Magic and magic, what do they have in common? Perhaps I should clarify. What do prolific supernatural beliefs have in common with conjuring tricks?
In between study, I work as a close-up magician, performing at weddings, coorporate dinners, birthday parties and other such events. My passion for creating illusion has led me to perform for thousands of people, and to spend countless hours in front of the mirror, fiddling with cards, and studying the techniques and psychology of magic. Having also spent countless hours sat as a quiet skeptic in church with my parents, I couldn't help but notice some interesting similarities between the methods of creating a convincing illusion, and the beliefs and practices of the most successul religions.
The comparisons I could draw are too numerous for a single post, so for now I shall focus on just one.
Imagine I take out a matchbox. I remove from it three matches which I lay out in a row on the table. I now ask you to pick up some of these matches - as few or as many as you like. Let us suppose you pick up two matches. I now reveal my prediction by opening the matchbox. Inside is a folded piece of paper on which is written: "You will pick up TWO matches".
What just happened? Do people always go for two matches? Maybe I just got lucky? Maybe I perform it many times and sometimes it works while other times it doesn't?
Now imagine a universe. By some apprent miracle, this universe comes to contain intelligent life. Is such life inevitable? Maybe it came about by chance? Maybe there are many universes, and only the ones in which life develops can there be anyone to ask such questions?
With such questions we are missing a possibility: supernatural forces.
Okay, okay. Joking aside, we are missing another possibility. The questions so far posed assume some level of succes for each the magic trick and the universe. A successful execution of the magic trick means I got my prediction right. A successful universe is one which contains intelligent life, but by what standard are we measuring this success?
During the performance, for "strategic" reasons, I choose not to reveal that the matchbox can open two different ways to reveal two different pieces of paper, on which are written two different predictions. Similarly, unless you happened to pick up only a single match, I would not turn over the matchbox to reveal the sticky label on the bottom which reads "You will pick up ONE match". For three possibilities, I have made three predicitions, and I only ever need to show the one which is correct.
One might conclude that they have experienced a miracle if they assume that the result they experience is the only result that could have been considered successful. In both the magic trick, and in the case of the universe, the standard for measuring its success is determined AFTER the event itself. There is apparent intent in the outcome, and it is this intent which is the illusion.