Science in Christian Perspective



A Word of Caution

From JASA 9 (June 1957): 14-15

The term "extrasensory perception" refers to a supposed capacity of the human mind to receive inteligible impressions from other human minds, or from physical objects, independently of all physical or physiological senses. In voicing my skepticism on the subject I must confess first of all to an emotional prejudice. The fact is that I have a strong dislike for conclusions not based upon sensible data, data open to public investigation. A large part of the educative process by which minds are matured consists in training the student to go behind his mere intuitions and set forth his tangible data.

My prejudice is partly based upon the fact that in my own personal experience I seem to have an extremely active imagination with remarkably vivid mental images. I believe that most people whose minds are active are constantly thinking of possibilities and contingencies, with more or less vivid mental images. Without analyzing their processes, they remember the visions which later correspond to fact, and they forget all the others. All my life I have had to curb strictly, and hold in check, my mental impressions and images. This doubtless makes me skeptical about the alleged telepathic experiences of others.

Futhermore, I have had much to do with young people who are inclined to ascribe their visions and impressions to the work of the Holy Spirit. In most cases a Christian who desires to do the will of God and who follows impulses which could possibly be ascribed to the Holy Spirit, is very likely to do some thing profitable and good, but many of us have learned by sad experience that absurd or even harmful things may be done by very sincere, devout Christians, mistakenly following impressionable impulses. 

Having confessed my prejudice, I feel justified in calling attention to a tendency against which I believe a warning ought to be sounded. There is in the human mind a love of the mysterious and the occult. This tendency is by no means eliminated from the most highly trained, scientific, technical minds. In fact, there almost seems to be an impulse to compensate for precise technical reasoning by a plunge into the mystical or even the irrational when one is off-duty from  his professional field. There are rather prominent physicists who have been prominent in spiritism or  necromancy.

Witness also the tendency on the part of many devout Christians to exaggerate or slightly distort the supernatural in the name of promoting Christian faith.  Benjamin Warfield's great book Counterfeit Miracles  should be required reading for any who are inclined to  think they are glorifying the Lord by stretching the truth.

I feet convinced that the love of the occult and the impulse toward the mysterious is in large part responsible for the credulity of Christian people toward  extrasensory perception.

I have another confession to make: In a review of Rhine's Reach of the Mind some years ago I made a rather serious statistical blunder. I do not have available my notes with which to make detailed correction. I can make the correction in principle, however, with the following general statement: Rhine's statistical methods of recording results with his cards of five different patterns is not unsound in principle. If he had presented a far larger mass of data, the result would have been of greater value. I was definitely in error in arguing that the method was basically fallacious, and my illustration of random drops of water in a partially covered circle was wrongly conceived.

However, I do insist that breaking up the data into scores of twenty-five items each, introduced an artificial situation which greatly reduced the significance of the results. Rhine's method opened the possibility for a few erratic scores to throw his averages out of line. If he had simply kept the total score of each individual subject running through two or three hundred cards each, and if these total scores had averaged considerably more than 20% correct, the results would   have been far more significant than they were. As it was, Rhine had, according to his own account, a  few high scores which might have been due to factors  not recognized by the experimenter, in my skeptical - opinion, and these were sufficient to throw his averages somewhat out of line.

In any experimental process the problem of the analysis of results must be carefully considered. If the results can reasonably be accounted for by factors not acknowledged by the experimenter, the value of these results is diminished or eliminated. In my own personal experience I have satisfied myself, and some others, in a great many cases, that the alleged results ascribed to extrasensory perception are actually accounted for by other factors. The process is discouraging, however, for every marvelous event adequately accounted for is immediately replaced by a score of others alleged to be equally marvelous and, this time, certainly pointing to the mysterious force in which both educated and uneducated minds love to believe. Browning's fascinating poem on The Magician should be read in this connection. The critic is simply snowed under by the volume of alleged data.

May I conclude with a few remarks on the Scriptural data which I believe to be related to this subject. First as to the nature of man, the Bible teaches that man's material being. his body, is separable from his non-material being and that at death (which is, according to the Bible, so far as the human race is concerned, the result of sin) his non-material being is separated from his material being, and so remains, awaiting the resurrection. As long as man is in the body there is an obvious but mysterious interaction between his non-material and his material being. The theological and philosophical aspects of the mind-body problem have not changed with the modern advancement of neurology and psychology. The mystery and also the obviousness, of the inter-action between the material and the non-material remain the same.

As for the nature of God, the Bible teaches that prior to the incarnation of Christ the three Persons of the Trinity were non-material, spiritual, personal Deity. In the incarnation, the second Person of the Trinity took to Himself a human body, by the miracle of the virgin birth. At His resurrection the body of Christ, without changing in its numerical identity, was glorified. At the ascension the glorified body of Christ was withdrawn from this world. In the present age our communion with Him is non-material, as with the Father and the Spirit.

The Scriptures make it- perfectly clear that the Triune God is capable of communicating with the nonmaterial being of man apart from his physical, physiological senses. When the Apostle Paul was caught up to Paradise (II Cor. 12:1-10) he did not know whether or not his non-material. being left his body, "whether in the body or apart from the body, I know not; God knoweth." In this experience he heard words and received exceeding great revelations. Christ promised that the Holy Spirit would teach and remind Christian people, and guide the church, and the context seems to indicate that the Holy Spirit acts directly upon human minds apart from sensory perception. Many of the experiences of the prophets were evidently given apart from their physiological senses,

It must be said, therefore, that there is no a priori reason for Christian people to be skeptical of extra sensory perception as such. The question is a question of fact and evidence. If extrasensory perception should be proved beyond any reasonable doubt by thoroughly convincing evidence, (which, in my opinion, is not the case up to the present time) no Christian doctrine would be modified. My objections, therefore, are not based upon a priori considerations.

I simply believe that Christian people should be extremely cautious, and guard against the falsely mysterious. I believe that Isaiah's warning against necromancy applies by analogy to this problem: "And when they shall say unto you, seek unto them that have familiar spirits and unto wizards that chirp and mutter; should not a people seek unto their God? On behalf of the living should they seek unto the dead? To the law and to the testimony! If they speak not according to this word surely there is no morning for them." (Isa. 8:19-20, Revised Version of 1901).