In Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Sikhism and the Bahá'í Faith, a prophet is a person believed to have received a revelation from God. A prophet is thus a recipient of revelation. Some people use the word "prophecy" as a synonym for "revelation"; thus one could say that a prophet is a recipient of prophecy.

A prophetic message may be intended solely for the recipient of the message, but is usually a truth to be stated to the community at large.

See also main article Prophet


Prophecy is the alleged accurate description, by paranormal means, of events which have not yet occurred.

In many religions, God or other supernatural agencies are thought to sometimes provide prophecies to certain favored individuals, known as prophets.

For example, the Book of Revelation, in the New Testament, is accepted by many Christians as a prophecy related by its author John of the events of the end times and of Armageddon (the "End of the World").

Christians have long held that Jesus fulfilled many prophecies of the Old Testament, thus proving Jesus is the messiah.

Prophecy has been eagerly sought in many cultures; magical spells and folk charms to produce prophecy are some of the most common.

Some forms of astrology can also be regarded as a quasi-scientific form of prophecy.


Prediction of future events is an ancient human wish. An apocryphal saying states: "it is difficult to make predictions, especially about the future".

However, the desire to make predictions remains as strong as ever, and is an important part of almost every aspect of human life.

The place of prediction in the scientific method

In the scientific method,

An example of prediction, by Semmelweis:

In the 1840s the renowned Austro-Hungarian physician Ignaz Semmelweis noticed that women giving birth in the Vienna lying-in Hospital were dying in one building, but surviving in another.

His hypothetical explanation of this observation

He was forced to consider 'why?'.

The difference was that the surviving women were attended by midwives and not by student physicians.

Thus the hypothesis:

This horrifying proposition impelled Semmelweis to refine the factor.

What was the difference between the midwives and the doctors?

After more thought, Semmelweis decided that

What could the doctors do to avoid the factor?

His predicted consequence, from the hypothesis

"If the doctors were to 'wash their hands', then the cadaver factor will be avoided"

A test of his prediction

Semmelweis instructed the student doctors to 'wash their hands', and the women who were attended by the doctors survived.

A review of the whole process

Semmelweis, 1861. The Etiology, Understanding, and Prophylaxis of Childbed Fever.

What did he know, and when did he know it?

In this prediction, Semmelweis did not know what the outcome would be. No one knew. In fact, the physicians were offended and outraged that their sacred profession could have been implicated.

Thus the element of surprise in a scientific result is essential, because the risk in the prediction is unavoidable. Before the process, Semmelweis did not know the answer. After the process, we all can know. This suggests that our sought-for certainty is a myth, at least in a scientific procedure.

Today, of course, hygiene in a hospital is routine, now that the phenomenon of infection is understood. But infection was not understood when Semelweis made his pioneering investigation. Now we can afford the luxury of confidence in the work of Semmelweis, even if we cannot afford a myth of certainty.


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