Miracles by Craig S. Keener — Boy Sees Out of Empty Eye Socket?

Ronald Coyne 2

Ronnie Coyne lost his right eye in a baling wire accident when he was a boy, but claims he attended a healing service and afterwards could see out of his empty eye socket, either with his artificial eye in the empty eye socket or not. He grew up to become Rev. Roscoe Ronald Coyne, evangelist–healer. The late Mr. Coyne is no longer capable of being tested but his presentations can be seen in videos where the fraudulent nature of his claims become evident. He positions a square piece of cloth across the bridge of his nose and good eye, and then starts to apply, and allows others to apply, thin strips of tape one at a time across the length of the cloth to secure it to his face. Sometimes he adjusts the tape that someone has placed around his nose. Then with the cloth covering his good eye he is handed objects to read while holding them beneath his nose and his empty eye socket.

But try this simple experiment for yourself at home, stand in front of a mirror, shut one eye, but keep the other one open and cup your hand over it, letting in the tiniest sliver of light near the bridge of your nose, and read what is on a card that you hold up to that imperceptible opening, then open your shut eye and look in the mirror to see where you had to place the card to read from it. You will notice it is in the same place Coyne holds the cards he reads from, beneath the opposite eye, which in his case is missing. Note also that with his good eye covered Coyne never makes reference to seeing anything or anyone in the auditorium that one might notice if he was indeed able to look up, down, and all around with his empty eye socket. He sticks to reading the cards at the same angle and distance from his nose that one can do in my mirror experiment.

Coyne also has a convenient way to excuse himself in cases where he fails tests: “If I get in the presence of someone who absolutely refuses to believe, the Holy Spirit can become so grieved that I begin to lose my vision through the empty socket...This used to happen all the time when this miracle occurred for me as a little boy...[then] a Minister...explained...how I can keep my faith level up by reading the Bible and that would keep my eye from going blind in the presence of an unbeliever. He was right.” [Hamel, John, The Miracle Testimony of Rev. Roscoe Ronald Coyne: The Man Who could See Through an Empty Eye Socket]

Ronald Coyne 1

But since his youth Coyne appears to have simply avoided tougher tests altogether, either by Christians or atheists, and stuck with his cloth and tape routine. Wayne Jackson, a Christian who writes for a Churches of Christ website, notes that “When Ronald Coyne, came to our community, claiming that he could see through a ‘plastic eye,’ offered to pay all expenses if he would submit to testing administered by a qualified ophthalmologist. He declined the offer and threatened to sue me. I urged him to do so, for the courtroom is a real arena for the examination of evidence. He took his ‘magic eye’ con game and left town.” [Jackson, Wayne, Modern Miracles—True or False?] And in 1989 when an atheist announced his presence at one of his demonstrations Coyne replied, “The Lord will destroy you, probably on your way home this evening.” Not exactly an invitation to the atheist to try and devise a tougher sight test. Side note: Coyneʼs weight at that time had ballooned to over four hundred pounds and he sat on two chairs for support. He died five years later at age fifty. [Gardner, Martin, Eyeless Vision and God, Chapter 10 in Weird Water & Fuzzy Logic. More Notes of a Fringe Watcher (Amherst, New York: Prometheus Books, 1996). And see, Nickell, Joe, Second Sight: The Phenomenon of Eyeless Vision in Adventures in Paranormal Investigation (University Press of Kentucky, 2007). Also see, dermo–optical perception (DOP), The Skepticʼs Dictionary]

Martin Gardner, a former miracle–believing Christian raised in Ronald Coyneʼs home state of Oklahoma, wrote an article that explained, “Noses project so far from the cheekbones that an opaque blindfold, covering nose and eyes, invariably leaves tiny loopholes. This is not the only method of obtaining vision while seemingly securely blindfolded—magic shops sell a variety of blindfold tricks—but it is the simplest, and one still unknown to the public.”

Look at a video of the Muslim magician Kuda Bux, known as the man with x–ray eyes, or more recently, Aaron Crow (“Pours Hot Wax on Eyes And Swings Sword At Howie Mandel—Americaʼs Got Talent 2018”), both of their demonstrations of eyeless seeing are spectacular. Recently a young girl in India has helped make her guru, Nithyananda, famous and wealthy by claiming that he taught her to see words and drawings using only her “third eye,” which allegedly functions even when she is blindfolded. A video–taped demonstration of this miracle debunks itself once you notice that the blindfolded girl had to move her wrist out of the way to see a picture on a piece of paper that was set down in front of her, beneath her nose, thus demonstrating her use of the “nose peek” technique. [HindReport, a YouTube site, Girl demonstrates Fake SuperPower Third Eye(Exposed)]

The story Coyne tells about his alleged miracle began ten months after he had lost his right eye in a baling wire accident. He was suffering from inflamed tonsils, and his mother took him to a rally featuring a female evangelist–healer. His mother told him to ask for his throat to be healed, but afterwards the healer asked Ronnie about his right eye which looked like it needed healing (she didnʼt know it was artificial). He told her he was blind, without saying anything about missing an eye. So she took some time to speak with him about having faith, after which she prayed to God to restore his sight. According to how such rallies functioned, this young boy was expected to testify to an expectant crowd after having been proclaimed healed. The pressure was on the boy to go along with the evangelistʼs and crowdʼs expectations. He must not lose faith. What would you have said to the audience. Or to yourself? Perhaps inside your own mind you would have repeated, “I believe I can see.” Because if you donʼt name it you canʼt claim it, as they say at healing rallies. After the mini–sermon on faith that Coyne received he did not disappoint. He agreed he was healed. And after a superficial test of his alleged sight that apparently involved covering his remaining eye with his hand, he may have even noticed the same thing I did when conducting an experiment in front of a mirror, namely that a tiny gap exists that one can still see out of. Afterwards, the crowdʼs awed reaction and hallelujahs probably helped establish for Coyne what his future trajectory in life should be. (How else to also explain what is going on with that young girl in India who claims she can see via her “third eye?” How and why did she get involved in such deception? The need for make money may also have played a role in both cases. Certainly the Coyne family does not appear wealthy since they could only afford a plastic artificial eye for their son rather than glass eye which Coyne could apparently only afford later.)

It is also possible that the young Coyne, whose eye had only been amputated ten months before, did “see” something that night in all the excitement, due to “phantom eye syndrome.” Even after the eye is gone with its vision receptors, the nerves and brain areas related to vision keep working, leading to phantom sensations. People who lose an eye after a while may begin to experience what appear to be colors, shapes, sometimes even distinct images of people or scenes, it depends on the case. Phantom eye syndrome is also more common in young people. [Preston, Elizabeth, Phantom Eye Patients See and Feel With Missing Eyeballs]

If, aside from the evidence above, one still believes Coyneʼs claim that he could see without an eye, then what data was his brain receiving? What energy was bouncing off objects that his brain was picking up? Could he also see in the dark? Through a brick wall? Why or why not? Why didnʼt his opaque plastic eye block his vision? At precisely what distance from his face (or at what depth inside his empty socket) did his alleged ability to see begin? And if God could restore sight without an eye, how about restoring the ability to walk without a leg—the stump being levitated supernaturally? Also, think how much more impressive and inexplicable Coyneʼs demonstrations would have been if he had lost both his eyes in the baling wire accident but was still able to see, rather than appearing to employ a mere nose peek technique, already common among magicians for centuries.

Sam Singleton noted that God, rather than keeping Ronald Coyne from getting his eye poked out in the first place, or healing his original eye, or giving him a new one altogether, left an ugly empty socket, which was “as half–assed as my fatherʼs approach to working on cars, because when my father lost the key to the trunk, which he always did early in his relationship with any automobile, rather than having a new key made, he would just gouge out the lock, so he could open it by poking a screwdriver into the big ugly hole.” [ Singleton, Sam, The Man With No Eye: My Familyʼs Spiritual Journey]

Lastly, James A. Haught, a Bible Belt newspaperman, mentions that he has “covered enough religious lunacy and chicanery to fill an encyclopedia.” And he supplies examples of holy hucksters and hokum galore in his piece, Adventures in the Bible Belt. Well worth reading, it also includes brief mention of Haught seeing Coyne perform.

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