What's the SD on the Fatima "Miracle"?

This thread: http://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/showthread.php?t=326002 reminded me of a question that I’ve been long meaning to ask. I remember hearing about the Fatima miracle as a young teen. The people who were talking about it described the events as fact (surprise, surprise). Even back then, I found the whole story to be baloney. However, there are certain parts of the story that I find intriguing. One is the part about how “everyone” witnessed the sun dancing around the sky, and how there are thousands of people who would corroborate this. What’s the straight dope on this miracle?

I know Cecil addressed this matter in one of his columns:

The article is mostly about the 3 messages but it does have some background on the event itself and the “dance of the Sun”. Well, it’s a starting point.

As regards the ‘solar’ aspect of the myth, there are quite a few good critical thinking points to bear in mind.

First of all, there’s a major difference between thousands of people witnessing an event and one or two reports saying that thousands of people witnessed an event. The former might be hard to account for (but see below). The latter is more easily dealt with. Suppose one journalist prints the story that the sun did something weird and thousands saw it (because he was credulous; because some un-corroborated source told him; because he’s symathetic to Marian visions… for whatever reason). This account gets passed around, it gets copied into other reports and accounts. No-one ever offers any supporting evidence or corroboration. It’s just something printed in a paper. You know, like all those reports that Paul McCartney died in the 60s or 70s.

Second of all, the story kind of undoes itself. If the sun did a happy dance or something else weird, the astounding thing is not that some thousands of people saw it, but that millions of other people didn’t. The ‘sun’ referred to in the Fatima myth isn’t some sort of special, unique sun that only shines down on Fatima. It’s supposed to be the regular, normal sun that we see every day. Well, at any given time, about 1/2 of the entire world’s population are seeing that sun in the sky somewhere. So whenever the sun referred to in the Fatima myth was supposed to be going jive crazy, it would be seen and noticed not just by the people near Fatima but by roughly 1/2 of all the people in the world. Or, at any rate and by any calculation, by several million people, not just the Fatima faithful.

The only way out of this is to say that what the good, pious faithful people saw wasn’t an actual celestial event, as such, and not something that could be independently witnessed and corroborated, but a sort of collective vision or hallucination that was miraculous in nature. Well, that’s fine if you like to think along those lines, but most of us have a name for when some folks have a story that something happened and there’s nothing to support or corroborate it. We call it ‘making stuff up’. And it’s not as if the religiously-inclined are at all averse to ‘making stuff up’ (as Galileo found out).

As always, it’s a good idea to go where the evidence leads you. If some people would like you to attach any credence to the Fatima story, ask them to produce their corroborating evidence (that’s the stuff that helps sort out fact from, say, Grimm’s Fairy Tales or ‘Jurassic Park’… you know… stuff that’s made up). If they say, ‘Thousands of people saw it…’ ask them how they know this. Then ask them why millions of others didn’t.

Evidence and reasoning aren’t perfect, and they can’t get at all truth. But they work pretty well most of the time.

I take it that you would also cast a skeptical eye toward Jesus Christ appearing on a rusting oil tank in New Jersey or the apparition of the Virgin Mary in the Chicago underpass? Yeah - me too !!! :smiley:

As the girls involved in the Fatima miracle stated at the time, the miracle would be visible in Fatima only.

Thousands of people turned up to Fatima and witnessed an amazing celestial event. Could you provide me with just one source, ianzin, of someone who was standing in that crowd that claims they saw nothing?

Your claims make about as much sense as me claiming that the thousands of people who witnessed the event must all have been making it up :dubious:

Do you have the individual testimony by name of thousands of people, each of whom independently says they saw the event? If you don’t, then you have absolutely no evidence that thousands of people saw the event - only that some people said that thousands of people saw the event.

It took me three seconds to find these ten individual testimonies:


How many are you after?

What immediately comes to my mind is why it seems all these accounts of an unexplainable occurance immediately jump to the conclusion “it’s a miracle, a miracle from god!”
Were people so gullible in Fatima back in 1917 that anytime they happened upon something stange they directly attributed it to a divine hand? What happened when they saw the first automobile? A miracle from god?

If I had a time machine I’d take some of these people to a Sigfreid and Roy show so they can proclaim “miracle” all night long.

As a child, I stared at the sun through a thin layer of clouds; it was very bright, but for some reason it didn’t cause me any discomfort. After a while, it appeared to be changing colours cyclically, ‘swimming’ in the sky and shedding arcs of light. I think that’s just what happens when you stare at the sun.

But the miracle was predicted, Hampshire. The time, the place.

Mangetout, stuff like that may explain why a couple of people could claim some sort of celestial miracle occured - but not thousands of people.

If it happens to one person staring at the sun, why wouldn’t it happen to a thousand people staring at the sun, especially if they’d been told to do it?

Although I was aware of the alleged sun miracle of Fatima, I wasn’t aware exactly how similar the described event was to what I had experienced as a child - what they’re describing is exactly what I saw.

Several of these are not individual testimonies at all, but are newspaper accounts of what people said they saw.

Frankly, there’s a rather obvious possibility of mob hysteria here. If people fully expected a miracle, I’d be surprised if there WEREN’T hundreds of people nodding their heads and agreeing that miraculous things took place.

In any event, the “sun miracle” thing is hardly unique. A few years back there was some spot in Ontario where hard-core Catholics were going, saying that the sun was doing funky things and it was a miracle; I can’t recall the spot but I know of some people who went there. You know, staring at the frickin’ SUN will certainly cause your eyes to see funny things.

Then again, newspapers, radio, and television are going to search out the people who saw something unusual (or thought they saw something unusual). Obviously the 2 reasons for this would be:

  1. People trying to get their name in the news.
  2. The media and the the media’s audience don’t want to read or hear a news story about “Here we are at Fatima Portugal with a group of people who witnessed nothing.”
    “Nobody climbed Mount Everest today.”
    “Nobody set foot on the Moon today. Back to you Chet”.

Ok, wolf_meister, so in what ways would the media respond differently to an actual God-made miracle?

Thousands, the number you claim there are. Otherwise there is no basis for claiming that “thousands” witnessed the supposed phenomenon.

To be fair, you challenged Inquisitor to find cites. He did.

And surely if this was bogus there would be reports from people who were there but saw nothing. He asked you to produce one.

I guess he’s still waiting.

Try reading my post. I did not challenge him to find cites. I have no doubt that some people claimed to have seen such a phenomenon.

What I said was:

Which he is about 1190 names short of right now

I think I’ll wait until he’s a little farther along in responding to my request before I respond to his.

I would hope they would establish concrete evidence (not just testimony) that the miracle actually happened. After all, hundreds of people have “seen” the Loch Ness monster and hundreds of others have been “abducted” by aliens.

Any movie cameras present at the 1917 “miracle”? If not, then it’s just a story that people like to tell.

Why would there be reports from those who saw nothing?

I think I’ve told this story before but what the hell, it’s still relevant. I once had a high school German teacher who was from Cologne Germany. Cologne is known for its enormous, medievel cathedral which is over 500 feet tall. This teacher told us that once, as a child, she and some friends had stood outside the cathedral and played a practical joke on passing pedestrians by pointing up at the top of the cathedral and claiming there was a man up there about to jump. There was no man, of course, but they nevertheless managed to convince several people it was true and they soon were able to amass a small crowd looking up at the top of the cathedral, many of who were convinced that they could see the man at the top and were shouting at him not to jump.

Suggestion can be a very powerful tool. This is especially true if that suggestion is reinforced by a crowd, and especially, especially true when you throw religious ferver and expectation into the mix. The people in my teacher’s Cologne Cathedral joke were not even jacked up on religious adrenaline and the suggestion still worked.

In addition, people will tend to subconciously exaggerate the memories of incidents like this. Like mangetout said, staring at the sun will cause some visual distortions anyway.

Alright, so where are the testimonies of the people who were at Fatima, claiming not to see a thing?

Or were the eyes of all several thousand of those who turned playing tricks on them?