A prophet is someone who has the power to make predictions about the future (prophecies). Religious prophets have been contacted by God and chosen to be intermediaries charged with communicating divine knowledge to the rest of humanity.
Prophets are found in the mythology of Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Ancient Greece, Scandivania and many others. Throughout history, countless people from different cultures and time periods have claimed to be a deity, a messiah (for instance, Jesus), or to have communicated with God (such as Muhammad). Self-appointed prophets are extremely common and pose a serious conundrum, since there is no objective means of distinguishing “true prophets” from “false prophets”.
- written after the events that they purportedly predict; or
- retrospectively “re-interpreted” to appear predictive after the events that they purportedly predict.
To exploit human cognitive bias, prophecies tend to exhibit one or more of the following characteristics:
- vagueness – the prediction is ambiguous and non-specific enough that it can be made to “fit” many later scenarios;
- open-endedness – the prediction extends indefinitely into the future;
- high statistical probability – the prediction foresees an event that is frequent enough that it will likely occur eventually, especially given the characteristic of “open-endedness”;
- unfalsifiability – the prediction foresees an event whose occurrence is undetectable and thus impossible to verify or refute.
Prophets are often selective in drawing attention to their claims – for instance, one “true” prediction is singled out and touted as proof of divinity, while dozens (or hundreds) of false predictions are ignored.
There is no evidence that “prophets” have access to supernatural knowledge. The most reasonable conclusion is that they are regular people like you and I.