(Investigator 26, 1992 September)

Prior to the 1930s it was assumed that people have an inate ability to distinguish simple shapes. In other words scientists believed that the recognising of what we see is not learned but is an ability we are born with.

This is explained in the following extract from The Human Species (1961) Anthony Barnett:

An important discussion of this problem, published in Germany, in 1932, was based on studies of what happened when persons, blind from birth, had their sight restored by operation. Later, research was done on laboratory animals.

It had been assumed in the past that human beings (and other animals) have an innate ability to distinguish at least simple shapes, for instance squares from circles. In an adult, or even in quite a young child, this distinction is made ‘instantaneously' and without effort. This assumption has been shown to be false.

An adult blind from birth owing to cataract, and successfully treated so as to restore vision, reports at first only a confusing mass of lights and colours. No object however familiar from past experience of touching, smelling, and so on, can be identified by sight. Shapes are not identified at all: to distinguish a square or triangle from a circle the subject has to learn laboriously to count the corners, and what is learnt on one day is forgotten by the next. If the names of colours have been learnt, and the subject is shown an orange, he may at once name the colour, but he will not identify the object as an orange until he has touched it.

It was pointed out earlier that we recognise the things we see (or hear) even though the exact appearance they present varies according to the distance, the angle at which we see them, and so on. This perceptual generalization is quite absent in those learning to see. In one instance a man who had learnt to name a square, made of white cardboard, failed to identify it when the other side, painted yellow, was shown. Objects, of which the names have been learnt in one set of conditions, are not identified when seen against a different background or in light of a different colour. Such confusions, though never made by a normal adult, have nevertheless a counterpart in adult behaviour: for instance, ‘all Chinese look alike' – until we have had some experience of meeting different Chinese; or, all small brown birds look like sparrows – until we have had some experience of bird watching.

Eventually, with great persistence and after months or years, the congenitally blind person who has acquired vision may learn to make fairly full use of his eyes and even to read, but it is a painful experience. (pp. 120-121)
Woman's Day magazine (1988 July 5) had an article about a woman who was blind from the age of 11 for 42 years and who was then cured:
I couldn't work out what I was looking at because my brain had forgotten how to interpret what I was seeing. I couldn't even piece the features of faces together at first – the eyes looked as if they were on the top of people's heads.  (p. 24)
The above information from Barnett and Woman's Day has relevance to evaluating the alleged healing by Jesus of a blind man at a village called Bethsaida. The report is in Mark 8:22-26.

Jesus reportedly:

"...spit on his eyes and laid his hands upon him."
Then he asked:
"Do you see anything?"
The man, according to the report, did see – and so we can regard the story thus far as an alleged miracle.

However, the former blind man couldn't distinguish what he was seeing.  He said:

"I see men; but they look like trees, walking." (8:24)
Apparently he saw confusing shapes which he initially interpreted as trees but which he concluded – from the fact that they moved about – were men.

Jesus – according to the account – then:

"…laid his hands upon him; and he looked intently and was restored, and saw everything clearly." (6:25)
This, if it really happened, would have been a second miracle, one which accelerated the process of learning to recognise what is seen!

What at first seemed to be a report of one miracle is therefore really a report of two miracles.

Prior to 1932 the Bible report of the former blind man being unable to recognise what he was seeing – even obvious things such as "men" – would have been regarded as medically false. Now, however, this unexpected inclusion of a modern discovery into Mark's reports of Jesus' miracles adds credibility to those reports.


Over twenty other miracles reported in the Bible are discussed and supported on this website: