Tuesday, June 05, 2018

Supernatural dreams

1. One of my objectives is to expand the evidential base for Christian apologetics. Christian apologists imitate each other. As a result, Christian apologetics can get mired in a rut, recycling the same types of arguments and evidence. These may be fine as far as they go, but it neglects other lines of evidence. 

2. Evidence for Christianity can be direct or indirect. Naturalism is a primary foil to Christianity. Contemporary mainstream naturalism is defined by commitment to physicalism and causal closure. Minds are produced by brains. There's no mental activity outside the brain. The physical universe is all there is. We inhabit a closed system. There are no agents outside the universe.

Although debunking naturalism doesn't prove Christianity, it eliminates a major competitor. And that can be part of a multi-step argument for Christianity.

3. Some Victorian intellectuals took an interest in paranormal activity. This led to organizations like The [Cambridge] Ghost Club and the Society for Psychical Research. In the late 19C, three members of SPR published Phantasms of the Living (1886), by Edmund Gurney, Frederic W. H. Myers, & Frank Podmore–based on more than 700 case-studies. Two volumes, totalling over 1400 pages. Second volume of supplementary material. 

One of the topics is supernatural dreams. Vol. 1, chap. 8; Vol 2, chap. 3.

There's a vetting process by which the authors select the most credible examples, to differentiate veridical dreams from merely coincidental dreams. If there's empirical evidence for supernatural dreams, that debunks naturalism. If all mental activity is confined to the brain, it isn't possible for a dreamer to have extrasensory knowledge. On that view, all dreams are imaginary, although they may make use of the dreamer's experience.  

4. Scripture records many revelatory dreams. Sometimes the dreamer is pagan, sometimes the dreamer is Christian or Jewish. Secular readers think these are fictional dreams. Part of ancient superstitious folklore.

There is, however, abundant extrabiblical evidence for supernatural dreams. Some Christians shy away from this material, but it's no different in kind from archeological corroboration. 

5. The aforementioned book interprets the veridical dreams as telepathic. In a sense that may be true, but that just pushes the question back a step. Most of the dreams cluster around death and danger. But if the explanation is that some humans are naturally telepathic, why would their dreams be bunched around family and friends who are dying or endangered? If they can read other people's minds, wouldn't they dream about lots of other things their loved ones were doing? 

In most reported cases, the dreamer doesn't normally have veridical dreams. This is usually a one-time event, concerning the death of a loved one (or loved one in mortal peril). Telepathy fails to explain the selectivity of the dreams. 

So that might suggest the dreams are revelatory. The ultimate source isn't the ability of the dreamer to access someone else's thoughts. 

6. Perhaps it might be countered that in a crisis, the dying or imperiled individual has especially intense feelings which generate a stronger signal. But that doesn't strike me as a plausible explanation:

i) Telepathy doesn't operate like the inverse-square law, where waves of energy are diminished by relative distance. These dreams are often about people hundreds or thousands of miles away. Conversely, there are cases of simultaneous or synchronized dreams where two dreamers in the same house have the same dream. Telepathy is action at a distance. Proximity is irrelevant. 

ii) Dying people don't necessarily panic. Some people have a peaceful death. Some moribund people are too enfeebled to generate much emotional energy. Some people are unconscious at the moment of death. So you can't chalk it up to an agitated state of mind. 

7. A number of the informants were Christian. Perhaps it's more likely that God sends revelatory dreams to Christians. But even in Scripture, revelatory dreams aren't confined to believers. 

We can speculate as to why that is. In some cases it may make them more open to the Gospel. Or make them more culpable if they steel themselves against the evidence. 

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