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September 21, 2010

Why Are Religious Claims a Target for the Extraordinary Claims Campaign?
Some comments on Supernatural Claims, Evidence, and the Burden of Proof

The Claims:

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.

The Evidence:

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”.

Historically, prophets’ predictions have proven to be false. In addition, many biblical prophecies (and analogous prophecies in other religions’ sacred texts) were:

  • 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.


Wikipedia Page for Prophets

What is a Prophet?

How to become a Messenger of God or a Prophet

List of People Who Have Claimed to be Jesus

List of Messiah Claimants

List of People Who Have Been Considered Deities

Bible prophecy

False prophet

Unfulfilled Religious Predictions


10 Comments leave one →
  1. Mark O'Hare permalink
    December 13, 2010 3:14 PM

    It’s depressing that some so-called prophets still have the power to compel their unthinking followers to commit barbaric acts. Attacking foreign embassies, burning down “Western” businesses and committing suicide bombings all because they were offended by a cartoon drawing of their prophet. What a bunch of overgrown babies. And they seriously expect us to bow to their ridiculous hypersensitivity. Blind reverence has left them so intellectually stunted that they cannot tolerate freedom of expression. They hate the one freedom that’s essential for the development of any society.

  2. greame permalink
    December 12, 2010 9:22 PM


    Good job. I read the bible a number of years ago and I have to say its probably one of the main reason I’m an atheist. I was surprised to find that many of the believers that I met and talked to had not, despite the fact that they center their lives around it. I encourage everyone to read it. Really sit down and actually read it, and if you have any sense of reason at all you’ll see they are just stories. Not even very good ones if you ask me.

  3. Brian Ritter permalink
    December 12, 2010 2:35 PM

    Read the article and then read the bible having that in mind:)

  4. -X- permalink
    December 8, 2010 4:54 PM

    For Erik:

    I made a long post concerning your previous misunderstandings (in the God -section) but it has been under moderation for several hours (due to the length of the post).

    But just to summarize (here also since you are spreading your presence): you don’t understand science, you have a poor understanding of the history (of science), you have obviously not a clue what you’re talking about concerning (evidence for) evolution, you have just about zero understanding what qualify as verifiable evidence, you do a lot of twisted, irrelevant and illogical cherry-picking, and you most likely have a severe superiority complex or just plain enjoy trolling. And all of this makes me think you are wasting my time.

    And to state the obvious: most of your arguments, even when arguing about my alleged fallacies, are arguments from ignorance.

    And to add to that you seem to have no concept of the burden of proof.

    Just stick to the God-section. I don’t have time to follow you everywhere.

  5. December 8, 2010 10:05 AM

    Still waiting for the extraordinary refutation. Seems like the author’s preferred MO is “bare assertion, bare assertion, bare assertion….” with perhaps a dash of false premise and a pinch of begging the question mixed in.

  6. -X- permalink
    December 7, 2010 1:02 AM


    All that text proves – pretending the timeline is correct – is that crucifixion was described in the Psalms before it was put in to practise. Furthermore: crucifixion was used by Persians, Greeks, Carthaginians, Macedonians, and Romans. That is: way before ancient Rome. The Greek writer Herodotus described an execution of a traitor in about 479 BC at the conclusion of Histories, Book IX (pp. 120-121): “they nailed him to a plank and hung him up… this Artacytus who suffered death by crucifixion.”

    The whole bone-thing is just plain silly… First of all: what proof do you have that Jesus had no bone-damage? Second, what proof do you have of the “customary procedure” and that the only meaningful exception was Jesus? Especially given that only one archaeological discovery of a crucified body has been found from the Roman era…

    And FYI: even if you somehow manage to find rational answers to those two questions (which btw could be done if the right kind of evidence would be found) – that still wouldn’t make God nor Bible nor anything supernatural true.

  7. Bryan permalink
    December 6, 2010 4:51 PM


    The following is one example…

    Some 400 years before crucifixion was invented, both Israel’s King David and the prophet Zechariah described the Messiah’s death in words that perfectly depict that mode of execution. Further, they said that the body would be pierced and that none of the bones would be broken, contrary to customary procedure in cases of crucifixion.

    Psalm 22

    16 Dogs surround me,
    a pack of villains encircles me;
    they pierce[e] my hands and my feet.
    17 All my bones are on display;
    people stare and gloat over me.
    18 They divide my clothes among them
    and cast lots for my garment.

    Psalms 34:20

    20 he protects all his bones,
    not one of them will be broken.

    These words were written hundreds of years before the event they predicted. At the very least, hard copies of actual manuscripts, containing these words, were found in the Dead Sea Scrolls at Qumran, which were dated to around 150-70 BC, a full century and a half before Christ’s execution.

    Again, historians and New Testament writers confirm the fulfillment: Jesus of Nazareth died on a Roman cross, and his extraordinarily quick death eliminated the need for the usual breaking of bones. A spear was thrust into his side to verify that he was, indeed, dead.

  8. -X- permalink
    December 6, 2010 4:41 AM

    “There is no evidence that “prophets” have access to supernatural knowledge.”

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but doesn’t such a sentence in the conclusion suppose a vague possibility of such things as “supernatural” and “supernatural knowledge”?

    And furthermore… “Supernatural knowledge” itself, for me, sounds like an oxymoron.

    That is… Here I define supernatural as something beyond the observable – which I think is the commonly used simplified definition. And the observable, for a rational person, is the only source for evidence, and therefore the only source of existing and meaningful universal knowledge. Knowledge I’d see reasonable to define like Plato did, as “justified true belief” – that is it’s definitely not a ‘belief without evidence’. So under the mentioned definitions “supernatural knowledge” = “justified true belief, which is beyond the observable”. -> “Access to justified true belief, which is beyond the observable”. That is a clear oxymoron.

    Sorry if I’m getting too philosophical… I’m just saying words construct the world and when certain people read a sentence like “There is no evidence that “prophets” have access to supernatural knowledge”, they might very well interpret that in a way that “okay, maybe the prophets don’t have access to that kind of knowledge, but maybe someone else does”. If we want to help people think more rationally such an expression shouldn’t be used under conclusions. Conclusions should strictly be tied to the real, observable, objective world.

  9. RedStarRipsaw permalink
    November 19, 2010 4:41 PM

    It will come 🙂

  10. November 19, 2010 4:34 PM

    This confirms what I already suspected about prophets. I’m currently in the midst of a bible-reading project and several believers have tried to convince me that the biblical prophets were incredibly accurate in their prophecies, I’m still awaiting the extraordinary evidence though!

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