The other day I started reading through Thomas Morris (ed.) God and the Philosophers (Oxford University Press, 1994), a collection of essays by leading Christian philosophers (or at least leading philosophers circa 1994). I didn’t get far before I found myself surprised and intrigued. As I was reading through Morris’ own autobiographical essay titled “Suspicions of Something More” I encountered the following two passages which offered surprising encounters with what is often called ‘extra-sensory perception’:
“My father’s mother was said to have special abilities to bring nearly dead plants back to life and to train and even more deeply communicate with, animals. When my father as a young man lived in Baltimore, Maryland, he would arbitrarily, with no patterend regularity, make surprise trips back home to the farm in North Carolina. His mother would always have his place set at the table and food cooked for him, saying she knew he was coming that day. When my father first met the young woman I would later marry, he announced to my mother with no clues from me, from her, or from the circumstances, and long before I had a clue, that he had just met my future wife, a revelation he passed on to me only after the friendship had taken a new turn and commitments had been made. On board ship in the Pacific Ocean during the Second World War, he once lived through a bizarre evening of shooting dice all night, somehow knowing before each throw what he would get, feeling his wins before they came, a vivid, alternative state-of-consciousness experience, never to be repeated, which left him stunned, perplexed, and fascinated with what could have transpired. More recently, on a visit to a ministerial friend, as he raised his arm to knock at the man’s front door, he ‘heard’ the words ‘Don’t disturb him, he’s dead’; lowered his arm; turned around; got back in his wagon; and drove back home.” (16)
Wow, how interesting. It sounds like Morris’ family has that thing which is variously called “the gift”* and “the shine”**, an inexplicable ability to see past events (post-cognition), present distant events (remote viewing) and anticipate future events (pre-cognition). Morris also mentions others outside his own family who seem to have the same gift:
“I married a wonderful young woman with sparkling eyes whom the reportedly psychic grandmother of a high school friend had once described to me many years before as my future wife, although we were not to meet until my junior year at college, and then I set myself to pprepare at Yalefor the sort of vocation this remarkable older woman had told me I would follow, despite all my plans for a business career. For someone unfamiliar with modern, logical, analytic philosophy of religion, her description of my future vocation in context was striking–‘something like science, only spiritual,’ she had said.” (14)
Many Christians harbor a deep suspicion of extra-sensory perception. Much of that is motivated by a legitimate concern over association with the occult (e.g. tarot cards; ouija boards). In addition, a healthy skepticism is always warranted, especially when people start trading their wares for commercial gain. (Michael Shermer, James Randi and others have done much to expose the charlatans and their methods.)
We all know there are charlatans. We also know there are those who with all good intention are simply mistaken about their (lack of) ability. Regardless, my question is simply whether there is any incompatibility between extra-sensory perception and Christian faith. I don’t see that there is. Moreover, I agree with Morris that in principle such cases, if they can withstand critical enquiry, can provide fodder for a cumulative case for supernaturalism. Pre-cognition in particular appears to be the most intriguing evidence for supernaturalism in general, and a superintending divine intelligence in particular.
*”The Gift” is a first rate supernatural thriller from 2000 starring Cate Blanchett in an outstanding performance and directed by Sam Raimi; highly recommended.
**”The Shining”, based on the Stephen King novel, is a film from 1980 directed by Stanley Kubrick and it is one of the greatest horror films of all time. My wife and I so enjoyed the film that we stayed at the Timberline Lodge on Mount Hood back in 1999. (The Timerbline was used for all the external shots of the “Overlook Hotel” from the film.)