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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.


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

alien strength-enhancer?")!

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.



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

nor pain.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

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


Demon Possession

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).

Extrasensory Perception

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:

Mott Media).

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

unreasonable option.

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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it will not be modified or edited, and will not be used for commercial

purposes. Further, it may not be copied without due reference to the

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