A middle-aged man dreaming of the day when he can stop begging for scraps and write for a living.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Who has the power of prophecy?

Lots of religions claim the power of prophecy, to make predictions of the future that will come true. The New Testament claims fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy in various acts and events depicted of Jesus, but since the writers weren't themselves eyewitnesses we should dismiss that as attempts to shoehorn Jesus into messianic prophecy. Certainly, the Jews themselves aren't convinced.

I know of no religion that can legitimately claim the power of prophecy. All of the claims of prophecy fulfilled I've seen from Christians and Muslims are either so vague as to be meaningless or once again shoehorned by reinterpreting events to match the prophecy. Did you know that the Book of Isaiah predicted airplanes? Yup. A metaphor of people flying is meant literally flying although the prophecy somehow neglects to mention that the flying people are riding in a vehicle. Of course when the Bible records Jesus explaining how to distinguish a true believer, that's just metaphor and not meant to be taken literally. But I digress.

On the other hand, we do have access to a methodology that does allow us to make predictions that come true. It's not 100%, of course, because it requires humans to do the work supporting the conclusions. This method is called "science." What do I mean by that? Consider that in 1783 a humble English scientist named John Michell predicted the existence of black holes. It took us several generations before we could verify this, but he got everything right except one detail. That's better than any prophecy from the Bible I've ever seen, and it's no fluke. Scientists make accurate predictions of what we're going to find all the time, even when they're insanely difficult to verify. For example, it took physicists decades of research and expensive equipment to finally catch the Higgs boson based on the math worked out by Robert Brout, François Englert and Peter Higgs.

Does the existence of black holes or elementary particles like the Higgs boson have any mystical import? Do they herald the End Times or the arrival of an auspicious leader? Naturally, no. They're much more useful than that; they help us explain the natural world and verify the consistency of the results we can expect. The early calculations of Isaac Newton help us build faster, safer cars and transport food around our globe. The experiments in electricity led us to a world of possibility that wasn't possible before we learned how to harness it. Imagine what we can do as we learn more how to harness gravity or subatomic particles.

When a holy book begins to match that sort of predictive power, then I'll be impressed. Right now all I'm seeing in these claims of prophecy fulfillment is a lot of Texas sharpshooters.

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