F Rosa Rubicondior: Confirmation Bias And The Stain on a Toilet Wall

Saturday 1 August 2015

Confirmation Bias And The Stain on a Toilet Wall

The Prophet at prayer
Crowds flock to Mali's 'religious wall sign' - BBC News

It's official. The Prophet is a stain.

And all those blasphemers who have been drawing images of Muhammad have got it all wrong. We now know Muhammad is shaped like a white blob.

Crowds are flocking to a toilet in a compound in the Mali capital, Bamako, to see his image which appeared on an outside wall last weekend.

Riot police and the national guard have been deployed to keep the crowds under control. Visitors who queue throughout the night include several Malian government ministers. The image has been widely circulated on mobile phones and is drawing in visitors from neighbouring Senegal.

Southern Malians are mostly Tijani Muslims, regarded as a moderate sect, who, like Catholic Christians, are known to place a high value on 'miracles' as confirmation of their faith.

Look closely! Can you see it?

Isn't it obvious? And isn't it obviously a miracle for which no scientific explanation is possible? What else could it possibly be?


Oh ye of little faith! You obviously hate Allah and his Prophet! You probably hate Mali too! Only the one true Prophet can appear on a toilet wall!

It's a miracle, I've seen it. It's obviously true. It's a sign from God to Mali that our nation is great.

Aboubakar Diarra, schoolteacher on looking at the wall.

Crowds queuing to see the 'miracle'.
God bless Ameri er... Mali!

The stain, which has been changing shape since it appeared, bears a striking resemblance to a patch of drying cement.

Although no one has actually seen it do so, though many people know of someone who knows someone who has, and no film exists of it, the stain is widely believed to leave the wall and move around the compound.

We believe it is a vision of our prophet. People have come from Senegal to see it and several Malian government ministers and religious leaders have paid us a visit. Sometimes the white apparition leaves the wall altogether and moves around the compound. Then it goes back.

Mr Aliou Traore, compound resident, interviewed by the BBC

In common with many Catholic Christian 'miracles', whilst there is no formal charge for looking at the stain, the owners of the wall have thoughtfully provided a means by which visitors can show their gratitude and piety with a pecuniary donation - in this case, a bucket which is emptied regularly.

Jesus on toast
This example of confirmation bias, which is so blindingly obvious to anyone who isn't desperate to have their evidence-free bias confirmed, is no different to the many other examples of vague images, or even reports of visions that no-one else actually saw, that are one of the mainstays of Christianity, especially Catholicism which traditionally elevates 'miracles' to the status of official doctrine and from which the Church derives a substantial portion of its wealth.

There can hardly be a Catholic diocese in the world which doesn't have its miraculous appearance of 'Virgin Mary' to draw the adoring crowds and Jesus regularly makes an appearance on anything from toast to the pattern of foliage against a wall, such it the capacity of human pattern-recognition and the search for confirmation of bias in the absence of any real evidence, and despite the protestations that no evidence is required because 'faith' trumps evidence anyway.

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  1. Hilarious. But surely some Muslims would find the idea of an image of Muhammad on a toilet wall blasphemous? I hope Boko Haram doesn't come after these guys.

    the stain is widely believed to leave the wall and move around the compound.

    At first I thought they must have some pretty decent shrooms down there, but on second thought, there's an incentive to simply improve the tale -- a few more francs in the ol' bucket.

    1. Well, I was wondering if Muhammad takes on the appearance of a plastic bag when he leaves the wall and wanders around, after all, he's not too dissimilar from one already, apparently. :-)


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