"There is in human nature generally more of the fool than of the wise" - Francis Bacon, Essays, 1625 A.D.
|At Delphi where ancient kings came to consult the Oracle before commencing any major military operations.|
by Kudakwashe Kanhutu
There is something that I have not yet tackled regardless of the fact that I have made it my business to discuss everything under the sun. The subject is prophecy. I have chosen to stay clear of this topic because people tend to be too sensitive about their spirituality and any criticism therefore. I, on the other hand, care only about the hard facts in life and further, I don't have any "prophet" friends so the subject rarely arises. Fact: I am very sceptical about prophecy. Mind you I do not say it is utterly useless; in my study of the Democratic Republic of Congo, I found prophetic churches to be the substitute of the state in offering hope and comradeship where abject poverty rules because the state does not exist. But, as you very well know: "hope is a good breakfast, but it is a bad supper."
The anecdote that follows below sums up my scepticism about prophecy in all its variants. Granted, I have not done a clinical study to establish whether those who have received prophecies have seen them unfold in the manner described by the "prophet." My suspicion arises because "prophecy" is always couched in such vague terms so as to make it hard to call out the "prophet" for lying. In Logic, such a manner of speaking is called the fallacy of amphiboly.
The fallacy of amphiboly occurs in arguing from premises whose formulations are ambiguous because of their grammatical construction. A statement is amphibolous when its meaning is unclear because of the loose or awkward way in which its words are combined. An amphibolous statement may be true on one interpretation and false on another. When it is stated as premise with the interpretation which makes it true, and a conclusion is drawn from it on the interpretation which makes it false, then the fallacy of amphiboly has been committed.
The classic example of amphiboly has to do with Croesus and the Oracle of Delphi. Amphibolous utterances were, of course, the chief stock in trade of the ancient oracles. Croesus, the King of Lydia, was contemplating war with the Kingdom of Persia. Being a prudent man, he did not wish to go to war unless he were sure to win. He consulted Delphi on the matter and received the oracular reply that "If Croesus went to war with Cyrus, he would destroy a mighty Kingdom." Delighted with this prediction, Croesus went to war and was speedily defeated by Cyrus, King of the Persian host. Afterwards, his life having been spared, Croesus wrote a bitterly complaining letter to the Oracle, presumably signing it "irate subscriber." His letter was answered by the priests of Delphi who claimed that the Oracle had been right. In going to war, Croesus had destroyed a mighty Kingdom - his own!**
** Copi, Irving M. (1961), Introduction To Logic. New York: Macmillan Company.