Arguments for the existence of a god Part 2 – The Argument from Fulfilled Prophecy
Continuing our examination of why people believe in the existence of a god and the arguments put forward as to why everyone should believe.
Many people will cite that a prophecy that was written down long ago in a holy scripture (or made by a recognized prophet) has come true. This validates the holy scripture or prophet and therefore the god that is believed in by the followers of that prophet must exist.
There are a number of problems with this argument, although it does seem to be one that many believers find compelling, and this article intends to look at those problems and show why it does not follow that a fulfilled prophecy is evidence for a god.
1. Which god / religion will that be then?
The first problem with this argument is that followers of almost every religion make it! Christians, Jews Muslims, Hindus and the followers of smaller fringe religions (for the sake of simplify I’ll call them cults) they all do it. Which leads to the question that as they are almost all mutually exclusive, which one is actually right (if any)?
If a Christian makes a claim that a prophecy in the Bible makes the Bible true and therefore Christianity correct, and a Muslim makes a claim that a prophecy in the Koran is correct and that makes Islam true, which one is right, because according to the scriptures the two religions cannot both be true (You have to believe that Christ is the son of God to be a Christian and you must explicitly reject this to be a Muslim).
So it does not follow if a prophecy is fulfilled then it proves that a religion is true.
2. The Vagueness Problem.
Have you ever read a horoscope and the prediction made came true? Most people have, but have you ever noticed how vague some of these predictions are? In fact they can be written so vaguely that any number of real world events can fit.
A classic example of this would be “Two powers shall strive, and an empire will fall”. This could be prophesising a war between two counties or powers of which one loses e.g. the fall of the Saddam Hussein regime to the coalition forces in Iraq, or “The two free newspapers that were given out to evening commuters would battle it out and one of the papers would go bust, and the Evening Standard (or the company that owned it) would win out and be the sole free newspaper distributor.” Or the competition between VHS and Betamax for the VCR trade in the 80s and 90s. Or many other examples, a possible future prediction could be the forces of Microsoft and Apple will battle it out and Apple will vanish…
As you can see if it is vague of course one can point to it being fulfilled, many many times. So what, it proves nothing.
As a relevant side note the prophesies of Nostradamus fall squarely into this category.
3. When is that going to be?
Any prophesy that does not include some sort of timeline is not a useful prophesy. The reason for this is, what happens if the prophecy fails?
Usually when a prophesy does not occur it is either declared that it simply hasn’t happened yet, or when a specific timeline is given, (a classic example is that of the second coming of Christ, where he prophesised that he would return within the lifetime of his followers), the prophesy is simply re-interpreted.
Clear timelines must be given so that success or failure can be determined.
Also, if a prophesy is likely (or even conceivable) to occur (see below) then the more exact a timeline needs to be. E.g. “The forces of Microsoft and Apple will battle it out in the open marketplace and Apple will go bankrupt on 21st October 2019 at the close of business of the US Stock Market”
4. Is the prophesy already likely to occur?
If the event that the prophesy is predicting is already likely to occur then is not really much of a prophesy. For example, I prophesise that an earthquake will hit San Francisco at some point within the next ten years, this is not going to be very impressive if it does happen as the city has a past history of regular earthquakes and it sits directly on the San Andreas Fault (again referring back to the issue of timeline, an exact time might make the prophesy better, but you can still chalk things up to chance).
Even if it is not very likely, when you look at chance, the number of countries, people and events that have happened over the past 10,000 years or more of recorded history then even unlikely events become probable.
5. Did the event the prophesy predict actually occur?
One very key example of this is when Christians say that the coming of Jesus in the New Testament fulfils the prophesies of the Old Testament.
Leaving aside for the moment the problem of a prophesy in the Bible being fulfilled in the Bible, can we be sure that any of this actually happened? Where is the evidence? Of course for this specific example we have practically none. It may just be the case (and in this example it is certainly the most probable explanation) that someone has made up the events that is said to fulfil the prophesy.
Also under this section we must look to see if the prophesy has been altered to “make it fit” the events which it is describing. If it has then it must be dismissed.
Again, what we ask for is evidence, the key element to rational thinking.
6. Is the prophesy self fulfilling?
If a prophesy is made and there are enough people who are aware of it, in a position and with a desire to make it happen, then it will happen.
An example often alluded to by Christians and some Jews is the founding of the state of Israel. However when you look closely at its founding in 1948 it happened because people made it happen. They worked together and founded the new state and at least some of them were aware and were motivated by the prophesy. No gods were needed in its founding (not to mention that the prophesy had not time scale and scolars now believe from evidence, there’s that word again, that that prophesy was about the founding of Israel by the Maccabes).
Another potential prophesy is that I may predict a united Ireland within the next 50 years. It is possible (although not for a while under current political and religious divides), and there are people who desire this to happen and are working towards it, and if it did happen it would be because of these people and their work and not because I predicted it!
7. A prophesy must be written down before the events which it predicts.
This may seem a little obvious but some historical documents that have been discovered describe events that happened before or during the times they were written and have been mistaken for prophesies.
The documents must be examined and evidence collected!
Any prophesy that has ever been made to date will not survive the seven points above. The conclusion is very clear there is no prophesy that is reliable and has come true which actually shows that a god exists. So the next time someone points to a prophesy and claims that as evidence for their god, question it using the above points as a guide and again demonstrate that this is not evidence.
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