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A CHRISTIAN CONFRONTS THE PARANORMAL
Brad T. Bromling, M.A.
The world of the paranormal is curious, fascinating, and
sometimes even frightening. Is it fact or fancy? Most of us,
although we probably would not want to admit it, have been
intrigued by paranormal claims (PNCs), and maybe even secretly
believed that there must be something to some of them. The news-
media focus on such events and leave the impression that science
is baffled and mystery prevails. In this paper we will discuss
principles which will aid us in our understanding of these
seemingly inexplicable events, and show how that by applying these
principles we may effectively deal with these claims.
PART I: PRINCIPLES FOR DEALING WITH PARANORMAL CLAIMS
Why bother with paranormal claims, anyway? Does belief in
the paranormal really make any difference? As Christians, why
should it matter to us? There are at least three reasons for
"bothering" with the paranormal. First, for some people the
paranormal challenges their faith. The paranormal seems to give
proof that the Scriptures do not contain all of the answers.
Second, there is an intense interest in PNCs today--probably now
more than ever. In 1984 a Gallup poll of 506 teenage Americans
revealed a noteworthy belief in the paranormal. They responded to
the question: "`Which of the following do you believe in?':
...ESP, 59 percent; astrology, 55 percent; clairvoyance, 28
percent; Bigfoot, 24 percent; witchcraft, 22 percent; ghosts, 20
percent; Loch Ness monster, 18 percent" (Frazier, 1986, p x).
This poll is quite old, but there does not appear to be any trend
away from belief in the paranormal.
Third, we are asked about these strange things. How will
we respond? Think about your own experience; have you ever been
asked to explain a paranormal claim? Are you pleased with your
response? I know I have not been pleased with mine. The purpose
of this paper is to provide a foundation for dealing with PNCs.
There are at least seven principles to keep in mind.
In the first place, exercise a biblical skepticism. First
John 4:1 tells us: "Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test
the spirits, whether they are of God; for many false prophets have
gone out into the world." Not everything is as it seems, and as
Christians we need to be cautious that we do not accept PNCs
uncritically. By "biblical skepticism" is meant that we not only
withhold judgment until we examine the evidence, but that we do
indeed examine the evidence. Paul said, "Test all things; hold
fast to what is good" (1 Thessalonians 5:22).
In the second place, evaluate all phenomena with biblical
criteria. It is never a waste of time to consult the Scriptures
first. Whatever God may have said on a matter is eminently more
important that what we may think about it. While only a few PNCs
will be answered in this way, it is still appropriate to begin
with the Scriptures.
In the third place, be honest and open-minded. Of course,
for Christians honesty goes without saying. However, are we being
intellectually honest if we approach all PNCs with a closed mind?
While it is true that we should not be open to error, we need to
be open to the truth. Surely none of us has all the truth on
every matter. Although it seems highly unlikely that very many
things categorized as paranormal will ever be validated by
science, some already have been found to be actually possible and
explainable from science. If we expect people to give us a fair
hearing we should grant them the same courtesy.
In the fourth place, require proof. If the claim is
unexaminable, then we have no choice but to dismiss it or withhold
judgment until the evidence is forth-coming. When John preached
repentance and baptism to the Pharisees, he required them to,
"bear fruits worthy of repentance" (Matthew 3:8). Logically, the
burden of proof rests upon those who claim the unusual. God never
asks us to believe a thing without sufficient evidence--neither
should those making PNCs. Second-hand information and hear-say
should never be accepted as proof. Think of all the times you
have found that the most popular piece of gossip in town turned
out to be all wrong. Even things credited to trustworthy people
often turn out to be totally fallacious.
In the fifth place, demand appropriate evidence. Remember
that "extraordinary claims demand extraordinary evidence" (Lett,
1990, p 159). If someone claims that a tornado touched down in
Montgomery, Alabama no one would be surprised. Testimony alone
would be sufficient. Tornadoes frequently occur here. But, if
someone were to claim that a spaceship from Venus landed in his
backyard, you should expect proof. His word would not be good
enough. Saying a thing is true does not make it so. The evidence
needs to be sufficient to the nature of the claim. If one claims
that he can levitate (float in the air), a photograph would not be
sufficient to support his claim (yet this is often the type of
proof given). Such a feat is too easily faked. As would be a
tape recording of "ghost noises." Ignore the number of believers.
Such numbers are irrelevant; millions of people may believe an
erroneous claim--this happens all of the time. Further, do not be
overly impressed with credentials. A man with a Ph.D. in
philosophy is no more qualified to give expert testimony in behalf
of PNCs than is a high school drop-out. Too many things are
accepted uncritically because of an inappropriate emphasis upon
In the sixth place, expect repeatability. Claims of
unique events are difficult to take seriously since there is no
way to test them. Without repeatability, how can we know the PNC
was not a trick or a coincidence, or whether the claimant made an
error of perception? Coincidences are by their nature surprising
and difficult to explain. Just the other day I repeated the
phrase "hold on, hold on" to my cat as we were pulling out of a
drive way. Directly, I turned on the radio only to find a singer
repeating the words "hold on, hold on....." Was it ESP? Likely I
would fail the rule of repeatability. Repeatability is essential
in true science. This is how the recent claim that cold fusion
had been achieved was refuted. Repeatability means that the
phenomenon may be witnessed by independent observers who follow
the same procedure under the same conditions. Again, without
repeatability you are being asked to believe a claim based on
biased testimony alone. This is often an unrealistic expectation.
In the seventh place, look for the simplest and most
natural explanation first. If one finds a wet spot on his kitchen
floor it is more reasonable to assume that someone had earlier
dropped an ice cube which has since melted, or that someone
spilled a little water while in the room, than to postulate that
demonic forces from Pluto made a secret landing in your attic and
upon inspecting your house secreted a mysterious substance (which
only looks like water) upon your kitchen floor. This is known as
the principle of parsimony. The simplest explanation is best.
Experience and science have shown that in the final analysis, the
simplest answers are usually correct. Most of us operate
according to this rule every day. Imagine the adventures we would
have if we did not (e.g., "is this green substance toothpaste or
A word of clarification is in order at this point. The
actual miracles of biblical times would not have been amenable to
all of these principles. For example, it seems that Jesus walked
upon the water only once--but this lack of repeatability does not
throw the event into suspicion since the testimony is trustworthy.
A skeptic in the first century might have attempted to discredit
genuine miracle-workers by searching for a natural explanation.
However, true miracles were of such a nature that such an
explanation would not be available. Therefore, the principle of
parsimony, if applied, would have confirmed the truth of the
miracle, rather than deny it. True miracles, have stood the tests
of authenticity and time. The biblical writers' reliability as
credible witnesses is unimpeachable, and the inspiration of the
Scriptures remains intact.
PART II: APPLYING THESE PRINCIPLES TO SPECIFIC CLAIMS
Have you heard about the firewalkers of Fiji who are
supernaturally immune to the effects of heat?
I have lived in the Fiji Island.... I have watched--
and photographed--Indian firewalkers in Fiji as they
danced in procession mile after mile, chanting to their
deity who would empower them to dance up and down, up
and down, up and down, on those white-hot coals. They
had prepared for weeks, and now the time had come. I
stood near the great coal pit and had to shield my eyes
from the heat. I watched the frenzy of young men, some
of whom I knew as quiet employees of the Fiji
Government, now transformed into superhuman beings who
engaged in nonhuman activities, fearing neither heat
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
One man, who was not a priest, raced up and down the
coal bed without being hurt. Another tried it, and his
feet were shockingly burned...I had no "natural"
explanation that really satisfied me: the answer was
apparently linked to the realm of spiritual realities,
of vindictive beings who would show their power in one
case and spitefully withhold that power as they
gleefully caused pain to another would-be-devotee"
(Wilson & Weldon, 1980, pp 2,3).
Firewalking is an interesting example of PNCs. The
ability to walk bare-footed on hot coals is attributed to
different things by different individuals. For example, whereas
Mr. Weldon blamed the spirit realm (demonic spirits) for this
power, others give the credit to deities, and still others claim
that such powers are proof of mind over matter. Which is it? Who
is responsible, the Devil, God, or the individual firewalker? The
Bible is silent on this subject. So we then ask for evidence.
For this we may travel to Fiji where the ritual is carried out.
Upon our arrival we ask that the feat be repeated. Sure enough,
it can be demonstrated. After witnessing it a few times (with the
same results), we conclude that it is a genuine phenomenon. Now,
what is the cause? The first step is to look for a natural
explanation which explains why the firewalkers do not get burned.
It just so happens that there is such an explanation:
In reality, it is the basic laws of physics that prevent
people's feet from getting burned while firewalking.... two
well-known physical principles account for the rarity of
burned feet. First there is the Leidenfrost effect. This is
the effect seen when a drop of water darts about on a hot
skillet. Between the skillet and the drop is a layer of
steam that insulates the drop from the full heat of the
skillet and prevents it from boiling away almost at once. In
the firewalking situation, the soles of the feet are often
damp, either from sweat caused by nervousness or from dew on
the grass surrounding the bed of coals. In
many...demonstrations of mass firewalking, the grass is hosed
down around the bed of coals. The water on the soles
provides a layer of steam that helps to insulate the foot
from the full heat of the coals.
But the Leidenfrost effect is not sufficient to explain
the lack of burning. The material upon which one walks is a
very important factor.... Coals are hot (up to 1,200 degrees)
but they have low heat capacity and thermal conductivity.
Thus, if one walks fairly rapidly over them, no burns will
occur. Of course, if one lingers burns can and do occur.
Leiking and McCarthy (1985-86) also note that firewalking as
practiced by other cultures involves walking on material
(coals or porous stones) that is low in both heat capacity
and thermal conductance (Hines, 1988, pp 293,294).
Now, since the phenomenon has a simple, natural explanation we are
justified in concluding that an appeal to the paranormal is
unwarranted. The firewalkers themselves may be deceived into
believing there is a supernatural cause, but the plain truth is
that there is nothing magical or superhuman about the feat.
Spontaneous Human Combustion
Have you heard about the woman who mysteriously burst into
At 8 a.m. Mrs. Carpenter was interrupted...by a
telegraph boy with a telegram for her tenant, Mrs. Mary
Reeser. There was something very strange about Mrs.
Reeser's apartment. As Mrs. Carpenter reached the door
a wave of heat struck her in the face and the doorknob
was too hot to handle. She screamed for help.
With the assistance of two workmen, she entered the
apartment. At first it seemed that Mrs. Reeser was not
there. The superheated air hung thick and heavy, with
nothing to account for it; no cooker or heater was on,
but curiously there was a small flame dancing over the
partition between the gallery kitchen and the living
area. Mrs. Reeser's bed had not been slept in so they
assumed that she had left the flat the night before.
But when the authorities were called in to deal with
the effects of the heat--presumed fire--they discovered
that Mrs. Reeser, or rather what was left of her, was
still in the apartment. As the official report read:
Within a blackened circle about four feet in diameter
were a number of coiled seat springs and the remains of
a human body.
Within the remains consisted a charred liver
attached to a piece of backbone a skull shrunk to the
size of a baseball, a foot encased in a black satin
slipper but burned down to just above the ankle, and a
small pile of blackened ashes.
The "overstuffed easy chair" in which she had been
sitting when overcome by this terrifying and
inexplicable doom, had been burned down to its springs,
but apart from that one small flame on the joist there
was no other evidence of fire in the apartment.... She
had died from spontaneous human combustion (SHC)"
(Pickett, 1987, pp 88-90).
Although spontaneous human combustion (SHC) may seem to us
like a "way-out" PNC, it is actually one of the favorite examples
of the paranormal. Each case is usually told in mysterious terms
with the writer pointing out how impossible it is to assign any
but a paranormal reason for its occurrence. Beginning with the
Bible, we find that it reveals nothing of this phenomenon.
Repeatability is also an impractical test to apply (who would
volunteer?). So, where is the proof that we should believe such
claims? In this case we must rely on investigative records and
testimony of those who were present at the scene for "evidence."
The Reeser case, which has been called the best documented
modern case of SHC, is really quite typical of this PNC. Joe
Nickell and John F. Fischer investigated thirty cases of SHC over
a period of two years; their special focus was upon the Reeser
case. Their study revealed a few interesting facts. First, they
found that several of the victims of this phenomenon were heavy
drinkers, and many were likely drunk at the time of their deaths.
This fact has led some to postulate that the victims' bodies were
so saturated with alcohol that they were extremely flammable.
However, research showed that before a person's flammability is
affected, he would first die of alcohol poisoning. That the
victims were drinkers and probably drunk at the time of death is
significant because a drunk person is less careful with fire.
Second, the material upon which the victim was seated
determined the extent of the bodily damage. In the instances
where the body was only slightly burned, only the victim's clothes
were available for fuel. However, if the victim was seated in an
over-stuffed chair, their bodies were often almost completely
consumed. Apparently, as the body fat melted, it was absorbed by
the chair stuffing; this would then act like a candle and continue
to burn until all of the fuel was used up.
Third, various reports of the phenomenon often failed to
mention essential data, thereby enhancing the "mystery." But when
the reports are brought together, they supplement each other and
much of the mystery dissipates. This was especially true with the
Reeser case (this information from Nickell, 1988, p 155). Taken
together, the reports revealed these pertinent facts: (1) Mrs.
Reeser was wearing a flammable nightdress and housecoat; (2) she
was seated in an overstuffed chair; (3) she was smoking a
cigarette; (4) she had earlier "told her son, a physician, that
she had taken two sleeping pills and intended to take two more
before retiring;" and, (5) Mrs. Reeser had a stiff leg which she
held rigid when seated (this could explain why her foot was not
burned like the rest of her body).
The strangest element in the Reeser case is the alleged
"shrunken skull." This is thought to be paranormal because in a
fire the human skull is usually completely consumed. Regarding
this oddity, Nickell exclaims:
The self-described "bone-detective" who is often quoted
on the subject merely referred to second-hand news
accounts and thus spoke of "a roundish object
identified as the head." Actually, a forensic
anthropologist theorized at our request, Mrs. Reeser's
skull probably burst in the fire and was destroyed, and
the "roundish object" could have been merely "a
globular lump that can result from the musculature of
the neck where it attaches to the base of the skull" (p
In conclusion, there seems to be no reason to appeal to a
paranormal explanation for Mrs. Reeser's death. Nor does there
appear to be any reason to believe that SHC is a legitimate
phenomenon. When the evidence in each case is examined, natural
explanations for these so-called mysterious deaths are available.
Out of Body Experiences
Maybe you have heard about the woman who died and lived to
tell about it:
...I was admitted to the hospital with heart trouble, and the
next morning I was lying in the hospital bed, I began to have
a very severe pain in my chest. I pushed the button beside
the bed to call for the nurses, and they came and started
working on me...I quit breathing and my heart stopped
beating. Just then I heard the nurses shout, `Code pink!
Code pink!' As they were saying this I feel myself moving
out of my body...then I started rising upward, slowly. On my
way up, I saw more nurses come running into the room...I
drifted up past the light fixture--I saw it from the side and
very distinctly--and then I stopped, floating right below the
ceiling, looking down. I felt almost as though I were a
piece of paper that someone had blown up to the ceiling.
I watched them reviving me from up there! My body was
lying down there stretched out on the bed...I heard one nurse
say, `...She's gone!', while another nurse leaned down to
give me mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. I was looking at the
back of her head while she did this. I'll never forget the
way her hair looked.... Just then, I saw them roll this
machine in...and they put the shocks on my chest. When they
did, I saw my whole body just jump right off the bed, and I
heard every bone in my body crack and pop. It was the most
awful thing! (Moody, 1975, pp 35,36).
Out of body experiences (also called near death
experiences) are common PNCs. Dr. Raymond A. Moody's 1975 book,
Life After Life, is likely the major factor responsible for the
phenomenon's current popularity. Since the release of this book,
cases of out of body experiences (OBEs) have been widely
circulated and have gained much publicity among the masses through
other books, articles, movies and television shows on the subject.
This avalanche of fanfare has caused many Christians to wonder if
there is anything to this PNC.
A little fuller background of the "experience" is useful.
Elisabeth Kubler-Ross' examination of Dr. Moody's 50 cases of OBEs
All of these patients have experienced a floating out
of their physical bodies, associated with a great sense
of peace and wholeness. Most were aware of another
person who helped them in their transition to another
plane of existence. Most were greeted by loved ones
who had died before them, or by a religious figure who
was significant in their life and who coincided,
naturally, with their own religious beliefs (Moody,
1975, p xi).
Other elements also include the following components: hearing a
buzzing or ringing noise, feeling as though one is traveling
rapidly through a dark tunnel, seeing one's body from the outside,
seeing a bright light, seeing cities of lights and intense colors,
witnessing an "instant replay" of his life, reaching a point
beyond which he cannot go, and finally, reuniting with his body
only to find that he earlier had been pronounced dead (Moody, pp
The first step we should take in dealing with such claims
is to find out what the Bible might say relative to it. The Bible
teaches that one's fate is sealed at death (Hebrews 9:27; 2
Corinthians 5:10). The people interviewed by Dr. Moody were from
various religious backgrounds; yet, regardless of their
backgrounds, they reported similar experiences. But how could a
person of non-Christian beliefs die and temporarily enter a
pleasant after-life realm? Such a notion is absurd. From the
biblical perspective, if a person who lives in rebellion to the
will of God dies, returns to life, and reports an OBE that is
pleasant, then we may know immediately that he is mistaken. The
rich man described by Jesus in Luke 16 was in no way enjoying a
pleasant after-life experience. Further, there is not one single
inspired account of an after-life experience recorded in God's
Word. This is significant when one remembers that no fewer than
nine people were raised from the dead in biblical times. Paul's
discussion in 2 Corinthians 12 provides the only hint of an OBE in
Holy Writ; and Paul was strictly forbidden to relate the things
that he had seen. Notice the force of this prohibition: "...he
was caught up into Paradise, and heard unspeakable words, which it
is not lawful for man to utter" (2 Corinthians 12:4). If the
inspired apostle was not allowed to relay the information gained
from such an experience, why should we believe that others of even
non-Christian backgrounds have been so permitted?
Not only does this phenomenon fail to agree with biblical
teachings, but two common natural phenomena are very similar to
the OBE phenomenon as well: dreams, and hallucinations (drug
induced or otherwise). How many of us experience dreams that defy
logical explanation? No doubt all of us would reply in the
affirmative. As a child, I once dreamed that I rose to the
ceiling and saw my body below. I passed through the roof and
heard voices below discussing my recent demise. I then saw myself
enclosed in a white casket surrounded by friends and family who
were mourning my death. I finally awoke with a feeling of
bewilderment, knowing that I was still alive, and yet certain that
I had experienced the events in the dream. Was this an OBE? If
so, why does it not match reality? The characters in that dream
are long lost in the past--including some who have since passed
away. This was obviously the product of the very active
imagination of a little boy--and nothing else. If OBEs look and
sound like dreams, then may we not be excused for suggesting that
they may be dreams?
Scientists have also done research on the effects of
hallucinogenic drugs upon the human mind. The results from such
studies show that there exists amazing affinity between OBEs and
LSD trips. Ronald K. Siegel meticulously compared the accounts of
drug experiences and cases of OBEs and reported parallels in
every major particular (such as the tunnel experience, the bright
lights and colors, the sensation of leaving the body, the review
of life memories, etc.) (1981, pp 159-184). This congruence
suggests a very important factor that must be considered: if drugs
can produce the same effect on the mind as experienced in OBEs,
then it must be admitted that the mind is capable of manufacturing
such images. Siegel has also shown that the brain produces
hallucinations even in the absence of drugs when triggered by such
natural stimuli as "fever, exhausting diseases, certain injuries
and accidents, as well as by emotional and physiological processes
involved in dying" (p 184). This being true, the question arises
as to why one must turn to a paranormal solution when a natural
one is so readily available. An additional pertinent criticism of
the OBE reports is offered by Dr. Franklin Payne:
People who report these experiences were not dead....
Although the moment of passage from life to death may
not always be clear, no one confuses their
inseparability as states. Those people who have near-
death experiences did not truly die. It is dangerously
deceptive to apply the physiological changes which
constitute the process, to the final state (1985, p
While it is true that in many cases these people were pronounced
dead, this is not to say that they were actually dead. The brief
absence of one's vital statistics may lead a doctor to prematurely
declare that death has occurred, but this is a far cry from the
incontestable cessation of life called death. The Bible clearly
teaches that the spirit (soul) of man remains with the body until
death (cf. Genesis 35:18; 25:8; John 19:30; James 2:26). Thus,
those reporting OBEs were neither scientifically nor biblically
Therefore, we may conclude that not only do the PNCs of
OBEs directly contradict the Bible, but a more logical explanation
for this strange phenomenon lies in the areas of dreams and
hallucinations. Likely, it will be very difficult to convince a
person that an alleged OBE was all in his head, but the refusal to
acknowledge a rational conclusion in no way negates the facts.
The burden of proof is upon him to justify his appeal to the
Have you heard about the psychologist who became a
believer in demon possession?
In Newport Beach, California, I encountered a case of demonic
possession in which five persons, including myself, were
involved. In this case the girl, who was about 5 feet 4
inches tall and weighed 120 pounds, attacked a 180-pound man
and with one arm flipped him 5 or 6 feet away. It took four
of us, including her husband, to hold her body to a bed while
we prayed in the name of Jesus Christ for the exorcism of the
demons within her.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
I have a psychologist friend who was present with me at an
exorcism in Newport Beach, California. Before we entered the
room he said, "I want you to know that I do not believe in
demonic possession. The girl is mentally disturbed."
I said, "That may well be. We'll find out very soon."
As we went into the room and closed the door, the girl's
supernatural strength was soon revealed. Suddenly from her
body a totally foreign voice said quietly, with a smirk on
the face (she was unconscious--the psychologist testified to
that), "We will outlast you."
The psychologist looked at me and said, "What was that?"
"That is what you don't believe in," I said.
We spent about 3 1/2 hours exorcising what the psychologist
didn't believe in!
At the end of the exorcism he was not only a devout
believer in the personality of the devil, but in demonic
possession and biblical exorcism as well. He know knows that
there are other-dimensional beings capable of penetrating
this dimension and of controlling human beings! (Martin,
Walter, Exorcism: Fact or Fable, pp 17-21, quoted in
McDowell, 1983, p 179).
The question of demon possession is perennial. Clearly,
it is treated as a genuine phenomenon in the New Testament. Jesus
cast out demons, He empowered the disciples to do so, He granted
the power to the seventy as they embarked upon the limited
commission, and the ability to cast out demons was obviously one
of the spiritual gifts (see Matthew 4:24; Matthew 10:1; Luke
10:17; Mark 16:17). Those who assert that demon possession was a
superstition which Jesus did not bother to refute, have greatly
erred. Jesus was not in the business of reinforcing
superstitions, and the New Testament authors report the phenomenon
in a way that leaves no doubt as to its reality. Granting that
the Bible has much to say concerning this topic forces us to
evaluate modern-day claims according to the biblical criteria.
There are three facts about demon possession which one may
know from the Scriptures. First, it was a New Testament
phenomenon. There is not a hint of demon possession in the Old
Testament. Many are quick to mention Saul's evil spirit (1 Samuel
16:14) as an example of demon possession in the Old Testament.
There are at least three problems with this assertion. (1) The
Bible says it was an "evil spirit" not a demon which troubled
Saul. (2) Can anyone imagine God sending a demon to possess a
man? But the Bible says: "...the Spirit of the Lord departed from
Saul, and a distressing spirit from the Lord troubled him" (1
Samuel 16:14--NKJV). (3) Unlike the obvious cases of demon
possession in the New Testament, Saul's spirit was affected by
music: "And so it was, whenever the spirit from God was upon Saul,
that David would take a harp and play it with his hand. Then Saul
would become refreshed and well, and the distressing spirit would
depart from him" (1 Samuel 16:23). Again, demon possession was
limited to the New Testament era.
Second, demon possession (and the miraculous ability to
cast them out) served the function of confirmation (see John
20:30,31; Mark 16:20). The identity of Jesus Christ and the
divine origin of the Gospel message were facts which miraculous
feats confirmed. Now that this information has been deposited in
the perfect Word of God, the need for such miraculous signs has
passed. This was foretold in 1 Corinthians 13:8-10 (miracles =
that which was "in part;" "perfect" = written Word). Miraculous
gifts were given directly only to the apostles and Cornelius'
household. Apart from these two exceptions, miraculous power was
received by the laying on of the apostles' hands (Acts 8:18).
Since all of Christ's apostles have been long dead, no living
person has the ability to cast out demons. Without this ability,
it stands to reason that the phenomenon of demon possession is
also lacking. Otherwise Satan would have an unfair advantage over
Third, in the Bible, demons were cast out almost
instantaneously (see Mark 5:2-19). Today, elaborate rituals are
often conducted to bring about an alleged exorcism. This contrast
should raise a red flag in the mind of one who examines this PNC.
The Bible is our standard. If a biblical phenomenon is being
claimed today, it is logical to expect it to conform to the
biblical pattern. Modern-day demon possession and exorcism do not
conform at all.
Since, from Scriptural considerations, we are able to rule
out the actual existence of demon possession, what answer can we
give to this PNC? The simplest and most natural explanation is
that the people who are thus afflicted have a mental disorder.
Wayne Jackson put it in these words:
Current cases which are associated with demon
possession are doubtless the results of psychosomatic
problems, hysteria, self-induced hypnosis, deception,
delusion, and the like. They have natural, though
perhaps not always understood, causes (1984, p 7).
Have you heard how ESP saved a woman's life?
The incident occurred during an air raid [of World War II],
when Dr. [Ruth-Inge] Heinze often had to scurry to bomb
shelters during the Allied raids over Germany. During one
raid, however, the bombing got so intense that she couldn't
make it to a shelter. She sought safety in the entrance to a
public building instead.
"Shrapnel fragments from the aircraft cannon fell like
rain everywhere," she later explained. "Hundreds of guns, big
and small, kept shooting at the multitudes of planes. The
entrance niche barely offered any cover. Suddenly, however, I
felt compelled to go out on the street and run to the next
house, approximately one hundred yards away. It was a miracle
that I was not hit by any of the shrapnel pieces, which were
falling all around me. The moment I reached the next
building, the first house where I had been standing was hit
by a bomb and completely demolished. I had somehow sensed the
course of the oncoming bomb."
Today, Heinze simply scoffs when skeptics try to tell her
that ESP doesn't exist (Berlitz, 1988, p 129).
Extrasensory perception (ESP) is the broad name which
includes three related paranormal claims: precognition,
clairvoyance, and telepathy. "Precognition" is the claim that one
can see or sense something before it happens (as per the example).
"Clairvoyance" is the claim that one can obtain information which
is not obtainable through the five senses. Mindreading falls into
this category. "Telepathy" refers to the ability of transmitting
mental information from one person to another without using any of
the five senses.
In biblical times God granted some individuals with the
ability to foretell future events. This was part of the prophetic
office. However, this was not ESP since God was the source of the
information. Since the error rate of modern-day prophets exceeds
the biblical limit (one is too many), we know that God is not the
source of their information (Deuteronomy 18:22). In fact, if
their failures were publicized as widely as their "successes" all
clear-thinking individuals would immediately dismiss the claims of
ESP. Paul seems to invalidate ESP when he says: "For what man
knows the things of man except the spirit of the man which is in
him? Even so no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of
God" (1 Corinthians 2:11). Paul's argument was that man only
knows God's plan in as much as that plan is revealed--in the same
way that you know what I am thinking only when I tell you. Men
have been testing this PNC for several decades. Three problems
are common in such research. First, the tests which produced
results favoring ESP usually have several weaknesses which critics
say invalidate the results. Second, when a satisfactory test is
conducted, the results are seldom better than what would be
expected by the laws of chance. Those who believe in the
paranormal complain that the tests were inappropriate or unfair.
Third, there has been an extremely high occurrence of fraud in
psychic research. If for no other reason, we have every right to
be skeptical. [Note: An excellent volume on this study is: A
Skeptic's Handbook of Parapsychology, edited by Paul Kurtz
(Prometheus Books, 1985).]
Consider the claim that Dr. Heinze was saved by ESP.
There is no way to test the validity of her claim. In the first
place, notice that she was not in a bomb shelter. If bombs are
dropping all around, you are likely to get very worried that the
building you are in will be hit. Is that ESP? No, it is just
common sense. Second, if she had run away and the building had
not been hit, she would likely have forgotten the "premonition"
which caused her to leave. Third, as anyone who has been in a
perilous situation can attest, if you think very long about your
plight, you are very likely to second-guess your every move. An
elderly gentleman has related to me the terror one feels when
standing in a fox-hole with bombs dropping all around. He said
after a while every bomb looks like it is coming right for you!
How many men under those conditions have felt very strongly that
they needed to move? If they did, would such be proof of ESP?
While Dr. Heinze may remain convinced that this
coincidence is proof of ESP, her claim is hardly the kind of
evidence needed to establish a case for the truth of ESP.
Consider another claim of ESP:
Psychic Alex Tanous was being interviewed by Lee
Speigel for NBC radio's `Unexplained Phenomena" show.
...Speigel asked for a prediction that would be of
special interest to the station's listening audience,
eighteen to thirty-four-year-old rock enthusiasts.
`The prediction that I will make,' Tanous said, `is
that a very famous rock star will have an untimely
death and this can happen from this moment on. I say
untimely death because there is something strange about
this death, but it will affect the consciousness of
many people because of his fame' (Berlitz, 1988, p
This prediction was aired September 8, 1980 and John Lennon was
shot to death in December 1980. Was the prediction ESP or
coincidence? Consider these facts. First, the parameters for the
prediction were set (i.e., something of interest to rock
enthusiasts). Second, the prediction was vague (anyone, anytime,
dying an "untimely death"). Since most rock musicians are young,
any death among them would be considered untimely. Also, the
death of any working artist would be "untimely" to fans who wished
for more of the artist's work. Third, any person with even
minimal success in the music business would have qualified, since
"very famous" is undefined. Fourth, tragic deaths among rock
musicians are very common. Their travel schedules make them
susceptible to transportation accidents, and they occasionally die
of drug and alcohol abuse. All these facts point to one
conclusion: the "prediction" could not fail! This case is typical
of the many PNCs that are made all of the time. On the surface
they shine brightly; upon examination they lose their luster.
In conclusion, it has been the intention of this paper to
suggest that while the answer to every PNC may not be immediately
obvious, honest evaluation usually reveals the emptiness of such
claims. Paranormal claims need not be a hindrance to faith. God
has "given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness,
through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue" (2
Peter 1:3). We have all the information we need to combat attacks
on our faith.
If we will calmly and honestly examine the evidence for
PNCs we will see time and again that reason and revelation will
prevail over superstition and mystery.
Berlitz, Charles (1988), Charles Berlitz's World of Strange
Phenomena (New York, NY: Fawcett Crest).
Frazier, Kendrick (1986), Science Confronts the Paranormal
(Buffalo, NY: Prometheus).
Hines, Terrence (1988), Pseudoscience and the Paranormal: A
Critical Examination of the Evidence (Buffalo, NY:
Jackson, Wayne (1984), "Demons--What Do You Know About Them?,"
Christian Courier, 20:5-7.
Lett, James (1990), "A Field Guide to Critical Thinking,"
Skeptical Inquirer, 14:2.
McDowell, Josh and Don Stewart (1983), Handbook of Today's
Religions (San Bernadino, CA: Here's Life Publishers, Inc.).
Moody, Raymond (1975), Life After Life (New York, NY: Bantam
Nickell, Joe with John F. Fischer (1988), Secrets of the
Supernatural: Investigating the World's Occult Mysteries
(Buffalo, NY: Prometheus).
Payne, Franklin E. (1985), Biblical/Medical Ethics (Milford, MI:
Pickett, Lynn (1987), Flights of Fancy?: 100 Years of Paranormal
Experiences (New York, NY: Ballantine).
Siegel, Ronald K. (1981), "Life After Death" In: Science and the
Paranormal Edited by George O. Abell and Barry Singer, (New
York, NY: Scribners).
Wilson, Clifford and John Weldon (1980), Occult Shock and Psychic
Forces (San Diego, CA: Master Books).
Besides the books listed above, I recommend the following
Conley, Darrell (1975), The Gospel Versus Occultism (Shreveport,
LA: Lambert). This is an excellent little book (61 pages) by
a man who has impressive credentials as a magician and Gospel
preacher. Availability unknown.
Randi, James (1982), Flim-Flam!: Psychics, ESP, Unicorns, and
Other Delusions (Buffalo, NY: Prometheus). This book is
written by "The Amazing Randi," popular magician and debunker
of PNCs. Randi carefully and effectively explodes the claims
of psychics and demonstrates that the paranormal is an
Harris, Melvin (1986), Investigating the Unexplained (Buffalo, NY:
Prometheus). Like the books by Nickell, Hines, and Singer
mentioned above, this volume gives the results of careful
investigations into popular PNCs.
Skeptical Inquirer. This is the quarterly journal of the
"Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the
Paranormal." This is an excellent resource for those looking
for rational answers to PNCs. The subscription price is
$22.50 per year. A word of caution is in order with this
magazine as well as many of the materials mentioned above.
Since the authors are atheists and skeptics, they are
critical of the Scriptures and biblical teachings (notably
Creation and miracles). If one recognizes the philosophy of
the writers, he should be able to avoid the bad and benefit
from the good material in these works.
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