Thus sayeth the Lord to Pat Robertson!
“I think He showed me about the next president, but I’m not supposed to talk about that so I’ll leave you in the dark — probably just as well — but I think I know who it’s gonna be.”
Oh. Well. It’s a secret. He’s not supposed to talk about it, you see. That would be too committal. That would open him up to criticism if he turns out to be wrong and would deprive him of the “Yes, that’s who God told me it would be” moment after the election (except if Obama wins, in which case we can simply chalk it up to yet another of Robertson’s false prophecies and just plain daffy utterances). He goes on…
Your country will be torn apart by internal stress. A house divided cannot stand. Your president holds a radical view of the direction of your country which is at odds with the majority. Expect chaos and paralysis. Your president holds a view which is at the odds with the majority — it’s a radical view of the future of this country, and so that’s why we’re having this division. This is a spiritual battle which can only be won by overwhelming prayer. The future of the world is at stake because if America falls, there’s no longer a strong champion of freedom and a champion of the oppressed of the world. There must be an urgent call to prayer.
So the next thing I expect is for many Christians to dog pile on Robertson and say, “Hey he’s nuts and not really one of us.” Maybe he’s not. But let’s talk about prophecy, from all sources, even the not-so-crazy-as-Robertsons for a moment, shall we? Even if Robertson is not one of “them” (and why not, by the way? He has a large mainstream audience. Are they not Christians?), religious prophecy follows a similar format and delivery, and yes, it happens in many mainstream churches, not just those on the fringe. Ebon Muse has a pretty good list of criteria for a prophecy to actually be considered a good prophecy in this essay. I summarize most of those here (and I recommend his whole article).
- It must be detailed, specific and unambiguous in its prediction and wording.
- The prophecy must not be trivial. Otherwise, the weatherman could be considered a prophet. We all know the sun will rise tomorrow morning. Now, saying it WON’T rise – that would be something.
- The prophecy must not be self-fulfilling. That means that the prophecy itself causes its own fulfillment. Many people, he points out, claim that “The Jewish people returned to their homeland in Israel just as the Bible said they would, but this isn’t a genuine prediction – they did it because the Bible said they would. The predicted event can’t be one that people could stage.”
- The prophecy cannot predict an event that already happened when the writing or utterance of the prophecy itself can’t be shown to have preceded the event. Such is the case with much of Biblical prophecy. The New Testament prophecies of the destruction of Jerusalem were written after the destruction of Jerusalem, to cite just one example
- The prophecy cannot predict an event that already happened when the happening of that event can’t be verified by independent evidence. Consider the Slaughter of the Innocents and the prophecy Matthew says it allegedly fulfilled. And no, the “historical plausibility” of an event is not enough to consider a prophecy fulfilled and put faith in the source it came from.
- The prophecy cannot be the lone success among a thousand failures. “Anyone can throw prophecies against the wall until one sticks.”
Notice a couple things whenever you hear a prophecy, biblical or otherwise. It’s a lot like going to see your local fortune teller. Rarely are the information and the prediction specific. Usually you can drive a truck through the vagaries and various meanings of words. They are usually set up so that they are not falsifiable. In religious prophecy, for example, “soon” can mean “soon” or it can mean 1,000 years from now, which renders the word completely meaningless. Why can we not get an exact, unequivocal date and time of a prophetic event and specificities about what exactly is going to happen? In that regard we have to give Harold Camping a lot of credit. He was bold and brave enough to put his money (and his followers’ money) where his mouth was. “On May 21…”
Consider also for example, the fulfillment of supposed Biblical prophecies claimed by those who think that Barack Obama is the antichrist. There are many examples, but I’ll refer to a few here, here, and perhaps most popularly, astonishingly and idiotically here (and then follow the links until your brain explodes). One wonders why if this is so clear, that it was not presented say, 50 years earlier, or 50 years before the birth of Obama, or for that matter, the day after it was written! Why, in light of all this clear interpretation of biblical data was nobody able to say until after Obama showed up on the scene, “Beware, for the antichrist will surely be named Baraq U-Bam-Maw!”
Let us then take inventory of Robertson’s message from God using this criteria, and let us do likewise to all such prophecies.
1) Specificity and detail – Fail. We could stop right here and go no further. It is meaningless without unambiguous detail and specificity.
2) Triviality – Neutral. The Presidential election itself is not trivial. Predicting its outcome at this point could just be a good guess though. There are many pundits who, after the election will claim to have been right all along. The odds of guessing in other words are reasonable. The end of the world ending on the day Camping predicted was much less trivial.
3) Self-fulfilling – N/A. Since there is no specificity, it’s hard to see how it could be fulfilled in the first place, but what that also means is that any answer could be the right answer. The prophecy is fulfilled no matter what as long as Robertson continues to be vague or silent about the details. It is not falsifiable, and thus is meaningless.
4 & 5) Happened in the past – N/A – The event has not yet happened.
6) Robertson’s success rate – Fail
Please know, oh prophet! Please know, oh you believers and teachers of ancient prophecies! Your words shall be measured against these standards by rational people who will listen to what you have to say, and either hide them away if they meet all these criteria (which they rarely do) or reject them if they do not. Even if the prophecies do meet all the criteria, skepticism is still the order of the day simply because if we look at all the prophecies given throughout history and dismiss all but those that are verifiably and conclusively fulfilled, it is still most likely that on second look, prophecy in general vis-à-vis standard #6 has a lot of catching up to do.