Category Archives: Social and Relationships

Friends, family and related matters

Joining the Dots

This is a tale of Visions and Signs from God, and of the Tiger Who Came to Tea – eventually.


Throughout history, signs and visions from a God or gods have been reported in all sorts of places: lights and cloud formations in the sky, entrails, tea leaves (in pre-teabag days!) and other natural phenomena. They often lead to amazing acts of bravery or compassion – sometimes even to being burned at the stake.

Here’s a fairly typical example of a miraculous “vision” which made the press a few years ago:

image / likeness / jesus face on a piece of toast item sold on ebay no date available web grab no fee

Yes – it’s a representation of a classic portrait of Jesus – on a slice of toast.

Now look at this picture:

Random dots

It’s just a random set of dots. But, now watch this short video:

We can’t help but “see” moving human figures doing a variety of actions: it’s just moving dots. But our brains are very good at joining the dots. What’s going on? Why do our brains trick us in this way?


In evolutionary timescales, it’s but a blinking of an eye since our hunter-gatherer days.

Imagine a scene from this period. Times are hard for the tribe. Food is scarce. Two hunters are out looking for food to kill. In the middle distance, Hunter A notices a movement in the bushes. The subtle changes of light and dark patterns in the leaves and branches alert him instantly. It’s the tell-tale pattern of movement of a tiger on the prowl. He runs for cover. Hunter B notices nothing and carries on hunting.

Nothing happens. It’s just the wind in the trees.

The same story is repeated for ninety-nine days. Hunter A is hungrier and more tired than his companion, because of all the unnecessary running around. But on the hundredth day, there really is a tiger!

So the moral of this tale is:

  • Hunter A, tired and hungry though he is, goes on to pass on his genes to his children.
  • Hunter B is eaten by the Tiger Who Came to Tea on the hundredth day.

And that, dear reader, is an example of what Charles Darwin first called “natural selection”.


First Doubts

Her name was Vicky, and I thought she was gorgeous! I was a shy 13 year old; she was the vicar’s daughter.

My sisters sang in the local church choir. We weren’t at all religious as a family – it was more of a social thing: meet up with friends, have a laugh at rehearsals, sing a few hymns, that sort of thing. There was talk in the group about going to confirmation classes. Rumour had it that Vicky was attending.

This is a sad tale of those early pangs of what we, rather drily, call sexual attraction. Those awkward, angst-driven days with strange yearning feelings, but without the social skills or experience to know what to do. Confirmation classes: that sounded tempting. Lots of opportunities to sit in the same room as Vicky – perhaps a glance, a smile, and then what?

There was one problem: this religion business. The school I went to was run on traditional lines: daily assemblies, two hymns, a bible reading. I was beginning to think that this didn’t make sense: that the belief in something or someone “out there” was not for me.

I already had the evidence to bust the two main myths that parents tell children. As an older brother, I was in on the secret that the tooth fairy was really my mum. (Incidentally, she was also the fairy who left sixpences under turned-up eggshells on the kitchen window sill, for no other reason than we’d had boiled egg for tea.) As for Father Christmas, I can still remember the Christmas Eve when, pretending to be asleep, I saw my dad come into the bedroom, torch in hand, to place the stockings and Christmas presents at the foot of the bed.

There was no such evidence proving the non-existence of God, but still I felt uneasy. If I went along with the confirmation classes, I would be doing it for an ulterior motive. Worse, I would be a hypocrite. As you can guess, I didn’t go, and Vicky never found out about my unrequited love.

Or at least, that’s the way I tell myself the story went. Truth to tell, it was probably my shyness that did it for Vicky and me.

But that’s how I can remember exactly how old I was when I first had serious doubts about God.