Friday, September 13, 2013

Animal clairvoyance

22 But God's anger was kindled because he went, and the angel of the Lord took his stand in the way as his adversary. Now he was riding on the donkey, and his two servants were with him. 23 And the donkey saw the angel of the Lord standing in the road, with a drawn sword in his hand. And the donkey turned aside out of the road and went into the field. And Balaam struck the donkey, to turn her into the road. 24 Then the angel of the Lord stood in a narrow path between the vineyards, with a wall on either side. 25 And when the donkey saw the angel of the Lord, she pushed against the wall and pressed Balaam's foot against the wall. So he struck her again. 26 Then the angel of the Lord went ahead and stood in a narrow place, where there was no way to turn either to the right or to the left. 27 When the donkey saw the angel of the Lord, she lay down under Balaam. And Balaam's anger was kindled, and he struck the donkey with his staff. 28 Then the Lord opened the mouth of the donkey, and she said to Balaam, “What have I done to you, that you have struck me these three times?” 29 And Balaam said to the donkey, “Because you have made a fool of me. I wish I had a sword in my hand, for then I would kill you.” 30 And the donkey said to Balaam, “Am I not your donkey, on which you have ridden all your life long to this day? Is it my habit to treat you this way?” And he said, “No.”31 Then the Lord opened the eyes of Balaam, and he saw the angel of the Lord standing in the way, with his drawn sword in his hand. And he bowed down and fell on his face. 32 And the angel of the Lord said to him, “Why have you struck your donkey these three times? Behold, I have come out to oppose you because your way is perverse[b] before me. 33 The donkey saw me and turned aside before me these three times. If she had not turned aside from me, surely just now I would have killed you and let her live.” 34 Then Balaam said to the angel of the Lord, “I have sinned, for I did not know that you stood in the road against me. Now therefore, if it is evil in your sight, I will turn back” (Num 22:22-34).
Many unbelievers regard that as one of the most fabulous stories in the Bible. They single out the donkey's supernatural ability to speak.

However, the account also credits the donkey with the ability to perceive the angel, which was invisible to Balaam. Are there other examples of animal clairvoyance? 

At one time, Michael Sudduth resided in a haunted house in Windsor Connecticut. At the time he and his wife didn't know they were buying a haunted house. It was a historic colonial home. After living there they discovered that it was haunted. And subsequently, they found out that the previous owners had the same experience. (I think Michael's experience in the haunted house, on top of his youthful dabblings with the Ouija board, is one of the things that pushed him off the deep end.) Among other things, he recounts the following:

The family dog (a golden retriever named Abbey) also seemed to sense something in the house. Early on she had some very strong reactions to something we could not see, much like she would if a stranger come to the house. She would go a particular spot in the house and look up and bark at something she had focused her eyes on. Sometimes she would stare down the stairs from the top of the stairs, as though she were looking at something in the foyer downstairs.
This happened in several places in the house, sometimes when we heard things and some- times when we had not. On one occasion Abbey became extremely aggressive, almost violent. She was really spooked by something. On at least two occasions, while I was teaching night classes, Jill had locked herself in the master bedroom with Abbey for fear that someone had broken into the house. Over time while Abbey continued to act as though she sensed something, she was not as disturbed, exactly as she behaved with guests with which she had become acquainted.

You might dismiss this as subjective, but Sudduth also recounts objective phenomena which collaborate the dog's clairvoyance. For instance:

One day after we had been in the house for a few months, Jill and I were having an argument about the house. At one point, Jill said: "We should just sell this damn house andleave!" Immediately a short umbrella we had hanging on the coat rack by the backdoor flew off the peg and landed about six feet or so from the door. The peg did not break. There was no door or window open. And the umbrella was still rolled up. This umbrella just launched itself across the room. We were speechless.

Out of curiosity, I wrote Dr. David Hufford. He's a college prof. at at the Penn State College of Medicine (Hershey), where he has appointments in Medical Humanities, Behavioral Science, and Family and Community Medicine. He's a world authority on old-hag syndrome, based on extensive original research (e.g. interviews, case studies) that he's conducted over the years. 

In your research, have you run across credible reports that animals, like pet dogs and cats, can perceive the unseen presence of "spirits." Sense the presence of personal entities which are invisible to human observers?

To which Dr. Hufford responded:

I have reports I consider credible. Most do not involve "hagging," but some do. I am convinced that this happens.

So there is corroborative evidence for animal clairvoyance, of the kind exhibited by Balaam's donkey. 

I should add that Rupert Sheldrake has done extensive research on animal telepathy:


  1. I have a friend whose parents are antique dealers. They specialize in Colonial items. This was years ago, but they had collected some 'witch balls' which are supposed to ward off evil spirits and whatnot. They had a dog who seemed to hate these things. Occasionally as he passed by a display of these 'witch balls' he would bark and growl at them sometimes fiercely. I think they later got rid of them.

  2. There's a more basic problem with the story that would make comparisons with supposed real life similar incidents unnecessary. This narrative couldn't have happened the way it is reported.

    Let's say an omnipotent God existed and decided to talk to Balaam through the donkey. The donkey would have said "This is God, talking through the donkey, and I'm giving you a last warning...", etc. etc.

    But if God really "opened" the mouth of the donkey, (ie. let the donkey speak what was on its mind, such as it is), it would not have said what is reported. Dogs can only remember what happened 15 seconds ago. How could a donkey possibly have remembered years of faithful service? How could a donkey possibly have notions of justice (ie. "Am I not your donkey, on which you have ridden all your life long to this day? Is it my habit to treat you this way?"... with the implication that "therefore it is unjust of you to beat me", etc.)? It bears the mark of anthropomorphic fiction that someone made up who did not know any better.

    You can say that you are focusing on "clairvoyance". Ok, but the above is still relevant. Since it would point to the fact that the tale is a fiction, you cannot redeem any factuality of the tale by saying that it has something in common with something that happened in real life. Many fictional tales have events that parallel real life. The fictional aspects trump any parallel to real life that they may have.

    1. This is a type of ventriloquy. God is to the ventriloquist as the donkey is to the dummy.

      Animals can be naturally clairvoyant, even though the "speech" is supernatural.

    2. To Thnuh Thnuh:
      Besides God being the ventriloquist, God's "opening the mouth of the donkey" could have involved angelic possession of the donkey similar to the demonic possession of pigs in the Gospels. Also, why would it be impossible or implausible for God to have temporarily given the donkey the intelligence to remember his past and to be able to think and speak? In a span of millions of years evolution supposedly resulted in primates eventually developing into humans who could think and speak. Why couldn't God do the same instantly with the donkey? If scientists can hope for and even expect the possibility of self-aware Strong AI from non-aware microchips, how much more could God turn an already aware animal into a SELF-aware animal on the level of a human or Gorilla? Koko the Gorilla allegedly can understand 2,000 English words and 1,000 words in American sign language. Koko can use basic sign language too. Also, Adam and Eve were probably created with instant knowledge without the need to inductively learn things gradually like language. I don't know if the claim is true, but allegedly Ricky Roberts (NOT Oral Roberts' son) had an I.Q. of 3 points above "moron" and in answer to prayer God increased his intelligence and filled gaps in his knowledge. He eventually earned multiple doctorate degrees.

      Or on Youtube here:

    3. Thnuh Thnuh said:

      Dogs can only remember what happened 15 seconds ago. How could a donkey possibly have remembered years of faithful service? How could a donkey possibly have notions of justice (ie. "Am I not your donkey, on which you have ridden all your life long to this day? Is it my habit to treat you this way?"... with the implication that "therefore it is unjust of you to beat me", etc.)?

      1. How does the verse you cite imply the donkey has "notions of justice" such as we do, that "therefore it is unjust of you to beat me?

      2. Of course, if the donkey is capable of some level of moral reasoning, then this would seem to reflect some level of intelligence as well. Intelligence and moral reasoning could be suggestive of longer term memory than you're assuming about donkeys. If that's right, then your criticism appears to be internally inconsistent.

      3. In any case, a donkey's memory isn't necessarily the same as a dog's memory.

      4. If the following is accurate, then donkeys are quite intelligent, which again perhaps could be indicative of a better memory than you seem to think they're capable of:

      "Larger brain capacity is evidenced by the fact that donkeys require bridles with a larger browband than that needed for a comparable size of horse or pony. Donkeys are reported to have developed an intelligence superior to that of the horses, but its instincts give rise of different behavior, in certain circumstances, which many misconstrue as stubbornness. For example, it is not the nature of the donkey to run in panic when frightened as the horse instinctively does. Under the same conditions donkeys are more likely to stop, stand still and study the situation carefully to determine the best course of action." (source)

  3. This was a very interesting article. Thanks Steve.

  4. Steve: why was the first person used? I'm not saying that if the third person were used "stop abusing this donkey through whom I am warning you!" that I'd believe it, but that would be more plausible as an act of God.

    Annoyed Pinnoy: But a donkey isn't a gorilla, that's the problem. Is there anything on Ricky Roberts that gives unbiased evidence of what you say? I can't see anything.

    Patrick: Ok I don't have the time, training or inclination (as Gen. Ripper would say) to research donkey mental capacities, so I'll concede the point, although I find it odd that people can teach tricks to dogs or cats, but they've never done so with donkeys. But as to your exegetical question 1, I think it's obvious, why else would the character of the donkey have brought this up? It looks like a protest. I'm not sure how it could otherwise be interpreted.

    This is the problem with the OT. Paul can be modern and carry on extended rational arguments. The OT seems to have a primitive, artificial story-telling about it. Thus theology seems to be something that evolved. People refining their ideas as they go along. It doesn't look like something divinely revealed.

    1. But a donkey isn't a gorilla, that's the problem.

      But God (or an angel by God's commission) could have spoken through the donkey without any changes needing to occur in the brain or vocal cords of the donkey. God (or an angel) could have spoken telepathically to make it appear like it was coming from the donkey's mouth. Or God (or an angel) could have manipulated air waves physically so that it appeared a voice was speaking out of the donkey's mouth. Besides, I don't see it as implausible for God to have temporarily granted the donkey high intelligence.

      I mentioned Ricky Roberts as a possible example of God increasing someone's intelligence and knowledge instantaneously. My argument didn't depend on the truth of Roberts claims. Maybe they are true, maybe not. It doesn't matter to me. The book by him and his mother, A Walk Through Tears allegedly has documentation. I have the book but I don't want to find it in my library. Unfortunately, the "documentation" on his website is not as thorough as in the book.

  5. Since the donkey is a mouthpiece, the first person is to be expected.