Wednesday, August 12, 2009


Recipes to Cook up Your own Real Life Miracles

Recently, a staunch Roman Catholic friend presented me with the story of the Miracle of Fatima, challenging me to satisfactorily explain the event. This is an event at which somewhere between 30,000 and 100,000 people claimed to have witnessed a miracle… an event that has been accepted by the Roman Catholic Church as a bona fide miracle.

Events like this, are supposed to represent the proof of the divine required by those pesky skeptics… proving beyond a reasonable doubt the magic powers of Yahweh… and thereby subsequently also then give legitimacy to the miracle stories of Jesus. One conclusion simply follows the other… right?

This event, the Miracle of Fatima, or the Miracle of the Sun, or the “O Milagre do Sol” if one would like to be suave and say it in Portuguese, took place in 1917 over the Cova da Iria fields near Fatima, Portugal. The primary investigator was a Catholic priest, Father John De Marchi, who went to Fatima and conducted research into the alleged miracle… from 1943 to 1950. In 1952, he eventually produced a book on the subject (currently still available at all tourist hot spots in Fatima with many of the proceeds going to the church no doubt), entitled, “The Immaculate Heart”.

Excerpts and details from Di Marchi’s book are quoted and referenced nicely on Wikipedia at: .

One thing to note while reading through the information is that the numerous discrepancies within the reports get downplayed in a big way. One can easily see a constant theme by De Marchi to “harmonize” the reports as best as he can by saying things like, “Reports do vary; impressions are in minor details confused, but none to our knowledge has directly denied the visible prodigy of the sun”.

At first glance, the O Milagre do Sol is impressive, but only at first glance.

A fact that De Marchi buries deep within his book, is that many witnesses who were present at the event, believers and non-believers, didn’t see anything except the haze covered sun and the multitudes of enraptured believers around them ranting, praying, and prostrating themselves.

But this is an important fact.

Furthermore, three children claiming to have received visitations by the Virgin Mary herself, and who said that a miracle would occur that particular day, were the source of the entire tumult.

There is another conveniently buried fact. Joe Nickell reports in his “Examining Miracle Claims”, published in the March 1996 issue of Deolog, that the mother of the main child involved, 10 year old Lucia Santos, said that Lucia was, “Nothing but a fake who is leading half the world astray”.

And more, a Friar Mario de Oliveira who reputedly knew the young Lucia well said that she was living in a “delirious world of infantile fantasies”, and suffering from, “religious hallucinations”.

I should note here that the mother and Friar completely recanted these earlier statements. But I do not find this strange at all. Given how the events played out eventually, I might recant too if my town and child suddenly became the focus of attention with international tourist leaving hefty donations around the clock.

So, one should already ask the question of whether or not divine visions are involved here or simply bored kids?

But what about the Miracle of the Sun itself; even if the kids were basically telling stories of fantasy, somewhere between 30,000 and 100,000 people reported the sun doing many strange things, like spinning and zigzagging. Furthermore, the whole reason people were there at Fatima was because the children had already predicted that a great miracle was going to happen. The case for a miracle sounds interesting. It is well know and documented that the prediction of a miracle was published days in advance by all the local papers. So how is the miracle explained?

Let’s look at this.

What exactly were the strange happenings that became, “The Miracle”?

Well, it depends on who you read and who is talking. We’ll look at witness reports in a moment but for now it should be noted that the 1917 newspaper O Sếculo recorded and published the reports of many witnesses but by the time De Marchi showed up to collect data for his book… it was 1950. This is 33 years later. Sure, many of the original people were still around but the fact is that the stories had plenty of time to grow in the re-telling of the tales.

The fact that such tales DO start to grow in an oral tradition is a phenomenon so well documented that I won’t even go into it in detail here. However, I will say to remember and keep in mind the fact that folk stories do evolve as they are told and the same folk stories evolve in different directions in different communities so that we often end up with regional variations of the same folk story.

Now, it is often pointed out by believers that natural explanations for the miracle at Fatima end up being too complex to work.

First, a very rare weather phenomenon that “just happens” to occur on exactly the day of the predicted miracle seems too unlikely to the believer. Also, the sun seeming to dance and spin in the sky isn’t well explained by any weather phenomenon we know of. So I need to address this issue.

Second, the explanation of a Collective Hallucination, which is rejected in Di Marchi’s book of course, does seem on the face of it, too fantastic… for how could so many people “see” the same Hallucination? So I need to address this issue too.

I have seen numerous explanations by skeptics that attempt to reduce the Fatima Miracle to a simple weather phenomenon and/or a Collective Hallucination and personally, if this is all there was to it, I wouldn’t be very satisfied either.

What is needed is a simpler way to understand what happened at Fatima in 1917… an explanation that can be tested against empirical evidence and is easy to understand at its core.

Here is, in my humble opinion, what most likely happened at Fatima in 1917.

1. I posit that no ultra rare weather phenomenon is needed at all.
In fact, while driving to work this morning (23 Jul 2009), my 8 year old boy mentioned that the sun looked just like the moon. He was right. It was a foggy morning, and as the sun just began to attack the haze, it sharply appeared as a moon sized silver/grey bright disc and we could actually gaze directly at it, for several seconds anyway, without even squinting much.

Guess what my son said after only about 10 seconds of looking at it and returning his gaze to the road? He told me, “All the colors are messed up”.

He saw dancing spots, random changing colors on various objects, and noted that things he knew were certain colors were the wrong colors, like signs and traffic lights. For myself, when I looked away, the image stuck with me for a short while, somewhat seeming to move. But don’t take my word for it, because this is a common phenomenon well described by many weather sites, look it up yourself.

How does this relatively common occurrence of the sun being filtered through fog and clouds, resulting in a sun that looks like a bright full moon, relate to the Miracle of the Sun and how in the world would something so mundane convince people of a miracle?

Let’s take a look at what people saw… according to newspaper reports at the time and then afterwards in De Marchi’s book.

Here are the most common reports of the miracle from 1917 (in addition to the sun oddities, the 3 children who were also present at the event claimed that they also saw Jesus, the Virgin Mary, and Saint Joseph… though only the 3 children saw them). The newspaper reports can be boiled down to 5 basic descriptions:

A) Lots of reports that the sun appeared as an opaque disc.

B) Lots of reports that the sun appeared as an opaque disc and spun around like a disc.

C) Lots of reports that the sun appeared as an opaque disc and spun around like a disc and there were multi-colored lights.

D) Lots of reports that the sun appeared as an opaque disc and spun around like a disc and there were multi-colored lights and it eventually seemed to zigzag, falling to the earth.

E) Lots of reports from several people who reported that their previously wet clothing became dry.

Here are some of the reports from De Marchis’ 1952 book as quoted at Wikipedia (

1. "Before the astonished eyes of the crowd, whose aspect was biblical as they stood bare-headed, eagerly searching the sky, the sun trembled, made sudden incredible movements outside all cosmic laws — the sun 'danced' according to the typical expression of the people."

2. "Before the astonished eyes of the crowd, whose aspect was biblical as they stood bare-headed, eagerly searching the sky, the sun trembled, made sudden incredible movements outside all cosmic laws — the sun 'danced' according to the typical expression of the people."

3. "…The silver sun, enveloped in the same gauzy grey light, was seen to whirl and turn in the circle of broken clouds… The light turned a beautiful blue, as if it had come through the stained-glass windows of a cathedral, and spread itself over the people who knelt with outstretched hands… people wept and prayed with uncovered heads, in the presence of a miracle they had awaited. The seconds seemed like hours, so vivid were they."

4. "The sun's disc did not remain immobile. This was not the sparkling of a heavenly body, for it spun round on itself in a mad whirl, when suddenly a clamor was heard from all the people. The sun, whirling, seemed to loosen itself from the firmament and advance threateningly upon the earth as if to crush us with its huge fiery weight. The sensation during those moments was terrible."

5. "As if like a bolt from the blue, the clouds were wrenched apart, and the sun at its zenith appeared in all its splendor. It began to revolve vertiginously on its axis, like the most magnificent firewheel that could be imagined, taking on all the colors of the rainbow and sending forth multi-colored flashes of light, producing the most astounding effect. This sublime and incomparable spectacle, which was repeated three distinct times, lasted for about ten minutes. The immense multitude, overcome by the evidence of such a tremendous prodigy, threw themselves on their knees."

6. "I feel incapable of describing what I saw. I looked fixedly at the sun, which seemed pale and did not hurt my eyes. Looking like a ball of snow, revolving on itself, it suddenly seemed to come down in a zigzag, menacing the earth. Terrified, I ran and hid myself among the people, who were weeping and expecting the end of the world at any moment."

7. "On that day of October 13, 1917, without remembering the predictions of the children, I was enchanted by a remarkable spectacle in the sky of a kind I had never seen before. I saw it from this veranda…”

Does anyone see a pattern developing here?

First off, the earlier reports are much more basic, although there are intense descriptions of powerful emotions running through the crowd. The later reports described by De Marchi are much more flowery and a lot more “drama” has been interpolated into the descriptions.

It is good that the stories were eventually compiled by De Marchi and written down, even if he was a highly biased recorder. One can already see the rich details being added to the stories by the time De Marchi is writing, and I have no doubt whatsoever that if the stories were still being passed along today through oral tradition… the sun would be described as having actually landed on earth and bounced up and down.

I see two things going on here. The first is that the tendency to spice up tales as time passes has already started by the time De Marchi arrives. What were once descriptions of an opaque, silverish sun, sometimes reported as seeming to be spinning, sometimes reported as seeming to be combined with colors, sometimes reported as seeming to be moving, has become a “dancing sun” by 1950. There is nothing outrageous or out of the ordinary with this, it is what one expects to happen. It would be weird if it didn’t happen.

So, no real freak weather phenomenon needed, and the stories PERFECTLY fit the pattern of a growing oral tradition.

2. I posit that the question now is how mundane visual irregularities produced by looking at the sun, even in its dimmed cloud filtered form, evoke reports of a miracle?

Easy, combine it with a crowd full of religious devotees. Once someone sees something and shouts out something like, “The sun is spinning”, and bingo, it starts a chain reaction with a sort of ripple effect going through the crowd. It’s all downhill from that point. This isn’t a Collective Hallucination at all; it is simple crowd psychology, Mass Hysteria. This is quite a different thing from hallucinating.

I mentioned earlier that I would present empirical evidence. So let’s get to that. The nice thing about what I’m describing is that it can and has been witnessed in action! One doesn’t have to just sit and hypothesize; one can actually observe the wonderful combination of weather, emotional crowds, and religion in action.

In 1983, the fun began again as the Virgin Mary began to make an annual appearance at the farm of Nancy Fowler outside of Conyers, Georgia.

The resulting crowds at one time reached more than 80,000 people. Now, Nancy Fowler was the only one who could see or hear the Holy Virgin, but guess what others did experience? While the Virgin was allegedly in magical communication with only Nancy Fowler, many of those attending claimed to witness remarkable things, such as the sun spinning and dancing in the sky (gee does this sound like some other big miracle claim, i.e. Fatima??).

This time however, Rebecca Long who was the President of the Georgia Skeptics was present. She set up a telescope that featured a solar filter and let people actually observe the sun… seeing that it actually wasn’t spinning or dancing. Not many of the folks took her up on the offer and hundreds of people all around her continued to claim they were witnessing a miracle, completely ignoring her.

Optical nerve illusions caused by staring at or near the sun are boringly normal, dancing spots, color abnormalities, the sun appearing to vibrate sometimes appearing as spinning or moving back and forth in the peripheral vision… typical. What is atypical is people attributing such things to a miracle. But clearly, when the crowds want to believe, nothing will dissuade them as Rebecca Long discovered to both her chagrin and amusement.

You will be glad to know that Mary no longer visits the Fowler Farm, but a well is still there that had holy curative powers ascribed to it… supposedly blessed by Jesus himself. Ironically, the well is now marked with a sign that warns drinkers of health risks, as it has tested positive for harmful levels of bacteria (hey Jesus never claimed to have a degree in Laboratory Science).

The annual visits by Mary no longer occur as she announced in 1991 that attendance was too low… apparently the Union of the Saints works on strict quotas.

So, remember that incident at Fatima in 1917… it’s not really so impressive under the light of day, so to speak.

As for the non-believers who made reports of the spinning, moving disc, it is difficult to know what their actual belief status was. Were they simply non-Catholics and therefore called non-believers; were they agnostics but still steeped in Catholicism and overly impressed by the crowds? I don’t know.

What I do know is that I myself, an atheist, have seen the sun “appear” to move around. The ingredient lacking for myself is a motivation to fervently attribute it to a god or goddess. And I fully realize, that if I see the phenomenon again, which I will sometime, I’ll get the same result… maybe I can even add shifting colors and the illusion of spin if I stare a little longer.

Finally, what about people clothes drying suddenly?

According to the reports at the time, it has just finished raining. Shortly thereafter the sun began to break through the clouds and the subsequent event and commotion (so-called miracle) lasted for about 10 minutes.

With all the commotion, it isn’t surprising that somebody somewhere suddenly “realized”, after praying or staring up at the sun for 10 minutes, that their clothing was no longer damp. The fact that such a person would attribute the drying of their damp clothing to miraculous causes… is hardly surprising. The idea that the person might spread the gossip of the “dried clothes miracle” is also less than surprising.

Time to Cook:

With everything in mind, here are two delicious recipes for cooking up miracles. They have been documented by numerous religions and cultures throughout the world, try one for yourself!

The Two Recipes:

Recipe #1 (for dudes like Benny Hinn, Jerry Falwell, and Paul of Tarsus):

1. Start by adding the ingredient of any person who sees a miracle story as furthering their cause… whatever cause that may be, good or ill.

2. Add into the mix true believers who want nothing more than to have their faith verified.

3. Take your first ingredient (the person with a motif) and combine it with your second ingredient mixing well by adding in an appropriate miracle story.

4. Finally, for prep and proper rising of your dough (i.e. cash… I love puns), quickly add in the idea that questioning the beliefs laid out equate to something negative and should therefore be ignored, like the idea that doubt itself is the enemy of your faith, or that the influence of an evil deity making you doubt is present and needs to be expunged!

Recipe #2 (for events like Fatima):

1. Start with a strong dose of powerful belief.

2. Mix it with a heavy dose of religious anticipation and a trance like state of your choosing (here you can substitute a trance like state from any religion you wish… i.e. a Pentecostal in ecstasy in a tent in Alabama, or a Haitian dancing in a rite of voodoun in the Caribbean, a Yanomamo Indian Shaman of the Amazon Basin in the Reahu ritual, or a fervent Catholic obsessing over the mystery of the Virgin in a trance like prayer state… prayer beads optional).

3. In preparation, solitary confinement works (see the Apache Indian recipe for this alternative), but it is even more tasty and pungent in large crowds (i.e. whereas one person may interpret the feeling of a bead of sweat rolling down their back as a bead of sweat rolling down their back, that same person when surrounded by a hundred people shouting, “I can feel the touch of the Virgin upon me”, may then be at ease and feel free to suddenly yell, “Yes I feel the Virgin caressing my back with her holy finger”… never mind that the holy finger eventually travels down the persons butt crack…)

4. Next, add in staring at the sun, or at least up into the sky for long periods of time which is of benefit and helps increase the taste of the visual incongruities.

5. Finally, after combining all the ingredients, add long hours in the heat, directly under the sun is good, and lack of food and water for a few hours helps add more flavor by the way.

6. Mix thoroughly and then sit back and enjoy the spectacle (not of any miracles, but of the deluded people).

Cook’s Special Note:

For the best tasting recipe of all, use Recipe #1 first, then combine it later with Recipe #2… the result will be SUPER TASTY and you can have an epic level miracle!!

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