Search This Blog

Friday, June 19, 2009

A Ghost Story

Whatever may be true of you, Gentle Reader, I don't have the option to be an atheist --

Even were it not the case that I know as a matter of logical reasoning that all variants atheism -- the denial that there exists a Creator, who is a person -- are false, I still would not have the option, rationally or morally, to be an atheist simpliciter.

Unadorned atheism -- the denial that there is a personal Creator -- implies 'materialism' and 'naturalism', and indeed implies 'eliminative materialism.'

Now, even if it were not the case that 'eliminative materialism' is itself absurd, the little "ghost story" I'm about to relate is contradictory to 'materialism' (and to 'naturalism') -- thus, if one accepts this story as true, then logically one has rejected 'eliminative materialism,' general 'materialism,' and 'naturalism.'

The reader, of course, has the option of simply rejecting this story; I do not have that option. To be more precise, I may rationally reject the story only by asserting either that my parents were stupid or that they lied to me.

Here's the story:

When I was an infant, my parents went to visit an older couple form their church.

I was placed on a bed in an upstairs room, with pillows around me to keep me from rolling off the bed, and with a dry-cleaning bag, the wispy plastic film things, under me for obvious reasons. You have to understand, at that time people hadn't really given much thought to how dangerous that is.

So, my parents and their friends are downstairs talking and laughing ... and the tiny little baby is upstairs, asleep.

Suddenly, my father turned white as a ghost, as the saying goes, and then dashed up the stairs. He grabbed me off the bed, and ran back down the stairs and outside, to "give me some air" (silly, yes, as though there is more or better air outside than in, but panic will do that to you).

You see, I was suffocating. Somehow, I had turned over onto my stomach and I was "breathing" the plastic film on which I lay.

Understand, I don't present that story as any sort of evidence that Christianity is true; but rather that 'materialism,' and therefore simple atheism, is false.

As I said earlier, the reader is free to reject the story; I am not: not unless I am willing either to assert that my parents were outright lying to me about the incident; or to assert that my mother was too stupid to properly remember whether my father did indeed suddenly panic and *then* run up to rescue the baby, and that my father was too stupid to properly remember whether when he got upstairs I was indeed on my stomach with the plastic film blocking my breathing.


Nick said...

I can't ridicule stories such as this; they're too personal and meaningful for the individuals involved.

I can share similar, seemingly odd incidents myself.

One example: In 1991 my sister was living in Killeen TX. She had stopped for something to eat at the Luby's Cafe because her son was protesting his hunger. As she got to the door of the restaurant she claims she heard a voice tell her "Don't go inside. Get back in your car now and drive away".

Minutes later the infamous Luby's shooting took place when a deranged man drove his truck through the restaurant window and proceeded to open fire on the people inside.

It's certainly a strange story, but my sister didn't give that version of it until years later (at the time she just said that she left because her four-year-old was throwing a fit and she just decided to go eat later as she had to pick up her older son from school in about an hour or less).

Even if true, why would my sister be singled out for a special warning? Many others were killed by that lunatic on that unfortunate and very sad day.

I just think the anecdotal nature of such stories disqualifies them as real evidence of the supernatural. I still find them interesting, though.

Ilíon said...

SE: "I can't ridicule stories such as this; they're too personal and meaningful for the individuals involved."

I suspect that you know me well enough to grasp that "personally meaningful" is the very sort of concept I do scoff at.

SE: "I can share similar, seemingly odd incidents myself."

Dude! There is no "seeming" about it; it's odd, it doesn't fit into the naturalistic view of reality: logically, one must either reject the story/stories or reject the world-view.

In your sister's case -- as with my parents -- the story she's telling is true, or it isn't. And, if one will not believe the story, when one has decided and asserted that one of the following is true:
1) the story-teller is incapable of seeing the truth about the incident (i.e. the person is stupid or insane, or something like that)
2) the story-teller is lying something about the incident
3) the story-teller has misunderstood something about the incident, and is thus relating an honest error

Even though the story your sister now tells is not the story she first told, I am not forced by my preconceptions to say that she was lying in either case. Sure, I recognize the possibility that after all these years she may be now lying as a means to acquire for a bit of reflected glamour, but nothing compels me to believe that that is the case -- I have no a priori need to discount her story.

Further, I quite recognize that she'd have had incentive in the first place to not tell the full story: she knows how others, including her own family, would react to the full story. It's quite understandable that she'd initially relate only as much about it as others will accept. And, it's quite understandable that over time she'd find within herself the need to relate more, even knowing how others, including her own family, would react.

SE: "Even if true, why would my sister be singled out for a special warning?"

I have no idea. Why was my father warned in time to save me, when so many other children died in similar circumstances that year and the next and the next ...

But that doesn't change the fact of tha matter: either your sister and my father were warned, in a way which cannot be fitted into a world compatible with 'naturalism,' and this averted their own personal tragedies, or they were not.

SE: "Many others were killed by that lunatic on that unfortunate and very sad day."

It was not an "unfortunate and very sad day," it was not merely a "tragic event," the man was not a "lunatic;" the man was wicked, he committed a wicked deed, other people suffered because of his sinfulness. That is, after all, the way of sin: to attempt to impose the consequences onto someone else.

SE: "I just think the anecdotal nature of such stories disqualifies them as real evidence of the supernatural."

Please! *All* evidence is "anecdotal." And you can't understand that you have just ridiculed your sister's story and that of my parents? You can't understand that your very first sentence was a ridicule?

Each individual story of "the supernatural" -- each story of an experience which cannot be fitted into the small box of 'naturalism' -- is either true or it's not true. If one admits that any of them are true, than one has admitted that 'naturalism' is not merely incomplete, but is false.

It can't be both ways: either your sister is telling you the truth, or she is not. And, if she is not, than there are only three explanations:
1) she's stupid, or insane, or something like that;
2) she's lying;
3) she's confused about or misunderstands in some critical way the facts of the matter.

Anonymous said...

Hi Ilion and SE - really interesting stories. You and your families certainly aren't alone in experiencing sudden, apparently supernatural warnings of impending death or disaster. I've got a feeling that there's quite a number of similar accounts collected and analysed by parapsychologists and psychical researchers. The evidence is that experiences like these may actually be quite widespread, but that those who experience them tend to play them down or don't talk about them, probably for fear of being ridiculed in today's sceptical intellectual climate hostile to mystical or paranormal experiences.

Some of the scientists researching such experiences have attempted to develop explanations more in line with current science. These scientists tend to view such experiences as produced by a natural, but largely unknown or unrecognised paranormal faculty in the human brain. That's the official attitude towards paranormal phenomena like that by the Society for Psychical Research in Britain, which was set up in the 1880s to investigate what it considered to be the unknown faculties in humanity without necessarily endorsing the idea of personal survival after death. The physicist Dean Radin has also done a lot of research on such paranormal experiences and faculties, but views them as produced by quantum physical laws, rather than something more profoundly supernatural. His book, Entangled Minds , however, does make a very strong statistical case for telepathy and the paranormal.

The problem with the quantum physical interpretation of such phenomena, however, is that the brain isn't constituted to generate the electrochemical forces within its microtubules that some scientists, such as the British mathematician, Roger Penrose, suggested it did in his book, The Emperor's New Mind . If the statistics are correct, however, it would appear that there is indeed a genuine paranormal aspect to human existence that many more people have experienced than contemporary scientific rationalism would suggest, and that this experience is not reducible to purely naturalistic laws.

As for mysterious supernatural voices and apparitions warning people of disaster, sometimes these have been those of deceased friends and relatives, at other times they have been of angels and the saints. There's an account in a book by a contemporary Roman Catholic theologian describing how villagers in Alsace-Lorraine in France in the 1870s were warned of an attack on their village during the Franco-Prussian War by a vision of Our Lady for example.

Matteo said...

It wouldn't surprise me at all--when we reach the time when all things are revealed--to find that God had been protecting each and every one of us from all sorts of awful stuff on a continuing basis, most often by far without our direct knowledge.

Have you ever had a pain somewhere and without even thinking about it much, just said "Oh, God, please make this go away?" Soon enough you forget the whole incident. Or perhaps you just did a simple prayer before walking out the door or starting a journey: "God, please protect me this day." Or general prayers offered in church: "God, please protect travelers this Thanksgiving weekend." What if we get to Heaven and find out that little pain had been pancreatic cancer, you had been saved from being hit by a car, and a train derailment on Thanksgiving weekend didn't happen, all due to direct divine intervention?

For all we know, the fallen world would be a nightmarish and constant set of tragedies if not for providential protection. Yet some people, in the relative safety of such a protecting Providence, will say, "Nonsense! What do we need protection from?"

Mike said...

I have actually seen supernatural beings. Twice as a child, I saw what could only be described as a demon. Once when I was about six, the second time when I was eleven. They were not particularly far from me, I wasn't sick or tired, and I've never been prone to "fits of imagination."

Ilíon said...

I saw Jesus (reaching out to hug me) when I was five or six. Of course, I was asleep, so it might have been just a dream, but it didn't feel like a dream. Though, at the same time, little kids sometimes have a hard time telling dreams from reality.

A year later (I know it was a year because we had just changed grades at Sunday school), I saw a picture in the new Sunday School classroom which lead me to think, “Well, if that was just a dream, it was probably triggered by this picture which I must have seem at some time.

What can I say: I was a precocious critical thinker.

Ilíon said...

When I was five or six, I was playing on the floor with my younger brother. I happened to look up and saw a horribly ugly monster-face looking in a window at me.

Pehaps it was a teenager wearing a demon-mask, or perhaps it was just my eyes playing tricks.

I recall being startled, but not terrified.

Mike said...

My family never watched any movies or anything like that that could have prompted what I saw. It was a similar experience, only it was too dark outside to see more than silhouette of the face. What I remember most about it was the blood red, perfectly circular eyes, and the fact that someone pulling a prank would have had to be closing in on seven feet or so to be able to even peek into that window because our first floor was elevated several feet above the ground.

When I was 11-12, I saw what could probably be best described as a hell hound.