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Demons, Playing Cards, and Telescopes

Exoricst

In 1949, Jerome S. Bruner and Leo Postman asked a group of 28 students at Harvard and Radcliffe to perform a simple task: identify playing cards. There were just two catches. First, these cards were shown very quickly: for 10 milliseconds at first, but increasing up to 1000 milliseconds if they struggled to identify the card. Second, the researchers were using a deck of four ordinary playing cards and six “trick cards” in which the card's color and suit were incongruous (red spades, black hearts, and the like).

This second catch proved to be quite vexing. Bruner and Postman found that it took these students four times longer to identify a “trick card” than a normal card:

"While normal cards on the average were recognized correctly -- here defined as a correct response followed by a second correct response -- at 28 milliseconds, the incongruous cards required 114 milliseconds. [...] The reader will note that even at the longest exposure used, 1000 ms., only 89.7 per cent of the incongruous cards had been correctly recognized, while 100 per cent of the normal cards had been recognized by 350 milliseconds."

The students' brains struggled to process something as out-of-the-ordinary as a red six of clubs. The first time that they saw a trick card, it took students an average of 360-420 milliseconds (more than twelve times longer than it took them to identify ordinary cards). Even after they had seen two or three trick cards, it still took a full 84 milliseconds for them to identify trick cards.

In many cases, the students reported a “compromise” color between the one that they expected and the one they actually saw: “(a) the red six of spades is reported as either the purple six of hearts or the purple six of spades; (b) the black four of hearts is reported as a "grayish" four of spades; (c) the red six of clubs is seen as "the six of clubs illuminated by red light."”

The researchers concluded that:

"[P]erceptual organization is powerfully determined by expectations built upon past commerce with the environment. When such expectations are violated by the environment, the perceiver's behavior can be described as resistance to the recognition of the unexpected or incongruous. The resistance manifests itself in subtle and complex but nevertheless distinguishable perceptual responses."

This is what we might call an incongruous perception problem: when we encounter something that disagrees with our worldview, we have a strong tendency to ignore or disregard it, or try to finesse it into our worldview by compromising it in some way.

Nor are the very intelligent somehow exempt from this. Bruner and Postman's test subjects were Ivy League students. And this incongruous perception problem has proven a real hindrance to scientists. For example, the first planet to be discovered since the time of Ptolemy (90-168 A.D.) was Uranus, in April of 1781. Yet in the century prior to William Herschel's discovery, there had been at least seventeen different occasions in which “a number of astronomers, including several of Europe's most eminent observers, had seen a star in positions that we now suppose must have been occupied at the time by Uranus.”

Thomas Kuhn, in his groundbreaking 1962 book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, suggests that a similar perception problem was at play, with scientists blinded by their Ptolemaic cosmology to the data in front of them:

"Can it conceivably be an accident, for example, that Western astronomers first saw change in the previously immutable heavens during the half-century after Copernicus' new paradigm was first proposed? The Chinese, whose cosmological beliefs did not preclude celestial change, had recorded the appearance of many new stars in the heavens at a much earlier date. Also, even without the aid of a telescope, the Chinese had systematically recorded the appearance of sunspots centuries before these were seen by Galileo and his contemporaries. Nor were sunspots and a new star the only examples of celestial change to emerge in the heavens of Western astronomy immediately after Copernicus. Using traditional instruments, some as simple as a piece of thread, late sixteenth-century astronomers repeatedly discovered that comets wandered at will through the space previously reserved for the immutable planets and stars."

So why did it take the Europeans so much longer than their Chinese contemporaries? Because the pre-Copernican worldview (or universe-view, as it were) made celestial change as ridiculous as a red six of clubs.

With this in mind, consider the Indiana exorcism case that appeared in USA Today in January, after the story was picked up from the Indianapolis Star. The case is a remarkable one for several reasons. First, there's the sheer number of eyewitnesses: the Star interviewed “police, DCS [Department of Child Services] personnel, psychologists, family members and a Catholic priest.” There are nearly 800 pages of official records documenting the events.

Nor is it just the quantity of eyewitnesses. Many of the eyewitnesses are sober-minded professionals, and both the priest and bishop seemed hesitant to conclude that this really was demonic: in fact, it was the first time Bishop Dale Melczek authorized a major exorcism during his 21 years heading the Diocese of Gary.

But what really stands out about this case are the things that the witnesses report having seen. They are remarkable, to say the least:

  • “Ammons and Campbell said the 12-year-old was levitating above the bed, unconscious.”
  • “Medical staff said the youngest boy was 'lifted and thrown into the wall with nobody touching him,' according to a DCS report.”
  • “According to Washington's original DCS report— an account corroborated by Walker, the nurse — the 9-year-old had a "weird grin" and walked backward up a wall to the ceiling. He then flipped over Campbell, landing on his feet. He never let go of his grandmother's hand. "He walked up the wall, flipped over her and stood there," Walker told The Star. "There's no way he could've done that."”
  • “[Gary Police Captain Charles] Austin said the driver's seat in his personal 2005 Infiniti also started moving backward and forward on its own.”

So what do we make of this case?

Christians are free to disbelieve that this case was demonic, of course. Believing that demons exist doesn't mean that everything blamed on demons is really demonic, as opposed to delusions, lies, mental illness, etc. There's no prior commitment to this being demonic or non-demonic: Christians are free to simply evaluate the evidence as it is presented.

But for atheist materialists who deny the existence of the spiritual realm, stories like this one are a bit of a red six of clubs. There's no way to easily harmonize the facts presented with the belief that that matter is all that there is. This worldview prejudges the case: the answer must be that there was no demonic activity.

The initial comments reacting to the USA Today article demonstrate this incongruous perception problem perfectly. One commenter explained his theory of the case this way:

"Group hysteria. Same way those corn field preachers 'heal' the sick. Devout believers and their Gullibility. Nobody is really cured and the belief there is a bearded guy hiding in the clouds and a red dude living under our feet's makes these gullible people easily swayed to stupidity."

It was enough to smugly (and, for what it's worth, falsely) write Christians off as believing in “a bearded guy hiding in the clouds and a red dude living under our feet.” But the smugness supplanted any actual explanation of the data: Christians are gullible, therefore we can explain away a levitation and a child walking backwards up a ceiling because...?

Unfortunately, this was the general tone of the atheistic commenters. Almost immediately, a commenter accused the family of smoking crack (a baseless, racially-charged explanation that doesn't account for the police, Child Services workers, psychologists, or the Catholic priest); another proposed that a gas leak at the home made everyone delusional (including, apparently, the people at the hospital who watched the kid walk up the wall), and so on.

Like the students who came up with “compromise” colors to harmonize what they were seeing and what they were expecting to see, these commenters strained to come up with some sort of theory that could account for the incredible events being reported. In a few cases, the people advancing these theories seemed aware of the apparent absurdity of their own position. One of them wrote: “this never happened. and yes I am saying that everybody involved is lying!”

We end up left with two options. We could embrace some sort of compromise solution, deciding that dozens of people who don't know each other (including a priest, various police officers, and various doctors and medical professionals) inexplicably collaborated to trick us. Or we could concede that we're dealing with something genuinely incongruous with atheistic materialism, data which it is incapable of answering or accounting for.

Just like the 16th century astronomers who, after accepting the possibility of celestial change, quickly found lots of evidence for it, once we accept the possibility that the spiritual realm might exist, we quickly find ourselves surrounded by evidence for its existence. While most of these cases aren't as extreme as the one reported in USA Today, there's no shortage of people who have experienced what they believe to have been supernatural encounters.

Certainly, we shouldn't blindly accept all of these stories as true. Some, perhaps most, of these cases are surely exaggerations, delusions, or outright lies. Other accounts, while true, can be accounted for by purely natural means. But we shouldn't blindly reject all of these stories as false, either. Some of them really can't be convincingly explained away with merely-material explanations. To ignore or wave away these facts is to indulge the very perception bias that kept those Ivy Leaguers and astronomers from seeing the truth in front of their very eyes.
 
 
(Image credit: Squidoo)

Joe Heschmeyer

Written by

Until May 2012, Joe Heschmeyer was an attorney in Washington, D.C., specializing in litigation. These days, he is a seminarian for the Archdiocese of Kansas City, Kansas, and can use all the prayers he can get. Follow Joe through his blog, Shameless Popery or contact him at joseph.heschmeyer@gmail.com.

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  • TomD123

    One question I have is how does a demon interact with the material world to cause preternatural effects? God can do it by a miracle, but that is because He is the primary cause of all there is. So how does a demon do it?

    • Would God have to grant them the power, and then give them permission to use it in evil ways, like with Job? It's a disturbing answer, but could such an answer work within Catholic theology?

      • Mmmm... How exactly demons have power is something that I don't know the answer to. In regards to what you said about Job, here is a good post from Catholic.com

        http://www.catholic.com/quickquestions/how-could-satan-re-enter-heaven-to-talk-to-god-about-job-in-job-16%E2%80%9312

        And here is a good quote from the intro to Maria Maddalena de' Pazzi by Armando Maggi:

        "As every treaty on demonology underscores, the Savior often allows the devil to tempt a soul in order to show that soul its sinfulness, and thus compel it to repent." Pg 25

        The quote on demonology doesn't go all the way to possession, but I think it does address some of what you were saying.

        And I found this website through Catholic.com. This guy is a demonologist from the dioceses of Pittsburgh. Here's his website and maybe the questions and answers page might address your question better:

        http://www.religiousdemonology.com/

    • Not sure... However, it is pretty evident within scripture that the devil/demons do have some level of power (e.g., the temptation of Jesus within the desert).

    • Idler

      Humans are not purely material. They have a soul and thus a spirit side. This is the what is tempted by the demons. The demons have a free will. They are free to tempt us. We are free to reject their temptations. But, invariably, we are seduced by their lies and we commit sin. We give the demons power over us and without our permission they have no power over us. And, it doesn't have to be a demon, many people will tempt others to sin because it validates their sin. If "98% of Catholic women use birth control", then it must be OK to use birth control? I wouldn't blame God if one of my children were to die in a tornado, I would think what could I have done to prevent that death. That's how we progress as a society. Not sitting around idly hoping that it doesn't happen again and wondering why somebody else didn't do anything for me.

      God does not allow evil. Many people would prefer it if He interfered in our free will and prevented us from doing evil. This is a society that we are trying to create on Earth with the State replacing God. By law, and the threat of prison,the state will prevent anything bad from happening to anybody. Is this really what we want?

    • Max Driffill

      One question i have is why we should even suppose there are demons?

      • Douglas Pearson

        I accept the testimony of scripture. I accept the witness of the Church. I sometimes believe the people involved.

      • Heidi keene

        This same question just arose from my atheist sister. The simple answer is because these people (the demons) provide evidence for their existence (like making a human body levitate), while simultaneously providing rational and verifiable answers about who and what they are.
        It is a breach of rationality for a human to be informed by another person of his identity and the informed person refusing to accept the object's self statement simply because one hasnt yet a repertoire of such people's existence.

        • severalspeciesof

          Do you mean you have actually seen bodies levitate?

          Glen

          • Heidi keene

            Sorry Glen, I replied to myself as "guest".....meaning to reply to your post. Anyway, mea culpa!
            See below.

          • severalspeciesof

            Do you realize that the picture in this OP is from the movie "The Exorcist"?

            Regarding a great white shark, neither have I seen one in person. I regard its existence to be true because there is photographic evidence, testimony fron thousands upon thousands of witnesses, and its existence portends to a very real possibility. That is I have seen smaller sharks. The only time I've seen some one levitate is... never (jumping doesn't count)...

            Glen

          • Heidi keene

            Hi Glen,
            I was joking about the picture above. I grew up an atheist and for whatever reason, we had a betamax player and I watched the Exorcist hundreds of times.
            At any rate,
            1.photographic evidence
            2. thousands of testimonies
            3. existence portends to a very real possiblity

            All pertain, without exception, to demonic possession as well.
            1. More photos in the Vatican archives than you can possibly imagine (one person who had access said the archive files took up nearly a whole mile)
            2. thousands of testimonies- an archive that has been kept for almost 2000 years to date. Far surpassing the recorded testimony of great white shark observers.
            3. A portent: human beings are also rational creatures, subsistent hypostasis (on an imperfect and secondary level). Thus, it is not difficult to image another created rational nature existing alongside human beings.

            PAX!

          • severalspeciesof

            1. More than I can imagine? (That's a lot!) Why are the photos in the archives only?
            2. 1000's of testimonies of converts to Islam... so is Islam the truth?
            3. Word salad... plus imagination does not equal reality...

            Glen

          • heidi keene

            1. The records are accessible for study to anyone who applies for access with a purpose
            2. Thousands of eyewitness testimonies of demon possession-
            Im not talking about testimonies about one's personal beliefs
            3. It is silly to dogmatically insist that humans are the only rational creatures in the universe, especially when there are so many documented cases of other rational creatures making their presence, nature, identity and purpose known.

          • severalspeciesof

            1. This is second hand info (a friend has said he's seen these photos) Not evidence, but hearsay. Plus why so secretive? Put them out for the public to see and examine. You have also mentioned there are thousands of photos, more than I can count (might you be exaggerating a tad?). Is a camera now part of the exorcism kit?

            2. As has been pointed out numerous times, eyewitness accounts can be strongly influenced by bias, or other things like state of mind (is one fully awake, agitated, fearful etc.). Extraordinary claims should be met with extraordinary evidence.

            3. I am not insisting that humans are the only rational creature in the universe (I don't have full knowledge, no one does). These 'documented' cases of other rational creatures making their presence known are wanting at best. Again, extraordinary claims...

            Glen

          • Heidi keene

            Glen,

            What I find puzzling is how you can dismiss evidence out of hand that you yourself have never even seen, looked into or investigated.

            The Vatican is not 'secretive' about their archives, in fact all you have to do is write and inform them of your intention to investigate the evidence and they will arrange for you to be taken to and guided through the mile long underground corridor that houses these records.

            If you look into it, there have been many books written on the subject, who's authors have been given access to the archives.

            There isn't a single scientific organization that posts all their documentation and evidence willy nilly online. Posts and articles summarizing findings are published in academic journals, and so it is with this scientific body of demonology within the Catholic Church.

            And yes, photographic and video evidence is gathered in cases that are built for major exorcisms. The exorcist working a particular case is not always given the powers of exorcist by his Bishop until a sufficiently documented case has been made. As Gabriel Amorth said in his book, "An Exorcist Tells His Story"- physical and mental illness have to be ruled out beyond a shadow of a doubt because exorcisms can make these illnesses worse, and can be dangerous for the patient. That said, a Bishop does not typically go personally to evaluate a patient- instead he is sent sufficient documentation and proof that the patient indeed merits exorcism.

            Third, the Catholic church only gives the power of exorcist to highly trained professionals- many of whom are also medical doctors or psychiatrists. The field work, research and study these men do should not be dismissed simply because this particular science doesn't fit in with your world view.

            Lastly, I want to make clear that I am not talking here about 'anecdotal' cases of demon possession, which I would agree with you, do not merit belief on their own. In the cases involved in Amorth's book and many other similar books written by Catholic exorcists, simply flopping around on the floor and swearing is not sufficient evidence for anyone to believe that a immaterial rational person has taken possession of a human's will. However, when the patient provides proofs that they are indeed who they say they are (such as hurling large furniture items around without physically coming in contact with the item)- this gives evidence for the presence of a will that is of a higher pitch than a human's will.

            You say that "these documented cases ...are wanting at best"-

            but permit me to ask whether you have actually researched the Vatican's documented cases in order to make such a broad and dismissive statement about a science of which you are not a professional?

            Here's a link about a gentleman who was witness at over 100 or so of these cases. You may be interested in interviewing him for some particulars.

            http://pittsburgh.cbslocal.com/2014/02/10/local-psychologist-a-former-skeptic-now-trains-priests-in-exorcisms/

          • severalspeciesof

            I'll leave this go with this: http://www.skepdic.com/exorcism.html

        • Guest

          Yes, note the picture in this post.
          I have never seen a great white shark either, but I believe the testimony and the veracity of the evidence compliled by those who have.

      • TeaParty1776

        Disco, Trump, Obama and raisin bagels are all proof that demons exist.

    • Heidi keene

      St. Thomas Aquinas has a large part of the summa devoted to angelology (Summa part 1). We move our bodies by an act of the will (supposing that the natural mechanics are not impaired). A demon, in a case of demonic possession, takes over a person's will by force. Hence, all bodily movement is the will of the demon commanding the natural elements of the body. In the case where a body seems to defy the laws of nature, remember also that nature itself is governed by the angels and some of those angels are fallen. Hence, a demon who possesses a person, may -depending on the choir of angels to which it belongs- may also have power over the particular elemental forces of nature that appear to be operating outside of normal natural perimeters.

    • Brandon

      I'd say it's pretty simple. Angels were given powers and also free will as how to excersize them.

  • Kit Fry

    Please don't ignore the evidence that only religious people or truly sick people with religious relatives make claims of demonic activity. It is not that the atheists
    are just not noticing it or explaining away phenomenon they personally witness. If we experienced forces of unknown origin, we'd definitely be studying it. This demonic activity only 'effects' believers.

    This is much like how talking in tongues during church services is a behavior of certain denominations of Christianity but not others. The rest of the denominations recognize the fraud in talking in tongues. Us atheists, recognize the fraud in your demonic possessions. More importantly we recognize the fallacy in believing despite evidence and logic to the contrary, in something which has not been proven.

    Don’t forget that claims of demonic possession were one of the many excuses used to murder 40,000 during the initial which hunt periods somewhere in 1480 to 1750. Witch hunts are still prevalent among communities that believe in magic. Meaning belief in this phenomenon is prevalent among individuals and communities who don’t have the opportunity or have chosen, some due to religious reasons,
    not to educate themselves.

    • TomD123

      "More importantly we recognize the fallacy in believing despite evidence and logic to the contrary, in something which has not been proven"

      This is wrong on a number of different levels.
      1) As Christians, we do not think that there is no evidence. So maybe you disagree on whether or not the evidence is sufficient, but we both agree that we ought to have evidence.

      2) "logic to the contrary" I disagree here but that would be going off on a tangent so I'll let that go.

      3) "not been proven" We all believe things without proof. This does not mean there is no evidence. Proof is a very high standard for belief.

      • Danny Getchell

        .....we do not think that there is no evidence. So maybe
        you disagree on whether or not the evidence is sufficient......We all believe things without proof. This does not mean there is no evidence.

        I agree on both counts. Personally, I think that the quality of the evidence for claims of demonic possession is similar to that for claims of UFO abduction. Sufficient evidence to render them remotely possible, but very, very, improbable.

        • TomD123

          I was generally referring to the Christian picture as a whole not necessarily demonic activity.

          But fair enough, we simply disagree about the strength of the evidence in these things

          • Joseph Heschmeyer

            Tom,

            Your position is internally contradictory. To claim that there are no non-testable truths is a non-testable, non-falsifiable belief. Your standard violates itself.

            I.X.,

            Joe

          • TomD123

            I am confused, when did I say that there are "no non-testable truths"

    • Martin Sellers

      Why would a demonic force attack a non-believe? Seems counter productive to me.

      • fredx2

        Because they are evil?

        • Martin Sellers

          Attacking a non believer would alert the victim to the existence of the supernatural - thus encouraging belief- hence counter productive

          • Heidi keene

            Mr. Sellers,
            Demons are made entirely of "intellect" and "will". Thus, they can not "take a break" from acting. They are in a perpetual state of doing evil. The state of sin that they are eternally in clouds their intellect (via pride). This makes them, although incomprehensibly more intelligent than humans, 'stupid' for lack of better descriptive. Therefore, they act in such a way that ultimately will not be triumphant for them (such as demonic possession which God permits as a proof of their existence to those who need such proofs).
            This, one would argue (as you have done here), seems "irrational". True, but so is engaging in an eternal battle with your omnipotent Creator- especially with the expectation that you will indeed triumph. But they did that too.

          • Martin Sellers

            I think their major goal and one that would be "triumphant" for them would be to encourage hell for as many souls as possible, of which they can/ are/ will be successful because we humans have free will. I don't think their pride makes them any less successful in this venture (encouraging non belief could be a mode..?) What do you think? The previous poster suggested that only Christians seem to be effected by Demon possession- it makes sense then from (I agree with your statement) that demonic possession of Christians seems to be irrational, prideful and ultimately futile because those Christians are "saved"(term used lightly). Your point doesn't really say much about the lack on non believers who seem to experience possession- I only offered a possible explanation.

          • Heidi keene

            In fact, it is not accurate that more believers are victims of demonic possession than non believers. In the book, "An Exorcist Tells His Story", the Vatican's chief and most experienced living exorcist tells quite a different story.
            Additionally, I have had several conversations with Fr. Chris Crotty, an exorcist with over a decade of experience, and he says the same: whether its believers, or non believers, animate or inanimate matter seems to have no bearing on the demonic will. Their will is to inflict pain and suffering which includes inciting fear. It is an anthropological truth that when in fear, humans tend to make bad decisions. So even a good horror movie can accomplish the diabolic goals of these demonic people.

          • Martin Sellers

            "In fact, it is not accurate that more believers are victims of demonic possession than non believersAhh ok"

            - O I digress then. I was just going off what the other guy said.

          • Heidi keene

            Incidentally, I may add that, according to the professionals I cited above, in the majority of documented cases (by the Church), humans almost always are responsible in some way for inviting or permitting the possession or oppression, whatever the particular case may be.

          • Heidi keene

            Thank you Martin. You are a good conversationist.

          • Loved As If

            "twasn't an "eternal" battle, though I'd not be surprised if demons thought it was. Drusilla Barron (http://lovedasif.com)

          • vito

            Then where's the productinveness of attacking a believer? The attack, it would seem, can only reinforce the believer's belief - in God, in the Devil and in the supernatural in general.

            An exorcist in my town, answering a question on a radio on how to avoid attacks and possession by demons, said that one simply needs to be a good Catholic: pray, avoid mortal sin, go to Church, confessession, sacraments etc. And that people who do not do those things, or do opposite things, are the ones that are attacked/possessed.

            So I am confused: it seems that whenever a non-believer is attacked, the Church says that's because he is a non-beleiver and a sinner; but when a believer is attacked, they then reverse it and say it's because he is a believer and that's why the devil hates him.

      • vito

        Actually "Chief Exorcist" at Vatican has claimed for EWTN that the devil usually attacks people who have "abandonded the faith". So, after all, he does not think of it as counter productive.

    • mcqu9172

      What "evidence and logic to the contrary" would you suggest to the witnesses who testified that they saw a boy walk backwards up a wall to the ceiling? Would the same apply to the medical staff who reported that a boy was lifted and thrown into a wall with nobody touching him. This seems to be a rather well documented case, enough so that major news outlets picked up on it. You talk about evidence, but all the "evidence" in this case (at least as presented in this article) points to the fact that something happened that cannot be logically explained. If there is more research somewhere in this case that calls into question the mental capacities of all these witnesses, please shed some light on it for us. Can you confirm that all the witnesses in this case are also in fact, "believers" or are you just assuming this because of what they testified to seeing? "More importantly we recognize the fallacy in believing despite evidence and logic to the contrary, in something which has not been proven." - this goes both ways.

      • Kit Fry

        If you read the article, you'll see that the cop's belief is based on conversations with the family. It appears unlikely that any of the events occurred in the presence of an objective observer. The cop was convinced based off 'extensive interviews.'
        I'm not sure about the hospital staff. There are great parkuor moves to flip over off a wall. Also the staff could have felt compeled to experience. Many people feel to pull to be a part of something great or amazing. Magic trick work similarly.

        • mcqu9172

          "It appears unlikely that any of the events occurred in the presence of an objective observer."

          So if someone believes in God they can no longer be an objective observer? Could an atheist really be any more objective? An atheist would have likely already come to the conclusion that such things could never happen, so even if his eyes witness something supernatural he would still believe it must NOT have happened.

          • Danny Getchell

            So if someone believes in God they can no longer be an objective observer?

            As you probably know, Pope JP II all but abolished the office of Protector of the Faith (commonly known as the "devils advocate") and since that time, the rate of canonizations per year has gone up something like 1,900 percent.

            So it seems that in the case of identifying the good guys, the church is happy with a good deal less "objective observation" than it had prior to the 1980's. Whether this is also true of identifying the bad guys, and whether their population will explode as did that of saints, I'm not yet sure.

    • Joseph Heschmeyer

      Kit,

      You claim that "only religious people or truly sick people with religious relatives make claims of demonic activity."

      This isn't true: Howard Storm and John Safran are two famous cases to the contrary. Storm converted from atheism to Christianity after a near-death experience involving demonic torment. Safran (who hosts a show mocking religion) underwent some sort of exorcism. In response, atheist redditors quickly concluded that there were only two possibilities: Safran was lying or was somehow hypnotized.

      Referring back to the article, remember that the Europeans weren't seeing the cosmological activity that their Chinese contemporaries were seeing. So if every group but atheists is seeing demonic activity, it might not be a result of our gullibility: it might be a blindness resulting from your religious views.

      I.X.,

      Joe

      • Travelman

        Properly researched evidence into near death experiences strongly suggestd that they are neuroligical in nature and heavily culturally influenced. The experience may be profound for the person who thinks he/she has undergone it, but empirically the evidence is weak.

        As regards Safran, it is difficult to know whether that is fraudulent or not. Certainly it is not evidence in any meaningful sense of anything supernatural.

        • Joseph Heschmeyer

          Travelman,

          I'm not arguing that Storm or Safran's cases are genuine cases of demonic activity. I don't know enough about either case to make an informed judgment. My point was that Kit's claim that "only religious people or truly sick people with religious relatives make claims of demonic activity" is demonstrably and empirically false.

          The truth is that amongst any sizeable subset of the population that isn't a priori closed off to the possibility of supernatural encounters, you will find members of that population testifying to supernatural encounters.

          The outliers here are those atheistic materialists who adamantly refuse to consider anything authentic demonic activity, and therefore (unsurprisingly) report no authentic demonic activity.*

          You can always play the "there must be some other explanation!" game that we see being played in response to every one of the cases mentioned here. As the Reddit thread showed, "there must be some other explanation!" was the only possibility considered by the materialists.

          If you refuse to even consider the possibility of the supernatural, of course you won't conclude to it being supernatural. But that's not a scientific or "free thinking" way of analyzing data.

          I.X.,

          Joe

          *Even here, a handful of atheists, like Storm, converted after their prejudices were overcome, just as the Harvard students were eventually able to spot the red six of clubs, and the astronomers were eventually able to see sunspots and Uranus. But these strong prejudices against supernatural explanations make it very hard to see, much less evaluate, the evidence.

    • fredx2

      Don't forget that witch hunts were also prevalent where atheists got control, such as in Communist russia and China. People were declared enemies of the state, or counter revolutionaries and they were murdered or shipped off to the Gulags. For imagined offenses. By supposedly scientific rationalist people for supposedly scientific rationalist reasons. And don't forget that the science of psychology was used to "treat" people with unatheist ideas, such as religion. The number of victims, according to Wikipedia,("Persecution of Christians by the Soviet Union") was on the order of 20 millions in the short space of 75 years, far more than the numbers you cite about witches over a period of hundreds of years.

  • David Nickol

    The big question for me is—assuming something "supernatural" took place in the case described above—why does anyone think God would permit innocent people to be beset by demons? Why would an all-loving, all-powerful God allow people's lives to be turned into fodder for horror films?

    • It's a good question, David, and one we've covered extensively elsewhere in relation to the more general "problem of evil." I recommend to you and others these articles:

      https://strangenotions.com/god/evil/

      • David Nickol

        It's a good question, David, and one we've covered extensively elsewhere in relation to the more general "problem of evil."

        Even if the attempted answers to the problem of evil were successful, which I don't think is the case, the question would still remain why (indeed, if) God allowed demons to torment and otherwise interact with humans. This is especially true considering what I understand to be Catholic teaching that Jesus defeated Satan once and for all.

        It is one thing to argue that God respects human free will to the extent that he rarely intervenes to negate its effects. It is yet another thing to believe that God allows evil beings supposedly cast into hell to roam the earth and physically, mentally, and emotionally harm human beings.

        Arguing that God allows human beings to treat each other in ways that are most appropriately depicted in horror films is one proposition. Arguing that God allows demons to do so is quite another.

        The idea of demonic possession is something quite frightening that I don't even like to think about, but it does seem to raise questions about the connection between the human body and the human soul. It tends to reinforce (or so it seems to me) the idea that the soul is a "ghost in a machine" if another "ghost" (in this case, a demon) can wrest control of a human body from its "owner."

        • "The question would still remain why (indeed, if) God allowed demons to torment and otherwise interact with humans."

          Indeed, the question remains because we're simply not in an epistemic position to know why God permits certain things. But our ignorance about *why* God allows certain evils, like deadly tornadoes, the suffering of children, or even demonic possession poses no evidence *against* God's existence, and no logical contradiction to his omnipotence or omnibenevolence.

          "It is one thing to argue that God respects human free will to the extent that he rarely intervenes to negate its effects. It is yet another thing to believe that God allows evil beings supposedly cast into hell to roam the earth and physically, mentally, and emotionally harm human beings."

          To me, the issues are related. If God allows humans to perform evil acts on accord of their free will, why can he not allow spiritual beings like angels or demons to make similar choices?

          Free will is not dependent on having a body. Therefore, what principled reason would we have for supposing God wouldn't respect the free will of spiritual beings as that of corporal beings?

          "Arguing that God allows human beings to treat each other in ways that are most appropriately depicted in horror films is one proposition. Arguing that God allows demons to do so is quite another."

          I don't think so, for the reasons I gave above. Why do you expect that, in regards to permitting free will, God would necessarily treat spiritual beings differently than corporal ones?

          "This is especially true considering what I understand to be Catholic teaching that Jesus defeated Satan once and for all."

          It's true that Jesus attained ultimate victory over Satan. But, as in most wars, the battles have not yet ceased, even though victory is assured.

          In the Scriptures, Satan is still called the "prince of the power of the air" by St. Paul in Ephesians 2:2 (after the death and resurrection of Jesus.) Satan is also called the "ruler of this world" in John 12:31.

          • David Nickol

            But our ignorance about *why* God allows certain evils . . . poses no . . . no logical contradiction to his omnipotence or omnibenevolence.

            This, in my opinion, amounts to saying that there is no "problem of evil." Of course there is.

            If God allows humans to perform evil acts on accord of their free will, why can he not allow spiritual beings like angels or demons to make similar choices?

            One huge difference between humans and (alleged) demons is that according to Catholic belief, humans are on the path to salvation or damnation, whereas demons are already damned. They no longer have free will, at least in so far as they have made what for them is an "irrevocable choice" against God and for evil. It is one think to allow human beings free will in the hopes that ultimately they will freely choose God. But that is a choice demons cannot make. They exist only to do whatever harm they can. The question of free will for any beings other than human beings on earth and angels before the rebellion against God remains unanswered (in my opinion). If the choice of human beings is fixed at their death, and they are either saved or damned, I don't see how they can be said to have free will after death.

            I would interpret John 12:31 to say that by his crucifixion, Jesus will dethrone "the ruler of this world."

          • Danny Getchell

            no logical contradiction to his omnipotence or omnibenevolence

            What the presence of those "uncaused" evils argues, is that when you speak of God's "omnibenevolence" you are speaking of a trait which is only tangentially similar to the definition of benevolence as we commonly use it to describe transactions between humans. To speak of these traits as identical is a flawed anthropomorphism, and keeps the whole "problem of evil" alive and flourishing.

            It seems to me that the Christian (and indeed any member of the Abrahamic faiths) must admit that God's goodness is often manifested in ways which appear to our limited vision as unalloyed evil.

            Only in this way can the trap of anthropomorphism be avoided, but it still keeps the problem of evil alive in a different guise: to wit, which observed evils are truly evil, and which are the working out of God's goodness??

        • Douglas Pearson

          Why would a good and all powerful God allow me to fall like a rock if I jump off a cliff. Because he loves me enough to allow me to be free to make choices, including the choice not to jump. I think most folks who are bothered by demons have done something that opened a door.

          We have ample witness in scripture and tradition to the ability of demons to enter into persons or animals.

          As to Jesus defeating Satan, done on the Cross. We get to share in the victory when we give our life to him as He gave His to us.

    • fredx2

      Regardless of whether you think it makes sense or not, it fits right in with Christian theology. So it is entirely consistent with what religious people say about about their religion.
      The fact that certain aspects of religion don't make sense to some people is an entirely different matter. What makes perfect sense to one, makes no sense to another. "Making sense" is purely subjective.

  • I like the red clubs example. Observer bias is a terrible thing. Now, if someone shows me red clubs and black diamonds, but gives me one minute per card, I bet I'd get 100%. If I'm allowed to use help of friends and get a recording of the cards, I'd definitely get a perfect score.

    Have these reported demonic activities ever been recorded on video? Have the events been clearly recorded, so that they could be watched over and over by many observers and analysed? This would seem to reduce the risk of observer bias.

    James Randi is a professional magician who made a name for himself studying things like this, psychics and ghost stories, UFO abductions and astrology. Maybe he could help untangle some of our biases from the demon possession cases as well?

    • David Nickol

      Observer bias is a terrible thing.

      It's my understanding that a lot of human perception is "designed" by evolution to be "quick and dirty," and that on balance, this is advantageous. There is, of course, nothing adaptive in recognizing authentic (red) hearts and diamonds and differentiating them from authentic (black) clubs and spades, but in a world in which virtually all hearts and diamonds are red and all clubs and spades are black, it is faster to recognize hearts, diamonds, clubs, and spades by their shape alone, without having process and factor in color. Imagine had a real-world situation in which hearts and spades were somehow predators, and diamonds and clubs were harmless creatures. The plit-second advantage to the prey of hearts and spades of recognizing them by their shape alone would be adaptive.

      A lot of optical illusions take advantage of the "quick and dirty" nature of visual perception and make a disadvantage of a feature of visual perception that, in the real world, is an advantage most of the time.

      So contrary to what one might imagine, it is a good thing (for card players) to expect hearts and diamonds to be read and clubs and spades to be black. The confusion introduced by departing from that pattern is artificially tinkering with a reality that the brains of card players have adapted to. If the experimenters had used subjects who had never seen standard decks of cards before, clearly the reaction times would have been different. The subjects no doubt would have identified many more cards correctly, but the average time in identifying the cards would have been longer.

      • Observer bias is a terrible thing for doing science. I should have qualified my statement better. It's one of the reasons why it's better to record things and write things down and take copious notes of things. So that you can go back later, and others can go back, look at the same information, and see how much of the result was put there by the observer. Although it's probably naive to think we can completely separate beliefs from observations.

      • Marie Van Gompel Alsbergas

        In the early 1980's, I was asked to participate in an experiment in which the listener had to identify the speaker of short syllables as being either French or American English language speakers. Though I still can't speak French, I had worked in a French language population. I confounded the results because I was the only participant who actually new what real, spoken French sounded like. Observer bias is real.

  • thedoctor

    The author is spot on here; i.e., minds only work when they are open. If you have already decided what is real and what is not, or what is possible and what is not possible, then there is little point in examining the data.

    • This seems to be a serious problem for many non-theists and also many theists. Some people would believe in Jesus no matter what new data they find.

      • Danny Getchell

        The "redoubtable" William Lane Craig has stated that if the internal "evidence" of the Holy Spirit's witness says one thing and all external evidence says the opposite, that one should go with the former.

        So I guess it depends on the definition of "data"......

  • Mike

    I'd like to thank Joe for the article. I am unsure what to make of the exorcism discussed toward the end, but I think it raises an important issue.

    I recently took a teaching course at my university (as I'm applying for academic jobs this fall, shameless plug: prayers and/or karma are appreciated), and one of the things that struck me was a discussion of how knowledge is built up within oneself. We tend to be most comfortable building new knowledge based on old knowledge (the rendering in our mind of reality), and takes a large quantity of mental exertion to create or revise our view of the world around us.

    Sometimes I wonder if I'm guilty of coping out and being lazy when evidence that conflicts with my worldview presents itself, or it I genuinely invest the mental energy to assimilate it properly. I think this tendency would extend to believers and non-believers, and something we should consider.

    I once heard a professor say at a talk on his research "We all have biases, you need to figure out what mine are concerning my work, as I will do likewise with your questions." I think despite what we like to think of ourselves, we all have biases (at least I'll admit I do) and I venture to acknowledge them.

    • Joseph Heschmeyer

      Thanks, Mike! Kuhn's book is all about the ways that science tends to build new knowledge based upon old knowledge. He argues that there are a handful of structural revolutions in science that have overthrown these old systems. It's not a book about religion, per se, but it might be relevant to the line of thinking you're pursuing.

      My understanding is that one of Pascal's major arguments is that it's the will, rather than the intellect, that closes many people off to the faith: if you don't want Christianity to be true, it's easy to view (or ignore) the evidence in such a way as to reify that belief.

      I.X.,

      Joe

      • Mike

        Hi Joe,

        Hope your seminary studies are going well. I always enjoy your articles, and keep you in my prayers often.

        I totally agree with you about science building upon old knowledge. I think of "normal" science. The kind most scientists do everyday. I run a set of experiments that tell me something new, but reinforce the larger context in which the experiment was performed, i.e. quantum mechanics is valid. However, every once in a while (perhaps a decade or generation) an experiment is performed that violates a long held view, and only after the scientific method runs it's course we learn something deeply new about reality. Mindfully I acknowledge that science overall does a good job of accepting truth that conflicts with the perception of reality over time.

        I wonder if there is a similar phenomena in the spiritual realm. For example, a new Augustine comes along and explains theology in a new and meaningful way, or a mother theresa shows us how to love one another. I hope someday someone will offer a satisfying explanation for the problem or evil, or some other problematic issues the faithful grapple with.

        Lastly I agree with your last paragraph. I can't think of anyone who acts upon logic alone all of the time. I think there are many people who don't believe in God, and are unwilling to examine evidence that conflicts with that view, just as many theists are unwilling to examine evidence that conflicts with their worldview.

        I often ask myself the question "What would cause me to abandon my faith?" just as I would hope non-believers would ask themselves the opposite.

        Best,

        Mike

      • Greg Schaefer

        Hi Joe.

        Your observation in your second paragraph is, of course, one possibility.

        You don't address an equally obvious other possibility, though.

        I'm sure it hasn't escaped your notice that that observation cuts with equal force in the opposite direction: if you start with the presupposition that Catholicism is true, it's easy to view (and to ignore evidence to the contrary and also to ignore evidence that should be present, if the propositions of Catholicism were true, but has yet to be observed) evidence through a prism in such a way as to reify the preexisting belief one already holds.

        But, there is little doubt but that the certainties of faith are comforting to many when confronting the great mysteries, complexities and unknowns that mark our species' fumbling attempts to peer through the glass darkly in our ongoing efforts better to understand reality and the universe we inhabit.

        Open minds, curiosity and following the development of human understanding of the nature of reality have, I submit, served us well over the past several centuries in the West.

        It is more difficult to conceive how closed minds and certainties unwarranted by the current state of knowledge offer a positive path forward.

        • Joseph Heschmeyer

          Greg,

          That may well be a valid argument against, or at least concern about, religion in many other contexts. But in this one, it seems clear to me that the "closed minds and certainties unwarranted by the current state of knowledge" are on the side of the atheistic materialists.

          As I said in the piece:

          Christians are free to disbelieve that this case was demonic, of course. Believing that demons exist doesn't mean that everything blamed on demons is really demonic, as opposed to delusions, lies, mental illness, etc. There's no prior commitment to this being demonic or non-demonic: Christians are free to simply evaluate the evidence as it is presented.

          We Christians don't need this to be a case of true demonic possession to hold to our beliefs. But the atheists here very much need it not to be a case of true demonic possession, or their whole system is debunked. We Christians are therefore free to be "free thinkers" about it, while the atheist isn't.

          So all of the dogmatism, and the epistemological barriers to critical evaluation fall on the atheists' side this time. Obviously, that's not always the case on every issue. But here, it is.

          I.X.,

          Joe

          • Greg Schaefer

            Hi Joe.

            I don't doubt that there may be some atheists who are as dogmatic and close-minded as some Christians. Such is the human condition.

            But, it is no fairer to attribute a specific position to all atheists than it is to attribute a specific position to all religious believers.

            In the case of claimed demonic possession, the skeptical position ought to be the default starting point. You acknowledge some of the reasons why.

            What really distinguishes many religious believers from many atheists is their answer if, after thorough investigation, we arrive at the point where no naturalistic explanation seems adequate. This is the point at which many a religious believer appears content to say, in conformity with their religious beliefs or the doctrines of their faith, "God did it" or "God caused it," or -- in this specific case -- "well, because we can't otherwise explain it, it must be demonic possession." (And, need we mention those religious believers who don't accept our default position, and who are quite willing to resort, in the first instance, to supernatural explanations?)

            In contrast, many atheists would press on, continuing to seek a naturalistic explanation. That approach, after all, has served humanity well over the past few centuries, as the disciplines of physics, astronomy, chemistry, biology, medicine, geology and climatology, among so many others, have developed and we have discovered aspects of the physical nature of our universe and physical causes and explanations for many phenomena that our Bronze and Iron Age (and even medieval) ancestors attributed to the gods.

            At the end, it may well be that, given the provisional nature of human knowledge and the current reality that we don't now know (and may in fact never fully understand) completely how the universe we inhabit fully functions, the atheist is left to answer "I don't know."

            Now, for those atheists who happen to subscribe to philosophical naturalism, it would be the case that if any supernatural "thing"/"being"/cause was ever conclusively demonstrated to exist, their whole paradigm would, as you say, be debunked. But, not every atheist is a philosophical naturalist and some would, at least in principal, remain open-minded as to the possibility that "reality" might include supernatural as well as the physical/material.

            Some of us just happen to think that "I don't know" is a more humble and justifiable answer to phenomena we are as yet unable to explain by currently known physical laws and material causes than the certainty of proclaiming in such cases "God."

      • Danny Getchell

        I'm personally quite willing to admit that I do not want Christianity to be true.

        Because I do not want the universe to be ruled by a being whose moral sense is inferior to that which I had instilled in my children by the time they were seven years old.

        • Joseph Heschmeyer

          Danny,

          I appreciate your honesty here.

          However, I find your objection baffling. Are you positing that there is an objective, binding, transcultural morality, and that God doesn't live up to it? If so, where does this morality come from? And if not, aren't you really just saying that you prefer your arbitrary homemade morality to God's?

          It just sounds (and this may be my ignorance?) like you're declaring what the moral standards of the universe are, and are annoyed that God doesn't fall in line. This objection reminded me of a G.K. Chesterton that Leah Libresco quoted today:

          "Is there really no life fuller and no love more marvellous than yours; and is it really in your small and painful pity that all flesh must put its faith? How much happier you would be, how much more of you there would be, if the hammer of a higher God could smash your small cosmos, scattering the stars like spangles, and leave you in the open, free like other men to look up as well as down!"

          I.X.,

          Joe

        • fredx2

          And yet billions of people around the globe disagree with your moral evaluation of God. Looking at the same evidence, they have come to understand God as a loving, caring creator. Now, either you have discovered the true facts, or billions of other people. (some quite accomplished ones at that) do not see the moral problems with God that you do. Why do you think that is? Are so many people so morally corrupt that they can't see how evil God is?

      • Heidi keene

        This is totally true because if the will sets itself against God, this is per se what sin is. Sin clouds the intellect, and the rest of the story is written into the blog comments throughout this thread.

  • George

    "We end up left with two options. We could embrace some sort of
    compromise solution, deciding that dozens of people who don't know each
    other (including a priest, various police officers, and various doctors
    and medical professionals) inexplicably collaborated to trick us. Or we
    could concede that we're dealing with something genuinely incongruous
    with atheistic materialism, data which it is incapable of answering or
    accounting for."

    Or we could just say "we don't know exactly what happened".

    • fredx2

      If I recall this case correctly, when the kid walked on the ceiling, there were two other people in the room - his mother and a social worker. His mother might be in on some sort of con job (wanting to get on TV or whatever) but it is unlikely, though not impossible, that the social worker was in on some scam. Maybe all three cooked it up. Who knows.
      As for the cop and his moving car seat, It probably was a malfunctioning part of the car and since he had just been primed to believe in ghost stories, he made a connection that just was not there.

  • I've read the entire Indianapolis piece and the DCS report. This really does seem like a very sad story in which a Mom's delusions of ghosts seem to have been impressed on very young children to the point that they were taken out of her custody.

    Most of the claims are pretty standard ghost story stuff, a man standing at the end of my bed, a computer that kept shutting down, hearing noises. It seems that the children were performing for mom, this was the finding of one of the medical team. It really is quite sad, with the kids threatening and actually trying to kill each other and being taken away from mom.

    The one anomaly was that a child care worker reported one of the children walking up a wall. The child himself soon denied this. I don't know what to make of this claim. It certainly hasn't convinced me that demons exist.

    • Danny Getchell

      Agreed. One thing learned from the tragic child abuse witchhunts of the 1990's is that children are extremely good at picking up clues from their interlocutors and at delivering what they think is the desired answer.

  • GCBill

    But for atheist materialists who deny the existence of the spiritual realm, stories like this one are a bit of a red six of clubs. There's no way to easily harmonize the facts presented with the belief that that matter is all that there is. This worldview prejudges the case: the answer must be that there was no demonic activity.

    I don't know how to harmonize the facts of this case with atheistic materialism. Then again, I don't know how to harmonize them with the existence of demons or spirits, either. Attributing some unknown phenomena to a demon or spirit leaves us with the same question as before: "How should we describe the mechanism by which this phenomenon is occurring?" Except, unlike before, our curiosity is sated.

    As other commenters have already alluded in their questions regarding the mechanisms of demonic action, simply saying that a demon is responsible doesn't actually explain anything. It's a "fake explanation" - we don't actually understand how demons work through people, but because we don't understand how matter could cause the events in the family's story either, we settle for demons as an explanation. But our "answer" is merely another black box; a placeholder for some more complete account of the reality of the situation. This type of thinking is merely a way of "encapuslating the mystery as a substance." Instead of conceding a mystery or looking for a deeper explanation, we make the Mysterious Thing™ into our explanation.

    If you wish for demons to serve as an effective explanation for these events, you'll have to give an account of how it's possible for demons to possess or "work through" people. If you propose an underlying mechanism for possession, we'll not only be able to examine these particular unusual events, but also be able to make predictions about the kinds of things we should expect from demonic possession. That would be the beginning of a useful model. As it stands, you don't even have a "compromise color," because your explanation shines no light and yields no expectations.

    • Danny Getchell

      Well said, Bill. Deserves more than a mere upvote.

    • Joseph Heschmeyer

      GCBill,

      I disagree that it's a "fake explanation" or a "curiosity stopper" (as the linked piece suggests). There are all sorts of phenomena that we can point to, without understanding completely. If I say that an apple falls to the earth because of gravity, rather than magic or some other cause, I've not given a complete explanation.

      I can't explain, for example, how the attraction of gravity works, or why. I know only that it does. So is there more room for exploration? Absolutely. But that whets my curiosity, rather than slaking it.

      So here. If we conclude that this seems to be evidence of demonic possession, we're left with a whole slew of questions about how possession works, etc. But those should jumpstart our curiosity, because it opens up a whole world that materialism is content to assume doesn't exist.

      Beyond that, I think the assumption that for demonic activity to be real, it must be reducible to a predictive model is just that: an unfounded assumption. All sorts of human behavior defies effective modeling.

      I.X.,

      Joe

      • GCBill

        The theory of gravity explains why an apple falls to the earth, but it does a lot more than that. It specifies what we should expect of the apple (and all future apples), all else being equal. Prediction is possible whenever we assume that there's some deeper "reason" why the world is the way it is. The "deeper reason" constrains our expectations, which at the very least allows for relative probabilistic estimates. We don't need an ultimate "why?" that traces gravity or demons back to some necessary fact, but ideally we need formal descriptions of the mechanism(s) that produce the regularities we're attempting to explain.

        If demons exist and are capable of exerting their powers over humans in certain ways, then I don't think there's any good in principle reason to think that we couldn't construct such a theory of demonic possession. And since this theory would have to make assumptions about the general nature(s) and capacities of demons, we should have license to expect certain things from genuine demonic possession cases more generally. In fact, you really need something like this to avoid Devil-of-the-Gaps reasoning. Otherwise, any unusual, menacing behavior could qualify as "demonic" provided the absence of a naturalistic explanation. This is what I'm afraid of with regards to "curiosity-stopping," not the mere suggestion that demon(s) could be responsible for some human behaviors.

        Put another way, an explanation for any particular phenomenon will inevitably yield predictions about similar phenomena in general, provided your explanation isn't overfitted. Insofar as human, and perhaps demonic, behavior are regular, they can be modeled. And if we can model general cases, we can make predictions about unknown cases insofar as their causes are similar. This is not predictively "reductive" so much as inductive.

        I am actually surprised that the final paragraph in your response was written by a Catholic. If there is human behavior that "defies effective modeling," then that would serve as evidence against human nature. Because if we assume there exist teloi which humans generally strive to realize, then we should expect behavioral regularities to emerge naturally (as some goal-directed solutions really *are* better than others). I'd only expect human behavior to be too complex to model if human goals and purposes were too difficult for us to understand. And if that were the case, it would be theological claims about the proper ordering of the human person that would qualify as "unfounded assumptions."

        • Danny Getchell

          I had mentally composed a quick, facile response to Joe's comment above. Then I read your response, which basically turned my reply up to eleven and turbocharged it.

          Congratulations on the best two sequential posts I think I have ever read here.

        • Montague

          I think by "defies effective modeling," he means not that such behavior is an inconsistency human nature, but that it is not of any mathematical or physical quality, or sufficiently complex that it defies effective modeling (like long-term weather forecasting, I assume). Thus, while we may understand what can make people angry, or the effects of anger on the human spirit, it is rather difficult to say of a baby that he will grow up to be a man of choleric temper. A man is more than a material phenomenon - this is most certainly a Catholic teaching.

          That, at least, seems to be the most charitable interpretation of his words.

          The words "must be reducible" seems to imply a rather narrow idea which Joe is arguing against - not a general rejection of rational systems of description.

          I find it interesting that there is indeed an example (well, roughly) of a devil of the gaps being proposed in the Bible - and Christ quite demolishes the Pharisees' accusation, on the basis of what we might expect devils not to do. Not to mention that Christ drives out demons and instructs His disciples on how to do the same. Simply put, demonology (practical and theoretical) is a 2000 year-old tradition in the Church, and Joe could hardly be so ignorant as to mean that we believe in devils, but have never thought to or could think about them in a systematic way.

        • Joseph Heschmeyer

          Bill,

          Attempts to predict human behavior based on modelling are inevitably imperfect and fall short. We see this in economics, demographic predictions, sociology, war-gaming, playing the stock market, etc.

          And the reason is because, while we share a common nature, we also possess free will: we can act volitionally, and this makes it hard to know in advance exactly how we will behave at some given point T in the future, or to know how an individual will react to a particular circumstance in a particular instance.

          Certainly, modelling can give us some insight (particularly on a macro level), but its explanatory - and particularly, predictive - power is limited. And those are instances involving human nature, which has been closely studied for a long time, and yet which still remains unpredictable and mysterious at times. In dealing with demons, we're dealing with entities which we know less well - and which many people refuse to believe in, at all. That obviously complicates things.

          You can't reduce foreign policy to a particular formula, even if you can know certain things to watch out for. The same is true here with demonic possession: we know certain events which make someone more prone to possession, but it can't be reduced to a formula.

          • Max Driffill

            There is no evidence that we possess free will, in fact, most of the evidence is starting look quite the other way.

          • Joseph Heschmeyer

            Max,

            1) I could understand you saying that the evidence for free will isn't conclusive, or that free will isn't absolute, etc. But to make the claim that "there is no evidence that we possess free will" is so outlandish that I'm not sure what to do with it. There's no evidence? And you feel no need to provide any evidence or warrants for that assertion? What am I supposed to do with this?

            2) If you really believed your argument here on free will, it would undermine your whole position. It would mean that your atheism is the result of mere mechanical forces, and isn't a rational position at all. You can't claim to be both purely predetermined by external forces and rational.

            If every thought you have is a meaningless mechanical byproduct, and we have no way of knowing if it corresponds to any external truth (or even if it is the result of rational processes), then reason is non-existent and meaningless.*

            I.X.,

            Joe

            *C.S. Lewis, in Abolition of Man, spells this out at much greater length, if my truncated explanation here doesn't make sense.

        • Heidi keene

          "If demons exist and are capable of exerting their powers over humans in certain ways, then I don't think there's any good in principle reason to think that we couldn't construct such a theory of demonic possession. And since this theory would have to make assumptions about the general nature(s) and capacities of demons, we should have license to expect certain things from genuine demonic possession cases more generally"

          - Demonology as a disciplined science is real and many books have been written expounding theories of how to predict, what to expect, how to qualify, quantify etc.

    • HenryBowers

      What grounds your assumption that explanations of demonic activity must necessarily follow Newtonian efficient causality vis-a-vis induction and predictability? We can't predict stochastic phenomena, but they're real design parameters in engineering.

  • Actually it is no problem at all to harmonize the facts as presented, with materialism. Nothing actually claimed here is necessarily immaterial or even supernatural.

    Firstly, the vast majority of the claims come from one woman and her three small children. For instance, one of the very first things Ammons saw was a man at the foot of her bed, who left footprints. In toronto recently the police are warning people to keep doors and windows locked, because there is a man entering houses and watching people sleep. I'm not saying this is what happened, but there is nothing immaterial alleged.

    The claim about the car seat moving in its own was attributed by the mechanic to be a faulty motor. The levitation was witnessed by only the children. The only claim that really raises a supernatural claim is that one child walked backwards up a wall and flipped over grandma. This is claimed by a child support worker. There are a few possibilities, it is true, she is exaggerating or lying (maybe because she believes in demons and was worried the mom was going to have her kids taken away from her unless someone gave credibility to mon's claims that it was demons terrorizing the kids and keeping them up all night nanda out of school, which is what happened), there is some natural material force that is unknown.

  • Another weird thing about this case is how it works theologically. If there were demons, they seemed to be attached to the children most of all, not the house. The young boy especially seemed to be posessed from time to time. The possession and walking up the walls happened away from the house.

    Mom and the kids were quite religious and littered the house with Bibles and shrines. All to no effect. A number of attempts at cleansing and oil anointing were tried, to no effect. Where the heck were the angels and Yaweh and Jesus when these religious folk were being terrorized and praying and invoking god? Was god thinking "I'm going to let Beelzebub torture this woman and have her kids taken away from her before I grant her request." Is god really so petty that he requires us to get the name of the demon right, write it on paper, put it in an envelope with salt and burn it before he will intervene?

    Why was the exorcism performed on the house and not the kids? Why did the kids get better when they were away from mom? Why were there no problems with the house before or after Ammons lived there?

    Or did the exorcism even work at all? Ammons and the kids apparently just moved out of the house. If this is really how the war between good and evil is being plays out it is ridiculous.

  • The last exorcist priest now has a movie deal about this. http://indy.st/1kWqQCB

  • mriehm

    So, let me understand. The OP cites the Copernican revolution, during which the church resisted the new findings of science, as an analogy as to why we should be open-minded as to the possibility of demon possession.

    Ignoring the rich irony, I would ask then for the OP to bring on the hard scientific evidence.

    • Joseph Heschmeyer

      Mriehm,

      The Copernican example was intentional, because the modern trope is that it was science vs. religion. That's false. As Thomas Kuhn shows in his book, much of the fight was between the normative scientific model and a threat to that model. It's not all that different from the way that scientists ostracized Ignaz Semmelweis for his crazy idea that doctors' unwashed hands might be spreading disease.

      When data comes along that can't be easily fit into the model, the temptation is to blanket deny or discard it. Ironically, your insistence that supernatural phenomena must comport to the naturalistic scientific model is perpetuating this exact behavior. You believe that everything that exists is natural and material, and therefore subject to scientific examination. We're pointing to data that suggests that there is also that which is supernatural and immaterial, and you're suggesting you'll only believe it if it behaves just like it's natural and material.

      • David Nickol

        As Thomas Kuhn shows in his book, much of the fight was between the normative scientific model and a threat to that model.

        So when those condemning Galileo said . . .

        The proposition that the Sun is the center of the world and does not move from its place is absurd and false philosophically and formally heretical, because it is expressly contrary to Holy Scripture.

        The proposition that the Earth is not the center of the world and immovable but that it moves, and also with a diurnal motion, is equally absurd and false philosophically and theologically considered at least erroneous in faith.

        . . . it wasn't a religious statement, but a defense of the normative scientific model?

        Others have argued, with a certain amount of success, that the Catholic Church was not and is not "anti-science." That may be true as a general statement. However, the Galileo affair was very definitely an conflict between science and religion. And of course it was the Catholic Church against the man who is frequently viewed as the father of modern science. So while I would say it's unfair to say the Catholic Church is anti-science, I would still say that in one of the most notorious clashes between science and religion, the Catholic Church was in error scientifically and was in error theologically (by modern Church standards) about the interpretation of scripture. However you look at it, the Galileo affair was a black eye for the Church, which the Church itself acknowledges.

        • Joseph Heschmeyer

          David,

          No doubt, it was a black eye. There were definitely Catholics who opposed Galileo's theories for philosophical and theological reasons.

          But my point is that if you believe that the Galileo affair was primarily a conflict between science and religion, I would suggest you haven't read enough on it. Many of Galileo's opponents were other scientists, because what Galileo was claiming was empirically unverified, and contrary to the scientific models of the day.

          Scientists aren't somehow magically immune from the biases we're talking about here.

          I.X.,

          Joe

          • Max Driffill

            The main problem here though, is the extreme opposition to free inquiry demonstrated by the Church in the matter. Scientific opposition is fine. The main problem in the affair is the fact, and one you gloss here with the phrase "black eye," opted to display naked threats of violence to silence a point of view with which it did not agree. The opposition of the Church to Galileo's and Copernicus' ideas was wholly theological as the records of the 1633 trial bear out.

            Instead of staying out of the affair, and let the empirical matter work itself out via experiment and dissemination of results, double checking etc, the Church opted to ban books and silence people. Here is what happened in 1633:

            Galileo was found "vehemently suspect of heresy," namely of having held the opinions that the Sun lies motionless at the center of the universe, that the Earth is not at its centre and moves, and that one may hold and defend an opinion as probable after it has been declared contrary to Holy Scripture. He was required to "abjure, curse, and detest" those opinions.[46]

            He was sentenced to formal imprisonment at the pleasure of the Inquisition.[47] On the following day this was commuted to house arrest, which he remained under for the rest of his life.

            His offending Dialogue was banned; and in an action not announced at the trial, publication of any of his works was forbidden, including any he might write in the future.[48]

            from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Galileo_affair#Inquisition_and_first_judgement.2C_1616

          • Joseph Heschmeyer

            As my responses to both David and now Michael clarify, I don't deny that there was religiously-based Catholic opposition to Galileo. But trying to take a single instance in which a handful of Catholics overreacted to a scientist and painting it into a "Church hates science" narrative is laughable.

            Imagine if Republicans were still using Benghazi to attack Democrats in 450 years: how credible would that be? Likewise, shouldn't the failure to articulate a single other credible instance of the Church cracking down on scientific inquiry dispel the notion that scientists were living in terror of the mighty Church that ... once put a guy on house arrest?

            Think about it this way: Ignaz Semmelweis argued that doctors' refusal to wash their hands between touching dead bodies and delivering babies was responsible for the high infant mortality rate. The medical profession was outraged at the insinuation that they were dirty, and ostracized him. Semmelweis died in an asylum.

            In that case, the scientists and doctors acted badly, as they did in several other instances. But to get from that to "Doctors vs. Science" would be a ridiculous logical leap.

            So it is here: if your point is that the Catholics who condemned Galileo were wrong, we agree. If you think that this example somehow establishes a pattern, or was the norm, you're wrong.

            I.X.,

            Joe

          • Max Driffill

            Where did I ever say the church "hates science?" It's larger crime, and the thing responsible for its collisions with science, has been its historical opposition to free inquiry. Not content to simply disagree with its intellectual opponents/critics, it has at various times had them tortured and killed, or censured, banned etc. The only reason it doesn't do this any more is because it is not what it once was in terms of political power.

          • Joseph Heschmeyer

            Where did I ever say the church "hates science?"

            My apologies. I was trying to guess what your point was, and I guessed incorrectly. You seemed to find the details of the Galileo trial very important and pertinent, but I wasn't sure why.

            In light of your follow-up comment, I think I better understand your point.

            I'd said that much of the opposition to Galileo came from other scientists, rather than the Church (without denying that there were Churchmen who opposed him, too). Your point seems to be that such "Scientific opposition is fine," since only the Church has (or had) the power to inflict violence.

            That seems like an odd standard: scientific opposition can destroy lives, as well. Once again, Ignaz Semmelweis' professional career was destroyed, and he was more or less driven to insanity -- and eventually, the asylum. That seems like a much worse fate than Galileo continuing to work as a scientist, while facing particular restrictions.

            More to the point, are you really going to hold to the position that it's fine for scientists to disregard scientific innovations, as long as they don't threaten anyone with violence?

            To claim that the Church has uniquely resisted "free inquiry" (a term so broad that it can encompass virtually anything), I think you'll have to do a lot more than vague generalities and tendentious history. Scientists' history of accepting "free inquiry" isn't exactly pristine.

            I.X.,

            Joe

          • Max Driffill

            The Church has uniquely resisted free inquiry. It did so with torture, intimidation, subterfuge. It still resists free inquiry, a term that is not that broad actually.

            Free inquiry is simply the state in which topics can be discussed and explored without having to worry about political, and religious correctness. It is a product of Enlightenment thinking and attitudes. The scientific enterprise is vastly better at engaging in free inquiry than has been Christiandom, and religion generally.

            Also, you really will have to stop putting words in peoples mouths.

            More to the point, are you really going to hold to the position that it's fine for scientists to disregard scientific innovations, as long as they don't threaten anyone with violence?

            I am saying that disagreement, discussion and the process of double checking each other's work is perfectly acceptable, it is in fact the norm in science. We keep trying to cull wrong though often brilliant ideas out and find the explanations that predict and account for the facts. Resisting new information in the face of sound evidence is not cool. Questioning a study, or an idea, or a treasured theory is totally okay in science. This is not to say there isn't bad behavior from some at times. However it isn't systemic. No tendentious history on my part, the RCC has oodles to answer for, especially given its claims of possessing the tools to a sublime moral life.

          • Joseph Heschmeyer

            Max,

            I wasn't putting words in your mouth. As I explained, I'm trying to understand how you can defend your claim that "scientific opposition is fine."

            You define "free inquiry" as "the state in which topics can be discussed and explored without having to worry about political, and religious correctness." By that standard, I can point to innumerable examples in which scientists avoided certain topics because they were too hot-button, they feared losing reputation, feared funding being cut, etc. Often, frankly, this is well-founded: "free inquiry," as you've defined it, doesn't seem like an unqualified good. I don't want NIH grants going to fund eugenic experiments, for example.

            And plenty of other times, "free inquiry" into quack theories sets knowledge back. Are you arguing that "free inquiry" is good in these cases? Do you believe public school teachers should be free to "teach the controversy" or teach Creationism in their classrooms?

            Of course, even in the realm of times in which "free inquiry" was good, and was stymied, you'll find plenty of culprits within the scientific establishment. The fact that this means these scientists were acting un-scientifically is no answer: my whole point is that materialists are acting un-scientifically in disregarding all possible evidence for demonic possession out of hand.

            I.X.,

            Joe

          • Richard A Imgrund

            Name someone in the last, oh, two-thousand years, whom the Church has had "tortured and killed" upon a disputed scientific point. Name one person, besides Galileo, whom the Church "censured" (although he continued to publish despite being censured) for advocating a disputable scientific point. Not that he was censured for his science, by the way, but for demanding that some Scriptures be re-interpreted on the basis of his not-then-proven (and ultimately mistaken) cosmology.

          • Michael Murray

            Scientists aren't somehow magically immune from the biases we're talking about here.

            Indeed not. But the whole field of science is designed to try to compensate for and work around these biases. That is why it has been so successful. If you don't understand that I would suggest you haven't read enough on it.

          • Joseph Heschmeyer

            Michael,

            No need to get snarky. In my response to David (the response that you mocked in your own reply), my point in suggesting he read more on the subject was because the popular narrative acts as if Galileo's exclusive opponents were clergy, which just isn't true. Good secular books, including the Kuhn book that I cited in the article above, dispel that myth.

            I'm not denying that there were Catholics who opposed Galileo for religious reasons, just as I don't deny that Brazil declared war against the Central Powers in World War I. But a narrative that acted as if World War I was just "Brazil v. the Central Powers" would be false, not in what it includes, but in what it excludes.

            In the particular case we're talking about, atheistic materialism isn't scientific. At best, it's a non-falsifiable hypothesis, and therefore non-scientific. But since it leads to an epistemic closure that prevents its adherents from seeing contrary evidence, I would suggest it's better viewed as anti-scientific.

            I.X.,

            Joe

      • Danny Getchell

        Joe:

        There is a space of possible worldviews between

        "everything is material and subject to a mechanistic examination"
        and
        "there are supernatural events which are caused by quasi-anthropomorphic beings which take a personal interest in humans' daily lives"

        I have lived in that space for many years now. Please don't assume a false dichotomy.

      • mriehm

        The "modern trope" is not "false". Undoubtedly there was an aspect of backlash à la Kuhnian scientific revolution. But it was the Inquisition that had Galileo up on charges of heresy. It wasn't a group of scientists chastising him for new and unconventional scientific thought; it was the Inquisition persecuting him for false belief.

        For you to so cavalierly whitewash his persecution is bad enough. But the poor man must be rolling in the grave for you then to use his case - one of the crowning achievements in scientific history - as an example in support of the dark-age belief of possession by demons. Your chutzpah borders on the obscene.

        You advocate for science to be open-minded about demonic possession. By all means, then, let the Church use its ample cash supply to investigate the phenomenon scientifically. So long as it is done reproducibly, with independent controls (perhaps Michael Shermer would oblige?), and peer-reviewed publication, well, have at it, and good luck to you.

    • Richard A Imgrund

      "The Church" did NOT resist the new findings of science. There were astronomers all over Europe - during the so-called "Reformation" - making observations and publishing their theories, many of them ordained Catholic priests, and among all of them only Galileo is ever trotted out as evidence of religious faith's hostility to 'science'. Considering how many disciplines there are in science, and how many people in Western Europe were involved in it, you'd think by now Galileo would be treated as an outlier and pretty much ignored. Instead, he is (the only) proof.
      See this for a detailed and entertaining survey of l'affaire Galileo.
      http://tofspot.blogspot.com/2013/10/the-great-ptolemaic-smackdown-table-of.html

      • mriehm

        I did not make a general statement that the RC Church was hostile to science. I referred specifically to the Copernican revolution/heliocentrism, which the Church most manifestly DID resist.

        In my opinion, this article borders on being both absurd and offensive, by applying apologetics to excuse the Church's treatment of Galileo, and then by denigrating this incredible advance in human understanding by suggesting that, by analogy, we should be open-minded to the magical thinking behind belief in demonic possession.

        • Ye Olde Statistician

          Actually, most of the opposition came from the physicists, many of whom were crypto-pagan. Galileo's problem was that a) he had no empirical proof of the hypothesis and b) insisted on telling people how to interpret the Scriptures to accommodate it. In the middle of the Protestant revolution was not the best time to run around with amateur exegesis. The actual affair was a complex interaction of Italian politics, international crisis, professional jealousy, pride, carelessness, and so on. Real history is always detailed and particular. It is only in mythic history that people become symbols.

          That's why Huxley, no friend of religion, concluded that in the affair, "the Church had the better case." Galileo wanted to be taken at his word, but the Church demanded empirical evidence. Much as folks here have been doing relative to the alleged case of possession.

          • David Nickol

            Galileo wanted to be taken at his word, but the Church demanded empirical evidence.

            Galileo's inquisitors made nothing resembling a request to Galileo for empirical evidence that would bolster his scientific position. The whole affair was no doubt very complicated, but it is simply false to claim the Church was simply upholding the principles of good contemporary science and demanding better evidence from Galileo.

            Not only was Galileo right about the science. He was right about not interpreting the Bible as a science text.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Galileo's inquisitors made nothing resembling a request to Galileo for
            empirical evidence that would bolster his scientific position.

            Well, that was before the case came up, so the judges weren't on stage yet. Nor were the church lawyers much interested in whether he could prove it or not; only in whether he was interpreting Scripture on his own account. He had a lot of friends inside the Church, including the Pope himself. That's why the apparent betrayal struck so hard. It's hard for us today to understand that astronomical mathematics was not the highest priority on everybody's plate.
            Galileo was not right on the science. He simply adopted Copernicus' mathematical model, with its twenty or so epicycles. And it was wrong. There are no epicycles. It was Kepler who had the right mathematics, and even a stab at the right science (though that awaited Newton); and no one ever bothered Kepler over the matter, even though he was a genuine heretic (even to the Lutherans!) working for a Catholic court. But then, he never wrote a book that made fun of the Emperor, either.

  • Joe Aboumoussa

    It's seems to be a kind of cognitive dissonance on the part of the materialists who assume that the professional staff and church experts involved, who are held to sets of standards and procedures, did not apply any rigorous, reasonable, and ethical sets of various testing to the subjects in order to rule out other probable explanations before resorting to help from the Church. Such closure of the imagination and intellect to other possibilities has more to do with the voluntary obstinance of the will adhering to the reductive presupposition that physical cause-and-effect processes are the "only" valid forms of demonstrable phenomenon and knowledge in the world. There are other credible and certain ways in which the supernatural objectively manifests itself to human reason. "...So "that the submission of our faith might nevertheless be in accordance with reason, God willed that external proofs of his Revelation should be joined to the internal helps of the Holy Spirit." Thus the miracles of Christ and the saints, prophecies, the Church's growth and holiness, and her fruitfulness and stability "are the most certain signs of divine Revelation, adapted to the intelligence of all"; they are "motives of credibility" (motiva credibilitatis), which show that the assent of faith is "by no means a blind impulse of the mind". Catechism of the Catholic Church 156

    • Please tell me what standards you are talking about when it comes to priests? Do you know whether DMC Washington or the police involved were the subject of a complaint for violating professional standards? Do you know if these people even stand by their statements?

  • I personally find stories like this profoundly upsetting. I don't for a second believe in demons or ghosts, but I know many people do. I found The Conjuring extremely scary, I actually had to stop suspending disbelief (after which I found it funny). I can only imagine how terrorizing it must be to really believe these things are actually happening to you. And then to tell your children, as young as 7, that it is real and happening, and then to have police and child protection services support the delusion.

    These kids must have experienced real torture, and frankly I is doubt this is the last we hear of this family.

    I am livid that the Catholic Church approves of exorcisms and reinforces these delusions. People have been killed in exorcisms.

    Sure, it may be all true, but the evidence is unconvincing. This family had no phones to take pictures in the weeks this was happening? But the cop snapped a picture of a ghost?

    If it is all true, congratulations, if it isn't, these people have participated in an unspeakable torture of these kids. When I have kids and they ask me if there are ghosts and demons I will tell them that these things don't exist, not that they are real and coming for us.

    • "When I have kids and they ask me if there are ghosts and demons I will tell them that these things don't exist, not that they are real and coming for us."

      Thanks for the comment, Brian. I notice you didn't really engage the claims of the multiple witnesses involved, instead dismissing the whole story casually. Unfortunately, that won't do. This disturbing evidence demands an explanation.

      Also, earlier in your comment, you admit, "Sure, it may be all true." Even though you personally don't find the evidence convincing (despite not sharing any reasons to doubt it), you still admit the possibility of demonic possession.

      However, you follow that admission by claiming, "When I have kids and they ask me if there are ghosts and demons I will tell them that these things don't exist."

      That seems contradictory. Assuming you have no definitive evidence that ghosts and demons do not exist (and if you do, please share), I wonder why you would make this unwarranted assertion to your children.

      • I did raise a number of concerns in other comments about the credibility of these claims. No I did not engage in a full examination of the claims and show all of their faults. Nor do I have the time or resources to do so.

        I do feel warranted in taking the position that ghosts and demons do not exist as every time they have been properly investigated there is no credible evidence. See the investigations of the Warrens. See the hoax of the Amitiville horror. See the work of Joe Nickell.

        Of course I would tell my kids that they should be open minded and ghosts and demons may exist. I would say the same about god and Bigfoot. But when kids are scared of monsters in their closets or that demons inhabit their house, no, I would tell them that these things don't exist. Later when they are not petrified, and old enough to apply critical thinking I would explain that I'm not absolutely certain and why I reached my conclusion.

        • msmischief

          Would you ever admit a claim had been "properly" investigated if it did not come the conclusion that there was no credible evidence?

          • Doug Shaver

            Would you ever admit a claim had been "properly" investigated if it did not come the conclusion that there was no credible evidence?

            For me, that would depend on who was doing the investigating. If it's a newspaper reporter saying he found credible evidence for a supernatural occurrence, I would say he had not done a proper investigation.

          • Michael Murray

            Hi Doug, There are a large group of atheists who have been banned from SN who are enjoying your posts. As am I. They hang out over at

            http://outshine-the-sun.blogspot.com

            If you are interested. Regards - Michael

          • Doug Shaver

            I'll check it out. Thank you.

          • msmischief

            Ad homimen. You would rely on an occupation to declare they have not done as they should have.

            I also notice that you do not enumerate whom you would trust. Which does point to your rejecting any investigation that doesn't agree with the conclusion you made on no evidence.

          • Doug Shaver

            You would rely on an occupation to declare they have not done as they should have.

            Oh, would I? I would expect anyone in a particular occupation to admit it whenever they have failed to comply with the standards of that occupation? I don't think so.

            Besides, I was a newspaper reporter myself for several years. I know good and well how much, and when, they should be trusted to have done a proper investigation.

            I also notice that you do not enumerate whom you would trust.

            In the present context, I didn't need to. When you show me a report of some supernatural occurrence that did not come from a journalist, then we'll discuss how much I should trust the person it did come from.

          • Michael Murray

            There has been a great deal of research into psychic phenomena which has not found anything. Have a look at an interesting account here

            http://www.susanblackmore.co.uk/journalism/NS2000.html

            from Dr Susan Blackmore. She used to do research into parapsychology motivated partly by a very dramatic out of the body experience she had as a student. This article explains why she stopped this research. She now does research in consciousness.

            http://www.susanblackmore.co.uk

          • Sure. The quality of an investigation is independent of the evidence it uncovers. In this case however, there is no indication that an investigation into the question of whether a demon exists was even attempted. The state investigated whether Ms Ammons was fit to retain custody of her children. It found that the kids needed to be removed for a while.

        • I guess I just find these two statements contradictory:

          "When I have kids and they ask me if there are ghosts and demons I will tell them that these things don't exist, not that they are real and coming for us."

          "Of course I would tell my kids that they should be open minded and ghosts and demons may exist."

          • Brandon, you seem to be trying to play a game of "gotcha" in identifying contradictions. This seems to be contrary to the kind of discussion you want to engender in this blog.

            I would make the first statement in the middle of the night when a seven year old child wakes up petrified that a ghost or demon is in the closet. The second I would present to them the next morning.

  • mriehm

    A thousand years ago there were many cases of demonic possession and saintly visitation and the like. Now UFO abduction dominates.

    Such phenomena is cultural.

    • Danny Getchell

      Just like abducting aliens, demons never do their work in front of large audiences or when good quality recording equipment is present and activated.

      Except maybe for that Tom Cruise incident on Oprah's couch.

    • Bob

      Your response is due to cultural phenomena

  • Travelman

    One mysterious episode, plucked from countless billions of random events throughout the world.

    Was everyone lying? Of course not. Do I know what really happened? Nope. Do I believe that what happened was demonic possession? Of course not?

    Based on thousands of such events throughout the world in the last, say, hundred and fifty years, not one has been confirmed as having any supernatural basis whatever. Almost all have been shown to be a combination of trickery, visual deception, incorrect eye witness testimony...the list goes on. Yes, there are occasional, very isolated, cases that are never actually explained rationally, but there are always several possible rational explanations.

    The fact that no evidence of supernatural occurrence has ever been satisfactorily provided suggests that this is, yet again, some form of conjuring trick.

    • Joseph Heschmeyer

      Travelman,

      Admittedly, I focused on one particular case. But surely you'd agree with me that there are countless cases that I could have chosen, right? When you open your eyes to it, it turns out there's no shortage of people claiming some sort of spiritual encounter (including both the positive and the negative varieties).

      Obviously, some of those claims are more credible than others, but to discard each individual case because it's an individual case seems like an obviously-bad methodology, just as it would be a mistake to disregard specific instances (like the movement of Uranus) because it happens to disagree with one's prejudged views on the matter.

      • Travelman

        From the two replies it seems I may have to better explain my position.

        Both replies acknowledge that the majority of claims can be discarded because of any number of reasons. Yes, there may be countless such claims today and through history, but the fact that rational explanations haven't been established does not mean that that they aren't applicable. As far as I'm aware, there is no case that has sceptics so baffled that they throw up their hands and become believers.

        The cases that exist have not been conducted in a test lab, so it is to be expected that some will have 'escaped the net'. Freak results are to be expected in these circumstances. Maybe there is something among them that really does defy logical explanation. However, if this is true then it is for those making the extraordinary claims to evidence their case. At the moment we have some very occasional cases that appear to have strange features. If sufficient resource were thrown at them it is likely a rational explanation could be found.

        • Joseph Heschmeyer

          Travelman,

          Your position seems to assume (rather than conclude) that materialism alone is "rational" and "logical," and that anything contrary to materialism must be construed as "freak results." That assumption loads the deck, and more or less predetermines the conclusion.*

          I.X.,

          Joe

          *You've basically defined anything supernatural as an outlier that should be discarded, even if it can't be explained away.

          • Travelman

            The problem I have is the seemingly casual way in which you throw in the word 'supernatural'.

            I do not dismiss the word entirely. What I am not doing, however, is leaping to the conclusion that it is the only explanation. It has never, historically, been established as an explanation for any event. Were it to be present then it wouod turn on its head the whole basis of the world as we understand it, so those who claim it are put to a very high level of proof.

            I am not a scientist but I like to think that I think in a scientific way. As such there would be a certain appeal in the events you describe being explained in a way that presently defies science. I know the cases you quote aren't ones you think are necessarily strong, but you do feel that they add to the weight of evidence. I disagree. Any amount of poor evidence does not combine to provide good evidence.

    • msmischief

      Your argument is circular. You insist that they have "rational" explanations (by which you mean naturalistic) on no evidence, and then insist there are no occurrence that don't -- because you have dismissed them on no evidence.

      Of course most of them are fake. You might as well point the vast numbers of genuine simulated diamonds to rebut the notion of diamonds.

  • https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8TfYzAgcQek

    (Actually, Umineko no Naku Koro ni is a fun and challenging exercise in arguments from ignorance and confirmation bias. See KnownNoMore https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kJMrO79oT8E&list=UUS1VAx6AR6XKBVNWu20m41w )

  • Anonymous

    Kuhn's focus in Structure is on first-hand observation and your example of the students evaluating the cards is also a case of first-hand observation. But your criticism of the atheist commentators is unfair because none of them have first-hand observation of the events that occurred. They are all relying on the testimony of others.
    When relying on the testimony of others regarding the truth of supernatural events, we are (as you rightly point out) faced with a dilemma: we may trust such people and be inclined to believe what they say, but because the event they report witnessing runs contrary to all of our experience, we have very good reason to doubt the veracity of their report. So, from the point of view of any one who didn't witness the event first-hand (i.e. the commentators), the probability that the witnesses of a supernatural event such as the one you described are mistaken, lying, or just out of their mind is significantly greater than the likelihood that the supernatural event ever took place as reported. The witnesses may, in the end, be telling the truth, but their testimony is never be good enough to justify a person's believing that such an event occurred.

  • Anonymous

    Kuhn's focus in Structure is on first-hand observation and your example of the students evaluating the cards is also a case of first-hand observation. But your criticism of the atheist commentators is unfair because none of them have first-hand observation of the events that occurred. They are all relying on the testimony of others.

    When relying on the testimony of others regarding the truth of supernatural events, we are (as you rightly point out) faced with a dilemma: we may trust such people and be inclined to believe what they say, but because the event they report witnessing runs contrary to all of our experience, we have very good reason to doubt the veracity of their report. So, from the point of view of any one who didn't witness the event first-hand (i.e. the commentators), the probability that the witnesses of a supernatural event such as the one you described are mistaken, lying, or just out of their mind is significantly greater than the likelihood that the supernatural event ever took place as reported. The witnesses may, in the end, be telling the truth, but their testimony is never be good enough to justify a person's believing that such an event occurred.

  • David House

    Kuhn's focus in Structure is on first-hand observation and your example of the students evaluating the cards is also a case of first-hand observation. But your criticism of the atheist commentators is unfair because none of them have first-hand observation of the events that occurred. They are all relying on the testimony of others.

    When relying on the testimony of others regarding the truth of supernatural events, we are (as you rightly point out) faced with a dilemma: we may trust such people and be inclined to believe what they say, but because the event they report witnessing runs contrary to all of our experience, we have very good reason to doubt the veracity of their report. So, from the point of view of any one who didn't witness the event first-hand (i.e. the commentators), the probability that the witnesses of a supernatural event such as the one you described are mistaken, lying, or just out of their mind is significantly greater than the likelihood that the supernatural event ever took place as reported. The witnesses may, in the end, be telling the truth, but their testimony is never be good enough to justify a person's believing that such an event occurred.

    • HenryBowers

      But you'll notice the responses were not cries of "invalid!" but "unsound!" Cries of invalid would not be worth printing, since many commonplace things cannot be proven. I think the blogger's point is that card-callers jump to 'unsound' (e.g. pink, grey cards are in front of me) irrationally.

    • billlang

      For some seeing is believing. For others even seeing won't suffice. I knew an atheist that said "even if Jesus himself came down and proved he was God, I still wouldn't believe." Imagine if this attitude were brought into courtrooms and classrooms? What would be the use of justice or education? Thus the foolishness of atheists!

      • Max Driffill

        I doubt very much any atheist said that.

        • billlang

          Your doubt means nothing. He told me this himself. However I don't believe there is such a thing as atheists. Everyone turns to a higher power when things are bad or life threatening. We all have God in our very being. It's just the arrogant and prideful that don't admit it to others.

          • Max Driffill

            "Your doubt means nothing. He told me this himself."
            Okay.

            "However I don't believe there is such a thing as atheists.
            That is neat. Considering that you are conversing with one, and several on this forum exist and chat here all the time. Evidence, as with so much in the theist's life, is against you here.

            "Everyone turns to a higher power when things are bad or life threatening."

            Sadly this will not be the most offensive thing you say in this response but it certainly is offensive. Who are you to tell me what I do in my own private moments? I am the only data point required to falsify your hypothesis that all people turn to gods when the chips are down, you may let that little nugget go, and then deal with the fact that atheists do, in fact, exist.

            "We all have God in our very being."

            That which can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence. So, demonstrate this with scientific evidence or preface it with "I know there is no evidence of this but 'I believe we all have.....'"

            "It's just the arrogant and prideful that don't admit it to others.'

            There is a great gem of offensiveness. It would be hilarious that you have the temerity call people that don't believe that gods exist liars if your arrogance, and self assurance weren't also so ugly and sad.

            As rebuttal to your arrogance try to contemplate the following before making such pronouncements in the future, My grandfather died yesterday afternoon, after a long and bitter struggle with the infirmities of old age. It is sad beyond words really, I was close to the man but I think he is simply gone, given in to entropy. His central nervous system, two years into the failing process finally gave out along with the rest of his body. He isn't in a better place, and not once did I even think to call on gods for succor. I did get a very nice hug from my wife, and daughter, and I can see some of the genetics of my grandfather in my own young son. I will never see him again. The man I new as Grandpa lives on now only in the memories of those who still live, and in the genetics of my family. That is the only conclusion a broad examination of the evidence allows me to conclude. There may be people who cry out to gods when times are less than pleasant, but I am not one of those people. Nor are countless others who you insult with such sentiments. This is not the first time I've dealt with the sad or the life threatening and failed to call on gods either. The only person exhibiting pride and arrogance, by disregarding what honest people say is you.

          • severalspeciesof

            I am sorry to hear of your Grandfather. My condolences...

            Glen

          • billlang

            I'm sorry for your loss. He sounds like he was a good man.
            I'm also sorry you're offended. I know how that feels! Many have offended me through my life. I've know several "atheists" in my life including family members. My two uncles who served in Vietnam have told me how they prayed and carried charms in battle. They said they felt stupid about it after they came home. I've read studies about primitive traits still in us bringing even non-believers to prayer of some sort when things are real bad. My good friend who claims to be an atheist admitted praying to "my God" as he put it when he went to prison. He laughs about it now that he's safe. I don't call non-believers liars or fools. Just mistaken. Most of them are very good people in their own right.
            I'm sorry you're offended and pray we will be good friends in the life you don't believe to come.

          • Travelman

            You seem to be referring to the 'atheist in a foxhole' philosophy who, with no other hope, prays to god for help.

            Well first off, nobody knows what silly nonsense they might get up to if the situation were sufficiently critical. But, in any event, I consider the foxhole theory flawed. Believer or atheist caught in the foxhole may pray like mad but, in reality he/she knows that the only hope of rescue will be from completely human based origins, or just pure luck.

            And yes, I know what you're going to say.....

          • Doug Shaver

            Your doubt means nothing. He told me this himself.

            OK, so at least one atheist has said it. That implies nothing about how most atheists think.

            However I don't believe there is such a thing as atheists.

            That's interesting. If an atheist says he won't believe no matter what, you'll take his word for that. But when he says he does not believe, you won't take his word for that.

          • billlang

            No, because when people are at rock bottom and have no where to turn and everything seems hopeless, they turn to the only thing left. God! They'll deny Him again after God brings them trough it, but it's ingrained in their hearts to do so.

          • Doug Shaver

            it's ingrained in their hearts to do so.

            So says your dogma.

          • billlang

            Yes and it was put there by God. It's in the atheists hearts also!

          • Doug Shaver

            it was put there by God

            You say so.

          • Doug Shaver

            I have never yet been in a situation in which my imminent death seemed probable, but I have conversed with a few atheists who have been there, and they assured me that they made no effort to seek supernatural assistance by prayer or any other method. They just accepted the apparent fact that they weren't going to live much longer, and moments later they enjoyed the relief of discovering that they'd misassessed their situation.

            That is what they say they remembered. You can, of course, insist that either their memories deceived them, or that they were just lying. But aside from your say-so, I have no reason whatever to think that either was the case.

          • billlang

            I don't know what those particular people thought at that moment. I know a few who said otherwise and I read of others. I am good friends with an atheist who was facing jail time and he told me he prayed to my Jesus to be rescued. That he would give his life to Jesus if he was. He got off with probation and said he wouldn't follow Jesus because he was being silly and irrational when he was in jail.
            One way to find out for sure but it will be too late if there is a God.

          • Doug Shaver

            I don't know what those particular people thought at that moment.

            You could give them the benefit of doubt and assume they were speaking sincerely. However, your dogma tells you that no one can sincerely say what they say, then that tells you all you need to know, doesn't it?

            He got off with probation and said he wouldn't follow Jesus because he was being silly and irrational when he was in jail.

            I'd have to agree with him. An atheist who starts praying just because he's in some kind of trouble is being silly and irrational.

          • billlang

            Hence the irrationality of my friend. When things were at risk he prayed. When prayer answer he mocked even himself.
            I suspect the one of which you speak aren't as honest ( though I don't know).
            Your dogma is more controlling and irrational! You refuse to accept any evidence. When there are proofs of God you pooh pooh it. Even though there's a total lack of any evidence that there is no God, you accept that there is no God. You (you being atheists in general) go where there's no proof and mock those that have some proof as irrational.

          • Will

            Out of curiosity, what would evidence for no God even look like? Is it possible even in principle?
            Muslims get their prayers answered, is this the work of Allah or the Christian God (El or Yahweh)? There are accounts of pagan Norse gods answering prayer, so if there is one God, he answers to all kinds of names. Isn't that a real problem for Christian theology that proclaims "I am the way, the truth and the life, no one comes to the father but by me"?

            I've never prayed, as I feel confident that if God exists he/she has better things to do than listen to me whining. Maybe God looks at this as me not trying to bother him out of respect, if he/she exists. In general, I've gotten everything I've ever wanted, or would have asked for in prayer. How does that work?
            You do realize that intercessory prayer has been heavily tested scientifically right? It has been shown to be ineffective. I know, I know, this doesn't count because...you don't have a good reason it shouldn't actually.

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Studies_on_intercessory_prayer

            I'll go on not annoying God with complaints and requests...it's been working out quite well for me so far ;)

          • billlang

            People pray for all kinds of things. Christianity prays first and foremost for salvation, all else will be given as God says. He knows what we need. God gives His children what we need. It's us who causes our brothers and sisters problems. However God tells us to turn to Him for everything even though He already knows what we need. It's called "relationship".
            No other religion worships a God who loves us. No other religion knows God as our Father. No other believes people will share Gods eternal glory.
            All other religions are people trying to search for and explain God. Christianity and Judaism is God revealing Himself to us.

          • Phil

            Hey William--Since you admit that you have never prayed, I'm quite surprised that you might be so sure in your belief about prayer.

            I'll challenge you to do the 30 day prayer challenge! First thing in the morning or at night simply ask our Blessed Mother Mary to help you recognize and become more aware of God, if he actually exists.

            You don't even have to assume God exists. My "challenge" is simply to do this humbly, honestly, and seriously for 30 days straight. Only you will know if it has been done in that way!

            If God doesn't exist or he doesn't answer the prayer in the way you desire, it has taken less than 10 seconds up of each day. The upside is that your whole life may be changed and turned upside down. Seems like a pretty good deal to me!

          • Doug Shaver

            Your dogma is more controlling and irrational! You refuse to accept any evidence.

            I accept any evidence for what it's worth, as best I can judge its worth. And who else's judgment should I be using? Yours? Now who wants to be controlling?

            Even though there's a total lack of any evidence that there is no God, you accept that there is no God.

            There you go with the arrogance again, implying that you know my thinking better than I know it. How many times have you been told that atheism is not necessarily the denial of God's existence?

          • billlang

            It is under the old understanding. Now one never knows how individuals interpret words.

            "I accept any evidence for what it's worth, as best I can judge its worth."
            Fair enough. However you, like me, make assumptions on what others think at times.
            It's nice talking to you. I enjoy your perspective!

          • Doug Shaver

            Thank you for the kind words.

            Whoever invented the notion that we should never assume anything was an idiot. Assumptions are unavoidable. But we do need to careful about what we assume and pay attention to the contexts in which we make them.

          • Will

            There are many stories of Jews becoming atheist during the holocaust, as it became clear to them that Yahweh was doing the opposite of keeping his promise to them. Your claim runs counter to fact, in many cases. Elie Wiesel wrote in "Night"

            "I have more faith in Hitler than in anyone else. He alone has kept his promises, all his promises, to the Jewish people." (5.148-154)

            Elie lost his entire family in the Holocaust, and barely survived himself.

          • billlang

            I believe that to be true. Look at modern Israel, they're mostly atheistic or just nominal Jewish. The Jews going through the desert turned away from God many times in their hardship as did many Christians during the Roman persecutions. At the very point of death though?

          • Doug Shaver

            The Jews going through the desert turned away from God many times

            That's what the stories say. Why should I believe them?

          • billlang

            You won't because it doesn't fit what you want.

          • Doug Shaver

            1. I learned a long time ago that what I should believe has nothing to do with what I want.

            2. You didn't answer my question.

          • billlang

            If you're talking about why you should believe the exodus story, then it's because it's written history.

          • Doug Shaver

            It is written. You assume that it is history.

          • billlang

            That can be stated for anything. To the victors go the historical documentation.

          • Doug Shaver

            That can be stated for anything

            Of course . . . which means we need to apply some judgment whenever we read anything.

            To the victors go the historical documentation.

            Usually, yes, but there have been some exceptions. The Roman Empire was conquered by illiterate barbarians, so practically everything we know about the fall of the empire was written by the losers. And a whole bunch of what we know about the American Civil War comes from books and other material written by Southerners.

          • Will

            Northern Europe and Asia (Japan, Korea, China) are already highly atheistic (still not a majority in Europe) and it is a growing pattern in the U.S.:

            The share of Americans who identify as atheists has roughly doubled in the past several years. Pew Research Center’s 2014 Religious Landscape Study found that 3.1% of American adults say they are atheists when asked about their religious identity, up from 1.6% in a similarly large survey in 2007. An additional 4.0% of Americans call themselves agnostics, up from 2.4% in 2007.

            http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2015/11/05/7-facts-about-atheists/

            In other words, it isn't just Jews. Of course, Islam is by far the world's fastest growing religion, but it's only growing in poorly educated their world countries. Religion tends to decline with education, though one could rightly argue that secular humanism is a religion, or at least an ideology (not founded on gods of course).

          • billlang

            Your last sentence I believe is true.
            The Korea's and China have seen an explosion in a Christian conversion. Communism ruthlessly exterminated Christians in the past. They still persecute.
            Christianity grows best during persecution. Islam never evangelized a country. The expand by birth and as the Koran says, by the sword. Islam savagely persecutes anything not Islam.

          • Doug Shaver

            We all have God in our very being. It's just the arrogant and prideful that don't admit it to others.

            You say God exists. I say you're mistaken. You say that isn't possible. And I'm the one being arrogant and prideful?

          • billlang

            Yes, because I'm not the one saying I'm the height of all things. I'm not making myself as my own god. You may or may not be one who claims science, but science itself admits it couldn't disprove God, but you claim to be so sure. Pride!

          • Doug Shaver

            I'm not the one saying I'm the height of all things.

            I'm not saying it, either. More particularly, I'm not saying that I cannot be mistaken.

            I'm not making myself as my own god.

            Neither am I. Nor do I accuse you of making yourself a god. But if only one of us claims immunity from human error, which of us is closer to claiming an attribute of divinity?

          • billlang

            We have the life of divinity in us (you too) however we are no God. I'm glad to see we actually have much in common. Keep searching for truth. I will also.

  • eljimbo

    Why is there never any video of things like this?

  • Gustavo Emilio Gallegos

    I have some questions; what is "evil"? What is "demon"? What is "God"? What are "gods"? [Please forgive my ignorance and my bad grammar].

  • Gustavo Emilio Gallegos

    O and what is "soul"? and what is "spirit"? And what is "spiritual"? and what is "witch"? and what is "magic"? Again, please forgive my ignorance; just some terms I'm looking at and would love to have them more well defined [if anybody would be free enough to help].

    • Ye Olde Statistician

      Soul is the substantial form of a natural body that has the potential for life. That is, it is whatever it is that makes a living body alive. The Latin word is "anima" which simply means "alive." There are nutritive souls, sensitive souls, and rational souls, though in higher order beings these are integrated, not separate. Plants possess only the first sort; animals possess the first-and-second; humans possess all three. These correspond to digestible objects, sensible objects, and intelligible objects.
      Evil is defectus boni, a deficiency in a good. For example, life is a good for living things; so death is an evil. The opposite of a defect is a perfect, and so one needs to know what is good first. For example, man being a rational animal, acts that impair our rationality are evil. For example, indulging in the sensory appetites "vulcanizes" neural patterns originating in the more primitive parts of the brain, and these impair the formation of neural patters in the neocortex dealing with rational thought. That is, indulging in excessive eating and procreating are bad for us.
      Hope this helps.

      • Gustavo Emilio Gallegos

        Ho Ho Ho - that makes sense to me! So, by these definitions, we can only tell if something is deficient in good -in light of the good itself. Without the good, we could not tell if something was evil, for in this example, without life, we could not tell if something was dead?

        • Ye Olde Statistician

          Obviously. An evil being defectus boni it is always a deficiency or lack in something. The something must exist in a logically prior sense before it can be deficient. It is possible to conceive of life without death; but one cannot conceive of death without life.
          In the same manner, think about what a medical doctor is supposed to do. When we say someone is a "good" doctor, we mean he knows his medicines, understands for what symptoms each is pertinent, what dosages are called for, and maintains or restores the patient's health. This tells us what it means to be a "bad" doctor. Similarly, a "good" archer is one who hits the mark; and a "bad" archer is one who misses. (The greater or more frequent the misses, the worse the archer.)
          Without life, "we" could not "tell" anything, any more than a rock or a sand pile could.

  • Gustavo Emilio Gallegos

    I'm very much enjoying the dialogue between the two camps at hand here. It seems that terms of existence have been laid out for the reader to enjoy the show best who casually happens to come by and watch the fireworks (that would be me). I consider all things being said and while I myself believe in the reality of the spiritual, and while I could expound on that term - spiritual - in my own limited way to "prove" it's reality on a factual and universally objective level without prejudice, the testimony of persons can only be taken as exactly that - testimony - that without proper evidence can neither be proved or refuted but simply held on to for the record. I personally 'believe' in the spiritual and accept the testimony of persons as having been given. I pray I'm not being redundant. If I am - forgiveness please!

  • TeaParty1776

    Linda Blair was on LSD. Thats how she floated.