Social Question

mattbrowne's avatar

What does divine revelation mean to you?

Asked by mattbrowne (31557points) October 6th, 2009

To me divine revelation simply means adjusting our brains to hear what our hearts already know.

Buddha once said: ‘Each of us knows all. We need only open our minds to hear our own wisdom.’

To me both divine revelation and miracles are metaphors, powerful figures of speech.

From Wikipedia: In casual usage, ‘miracle’ may also refer to any statistically unlikely but beneficial event, such as the survival of a natural disaster or even which regarded as ‘wonderful’ regardless of its likelihood, such as birth. Other miracles might be: survival of a terminal illness, escaping a life threatening situation or ‘beating the odds.’

The metaphorical interpretation is consistent with deism, a religious and philosophical belief that a supreme being created the universe, and that this (and religious truth in general) can be determined using reason and observation of the natural world alone, without a need for either faith or organized religion. Deists tend to, but do not necessarily, reject the notion of divine interventions in human affairs, such as by miracles and revelations.

What do the terms divine revelation or miracle or prophecy mean to you? Should they rather be taken literally? What is your view about deism?

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65 Answers

dpworkin's avatar

To me it means that someone is clinging to ancient superstitions, in the face of existential angst.

johanna's avatar

Nothing to me personally or that someone else who claims divine revelation probably has a mental illness that involves hallucinations or the like.

ragingloli's avatar

“divine revelation”
1. delusion
2. a fictional occurence used to justify claims or actions for which no actual justification is present.
1. a beneficent occurence of large scale and mechanism unknown to the observer
1. prediction made in such a vague fashion that they can be reinterpreted at any given time to fit on a concurrent event to in return lend false credibility to the original prediction

mattbrowne's avatar

@johanna – Interpreting revelations as a metaphor is a mental illness? Interesting. Which one exactly? What’s the ICD-10 code? Is it F20.4 or F41.1? Please note, in many cases hallucinations are not caused by mental illness. Water or food deprivation can be the reason. Or drugs like LSD.

Grisaille's avatar

@pdworkin is quick on the draw. What he said.

Harp's avatar

I’m intrigued by the hypothesis of bicameralism, the idea that the architecture of the human mind underwent a paradigm shift a few millenia ago. Bicameralism proposes that prior to this shift, the mind was partitioned into a governing, dictating entity and a “listening” entity. There was something of a firewall between the two, such that to the “listening” mind (which would have been the seat of subjective experience) the output of the dictating mind would be perceived as coming from an outside source. In essence one part of the brain spoke and the other listened, without recognizing the speech as emanating from within.

According to this hypothesis, this firewall has largely been breached in the modern mind, with a capacity for introspection and full self-awareness, though vestiges of bicameralism may persist in some individuals (e.g. St. Joan) or possibly be induced artificially.

I’m agnostic about this idea, but it is a very interesting way of looking at this phenomenon of divine revelation, which seems to have been far more quotidian to our distant ancestors.

filmfann's avatar

Well, since you have Divine there, I would say it is having your eyes opened by the Lord.

Grisaille's avatar

Could you elaborate, @filmfann? I’m not trying to be patronizing, I would really like to know what “having your eyes opened by the Lord,” means, beyond the metaphoricals.

evelyns_pet_zebra's avatar

It doesn’t mean anything to me, and has as much credibility as the nonsensical term of same difference. Words that people use to describe something they are relatively clueless about. I take it about as serious as the people who say “I knew that was going to happen” when in fact they were quite incapable of knowing anything about a situation they were not privy to.

The human mind can rationalize pretty much anything, even knowing the will of gods and murdering other humans for the sake of that same god or gods. You have to prove that the Divine exists, and then you have to prove that It willingly intervened. Both are quite improbable and as close to impossible as it gets, in my opinion.

dpworkin's avatar

@Harp ‘s answer is interesting for many reasons, two of which being that feelings of divine “revelatory” experiences can be induced, and seem to be temporal lobe phenomena, and also because there is evidence that the auditory hallucinations that plague some schizophrenics, and that also have an aspect of “Divine” or at least otherworldly command can be halted by such means as causing the subject to hold his or her mouth open, as if in a yawn, suggesting that the voices are productions of the self, but are unrecognized as such, and may be a disengaged form of the internal narrative that we are all familiar with. So, once again, GA for @Harp, even though I have no doubt long ago maxed out.

DarkScribe's avatar

A divine revelation is when the button on her blouse pops. ;)

mattbrowne's avatar

@Harp – A very interesting article. The concept might be related to the notion of implicit memory, which is a type of memory in which previous experiences aid in the performance of a task without conscious awareness of these previous experiences. It can also lead to the illusion-of-truth effect, which suggests that subjects are more likely to rate as true statements those that they have already heard, regardless of their veracity, see

When Paul saw a bright light in the sky it could have been a meteorite for example. Overexposure of his retina might have caused temporary blindness. Maybe the divine revelation i.e. the dictating entity told him that Jesus was his friend, not his enemy. So maybe he was adjusting his brain to hear what his heart already knew since the time he watched the stoning of Stephen as Saul the persecutor.

“Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul. While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit’. And Saul was there, giving approval to his death.” (Acts 8:1)

wundayatta's avatar

My explanation is similar to the one @Harp proffered, except that I don’t think the breach is as large as in his hypothesis.

I think that we do experience two different ways of “thinking” about the world. One way is with symbols, but the other occurs in a symbol-less space. In my hypothesis, there is a speaking and listening mind—it largely does both activities (I call this the linguistic mind)—and there is a mind that I like to call the “non-linguistic” mind. I do not have an explanation for how that part of the mind “thinks.”

“Revelation,” in my opinion, is any idea that one is not aware of coming up with. These things are also known as “strokes of genius” or “inspiration” or one of those “eureka” moments. Within the arts, it feels as if you aren’t coming up with the idea, but that the idea has been given to you from the outside—many people think that there is an outside entity that gives the idea, and they call that entity “God.”

I think they come from our minds, but they come from a part of the mind to which we do not have linguistic or conscious access. At least, not without a lot of struggle. I do not hypothesize a mechanism by which this other mind communicates with the linguistic mind. All I can say is that the non-linguistic mind has some way of thinking, and some way of passing it’s ideas on to the linguistic mind, and our experience of the acquisition of an idea through this mechanism feels as if it came from nowhere—out of the blue, as it were.

I have experienced this kind of thinking when dancing or playing music. I think it also occurs during meditation, although since I have never meditated in that formal, sitting way, I can’t be sure. In dancing, we call this “getting out of your mind and into your body.” Some people might describe it as “stopping thinking.” In any case, when we relate to each other physically or sonically, the part of the mind that deals with these things and understands these things is not good with symbolic communication.

When dancing, people often come back to their normal, thinking mode, and they can’t remember what they just did. Again, I think this is because people are not thinking symbolically when they get out of their heads and into the “body mind.” Symbols are necessary in order to store memories that are retrievable through conscious effort. Other memories, such as smells, can be stored in the non-linguistic memory. Non-linguistic memories—memories stored in the language of senses such as smell or touch or taste—tend to be more associational in nature, and are harder to access in symbolic thinking.

Certainly, we can dredge up these other kinds of memories, and re-experience those memories in our heads. The trick for writers is to be able to watch the re-experience of these memories and then write down a description of what happened. Most people don’t need to do this. Writers and story tellers do have to do it, so we practice being aware in symbolic mode at the same time as thinking in non-symbolic mode. This is tricky, because often times using symbolic thought throws you of non-symbolic thought.

Symbolic thought is like chattering. Thoughts fire off all over the place, and they can easily cover over the non-symbolic thinking, and make it very difficult to be aware of that other kind of thinking. Meditation, I believe, is a technique for quieting the “chatter” so that it becomes possible to be aware of non-symbolic thinking.

To be able to quiet the chatter, yet have enough symbolic thinking going on in order to observe and remember what the non-symbolic mind is thinking, is not the easiest thing to do, but you can become better at it with practice. That’s not so different from learning any other skill.

However, for people who do not practice this technique, the times when the non-symbolic mind forces an idea through to the symbolic mind—perhaps through the construction of a powerful image that the symbolic mind can observe because it overwhelms the rest of the chatter, or because the symbolic mind has also been thinking about the same thing, so it is more receptive to the non-symbolic minds thoughts—are experienced as having an idea come in from the outside. And really, if you think about the mechanisms I just described, it is very much like coming in from the outside.

Having ideas come into your head, apparently from outside your mind, is pretty confusing. How can it be explained? It happens so rarely (for some people, maybe only once or twice in life, or even never) that it is very special. I can see people calling these things revelations, and considering the revelations to be of divine origin.

Divinity, in my understanding, is a word people use to describe the experience of a connection with all things. I know that when dancing, and thus in my non-symbolic mind, or when playing music (also non-symbolic), I often become much more aware of a feeling of connection (or oneness) with other people and my physical environment. I’m not going to say that the feeling corresponds to some kind of magical connection in the objective world. I am going to say that the feeling is a real feeling, not a made-up one.

When you think about it intellectually, you can convince yourself about oneness. It does have a certain logic to it. People all have similarities, and we can not distinguish ourselves, unless we compare ourselves to others. Yet we and other are integrally connected. Well, it’s hard to explain in words. It’s easy to explain in feelings; using the non-symbolic mind.

Thus, an idea or revelation, coming from “outside” the symbolic mind, connected with the experience of divinity or oneness, feels like a divine inspiration. Those are just words used to describe an experience—a real experience, but one, if my explanation is correct, is not actually magical or unexplainable.

Or rather, I have a theoretical explanation. The question is: does this theory provide any bases to develop objective ways of measure the non-symbolic experience? I haven’t really thought beyond the theory to ways of testing it. I do know that other people in music and dance report feelings in much the same way. Also, when you ask folks to describe the feeling of divine revelation, it sounds very similar to what I’ve been describing.

However, subjective experience is very difficult to measure objectively. Using fMRI, scientists are making inroads on this problem. They can associate brain activity in specific parts of the brain with reports about differing kinds of thoughts. However, the brain activity in those parts of the mind are usually associated with several different kinds of thoughts, so you can’t infer any specific meaning from simple observation of the location of the brain’s activity. You might narrow it down, but you can’t be sure of what is being thought—at least, not yet.

I have wondered if one could actually learn to access the non-symbolic mind via use of the symbolic mind. Sort of a “thinking” meditation. I think writers may actually do this. It could be described as a kind of fugue state, or as “channeling” where one gets access to this other mind, and just writes down what is going on there. It might be like opening a wormhole into the non-symbolic mind, and letting the vision pour forth, yet keeping the symbolic mind just active enough, or focused enough to be able to remember and report on what is happening in the non-symbolic mind.

I have read parts of Julian Jayne’s The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind, so my thinking on this has been influenced by the idea that @harp mentioned. However, it is also based on my experience as a dancer and a musician and a scientist. I welcome the chance to work through this idea in more detail. I’ve been thinking about it for years, now. I hope it is an theory for which more evidence could be found. Right now, though, it really is “just a theory,” at least, as far as I know.

Ivan's avatar

It means suspending scientific reasoning in order to arrive at a comfortable conclusion.

mattbrowne's avatar

@daloon – Since you mentioned fMRI scans, have you heard about the Buddhist monks scans? From Wikipedia: During the 1970s, several experimental studies suggested that Buddhist meditation could produce insights into a wide range of psychological states. Interest in the use of meditation as a means of providing insight into mind-states has recently been revived, following the increased availability of such brain-scanning technologies as fMRI and SPECT. Such studies are enthusiastically encouraged by the present Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso who has long expressed an interest in exploring the connection between Buddhism and science.

mattbrowne's avatar

@Ivan – Not necessarily. Let me reuse my example when replying to @Harp:

When Paul saw a bright light in the sky it could have been a meteorite for example. Overexposure of his retina might have caused temporary blindness. Maybe the divine revelation i.e. the dictating entity told him that Jesus was his friend, not his enemy. So maybe he was adjusting his brain to hear what his heart already knew since the time he watched the stoning of Stephen as Saul the persecutor.

“Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul. While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit’. And Saul was there, giving approval to his death.” (Acts 8:1)

Social scientists have applied scientific reasoning and come to the conclusion that many of the principles advocated by Jesus Christ can support the peaceful resolution of conflicts. So when Saul turned into Paul the reasoning was in fact excellent. He gave up the idea that stoning (murdering) people is the right thing to do when people disagree.

Harp's avatar

I recently read an article (which I can’t seem to find now) about research concerning the relationship between creativity and mental focus. The findings suggested that intense attentional focus is not the optimal mind state for synthesizing new insights because extraneous information which may be the catalyst for such insights is excluded, but that it’s a helpful precondition. The insights are more likely to occur during a period of more diffuse attention following intense focus.

That would fit with countless anecdotes of revelations both spiritual and mundane: intense questioning followed by a resolution “received” in a moment of opening up from that focus. Buddha’s looking up at the morning star after six days of continuous meditation comes to mind, as does Poincaré‘s insight into Fuchsian transformations as he stepped onto a bus: “At the moment when I put my foot on the step the idea came to me, without anything in my former thoughts seeming to have paved the way for it, that the transformation that I had used to define the Fuchsian functions were identical with those of non-euclidean geometry.”

That may also be the mechanism at work when a deist engages in intense prayer and then later receives an insight seemingly out of the blue.

gussnarp's avatar

@mattbrowne I’m not sure that’s the conclusion Saul came to (assuming any of this happened at all). Saul didn’t just decide not to stone these people, he decided they were right. Having done so, he proceeded to continue to tell people what to believe and how to live their lives on pain of death. So essentially, he changed what he believed was right, not how he believed those who were wrong should be treated. And he did so based on an one of three things:
1. a hallucination
2. something with a simpler explanation (meteor, overexposure of the retina, etc. that he misinterpreted combined with either an auditory hallucination or someone he couldn’t see due to the overexposed retina telling him he was wrong.
3. Just what the bible says, a revelation from Jesus.

Only if number 3. were correct would his reasoning be sound. Since the overwhelming scientific evidence suggests that #3 is not possible, then his change of heart is highly unlikely to have been based on any sound reasoning.

mattbrowne's avatar

@Harp – Yes, indeed, those mechanisms might be the secret behind those flashes of inspiration. To me the term ‘divine inspiration’ should be understood as a metaphor for this. It would also be consistent with the deist belief system. If a deity created the multiverse and its laws as a consequence the deity is responsible for the stars and planets and ultimately humans and their way of thinking and all of this without direct intervention after creation.

Qingu's avatar

@mattbrowne, you never said what you think divine revelations and miracles are metaphors for. *

Also, if X is a metaphor for Y, the author knows that X does not really exist. And yet throughout history the people who write religious texts and start cults clearly did not believe this. In other words, the people who claim to have had “divine revelations” didn’t intend that term metaphorically.

You can’t just throw around the word “metaphor” willy-nilly.

* Edit: okay, you just did. I think that’s nonsense. Bursts of genius and creativity are not commonly described by the people who have them as “divine revelation.” Isaac Newton, Einstein, these people did not describe their work as divine revelation. You are using the term in a way it is rarely if ever used.

mattbrowne's avatar


Divine revelations = metaphor for flashes of inspiration (intuition and the unconscious mind play an important role)

Miracle (in casual usage) = metaphor for a statistically unlikely event

To me miracles in a literal sense do not exist, because they violate the physical laws. There’s no evidence that physical laws can be suspended from time to time. To me divine revelation does not mean that a deity talks to a human directly/physically. There is no evidence for this either and it would violate the physical laws as well. Make sense?

mattbrowne's avatar

@gussnarp – Well, it’s quite likely that some of this happened. Paul of Tarsus was a historical figure. Scholars believe that 7 of the 13 epistles have authentic authorship. Yes, Saul didn’t just decide not to stone these people, he decided the punishment was just. What I meant was that maybe underneath something told him that this was wrong while his rational mind stuck with the persecutor in him. This is why I said ‘divine revelation’ could simply mean adjusting our brains to hear what our hearts already know.

ragingloli's avatar

we call them metaphors because we know better.
those who claim to have them, apply these terms literally. they believe they had a divine revelation, e.g. they are convinced that god spoke to them. they are convinced they have witnessed a genuine miracle, e.g. a physically impossible event, not a statistically unlikely one.

mattbrowne's avatar

@ragingloli – Well, they is not everyone. There’s also you and me. Therefore my question was ‘What does divine revelation mean to you?’

mattbrowne's avatar

@evelyns_pet_zebra – Well, I think you only have to prove that the divine exists, if divine revelation is understood in a literal sense. Like the people @ragingloli called ‘they’.

Qingu's avatar

@mattbrowne, have you ever had a flash of inspiration and then claimed (metaphorically or otherwise) that it was divine inspiration?

That’s my point. Semantically, these words are not used in the way you are trying to use them. I also think that defining them in this way downplays the fact that people actually believe in real divine inspiration, and several important historical figures claimed that a real god really inspired them. Paul never characterized his blinding flash encounter as a metaphor for getting a good idea. He claimed, consistently and repeatedly, that it was God or Jesus actually talking to him (and invoked this “fact” to justify his authority in his cult.)

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

It means absolutely nothing to me personally.

Response moderated
Jack_Haas's avatar

To me, it’s an extraordinary event or a series of events that appear to carry a lesson, at least a message. In itself, the occurence might have be explained rationally, but the context, the circumstances surrounding it and/or your life when it happens make it unlikely to be meaningless. These events can be so troubling and humbling that even the obsession with finding a rational explanation appears suspicious, almost desperate.

ABoyNamedBoobs03's avatar

you’re heart doesn’t “know” anything. the whole concept is phooey to me.

filmfann's avatar

Realizing Divine is a man.

Kraigmo's avatar

To me, divine revelation is a religious or spiritual experience in which a person snaps out of consensus reality in such a way that more dimensions are seen (for the moment anyway), more awareness is had, and all of it is real, and remains in the memory and worldview of the person for the rest of their earthly lives. Most of them then live quietly mostly normal lives. Some of them become speakers or authors, and the things they teach, the ones who’ve had this experience, they tend to say very similar things. But it all sounds tritefully New Age to a cynic like me, or a realist, when I used to read that kind of corny stuff, until the experience is actually had.

As for your definition though…. it does not contradict. I think it defines a more human way of looking at it. But it totally fits in, because this particular spiritual experience kind of proves to the Self, that all the important knowledge, is already embedded in our mind and DNA.

And a person who does no drugs, and follows no shaman, and dances no whirlies, and isn’t interested in New Age words…. can have this “spiritual” experience by arriving at it through deduction and observation. I suspect the emotions on the way there are different, but the knowledge at the center, is the exact same thing.

mattbrowne's avatar

@Qingu – No, but I’ve got the privilege to live in a time of enlightenment. Neuroscience can help us explain how flashes of inspiration really work. This doesn’t mean that the people living around 50 AD or earlier were stupid. A lot of Mose and Jesus and Paul’s wisdom and insights are still relevant today. Just look at the mess created by the financial crisis. In ancient times people worshiped the Golden Calf, today our so-called financial wizards worship their exorbitant yearly bonuses. Where’s the difference?

Religions evolve. What’s the problem with a modern interpretation of the concept of divine revelation? If God created the multiverse and its laws (which is the belief of deism) then the mechanisms of the human brain are a consequence of this and this includes the capability of having flashes of inspiration i.e. divine revelation metaphorically speaking.

When Saul observed the stoning of Stephen whose only crime had been the sharing of Jesus’s teachings his unconscious mind already knew something was very wrong. Becoming aware of this eventually can be seen as a revelation.

mattbrowne's avatar

@Jack_Haas – Great to see you again, Jack!

mattbrowne's avatar

@ABoyNamedBoobs03 – The term heart in this context is a metaphor too. It stands for implicit memory and the unconscious mind. Some people also call it intuition.

mattbrowne's avatar

@Kraigmo – Interesting analysis! Thanks.

Jack_Haas's avatar

Likewise Matt!

Qingu's avatar

@mattbrowne, I think you’re giving a huckster like Paul/Saul too much credit.

I also think you’re engaging in syncretism. You’re marketing something that has nothing to do with religion as “divine inspiration” to appeal to religious people. I don’t question your motives, but it just strikes me as hollow and fake.

mattbrowne's avatar

@Qingu – I’m not marketing anything. I simply pointed out what divine revelation means to me. And you made clear what it means to you. The atheist approach of ridiculing creationists and other religious people strikes me as hollow and naive and counterproductive. Many people long to get simple answers, creationists and narrow-minded atheists alike. Miracles are bullshit. Divine revelations are fake. Prophecies are absurd. God is fiction. It’s that simple. Yes, people love great soundbites.

Qingu's avatar

As those words are commonly defined, and understood by people who are actually religious, all those statements, while probably offensive, are nonetheless true.

You agree with this. You’re simply redefining the words.

Example: “If I jump off a cliff, the Force will grant me the power to hover.” This statement is false. Some would even call it “bullshit.” But what you’re doing is redefining the words jump, cliff, and hover so that the statement could mean something like “If I take a chance, I might succeed.”

mattbrowne's avatar

Example: “If I keep fighting this disease with the determination, God will grant me the power to increase the chances of healing my body.”

This statement is false, but only if you are a strong atheist who claims the statement “There is at least one god” is false.

This statement is true, if you are a theist who believes in God. It’s even true, if you believe in a non-interfering God as postulated by deism. Scientific explanation? If God is the creator and lawmaker of the universe, then stars and planets and the human mind are a result of this (“God granting power”). Spontaneous remission means an unexpected improvement or cure from a disease which usually is taking a different course. The phenomenon is real and people who lose hope are less likely to experience spontaneous remission. The human mind can influence the human body.

You can call this a miracle and it’s probably true that the people who observed Jesus healing people thought of him as a magician waving an invisible magic wand. But scientifically speaking did Jesus in fact contribute to people getting healed? Since Freud we know that talking can cure people. Modern neuroscience confirms this. So in casual usage miracle can mean escaping from a life threatening situation or ‘beating the odds.’

And many prophecies are less absurd if you watch the daily news about natural disasters.

Qingu's avatar

@mattbrowne, the statement is correct only if you define “God” as some vague force that evades any specific characterization and may as well mean the Universe, like your Deist god. It is absolutely false if the speaker means a specific god like Yahweh, Zeus, or Thor, because these gods are imaginary and therefore could no more grant anyone any power than Skeletor could.

Jesus’ reported miracles were not spontaneous remissions. He reportedly healed people of blindness and brought people back to life. And I am quite comfortable saying that these reports are “bullshit,” just like the court historian’s reports of the Roman emperor Vespasian performing similar miracles are “bullshit.” I frankly don’t see why you’re not. (Actually, I have my suspicions—you want to seem above the fray)

You can say that the reports are “exaggerations” of some kind of mundane spontaneous remission Jesus helped bring about, but that’s different from a metaphor, and it still means the gospels, as written, are factually wrong—because in actuality people are not magically healed of blindness or brought back to life after several days of death.

And what on earth do natural disasters have to do with prophecies? You’re going to have to spell that one out.

mattbrowne's avatar

@Qingu – I was referring to deism. I’m convinced that the numerous reported healing cases have a cause and were not just invented our of thin air (I wouldn’t rule out that a few were made up). A few could have indeed been spontaneous remissions, but many were probably related to psychosomatic illnesses. The “cure” wasn’t instantaneous. Of course people were not magically healed of blindness or brought back to life after several days of death. They must have been believed to be dead. How to explain the blindness cases I’m not sure.

You asked what on earth do natural disasters have to do with prophecies? A lot. I’ve mentioned this in other threads as well. So let me spell that one out for you:

We are the descendants of people who took the basic emotion of fear seriously. Those who were too brave ignoring dangers didn’t make it. They died before having sex. Natural disasters left a huge impression during the time of oral traditions.

Take the Minoan volcanic eruption for example. It happened around 1645 BC in the Late Bronze Age. There was heavy ashfall covering a very wide area. The tsunami that hit Crete was 35 to 150 meters / 110 to 490 feet high (it makes the recent one in Samoa look like a tiny splash). There were many observers in the mountains relatively safe at altitudes of 1000 meters or higher. They watched the wave fronts engulfing huge areas. Now many years later at bedtime (there was no television) what kind of stories did they tell their children? How wonderful the wedding of their grandparents was? The beauty of the flowers 100 years earlier?

The intellectuals at the time had lingering and nagging thoughts. Will the Earth shake again? Will there be more ashfall? Can another even bigger wave hit again? Will there be more bright lights in the sky (which they didn’t call meteorites)? Natural disasters cause traumata to people affected directly. They create fear among people even when not affected directly.

This is why most prophecies of the past are about negative predictions.

Here’s a modern version of a positive prophecy:

If another strong seaquake hits our oceans we’ve got the tsunami warning systems in place. We have trained our people how to react when the alarm goes off. Our doctors will be able to help injured people. There will be a time when almost no one has to die because of tsunamis, hurricanes and earthquakes.

Sound positive enough? We’re not quite there yet, but we could if politicians get the priorities straight.

Qingu's avatar

@mattbrowne, you actually believe many of Jesus’ healing miracles happened? Wow.

Do you believe the same thing about Alexander the Great’s numerous reported miracles? Or Roman emperors who were reported to have healed cripples and cured blindness?

What about alien abductions? There are millions of reported alien abductions. Surely they couldn’t have been “invented out of thin air,” right?

Now, on prophecies, you’re not saying that prophecies are relevant or true. You’re saying prophecies are basically scary bed-time stories based on half-remembered real disasters. Well, okay. This in no way means that prophecies are not “absurd.”

mattbrowne's avatar

@Qingu, you actually believe all the healing stories related to Jesus were completely made up? Wow. The old testament contains nothing of this sort and then mysteriously around the time the new testament was written there’s some jokester spamming oral traditions with fantastic wizardry? Out of thin air?

Come on, my friend, I pointed out to you several times that the term miracle has two meanings. One is fiction and one is about casual usage related to an unlikely event.

No fictitious miracles happened. Jesus was no magician. He didn’t bring back dead people. He didn’t instantly heal cripples. He himself didn’t die and then leave the grave two days later.

So what happened? It’s actually a good question that you as a man of science could ask yourself.

Here’s what I think happened: Jesus was a very unusual charismatic leader. His words had a very powerful effect on people who listened to him. His life inspired many people, but he also had many enemies. Changing ideologies is never easy. After his death influential people continued to talk about him. The stories survived through oral traditions. Very often telling and retelling of stories lead to great exaggeration of what really happened. This phenomenon can still be observed today. Just look at what people do on Twitter. There’s some remark or news snippets and look what people turn them into.

So here’s my scientific analysis to explain the phenomenon of Jesus healing people. I see mainly five categories of illnesses and cures.

Category 1: Mental illnesses treatable by psychotherapy

Let’s look at Matthew 15 (abridged): Jesus left and went to the territory near the cities of Tyre and Sidon. Suddenly a Canaanite woman from there came out shouting, “Lord help me. My daughter is full of demons.” ... Jesus answered, “Dear woman, you really do have a lot of faith, and you will be given what you want.” At that moment her daughter was healed.

As I already said “at that moment” is most certainly wrong. It would turn Jesus into a magician. The expression “is full of demons” can be found in both the old and new testament very often. I think it refers to illnesses such as generalized anxiety disorder (see ICD-10 code F41.1) and major depressive episodes (see e.g. ICD-10 code F32.1). Maybe the girl had been threatened by a wild animal and the experience was so traumatic she couldn’t tell her mother about it. Or it was a case of child abuse involving her father. We know from modern medicine that certain (mild) forms of mental illnesses can be dealt with by talking alone without medication. I think Jesus did talk to the daughter and also the mother. Beliefs are a very powerful tool to deal with hopeless situations. There are modern cases of meth addicts for whom every therapy failed, but becoming part of a very religious community allowed the addicts to overcome their addiction. Ironically dark ages belief systems such as creationism are more effective in those cases than my type of Christian belief for example. Being a scientist is actually counterproductive.

Category 2: Psychosomatic illnesses treatable by talking and psychotherapy

Some physical diseases are believed to have a mental component derived from the stresses and strains of everyday living. It is still difficult to classify some disorders as purely physical, mixed psychosomatic, or purely somatoform (Wikipedia). Examples include high pulse rates, chest pain, stomach ulcers like peptic ulcer, irritable bowel syndrome, neurodermatitis, certain forms of headaches, eczema, and many others. Reasons include stress, mental imbalance, desperation and unhealthy life styles. I would add suffering from spiritual voids. I think Jesus had a gift for filling spiritual voids and the power of his words also reduced stress and he gave people a new form of hope.

For category 2 illnesses the placebo effect can also offer a cure. Maybe homeopathic medicines are very powerful because of this for some people. I think the placebo effect also works in religion whenever the effect is directly linked to a cause like a material object such as a cross or prayer beads or holy water. So if someone believes that the bead has a magical power to let the headache go away, it can go away. Most of Jesus’s teachings themselves cannot be viewed as a placebo because he was using metaphors like light and salt and fish. He asked people to show altruistic behavior. Modern medicine shows that being genuinely interested in other people and helping them can in fact help curing psychosomatic disorders, even some forms of depression. Well, we probably know this since Dale Carnegie’s How to Stop Worrying and Start Living.

Category 3: Physical illnesses and neurogenesis

This is a very complex field and let me just give one example. It is known that partial paralysis as a result of strokes can be cured by applying certain therapies and learning techniques stimulating neurogenesis. A strong-willed mind is important. I find it likely that Jesus had the effect on people and he helped them to become more strong minded. Yes, I really want to move my right leg. Again this didn’t work instantly. Same as today.

Category 4: Indirect boost of the immune system

2000 years ago when people got infected by a virus or bacteria all they got was their immune system. There were no antiviral or antibiotic drugs. It is known than stress reduction and relaxation can result in a boost of the immune system. The same probably applies for positive thinking in general. Again Jesus’s powerful words encouraged this way of thinking.

Category 5: Spontaneous remission

I think those cases were extremely rare, but they do occur today and they did 2000 years ago. Cancer patients can fight their cancer but they really have to fight hard mentally. A strong belief in getting healthy is essential. I think most cases in the gospels are not a result of spontaneous remissions but maybe a few were.

DarkScribe's avatar

@mattbrowne So here’s my scientific analysis to explain the phenomenon of Jesus healing people

Ok, how did he turn water into wine? That would be worth knowing.

mattbrowne's avatar

@DarkScribe – He didn’t. This might be an explanation: when you get excellent food for thought and drink a glass of water it might “taste” like wine. You’re under the impression you’re receiving something that’s really great. Here are some other options

1) The bible as such is fake and it was fabricated after the First Council of Nicaea so that the Roman Emperor Constantine and the newly founded church could apply social control.

2) The bible is real and was written earlier, but the gospels are fake and the four evangelists Matthew, Mark, Luke and John made up the stories about the wine.

3) The gospels are real, but some oral traditions are fake and some jokester was spamming oral traditions with fantastic wizardry out of thin air.

See also my related new question

prasad's avatar

I think, divine revelation is something that cannot be explained to someone, but has to be experienced. Those, who experience it, reveals it to others so that others can also experience it.

Miracles do happen. Those who can do miracles may not be God’s devotees. God’s devotees are not attracted to miracles. Some of the powers can be acquired by yoga. But, such powers cannot bring happiness; divine revelation can.

Grisaille's avatar

Powers? What?

prasad's avatar

Powers to do miracles.

Grisaille's avatar

Do you have powers?

DarkScribe's avatar

@mattbrowne He didn’t.

So this was faked by the Apostles. Hmmm.

So Jesus came again into Cana of Galilee, where he made the water wine. And there was a certain nobleman, whose son was sick at Capernaum.
(John 4:46)

This beginning of miracles did Jesus in Cana of Galilee, and manifested forth his glory; and his disciples believed on him.
(John 2:11)

(Are you re-writing your Bible too? It seems to be a bit of a trend lately.)

prasad's avatar

No, I don’t. I don’t have any such powers.

mattbrowne's avatar

@DarkScribe – Ha, yeah, quite a trend. I’m working on an ultraliberal translation right now and Pauline will tell all the men in her community to shut their mouths. The conservatives will panic and run!

Seriously, I think the apostles used the wine as a symbol. Maybe they even said “tasted like wine” and oral traditions or the evangelists removed the word “like” and replaced “tasted” with “was”. Jesus himself used words like light and salt. When talking about salt of the earth is wasn’t about NaCl crystals, or was it?

mattbrowne's avatar

@prasad – Psychotherapists have powers and can do miracles. Buddhist monks have powers can perform miracles. But we have an understanding how they do it.

DarkScribe's avatar

@mattbrowne When talking about salt of the earth is wasn’t about NaCl crystals, or was it?

It was. I suggest that you spend some time looking at the history of the Biblical lands. Salt was a valuable trading commodity, taxed by the Romans. It was mined in the Red Sea area – Jebel Usdum (the hill of salt), a fifteen square mile mountain of salt. The outer layer of the salt was polluted and flavourless; it was usually discarded. To get the good stuff they had to dig into the earth.

prasad's avatar

@mattbrowne We might not know all about how they do it.
I’d like to tell you my experience. I went to a saint to seek his advice on my future or what should I do (many Indians do this, more over they go to future tellers also). I knew he could understand me more than I could/can. I sat in front of him. And, without uttering a word or making any gestures of lips or body, I simply asked him my doubts from my mind. I didn’t say anything. But, he understood and answered all my questions (he has to for I can’t read other’s minds). Later, he told how he did it. He said there’s nothing more in it, just make your mind equal or conform with the one whom you want to know, and you’ll know.
He told me not to get drifted away with miracles, as saints can do it. They have their minds clean, prideless, full of God. In stead, we should think how we can fall in love with God.

mattbrowne's avatar

@DarkScribe – So when Jesus talked he wanted people to trade salt because it was a valuable trading commodity?

“You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men.
You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.”

What about the people being the light? Light was also present in the Biblical land, but I don’t think sunshine was being taxed by the Romans.

Wine can be a symbol. Salt can be a symbol. Light can be a symbol.

DarkScribe's avatar

@mattbrowne Wine can be a symbol. Salt can be a symbol. Light can be a symbol.

Ok, I agree with that, but are you suggesting that the gospels were inaccurate, altered, or mistranslated? As we are talking about Greek here, not ancient Hebrew, there is not much likelihood of poor translation – so it would be the source – either a deliberate construction or a poor transition from verbal to written accounts. What makes you so sure that they are wrong in context?

mattbrowne's avatar

@DarkScribe – As for the cures mistranslations are not the issue. I also don’t want to rewrite the bible like some conservatives do. I want to understand the meaning of the original. I want to understand the historical context. I want to understand how people create myths. I want to understand the level of knowledge the people at the time had. I want to understand how oral traditions work.

Clarke once said, “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

This principle also applies to people who are ahead of their time. Highly intelligent women in the middle ages had medical knowledge about herbs and other plants. Some men saw this as a threat and eventually there were witch hunts.

Words can heal. Today we know some of the neurobiological reasons. I think Jesus was ahead of his time. Normal people could not interpret the effects he had on some people. To them it was magic or divine intervention. Should it be magic to us as well? It’s the year 2009 for Christ’s sake.

DarkScribe's avatar

@mattbrowne Highly intelligent women in the middle ages had medical knowledge about herbs and other plants. Some men saw this as a threat and eventually there were witch hunts.

I rather think that this had more to do with witch hunts than herbal medicine – well before the middle ages.

Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.
(Exodus 22:18)

There shall not be found among you any one that maketh his son or his daughter to pass through the fire, or that useth divination, or an observer of times, or an enchanter, or a witch,
(Deuteronomy 18:10)

doggywuv's avatar

Metaphor for an epiphany.

kym121's avatar

I guess the best question that I would have for you is: what would have to happen in order for you believe in divine revelation? Is there any definitive answer to that question? Or have you created this Q/A just to continually argue with people about the scientific as well as the literary use of scriptures?
I think Jesus meant the salt of the earth as a way of describing a way of depleting that which grows in the soil: When you salt/ Na Cl the soil in your backyard this happens.
Most of the religious books (not just the Bible) are written in a more poetically elegant fashion, it may also be useful to know that most of the prophets that are spoken of, and we know to have had revelations, were not writers in their professions- others created the records that we now read about in holy books.
Since I can’t simply assume that you have no faith or belief in God (Atheist), your post suggests that you don’t believe in any of the messengers, prophets, angels, or devils either, seeing as how revelation or visions or contact with a divine entity like God would obstruct the concept of you post all together.
However, put yourself in this position, you’re not Louise Lane so stop trying to view God as being a Superman type power in your life- let me guess you were a bright eyed child at one time who prayed to God or had something happen to you, and there was no Divine Intervention? Or take a Muslim, a Jew, a Christian, and an Atheist and put them all on a airplane that is about to crash- they will all say the same thing: “God please do not let this plane go down!” I’m not super religious person myself, but it does sound like you have something of a personal contention with this question and might what to explore other religions (Yes, there are more than the Christian/ Catholic) and ask them the same thing. The theory of evolution has many gaps that need to be filled too. Perhaps if we are gradually evolving and continue to find out more as humanity progresses, maybe this is just not the time and age for understanding such things quite yet. Cancer still goes uncured even with all the technological advances we do have, and the origin of autism is yet to be explained, so don’t proclaim science to be the definitive answer yet, when this is yet to have more discoveries too.

mattbrowne's avatar

The theory of evolution is not have many gaps as a theory. The tree of life does, but the gaps are being closed steadily. And there’s the gap between chemical evolution and the first life.

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