CHAPTER 8: Aren’t there prophecies like this in other religions or from psychics?

[Excerpt from Chapter 8: Objections to Prophecy]

Buy a copy of Evidence Unseen.

Many claim that other religions and worldviews have prophets of their own. For instance, skeptic Farrell Till writes, “If, then, Old Testament prophets did on occasions foresee the future (a questionable premise at best), perhaps they were merely the Nostradamuses and Edgar Cayces of their day.”[1] If this is true, then this would make the Bible just one holy book among many. But is this the case? Let’s look at a number of other so-called prophets and psychics, who claim to predict the future.

What about Muhammad?

Muslim theologians claim that Muhammad made predictions about the future that confirm the Quran’s inspiration. One Muslim apologist writes,

No one can ever imagine that an unlettered person living in a nomadic society of Arabia 1400 years ago can predict such amazing scientific events… It is very well beyond the human capacity to foretell or even visualize such incredible incidents. The only conceivable source of these prophecies and predictions is purely divine.[2]

As you read these prophecies from the Quran, ask yourself if these predictions really compare with the prophecies that are found in the pages of the Bible.

FINGERPRINT IDENTIFICATION? “Their skins will bear witness against them as to what they have been doing” (Surah 41:21).

GENETIC ENGINEERING? “They will alter Allah’s creation” (Surah 4:120).

ROADS IN MOUNTAINS? “And when the mountains are made to move” (Surah 81:4).

NEW TRANSPORTATION SYSTEMS? “And when the she-camels, ten months pregnant are abandoned” (Surah 81:5). “And He has created horses and mules and asses that you may ride them, and as a source of beauty. And He will create what you do not yet know” (16:9).

ZOOS? “And when the wild beasts are gathered together” (81:6).

MODERN COMMUNICATION? “And when various people are brought together” (81:8).

AIR TRAFFIC SYSTEMS? “And by the heaven full of tracks” (51:8).

What do you think? Do you agree that the “only conceivable source of these prophecies and predictions is purely divine,” as the Muslim apologist argued above?

None of these prophecies in the Quran are specific, but more importantly, none of them are even significant. If God was truly authenticating himself, why would he predict menial things like zoos, air traffic control, or fingerprint identification? These predictions are vague and trivial, while the biblical predictions are specific and historically significant.[3]

What about Nostradamus?

Michel Nostradamus was a French physician and astrologer, who lived from 1503 to 1566. He fought the Bubonic plague in his community, but he eventually lost many of his patients to the disease, including his own family. The horrors of the Bubonic plague most likely influenced the dark and apocalyptic content of his “prophecies.” Nostradamus wrote several “centuries,” which are a collection of one hundred quatrains (or four-line stanzas). He didn’t write them in any particular chronological order, but he claimed to predict events up to the year 3797.[4] Nostradamus has fascinated people for centuries, and some claim that many of his predictions have been fulfilled in our own day.

Did Nostradamus predict the attack of September 11th?

Some supporters of Nostradamus claim that he predicted the events of September 11th with startling accuracy. Days after the attack, the internet buzzed with one of his fulfilled predictions. Read it for yourself:

In the year of the new century and nine months,

From the sky will come a great King of Terror…

The sky will burn at forty-five degrees.

Fire approaches the great new city…

In another quatrain, we read:

In the city of York there will be a great collapse,

Two twin brothers torn apart by chaos

While the fortress falls the great leader will succumb

Third big war will begin when the big city is burning.

This passage seems to predict the year, month, attackers, city, and the nature of the attack. Not bad for a guy 500 years in advance!

However, these excerpts from the internet turned out to be “crude fakes,”[5] as even Nostradamus supporters readily admit.[6] The first quatrain was a combination of two separate quatrains (6-97 and 10-72), and the second quatrain was completely faked. When we read a translation from Edgar Leoni (the world’s former leading scholar on Nostradamus), the first quatrain actually reads like this:

At forty-five degrees the sky will burn,

Fire to approach the great new city:

In an instant a great scattered flame will leap up,

When one will want to demand proof of the Normans.

(Century 6, Quatrain 97)

Some argue that the reference to “forty-five degrees” refers to the latitude of New York City. For instance, Nostradamus supporter John Hogue asks, “Does one brush it all off as a coincidence that the city of ‘new’ York is near latitude 45 degrees?”[7] Personally, I have no problem brushing this off as a coincidence. “Forty-five degrees” could refer to any number of things (Is this an angle, a temperature, a longitude, or a latitude?). And yet, if it refers to the latitude of New York City (as Hogue claims), then this is a false prediction. The Twin Towers actually rested at 40 degrees latitude—not 45 degrees. To give you an idea of how much this is off, 45 degrees latitude would place you well north of Toronto, Canada. In other words, this “prophecy” isn’t even close.

Nostradamus also uses vague or general language, making his predictions easier to fulfill in retrospect. For instance, when Nostradamus predicts a “great new city,” this could refer to any city. His prediction that a “flame will leap up” obviously refers to all flames, which all leap up. When Nostradamus actually made a clear-cut prediction using dates (rather than vague language), he was dead wrong. He wrote that the world would undergo horrific war, famine, and disease on June 22, 1732. Supporter Edgar Leoni remarks that at this time Europe was in the “very center of several decades of rare relative peace and prosperity.”[8] In addition, the portion about the Normans has absolutely nothing to do with New York City or the terrorist attack. The Normans were a group of people, who had invaded France before Nostradamus’ time.

Furthermore, the context for this passage is nonsensical and doesn’t support a clear interpretation. For instance, this is quatrain 97. If we look at quatrain 96, we read that the great city was “abandoned to the soldiers” and “except one offense nothing will be spared it.” In quatrain 98, we read that there will be “ruin for the Volcae” and “their great city.” Leoni believes that this is a reference to the city of Toulouse in France. In other words, the context of this passage has nothing to do with September 11th whatsoever. Let’s consider the second quatrain:

The year 1999, seventh month,

From the sky will come a great King of Terror:

To bring back to life the great King of the Mongols,

Before and after Mars to reign by good luck.

(Century 10, Quatrain 72)

Before the attack of September 11th, advocates of Nostradamus believed that this passage predicted a number of different things: a great Mongol warlord, the third Antichrist, the destruction of the civilized world, an airborne invasion of France, or a Muslim invasion of the Middle East.[9] Needless to say, this passage is so confusing that even supporters of Nostradamus couldn’t figure it out.

Moreover, in the original text, this passage doesn’t say “from the sky will come a great King of Terror.” Instead, in the original edition (of 1555), it states, “From the sky will come a great appeaser King.”[10] In addition, the mention of “the great King of the Mongols” is the French word “Angolmois.” In Nostradamus’ time, this word actually referred to “one of the territories belonging to the Queen of Navarre… north-east of Bordeaux.”[11] Therefore, this passage doesn’t actually mention a “King of Terror” or a “great King of the Mongols” anywhere.

Finally, consider the timeframe: July of 1999. Unfortunately, the only portion of this prediction that is actually clear is the same portion that is verifiably false. John Kennedy Jr. died in a plane crash on July 16, 1999. When this happened, Nostradamus supporters tried to apply this passage to his death, claiming a miraculous fulfillment. However, I’m sure you can see that this “fulfillment” is just as doubtful and twisted as the September 11th “fulfillment.” To test this prediction, ask yourself: If I read this to an F.B.I. agent on September 10th, could I have prevented the terrorist attack? I doubt it.

Did Nostradamus predict Adolf Hitler?

Some supporters of Nostradamus claim that he predicted the career of Adolf Hitler:

Beasts ferocious from hunger will swim across rivers:

The greater part of the region will be against Hister

The great one will cause it to be dragged in an iron cage,

When the German child will observe nothing.

(Century 2, Quatrain 24)

However, this mention of “Hister” or “Ister” is actually a reference to the “the river Danube.”[12] In fact, in the next quatrain, Nostradamus writes that “Hister” joins with the Rhine River. This interpretation of “Hister” is so clear that even Nostradamus advocate Stewart Robb admits, “Hister is an old, old name for the Danube.”[13] Also, note the obvious criticism of this prediction: Hister is not the same as Hitler. Even if this passage predicts a person (which it doesn’t), it’s predicting the wrong one.

Other Criticism of Nostradamus

Commenting on Nostradamus’ prophecies, many scholars have harshly criticized his work for many years. For instance, in 1882, Jean Gimon wrote that Nostradamus’ language was “so multiform and nebulous that each may… find in them what he seeks.”[14] In 1867, Le Pelletier wrote, “Nostradamus and his works are an enigma… All is ambiguous in [Nostradamus]: the man, the thought, the style… There lies no visible plan or method; all seems to be thrown together pell-mell in a universal mass of confusion.”[15] To this day, Edgar Leoni’s 1982 book Nostradamus and His Prophecies is still considered “by all standards the most complete, in-depth cataloging study that will probably ever be done on Nostradamus.”[16] And yet even as an avid supporter, Leoni himself admits,

It seems that in the huge mass of predictions that can be found in the prose outline, there is not a single successful prophecy. The dating of two calamities serves to discredit him completely in this work… At best it can be said of Nostradamus as a prophet that he occasionally had a successful ‘vision’ of what would happen, but never of when anything would happen.[17]

Of course, a broken clock is still right twice a day. Out of the hundreds of predictions that he made, spanning hundreds of years, Nostradamus was bound to get a few vague details correct once in a while. However, this doesn’t prove that a supernatural source was involved.

What about Edgar Cayce?

Edgar Cayce (pronounced CAY-see) was a prophet in the early 20th century, who diagnosed illnesses for people that lived thousands of miles away. Cayce claimed to be a reincarnated warrior of Troy, a disciple of Jesus Christ, an Egyptian priest, a Persian monarch, and a heavenly angelic being, who had lived before the beginning of the human race. The press called Cayce the “sleeping prophet,” because he would make his predictions after being in a trance-like state. However, Cayce’s trances were “admittedly indistinguishable from sleep on occasion, sometimes even accompanied by snoring.”[18]

Furthermore, Cayce’s predictions about the future are demonstrably false. For instance, in 1934, he predicted that “Poseidia”—a portion of the lost city of Atlantis—would rise from the Atlantic Ocean in 1968 or 1969. He predicted that California would break off and fall into the Pacific Ocean in the 1970’s.[19] He predicted that the upper portion of Europe would change “in the twinkling of an eye,” land would appear off the east coast of America, and the poles would shift sometime between the years of 1958 and 1998.[20] Of course, Cayce died in 1945, so he wasn’t around to see the looks on people’s faces, when these predictions never came true.

What about Jeane Dixon?

In 1953, psychic Jeane Dixon entered Saint Matthew’s Cathedral, having a vision of a young, blue-eyed Democratic President. She claimed that he would be “assassinated or die in office,” and this prediction appeared in Parade magazine on May 13th, 1956 (seven years before JFK was killed).[21]

However, this prediction isn’t as powerful as it may seem. For instance, Dixon didn’t name Kennedy; she merely named that a Democrat would be assassinated. There was a 50/50 chance that a Democrat would be elected in 1960, so this really isn’t that impressive. In addition, many United States presidents have been attacked or assassinated in office, so this really isn’t that impressive, either. In fact, many presidents have had attacks on their life, including Andrew Jackson, Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, Gerald Ford, George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush.

Other presidents have died in office (e.g. Warren Harding and Franklin Roosevelt), and others have been critically ill during their term of service (e.g. Woodrow Wilson and Dwight Eisenhower). Being the President of the United States is a dangerous job, and it isn’t impressive that Dixon could make a prediction that he would be “assassinated or die in office”—especially when assassination attempts or other deaths are so common.

In addition, the magazine article stated: “Mrs. Dixon thinks it [the election] will be dominated by labor and won by a Democrat. He will be assassinated or die in office though not necessarily in his first term.”[22] If you look closely at her prediction, you’ll see that she was wrong about this election being “dominated by labor.” It wasn’t. Also, she claimed that Kennedy might die in his second term. He didn’t. If this isn’t enough, immediately before the election, Dixon recanted this prediction—even though she wound up being right about a Democrat being elected! James Randi writes, “At one point, she predicted that Richard Nixon would win the position.”[23] Christian apologist Norman Geisler adds,

Jeane Dixon… was wrong the vast majority of the time. Indeed, even her biographer, Ruth Montgomery, admits that Dixon made false prophecies. ‘She predicted that Red China would plunge the world into war over Quemoy and Matsu in October of 1958; she thought that labor leader Walter Reuther would actively seek the presidency in 1964.’ On October 19, 1968, Dixon assured us that Jacqueline Kennedy was not considering marriage; the next day Mrs. Kennedy wed Aristotle Onassis. She also said that World War III would begin in 1954, the Vietnam War would end in 1966, and Castro would be banished from Cuba in 1970.[24]

At one point, Jeane Dixon predicted that a comet would strike the Earth in the mid-eighties, which she said would be “known as one of the worst disasters of the 20th century.”[25] But as awful as the eighties are to remember for all of us, I don’t seem to recall anything like this ever happening.

What about modern psychics?

Other psychics haven’t fared much better. Skeptic James Underdown’s team of investigators openly debunked psychic Jonathan Edward’s television show Crossing Over. After they made their investigation, Underdown stated,

We recorded everything in studio and compared it to what aired. They were substantially different in the accuracy. They’re getting rid of the wrong guesses. Once you pull back the curtain and see how it’s done, it’s not impressive at all.[26]

Even though Edward’s show was debunked and later cancelled, he still continues to meet with clients, charging $750 an hour “with a waiting list that’s more than three years long.”[27] Regarding so-called psychics, investigator James Randi writes,

Over a four-year period, researchers examined predictions offered by major psychics working for the National Enquirer, the supermarket tabloid. There were 364 predictions, of which a total of four were correct. This means that the psychics—all of them top-rated professionals—were 98.9 percent wrong. They are all still in business, except for one who died. Judging from his record, death was probably unexpected.[28]

Psychic Sylvia Browne (weekly guest of The Montel Williams Show) claimed to be roughly 90% accurate in her predictions about missing persons and murder cases. However, after an intense three year study, a team of investigators discovered that out of 115 cases she “has not even been mostly correct about a single case.”[29] Moreover, in their recent study in the British Journal of Psychology, O’Keeffe and Wiseman found “no evidence to support the notion that the professional mediums involved in the research were, under controlled conditions, able to demonstrate paranormal or mediumistic ability.”[30]

To add insult to injury, skeptic James Underdown offers $50,000 for anyone who can perform supernatural or paranormal abilities in a controlled setting. On his website, Underdown writes, “We’ll… release the results publicly, which will raise your profile immensely among those who doubt your claims. The true skeptics will have to take notice!”[31] If this isn’t enough, skeptic James Randi will give one million dollars for the same offer.[32] If psychics could really predict the future, they’d be a great deal richer. However, to this day, neither one of these investigators has had to pay up.

Buy a copy of Evidence Unseen.

Go back to Table of Contents

[1] Farrell Till “Prophecies: Imaginary and Unfulfilled” (1991)

[2] Ansar Raza “Fulfilled Prophecies of the Holy Quran”

[3] Muslims also claim that the Bible predicted the coming of Muhammad (Deut. 18:15-18; Jn. 14:16). However, these prophecies are faulty for a few reasons. Deuteronomy 18 refers to a prophet “from among you, from your countrymen” (v.15). This must refer to the Jewish people—not the Arabs (compare 18:2 with 17:15). In John 14, Jesus clearly explains that the Helper is “the Holy Spirit” (v.26). And, Jesus states that He will be with us “forever” (v.16), which cannot apply to Muhammad, who died. Clearly, these are unclear predictions of Muhammad, and they are not evidential in any sense (i.e. predicting measurable results). Moreover, I haven’t included the Quranic predictions of “pollution” and the “regathering of Israel” (Surah 30:42; 17:105), because these predictions were made in the Bible hundreds of years before Muhammad (Is. 24:5; Is. 11:11; Jer. 31:38-40; Ezek. 37; Zech. 12:8-10; Lk. 21:24). Therefore, I don’t find these valid.

[4] This introduction was taken from Nostradamian scholar Edgar Leoni. “Biography of Nostradamus.” Nostradamus and His Prophecies. New York: Bell Pub., 1982. 15-40.

[5] Wilson, Ian. Nostradamus: The Man behind the Prophecies. New York: St. Martin’s, 2003. Xii.

[6] See Hogue, John. Nostradamus: a Life and Myth: the First Complete Biography of the World’s Most Famous and Controversial Prophet. London: Element, 2003. Xiii.

[7] Ibid., Xiii-xiv.

[8] Cited in Randi, James. The Mask of Nostradamus. New York: Scribner, 1990. 222.

[9] Wilson, Ian. Nostradamus: The Man behind the Prophecies. New York: St. Martin’s, 2003. 282.

[10] The French is “Du ciel viendra un grand Roy deffraieur.” Wilson, Ian. Nostradamus: The Man behind the Prophecies. New York: St. Martin’s, 2003. 282.

[11] Wilson, Ian. Nostradamus: The Man behind the Prophecies. New York: St. Martin’s, 2003. 283.

[12] Ibid., 278.

[13] Robb, Stewart. Nostradamus: Prophecies on World Events. New York: W.W. Norton &, 2002. 42.

[14] Nostradamus, and Edgar Leoni. Nostradamus and His Prophecies. New York: Bell Pub., 1982. 103.

[15] Ibid., 102.

[16] Randi, James. The Mask of Nostradamus. New York: Scribner, 1990. 155.

[17] Emphasis mine. Let me be clear. Leoni was referring to the prose portions of Nostradamus’ prophecies—not the enigmatic portions so common to his “centuries.” Nostradamus, and Edgar Leoni. Nostradamus and His Prophecies. New York: Bell Pub., 1982. 110.

[18] Randi, James. An Encyclopedia of Claims, Frauds, and Hoaxes of the Occult and Supernatural. New York, NY: St. Martin’s, 1995. 43.

[19] McDowell, Josh, and Don Douglas. Stewart. Understanding the Occult. San Bernardino, CA: Campus Crusade for Christ, 1982. 38.

[20] Randi, James. An Encyclopedia of Claims, Frauds, and Hoaxes of the Occult and Supernatural. New York, NY: St. Martin’s, 1995. 43.

[21] Theologians speculate that psychics can sometimes predict short-term events, and the Bible even allows for this possibility (Deut. 13:1-3), because Satan is in control of this world (2 Cor. 4:4; 1 Jn. 5:19). While Satan is not omniscient, he might be able to manipulate and coerce events to self-fulfill some short-term predictions. Therefore, I believe it’s possible (though not probable) that an occult psychic could predict some miniscule, short-term predictions. However, while I leave this open for possibility, no occult prediction comes close to the incredible predictions of the Bible.

[22] Cited in Randi, James. An Encyclopedia of Claims, Frauds, and Hoaxes of the Occult and Supernatural. New York, NY: St. Martin’s, 1995. 76.

[23] Ibid., 35.

[24] Zacharias, Ravi K., and Norman L. Geisler. Who Made God?: and Answers to over 100 Other Tough Questions of Faith. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2003. 134.

[25] Cited in Randi, James. The Mask of Nostradamus. New York: Scribner, 1990. 244.

[26] Cited in Larry Potash “Putting Psychics to the Test” Chicago Tribune September 21st, 2007.

[27] Hornberger, Francine. The World’s Greatest Psychics: Nostradamus to John Edward, Predictions and Prophecies, Hits and Misses. New York, NY: Kensington, 2004. 96.

[28] Randi, James. The Mask of Nostradamus. New York: Scribner, 1990. 31.

[29] Ryan Shaffer and Agatha Jadwiszczok “Psychic Defective: Sylvia Browne’s History of Failure” Skeptical Inquirer Volume 34. Issue 2. March/April 2010.

[30] Ciara’n O’Keeffe and Richard Wiseman “Testing Alleged Mediumship: Methods and Results” British Journal of Psychology. Volume 96. 2005. 175.