Do Angels Believe In The Telegraph?

Specialized Angel by KWC on Flickr ( thought I’d read it all when it comes to the Telegraph. Homeopathy to cure cancer? Sure. UFOs that are really really not Chinese lanterns? Uh-huh. The moon landing was hoaxed? Gotcha. Telegraph, thy mysteries bore me and thy secrets hold no shock.

Except, I was wrong. That’s fine though, I’m always happy to admit when I’m wrong (I am! What do you know, anyway?!). So it was with equal parts incredulity and glee I allowed my love/hate affair with the Telegraph to take me in its warm and scientifically-bereft arms with the headline ‘Do you believe in angels?

No, I don’t. Nor should you. Silly Telegraph.

Still, it’s been a while since we wrote about them, and it’s rude of me to┬ádeny the Telegraph their fun, so let’s see what it’s all about. Well, as Journalist Christopher Howse reports:

“A university lecturer has criticised parents for being dismissive when their seven-year-old daughter told them that she saw an angel at her bedside every night, which she felt comforted by. Quite right, too. Perhaps she had seen an angel. Children, if they are truthful and well, should be taken seriously”

So children should be taken seriously, even when what they’re being serious about is something fringe, wildly unlikely and patently silly? This is a bizarre attitude to take – we all know children are prone to make believe, and to accept their reports of angels uncritically is to teach our children that critical thinking and questioning experiences isn’t important. If we accept angels, should we accept invisible friends and┬ámonsters under the bed, too? Are these any more ridiculous claims?

“Angels are not cuddly toys, and it is not just children who believe in them. They have become an adult craze. Gone are the merely jokey fancies. Unjokey books like Angels in My Hair by Lorna Byrne or Angels Watching Over Me by Jacky Newcomb sell millions”

Bzzzt! Argument from authority – just because it’s the belief of adults rather than children does not make the claim any less ridiculous. Unjokey books selling millions? Bzzzt! Argumentum ad populum – a million people can be wrong, just because something sells in vast numbers doesn’t make it true. The Bible, for example…

“Miss Jacky Newcomb, at the paranormal end of the angel spectrum, enjoys endorsements from Uri Geller.”

Bzzzt! Argument from authority again – and a lame authority at that. Uri Geller is an oft-debunked and wildly-ridiculed spoon bender who has been proven time and time again to have no paranormal ability. Even if he had (he hasn’t), his expertise would be in spoon bending and mind-reading (plus these days he flogs crystals on QVC). He’s not an authority on angels, then.

“Miss Lorna Byrne, whose memoir Angels in My Hair was bought for a six-figure sum by the publishers of The Da Vinci Code, is more devotional. “Remember strangers give you messages from your Angels too.” she says. “It could be a shop assistant, a bus driver, a neighbour’s child.”

Bzzzt! No true Scotsman fallacy? What they’re doing here is shifting the definition – if you’re definition of ‘angels’ allows for the inclusion of shop assistants, bus drivers and other people’s kids, then yes angels do exist. But they’re not angels. They’re shop assistants, bus drivers and other people’s kids. That’s not what the word ‘angel’ means.

“Guardian angels remain most popular, with 38 per cent of us believing in them, if we credit a single opinion poll”

Bzzzt! Argumentum ad populum. Just because 38% of people believe in guardian angels doesn’t mean guardian angels exist.

“But it doesn’t take a vision of a winged messenger with a flaming sword to convince people, once the possibility of angelic intervention is entertained. Gloria Hunniford has found angels very helpful in finding parking places.”

OK, you’ve got me there – I can’t begin to find a logical fallacy which describes this sufficiently. Argumentum ad bullshitum? What I will say is those angels do a damned noble job – thank the Lord in all of his wisdom that he deploys his ambassadors to Earth, his guardians from Heaven, to do His chosen work right here on this plane. And what does he, in his infinite and beardy wisdom, deign worthy of his interjection and aid? Cancer patients? Genocide? Keeping clergy from interfering with altar boys? No, blessed are the drivers, for they shall inherit a parking space. Sometimes. Brilliant.

“One day, after lunch, the late Jennifer Paterson, formerly one of the Two Fat Ladies, accidentally locked me out of my house in Shepherd’s Bush by closing the front door behind us in the front garden. What impressed me was her instant success in attracting the attention of a passing youth and persuading him to shin over the back wall and break into the house. I assumed he was part of the skilled Shepherd’s Bush burgling community. Later I wondered: perhaps it was an angel”

So angels can be burglers as well as kind strangers and parking attendants? Is there anything those angels won’t do for us? Angels – I salute you, and your fence-shimmying, car-park-watching glory!

“Theologically, angels are perfectly respectable. God is an uncreated spirit; human beings are bodily creatures with a spiritual component; angels are spiritual creatures with no bodily component. They have intellect and will and are much cleverer than we are. Satan is an angel gone to the bad.

Traditional Jewish, as well as Christian, speculation holds that there are millions more angels than there are human beings. So encountering one at your bedside would be only too likely”

Hear this and more on Righteous Indignation

Hear this and more on Righteous Indignation

Bzzt! Back to ad populums and authority arguments! Back on safe, clear irrational ground then. Just because the authority of religion says angels are real doesn’t make it so; just because there is speculation that there are millions of angels doesn’t make it so.

On the whole, this Telegraph article really is bizarre to read – if you ask me I’d guess that it’s some kind of blatant attempt to get into the SGU’s ‘Spot the logical fallacy’ feature, but then again I’m prone to those kind of outlandish statements based on little evidence…

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  1. #1 by Colonel Molerat on September 20, 2009 - 23:51

    “Theologically, angels are perfectly respectable…”

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