So much for the earlier times, but even in the twentieth and twenty-first century there are plenty of recorded events that point to the supernatural. The popular atheist Richard Dawkins is dismissive of apparitions, putting them down mockingly to hallucinations, but even he is stumped by the events of Fatima in 1917 where three young shepherd children (none over the age of 10) saw visions of Mary over a period of six months in 1917. These visions took place on the same day each month (apart from a variation when the children were imprisoned) and before the last vision the children had announced that a miracle would occur on that day, 13 October. As a result, and despite a thunderstorm with torrential rain, there were some 70,000 people present, including reporters from many of the country’s leading newspapers, and from around the world.
After the heavy rain, the sun was seen to make extraordinary movements in the sky, terrifying and astounding all the crowds. At the end of it all, the clothes of the people – so recently sodden – were completely dry. Dawkins concedes in The God Delusion that “on the face of it” mass visions such as this one at Fatima “are harder to write off”. He concedes that it is not realistic to accuse 70,000 people of sharing the same hallucination, or that they all colluded in a lie, or that the historical records (newspapers around the world) were somehow “mistaken”. But as Dawkins cannot admit of a supernatural cause, he concludes that any of those possibilities is more probable than the Catholic take on the events. In reality, the argument amounts to little more than saying “it cannot possibly be true because it cannot possibly be true”. Dawkins is on record as saying that “there is just no evidence for the existence of God” but if he writes off one of the most astonishing apparent miracles of the 20th century on the basis of its improbability then one is entitled to ask just what evidence he is looking for.