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Inductive Problem of Prophecy

By Paul So ~

Why do people find apocalyptic prophecies so convincing? One of the important reasons why people find prophecies convincing is because prophecies make predictions that have already happened either a while ago or recently. But is that a good reason to be convinced by prophecies? I am going to argue why that particular reasons for the authenticity of prophecy fails because essentially prophecies are using inductive reasoning in order to come to a far-fetched supernatural conclusion. In order to my this argument intelligible and comprehensible, I am going to explain what inductive reasoning in order to show afterwards why prophecies are actually mundane human abilities that disguises itself as supernatural vision. I am also going to show why there is an inherent flaw within prophecies.

Prophecies are actually mundane human ability to predict the future by inferring what will occur from what has consistently and uniformly occurred before. This ability is called inductive reasoning, which is something scientists use (although there are variety kinds of inductive reasoning). The gist of inductive reasoning is this: Suppose that you are in a very large mansion with approximately a hundred rooms with closed doors. To your curiosity you want to explore all these rooms in one week, so you decide to check out these rooms. When you went in front of the first room you opened the door to find a portrait of the owner, you went to the second room to open the door to find a same portrait, and the third room, and so on. Each time you went to the rooms (let’s say forty times already) you find a consistent pattern among these rooms you explored: unlocked doors and the portrait of the owner. With inductive reasoning, you will suppose that the rest of the rooms will probably have unlocked doors with a portrait of the owner. This is a probabilistic kind of reasoning, but it is nonetheless effective in both science and everyday living. It is very natural for us to come to a general conclusion based on multiple similar experiences.

In the similar respect, you would find that past events have consistent uniformed patterns to the point that you took it for granted. You would unsurprisingly, yet perhaps accurately, predict that the next event will probably be like the past events. In this respect, this is what prophecies really are: they predict natural disasters, wars, diseases, rumors of wars, economic collapse (fall of Babylon in Revelation), persecution against religious minorities, etc. Yet the funny thing is that all of these events can already be predicted without prophecies because with inductive reasoning and our basic knowledge of human history, we predict that similar future events will occur similarly. It is simply mundane and unsurprising.

However what makes prophecies more interesting is that it predicts a supernatural event in which God (for Christianity) will suddenly appear to rapture all believers (for evangelicals). Yet this is problematic precisely because of this unusual line of reasoning: consistent and common patterns of events of natural disasters and human atrocities entail an extremely rare and unprecedented future supernatural event? To say that there will probably be natural disasters and human atrocities in the future will be unsurprising and reasonable, due to inductive reasoning, but to suggest that from these common and consistent patterns of natural events entails a supernatural event? How the hell did you get from natural events (disasters in particular) to the supernatural? Or to rephrase it in another similar form of question: How the hell did you get from consistent and common patterns of events to an extremely unprecedented and very rare event? Sure, there have been many unprecedented and rare events, but many of them were natural and human events that are considered rare. There seems to be something very weird in this line of reasoning.

Of course, from an emotional standpoint, if one is in the state of fear, such unusual line of reasoning will not become obvious to them. But from the reasonable and mundane standpoint, a lot of these troubling events that we are facing today are to be reasonably expected given what we know from human and natural history: we had many wars, genocides, exploitation, homicides, earthquakes, hurricanes, floods, and diseases. But what about Global Warming? It probably has already happened millions of years ago when huge volcanic eruptions happened in Serbia. What about the economic crisis today? Although its magnitude is unprecedented, economic crisis has happened before such as the Great Depression. What about 9/11? Terrorist already tried to blow up one of the towers before 9/11. The reason why these kinds of events may seem unprecedented for many people is because we tend to forget that similar events (though different in certain respects) have happened before.

Perhaps this is where History and Science becomes useful to humanity: it can remind us that what we are experiencing now is possibly not very new in the large scheme of things. Many of the things that we experience to be new are not actually all that new in the natural and historical standpoint. We shouldn’t find them all that surprising or unexplained, but then again our own personal lives still have special moments that we can cherish.

So what are wrong with prophecies? Prophecies seem surprising to many believers (and sometimes doubters) because of our ignorance of the historical and natural pasts as well as the abuse of our inductive reasoning. Also when we can easily predict these natural disasters and human atrocities with inductive reasoning independently of prophecies, it seems superfluous to explain the apparently unexpected events with prophecies than with inductive reasoning. It is also precisely because prophecies used inductive reasoning and then abused it in the end that makes prophecies less appealing. What makes prophecies an abuse of inductive reasoning is when it concludes a rare and unprecedented supernatural event from very common and consistent pattern of natural events (including human events), which certainly seems like a very large leap.