Over the years I have blogged on the topic of ghosts on several occasions, including the articles “Should Christians believe in ghosts?”, “Jesus believed in ghosts (so maybe you should too),” and “J.B. Phillips and the Ghost of C.S. Lewis.” Three years ago I even did some research and writing for a planned book on theology and ghosts (see “On my preliminary research into ghosts“).
As a Christian who accepts life after death, a dualist anthropology, and the possibility of deceased human persons interacting with the world of the living prior to the final resurrection, I have a definite interest in evidence for the afterlife generally and ghosts in particular. Committed naturalists have just as much of an interest in “debunking” putative evidence for ghosts given their more austere metaphysical commitments.
One thing about the dismissive attitude of many naturalists really perplexes me, however, and that’s the assumption that the concept of ghosts is somehow too strange to take seriously. This woolly objection may have had some traction at some point in history. But it’s tough to see how it would have much traction now given the extraordinary nature of phenomena like quantum entanglement and relativity, to say nothing of the fleeting nature of matter itself. As scientist (and atheist) Richard Lewontin once observed:
“Do physicists really expect me to accept without serious qualms that the pungent cheese that I had for lunch is really made up of tiny, tasteless, odorless, colorless packets of energy with nothing but empty space between them?” (for further discussion see my article “God vs. the flying spaghetti monster at the Society of Edmonton Atheists (Part 1)“)
I’m not saying we should deny that the cheese really is made up of those tiny, tasteless, odorless, colorless packets of energy with nothing but empty space between them (nor is Lewontin). But when you accept it, recognize that you are accepting a claim that is extraordinary, stupendous, and eminently strange.
Given the general strangeness of the world, should it be a surprise that human existence is also stranger than one might have thought?
What is more, the testimonial evidence for ghosts is widespread. When I was researching ghosts a few years ago, the first person I mentioned the project to at my church shared a vivid story of the time his wife had seen a ghost. Of course, you must take such reports with a grain of salt. But that doesn’t mean you categorically marginalize them with a lame invocation of some empty mantra about extraordinary claims requiring extraordinary evidence. (I have written several critiques of that mantra, including here and here and here.)
Reasonably credible testimonial evidence for ghosts is not hard to come by. Consider, for example, this recent article in the Daily Mail titled “Why I believe in ghosts: As the ‘Grey Lady’ of Dudley Castle is caught on camera, a respected (and very level-headed) literary critic gives his view“. As I read Peter Lewis’ testimony in this article, I find it isn’t sufficient to persuade me that he did, in fact, see ghosts. But at the same time, I am not in a place to dismiss it by blathering about extraordinary claims. Instead, I’m left intrigued.
Even more intriguing is this CCTV footage, purportedly of a ghost, which was recorded at the Espanola Police Station in New Mexico:
Just what is that? A trick of the light? The product of a hoax by overly bored (and technologically adept) police officers? It could be. But neither of those explanations seems satisfactory to me. Once again, I may not be persuaded that it is a ghost, but at the very least it is a type of evidence. And until you have indeed debunked it, it requires of the self-described naturalist and skeptic the same thing it requires of us all: to keep an open mind.