Do atheists believe in fortune telling?

Yes, I know that atheists are those who believe that there is no god, but what about telling the future? I’ve only been an atheist for a little while now, but I really do believe that there is no god, but my mother told me about how she went to this fortune teller once and the fortune teller told her that she would marry my dad and have three kids and would live in the house we live in now (not that specific, of course, but close enough—she described my dad and the house well, and she really did end up having three kids). So, do atheists believe in being able to tell the future?

Posted: October 31st 2010

brian thomson www

I can only speak for myself, of course, but my short answer is “Heck, No”. Atheism is born of rational skepticism, and it would be hypocritical to be skeptical of religion yet accept any other form of supernaturalism.

Posted: November 5th 2010

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Dave Hitt www

When someone gives me a specific, detailed fortune, something no one else could possibly know or guess, I’ll believe. For instance, the numbers on the next lottery.

Until then, no. It’s nonsense. If it wasn’t, casinos could not exist.

If you play Blackjack correctly the house has a 2.5% edge. That’s not much, but it’s enough to get all your money, eventually. (That’s why there are no professional blackjack players.) If someone could guess the dealers card, or the next card in the deck, with just a 55% accuracy, and played correctly, they’d have a 2.5% edge, and they could make a very nice living at it.

But it hasn’t happened, not with Blackjack, not with any other casino game. Therefore, it’s reasonable to conclude that such abilities don’t exist.

Posted: November 3rd 2010

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As of yet, there is no extraordinary evidence for such extraordinary claims. Recently, a study on precognition has been released, but one attempt to repeat the results have failed. Successful scientific studies are what we need before we can accept the existence of psychic powers. At this point in time, the Randi prize for such proof is still collecting dust.

Just like religion hijacks many of our innate traits, so does psychic phenomenon—gullibility, deference to authority, perception of unseen forces, etc. At present, there are adequate explanations of these events, and coupled with no evidence for them, means that a rationalist has no choice but not to accept the existence of psychic powers.

My atheism is secondary to my rationalism, as it is just a conclusion from embracing rationalism. So, no, I do not accept the existence of psychic powers. With substantial evidence, then I will.

Posted: November 2nd 2010

See all questions answered by logicel


I don’t.

Fortune tellers use a technique known as “cold reading”, called that because the fortune teller knows nothing about the person (psychics and evangelicals often cheat and use “warm reading”, where they collect information surreptitiously before hand and use that in their show).

For more information, see Ray Hyman’s article: Cold Reading: How to Convince Strangers That You Know All About Them

You might also want to start reading Skeptical Inquirer – it has lots of information in this area, and extensive online archives.

Posted: November 1st 2010

See all questions answered by Eric_PK

flagellant www

This particular atheist doesn’t believe in fortune telling; nor does he believe in gods, spirits, ghosts, and the efficacy of snake oil. Here’s why:

You can only reasonably consider that the future has been foretold, if you do not know what the prediction is before it occurs. This is why all biblical prophecies are worthless. In your Mother’s case, it isn’t as though the prediction/forecast was put in a sealed envelope, and buried for many years; your Mother actually knew what the prediction was, she had a large measure of control over her future, and this indubitably influenced the outcome. To that extent, her “fortune” was worthless and I hope it was free. Nothing you describe is particularly exceptional. The remarkable feature is that you seem to treat your Mother’s story seriously.

This is not to say that we should not try to predict the future using measurements and historical evidence, but forecasting is a very inexact science, and a far cry from fortune telling: economic predictions are notably unreliable but that does not mean we should give them up. Earthquake forecasting is also a worthwhile activity but it certainly isn’t fortune telling, either: it’s projecting the future from past measurements.

May I suggest that, now you are an atheist, you should adopt a much more critical attitude to stories you hear?

Posted: November 1st 2010

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SmartLX www

A genuine fortune teller needs a method of seeing the future in detail. According to Newtonian physics, that’s only possible if you know the present in complete detail, down to the molecules. Quantum physics essentially rules that out. Therefore, a real fortune teller needs to violate physics as we know it. That requires the sort of supernatural resources atheists tend not to believe in: gods, mystical and purposeful energies, agents of fate, etc.

When your mother had her fortune told, she received various ideas which stayed in the back of her mind until they were reflected in her situation. She “knew” what kind of man to look for and flirt with, what kind of house to buy and how many kids to have.

Your opinion is apparently that the fortune teller told your mother these things because they were going to happen. Mine is just the opposite: your mother’s future unfolded the way it did at least partly because of the fortune teller. Through your mother, the predictions had the opportunity to fulfill themselves.

Posted: October 31st 2010

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George Locke

Not as a rule, no. Since atheists have no creed besides lack of faith, you’ll probably find some of us on either side of any given issue.

That being said, I think you’ll find a trend against belief in fortune telling. Fortune tellers have mundane abilities that help in guessing a likely future for their clients. Given their knack for good guessing, one should expect that a fortune teller will occasionally be extremely accurate by mere chance. As they say, even a broken clock is right twice a day.

For a more amusing take on the issue, see xkcd.

Posted: October 31st 2010

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