Should Christian Churches and Science Continue Ignoring Parapsychology?
The idea that I should write a post on religion, science and parapsychology came to me yesterday after an extended exchange on another blog. (I’m still working on Part 3 on the emergence of Jesus).
Starting with the topic of “The Historian and the Resurrection of Jesus,” we got onto some rabbit trails (though connected to the main one). I found myself explaining why I considered the subject of parapsychology (or the “paranormal”) to be an important aspect of how I make sense of life… how I hold (always tentatively) a pretty uncommon combination of beliefs.
For example, I believe the direct disciples of Jesus plus Paul and perhaps a few others had visionary experiences with Jesus, after his death, that were “genuine” and were not hallucinations or mere group hysteria. This may be the centerpiece among several factors causing Christianity to take hold and then grow aggressively by the turn of the 2nd century. But does my belief in such experiences cause me to believe all the reported miraculous events at the time of Jesus’ death (3 hours of mid-day darkness, a massive earthquake releasing long-dead “saints” from rock tombs around Jerusalem, the very thick veil in the Temple torn from top to bottom at the moment of Jesus’ death, etc.)? No.
Part of the reason I can believe in unusual events without being totally gullible about all claimed miracles, whether in the Bible or not, is that I have looked fairly closely at some observed-and-studied phenomena we often call parapsychology. I’ve studied much more, however, the field of psychology itself, so I understand where the two are distinct and where they overlap to a reasonable degree. (I believe clear-cut lines are impossible.) I understand there are psychological dynamics which sometimes adequately explain how some things are “just in our head” or are misperceived or misinterpreted.
However, there remains a good amount of evidence for things that suggest a reality to phenomena we often make fun of. Most of us are curious but content to relegate such things to parlor games or the realm of illusionists (stage magicians). Whether it is psychokinesis, precognition (“psychic abilities”), mediumship, apparitions, Near Death Experiences or similar controversial things, it all has been unofficially declared “out of bounds”. That is, as a focus for scientific study, but also as issues of interest for Christian leaders, church discussions or explorations, etc.
Why is this? A well-developed answer would be too long here, so let me just say that such things, or “parapsychology” exist on that border between the material and immaterial worlds, to use the dualism we all are so ingrained with. If matter and energy are as interchangeable as physics seems to demonstrate they are, it probably should not be so tough for us to look at those “transition” or juncture points between denser and less dense energy forms (or matter and spirit?).
Matter of fact, I think most people do look…. Many are quite fascinated by various aspects of the paranormal and some pursue it as a hobby. But very few are endorsed (as in paid a salary) to study it in depth. The salaries of many in both science and religion are actually threatened if they even show too much openness or take it on as a sideline.
Should this continue to be the case or should both science and religion get a bit more humble and admit that studying things so commonly experienced and of high interest to most people should be studied and discussed openly? Even if it threatens to complicate their jobs (not to mention the theoretical basis of their entire system)? I know it’s asking a lot when explained this way, but isn’t getting to the truth what both religion and science say they are about?