Monday, November 28, 2011

JP Moreland's angel encounter

As many skeptics are probably aware, JP Moreland has recently claimed to have had an angelic encounter. Although never actually saw the angles (and still hasn't, page 157), he has a little story about how he now "knows" they are real. According to his book and this report, he claims that an old woman at his church saw 3 angels around him. At first, he thought the woman was crazy. 8-10 months later, however, Moreland experienced a tragedy of some sort and decided to pray not only for the angels to protect him, but for God to verify the angels' existence to him. Less than a week later, a student claimed to have seen 3 angels hovering around Moreland in, apparently, the exact same manner described by the woman (pages 155-156). Hallelujah!

Now- what could've happened? Well, I'm sure even Moreland would agree that it could have been a very large coincidence. However- I think that, if we properly scrutinize the story, the coincidence in the end will not be that impressive. we'll begin by breaking the miracle claim into 3 separate parts- the Old woman, the prayer, and finally, the Student.

First off, lets keep in mind that he thought the old woman was crazy. Why was that, a skeptic will rightly ask? Could it be, perhaps, because the old woman was slightly crazy? It's not like it's hard to tell the difference between a crazy person from a sane person- they just don't look right. Also, we don't have evidence that the angels were in a sophisticated position- one that could not otherwise be guessed. According to the book, one angel stood by each of his sides, and another behind him. This position doesn't sound that complicated. In fact, it's really the only photogenic way three angels could huddle around someone! The only thing that seems strange is that the angel behind him was taller than him. Then again, it would look kinda funny if the angel behind him were shorter than him- since you wouldn't be able to see him! Plus, Moreland appears to be fairly  average height, at least according to this video (The first few seconds). Therefore, I doubt the backmost being taller is really that implausible to guess.

Moving on, lets look at part two of the miracle- the prayer. Now, it does seem somewhat odd that Moreland would think of the angels in his prayer- after all, he did say that he was experiencing a hard time. And remember, the first part of his prayer was for the angels to help him. Only later did he decide he wanted proof. In addition, keep in mind that Moreland only prayed that God would verify the angels' existence. He never instructed God in how this would happen. Moreland could've accepted anything as evidence for angels, as he never set up any limits.

Finally, we get to the icing on the cake. Why that student say 3 angels as opposed to two or four is beyond me. However, we must keep in mind that the old woman told Moreland of her vision 8-10 months ago, remember? For all we know, she could have seen two or five angels, and Moreland ended up changing the numbers in his head. She could have also said something ambigous, like "a few". Same thing for the details. Ten months is a lot of time to change the details- and he never mentions anything about going back and verifying what the old woman saw. He let 8-10 months pass, and thought very little of the experience, admitting that he "wasn't even sure if it was real". The details, like the angels height or even numbers could have been retrofitted. We do have precedent for this sort of thing happening- and 8-10 months is a hell of a lot of time.

I admit, this is all speculation, of course. What I do know, however, is that sane people regularly experience hallucinations. They typically occur when the person is tired or stressed out- conditions not uncommon in a university classroom. However- even sane people can and do experience hallucinations of strange things they don't even understand. Now, keep in mind that most hallucinations are of faces or humans. We all have an innate ability to detect patterns- and the most common ones tend to be faces. This is why we see faces in toast and why we see other people when we hallucinate (I will add a relevant link later). Interestingly enough, the angels all looked like regular people. Also, at least in the case of the student, the vision only lasted 5-10 minutes. Now, if we consider how bad human memory is, we can probably say the vision was closer to 5 minutes. Sound like a Hallucination to you? It does to me. Also, curiously enough, in this video, he claims that the vision from the student was "10-15 minutes", as opposed to the original "5-10 minutes". We can clearly see him changing the numbers.

So, I would like to conclude by saying that this case is an interesting one. It is the only angel case I have seen in which different people see the same entity(s) at different times. It is also rather strange that the student's angel appearance occurred at such a similar time to Moreland's prayer. According to Moreland, the student's vision occurred a few days prior to his sending the email to Moreland, which happened less than a week after the prayer. This means that, if Moreland can be taken at his word, the student saw the angels 2-4 days after the prayer. Although the angels's and their details don't impress me at all, it's the timing of the second prayer that makes me feel bad about dismissing the case entirely. Of course, I find it very strange that Moreland doesn't give out any numbers at all. All he says is "less than a week later", and "a few days earlier". I don't know why he wouldn't just give us hard numbers as opposed to estimates. It could be because, although he knows when he got the email, he forgot when he made the prayer request. If this is true, than the students email could've occurred much later, and, once again, Moreland was just retrofitting his memories to suit his expectations. It seems possible to me. According to Morelands "Closer to the truth" interview, the visit with the angel happened "2 years ago". Therefore, the miracles would have happened at least a year prior to the filming of that episode. I don't know when the episode was released, but I think it would be safe to say that the reports of his "miracle" came in about a year after they occurred- more than enough time to polish them off for apologetic purposes.

By the way, sorry for not doing a post on the OT. I was going to post a link to the  documentary "Unearthing the bible", but found that the video was removed from YouTube. I'll try to get a copy of it at the library.

1 comment:

  1. As a Reformed Christian I entirely agree with your assessment.

    I will even add an argument to yours:

    The Biblical argument.

    In all the Christian scriptures, when people saw angels, they did not respond with 'curiosity' or 'bemused confusion' or calm concern over their own sanity.

    What they did was run in terror, fall to the ground in fear, cry out for mercy, worship the angels, freeze like a deer, and various other responses you would expect from someone seeing an entirely otherworldly creature appearing before you, half-blinding you in the process.

    The stories that JP Moreland tells do not pass the scripture test.

    Your points are all great, but superfluous.

    On the grounds of the scriptures he claims to believe, his story does not ring true.

    Thank you for keeping Christians accountable to our own claims of rationality.