The exorcists

August 11, 2011 • 5:56 am

God bless America!  As if we don’t need any more proof that faith makes people bat-guano crazy, here’s a longish article from today’s Daily Mail about a school for exorcists run by Reverend Bob Larson in Phoenix, Arizona (where else?).  Part of Larson’s crack team, which travels the world casting out demons, is a coterie of teenage girls:

‘We have found that our female, teenage exorcists are particularly effective at curing the possessed,’ says Rev Larson, whose daughter Brynne is a supernaturally talented exorcist.

Here’s Brynne. If there was ever a picture that says “religion poisons everything,” it’s this one:

Highly experienced in casting out demons, saving souls, and banishing evil spirits to hell, she is also a student who enjoys styling her hair, shopping and meeting her friends at Starbucks.

Those friends include trainee undergraduate exorcists, Melanie Massih, 16, her sister Christina, 15, also students at Rev Larson’s exorcist school.

They may love hanging out like normal teenagers, but they don’t watch TV like the rest of us.

‘I think Harry Potter and Twilight are instigators of evil,’ Savannah says. ‘They nullify morality and just serve to hook people in with evil.

‘I don’t watch any television at all. I’m much too busy praying and fighting the devil.’

Brynne’s fellow exorcists:

Teenage exorcists: Savannah Schurkenback, Jess Shurkenback, Christina Massih, Melanie Massih and Brynne Larson stand brandishing their Bibles and silver crosses

There are two parts to an exorcism,’ explains graduate Tess, who clutches an attractive, red leather-bound Bible.

‘Firstly, you must deal with inner healing, to get rid of traumatic experiences from your childhood and beyond, and secondly, deliverance from demons.’

To do this, the girls are taught ‘curse-breaking’: The more experienced exorcists Savannah and Brynne will teach Christina and Melanie how to read from a list of demons, designed to provoke the ‘demon within’, when chanted aloud to possessed folk.

Tess practices reading from the list of curses. ‘Death,’ she says, ominously, raising an eyebrow to the room. ‘Cancer.’ She pauses, dramatically. ‘Murder.’

It is normally after she says ‘murder’, that all hell breaks loose, she says. ‘Many belch on hearing the words, or start weeping,’ she whispers.

‘One woman collapsed and started convulsing, while another man started choking once. I remember I felt excited the first time. “This is it,” I thought to myself.’

I love the belching part!  Here’s the man who corrupted his daughter, Reverend Larson:

But for Brynne, who like all of the Reverend’s young exorcists, is a home-schooled, teetotal teenager, her life, she insists is nothing but exciting.

‘We have travelled all over the world performing exorcisms. I have been to Africa, Australia, New Zealand, China, Korea, Japan, Russia, Ukraine, Latvia and even the Bahamas, saving souls along the way.’

And Brynne is defiantly single, admitting: ‘I have never had a boyfriend, but I consider myself lucky – I don’t have many of the demons that can be associated with obsession, or desire.’

‘I want to one day get married and have children, for God says in the Bible that we should marry. But while there are people that need exorcisms, people who need help – that is all I’m interested in.’

Lest you think this insanity is the purview of small and fanatical Protestant sects, be advised that the article adds this:

The Vatican’s chief exorcist Father Gabriele Amorth, 85, has revealed that he alone has dealt with 70,000 cases of demonic possession.

That seems a bit many to me, and “dealt with” may mean only handling paperwork. [UPDATE: Bob Felton has shown how unrealistic Amorth’s figure is.] Nevertheless, exorcism is a going concern of the Catholic church. To find out more about it, read this article from last year’s New York Times.   Catholics, of course, are very secretive about this, for they realize that it makes them look almost as crazy as the people they shrive.

h/t: Sigmund

189 thoughts on “The exorcists

  1. in Phoenix, Arizona (where else?)

    Hey! We’re not all lunatic whackaloon nutjobs here!

    Hell, we’ve got Arizona State University with its sniny new genomics institute and all sorts of NASA involvement — especially including lots of Mars mission participation. Doesn’t that count for something?



    1. Yeah, what Ben said! Of course, if this really worked, maybe we could get them to ‘deal with’ Russell Pearce and his sockpuppet Jan Brewer.

      1. Buh…buh…buh…Motorola! Solar power out the yin-yang! The Grand Canyon! Mount Graham observatories! Percy Lowell! The Global Institute of Sustainability!



          1. As if Arizona had a monopoly on the crazy.

            Um, hello? Sarah Palin? Ted Haggard? Mary Baker Eddy? Joseph Smith?

            More like, “Goodbye, America,” if that’s your standard.

            <sigh />

            And it was such a grand experiment. Maybe the next one will turn out better….

            (You keep your thesaurus on the ‘fridge? All I keep on top of mine are the cans of prescription cat food that Baihu won’t have to eat past tonight….)



            1. I kid, I kid. All teh AZ crazy it completely offset by Baihu & you. 😉

              Special diet? At his tender young age? Crystals?

              1. If there’s any offsetting going on, it’s entirely by Baihu — after all, he’s the god of the house.

                And, yeah. Crystals — poor guy. He’s been in good shape that past couple weeks…but he hates the food.

                The short-term plan is to move him back to Nature’s Variety raw and give him some sort of amino acid whose name I keep forgetting; long-term is for me to get a grinder so I can adjust the muscle / bone ratio and control things that way.


              1. Have I got something against Perry and Bachman! Let me tell you, brother — you got an hour or twelve, ‘cuz that’s how long it’ll take….


              2. @b&: Taurine? I lost a lovely mongrel tuxedo bobtail named Maxwell to congestive heart failure in the mid 1980s, likely due to the fact that even the really good catfoods at the time were lacking that one.

                (It’s so confusing writing your ‘nym, since I’m currently staff for a (poyldactyl) cat named Ampersand.)

              3. No, dl-methionine, a urine acidifier. Ammonium chloride is another possibility. As you note, the requirement for taurine has been well-understood for decades and has been a standard ingredient for quite some time — a good thing, too, as it’s given that many more cats that many more years of good life.

                As for my initials…the ampersand actually has the same shape as a treble clef. The treble clef is also known as the G clef because the lower squiggly bit designates the line to be used for the G above middle C. Thus, my initials: ben &oren.



      1. Oh, wow — an entire foundation devoted to cougar and jaguar food! Cool!

        (Seriously, though, the Sonoran Desert is home to a vast array of amazing species, ungulates included.)


      2. That’s not an antelope – it’s a pronghorn. I see lots of them in southern New Mexico (I hope they’re surviving the awful drought over there).

        Also in southern New Mexico I’ve seen Oryx, but those aren’t indigenous.

        1. Not a gnu?

          Though not an antelope, it is often known colloquially in North America as the Prong Buck, Pronghorn Antelope, or simply Antelope

          It was always a “pronghorn antelope” when I was a kid. Just like pandas were’t bears. Darn’ biologists! Why can’t they make up their minds?


          PS. I’ll be stopping over in Phoenix on 18 November. What should I look out for?

              1. Well, that all depends on how much time you have and your means of transportation, of course….

                Phoenix is a big city and has the usual assortment of museums, zoos, malls, and the like. The Symphony is doing Beethoven 9 from Thursday 9/15 – Saturday 9/17.

                But all of the really unique things are outdoors. The Grand Canyon is most of a day’s drive to the north. Much closer to town are forests of all sorts of varieties mostly saguaro in the lower elevations and pine in the higher elevations; in town is South Mountain Park, the largest urban wildlife area in the country. There’s Hoover Dam and Palo Verde if you’re into large-scale engineering projects. Tucson is a couple hours by car and has astronomical observatories and a wonderful botanical garden with a walk-in hummingbird aviary. The Phoenix Zoo is a pretty good zoo, and the Phoenix Botanical Gardens (on adjoining property) is probably the best manmade collection of native plant species you’ll find. There’s a new aquarium in Tempe that’s expensive but has gotten good reviews. Sedona is a couple hours away and is quite gorgeous, if you can overlook all the woo-crystal-vortex peddlers.

                Really, it depends on what you’re into….



              2. Thanks, Ben.

                We’re in Phoenix en route to Monument Valley from San Diego, and we’ll be stopping in Sedona for two nights on the way back, so it’d have to be something in town; the Beethoven would’ve been tempting, had it been in November!


                PS. Apologies to Jerry and others for turning this b— …website into TripAdvisor. But I trust you guys!

              3. I completely misread that date, didn’t I?

                Well, Friday, November 18, the Symphony is doing Shostakovich 5 and the Liszt piano concerto #1. In Tucson on the 19th, the Arizona Opera is doing Faust. On the 18th at the Musical Instrument Museum in north Phoenix, the Phoenix Opera is doing some sort of excerpts night of “fatal attractions.” (The MIM is worth a visit by itself, for that matter.)

                So…we’re not entirely without culture….



    2. According to a 2005 Gallup Poll, 41% of Americans believe in demonic possession, so there is a lot of crazy to go around for the entire country.

      Anyone who has ever read the Gospels knows why this is such a common belief. Jesus does little other than cast out demons and faith healing through much of the Gospels. And then after Jesus was executed, the Apostles continue doing so in his name. This is core, mainstream Christianity, not some fringe belief.

        1. I’m sure there’s a good deal of overlap, but since one isn’t a subset of the other there’s probably some people who think that evolution is true and so is demonic possession and others who don’t believe in demons but do believe that God poofed the world into existence 6000 years ago.

  2. Notice how there are 5 girls, but only 4 of them get an individual close-up glam’ photo published – the heaviest girl in the middle gets left out.

    The guy is trying to sell Jesus through sex, but the twist is that you must then abstain 🙂

    1. “but the twist is that you must then abstain.”

      No you don’t; for Tess, exorcism is a substitute for sex: “I remember I felt excited the first time. ‘“This is it,” I thought to myself.’

      1. “And I called out His name repeatedly, and told the Lord I would be there: ‘Oh God! Oh God! I’m coming!'”

  3. Seems crazy but then I read a blog this morning from a woman whose former husband had a sexually abused his two children. If that’s not demonic I don’t know what is.

    1. That sort of behaviour is vile, but it is not ‘demonic’ or evidence of possession or evil spirits. Some human beings have the capacity for gross depravities, but we cannot absolve them of responsibility by saying the devil made them do it. I don’t get what your point is here: how would hokey rituals help people in that sort of situation? Surely a phonecall to the police might be a better option than calling in an exorcist.

  4. It’s sad that there are self-styled exorcists right in the US. Sure, they’re fringe loony Christians and not the mainstream, but it’s sadder still that so few of the mainstreamers will bother to say a word about these wackos in their midst.

    Incidentally, I’m glad to see you noted the implausibility of Gabriele Amorth’s reported 70,000 (!) exorcisms; I earlier read several articles that simply reported the number without comment. Your explanation – that perhaps he was just rubber-stamping the exorcism applications (or whatever they are) – is the most sensible I’ve seen to explain a claimed schedule that otherwise isn’t humanly possible.

    (Apologies if URLs are frowned upon in comments here, but for the interested, I look more closely at the Father’s frantic pace of de-Satanizing here: )

  5. Okay. I’m going to have to call Poe on this. This has to be a set up, a stealth preview of a new WB show, with five hot girls rather than two hot guys.


    1. You wish. Larson’s been around for years, crusading against rock music and seeing demons under every rock. And yes, according to RationalWiki, there have been allegations of sexual impropriety about his ministry.

      1. “Larson’s been around for years, crusading against rock music and seeing demons under every rock.”

        Juat wanted to point out that “Rock” means “Skirt” in German. Carry on.

  6. According to Wikipedia.

    “Mother Teresa allegedly underwent an exorcism late in life under the direction of the Archbishop of Calcutta, Henry D’Souza, after he noticed she seemed to be extremely agitated in her sleep and feared she ‘might be under the attack of the evil one.'”[24]”

    Would Christopher Hitchens say “It didn’t work”? 🙂


  7. “God says in the Bible that we should marry”.
    No he doesn’t.
    1 Corinthians 7:8-9 – “Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I am. But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion.”

    It’s clear that marriage is, at best, a neccessary evil. An exorcist that hasn’t read the Bible – how hypocritical.

    1. Narvi, if memory serves, that was written by Paul, who stated that it came from his own opinion, not from god. Jesus is quoted in the gospels, however, as stating that it is preferable not to marry.

  8. I’m glad that there are still employment opportunities for today’s youth! Who knew there was a worldwide shortage of professional exorcists?

  9. The scariest part is when it mentions his work in an African village “rocked with demonic possessions and witchcraft”.
    Peoples lives are put in danger through the encouragement of those sorts of beliefs.

    1. Indeed — women and children have been killed in Africa for allegedly being “witches” or “possessed”.

  10. Allegedly 2 million people in the USA believe they have suffered abduction by aliens. A few thousand demonic possessions seems… quaint.

  11. Now THAT’s what I’m talkin’ about!! Yeah, babee. Anything that involves cute teenage gurls is OK in my book.

    Wait!! I feel the devil creeping into my heart and mind!! Save me jesus!! I need an exorcism — right now!!

    Can I get the redhead? But clearly there are no unattractive ones to chose from. Bless you reverend.

    That ole Devil, I mean the reverend.

  12. Stone and Parker already wrote the lyrics for this:

    I’m about to do it for the first time.
    And I’m gonna do it with a girl!
    A special girl-
    Who makes my heart kind of flutter-
    Makes my eyes kind of blur-
    I can’t believe I’m about
    To baptize^H^H^H^H exorcise her!

    He will exorcise me!
    He will hold me in his arms,
    And he will exorcise me!
    Right in front of everyone
    And it will set me free-
    When he looks into my eyes.
    And he sees just how much
    I love being exorcised …

    I’m gonna exorcise her!

    Exorcise me!

  13. “enjoys styling her hair, shopping and meeting her friends at Starbucks” – you see?! By his works shalt ye know him… Avaunt ye “into the dongeon of euerlasting damnacion”!

  14. Hmmm… it makes me feel like I need an exorcism or two. Looking at google’s images and reading stories like this make me think Phoenix has probably turned into a city I wouldn’t care to visit (it used to be one of my favorite cities 30+ years ago).

  15. Goody. So when do they start galloping through cancer wards, casting out demons and raising the dead as they go?
    Or clearing out prisons? Should they not think of those poor, suffering demon infested souls behind bars? (That would make for an interesting president in court)

  16. What’s sad about this is the waste.

    This loon is being funded. Trips cost money. Tons and tons of money.

    The human toll is also immeasurable. Not just the waste of 5 teen-age brains, but their victims (aka, those who have exorcisms performed on them).

  17. This is an unusual subject. Here is one case from Dr. Richard E. Gallagher, psychiatrist and Associate Professor of Clinical Psychiatry at New York Medical College.

    Actual witnessed levitation occurred:

    “Julia also exhibited enormous strength. Despite the religious sisters and three others holding her down with all their might, they struggled to restrain her. Remarkably, for about 30 minutes, she actually levitated about half a foot in the air”

    Matt Baglio’s book “The Rite” is fascinating in this regard.

    1. Sorry, but unless there is non-doctored video footage of the levitation, this is just another Catholic apologist preying on a severely disturbed young woman.

      It’s a sickening example of confirmation bias.

      The woman needed psychiatric help, antipsychotic medications, hospitalization, and a boatload of other therapy.

      The very very LAST thing she needed was an exorcism.

    2. So Alan, do you also believe in yogic flying? Because there are a lot of “witnesses” who will attest to its reality as well.

      1. I think the case above is interesting because Professor Gallagher does not rush to cry “possession” in every apparent case. There is a ruling out process first by psychiatrists.

        Another fascinating case was reported by journalist Joe Manuel Vidal of “El Mundo”, asked to attend by Rev. Jose Antonio Fortea, the well known Vatican trianed exorcist. Javier Paredes, the director of, was there as well. See here:

        The mother reported levitation of the daughter at home though it was not witnessed by the journalists – a powerful case though and writer/witness was clearly blown out by it.

      2. Not a question of belief. I doubt the professor would report the “levitation”, well witnessed it seems, unless it was confirmed. Would you advise that he did not report it?

        1. You completely dodged my question, Alan. If the professor were reporting on a case of “witnessed” yogic flying, would you trust his claims as much?

          1. It would not matter what you term this. If the witnessess were sufficiently reliable one would have to accept this.
            I will ask you. If you were a witness to this and as a group you all agreed it happened, would you accept it?
            There is only one answer, though unpalatable.

            1. Eyewitness testimony is the weakest form of evidence available. Firsthand accounts should only be trusted if it would be even more unbelievable that what was described had been faked.

              I know plenty of people who claim to have seen ghosts, aliens, Sasquatch, and Elvis, but I’m not going to accept any of those claims, and neither am I going to accept claims of levitation caused by demonic possession until something better than a video with 70s era special effects is offered as evidence.

            2. “There is only one answer, though unpalatable.”

              I would certainly accept that a group of people agreed that they saw *something*. I would await further scientific investigation to determine *what* they actually saw.

              There are several answers, including self-delusion, and deliberate misdirection, in addition to the supernatural one.

              1. Interesting are the follow up replies to Prof. Gallagher’s article by fellow academics:


                Gallaghers’s response comes across as quite clear.

                Re the levitation, which he expands on:

                “Concerning the exorcism ritual and levitation described in my article, I mentioned that I did not list all the details. One point worth adding about the levitation is that the two nuns who held “Julia” down were physically struggling mightily for about a half hour, such that her body did not rise further in the air. It sounds remarkable because it was! The nuns were quite fatigued by this point, and eventually the levitation ceased; amazingly, Julia went up and down quite smoothly.”

                So the nuns were exhausted by their attempts to hold Julia down. Powerful, but unpalatable, further evidence for the reality of this phenomenon.

            3. If the witnessess were sufficiently reliable one would have to accept this.

              No eye witness is sufficiently reliable to warrant accepting something that flies in the face of the general principles firmly established within modern physics.

              Which is not just scientific hubris. But more tangible evidence than this is needed to accept something so at odds with what we know can or cannot happen. See:

              If I witnessed it, I’d be sceptical until I’d seen some more tangible evidence: I may have been deceived by a trick, a hallucination, or some such; each a more credible explanation than that something unphysical happened.


              1. Replying to you below.

                If you were there and saw the levitation of Julia, experienced psychokinetic events (as was multiply witnessed)and her knowledge of events and information she had no way of knowing, would you change your “belief paradigm”?

                It’s not a question of, in Rothman’s words, “…those who tend to believe in the paranormal use a reference frame that is idealistic in nature…” – it is a question of explaining physical paranormal phenomena and un-attainable knowledge (in the case of Julia).

                Take for instance the “Scole phenomena” (I knew some of those involved):


                Similar multiply witnessed phenomena by scientists but many cannot handle this as it would require changing this belief paradigm. So it is called a “scam” and worse – but not real by some.

              2. Why, thank you, Alan.

                Actually it is exactly that. The way you state the problem is the give away: “it is a question of explaining physical paranormal phenomena and un-attainable knowledge (in the case of Julia).”

                You’re making a priori claims that the “phenomena” are “paranormal”, that Julia’s knowledge was “un-attainable”.

                Again, the more parsimonious hypotheses are that the phenomena have unknown but naturalistic explanations and that Julia did attain that knowledge in unknown but mundane ways. These are exactly the kind of things that stage magicians are able to do! And this is why it’s quite rational to hold onto an existing “belief paradigm”.

                Only when you’ve falsified these hypotheses can you appeal to some paranormal or supernatural explanation. Thus, it’s quite disingenuous to suggests that scientists don’t credulously accept the un-physical explanations because they can’t handle them.


            4. Dodged again, Alan. There are many “eyewitness” accounts of yogic flying, so do you accept that it is as real as levitation during exorcisms? A simple yes or no will suffice.

              1. If this phenomenon was sufficiently witnessed, yes. The question is, would any evidence convince you?

                The levitation of Julia, the psychokinetic events and her knowledge of events and information she could NOT know, all of these however combine.

                Let me ask then you a question. If you were there and you experienced everything in my paragraph above, would you be convinced?
                This would require you giving up your present “belief paradigm”. Could you do this? – an important question.

              2. I can’t speak for Tulse, but, as I indicated in an ealier response (that you’ve so far ignored), I wouldn’t be convinced.

                Why should I so easily give up my “belief paradigm”? As Milton Rothman says:

                …that those innately skeptical toward claims of the paranormal operate from a realistic philosophy, while those who tend to believe in the paranormal use a reference frame that is idealistic in nature. This dichotomy generally characterizes the distinction between normal and paranormal, skeptic and believer.

                It is not my aim to rehash the history of science and elaborate on the many conflicts that have arisen between realists and idealists. My position is that now, at the end of the twentieth century, the conflicts have been resolved in favor of realism…

                Thus, the “scam” hypothesis must be investigated first. It is the most parsimonious, it is based on a realistic philosophy, and it has been validated in the vast number of similar incidents. (Where it hasn’t, no contrary claim has been validated.) Only if the “scam” hypothesis is falsified are alternative hypotheses worth serious consideration.

                Ben was on the money mentioning Randi and Penn & Teller: What here is different from what a stage magician can do?


              3. If this phenomenon was sufficiently witnessed, yes.

                So Alan, if you accept that documented witnesses of apparent yogic flying means that the phenomenon is real, do you therefore believe in Transcendental Consciousness and siddhi and other aspects of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s claims, like you seem to believe in demonic possession?

                See, where we disagree is in the notion that eye witnessing is “sufficient” evidence. I’ve been to various magic shows where individuals have been levitated, and those events were “eye witnessed” by the hundreds or thousands of people in the audience, far more than saw the events you describe. So should I take those events as “real” as well? While we both acknowledge that objective, third-party evidence is necessary for these kind of claims, more than just “eye witnessing” is necessary to establish their veracity.

                Let me ask then you a question. If you were there and you experienced everything in my paragraph above, would you be convinced?

                Should I also be convinced that David Blaine can actually levitate? Are you convinced that yogic flying is a real phenomenon?

          2. Did you read the case above as there was further corroborative evidence?

            …even outside her trances, Julia unmistakably displayed “psychic” abilities; put another way, her presence was clearly associated with paranormal events. Sometimes objects around her would fly off the shelves, the rare phenomenon of psychokinesis known to parapsychologists. Julia was also in possession of knowledge of facts and occurrences beyond any possibility of their natural acquisition. She commonly reported information about the relatives, household composition, family deaths and illnesses, etc., of members of our team, without ever having observed or been informed about them. As an example, she knew the personality and precise manner of death (i.e., the exact type of cancer) of a relative of a team member that no one could conceivably have guessed. She once spoke about the strange behavior of some inexplicably frenzied animals beyond her direct observation: Though residing in another city, she commented, “So those cats really went berserk last night, didn’t they?” the morning after two cats in a team member’s house uncharacteristically had violently attacked each other at about 2 AM.”

            All in all, multiple lines of evidence suggesting something happening beyond normal explanations.

            1. Say, Alan. While we’re on the subject, I’ve got some prime Arizona beachfront property for sale at a steal of a price. You interested?

              Seriously, what you’re describing is a textbook example of a scam, not of demonic possession. I can’t be arsed right now to provide references, but these sorts of things have been so well documented to be the work of con artists it’s not even funny. All that cold reading and levitation and the rest? Textbook cases of a hustle in progress.

              James Randi would eat Gallagher for an appetizer, and Penn & Teller would be laughing so hard at Gallagher they’d be the ones in need of medical attention.



              1. “I can’t be arsed”? That sounds incredibly British… I didn’t think it was an American idiom.

                Alan: Google is your friend here, since Ben can’t be arsed. But this is all very familiar stuff. Even the folks fatigued from “holding the person down”.


              2. Also your statement of this being a scam is known as a bare assertion, with no evidence to back it up. Why do you make such statements?

              3. ‘Tis a small planet, /@.

                Alan, my evidence that it’s a scam is that even third-rate stage magicians can put on better shows that what you describe. And some first-rate magicians have made it a hobby — one even a career — of exposing frauds such as the ones you’re describing.

                The names of these magicians are well-known and have been mentioned multiple times in this post. Before you wind up in possession of the deed to the London Bridge, you owe it to yourself to spend some quality time researching their work. And I really do mean “quality” — these guys are some of the best entertainers in business and their anti-woo presentations are every bit as engaging as their stage acts.



              4. I know the London Bridge story. You know the London Bridge story. But poor Alan here is perfectly primed to drop $100K on the title deed so he can sell the bridge for scrap metal at a thousand percent profit.



    3. James Randi’s $1 million challenge is still out there. It’s easy money for someone who can actually demonstrate a paranormal event. So, either these people don’t like free money or they can’t prove their claims. Somehow I suspect the latter.

        1. Alan, you did read that article by Milton Rothman that I linked to, didn’t you?

          In any case, a scam is the more parsimonious explanation of your evidence “for” levitation.


          1. For example:

            “The mother reported levitation of the daughter at home though it was not witnessed by the journalists ”


  18. This reads like something from The Onion. What a great pity it’s real; still funny as all get-out, though.

  19. Is this exorcism business part of some new trend? Africans persecuted because of them being witches – rapidly rising numbers of beatification and canonization in Vaticanistan – young earth creationism – exorcism becoming popular (also in Europe) – belief in demons (for example amongst European protestants). And I bet that there will also be new Christian movements propagating chastity and virginity, abstinence of having fun, reading books, studying at universities, and what not…
    The common denominator of all these phenomena is ignorance and stupidity. Does this look like some sort of new epidemic of obscurantism? Or am I mistaken and is this just business as usual?

    1. It’s not new. Most of these practices were common in the Middle Ages. A resurgence started in the USA in the 19th Century. This is just a continuation of it.

  20. “…she is also a student who enjoys styling her hair, shopping and meeting her friends at Starbucks.”

    NEW! Exorcist Barbie! (Crosses and other accessories sold separately.)

    1. My daughter likes styling her hair, shopping and meeting her friends at Starbucks, but so far, she’s shown no interest in exorcism. It’s probably because she likes Harry Potter and Twilight.

  21. Jerry, was wondering if you could have incorporated your ‘no free will’ argument with these possessions? I think it explains it all.

    Ha, ha. This possession stuff is an amazing scam, I wonder what the going price for a good exorcism is these days? How come Muslim’s never seem to get possessed, only faithful christians? Strange.

    1. How come Muslim’s never seem to get possessed, only faithful christians?

      All Muslims are possessed — that’s why they’re Muslims. Duh.

    2. They do: some who for example lose their muslimic faith or become atheists (or when they are female and start driving cars, ore start dressing like western girls) they are sometimes apprehended by demons and taken into prisons, or even killed.

  22. ‘I don’t watch any television at all. I’m much too busy praying and fighting the devil.’ (and styling my hair)

  23. So, demons speak “Latin, Italian, or Spanish” (most likely Latinish-sounding gibberish)? I’m sure this has nothing to do with movie and TV depictions of demons.

    A direct parallel is that while glossolalia (producing gibberish) is common in churches, but there are no credible cases of xenoglossia, people speaking actual foreign languages without having learned them.

  24. Professor Coyne, that was one of the most hilarious posts I’ve ever seen on your website.

    I’m still laughing about it!

    One of the funniest things about those photos, is that you don’t even need any written context to know that you’re looking at a bunch of crazies. The way those people all clutch those crosses tightly in their simian fists is just outrageously amusing.

    I’d like to see more stories of this kind on WEIT. Your scholarly, matter-of-fact tone provides the perfect “straight-man” backdrop to these comical religious nutbags.

    Well done, Professor! 🙂

    1. Sure, but it’s the 21st Century. I don’t fault humans for believing in demons for most of human history, but we have neuroscience, psychology, and science in general now. We know better, but people are still performing practices from our pre-scientific past because religion tells them to.

      1. I do not intend to be adversarial but, simply, to present perspectives that might be worthy of consideration when we presume to reject others’ worldviews. I have no solutions to your cogent observation that many beliefs are inconsistent with scientific fact (probabilistic as they usually are, and the existence of error in these statements is reinforcement to some doubters/agnostics/believers/extremists). It is very much of concern to me that in Western technological societies scientists, atheists, and the like have apparently made little progress influencing many citizens of the irrationality, indeed, inaccuracy, of their beliefs, attitudes, and values given empirical evidence. However, as I suggested in a previous comment, there may be someting lacking in formal logic itself that renders it lacking in attempts to penetrate irrational schemas. Rather than extend this comment, I’ll quickly advance three phenomena that give me pause when confronted with statements such as yours and others, including Dr. Coyne’s: What would you say to activists in Survival International who devote their lives to the preservation of indigenous people worldwide, their rights (unwritten as they usually are), their cultures, their beliefs, values, and attitudes? What would you say to an acquaintance of mine when she told you that she, her husband, and children abandoned an assimilated, professional middle-class lifestyle to return to their natal reservation and culture, including adopting its endangered language and the pantheistic religion? Finally, having read several unclassified documents on the psychology of terrorism, an extreme worldview such as “suicide bombing” is not classified as pathological by these government and academic clinicians. To paraphrase a former CIA slogan: “One man’s belief is another man’s anathema”. Surely fundamental differences in beliefs, values, and attitudes induce serious inter-group conflict, and I certainly do not presume to have solutions or ways to begin unpacking the components of these human phenomena with formalized mechanisms.

        1. 1. Survival International. Preserving the indigenous peoples’ cultures is one thing, but preserving contrafactual beliefs, values and attitudes is quite another. Is it morally right to insulate these people from a naturalistic worldview, to perpetuate their ignorance?

          2. Your acquaintance. I wish them well. I wholeheartedly support anything that will help preserve endangered languages. I have no argument with their adopting pantheism, which is generally quite accepting of a naturalistic worldview, if they find that philosophically and emotionally satisfying. But will they be abandoning access to modern healthcare?

          3. Why is that different from what Bernard said? Him: “people are still performing practices from our pre-scientific past because religion tells them to.” You: “Surely fundamental differences in beliefs, values, and attitudes induce serious inter-group conflict” Yep, they gel. I don’t presume to have all the answers either, but it strikes me that improving education and well-being and fostering secularism and pluralism are fundamental to eroding the sources of conflict.


        2. Well. I guess it come down to the fact that some beliefs are true and others are false. There is no demonic possession. The beliefs that there is demonic possession is false. Is it a loss when someone realizes that their belief is false? Not really. We have many ways of preserving culture without requiring false beliefs. There is fiction. I don’t have to believe in demonic possession to enjoy The Exorcist. We can preserve rituals that are divorced from false beliefs. Many atheists celebrate Christmas. Many atheist Jews have seders. That’s something that people from any culture can do.

      2. Bernard

        “…I don’t fault humans for believing in demons for most of human history, but we have neuroscience, psychology, and science in general now…”

        But psychology is addressing this.

        I think all here should carefully read this link, which I should have posted in the context of my comments above on Prof. Richard Gallagher and the apparent demonic possession of Julia.

        Note the academic psychiatrists involved here and the seriousness with which the field is being taken. One must be careful not to ignore the apparently quite real “spiritual component” of Man as one would be doing a disservice to the individuals affected by this.
        Quite simply many are unaware of this kind of work and also, sadly, there is a “rump” of materialist scientists who deny this field, to patients costs.

        Dr. Sanderson, connected to the Spirituality and Psychiatry Special Interest Group of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, has an article here which is important:

        with a good reference section.

        For the RCP site:

        1. quoth Alan:

          One must be careful not to ignore the apparently quite real “spiritual component” of Man as one would be doing a disservice to the individuals affected by this.

          How about this: One must be careful not to ignore the *apparently quite real* “phlogiston component” of chemistry and physics. Or this: One must be careful not to ignore the *apparently quite real* role of miasma in the cause of disease, as one would be doing a disservice to the field of public health.

          You claimed that there were strange phenomena – when asked for evidence, you cited eyewitness reports. When followups explained the unreliability of eyewitness testimony, and, in fact, provided evidence of illusionists (both honest and dishonest) being able to replicate the phenomena, you appealed to “authority”. The fact that the “Spirit Release” movement has a website does nothing to provide any evidence that there are such things as incorporeal spirits floating around causing trouble. Nor does the fact that the RCP has a Special Interest Group devoted to *spirituality* indicate that there is any serious academic support among psychiatrists for the concept of *spirits* any more than the University of Ottawa’s provision of lab space to an “inventor” who claimed to have a motor with >100% efficiency provides evidence that there is academic support for subversion of the laws of thermodynamics.

          1. The problem with your comments is that even when scientists, say those above, at RCP and within the Spirit Release Foundation find evidence for a spiritual world, at some times interacting with ours, you will not consider it. Academics such as these do not come to their conclusions lightly.

            Let’s deal with real empirical evidence. In the Scole Experiment, phenomena were seen by many scientists in Europe and the US (NASA scientists, who went on to form their own “groups”).

            This is the Report abstract:

            “This report is the outcome of a three-year investigation of a Group claiming to receive both messages and materialised or physical objects from a number of collaborative spirit communicators. It has been conducted principally by three senior members of the Society for Psychical Research. In the course of over 20 sittings the investigators were unable to detect any direct indication of fraud or deception, and encountered evidence favouring the hypothesis of intelligent forces, whether originating in the human psyche or from discarnate sources, able to influence material objects and to convey associated maningful messages, both visual and aural.”

            Physicists, engineering professors, electrical engineering professors, psychologists, psychiatrists and biologists were witnessess. (I am a particle physicist by qualifications BTW).

            Three top flight magicians also stated irreproducibility of the phenomena.


            and here:


            So here is your physical evidence.

            (Oh and don’t quote Brian Dunning of skeptoid! Tim Coleman, producer of “The Afterlife Investigations” (you can google this), a documentary about Scole, deals with him quite firmly, if I remember!)

            Per se, of course, there is no problem with the existence within science, especially within the multidimensional/information like character of our universe, of a “spirit world”.
            It is whether some are prepared to accept this relegation/demotion (the existence of intelligences that are “other” than us) and of course this seeming “interference” in our affairs from time to time.
            This is the issue here.

            1. Now you’re just repeating yourself from another thread.

              Denning’s criticism seems quite sound to me. If, as you assert, Tim Coleman “deals with him quite firmly,” perhaps you can provide a citation… or at least the gist of his counterargument… ?

              The issue here is quite nicely summed up by Denning (you “told” me not to quote him, but I’m going to do so anyway!):

              A scientific investigation of a strange phenomenon assumes the null hypothesis unless the phenomenon can be proven to exist. But the authors of the Scole Report, with complete credulity, did the exact opposite: Their stated position is that the lack of disproof means their seances were real supernatural events. But a primary feature of good research is the elimination of other possible explanations, at which the Scole investigators made no competent effort.

              (How is Coleman “firm” with that?)

              It’s no surprise then that the majority of scientists remain sceptical.


            2. Oh, and one of the comments on Dunning’s article is very telling. You asked Ben or Tulse for evidence of fraud? Well, here it is, from Peter Wadhams, Cambridge:

              I am an SPR member, but regretfully must agree with your critical article about Scole. And there is one further item which you didn’t spot, but which is clear evidence of fraud (it is mentioned in the report): the fact that one of the exposed film canisters contained a strip of impressive-looking kabbalistic writings and drawings, which the intrepid investigator Tony Cornell showed as having been traced from a popular book on kabbalism. Cornell showed how the material could have been put onto tracing paper then exposed to produce an image identical to that obtained. He even found the marks where the tracing paper had been fixed against the film and exposed to create the fraud. This was a film which was in the easy-to-open box created by one of the mediums. It is clear proof of fraud and really shows that the SPR people at Scole were taken in. Yet Keen and Fontana would never admit that they may have been fooled. Very sad.


              1. “It’s no surprise then that the majority of scientists remain sceptical.”

                Yes or no – but NOT the scientists who investigated and witnessed. This is crucial. Remember also the quality of those who investigated, which I gave above, many with years of experience in detecting fraud. None ever seen BTW.

                Wadhams comment is also one based on the exclusion of other phenomena and, as I have the Scole Report myself and met several investigators 12 years ago in London, he does not comment accurately at all.
                And read the links I gave above carefully.

                Finally, the authors give a 23 page reply to ALL criticisms including Cornells’ wrt the Wadhams remark. Actually, in context, Wadhams remarks are a little outrageous and have only a kind of weak “impact” after the events – but not important.

                Better is the 3 page overview by the independent referee, Dr. Crawford Knox,

                1. “The [Scole] report is long, detailed and clearly presented and demands, I believe, to be taken very seriously.”

                2. “If it is read as a whole, I think it is likely it will mark an important step in attempts to place on a firm footing evidence for the existence of a spirit world and its impact on our everyday world and for survival of death.” And he supports these remarks further.

                In the end you really have to look at the vast range of phenomena seen and consider, in the presence of experienced witnesses, what is the most parsimonious explanation.

                The alternatives are complete fraud or group delusion, both massive and over several years and at locations around the world, again none inferred or discovered.

                [For Tim Coleman’s remarks the best I can give is if you scroll down the comments at:


              2. “but NOT the scientists who investigated and witnessed” — Oh puh-lease! Even allowing that Dunning’s criticism has factual errors, it is quite evident from reading, say, Keen’s article that Dunning’s statement that I quoted above remains accurate. This is sloppy, sloppy “science.” (It’s so sloppy that it really deserves those scare quotes.)

                I don’t know who Dr. Crawford Knox is; there is only a handful of hits for his name that aren’t associated with Scole. And nothing significant on Google Scholar (unless he’s the author of Changing Christian paradigms and their implications for modern thought). What are his relevant credentials here?

                Coleman’s comment is risible. All it says to me is that he’s as credulous as the investigators and witnesses. And he blatantly misrepresents Dunning’s statements, saying, “The authors arguments like – I consulted with a colleague who told me its possible to remove a luminous arm [wristband], therefore all experiments which used this control at Scole are fraudulent- are childish in their logic.” But Dunning doesn’t make that claim at all; he shows only that the wristbands are not an effective control against fraud. Methinks Coleman doth protest too much!

                There is a reason for the scientific method: As Richard Feynman famously said, “The first principle [of science] is that you must not fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool.”

                Feynman made a similar remark in a very apt context: “We’ve learned from experience that the truth will come out. Other experimenters will repeat your experiment and find out whether you were wrong or right. Nature’s phenomena will agree or they’ll disagree with your theory. And, although you may gain some temporary fame and excitement, you will not gain a good reputation as a scientist if you haven’t tried to be very careful in this kind of work. And it’s this type of integrity, this kind of care not to fool yourself, that is missing to a large extent in much of the research in cargo cult science [that is, the soft sciences (psychology and psychiatry in particular)].”

                The more I read about the Scole report, the more evident it is that the investigators and witnesses lacked that kind of integrity.

                The alternatives are, indeed, complete fraud or group delusion — and these are the more parsimonious explanations, as they have no need to invoke any paranormal elements. But neither of these alternative (null) hypotheses has been falsified and, as I pointed out to you already, and Dunning makes clear, that has to be established before the investigators can claim their seances were real supernatural events.


                PS. I hope you have that integrity as a particle physicist. I’d really like to see the hard data if and when CERN finds evidence for the Higgs boson. That’d be so much better than a group of physicists and engineers saying, “Oh, yes, we all saw the characteristic flat-topped momentum distribution predicted by A.R. Allan, so Higgs exists, nodoubtaboutit.”

            3. On a different point, you said, “when scientists, say those above, at RCP and within the Spirit Release Foundation find evidence for a spiritual world”

              Frankly, I don’t think that’s what the RCPsych folks do: Their interest is very clearly in how patients’ spiritual and religious beliefs affect mental health care. That in no way indicates that all the RSPsych folks accept the actuality of “a spiritual world” (although, clearly, Sanderson does!), only that they recognise that some of their patients do, and psychiatrists need to accommodate that in their treatment.

              But I’m not sure I’d consider Sanderson’s article at Spirit Release “important”: We already know that some scientists are theists; this shows only that some scientists — well, one psychiatrist — can be as easily seduced by other kinds of woo.


              1. But in the context of other evidence, such as Scole which is physical evidence not such as can be dismissed as “psychiatric problems” (as some might do with so-called spirit attachment), then this is all converging evidence pointing to the existence of a spirit world, and one sometimes intersecting with ours.

                In fact, there are other psychiatrists and RCPsych members who have researched this issue of a spirit world (and believe in it) notably Dr. Peter Fenwick.
                Look up some of his studies on “shared-death experiences”, where patients and carers alike see light phenomena and more.

                I think you will find that this kind of belief is more widespread than you think.

              2. No, it isn’t.

                I’d expect these to have a similar naturalistic explanation to near-death experiences. See Susan Blackmore. I really can’t credit Fenwick when he comes out with twaddle like, “… subjective data is the only data we’ve got. We pretend we’re terribly objective, and we [garbled] our machines and so on, but in the end we have to read the meters on our machines. It’s all subjective. Do you see that?” No, Peter, it’s intersubjective.

                Amongst cargo-cult scientists? No, I won’t, as I already expect that many do have that belief. (And it is a belief.)


              3. Alan, there’s nothing in the evidence you’ve submitted so far that’s any more compelling than one of the hundreds of blurry videos that are supposedly of Bigfoot.

              4. Stay calm. And Feynman was a hero of mine so I certainly respect him.

                As I said: “The alternatives are complete fraud or group delusion, both massive and over several years and at locations around the world, again none inferred or discovered.”

                This is from an academic psychologist, a witness at Scole:

                “The first phenomena that I saw were small points of golden light dancing in the corner of the room…They danced animatedly upwards and downwards…. Shortly following this, there appeared a ball of diffused light, which I estimated to have a diameter of about 20 cm, close to the ceiling in the same corner…as the lights. The ball had no physical boundary: it was simply a three-dimensional orb of diffused golden light. It hung suspended for a moment in the corner about 30 cm beneath the ceiling. Slowly the orb moved toward the centre of the room, pausing above the centre of the table round which we were all sitting. It lowered itself by about 17 cm, remained still, then retreated slowly upwards and backwards into the corner…There were no beams of light to the orb, and the light was not reflected onto a surface; it moved independently in space. This occurred twice in succession, and I became aware of an overwhelming feeling of gentleness and love which seemed to accompany this phenomenon or, more accurately, which this phenomenon seemed to embody.”

                All this occurred in a bare stone cellar with other witnessess. Also (another sitting with others present):

                “The (normally single) light point would appear to: Leave at the base of the Pyrex bowl a three-dimensional image of a glowing crystal which is found to be insubstantial when seized by the investigators, then converting the glowing essence of this crystal into a solid form which could be picked up and replaced – and repeat the procedure twice, to the satisfaction of three close observers, one of whom, [AE- Arthur Ellison – electrical engineering professor) placed his head immediately above and close enough to the bowl to preclude the entry of a normal hand, his face being clearly visible to MK [Montague Keen] (classics scholar) and DF (David Fontana – psychology professor]) in the light from the crystal.”

                Note this: EACH of the investigators picked up the “crystal” in turn, and attempted to pick up the “image crystal”, in turn.

                Remember these kinds of phenomena were seen in a bare stone cellar at Scole, UK in Europe and in front of scientists, some from NASA, at several sittings in California.

                How do you account for this? And please don’t quote Penn and Teller! There were no magicians (apart from James Webster – a Scole witness) present and Webster and Professor Hastings (both superb magicians) said they could not reproduce these phenomena.

                Also no electrical equipment ever found at any locations despite searches by the scientists, one of whom was an academic electrical engineering professor.

                All of this are strands in a tapesty, indicating the existence of a spirit “dimension”, say, and one that can sometimes interact with our world.

                (The Higgs will be found BTW ! – poss. confirmation either late this year, or early 2012).

              5. Running out of reply links, so I will answer you here about Dr. Susan Blackmore.

                If you go to:


                and go to the recent interview 114 with Susan Blackmore, this interview clearly shows that she is not involved in NDE research anymore and hasn’t been for many years. Surprisingly she still gets quoted though but she doesn’t keep up with this research, plain and simple, from this interview.
                She comes across as very pleasant though.

                Better is

                Here is the AWARE NDE study, an international group of scientists/doctors. Peer-reviewed results out next year, I believe.

                But Dr. Jeffrey Long has stated, after his research, that there is an afterlife – see his book and interviews, “Evidence of The Afterife: The Science of Near-Death Experiences”. I believe he has “nine lines of evidence”.

                As I have said, converging lines of evidence pointing to the possible existence of an afterlife.

              6. Well, Alan, I can’t help thinking that Feynman would be rather disappointed in you…

                It really does no good to cite more credulous eyewitness reports: The whole issue with Scole — and something which is very clear from Keen’s account — is that the investigators put the paranormal cart before the empirical horse.

                I guess Blackmore no longer follows NDE research because it no longer interests her. She set a bar for more recent NDE researchers, that at least some NDEs can be explained by neuroscience. Thus it behooves recent NDE researchers to establish that the phenomena that they observe cannot be explained by neuroscience before claiming that they have any evidence for an afterlife. This, I think, they haven’t done (it’s not sufficient simply to say that these NDEs are differnt from the ones that Blackmore studied) and thus it’s just another cart and horse.

                By the way, did you know that Blackmore started her academic career intent on discovering evidence for the paranormal? And that she discovered that a major paranormal study in which ahe participated was a fraud? (One that is still being cited as if it were sound in the literature.)

                And I wouldn’t be so optimistic or so certain about the Higgs boson being discovered in the next 18 months!


              7. Replying finally to August 14, 2011 at 1:55 pm

                Your explanation for the phenomena seen? You would be an absolute first to explain other than evidence of a non-material intelligence.

                As Fontana says: “…fresh criticisms have been conspicuous by their absence. This has surprised us…”

                “…we offered to provide every assistance to anyone (particularly professional magicians or parapsychologists with expertise in illusion) wishing to attempt replication of the phenomena by normal means and under the precise conditions obtaining during our investigation. We had no takers (or even a single show of interest) in this offer, and five years later changes in circumstances’ mean that the opportunity to act upon it has been lost.”

                I’ve given it before but the ref. is here:


                Blackmore never got involved in this BTW, so really is largely irrelevant. Pleasant enough though.

                And imagine this finally – if Richard Feynman was sitting in that cellar, he would have seen the same, lights buzzing around him, entering his body, glasses of water, crytals etc.

                It’s been an education.

              8. It’s not incumbent upon me to do so, esp. when the Scole “methodology” is flawed. (Unsurprising then that no scientists would be interested in any attempt to replicate the results “under the precise conditions obtaining during our investigation.”)

                But, even allow that the phenomena were genuine and the reports accurate, concluding that they are evidence for the paranormal or a spirit world is a leap; it is a blatant example of motivated reasoning.

                In Feynman had been present I’m sure he would’ve given an accurate account of what he had seen. I’m equally sure he would not have rushed to conclude that it was evidence for the paranormal.


                PS. I mentioned Blackmore wrt your other comments about RCPsych &c., not Scole. I thought that would’ve been obvious.

            4. I would consider it if they presented actual, credible evidence. Unfortunately, some academics DO take things lightly.

    2. The people in this article live in a 1st world country, with access to libraries and universities. They have no excuse for believing in nonsense like this.

  25. Ooh, those pointy things looks scary!

    Maybe there should be an age limit on religion; no raising of lethal stupidity.

    And this:

    an attractive, red leather-bound Bible.

    Obviously not an atheist reporter.

  26. the people they shrive.

    That was funny; first I read that as taking a “shive” from their people.

    I haz shiny new werd.

  27. Oh my, I read the article Jerry linked to, especially the “five signs of possession”, and I think I’m in the process of becoming possessed!

    I mean, see sign #2! I too feel a strong urge to vomit when I read religious material, are forced to enter a church or have anything to do with holy water.
    And then there’s sign #5: I TOO sometimes burst out in a foreign language, especially when I’m on the phone with some of my relatives in the Netherlands. Well, at least it’s not Italian!

    And TIRED! I’m SO tired of this all!

    I need an exorcist!
    Can I have the one with the beautifully red leather bound book?

  28. So how do they harmonize the ideas of free will with demonic possession?

    Wouldn’t possession be a blatant violation of your god-given free will and therefore be impossible?

    1. Usually, there’s some BS about how the demon tricks you into allowing it in.

      Or they do what they normally do when inconvenient contradictions are pointed out: ignore them.

  29. ” … all hell breaks loose, she says. Many belch on hearing the words … ”

    I belched while reading these words. But I blame the beer — just my blind commitment to a doctrinaire form of philosophical naturalism, I suppose.

  30. I’ll be Brynne wouldn’t take any crap from a guy in a elevator! He’d be wanting exercise, she’d exorcize – probably by dinging him with that hefty cross….

  31. “I want to one day get married and have children, for God says in the Bible that we should marry.”

    She’ll get married because she’s told to get married.

  32. This post really creeps me out. Shouldn’t these girls be running bake sales? Or leading cheers? Or just shopping in the mall? Why kind of parents do this kind of brain washing?

    1. What kind of parents do this kind of brain washing?

      Probably the same kind who think that girls are only good for bake sales, or leading cheers, or just shopping in the mall….

      Take a look in the mirror. Genderism isn’t only something guys do.

  33. “As if we don’t need any more proof that faith makes people bat-guano crazy”

    Surely that should be:

    “As if we need any more proof that faith makes people bat-guano crazy”

    This story reminds me of some cheap horror movie. The reverend on the photo is perfectly cast as the sinister psychopath who tortures red-headed virgins for a hobby. But then, to me even ordinary religion often seems creepy and disturbing, which, when I think about it, is caused mainly by the pretence of normality of what really are crazy, senseless acts. When I see a church service on television, I sometimes have the feeling that it wouldn’t take much to turn it into a human sacrifice. But before anyone accuses me of having an overly morbid fantasy, I can honestly state that most of the time I just have to laugh for the plain sillyness of it all.

  34. You also have to love the whole Salem Witch Trials vibe. It’s only a mercy he hasn’t hired a latter-day Tituba or started hanging people.

  35. One last:

    You said:

    “…concluding that they are evidence for the paranormal or a spirit world is a leap…”

    “…Feynman…would not have rushed to conclude that it was evidence for the paranormal.” (I agree)


    “…even allowing that the phenomena were genuine and the reports accurate… [shall we try this BTW?]

    But the Scole authors only say:

    “…evidence favouring the hypothesis of intelligent forces, whether originating in the human psyche or from discarnate sources…”

    and Dr. Crawford Knox:

    “…important step in attempts to place on a firm footing evidence for the existence of a spirit world…”

    Note the authors or myself conclude nothing. You say they conclude – they do NOT.

    Quite simply, if fraud is ruled out, where are these phenomena from? They have independence of action and appear in multivaried form. They “choose” to be among people. Why do they so choose? A relationship perhaps? A tentative hypothesis.

    What is a spirit world? The wording is ambiguous but at minimum it is a region R where non-material intelligence (NMI) has its being – a necessary and minimal definition. It could not be anything less. But NMI also interacts with our space (S) and with us “material intelligence” (MI) – though this definition is ambigous. If you know your quantum theory, matter is more “information-like” than “material-like”. This is a fact BTW, not woo!

    What is your maths like?

    Mathematically R intersects S (because it can interact with S and NMI behaves characteristically as IF it has a relationship with MI) implying S could at least be a subset of R.
    This implies we, who are within S, have a component within ourselves that is part of R. We have a “spiritual” component.

    This is not a problem if, as QT shows, matter is information-like.

    So you see that the apparent boundary between these two worlds, is more porous than at first sight, so one need not be surprised at some kind of interaction (intelligent interaction) and perhaps BOTH ways between the two.

    Just following this all through logically, for your interest (?). 😉

    1. Sorry, Alan; now you’re splitting hairs.

      How is asserting that the reported phenomena are “evidence favouring the hypothesis of intelligent forces, whether originating in the human psyche or from discarnate sources” not concluding that they are evidence for the paranormal?

      My maths is good enough for me to have got a Ph.D. in theoretical particle physics, thank you very much. But your argument doesn’t seem to be mathematical at all. Or logical, for that matter: Your conclusions don’t clearly follow from your premises, which are dubious anyway (“NMI behaves characteristically as IF it has a relationship with MI.” What does that even mean? And how did you establish that empirically?)

      A lot of weird things about QT aren’t woo, but citing QT inappropriately starts to smell a lot like it.

      And you really can’t say anything meaningful about the boundary of these two worlds when you have yet to establish the existence of the spirit world in the first place.

      You sound like you have already concluded the existence of that world, but on what evidence? At best it’s an incoherent hypothesis. What testable predictions does it lead to?

      As Brian Cox would say, it’s bollocks.


      PS. I cam across a book by James Webster, the magician that had concluded that “no” magician could’ve replicated the Scole phenomena. This was part of the blurb: “The British public are only allowed access to one expert opinion – the thoughts of Dr. Richard Wiseman and Dr. Susan Blackmore, professional debunkers, who have started from the base that the mind and brain are the same. The other expert opinion, a separate mind and brain, as put forward by our pioneers of radio and television, Sir William Crookes, Sir Oliver Lodge & John Logie Baird, is not only censored in Britain, but also in most other countries!” Censored? WTF? This sounds like a paranoid delusion to me. (And why cite “pioneers of radio and television” as supporters of dualism when there are many psychologists and philosophers to choose from?)

        1. “NMI behaves characteristically as IF it has a relationship with MI”

          This is from the details of evidence in the Scole Report – I choose words carefully. The indication is more from a “discarnate” origin (whatever “they” are it seems as if they were once human) as well as, of course, intelligent.

          If you don’t read this info in this Report you just won’t get it. The detail is remarkable.
          And then there are these lights – what are these?

          This business about Wiseman and Blackmore is unusual. Wiseman, whom I have had two encounters with, is often brought out. He actually said Scole was “very impressive”, which is something for him (Scole Study Day -1999).
          Then a few years later he was on British TV showing how to fake seance room experiment by poking people in the dark, without them seeing the poker! He NEVER mentioned his involvement (he’s also married to a parapsychologist) at Scole where he actually provided a “Wiseman Bag” used to preclude fraud (never found). Also he was one of the three magicians, none of which suggested how to reproduce the phenomena.

          Not a conspiracy – but I would say there is something odd about the presenting of often very good programmes about these sort of phenomena (in the UK and the recent Discovery series in the US) and main news reporting.

          The world is as it is, for practical purposes, it’s an economic system where questions of souls and possible afterlives cannot figure FPP.

          As I said above, Prof. Bernard Carr (former SPR President) is trying to model space in terms of information wedded to current multidimensional physics so I think one should take the view of this experiencer (at Scole) seriously, more so than mere commenters and critics. So it’s my interest and it should be yours too (with our qualifications) and following along the lines of my little “mathematical soiree” above.

          1. The meaning of and evidence for that statement are still unclear to me. It’s fanciful conjecture, tenuously supported by the evidence. (And you said they hadn’t leapt to conclude that they had evidence of the paranormal! This goes well beyond even that.)

            I’m not sure Wiseman’s “very impressive” was actually an endorsement of any kind. His opinion of Scole is much clearer in a comment quoted elsewhere: “It was a load of rubbish!”

            And the censorship comment wasn’t specifically about Scole but about dualism in general, and discussion about that isn’t censored at all. I’m not attempting to justify the vagaries of broadcasters scheduling.

            I’m afraid I don’t know enough about Carr or his theories to comment, although I note that he holds a grant from the Templeton Foundation, which, frankly, doesn’t inspire confidence.

            But I’ve already stated, several times, why Scole cannot be taken seriously by scientists, however intriguing the possibilities of a “spirit world.”


        2. Actually I also believe Richard Wiseman was asked to leave the SPR.

          And I would listen very carefully to this interview between the very sharp Alex Tsakiris and Wiseman last year.

          To quote from Tsakiris:

          “During an email exchange [between Wiseman and Tsakiris] following the debate (published on the Skeptiko website), his stance took a radical change.

          According to Tsakiris, Wiseman stonewalled attempts to create a skeptics/proponents research forum. I contacted three very prominent psi researchers and convinced them to take Wiseman up on his offer. They agreed, but Wiseman would not. He made various demands aimed at agitating the other researchers, and even balked at a mere one-hour initial dialog. I was stunned, especially since I offered to fund the research.”

          Bizarre stonewalling tactics – what’s he afraid of?

          1. I’m really not sure where you stand on Wiseman. You belittle him on the one hand, yet cite his ostensible approval for Scole on the other.

            Anyhow, this is enough on this topic on this thread.


Leave a Reply