It has absolutely no bearing on any other flips. Each toss has exactly a 50% chance of coming up. There is nothing special or magical about these results. They simply ARE.

    Hope that helps.

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  • 71
    steve_hopker says:

    In reply to #70 by petermead1:

    Furthermore, as we continue browsing the results, we noticed a section where “heads” was recorded 367 consecutive times

    I agree with the your point about odds, but actually (pedantic detail!) I think only 30 consecutive heads would have odds of about 1 in a billion. So 367 heads would have odds of 1 in many many billions – a mere 1 billion tosses would be nowhere near enough. And a billion tosses would take some time – a rapid and continuous trial with one coin toss per second would I think take nearly 32 years. A billion is a very big number.

    But your point is still right – after all, there are many many people on earth doing things all day – there is a finite chance of odd stuff happening once in a while.

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  • . We had a long weekend, cold weather and a lot of snow, and I got down right lazy and spent much time with my boys watching old movies and sipping scotch.

    You present an appealing word-picture here Nordic11. I can visualise the snow banked up outside and imagine the idyllic family scene in the warmth of the home. I’m almost able to smell the aroma of smoke as the logs burn. I think an image of domestic bliss is being presented. One in which we can all share as long as we surrender our critical faculties. I know that sounds really uncharitable, but that’s what it would take in my case, anyway.

    If I were to experience an event such as the one you have described, my immediate thought would be that I had been hallucinating. It’s not unusual for people to experience auditory and even olfactory hallucinations. My mind would immediately spring to this as an explanation rather than call on the supernatural. This is exactly why I dismiss personal experience as evidence, for the most part. We are so susceptible to tricks of the mind…all of us!

    In reply to #68 Nordic11

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  • 74
    SkepticalOfSkepticism says:

    As a skeptic – a person “inclined to question or doubt all accepted opinions” – I find the discussion of God falls into this same category. People believe that God exists. People believe that God doesn’t exist. Absence of proof of God doesn’t mean that God doesn’t exist, and first hand accounts of seeing God, hanging out with God, or even being God don’t mean God exists either. I doubt that opinion as well. However, when it comes to science we do have tools to examine belief – through research done in a scientific manner. For example, Dr. Bruce Greyson’s talk on youtube “Is Consciousness Produced by the Brain?” refers to scientific studies that show there are people born without “functioning brains” who are conscious, experience functions normally in society, including cases of an honor student born without a cerebral cortex, and a student with encephalitis who is at Cambridge. He also shows how near death experiences, in thousands of cases, where a patient’s brain is either “clinically dead” or not functioning, are aware of their surroundings and report them when brought “back from the dead.” One could argue, based on his thousands of cases, his peer reviewed research (“Irreducible Mind”), that the brain in some fashion is preventing us from experiencing consciousness fully, as Dr. Greyson’s talk suggests.

    Belief in God, to me, is similar. Those who’ve had a paranormal experience who claim they met God, felt God, or had some kind of experience that made them believe they had a connection to something that can’t put into words other than “God” doesn’t mean they didn’t have the experience (nor does it mean that the experience was created by the brain, as Mario Beauregard’s research (“Brain Wars”) demonstrates that there is no “god spot” in the brain). It just means that we don’t understand, nor have the words for this kind of experience – other than “spiritual” “mystical” or “out of the norm.”

    As Greyson mentions in his talk, a neuron can’t create a thought – and yet there is no accepted agreement on where thoughts come from, or how they’re created, that there is some kind of fundamental tipping point that goes from a “gaggle of neurons to thought” is nonsensical. The same goes for coincidence. It’s like the word “snow” or “home” or “love.” There may be a myriad of experiences we use the blanket term coincidence to describe – when we haven’t really spent the time to define the possibilities – your version of home is different than mine, as well as the myriad of words for snow, water, or love. In terms of coinky dinks, whether it’s the many documented cases of people saying they “knew” their relative had died prior to receiving the phone call telling them they had, people who “sensed a disaster” and decided to not go to work on 9-11 or some other event, or whether a twin senses the pain another twin is experiencing – these may all be coincidence – or they may not. They haven’t been studied properly by science yet.

    And finally to the discussion of the “nonsense of prayer” – as it turns out prayer can be proven to have value via science. Prayer that has actually been proven to cure people – but not in the fashion that’s been discussed here. If you refer to Richard Davidson’s work at the University of Wisconsin in meditation, you’ll find that his studies of the brain prove that a particular form of Tibetan meditation can change the shape of the amygdala in the person doing the meditation – and thus “reduce” or eliminate depression. In other words – cure depression through meditation. The particular meditation is called Tonglen – which is a Tibetan form of a prayer – a person prays for the health of another individual in a specific way, imagining that person getting well. And the results are NOT that the person they’re praying for gets well, but they themselves get well.

    Hence why when I heard Davidson’s talk at UCLA the audience was filled with Los Angeles psychiatrists trying to find a way to get their teen-aged clients off of Prozac. The act of meditation can cure (or drastically reduce) feelings of depression. The act of prayer actually works – on the person who is doing the praying. So prayer does work, and God may exist, as there’s no evidence God doesn’t exist – and consciousness can exist outside the brain and science shows that it does so. I’m still skeptical of many things, but I’m glad science has stepped in to prove these.

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  • 75
    Zeuglodon says:

    In reply to #74 by SkepticalOfSkepticism:

    However, when it comes to science we do have tools to examine belief – through research done in a scientific manner. For example, Dr. Bruce Greyson’s talk on youtube “Is Consciousness Produced by the Brain?” refers to scientific studies that show there are people born without “functioning brains” who are conscious, experience functions normally in society, including cases of an honor student born without a cerebral cortex, and a student with encephalitis who is at Cambridge. He also shows how near death experiences, in thousands of cases, where a patient’s brain is either “clinically dead” or not functioning, are aware of their surroundings and report them when brought “back from the dead.” One could argue, based on his thousands of cases, his peer reviewed research (“Irreducible Mind”), that the brain in some fashion is preventing us from experiencing consciousness fully, as Dr. Greyson’s talk suggests.

    I question your claim to being a skeptic if you consider this “science stepping in to prove these”, not least of all because your demonstration of skepticism seems somewhat one-sided. Let’s just go over the most apparent points from this paragraph alone:

    Has Dr. Greyson submitted his work to any peer reviewed scientific journals, if he has time to do talks about his theories with the public? If his work really is ground-breaking, then he should have had a more dramatic scientific impact by now, especially considering the book Irreducible Minds was published nearly seven years ago and should have received substantial critical feedback by now.

    What is a person born without a functioning brain? The term is so loose that it could mean anything from “born with the brain completely dead” to “cerebrum has a few kinks in it”. This is especially relevant considering the fact that specific functions are localized, and many people with specific disorders can still get on well in society anyway, in part due to neural plasticity and the ability of cerebral hemispheres to co-opt the functions of each other, and in part due to how the substructures share tasks.

    On the subject of the students: How do they know that the student had “no cerebral cortex”? Did they genuinely have anencephaly, or is this an exaggeration? What counts as “no cerebral cortex”? What subject did he or she get an honour in? Why should encephalitis be considered such an impediment that a Cambridge student with one is somehow evidence for a mind-body dualism distinction? How thoroughly have the two cases’ brains been studied? Were the observations rigorous enough to pass scientific scrutiny?

    Concerning NDE’s: How much about the brain was or could have been known at the time? Were all regions considered: limbic system, cerebellum, brainstem, basal ganglia, etc.? How does one judge a brain to be “clinically dead”? Does that just mean the cerebrum, or the entire structure? How accurately could a patient’s testimony be compared with the timing of the brain’s activity?

    On the subject of “thousands of cases”: Are these anecdotes or data points? How well controlled was each “case”? How thoroughly analysed? Is it simply a catalogue of things modern neuroscience supposedly cannot yet explain, or does it attempt to provide positive evidence for the existence of an independent mind?

    Lastly, the general thesis: How would it answer the work of the majority of other neuroscientists which show that the mind is dependent upon the brain, such that specific mental incapacities come about when one knocks out a correspondingly specific portion of the brain? Is there a genuine contradiction being discovered, or is it just a lack of knowledge being treated as if it contradicted brain-dependence? Does it answer what the brain’s function is in evolutionary terms, how a mind would evolve, and does it fit well with what else we know about human anatomy and physiology? What testable hypotheses about the mind are actually being put forward, besides trying to negate the idea of brain-dependence? Can they, for instance, isolate the mind or suggest how to do so? Can they demonstrate that the mind can be affected completely independently of the brain’s workings, and if so, how that would work? In general, how reliable is taking however many cases and declaring a bold new scientific paradigm when neuroscience is still in its relative infancy? How does it help us solve problems such as mental disorders and illnesses? What framework is it producing, and how well-supported are the premises leading up to that framework?

    We’ve had NDEs, OBEs, and other non-materialist neuroscience claims on this site before. Given that most of them rely chiefly on arguing from gaps in modern neuroscientific knowledge and don’t provide anything more substantive than that, I’ll be interested to see how well your response fares, especially given your skeptical credentials.

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  • A common coincidence mistake is:
    Last night I tripped over just after walking under a ladder, what are the chances of having an accident just after walking under a ladder?

    The chance is tiny, but it is asking the wrong question, the real question should be ‘what are the chances that something surprising should happen that I feel the need to tell you about’… which is much less unlikely.
    i.e. you can’t focus in on the particular event after the fact.

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  • 77
    4as4is4 says:

    When a plane’s going down in terrible conditions, I guess there’s always someone aboard praying. Those non-coincident cases, where the plane crashes and everybody perishes, eliminate the control group, the null-hypothesis group.

    Basically, surviving accidents isn’t even a coincidence. It’s just that sometimes the forces of physics overwhelm our efforts. But if a plane crashed all the Mormons or Anglicans survived and nobody else, now THAT would be interesting. In a Ripley’s Belive-it-or-not way.

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  • 78
    Havefaith says:

    Belief in God is something that is done blindly. No one can really prove he exist. They just accept it by faith. There is no science in this. Just a open mind to believe there is something outside of ourselves.

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  • I’m late in this discussion but…..

    Have any sceptics checked out Padre Pio miracles?
    I came across a book of such. He appeared to sick children
    who didn’t know who he was until they saw a picture later.

    How does a child with an ill formed heart expected to die
    suddenly develop a perfectly formed heart to the amazement
    of the specialist about to operate.

    Why do people unexpectedly sense a perfume during
    ceremonies concerning him.

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  • 80
    Red Dog says:

    In reply to #79 by Chappy:

    He appeared to sick children who didn’t know who he was until they saw a picture later.

    According to the kids and to the people promoting the miracle.

    How does a child with an ill formed heart expected to die suddenly develop a perfectly formed heart to the amazement of the specialist about to operate.

    He doesn’t. Which means what you are describing didn’t really happen that way. Either what actually happened is exaggerated out of all proportion, or it’s totally fabricated, or the doctors made some error, possibly a major error, in their initial diagnosis.

    Why do people unexpectedly sense a perfume during ceremonies concerning him.

    One of the most interesting things about studying the science behind things like vision, smell, hearing is how much what we think of as perception is really interpretation. If you ever try to write a computer program to do even a small part of what the human nervous system does in regard to the senses you appreciate how insanely difficult things that we take for granted are. Understanding speech isn’t just difficult because of the problems of natural language parsing, even getting to the point where you can tell what the phonemes and hence the words are is extremely difficult.

    My point is as you look at how we process sense data it becomes clear that we do interpretation in every step of the process. if you flash a picture to people of a few dots in the outline of a triangle or a circle (but not at all the actual shape) they won’t report seeing a dotted line they will report seeing a triangle or circle as a complete object.

    So getting back to the smell stuff it is very easy to get people to all share in a false memory of a smell or sight with minimal encouragement. Not to mention of course con men can always just have an accomplice open some perfume or light some incense out of sight.

    And if I sound overly skeptical I can assure you that I’ve spent plenty of time over the years reading about UFOs, ESP, etc. It all sounded cool and I always believed in looking for myself. And what I found every time was that if you look hard enough and long enough you inevitably see some combination of con men and self delusion. After a while you realize that science is so amazing and cool it’s just not worth the time to keep checking out the latest BS story.

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  • 81
    crzylmy says:

    In reply to #18 by RDfan:

    Coincidence or divine intervention?

    It’s called postdiction (prediction after the fact), or counting the hits and ignoring the misses. This is something the religious mind is really good at doing.
    t
    I have been sitting here for about an hour skipping through most of them just read an occasional one,I thought about replying to some then I thought if I did, all the skeptics will jump on it and explain to me why it’s sounds impossible..so I didn’t bother until this one,it really got to me. I had never seen the word postdiction so I looked it up and it is very interesting so I thought what the heck I’m just going to put a few words in here and see what happens.coincidences I have always thought, just some thing that seems to occur in many people’s lives and I had a few in mine and it wasn’t until I decided to write a short history of my life for my children and grandchildren. You know how it is when you dead and gone the kids will always wish they had asked questions about your life, so it was while I was writing all of this that I discovered so many very unusual coincidences in my life. one friend among a bunch of us15-year-old girls on Valentine’s Day 1951 okay am giving my age away 🙂 it was just for fun, she told every girl the name of the person they were going to marry and everybody had a good laugh when she told me I was going to marry Mr. alphabet and that was that end of story. Two years later on Valentine’s Day I met the man that I would marry okay he wasn’t called Mr. alphabet but he did have 26 letters in his name I lived in England he came from Europe. A coincidence? Now remember when I started writing my life story,it was 14 years ago and I,had completely forgotten all of this, but memories were flooding back into my head.we have been married 59 years. While going through some of the old documents that he brought with him from Europe I asked him to translate them for me so that I could write it in English his father was a Carpenter.. mother was a farmer,they were born in the late 1800s now this is just my own opinion …his mother was so religious it was almost annoying, she was never seen,in a sitting position without a rosary beads in her hand,even when watching TV.. now I mentioned this because she died in a rose garden sitting in a garden chair holding rosary beads in her hand….when she was found it was thought that she was just sleeping..there was no sign of pain on her face the autopsy found no disease or illness just said her heart stopped beating. Another coincidence? she was very religious and died with the rosary. And she was the wife of a Carpenter, I told you this was strange.and I just got started,we were married in St. Peters Cathedral which was situated at the bottom of the hill about a mile below the village of Golgotha.so I married the son of a Carpenter in a church below Golgotha just another coincidence I guess. If I filled in the rest of the coincidences in my life it would take me way too long and this would become the longest letter in any forum 🙂 so if someone can tell me how so many coincidences could have happened in my life I would be very interested.I really mean it I’m sure there is a skeptic out there who can make it perfectly clear to me and I really would appreciate it. And yes I do have all the documents to prove it.

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  • In reply to #81 by crzylmy:

    Have you ever heard of self-fulfilling prophecies? Perhaps you were drawn to the man with the lengthy surname because of some dim recollection of the past? The rest of your examples sound like coincidences. It’s hard to imagine a life without coincidences as they happen all the time. If you flip a coin ten times and it keeps coming up heads, it’s unusual but sometimes these things happen. Coincidences happen in my life too and I don’t have a shred of supernatural belief.

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  • 83
    crzylmy says:

    In reply to #82 by Nitya:

    In reply to #81 by crzylmy:

    Have you ever heard of self-fulfilling prophecies? Perhaps you were drawn to the man with the lengthy surname because of some dim recollection of the past? The rest of your examples sound like coincidences. It’s hard to imagine a life without coincidences as they happen…

    Well thanx i knew there was at least one wise person who could explain… I never thought of prophecy that makes sense

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