The Miracle at Fatima: Considering the Sun Dance

Let’s start by saying that I’m an atheist, but sometimes my lack of faith is tested.

So: The Miracle of Fatima. For those unfamiliar with the topic, here’s a Cecil link that gives a good summary:
(If you have trouble, just do a search for ‘fatima’; there’s only one column given as a response).

Now, let’s put aside for now the children’s visions and predictions. The ‘sun dance’ is what I’m concerned with. Apparently 100,000 people saw the sun ‘dance’ for 10 minutes.

Pretty impressive.

Also difficult to dismiss. One hundred thousand people agreeing that they saw anything is what I’d call evidence. Not hard evidence, but as far as witnessing is concerned, hard to beat.

Now. I’ve tried to find out a few things, i.e., what the actual ‘dance’ was like (did it zoom from one point of the horizon to another? Did it vibrate in place? Sprout legs and do a soft-shoe?), does everyone who saw it actually agree that they saw it, are there some who were there who say it never happened, etc.

The most compelling skeptical claim is that, well, if the sun danced in the sky then everyone on earth would have seen it. Additionally, astronomers observed nothing unusual with the sun that day.

OK, fine. But an omnipotent being could localize such a phenomenon; choose your favorite Star-Trek-episode method, from creating a ‘pocket universe’, or maybe a ‘holodeck’ field around Fatima, to simply making everyone hallucinate the same thing. Even if it was all in their heads…yet it would take an incredibly powereful external force to make everyone see the same thing at the same time.

To summarize: by what I can tell, it didn’t simply “not happen.”

Now, combine this with the kids’ visions of Virgin Mary, hell, etc., and well, as I said, my atheism is shaken.

What do you all think? Atheists and believers?



This was discussed not too long ago, though by all means, there’ still more to be heard from!

Thanks, Eve. Sorry, everybody, but I assure you I tried a search on ‘Fatima’ and didn’t get anything. I probably did it wrong. Don’t mean to clutter the board with redundant threads, though there is probably more to be said on the matter.

No, no, it’s only your third post, surely you have something more to add on the topic, and we probably have other posters who hadn’t seen it.

. . . The other thread, I mean, not the sun doing the hokey-pokey . . .

Here’s what I remember from the previous discussion of this:

A large crowd was gathered at the time (I don’t recall the numbers, but I’ll assume your 100,000 figure is correct). They were apparently told that something incredible was going to happen. Some people did claim to see the sun “dance”, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that all 100,000 people saw it. I believe someone pointed out that a photographer was there to document the event, but didn’t see anything unusual. And skeptics have pointed out that the people were told to look at the sun, and looking directly at the sun is likely going to cause visual hallucinations. I don’t know, since I’ve never looked directly at the sun, and don’t ever plan to.

One possible explanation might be that the group experienced a collective religious fervor, and believed something supernatural was taking place, much in the same way that congregations in so-called “charismatic” Christian churches will “feel the holy spirit”, in which case the evidence isn’t any more or less convincing than people speaking in tongues or experiencing tremors.

—Now, combine this with the kids’ visions of Virgin Mary, hell, etc., and well, as I said, my atheism is shaken.—

I’d say that that’s a little backwards. It isn’t your atheism that’s shaken (unless for some reason you have an affirmative belief in no gods), but your theism that’s stirring.

Anyways, about Fatima.

Here’s the FAQ from

Here’s csicop’s essay on the political context of the miracle (i.e., how Russia and WWI played into that particular area)

—Apparently 100,000 people saw the sun ‘dance’ for 10 minutes.—

This claim is way overblown. There isn’t testimony from 100,000 people that the sun danced (indeed, numbers range wildly: says 70,000, other accounts just leave it at “numerous”): there is testimony from some people (unknown how many) that 1) the sun danced 2) that a large number of people were gathered there when they say this 3) that many others in the crowd were gasping and pointing at the sun.

We know that some people saw the phenomenon, and some didn’t, but we don’t know how many actually saw it. Most times this claim is made, it’s left coyly ambiguous who actually claimed to see the sun dance, and who was just present.

One key fact that is not mentioned often enough, however, is that the people there were instructed, prior to the apparition, to stare directly at the sun. Indeed, part of the tale is that people claimed that they could stare at the sun without pain, which amazed them. This continues to be a draw even today:

“Witnessed by thousands at Fatima, on Oct 13, 1917, news of this phenomenon repeating at Medjugorje escapes few pilgrims. Many search for it in earnest, hoping to have something to tell others when they get back home. Depending on whom you speak with, the miracle of the sun usually encompasses four elements. First, the sun is mysteriously bearable to direct obversation. For some reason, it doesn’t hurt or damage the eyes to stare at it, even after 20 minutes or more of constant exposure. Next, some say, a black disk-like object materializes and shields the sun, somehow protectiing the eyes. After this, many say the sun spins wildly and throws off a kaleidoscope of colors in all directions. Finally, for the very fortunate, Jesus or Mary may appear in the sun or on top of it, or sometimes a cross will appear. Cries of awe can be heard in the air, and arms can be seen extended overhead, all pointing toward the sun.”

The problem is this: it’s not always painful to stare at the sun under certain atmospheric conditions. It is, however, still bad for your eyes (just as you can get horrible sunburns even when it is cloudy). While I wouldn’t want to suggest that someone go stare at the sun for 20 minutes to see what happens, I don’t think it’s a stretch to suggest that it could cause all sorts of spastic visual phenomena (heck, just staring at a lightbulb for too long does that). Team that up with the well known effect of crowd psychology on transfering excitement and rumor in large groups, and you’ve got a not particularly convincing apparition. Could something have happened to the local rays of the sun? Sure. But there are very plausible alternatives, and few of them really suggest the necessary existence of a god at work (remember, only the girl actually saw Mary).

When I was a child, I was able to look at the sun for prolonged periods; on reflection, I think this may be because, living in England, the sun is occasionally veiled behind a thin mist or light cloud and is apparently therefore, although still clearly visible as a distinct disc, not shining at full intensity.

Anyway, after having looked at the sun for a while, my perception would be that it would change colour (usually turning greenish), then begin to gyrate; the best way I can describe this is to imagine a very full cup of tea being sloshed around in a circular motion; arcs of fluid will spill out from the sides. Well, it was just like that - the sun went round and round and arcs of light ‘spilled’ off the edges.

I have no idea if this is in any way related to whatever happened at the Miracle of Fatima, but I thought I’d mention it anyway.

Mangetout, did you suffer any permanent damage?

To your eyes I mean. :smiley:

I’ll second Mangetout’s observation. I was usually wearing sunglasses when I would do something like that, but even so, after a few minutes, the sun looks… swirly, I guess. Mangetout’s description of it is about as good as I could do. If I were swept up in by a crowd eager to believe, and stared at the sun long enough, I can imagine all sorts of freaky visual phenomena going on.

When I was in High School I had an English and german teacher who had grown up in Cologne Germany. Cologne has a gigantic medievel cathedral with two spires that are both over 500 feet tall. This teacher told me that as a kid she and some friends manage to convince a gaggle of tourists that there was a man on top of one of the spires ready to jump off. All they did was point and say look, can’t you see him, there he is. Not everybody saw anything, but a few of them did. Enough people were pointing and shouting that they began to attract a crowd of passers by, many of whom began to insist that they could definitely see the man on top of the spire. And these people were not all hopped up on religious fervor like the crowd at Fatima.

The power of suggestion can be cery strong, especially when people very much want to believe they can see something. This desire, combined with a lot of staring at the sun can easily produce a dancing sun for some people.

I t’s also quite probable, given that those who could see such appearances were considered to be especially blessed, that more than a few people simply lied about seeing something that they did not see.

Well, I do have to wear glasses, but that’s because I’m long sighted, which is a focus problem, rather than anything to do with retinal damage.


Mangetout, is that like the time I watch Attack of The The Eye Creatures?

You know, the movie where They Just Didn’t Care?

Still haven’t licked that stutter-typing problem, huh? :wink:

This is well explained by the “staring at the sun messes up your eyesight” theory, but even if it wasn’t, it sure would be a lame miracle. If I were imnipotent, I’d made the sun turn into a lightly glowing, easy to look at detailed figure of Jesus. If I wanted dancing, I’d have this image of my son clearly and distinctly moon-walk. Oh wait, this is 1917, maybe he should do the fox-trot. Don’t want to freak people out TOO much.

Or even omnipotent

Album Name!

But then, he’d have had to send an apparition of Butch Cassidy, to accompany his sun-dance kid. :slight_smile:

::: ducks and runs :::

My word!
::: monocle pops out of eye :::