In his 1989 presidential address to the Society for Psychical Research (SPR), the late Professor Ian Stevenson pointed out that between 1910 and 1980 at least six presidents of the SPR asserted that telepathy had been proved, or nearly so. He wondered why, if telepathy had been proved by 1910, later presidents found it necessary to reiterate the claim.
Dr. Stevenson speculated that each generation of researchers tends to believe its methods superior to those of its predecessors and therefore they may have seen the earlier evidence as not so strong. He also theorized that mainstream science and the world at large did not hear the earlier assertions and therefore it was necessary to repeat them again and again.
Now, nearly three decades after the 1980 assertion, two years short of a century since it was first announced that telepathy had been proved, it does not appear that mainstream science is any closer to accepting it than it was then. In the Foreword to Parapsychology and the Skeptics, Dr. Rupert Sheldrake quotes Professor Peter Atkins, an Oxford chemist, as saying that “there is no reason to suppose that telepathy is anything more than a charlatan’s fantasy.” In a BBC debate, Sheldrake asked Carter if he had actually looked at the evidence. Atkins’ reply, “No, but I would be very suspicious of it.”
At his web site, Sheldrake, one of the few present-day scientists speaking out in favor of paranormal phenomena, mentions an August 2007 television debate with Richard Dawkins, a geneticist and author of the book The God Delusion. Sheldrake reported that Dawkins said he would like to believe in telepathy, but there just isn’t any evidence for it. Dawkins added that if telepathy really occurred it would “turn the laws of physics upside down” and that “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.”
In effect, Dawkins was restating the precept of early 19th century astronomer and mathematician Pierre-Simon Laplace, which is that “the rigor of proof must be proportionate to the gravity of the conclusion.” Apparently, the ganzfeld experiments, considered the best in the area of telepathy, didn’t impress Dawkins, if he bothered to study them.
And so it is also with the evidence for the survival of consciousness at death, which goes beyond telepathy in defying the mechanistic laws of the universe accepted by mainstream science. Nearly all of the early psychical researchers concluded that the evidence for survival was conclusive. Consider these statements:
Dr. Alfred Russel Wallace (1823-1913), co-originator with Charles Darwin of the natural selection theory: My position is that the phenomena of Spiritualism in their entirety do not require further confirmation. They are proved quite as well as facts are proved in other sciences.
Sir William Barrett (1844-1925), professor of physics at the Royal College in Dublin for 37 years, knighted for his contributions to mainstream science: I am personally convinced that the evidence we have published decidedly demonstrates (1) the existence of a spiritual world, (2) survival after death, and (3) of occasional communication from those who have passed over.
Sir Oliver Lodge (1851-1940), professor of physics and pioneer in electricity and radio: I tell you with all my strength of the conviction which I can muster that we do persist, that people still continue to take an interest in what is going on, that they know far more about things on this earth than we do, and are able from time to time to communicate with us.
Dr. James H. Hyslop (1854-1920), professor of ethics and logic at Columbia University before becoming a full-time psychical researcher: Personally, I regard the fact of survival after death as scientifically proved. I agree that this opinion is not upheld in scientific quarters. But this is neither our fault nor the fault of the facts. Evolution was not believed until long after it was proved. The fault lay with those who were too ignorant or too stubborn to accept the facts. History shows that every intelligent man who has gone into this investigation, if he gave it adequate examination at all, has come out believing in spirits; this circumstance places the burden or proof on the shoulders of the skeptic.
Dr. Robert Crookall (1890-1969), a geologist who became a full-time psychical researcher in 1952: The whole of the available evidence is explicable on the hypothesis of the survival of the human soul in a Soul Body. There is no longer a ‘deadlock’ or ‘stalemate’ on the question of survival. On the contrary, survival is as well established as the theory of evolution.
Based on the conclusions of those early researchers and several dozen other very credible scientists and scholars, there should be no further need for survival research. We should be able to invoke the legal doctrine of Res Judicata— “It has been decided.” We live on! Case closed!
Yet, the research of those early pioneers has been filed away in dust-covered file cabinets and all but forgotten. It has been repudiated, rejected, refuted, resisted, and ridiculed. Mainstream science has smirked, snickered, scoffed, and sneered at it, calling it outdated and pseudoscience. In an article titled “The Mystery of Consciousness” ( Time Magazine, January 29, 2007), Steven Pinker, a professor of psychology at Harvard University, states that “attempts to contact the souls of the dead (a pursuit of serious scientists a century ago) turned up only cheap magic tricks.”
In the December 27, 2007 issue of the Arizona Daily Star, David Sbarra, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Arizona, is quoted as stating, “I can say with 100-percent certainty that there is no scientific evidence that individuals are capable of channeling with dead relatives…”
Recent authors waving the banner of science, including Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens (god is not great), Sam Harris (The End of Faith: Religion, Terror and the Future of Reason), Victor J. Stenger (God: The Failed Hypothesis) and Michel Onfray (Atheist Manifesto) indirectly dismiss the evidence for survival by dismissing God. They all seem to take a deductive approach, i.e., assuming that God must be identified or discovered before survival can be considered, or no God, no survival. None seems to have seriously considered taking the inductive approach of finding God by looking at all the evidence in favor of survival.
Contrary to the claims by pseudoskeptics that all of that old research is outdated or has been overturned, the fact is that it is as solid now as it ever was, as modern theories of quantum mechanics has given more meaning to it. It is simply not understood by the pseudoskeptics because they are unwilling to take the time to really examine it. They have a will to disbelieve.
While the case for spirit communication and, concomitantly, survival, was seemingly made a century ago, we have more recent evidence for survival coming to us through research in the areas of reincarnation, near-death experiences, clairvoyance, and induced after-death communication. However, scientific fundamentalists have also found ways to dismiss that evidence. Indeed, it seems that those involved in paranormal research that ultimately leads to the question of whether consciousness survives physical death must continually reinvent the wheel. In the engineering profession, they speak of reinventing the square wheel, which, in effect, means ending up with a result worse than the standard already achieved. It often seems that survival research is doing just this.
One would assume that the evidence for survival would be welcomed as good news, since total extinction or obliteration of the personality is not a particularly inviting thought for most people. “The decisive question for man is: Is he related to something infinite or not? That is the telling question of his life,” wrote Carl Jung, the pioneering Swiss psychiatrist. “Only if we know that the thing which truly matters is the infinite can we avoid fixing our interest upon futilities, and upon all kinds of goals which are not of real importance.”
And yet, the subject is still met with scorn and contempt by mainstream science and orthodox religion, while the media makes light of it, taking serious reports about paranormal phenomena and translating them to tongue-in-cheek “spook” stories.
Why are mainstream science, orthodox religion, and the media so reluctant to accept the evidence for spiritual phenomena and survival? Why hasn’t the evidence stood the test of time?
It is clear why orthodox religion rejects it. While most of the communication coming through post-biblical mediums and near-death experiencers is consistent with their dogma and doctrine, a small portion of it is in conflict with that dogma and doctrine. Thus, it threatens the authority of the religious leaders and they find it necessary to say that the Book of Revelation is closed. They cite various passages of the Old Testament which seem to suggest that it is all demonic, while ignoring or give self-serving interpretations to passages in the Bible which appear to be in opposition to those Old Testament passages. Canon (Dr.) Michael Perry of the Church of England states that many Old Testament prohibitions no longer have any force for Christians, pointing out that in the 19th chapter of Leviticus, where we are told not to listen to mediums, we are also told not to wear a garment woven of two kinds of cloth or to shave the edges of our beards. He believes such prohibitions were part of an attempt to maintain the purity of Israelite religion at a time when the beliefs of other surrounding nations were filtering in. Yet, religious fundamentalists cling to the old teachings out of fear.
Scientific fundamentalists, most media representatives included, claim to reject the evidence because it does not meet strict scientific methodology or standards, including being subject to replication. And, yet, they accept many other things in this category, including biological evolution. Very few things in science have been proved with absolute certainty.
In an article appearing in the winter 2002 issue of the Journal of Near-Death Studies, Dr. Arthur Hastings, professor and director of the William James Center for Consciousness Studies at the Institute for Transpersonal Psychology, addressed this resistance to belief. “The fear of being irrational is powerful,” he wrote. “In this Western culture, which is strongly rationalistic, the charge of being irrational is a damning one.”
Hastings further suggested that many scientists, acting out of fear, arrive at a determination not to believe. This, he concluded, is often a product of ego defense mechanisms, such as rationalization, projection, and dissociation. He discussed the Pam Reynolds’ NDE, considered one of the most evidential, commenting that if the case were taken seriously it would challenge accepted beliefs, self-identity, emotions, commitments, and scientific personas as well as raise fears and result in conclusions that would require deep shifts in belief systems.
Dr. John O’M. Bockris, a retired professor of physics, sees it much the same way. “It is simply hubris—that exaggerated pride in one’s own achievements which means that—and this applies in particular to professors at universities—those whose careers have been built upon certain theories—existing viewpoints—and who have taught a science based on these, are horrified to learn that they may not have been speaking the truth,” which explains the resistance to ideas outside of the existing scientific paradigm. He blames these closed-minded scientists for leading many in the West to approach death without hope, thereby giving rise to a more materialistic and hedonistic world.
“The antagonism which it excites seems to be mainly due to the fact that [a spirit world] is, and has long been in some form or other, the belief of the religious world and of the ignorant and superstitious of all ages, while a total disbelief in spiritual existence has been the distinctive badge of modern scientific skepticism,” Alfred Russel Wallace opined.
I recently discussed the resistance of academia to survival evidence with Dr. Stafford Betty, professor of religious studies at California State University, Bakersfield. His observations have been much the same as Wallace’s. “My atheistic friends resist even the slightest whiff of an argument for an afterlife,” Professor Betty told me. “I have not seen more closed minds. Why is this? Why would anyone resist such good news—the kind of news strongly supported by serious, in-depth research on the NDE, for example? I think I know. It is not so much that my hard-bitten friends hate the thought of living beyond death; what they hate is religion. And they associate religion with the afterlife. It doesn’t matter how hard you try to convince them that the contemporary case for afterlife is not based on sacred texts, but on empirical studies conducted by well-credentialed social scientists or doctors. It doesn’t matter. Their minds are set. Also, the older generation (in their 70s and 80s) grew up hearing that the only things that were real were material. Changing their minds on that score would threaten their very identity. So they bravely move toward death, trying not to think about it, and gritting their teeth when they have to. I think the young are less invested in metaphysical materialism than the elderly. Their minds are slightly more open, if only because of the barrage of Hollywood films set in an afterlife.”
It may very well be that we are not supposed to know for certain. During the 1850s, Victor Hugo, the distinguished French author, was sitting with a medium and communicating with a spirit that claimed to have been Martin Luther, when alive. Hugo asked why God does not better reveal himself. To which the spirit of Luther replied: “Because doubt is the instrument which forges the human spirit. If the day were to come when the human spirit no longer doubted, the human soul would fly off and leave the plough behind, for it would have acquired wings. The earth would lie fallow. Now, God is the sower and man is the harvester. The celestial seed demands that the human ploughshare remain in the furrow of life.”
If absolute proof is neither desirable nor possible and the blind faith of religion falls well short of meeting the needs of the rational mind, it would seem that the best we can hope for is the conviction, or true faith, that has been given to those who have been able to properly test, discern, and accept the phenomena.