10 “scientific” explanations against the Fatima Miracle of the Sun

Yesterday I reminded you that it was the anniversary of the Fatima Miracle of the Sun.

Today I found on Creative Minority Report a delightfully snarky examination of some reasons naysayers posited to explain what happened.


Since this is just too good, here it is in full:

Top Ten Scientific Explantions of Miracle of Sun at Fatima

The Miracle of the Dancing Sun at Fatima which was seen by 70,000 people on October 13th, 1917 has been written about often. But many people continually attempt to explain away the vision of the sun dancing in the sky at a foretold time.

Avelino de Almeida, wrote articles for O Século, Portugal’s most widely-circulated and influential newspaper, which was pro-government and anti-clerical at the time. Almeida’s previous articles had been to satirize the previously reported events at Fatima but here’s what he wrote that day:

"Before the astonished eyes of the crowd, whose aspect was biblical as they stood bare-headed, eagerly searching the sky, the sun trembled, made sudden incredible movements outside all cosmic laws — the sun ‘danced’ according to the typical expression of the people."

But secularists have amassed an enormous amount of explanations as to why we should not believe our own eyes. Here are the astounding reasons they’ve amassed so we should believe nothing at all special happened in Portugal that great day[yes… this strikes the right tone!]

1. Stratospheric Dust. Steuart Campbell, writing for the 1989 edition of Journal of Meteorology, postulated that a cloud of stratospheric dust changed the appearance of the sun on 13 October, making it easy to look at, and causing it to appear yellow, blue, and violet and to spin. In support of his hypothesis, Mr. Campbell reports that a blue and reddened sun was reported in China as documented in 1983.  [On schedule, no doubt.]

2. ESP! (Always my favorite) Author Lisa Schwebel claims that the event was a supernatural (but non-miraculous) extra-sensory phenomenon. Schwebel notes that the solar phenomenon reported at Fátima is not unique – there have been several reported cases of high pitched religious gatherings culminating in the sudden and mysterious appearance of lights in the sky.  [Of course they do!  We hear about them all the time!]

3. Mock-Sun. Didn’t even know this existed but it’s worth a listen. Joe Nickell, a skeptic and investigator of paranormal phenomena, claims that the position of the phenomenon, as described by the various witnesses, is at the wrong azimuth and elevation to have been the sun. He suggests the cause may have been a sundog. Sometimes referred to as a parhelion or "mock sun", a sundog is an atmospheric optical phenomenon associated with the reflection/refraction of sunlight by the numerous small ice crystals that make up cirrus or cirrostratus clouds. A sundog is, however, a stationary phenomenon, and would not explain the reported appearance of the "dancing sun". So Nickell further suggests an explanation for this phenomena may lie in temporary retinal distortion, caused by staring at the intense light and/or the effect of darting the eyes to and fro so as to avoid completely fixed gazing (thus combining image, afterimage and movement). So the people shook their heads and though a mock-sun was dancing. All 70,000? Prety ridiculous, huh?  [But… but… it’s science!]

4. Dust cloud! Paul Simons, in an article entitled "Weather Secrets of Miracle at Fatima", states that he believes it possible that some of the optical effects at Fatima may have been caused by a cloud of dust from the Sahara.  [Good one!]

5. Ye ol mass hallucination theory. Author Kevin McClure claims that the crowd at Cova da Iria may have been expecting to see signs in the sun, as similar phenomena had been reported in the weeks leading up to the miracle. [Oh?  The sun moved around elsewhere before 13 October?] On this basis he believes that the crowd saw what it wanted to see. (Yeah because that happens all the time.) But McClure’s account fails to explain similar reports of people miles away, who by their own testimony were not even thinking of the event at the time, or the sudden drying of people’s sodden, rain-soaked clothes.  [Pesky details.]

6. UFO! It has been argued that the Fatima phenomenon was an alien craft. Of course, either that craft happened to come on the day that the three little children said a miracle would occur. Or the apparitions were all the works of little green men. This all sounds a lot more real than the Church’s explanation.  [I like this one.]

7. Solar Storm. A gigantic coronal mass ejection (CME) occurred. Every eleven years our sun goes through a period of solar storms and these storms have been with us for
centuries of recorded history. Solar flares emit high-speed particles that
cause the Northern Lights or Aurora Borealis. Well that explains it all right there. Because we all know the Northern Lights look exactly like the Sun dancing. Or not.  [Not.]

8. Peer pressure. Among a uniform people sharing a particular religious belief, it is very easy for individuals to feel social pressure to conform to whatever is seen as a part of "how things should be", for "true believers". 70,000 people. That’s pretty strong peer pressure especially for the people who saw it 20 miles away.  [Maybe the aliens from #6 had a PPAU or Peer Pressure Amplification Unit?]

9. Not everyone saw it. Astronomers noticed no dancing in the sky from all over the world. The dancing sun was a regional event thus disproving it. A quick question would be the fact that it was a regional event should prove that something out of the ordinary happened. If it happened worldwide it would be written off as simply an astronomical event because the whole world saw it.   [Yah… a little flaw in that argument.]

10. An Eclipse. These fellas don’t mind contradicting themselves. This would be a very very regional eclipse. Wouldn’t astronomers have noted the eclipse?  [I think we have been calculating eclipses for a while, unless once again the aliens of #6 interposed their ship, or maybe the rogue Planet X swept by… which, come to think of it, might have been noticed on its own.]

Bonus Reason:
11. Evolution. This is sadly from Institute of Physics, Catholic Univeristy of Louvain. Evolution has provided us with the infamous “zoom and loom effect”. It tends to appear when the brain is confronted with the two-dimensional retinal image of an object thatis situated at some unknown distance. The brain will then consider the possibility that it could come closer, by performing an illusory mental zoom, where the apparent size of the object isprogressively increased. This results from the fact that evolution preserved the tendency to take into account the possibility of a dangerous approach: a rapid evasive action could bebeneficial for survival. When the “idea” of an approach does not lead to any real danger, theperceived object returns to its normal place. Thus the dancing sun. Amazing. 70,000 people thought the Sun was a predator coming to eat them. When they realized the Sun had no teeth they "zoomed and loomed" it back to where it belonged. That might just be my favorite one.  [Good one.  I think we will all have to deal with this one seriously.]

So after listening to these level-headed scientists(?) explain away Fatima hasn’t it convinced you to join the Richard Dawkins fan club? Me neither.  


Wasn’t Richard Dawkins the one who proposed that, to explain the origins of life here, suggested that it was brought by aliens?

After all, that is so much more believable than, say, God.


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. Leonius says:

    Even if they could conjure up a natural explanation it would not disprove anything anyway because God works through nature, His creation.

  2. Fr. John Mary says:

    My take on the “scientific explanations” of the Miracle of the Sun at Fatima: Me thinks thou dost protesteth too much…
    Good grief, it’s difficult enough to get three people to agree on something; but 70,000! Mass hallucination? Peer pressure…pah-leeze. Don’t insult our intelligence, ye nay-sayers!

  3. chcrix says:

    So, let’s say that some highly unusual circumstances like stratospheric dust “explains” what people saw.

    And it must be pretty unusual. In the west we have more than 1,000 years of records and you can be sure some churchman of the middle ages would have recorded such a thing. And we have several hundred years of very detailed observations and thousands of trained observers. The chinese have more than 1,000 years of records. Parts of the middle east and the sub-continent also have the same.

    So, WHY did that phenomenon happen at just that place and just that time?

    My own belief is that God generally does not act in contradiction to physical laws. That is why, according to Tom Woods, true science came to fruition in the West: confidence that God will not break the laws he set up.

  4. Jane says:

    Those who don’t want to believe in God, don’t want to believe in miracles either and will write them off in any way that they can, even if they have to come up with plain silly reasons why a miracle is not a miracle.

  5. ssoldie says:

    “for those who believe, no explanation is necessary, for those who do not, no explanation will do”…… maybe they will come up with a ‘mass hypnotic suggestion’

  6. mpm says:

    Well, #11 proves one thing to me: The Catholic (?) folks at the Institute of Physics, Catholic University of Louvain, haven’t a clue what a scientific argument might look like anymore! (Wasn’t that the home of LeMaitre, of the Big Bang theory?)

    This results from the fact that evolution preserved the tendency to take into account the possibility of a dangerous approach: a rapid evasive action could be beneficial for survival.

    Is “rapid evasion” how one gets a doctorate there? LOL.

  7. MrTipsNZ says:

    It was Francis Crick who proposed aliens sent DNA to “populate” earth.
    He called this theory “Panspermia”. Good for him.

    Francis Crick also used to believe until his early 20s that men have one less rib than women
    based on a literal rendering of Genesis. He outlined all this in his autobiography “What Mad Pursuit?”

  8. Victor says:

    All of this doesn’t explain how Pope Pius XII saw exactly the same phenomenon at the end of the war, in the Vatican Gardens, and how my father saw it in August 1945, shortly after the war, in a mountain village in Austria. Incidental repetition of the same meteorological (or whatever) phenomenon several hundreds of kilometers apart? I think not…

  9. Girgadis says:

    Does Richard Dawkins have an explanation for why 3 ignorant and uneducated children would concoct a tale that would land them in jail and subject them and their families to persecution in a climate notably hostile to the Catholic Church? Even without the miracle of the sun, Fatima is compelling enough to make even the most hardened atheist think twice if they are willing to consider everything that happened. And they say Catholics are close-minded.

  10. albizzi says:

    I am amazed that nobody cares about the single fact that destroys all these clever theories: How could these 3 poor and ignorant kids predict the exact day and hour this huge and unprecedented astronomical event would happen up to draw here tens of thousand people?
    Our blessed mother said: “So that all may believe”
    All? Unfortunately not. There are no such deaf men as them who won’t hear the truth in any way.

  11. Geremia says:

    The Catholic (?) folks at the Institute of Physics, Catholic University of Louvain, haven’t a clue what a scientific argument might look like anymore! (Wasn’t that the home of LeMaitre, of the Big Bang theory?)

    Yes, Fr. Lemaître as well as Cardinal Mercier were from there.

  12. Salsta says:

    Since it is our Earth which is in orbit around the sun and not the other way around, any disturbance as described must have been a fluctuation in our orbit, rather than any actual movement of the sun.

    Given that such a violent fluctuation in the Earth’s orbit would have had worldwide effects other than merely a very local ‘dancing light’ (major tidal disturbances, including tidal waves; earthquakes and volcanic eruptions due to increased gravitational pulling and twisting; sudden temperature fluctuations greatly in excess of the normal summer / winter ranges; increased cosmic rays sufficient to create massive auroras and worlwide blowout of electrical systems, etc etc) – and that none of these things happened…

    It should be considered that, to follow the arguments of the philosopher David Hume: “…no testimony is sufficient to establish a miracle, unless the testimony be of such a kind, that its falsehood would be more miraculous, than the fact, which it endeavours to establish….”

    So – to be brutal:
    Which is more likely – that the entire Earth wobbled in its orbit and nobody on Earth noticed except a small crowd in Fatima? Or that a few thousand people experienced visual hallucinations after looking towards the sun for too long?

    Come on!

  13. JohnE says:

    #6: You mean a Cylon base ship? The REAL cylons of course, not the phony TV ones.

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