In honor of today’s being the Feast Day of Our Lady of Fatima, I here offer my defense of the miraculous nature of the sign granted by Mary at the conclusion of the Fatima apparitions:
Perhaps the greatest public miracle of all time is what is known as the “Dance of the Sun,” which occurred on October 13, 1917 in Fatima, Portugal. It happened at the request of Lucia dos Santos, who asked Our Lady for a miracle so that people would believe what she and her cousins were saying about the Marian apparitions they had been experiencing. One common objection to this well-known miracle is the idea that it was something called a “mass hallucination” (“Modern Miracles”). Essentially, the idea is that around seventy thousand people had a nearly identical waking nightmare about the sun going haywire–at the same time, for the same amount of time. Not only does this make no sense, but it also has no identical, supporting incidents; plus, it goes against something that even secular minds unquestionably put their faith in.
For starters, to assume that a group of people can have essentially the same false illusion play out in their minds is to say that the people are somehow telepathically linked, which would in itself suggest the supernatural. It would not be possible naturally, seeing the people are individual living beings, not connected computer chips. If you’re an atheist, this poses almost as much of a problem as does a miracle provided by the Mother of God. If you are going to accept that there was a supernatural power behind this, it really makes much more sense to believe that Mary granted us a miracle at the very hour predicted than that approximately seventy thousand people–including many devoted unbelievers–had the same false vision at the same instant (De Marchi).
How many other instances are there on record, where such an enormous “mass hallucination” has occurred? The closest example I can find is the incident of the sailors of la Belle-Poule, who thought that they saw some comrades they’d been searching for in a raft and some small boats adrift a ways away, and excitedly brought their ship over and sent out a rescue squad to find that it was nothing more than a cluster of branches and trees (De la Sainte Trinite, Chpt. 10 Appendix II); however, even this was dissimilar to the Miracle of the Sun.
First of all, there obviously weren’t seventy thousand sailors aboard the ship who could attest to having imagined seeing their comrades floating at sea. They were also afflicted with malaria, and I know of no record stating that the Portuguese pilgrims to Fatima had any such issue. On top of these things, I don’t see why any of the sailors would have taken a political and religious stance against the idea that there were other sailors out there they could rescue; whereas, at Fatima, there were quite a few strongly anti-Catholic people present who attested to the miracle, some of whom were apparently even converted by it. The most drastic way that the sailor incident was different, however, was that the Miracle of the Sun offered tangible proof that it was more than a mirage: all those who witnessed it–along with the ground around them–were dried by the sun’s heat, after having stood awaiting the miracle in pouring rain in a valley for hours beforehand. To say that the witnesses only hallucinated would be like saying that the sailors had just hallucinated, had one of them been shot by one of the “imaginary” men (presuming they had never found out “for sure“ if there really were any men adrift). That is to say, had there been actual, tangible evidence that the sailors had seen real people–something as obvious as one of those people shooting at them–it would be irrational to try and say that they’d only seen a mirage of some sort. The Miracle of the Sun had this sort of tangible evidence. And it’s not like the sailors saw something that wasn’t there at all; they were just mistaken in what they saw, their minds (affected by malaria and anxious to find their colleagues) having played tricks upon them.
Again, there were around seventy-thousand people who saw the Miracle of the Sun–for miles around–Catholics and atheists alike, which makes it safe to say that everyone present was not hoping to see a miracle (Haffert). The many atheists who attested to a miraculous occurrence would have no “reason to lie” whatsoever, as a logician could say.
There are some who say that eyewitness testimony is unreliable, and in some specific instances–such as a crime like murder–that may be true; different people will remember different details of the murderer, and are open to suggestion about other details. This means that their memory might not be quite reliable enough to, say, convict a potential criminal to a life sentence in prison. However, if they are clearly an eyewitness to the crime, then there is no real question as to whether they saw the event in the first place; the only issue is whether they correctly remember the details. Of the seventy thousand witnesses, there are less than ten (and that’s being quite generous to the opposing view) on record, who can actually say that they “saw nothing” (De la Sainte Trinite). If seven people were present for a murder, and they all described the murderer and the kind of gun he used differently, that would not deny the fact that they had still witnessed a murder; therefore, variations in the reports of what color lights shone down on Oct. 13, 1917, or of just how the sun moved or how long it moved for, are not discreditations that the sun did indeed dance–and appear to fall from the sky. If someone were to doubt human perception to such an extent, then they would also be wise to consider doubting their own perception of the event–perhaps even their overall method of reasoning.
What would you think, if the sun appeared to careen down upon you one day, spewing out all sorts of colors and zigzagging in the sky? Would any of the above reasons really be enough to convince you that you’d just imagined it? Not likely, especially if you had reason to believe it was a miracle, and were the type who originally didn’t want to believe in miracles. You would have to be desperate to seek out, and then actually believe, the arguments against the Miracle of the Sun listed above. Those are some of the best “explanations” atheists have come up with. While their skepticism certainly helps to keep Christians honest, there come times when miracles provide far more rational explanations than skepticism for the mere sake of skepticism (see the argument of Hahn and Wiker, p. 15). To be an honest skeptic is to be skeptical also of your own views (perhaps even your own skepticism), not just the beliefs of others.
De la Sainte Trinite, Frere Michel. The Whole Truth About Fatima. Catholic Voice. Immaculate Heart Publications, 1989. Web. 30 Mar. 2015.
De Marchi, John. The True Story of Fatima. “EWTN Libraries.” EWTN. St. Paul, MN: Catechetical Guild Education Society, 1956. Web. 30 Mar. 2015.
Haffert, John. “John Haffert on the Miracle of Fatima.” n.p. 1996. Lecture. Web. 31 Mar. 2015.
Hahn, Scott and Benjamin Wiker. Answering the New Atheism: Dismantling Dawkins’ Case Against God. Kindle edition.
“Modern Miracles.” Arguing with Atheists. n.d. Web. 31 Mar. 2015.