The skeptic meets the demon
After presenting my first person account of putative demonic oppression, Atheist Missionary offered the following hypothesis: somebody slipped acid into my sushi (the kind of acid that makes you hallucinate, not the kind that burns you). It may have been a somewhat tongue-in-cheek suggestion but broadly speaking it is possible. It is just enormously unlikely.
Ray Ingles makes a more concerted effort to rebut the supposition that a malevolent supernatural agency did in fact oppress me. To begin with, he quotes my claim that even if I did undergo sleep paralysis that does not mean the source of that sleep paralysis was not a malevolent supernatural agency. It seems that he concedes the point from a Christian perspective but nonetheless adds: “But can you blame others for invoking Occam’s Razor there?”
Blame? No. If somebody believes they have very good evidence that non-physical agencies cannot exist then they need to seek a reductive explanation. I don’t blame them for that. But how good are their reasons for believing that non-physical agencies cannot exist? Do they have an argument to the effect that consciousness must be physically embodied?
Next, Ray goes on to defend the case that I did experience sleep paralysis. Again he begins by quoting me: “The biggest problem with diagnosing the case as sleep paralysis was that I had been awake for twenty minutes or more.” Since sleep paralysis is the time lag of REM atonia after someone has waken up, the fact that I was awake and fine seems to defeat this possible explanation.
But Ray suggests another possibility: “And there’s no chance you had started to fall back to sleep in that time – that half-dreaming state where sleep paralysis is most likely?”
Is there a chance? In a broad sense sure. For all I know there is also a chance I was abducted by aliens from planet X-542. But we need to focus not only what is possible but on what is plausible (and ideally, probable). It is not probable that I fell back asleep. Nor, I would contend, is it remotely plausible. Remember that this began with me (a) waking from a vivid nightmare and then (b) hearing an audible voice coming through the door, a voice which sounded just like an old man announcing his presence. Believe me, hearing this voice brought me into a maximally lucid state. I was terrified (understandably I think) by the experience and was listening with great intensity for any further sound from the other side of the door, including the creaking of floorboards that would signal the movement of a human person. Under those conditions is it plausible to suggest I suddenly drifted back to sleep?
I should add that I have only had experiences like this three times in my life. This was the first time. Two weeks later I had a similar experience, although I would be willing to concede that that second experience was sleep paralysis. (But I wouldn’t concede it was only that.) And I had a third experience one year later. Again, I would not concede that the third experience was sleep paralysis because (a) I could move my arms a limited distance (about a foot off the bed) but no more and (b) that third experience was accompanied by the sound of screaming. Anyway suffice it to say prior to going to Japan I had never experienced such things and thus, I think one could say, there is no evidence that I was especially prone to them.
Ray also didn’t offer an explanation for the fact that the year before the young man staying at the church had experienced something very similar to what I experienced. He simply enquired as to the degree that the cases were similar (a reasonable enquiry to be sure). From what I got out of the missionary he too awoke in the middle of the night, was unable to move, and heard voices threatening him. I don’t know if his case could more plausibly be described as sleep paralysis but it is certainly interesting that these experiences were reported two years in a row in one town but at none of the other nine towns throughout Hokkaido where other short-term English teachers were stationed.
Ray responds to the “piercingly relevant scriptural passage” I read by suggesting that I was aiming for the New Testament and “Can you come up with a passage that could not be interpreted as relevant?”
Okay, let’s take Ray up on his challenge. In my own little study I randomly opened my Bible five times (tending toward the New Testament end in accord with Ray’s instructions) and recorded the first verse I saw in each case:
Romans 11:32: “For God has imprisoned all in disobedience, so that He may have mercy on all.”
Matthew 6:23: “But if your eye is bad your whole body will be full of darkness.”
Galatians 4:21: “Tell me, you who want to be under the law, don’t you hear the law?”
Lamentations 3:14-15: “I am a laughingstock to all the people, mocked by their songs all day long. He filled me with bitterness, sated me with wormwood.”
Luke 22:49-50: “When those around Him saw what was going to happen, they asked, ‘Lord, should we strike with the sword?’ Then one of them struck the high priest’s slave and cut off his right ear.”
I am a pretty creative fellow but I do not see any of these verses as having relevance to the trial I was facing. I would commend you to replicate this study. It is easy enough to do. Get a Bible and open it randomly and see what you come up with.
Finally, Ray asked whether the town was at a high elevation. No, it was a small town on the coast about an hour and a half east of Tomakomai.
To sum up, it is easy to explain any phenomenon with innumerable possible explanations. But we need to seek explanations that, given the total set of data we have, are minimally plausible and hopefully probable. Relative to my background set of beliefs and all the details of the case I think it is probable that this was in fact a case of demonic oppression. Others may hold a prima facie skepticism about the existence of non-physical agencies, but unless they have very strong evidence that such agencies are impossible (and if so I’d like to see that evidence) I would hope they would concede that the details of a case like this render the interpretation I offer at least plausible.