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Fate: Inventing Reasons for the Things That Happen

Stuart Vyse is a psychologist and author of Believing in Magic: The Psychology of Superstition, which won the William James Book Award of the American Psychological Association. He is a fellow of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry.

In April 2016, Houston, Texas, was struck by a massive flood that claimed seven lives. On his blog End of the American Dream, Michael Snyder noted that this was the “Eighth historic flood in this country since the end of September.” While other writers pointed to global warming as a likely explanation for such extreme weather, Snyder saw a biblical sign:

So why is this happening? Some believe that “climate change” is responsible for these bizarre weather patterns, others are pointing the finger at El Nino, and yet others believe that this is a sign that we are approaching “the last days” described in the Bible. What everybody should be able to agree on is that what we are witnessing is highly, highly unusual. (Snyder 2016)

As it turns out, Snyder is the author of several books about the coming rapture, so it is possible his interpretation was influenced by financial self-interest. But he is not the only person seeing religious meaning in the weather. During the Houston floods of May 2015, some conservative observers claimed that the city was being punished for rampant “witchcraft and sodomy,” pointing out that Houston had a “sodomite mayor” (Haraldsson 2015).

In the happier world of falling in love, people often see the hand of fate at work. A Jewish single person is sometimes said to be searching for his or her bashert. The common meaning of this Yiddish word is soul mate, but its original meaning is “destiny or fate.” On the other hand, “star-crossed” lovers—the most famous of all being Shakespeare’s

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