Friday, March 17, 2017

The Evidence For Organized Religion Can't Be Ignored

I recently listened to Alex Tsakiris' interview with Leslie Kean, a journalist who's published some books on paranormal phenomena. The books discussed during the program (one on UFOs and one on the afterlife) seem to have a lot of good material, and I've ordered both. I expect to eventually read them, but it may be a while before I get to them. What I want to do in this post is make some comments about the interview.

Kean's book on the afterlife seems to have some overlap with Patricia Pearson's book that came out in 2014, which I reviewed here. There's also some overlap with Tsakiris' interview of Pearson. I'll refer to perspectives like those held by people such as Tsakiris, Pearson, and Kean as a paranormal view of the afterlife.

One of the persistent problems with that view is that it's too focused on the evidence we have from near-death experiences (NDEs), séances, and other such phenomena, while neglecting other evidence, such as philosophical arguments for the existence and nature of God, the philosophical issues raised by a paranormal view of the afterlife, and evidence for organized religion. If you read my review of Pearson's book, you'll get more of an idea of what I have in mind. I had a brief exchange with Tsakiris years ago, in which I gave him some examples of people he could interview who could discuss modern evidence for Christianity, the sort of evidence Tsakiris often discusses on his program in other contexts (psi, precognition, NDEs, etc.). As far as I know, he's never interviewed the people I suggested or any equivalent. He sometimes interviews Christians, but primarily on topics that aren't about the evidence for Christianity in particular.

Kean isn't a Christian, and she doesn't seem to know much about the evidence for organized religion or what problems are posed for organized religion by the interpretations of paranormal phenomena advocated by people like her and Tsakiris. But Tsakiris is more familiar with those problems, and he, rightly, often tries to get his guests to comment on the subject. Often, as with Kean, those guests either don't know enough about the subject to offer much on it or they don't want to offer much.

Why is it that Kean, Pearson, and so many others like them know so little about the evidence for organized religion, especially Christianity? We live in a nation in which the large majority of people, hundreds of millions of them, are identified as Christian in some sense. Yet, parents, grandparents, friends, pastors, teachers, and other people with influence in individuals' lives don't show much interest in the evidence for religious matters in general or organized religion specifically. Somebody like Kean can live in a culture like ours for decades, spending much of that time working as a journalist, and not have much familiarity with traditional or modern arguments for Christianity and other organized religions. We've decided, as a culture, to largely avoid saying much about religion in a growing number of contexts (politics, schools, businesses, the mainstream media, etc.), and evidential matters pertaining to religion get discussed even less. The consequences are devastating, and we see some of the ramifications in Tsakiris' interview with Kean.

During the interview, Tsakiris briefly referred to the issue of potential hierarchies behind paranormal phenomena (beings like angels and demons having more power than humans, God being above angels and demons, etc.). He also referred to how some Christians dismiss a lot of paranormal phenomena in general or large portions of it as demonic. I agree that many Christians are too dismissive of paranormal phenomena and too quick to attribute phenomena to demons. Often, they seem unaware of one or more of the alternatives to the demonic view or are careless in evaluating which view to adopt when addressing a particular phenomenon. But the broader concept of hierarchies is central to thinking rightly about the paranormal. If there is a God, and lesser beings (demons, humans, etc.) sometimes exhibit paranormal abilities, we should think in terms of the quantity and quality of paranormal phenomena and place the phenomena in hierarchical categories. God can allow other beings to perform miracles, yet outperform those other beings (e.g., Moses outperforming the magicians of Pharaoh, Christ outperforming the Antichrist). So, we should look for the greatest demonstrations of power and evidence of other Divine attributes in fulfilled prophecy, healings, etc. I've written about issues like these in my series on Craig Keener's book about miracles, a review of another book on miracles, and elsewhere.


  1. There are times when I debate atheists and the topic of the paranormal comes up. They will always refer to them as merely undocumented anecdotal stories. Jason, is there a website or even one of your own specific blogs where someone like me can direct atheists to that actually documents the reality of the paranormal so that it demolishes forever the positions of the usual kinds of materialism and physicalism?

    I say usual kinds because there are unusual kinds of materialism that can allow for the paranormal. In fact, there are types of supernatural worldviews which can nevertheless still be atheistic (i.e. non-theistic supernatural worldviews). I've tried to provide such a resource in one of my blogposts (posted below), but it's not very good.

    Evidence and Arguments Against Materialism and Naturalism

    1. In one sense my question isn't fair because you've already done that in many of your past posts with book recommendations etc.

      I guess I'm looking for a resource that I can direct atheists to where they don't have to do deep reading to blow out of the water (forever and always) their claim that the paranormal just isn't documented. But maybe such a resource is impossible to provide or impractical.


      All that's needed is a probability. If you're going to accommodate an atheist by meeting a standard above probability - high probability, evidence that "blows out of the water (forever and always)", etc. - you ought to explain to him that you're doing so. Don't leave people with the impression that a higher standard is necessary.

      And different atheists are going to have different standards. Some claim that the paranormal is impossible or assign it a high enough prior improbability to allow themselves to appeal to extremely improbable naturalistic alternatives as more likely. And if they can't think of a naturalistic explanation, they can claim that we should suspend judgment and allow more time for a naturalistic explanation to be discovered. How do you "forever and always" (as you put it) satisfy that sort of atheist? Some atheists are unreasonable enough to make even the most highly evidential paranormal cases insufficient. That's not so much a problem with the evidence for those paranormal phenomena as it is a problem with the atheists.

      No atheist would suggest that his arguments are insufficient if he doesn't satisfy the standards of the most unreasonable Christians. Why would you want to place an irrational burden of proof on yourself that atheists don't take upon themselves?

      I cite some highly evidential paranormal cases in my introduction to The End Of Infidelity. See pages 15-20, including the footnotes. Stephen Braude has gone into a lot of detail about the evidence for some of the paranormal phenomena he discusses, including in response to skeptics. His video found here is good. Its title refers to the Serios case, but he discusses other cases in the video as well. If you want concessions by skeptics, Richard Wiseman and Ed May make some significant ones here and here. My introduction to The End Of Infidelity, cited above, discusses some examples of skeptics who accepted the paranormal after experiencing it and/or researching it. In my series on Craig Keener's book about miracles, I include a segment on hostile corroboration of modern miracles and two segments on modern miracle reports with evidence. I've also written some posts on the evidence for Biblical prophecy fulfillment, including many fulfillments I argue for on the basis of facts that are widely acknowledged even among liberal scholars.

    3. Great points, great links. Thanks Jason. BTW, I remember Steve addressing Christopher [now "Topher"] Hallquist's review of Keener's book. I don't remember if you addressed it or not. If you didn't, you might want to critique it too since a lot of atheists like to refer to it when Keener's book is mentioned.

      I believe this is the link:

      Thanks again Jason.

    4. Thanks for the encouragement.

      I did respond to Hallquist, briefly in the comments section of one of Steve's threads and in my own thread on the healing of amputees.