email - September 2009

Pareidolia Phenomena

Thanks to several loyal readers, we learned a new word!

Last month, when answering Wowbagger’s “unanswerable questions” concerning Intelligent Design, we made an incorrect assumption, and are glad to correct it this month.

Wowbagger advanced the claim that deducing the existence of an Intelligent Designer was "nothing more than a type of paredolia [sic] phenomenon." Even if he had spelled pareidolia correctly, we would not have known what it meant. Our embarrassment is somewhat blunted by the fact that the word isn’t in Microsoft Word’s spelling dictionary, or even Merriam-Webster’s on-line dictionary.

Since the usual evolutionary argument is that science only deals with natural phenomena, and Intelligent Design postulates some sort of supernatural phenomena, we assumed that Wowbagger meant “paranormal,” and answered the question accordingly. We were wrong.

Denise was the first to set us straight.

I believe you made an error in interpreting one of the blogger’s many errors:

2G. If I were to claim that the "deducing of an Intelligent Designer" was nothing more than a type of paredolia [sic] phenomenon, how could you demonstrate otherwise?

We presume he means “paranormal phenomenon.” We can only wonder what is going on in his head that would cause him to ask such a question.

I imagine he meant pareidolia, according to Wikipedia (

"Pareidolia (pronounced /pæri’do?li?/) is a psychological phenomenon involving a vague and random stimulus (often an image or sound) being perceived as significant. Common examples include seeing images of animals or faces in clouds, the man in the moon, and hearing hidden messages on records played in reverse. The word comes from the Greek para- ("beside", "with", or "alongside"—meaning, in this context, something faulty or wrong (as in paraphasia, disordered speech)) and eidolon ("image"; the diminutive of eidos ("image", "form", "shape")). Pareidolia is a type of apophenia."

He’s saying ID people see design not because it is really there but because they try to make sense of randomness, like seeing things in clouds. He’s still wrong, but at least that question makes sense.

Otherwise, another great newsletter.


We also heard from Kerry, who put it this way:


I believe question 2G is referring to the perception or recognition of religious images in everyday items.

The question might be phrased, if I were to claim that the "deducing of an Intelligent Designer" was similar to seeing an image of the Virgin Mary in a piece of toast, how could you demonstrate otherwise?


Jasu, in Finland, also made a similar observation.

If Wowbagger knew anything about Intelligent Design, he would know about the “specified complexity” criteria. These criteria separate actual design from perceived design. Life satisfies these criteria, but images of Mary don’t

Perhaps the best example of pareidolia is finding a tooth and thinking it represents a missing human ancestor, or a marsupial .

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