Science in Christian Perspective



Formal, Scholarly Research In Parapsychology
Bible Presbyterian Church, Durham, North Carolina

From JASA 9 (June 1957): 3-7.


A man named Dunninger is entertaining millions today with what appears to be tremendous powers of extrasensory perception. A man named Bernstein has written a! book about Bridey Murphy I that presumes to prove that those that lived in the past can speak through those living in the present. This book has had ten printings in one year at $3.75 per copy-plus other editions in English, Danish, Spanish, Swedish, French, Italian, and Dutch. Radio programs and magazine articles on some phase of extrasensory perception are appearing almost daily-and the public cats them up.

And the Christian public eats them up, too-and then goes to the preacher and asks: "Preacher, what about Dunninger? What about Bridey Murphy?" And the majority of Bible-believing preachers mumble something or other about fraud or error or demons or Satan and re-bury their heads in the sand along with the proverbial ostrich.

I'm one of those preachers that is a target for such questions-especially since I'm also a scientist-having been a research chemist before I found Christ as Saviour and Lord and surrendered my life for the Christian ministry. But the trouble is, I can't find any "stock answer"-because the more I investigate the more I find that Parapsychology is a legitimate science-in the sense that the word "science" is usually understood: "The examination and classification of facts".

At this point it would not be amiss to remind ourselves of that which would seem to be so elementary as to be almost profane-that is, the difference between fact and theory. In practically every instancepossibly with no exceptions whatsoever-the world's leading parapsychologists are not Christians in the historic sense of the word (do not believe the sixty-six books of the Bible to be the verbally inspired Word of God). Consequently, their interpretation of the facts they discover almost inevitably contradicts the interpretation that God's Word would demand (and they must interpret, incidentally, because they are really "on the spot" to give some reasonable interpretation of facts that would seem to contradict the generally accepted "laws" of nature). Many Christians, then, read interpretations and presume that the whole field of parapsychology is a sorcerer's den.

But the facts are still there ... and the public knows modem research in parapsychology had its roots in it ... and we've got to face it. (And what many don't know is that the facts seem to indicate that Dunninger is a great showman-nothing more-as is Bernstein; though every part of the Bridey Murphy matter could be explained by Psychology without resort to parapsychology. But these same facts tell a story more amazing than Dunninger or Bernstein have ever produced). The discoveries of parapsychology need the full light of God's Word shed upon them that the world might see that the Holy Scriptures have the only adequate interpretation of these phenomena.

It might disturb many Christians to have to admit that certain natural laws make possible precognition, retrocognition, clairvoyance, psychokinesis, etc., without the supernatural intervention of personalities outside this universe. But then again, in spite of II Peter 3:10 many Christians were surprised to learn from Einstein that God would not have to work a miracle but simply use already-operating laws of nature to transform the matter of the universe into "fervent energy." And I really believe some Christians (though professing to believe that God created the heavens and earth and necessarily limited them) were surprised to learn that the universe is limited-and not by some "super-natural" wall of heavenly stones, but by natural laws . . . much as scientists who profess to understand Einstein's space-time continuum seem surprised to learn of psi phenomena where neither space nor time is a limiting factor.

Ancient Research

It would be hard to know where to begin tracing the history of formal, scholarly research in parapsychology. Saint Augustine did much formal research in this field with a clairvoyant, Albicerius, who was able to locate lost articles-apparently by extrasensory perception. He also investigated an apparent case of telepathy in a hysterical patient who was visited periodically by his priest. Their homes were 12 miles apart, and yet the patient seemed to know when the priest left home to visit him, and when and how he would arrive 2. And Plutarch 3 propounded a thoroughgoing theory of mental telephathy in which he theorized that spiritual beings in the act of thinking set up vibrations in the air which enable other spiritual beings, and also certain abnormally sensitive men, to apprehend their thoughts. Modern Research

From a Christian standpoint, we might say that  nineteenth century rationalism and materialism. Until the nineteenth century, most of the world's peoples took "spiritual" phenomena for granted. Christians, of course, accepted-without feeling the need of human experimentation-the picture given in God's Word of the activities of God (the infinite, eternal, unchangeable spirit), angels (good spirits, messengers of God), demons (evil spirits, fallen angels), as well as their ability to communicate with and manifest themselves to the indestructible spirit of man which, in the case of a Christian, could be "absent from the body but present with the Lord" (II Cor. 5:8) ; or, in the case of the unbeliever, absent from the body but conscions "in torment" (Luke 16).*

Likewise, each other religion had a place for the spirit beings it knew to be active in various relationships to men. And even the peoples who had no formal religion nevertheless exercised various degrees of credulity toward the reported activities of "ghosts," "oracles," "ha'nts," etc.

At the beginning of the nineteenth century a large segment of "educated" mankind began to feel that it could examine anything in the universe under the scientific microscope, and that the scientist's mind could understand and explain anything that is within the realm of reality. Since demons and ghosts and haunts and spirits don't obey the "laws" which man's brilliant mind had discovered, this was prima facie evidence that there couldn't be any such thing. It was during that era that "spiritual" phenomena were the special reserve of a fringe commonly regarded as lunatic.

But just because scientists said there weren't any such things, sp iritual phenomena didn't cease to exist.

And though the scientist labeled many phenomena unexplainable by his "natural" laws as "superstition" these phenomena continued to occur, and became all the more noticeable because folks had been told that there wasn't any such thing. And at the same time, men such as Einstein were demonstrating that the idolized "laws" of Newtonian physics and Euclidean geometry were no laws at all, but simply poor attempts to explain what men saw, by forgetting its relation to the rest of the universe.

So, toward the end of the nineteenth century many with scientific backgrounds decided they had as much fight to go hunting telepathic, clairvoyant, psychokinetic ghosts that didn't seem to obey the so-called "laws" of space-time, matter-energy as did physicists to go hunting the photon, electron, mesitron ghosts that didn't seem to obey these same "laws." So they re fused

* Note, however, that there has never been much Christian thought on the subject of HUMAN spirit-to-spirit communication without use of physical organs. Certainly humans in heaven and hell before the resurrection WILL communicate with one another (Cf. Luke 16). Will their spirits have an ADDED capacity then which they do NOT have now?

  to longer ignore "paranormal" phenomena, but rather began turning the searchlights of scientific research upon the realm of the "psyche"-which would include the Biblical realm of the spirit as well as that area of the temporal between the realm of the spirit and that of the brain.

Many of these scientists entered this field of research just to prove once for all that there is not a realm of reality beyond the physical. Others had been convinced that there is a vast realm beyond psychology which exists, but which had never been explored. Thus was born the science of parapsychology.

Some would begin their discussion of the science of parapsychology with the work of Friedrich Anton Mesmer 1733-1815). It would not be wise to take space here to discuss Mesmer's life and work since it is familiar to most and available to the rest in the nearest encyclopoedia. The important thing about Mesmer is that he discovered a means of healing which medical science could not understand, so a committee of the world's leading scientists, including Ben Franklin, closed their eyes and said "there is no such thing."

Of course, Mesmer ignorantly gave his discovery a name that represented a false theory--"animal magnetism." So a century later his discovery had to be relabeled "hypnotism" to rid it of all the reproach connected with Mesmer's name and theory. But to this day medical science has not given an adequate explanation of the jlbct that one mind can exercise power over the bodily processes of another body. Medicine uses the effects of hypnotism constantlv, but I think most doctors, whether they admit it or not, realize that their theories as to how those effects are produced are inadequate.

The first recorded society for scientific research in the field of parapsychology was at Cambridge University in 1852. It was there that a group of young men, many of them destined for brilliant careers, founded the "Cambridge Ghost Society" for the critical investigation of reports of "ghosts" and "hatintings" of the kind familiar to popular tradition 5. Soon afterward there was organized at Oxford University a similar group named "The Phantasmological Society'16

In 1882 Dr. Henry Sidgwick, professor at Trinity College, London, who had taken an active interest in the work of the Cambridge group, gathered around him a group of eminent scientists and, together, they organized the British Society for Psychical Research. He and his wife, the President of Newnham College, gave a great part of their time to research and preparation of reports and papers. Along with Prof. Sidgwick, the first President, were Vice Presidents Prof. W. F. Barrett, F.R.S.E., Royal College of Science, Dublin; and Prof. Balfour Stewart, F.R.S., Owens College, Manchester. Members included a large number of wellknown Fellows of various learned and royal societies, professional men, and members of Parliament. In the following years membership in this society included reknown scientists and scholars from almost every science and art known to man.

Among the subjects first taken up for examination and so far as possible, for experimental study, were

1. Thought-transference, or an examination into the nature and extent of any influence which may be exerted by one mind upon another apart from any generally recognized mode of perception or communication.

2. The study of hypnotism and forms of so- called mesmeric trance.

3. An investigation of well-authenticated re ports regarding apparitions and disturbances in houses reputed to be haunted.

4. An inquiry into various psychical phenom ena commonly called "spiritualistic." 7.

By 1887 the society had uncovered 370 cases of hauntings, eighteen of which gave "irrefutable" proof of some ultra-physical agency8. Naturally, these findings by such an eminent group of scholars aroused interest around the world.

Because of the challenge given by the work and publications of the British investigators, other similar societies arose in the years following in various lands. An American Society for Psychical Research was founded in 1885. It later became a branch of the British Society until 1905, when it was re-established as an independent organization. Recently a medical section composed of MD's has been formed within the society. The Society for Parapsychology was founded in 1948 in Washington, D.C., announcing as its purpose "To advance the science of parapsychology and to promote its study" 9. There are various other societies for research in parapsychology in such countries as Norway, France, Germany, The Netherlands, etc.

In 1921 the First International Conferene of Psychical Research was held at Copenhagen, Denmark, and conferences have been held regularly since that time. The First International Conference of Parapsychological Studies was held at the University of Utrecht, The Netherlands, in 1953 followed by another in St. Paul de Vence, France the following year. It is expected such conferences will be held regularly in the years ahead.

Probably the first recognition of this type research as a definite field of science came with the establishment of the first endowed impartial research institute, the Institute Metapsychique. Today there are similar foundations in most major civilized nations, including one in America with headquarters in New York City.

In 1921 the first University laboratory for parapsychology research was established at the University of Groningen, The Netherlands10. Actually, other universities had already accepted endowments for parapsychological studies previous to this date. Stanford University had accepted (in 1912) a very considerable sum of money for the promotion of such studies. Smaller donations for such studies had been accepted by Harvard University and the University of Pennsylvania. But none of these schools had set up laboratories, and none had reported any positive results-with the exception of Harvard. And Groningen's research was not extensive, but did deal thoroughly with one subject who manifested striking telepathic ability 11.

In 1923 Harry Houdini conspired with Dr. Win. McDougall to bring psychical research to the notice of the universities of America and to secure for it a place among their recognized fields of study. They secured the help of Prof. Carl Murchison, head of the Department of Psychology at Clark University. The result of this conspiracy was a series of lectures by some of the world's leading scholars * which were later printed by the University press and labeled timidly, The Case For and Against Psychical Belief13.

                            Duke University

But actually "the modern era in parapsychological experimentation started in 1927 when Dr. J. B. Rhine joined Prof. Win. McDougall's Psychology Department at Duke University" 14. Dr. Rhine had started his career by attending a denominational school, purposing to enter the ministry. His own testimony is that the first course in psychology at the institution destroyed his Christian faith: "By the time I had finished the course I had quite a different vocation in mind and the realization that I had no religion left worth preaching to anyone" 15. Dr. Rhine became convinced that man is a purely temporal being and that there is no such thing as "soul" or "spirit" (though today he admits the probability that there is something that survives bodily death). Consequently he turned from the field of religion to that of psychology, and did post-doctorate research at Harvard on the subject of "spiritism"-just about the time of the famous expos6s of Boston mediums. And though he found no basis f or accepting spiritism as a faith, he did find information that shaped his plans for his lifetime study.

The occasion of Dr. Rhine's move to Duke is called the beginning of a "new era" because shortly after he and his wife, Dr. Louisa Rhine came to Duke the uni-

* Lecturers were Sir Oliver Lodge, Sir A. Conan Doyle, Frederick Bligh Bond, L. R. G. Crandon, Mary Austin, Margaret Deland, Win. McDougall, Hans Driesch, W. F. Prince, F , C. S. Schiller, John E. Coover, Gardner Murphy, Joseph Jastrow, and Harry Houdini.

versity set up a separate Department of Parapsychology with Dr. Rhine at its head-thus recognizing this as a separate realm of science.

"The publication of the first report (16) from the Duke Laboratory in 1934 brought forth, along with much controversial discussion, a fair amount of repetition by other experimenters in America and England. There was such confirmation of these repetitions as to establish the occurrence of ESP entirely independently"17

The ultimate result has been the establishment of departments of parapsychology or lecturers in parapsychology at such widely-separated institutions as University College in lbadan, Nigeria; The Universities of London, Melbourne, Munich, Utrecht, Rhodes (South Africa), Minnesota, Pittsburgh, Cambridge, Oxford, Harvard, and numerous other institutions of higher learning. In addition to endowments established at the various universities, research in the field of parapsychology is being carried on through grants by such widely varied sources as the Rockefeller Foundation, the Mellon Foundation, and The Office of Naval Research (United States). Symposiums in parapsychology are held regularly by such honored learned societies as the Royal Society of Medicine and the Royal Institution of Great Britain. Publications of learned organizations include The Journal of Parapsychology and the JournaZ of the American Society for Psychical Research in America, The Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research in England, The Revue Metapsychique and La Tour St. Jacques in France, plus many others. Popular and scientific books in this field number in the hundreds-eight scholarly books have come from the Duke University staff alonepublished in six different languages-plus hundreds of articles in scholarly and popular journals. However, as far as can be ascertained at this time, there is at present no distinctly Christian group laboring in this f ield.

Critical discussion of the findings, and especially the methods of university research in parapsychology reached its peak in 1937-38.

First of all , statisticians and mathematicians offered voluminous constructive and destructive comment concerning the conclusions reached. It would take days to go over just a portion of the work done in this field-work developing from criticism that the experimenters take only "gifted" subjects-trying to show that "Position effect" curves are simply the "law of averages" catching up--etc. However, because of this widespread controversy a veritable science of statistical mathematics grew up around this research; and such methods of mathematical analysis of findings were developed as to lead Dr. Burton H. Camp, President of the Institute of Mathematical Statistics to declare (in 1937) :

Dr. Rhine's investigations have two aspects: experimental and statistical. On the experimental side mathematicians of course have nothing to say. On the statistical side, however, recent mathematical work has established the fact that, assuming the experiments have been properly performed, the statistical analysis is essentially valid. If the Rhine investigation is to be fairly attacked, it must be on other than mathematical grounds (18).

Recently (1956) Dr, Robert McConnell, Professor of Biophysics at the University of Pittsburg and Dr. Alan S. Parkes, Physiologist at the National Institute for Medical Research stated19 in a report to the Institute of Mathematical Statistics that either our entire science of probability mathematics is defective or parapsychologists have made a major biological discovery. And they went on to add that the first would be a more unbelievable discovery than the second.

Critics took Dr. Camp's hint and proceeded to attack parapsychology on grounds other than statistics-that is, the experimental set-up. This led to the almost incredible safeguards against fraud, error, etc. under which the parapsychologist must labor before the results of his research becomes acceptable for publication. By 1938, however, the American Psychological Association had given its approval to the experimental methods of parapsychology, labeling them as "completely satisfactory"20. Since this time sceptics have found it necessary to confine their criticism to individual investigators-with exception of such widely-scattered articles as that by George Price in the August 26, 1935 issue of Science in which he for all practical purposes accuses of fraud all those who have reported positive results in ESP research. He wrote:

Not only does ESP challenge current physical theory; there is also no conceivable explanation as to how it operates or could operate-for example, precognition. This situation, the author believes, allows only the alternatives of fraud and error; and since some of the ESP work can be accounted for by no conceivable combination of error, the theory of f raud remains as the only possible explanation 21.

This attack-seemingly f rom emotion rather than knowledge-drew defenses from scholars all over the world: so many, in fact, that both Science22 and the Journal of Parapsychology23 found it necessary to print a supplement containing these articles. The whole exchange emphasized the fact that the only alternative to acceptance of the fact of psi is that all those scientists reporting positive results in psi research are deliberate frauds-which is actually one of the strongest testimonials one could give in support of the psi hypothesis. Parapsychology is actually so firmly established as a science that the world's leading psychiatrist, C. J. Jung, and reknown physicist, W. Pauli, wrote their monumental work, The Interpretation of Nature and the Psyche24 in an effort to integrate the discoveries of parapsychology with the natural sciences by proposing a new philosophy of "synchronicity" which does away with the historic conception of "cause and effect." (However, to the Christian's mind it sounds suspiciously like a human doctrine of providence which ignores the One Who governs "all His creatures and all their actions").

Likewise Dr. Pascual Jordan, internationally famous German nuclear physicist recently proposed a philosophy which seeks to integrate the discoveries of parapsychology with those of nuclear physics, molding them into a new conception of the universe. He compares the mind with the electron. You can measure the impulse or wavelength of an electron, but then you can't define its location. On the other hand, you can observe the place of the electron, but then the wavelength or impulse becomes totally undefined. He compares this with the conscious mind perceiving a table through what we call "normal perception" and the "psychic" mind perceiving a table through "extrasensory perception." Others may share either perception, in either realm, but neither is explainable in terms of the other. He emphasizes25 that he considers telepathy and clairvoyance unexplainable by physical means and yet so firmly established that it must be accepted as fact. This statement is almost identical with one made by English physicist Sir Arthur Eddington26.

Periods In the History of Research of Parapsychology

1. Previous to 1852. It was during this period that the spontaneous activity of psychic occurrences were simply taken for granted-though some bold souls from time to time ventured to seek more knowledge about the it whys and wherefores" of such phenomena as "hauntings" "hypnotism," etc.

2. The initial years of the Society for Psychical Research, when undifferentiated extrasensory perception (telepathy and clairvoyance not distinguished from one another) was the major object of research.

3. Overlapping this period, the investigations of mediumship which began with the investigation of Mrs. Piper by William James and later by the Society for Psychical Research, and ran through the eighties, nineties, and on into this century.

4. The period in which laboratories of academic psychology joined the societies of psychical research in the investigation of problems of extrasensory perception.

5. The period, beginning in this decade, in which the science of anthropology is entering the picture with the investigation of "physical effects seemingly of parapsychical character," mostly in connection with primitive religions and magical rites and practices27.

In his book, The Reach of the Mind28, Dr. Rhine summarizes the conclusions that any "open-minded" person must draw from evidence uncovered up to 1947. It would seem that this summary would form a con venient bridge between our discussion of the history of formal, scholarly research in parapsychology and our discussion of technical matters involved in this science.

1. Mind-to-mind interaction (telepathy) occurs without a known physical medium.

2. Mind can enter into a cognitive relation with matter (clairvoyance) without the use of any known sensory-mechanical means.

3. This mental capacity is able to transcend space (has no relation to distance.)

4. It also transcends the time dimension (precognition, retrocognition).

5. The extraphysical system of the mind exerts a significant influence on moving cubes ("psychokinesis") (p. 108).

6. Psychokinesis ("PK"), like other parapsychological faculties, is nonphysical in character (p. 119).

7. Telepathy, clairvoyance, and psychokinesis are so closely related and so unified logically and experimentally that these forms of mind-matter interaction can be regarded as one, single, fundamental, two-way process (p. 130).

8. These faculities are necessarily functions of the whole mind; the integral human mind must participate in PK and ESP just as it does in any other normal mental performance (p. 152).

(1) Bernstein, Morey, The Search for Bridey Murphy (New York: Doubleday & Co., 1956; New York; Pocket Books, Inc., 1956).

(2) Dodds, E. R., "Telepathy and Clairvoyance in Classical Antiquity," Journal of Parapsychology, 10 (1946), p. 307.

(3) Plutarch, Gen. Sorc., XX, 589B.

(5) The Newsletter of the Parapsychology Foundation (New York); Vol. Z No. 3 (May-June, 1953), P. Z

(6) Stevens, Win. 0., Psychics and Common Sense (New York: E. P. Dutton Co., 1953), p. 67.

(7) Mason, R. Osgood, M.D., Telepathy and the Sublimal Self (New York: Henry Holt & Co., 1899), pp. 5-6.

(8) Johnson, Franklin, Psychic Studies (New York: Funk & Wagnalls, 1887), p. 65.

(9) From an information pamphlet distributed by the Society.

(10) Parapsychology Bulletin (Durham: Duke U. press) No. 28, Nov., 195Z p. I

(11) Rhine, McDougall, and Stuart, "Editorial Introduction" to the FIRST issue of the Journal of Parapsychology (March, 1937), p. 5.

(13) Murchison, Carl, editor: The Case For and Against Psychical Belief (Worcester, Mass.: Clark U. Press, 1927).

(14) Thouless, R. H., "Thought Transference and Related Phenomena," a paper read to the Royal Institution of Great Britain at the weekly meeting, Dec. 1, 1950,

(15) From "The Relation Between Psychology and Religion," a talk by Dr. Rhine broadcast from Town Hall, New York, June 11, 1946, on the World Faith Round Table series.

(16) A monograph by Dr. Rhine entitled Extra-Sensory Perception (Durham: Duke U. Press).

(17) Bulletin of the Parapsychology Laboratory, General Information (Durham: Duke U. Press, 18 pp.), p, 10.

(18) From "Parapsychology, 1953," an editorial reprinted from Main Currents of Modern Thought (New York: Foundation for Integrated Education), November, 1953.

(19) Cilia Foundation, "Symposium on ESP. (Little, Brown, & Co., 1956), pp 1-13.

(20) Huxley, Aldous, "A Case for Psi," Readers Digest (reprint), April, 1954, p. 3.
(21) Price, G. R., "Science and the Supernatural," Science, CXXII, 359 (1955).
(22) Science,, CXGIII, 3184 (1956).
(23) Journal of Parapsychology, XIX, 4 (Dec., 1955).
(24) Jung, C. J. and Pauli, W., The Interpretation of Nature and the Psyche (New York: Pantheon Books, 1955).

(25) Jordan, Pascual, "Reflections on Parapsychology, Psychoanalysis, and Atomic Physics," Journal of Parapsychology, XV (1951), pp. 278-281.
(26) Stevens, Wm. 0., op. cit., p. 123.
(27) Rhine, J. B., "Physical Phenomena in Parapsychology," Journal of Parapsychology, VII (1943), p. 2.
(28) ______, The Reach of the Mind (New York, Wm. Sloane Associates, 1947).