January 6, 2011

On predictions and prophecies

I am writing this in response to a colleague; there was no opportunity to reply then. Hopefully that person would get to hear my side here.

My colleague says:

"If the prediction is wrong, a lot of people would be affected.
If the prediction is right, it's a self-fulfilling prophecy."

Immediately the statement sounded strange to me. The sentences were not logically parallel; what appeared to be a comparison or a contrast turned out to be neither. So what is the message?

Also, the second half of sentence 1 can also be used in sentence 2. Modifying, we have:

"If the prediction is wrong, a lot of people would be affected.
If the prediction is right, a lot of people would be affected."

The version above is obvious, and the statement unnecessary, which is exactly my point. Why say sentence 1 at all?

More importantly sentence 2 points to a dismissal of all predictions. Here's the clincher: The statement gives the appearance of equality and logic, but actually gives the message that "There's no such thing as a correct prediction."

The statement actually points to the speaker's bias.

Many predictions are unsuccessful. Many, not all. And not all successful predictions are self-fulfilling prophecies.

There are instances when the persons being predicted on (1) have no information about the prediction, (2) have no ability to fulfill it, or (3) have no incentive to fulfill it. Improbable, yes, but not impossible, and this is how cynics (whether honest or biased) turn into the most ardent believers.

Of the estimated 2500 prophecies contained in the Bible, about 2000 refer to past historical events, and all of which have been successfully fulfilled. Crazy? Just self-fulfilling?

Remember that some persons being predicted on...

(1) have no information about the prediction: There are predictions made about people living in a different place or time, such as when Xerxes was foretold 180 years earlier that he will release the Jewish people.

(2) have no ability to fulfill it: When people successfully predicted famine, or birth from previously barren women (or even from a virgin), these predictions cannot be considered "self-fulfilling".

(3) have no incentive to fulfill it: Many times the Jews were warned that they would be conquered by rival nations, and they were. Specifically, the capital city of Jerusalem was predicted to fall after the arrival of the Messiah; this occurred in 70 A.D.

Predictions can be successful and not just by chance. We can make educated guesses, compute the most probable outcomes, and so on.

When a prediction is made by the Almighty, He will make sure it will come to pass. And if the prediction does come true, it can be termed a self-fulfilling prophecy --- only because (1) prophecies are defined as messages from God, and (2) the Almighty is perfectly capable of doing as He said.

God's messengers can only deliver the message, including predictions. A mere messenger cannot fulfill the message he is carrying.

How ironic. What was intended as a dismissal of God's message ("Oh, that's just a self-fulfilling prophecy...") turns out to be proof undeniable of God Himself.

To rephrase my colleague's statement:

"If the prediction is wrong, then we should not be affected. People make mistakes all the time.
If the prediction is right, against all odds, then it's from God, who always fulfills what He says."

(My numerical data came from this comprehensive article which lists Biblical predictions, including actual numerical probabilities.)

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