For the superstitious, birds are often omens of good or bad fortune. In ancient times, people would claim to see signs and portents in the behavior of birds. Interestingly enough, Glenn Beck is seeing signs and portents in geese.
As Beck’s rally to restore America’s honor got started, a flock of geese flew overhead. While this might seem to be a mere coincidence, Beck saw it as something more:
“I want to show you first that miracle that happened at 10:59. There are several versions of this, or at 9:59. There are several versions of what was happening. Do we have the videotape? At 9:59, what happened was there was a flock of geese. It was a flyover if you will. Somebody caught it on tape. Here’s the flyover. This was happening just as the opening music was starting. We wanted to have a flyover, but you can’t flyover in the District of Columbia. It was perfect coordination and perfect timing. Coincidence? Maybe? I think it was God’s flyover. It was not supposed to happen. We couldn’t get a flyover. We couldn’t even get anybody dressed in a military uniform to present the flag. We tried for almost a year. We couldn’t get it done. Thank God, we had our flyover.”
While Beck does briefly consider that it might be a coincidence, he infers that it was God’s flyover. His reasoning seems to be as follows:
- I wanted a flyover for my event.
- I could not get a flyover for my event.
- A flock of geese flew over just as my event was starting.
- Therefore, God sent the geese.
This, obviously enough, seems like quite a leap. In order to rationally infer that God sent the geese (that is, that divine intervention is the best explanation) it would have to be shown that there is no better or more plausible explanation for the event.
As noted above, Beck does consider coincidence. That is, the geese just happened to fly overhead at that time. While the odds of a flock of geese flying over a specific event at its starting point are fairly low, the probability is hardly zero. After all, it just requires that geese do what they naturally do at the same time some event is starting. Such an occurrence hardly seems to be a divine sign. If it is, then I have seen many divine signs in my life. For example, once when I was starting my run, I saw a turkey run out of the woods. I’d never seen a turkey in the area before, but there it was. I can only assume that God was blessing my run. As another example, my gaming group was about to start playing Call of Cthulhu when a squirrel landed on the room’s skylight. While this was not a bird, surely squirrels can also be signs of divine favor. As such, I must infer that God blesses Cthulhu.
Sarcasm aside, the flying of geese is such a mundane event that it can hardly be considered a sign of divine favor. After all, if an omnipotent being wanted to show his favor, surely he could provide a clearer and more impressive sign-one worthy of such a being. So, for example, if a squadron of angels had flown overhead, then that would have been a clear sign of divine favor.
As a final point, signs and portents are often the result of selective attention. That is, people think nothing of (for example) the times when geese just happen to be flying by and then assign special meaning when the same thing happens in conjunction with some other event. This is, of course, poor reasoning.