Argument from personal coincidences

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Argument from personal coincidences claims that fortunate events that are not predictable are evidence of God's intervention.

"Atheists, how do you explain uncanny coincidences? I know I've asked this before, but I still have difficulty rationalizing this. Why do such strange coincidences happen? Some things seem to go far beyond what is predicted by probability. For some examples, see this link: [3] [...] I've had a number of really strange coincidences in my life that seemed far too specific to have occurred because of chance. [1]"
"[After feeling threatened] I decided to ask Archangel Michael to send us protection to get the girls safely home. Within seconds I looked up in disbelief as a police officer walked through the door! I quickly got the girls out of the store. I knew that we have just been saved by God and Archangel Michael, the patron saint of that police officer and others everywhere. Heaven worked to protect us, and I'm very grateful. [2]"
"I knew … though I just couldn’t prove … God brought that wallet back to me. [3]"

The argument is sometimes combined with the argument from the efficacy of prayer.

Contents

Counter arguments

Argument from ignorance

How does the apologist know that God is arranging these occurrences, rather than aliens, the Illuminati or the abominable snowman? Because other causes, including unknown factors, have not been ruled out, this is an argument from ignorance.

Because our understanding of the world is gradually increasing, it is also an example of god of the gaps.

Nothing to explain

Unlikely events occasionally happen because of simple probability. If God did not exist, we would still expect to see strange coincidences. There are simply so many possible bizarre potential events and, naturally, some of them actually occur. Given the world is a big place and stories can circulate widely, we would expect some truly weird things to be reported!

Cognitive bias

Humans tend to interpret unlikely events incorrectly and often underestimate the probability of many seemingly strange occurrences. This is due to various cognitive biases, which everyone experiences. When people hold a belief, including religious belief, new evidence tends to be interpreted as supporting their existing point of view; this effect is called confirmation bias. Humans also experience the mind projection fallacy, which is our tendency to confuse our subjective experience with how the world really is. [4]

Humans are not usually content with coincidences without some rationalisation of the event. Friedrich Nietzsche argued that people seek explanations as a way to remove the uncomfortable feeling of doubt. For this reason, people are not very selective as to the explanation they choose.

"First principle: any explanation is better than none. Because it is fundamentally just our desire to be rid of an unpleasant uncertainty, we are not very particular about how we get rid of it: the first interpretation that explains the unknown in familiar terms feels so good that one 'accepts it as true.' [5]"

Invented stories

Some stories that circulate on the Internet are fictional. Websites such as Snopes dedicate themselves to investigating Internet rumours.

References

  1. [1]
  2. Doreen Virtue, The Miracles of Archangel Michael, 2008
  3. [2]
  4. Rebecca Newberger Goldstein, 36 Arguments for the Existence of God: A Work of Fiction, 2011
  5. Friedrich Nietzsche, Twilight of the Idols, 1895
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