The reincarnation of a WW2 pilot?

Summary

The case of the alleged reincarnation of James Houston Junior, an American pilot being shot down in Japan during WWII, is often seen as the strongest evidence for reincarnation. In this long article, I investigated this claim. While many putative pieces of evidence can have come about through foreknowledge or leading questions, there are a number of inconvenient facts that remain. Whilst they aren’t sufficient for proving reincarnation, they certainly make this case anomalous.

Introduction

 

If any alleged case of reincarnation proved to be genuine, both Christianity and Naturalism might be gravely undermined.

In what follows, I sought to investigate one famous such incident with the mind of an open sceptic, i.e. someone who carefully investigates the evidence without having a prior belief in the plausibility or implausibility of the phenomenon.

 

A good summary of the peculiar story involving James Leininger and his parents Bruce and Andrea can be found here.

This is an interview of the parents.

I base my analysis of the facts on the book “Soul Survivor: The Reincarnation of a World War II Fighter Pilot” written by Bruce and Andrea Leininger, while, of course, considering the possibility they might misremember some things or get certain facts wrong.

I’ll start by quoting the “explanation” of two naturalistic philosophers John Martin Fischer and Benjamin Mitchell-Yellin in their book “Near-Death Experiences: Understanding Our Visions of the Afterlife

Unlike Internet Sceptics, they are moderate and respectful and their text is a pleasant read.

,

They start by summarising the case:

 

“At the age of two, James Leininger began having frightening dreams that caused him to yell out and to kick, and claw in his sleep.
He’d dream that he crashed in an air-plane and was trying to escape. The details James shared about these dreams were astonishing. He demonstrated encyclopaedic knowledge about World War II aircraft, and he recounted facts about a particular aircraft carrier, the Natoma Bay, and its flight crew, including naming a fellow pilot, Jack Larsen.
Jame’s fascination with these aircraft and events in the war was not confined to his dreams. He drew pictures, acted out scenes, and talked frankly and in great detail about the battle of Iwo Jima. He signed his pictures “James 3” because he was, in his words, “the third James.”
As Jame’s parents began looking more deeply into their son’s behaviour and interest in the war, they noticed some astonishing coincidences. The details young James was relating matched historical facts. The Natoma Bay was an actual ship that fought in the battle of Iwo Jima. The names of people James talked about in his dreams were members of the flight crew on that ship. One of the pilot shot down had been named James. They began to suspect that their son might be the reincarnation of that pilot. With the help of Carol Bowman, a therapist known for her work on cases of reincarnation in young children, the Leiningers began to listen empathetically to their son. What they saw and heard in his words and behaviour only further supported their suspicion. They became convinced, even if reluctantly in the case of Jame’s father, that their son had lived a past life as James Huston, who was shot down in his plane over the Pacific during the battle of Iwo Jima.
This brief synopsis should be enough to give you a sense of why many have thought that the best explanation of Jame Leninger’s dreams and behaviour is that his is a case of reincarnation. This was a very young child demonstrating a fascination with certain kinds of aircraft and an apparent knowledge of particular historical people and events in ways that suggested that he was personally and deeply attached to them. It will come as no surprise, we’re sure, to learn that we are not convinced by the reincarnation hypothesis. It may be one possible explanation of things, but it is not an especially compelling explanation. This becomes clear once we take account of the full range of factors, including both details of James Leininger’s life and the overall explanatory context.

First of all, a young boy’s fascination with airplanes, even airplanes of a very particular make and model, should strike no one as remarkable in the least.
In general, and as every parent knows, young children become obsessed with people, places, and things. Often, these obsessions are often explained by exposure to the person or things…But sometimes, these obsessions should seem to come out of the blue. It would be rash, however, to claim that just because one cannot understand how a child came to be fixated on something, the explanation must be supernatural. It is better to think, instead, that one has simply missed or forgotten something relevant to explaining how the obsession began.
Jame Leininger’s obsession with WWII airplanes may strike one as an outlier, perhaps, because it is coupled with extensive knowledge of facts about both the aircraft and historical people and events. But before we jump to the conclusion that the best way to explain what is going on here is to appeal to reincarnation, we should consider whether there are any promising avenues for explaining things by more conventional means. And there does seem to be some possibilities here.

Consider the fact that the Leiningers visited a flight museum when James was eighteen months old. During their visit, James walked around the very type of planes he later claimed to have been flying in his dreams, Corsairs. His parents have even claimed that he looked like he was conducting a flight check. Noting this detail about Jame’s life seems like a promising start for provinding an explanation of his obsession with ww2 aircraft, and his fixation on Corsairs in particular. By all accounts, James was a very bright child. It is possible that a bright 18-month-old could absorb many details at the air museum, especially in conjunction with listening to his parents or tour guides or others discussing the displays. James may not have had the ability at 18 months to put these experiences into words and express them verbally, but many of the details might have registered. Later, when he developed the capacity to verbalise, James would have been able to express the information that had registered earlier. We can thus begin to make sense of why James Leininger was so obsessed with World War II aircraft and how he knew what seemed like an uncanny amount about them. And we can do so without appealing to anything supernatural.

Even if James Leininger’s detailed knowledge of WW2 aircraft were to be explained in this way, it may still seem as though the case presents a serious puzzle. How could James have known the names of the people he recounted as being there with in his dreams?

We are not at all sure how the explanation of these facts is supposed to go.
But it does seem possible to explain them without invoking reincarnation. Perhaps James heard these names somewhere. Maybe they were mentioned in a television program he saw (the Leiningers admit to conversing with James about a television program on World War II aircraft on the History Channel) or a book or museum panel someone (perhaps his parents) read to him. Perhaps his parents mentioned them in conversations at home. Children are incredibly perceptive, and their memories often outstrip those of adults. Given that he was obsessed with WWII aircraft, it’d be no surprise if James soaked up titbits of information that went in one ear and out the other for those less intent on the subject.

Once his parents and other adults began to ask him about these things, it would not be surprising if Jame’s interest in them increased. He may even have begun to seek out more information about these matters out of a desire to please his parents or other authority figures, such as Carol Bowman and Jim Tucker (another expert on reincarnation), who interviewed him in relation to the possibility that he was reincarnated.
The presence and interests of these people would be powerful influences on a young person at an age when the desire to please an adult authority figure is great. So there might have been a symbiosis between young Jame’s desire to please and his parents’ and certain researchers’ beliefs and prior assumptions about what was happening in his case. This could have led to Jame’s telling a story that suggested he was reincarnated, when in fact he was not.
Indeed, it would not be surprising if James Leininger came to “remember” events from a past life due to repeated, and possibly leading, questioning from his parents and other adults. It is a commonplace that the testimony of children is quite suggestible, and three- and four-year-olds have been shown to be more suggestible than even five- and six-year-olds.
Among the factors thought to explain the phenomenon of suggestibility in children are, first, that their memories are not as firmly implanted as those in older people and, second, that the mechanism for protecting and monitoring memories against suggestive intrusions are not as robust in young children as in older people. If James was repeatedly questioned about his dreams and his claims about a past life, especially by people who were themselves of the opinion that he had a past life, it would be consistent with psychologists’ understanding of how memory works in young children to suppose that he came to falsely remember and report various facts and events..

We stress that we do not take ourselves to have provided adequate explanation of the Leininger case. That is not our aim. What we hope to have done is to have shown how the approach we’ve been sketching in this book may be applied to this case.
*******************

Now, the authors themselves admit it is hard to account for the specific details given by James.

 

Systematic investigation of the case

In what follows, I shall examine different elements that have been claimed to show that James had memories of a past life.

 

 

At two-year of age, James was described as being “the centrepiece of a loving family of three living on the soft coastal plane of southern Louisiana” and Andrea’s “first and only child”.

But Bruce Leininger had four children from a previous marriage.
They didn’t live with James’ half-siblings so that the latter could hardly have contaminated their little brother’s memories.

 

Natoma’s bay

 

How likely is that little James took in the name “Natoma Bay” while visiting the Cavanaugh Flight Museum as he was 18 months-old?

USS_Natoma_Bay_(CVE-62)_at_Tulagi_on_8_April_1944_(80-G-235018)

Before 2001, there is only one obscure book “USS Natoma Bay (CVE 62), VC 63, VC 81, VC9” written by the “Natoma Bay Association” dedicated to the plane carrier.

Otherwise, the boat is only mentioned in one or two lines of books dealing with WW2 planes.

In the great scheme of things, the Natoma Bay was really insignificant.

Given the fact that the Cavanaugh Flight Museum is an aviation museum for the general public and not for WW2 aviation specialists, it seems very unlikely they would have mentioned the word “Natoma Bay” and it seems even dubious they would have known that name by heart.

It seems also very unlikely that a knowledgeable visitor would have been present at the right moment and would have said the words.

 

What is more, while little James might have been very astute, he was only 18-months of age!
It seems implausible (albeit not impossible) he would have picked up a funny name and have correctly identified it conceptually in order to retrieve it later on.

Could “Natoma Bay” have been mentioned in a TV show James listened to?

As the carrier wasn’t significant, this is  implausible. I am open to challenges if some reader can found documentaries where it is mentioned.

 

Given all of that, it appears unlikely that little James would have found the name “Natoma Bay”.

 

Jack Larsen

The next puzzle concerns “Jack Larsen”. Of course, James had no idea that there was a “Jack Larsen” on the “Natoma Bay”.

And in comparison to “John Brown” or “Bill Smith”, “Jack Larsen” wasn’t such an usual name for a 2 years-old to come up with.

So it seems again very unlikely he would find by chance the name of a “Jack Larsen”who happened to have been a comrade of James Huston Jr. on the Natoma Bay.

 

James’ GI Joes.

 

Jamees had three GI Joes with peculiar names.
“Hey, how come you named your GI Joes, Billy and Leon and Walter?”

Bruce’s parents knew no Leon and Walter.

“Because that’s who met me when I got to heaven.” James answered.

Then he turned and went back to play.

Bruce snatched a piece of paper and read it. He read it again but couldn’t bring himself to say what was on his mind.

He was holding the list of names of the men who were killed aboard Natoma Bay. He handled it to Andrea. On the list were James M. Huston Jr., Billy Peeler, Leon Conner, and Walter Devlin. Bruce gave her a flat look, then started shuffling and tossing papers around again. He had files with dates and details and could conjure up the records in a flash.
“They were all in the same squadron”, Bruce said. “VC-81.”

The three men were already dead when James Huston was killed.

Leon had blond hair exactly like James’ namesake GI Joe according to his cousin Gwen.
“He was an ideal boy: six feet tall, blond, blue-eyed, a football star who also played the violin.”

 

The final action figure [Walter] had auburn, almost red hair.

He was described as “Irish, with all that big red hair.”

The action Figure Billy himself was Brown-haired as Billy Peeler based on his photo.

 

Little James had no plausible way to find these names and these pieces information.

 

Given that, it is very unlikely he would have, by chance, found the right names of his deceased comrades (two of which aren’t that common) and able to associate them to the right hair colour.

 

James Huston Junior’s sister Annie

 

James’ place in the family

James correctly called James Huston Junior’s sister “Annie”, as only her brother called her that way.

He told Andrea that he had another sister, Ruth. Only he pronounced it “Roof”. She was four years older than Annie and Annie was four years older than James. When Andrea checked with Anne Barron, she said it was all accurate. Ruth was the oldest by four years, James the youngest by four years”.

Of course, this relies on Anne’s memory but the year of birth of one’s sibling is something almost all of us remembers very well.
It is at least remarkable he knew the name of the oldest sister and it seems unlikely he would have guessed it or sneak into his dad’s newspapers to find it.

 

Personal detail about the Huston’s family life

Things get a bit more ambiguous here.

We read: “Five-year-old James knew about their father’s alcoholism. He knew all the family secrets with a familiar intimacy.”

Here, we might envision that “Annie” asked leading questions to James.

“For instance, James recalled in surprising detail when his father’s alcoholism got so bad that he smashed things and had to go into rehab, he knew all about that”.

On the other hand, it also seems unlikely that Anne would herself take the initiative to mention such traumatising details to a five-year-old boy.

According to Jim Tucker, James already spoke of the alcoholism of his “father” when his real mother Andrea entered into his room with a glass of wine.

Given that, it appears likely that James did recall such details on his own, but this isn’t very evidential as this cannot be strictly shown.

James 3

James signed some of his drawing “James 3”. When he was asked why he signed them “James 3”, he said simply “Because I am the third James. I am James 3”.

If the parents recalled correctly, this would be a remarkable coincidence as the other James was James Houston Jr.

However, they might also have unconsciously put this into their son’s mouth in hindsight but that doesn’t seem likely.

According to Jim Tucker, James continued to produce the same drawing even when he was four-years-old.

Bob Greenwalt

 

Bruce brought James to a meeting of the veterans of the Natoma Bay.

 

The man looked down at James and asked in a hearty, robust voice,
“Do you know who I am?”
James looked him in the eye, thought for a second, and replied,
“You’re Bob Greenwalt.”

“How did you know that?” asked Bruce.
“I recognised his voice,” he told his father.

 

Now, if James had never heard the name “Bob Greenwalt”, this fact alone would strongly point toward a paranormal phenomenon.
But is this the case?

No.

One night, Andrea received a call from Bob Greenwalt she transferred to Bruce.
“A Bob Greenwalt want to talk with you” she said.
“I know who Bob Greenwalt was…” answered Bruce.

 

It cannot be conclusively ruled out that James heard half-consciously the name and some strong features of the voice because the mother might have activated the loud speaker.

 

Prenatal choice of his parents

 

One of the most puzzling episode concerns little James “choosing” his parents shortly before his birth.

“One day, after raking leaves together, Bruce told James how happy he was to have him as a son. James replied, “That’s why I picked you; I know you would be a good daddy.” Bruce did not understand. James continued:

When I found you and Mommy, I knew you would be good to me.”

“Where did you find us?”

“Hawaii. . . . I found you at the big pink hotel. . . . I found you on the beach. You were eating dinner at night.”

Bruce was dumbfounded. In 1977, Bruce and Andrew indeed went to Hawaii and stayed at the Royal Hawaii, a pink hotel on Waikiki beach. On the last evening, they had a moonlight dinner at the beach. Five weeks later, Andrea became pregnant with James.”

Unfortunately, we cannot entirely rule out the possibility that James saw the picture of the pink hotel and of the dinner at the beach somewhere in the house.

This doesn’t appear particularly likely because the parents would have remembered the pictures but this cannot be dismissed out of hand either.

Misidentification of the corsair

We now finally come to the only argument AGAINST the reincarnation hypothesis.

An exception was that Huston was shot down in a FM2 Wildcat, not a Corsair: veterans could recall no Corsairs on Natoma Bay. Nor could the details of James’s account of the plane being shot down be confirmed. However, a visit to Huston’s sister Anne Barron uncovered a photograph of Huston standing in front of a Corsair, confirming that at one time he flew this aircraft.

But even if James Leininger was really the reincarnation of James Huston Jr., we don’t have to expect that his memories would always be clear and precise.

What is more, Tucker contacted the Cavanaugh Flight Museum and learned that it had no Corsair on display between 1999 and 2003, the time period of James’s first two visits, so that this description cannot come from his early visit to the museum.

Under the hypothesis of reincarnation, it is not unreasonable to believe that James could confuse the plane he died in with a plane he was also familiar with.

Battle of Iwo Jima

Iwo-Jima

As the battle of Iwo Jima was very famous, it is not astounding that James Leiniger would be exposed to it or claimed he had died there.

That said, it is certainly curious that the only member of the Natoma Bay who died there was James Huston Jr.

Conclusion

The James Leininger’s putative reincarnation case is a complex one.

Many elements can be well explained through foreknowledge, suggestion and false memories.

It is, for example, conceivable that James was able to correctly identify Bob Greenwalt’s voice and describe his parents’ evening at Hawaii before his birth thanks to sensory clues and foreknowledge.

Nevertheless, it is unlikely that little James would have come up with “Natoma” as that ship was rather insignificant and hardly mentioned to the general public. It is very unlikely he would, by chance, utter the uncommon name “Jack Larsen” who appears to be a member of that very ship’s crew. It is very unlikely he would have christened his three GI Joes according to the names and appearances of his real colleagues Billy, Walter and Leon while remembering having seen them in Heaven and it is really dubious he could have gleaned that information by sneaking into his father’s documents.

In light of this, other less evidential elements (such as James’s mentioning the alcoholism of his former “father” to Annie, “James 3”, his death at the battle of Iwo Jima and his seeing his parent before his birth ) reinforce the credibility of the case.

Does that mean we must believe in the reality of reincarnation?
The answer is a resounding NO.

Very unlikely combinations of events are bound to happen.

 

I do think, however, that sceptics need to recognise that this case is highly anomalous.

 

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An extraordinary hoax?

Skeptics often say that there is no shred of evidence for the existence of paranormal phenomena.

I strongly disagree and think we often dispose of evidence which would be deemed acceptable in mundane fields of inquiry.

In the following post on my parallel blog I give one striking example.

 

 

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What is an UAP (Unidentified Atmospheric Phenomenon)?

For many people, an atmospheric phenomenon is either explainable through our current knowledge, or it is necessarily of extraterrestrial origin.

This irrational dichotomy has hindered any serious, open and non-dogmatic discussion about the existence of not-understood aerial phenomena from happening.

 

This has prompted me to create a new blog on this topic and in the following post, I go into the possible nature of an UAP which merely means something in the sky we cannot account for at the moment.

According to this definition, some religious miracles such as the Wonder of the Sun in Fatima are UAPs as well.

 

 

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The tentative apologist and the friendly atheist discuss about heaven

Randal Rauser (the tentative apologist) is arguably the best apologist within the Evangelical camp.

During one episode of the British show Unbelievable he debated about the existence of heaven with (the friendly atheist) concerning a book Randal recently published that Randal wrote for dispelling wrong conceptions many Christians have about heaven.

hemant_mehta

At the beginning of the conversation, Randal mentioned the fact that many Evangelicals neglect the protection of the environment because they expect God to put pretty soon an end to this evil creation, delivering them from it.

I can remember very vividly a Conservative Evangelical telling me that he did not worry about global warming because God allegedly promised there would  no longer be any worldwide catastrophe after the Genesis flood.

This is a logical consequence of the doctrine that God cursed the whole creation and humans with a sinful nature we have to escape from, a gnostic doctrine which was introduced into the Church largely by Augustine.

Randal challenges Mehta’s assumption that the fact that heaven fulfill our wishes is an indication of its falsity. Ever since the days of Feuerbach, many atheists (not least Dawkins) have kept making the same claim.
But it is obviously wrong, the fact that a vanilla ice satisfy most desires of my gut does not mean there is no such thing.

Randal went on pointing out that evidence for heaven are going to heavily depend on our background beliefs. If we think that God exists, we have strong grounds for thinking there is an afterlife, especially if he raised Jesus from the dead.

Mehta rightly emphasized the problem of eternal conscious suffering and the atrocious injustice it would be if all people dying as non-Christians would end up in such a state.

Randal replied he is an inclusivist believing that a Jewish girl dying in a Nazi camp after having rejected Christ would most likely be in heaven.

It is worth noting, at this point, that most Conservative Evangelicals hold to the view that everyone deceasing without faith in Jesus earns an everlasting stay in God’s torture chamber, thereby believing that most victims of genocides will be tormented days and nights after having perished under an atrocious pain.

This seems to be a logical consequence of their belief that the Bible is the full revelation of God  from which the reality of post-mortem conversations cannot be easily deduced.

I think it would have been great if Randal had pointed out that the Bible points towards immortality being a gift of God, those not receiving it being going to eventually cease to exist instead of being endlessly tormented.

While being an incluvist myself, I do not, however, feel the need to be a hopeful universalist wishing the salvation of everyone.

If Hitler, Mussolini, Staline or Fred Phelps (the God hates fags pastor) will repent, that’s fine. But I would not feel too depressed if they won’t and will be utterly destroyed, blotted out from existence.

Justin Briley (the moderator) asked Mehta if he would wish to be in heaven if there were one. He answered this was a “silly question”.

Randal replied this was pretty condescending and that which beliefs we see as being dumb will hinge on our own plausibility structure.

Mehta responded by quoting the widespread atheistic meme “the absence of evidence is evidence of absence” illustrating the principle by using the Skeptic’s favorite pet, the unicorn.

https://i0.wp.com/static.giantbomb.com/uploads/original/1/17172/1419618-unicorn2.jpg

A huge problem is that atheists have actually strong grounds for believing in the existence of such beings.

The reason is that atheists are better off believing in an infinite multiverse for avoiding the troubling problem if the extreme fine tuning of the physical constants allowing our very existence.

But in an infinite multiverse, every possible event (including the arrival of intelligent unicorns with very strange features) is necessarily going to happen somewhere.

We believe there is no unicorn species living on the surface of the earth because we would clearly expect evidence to be there if it were the case.

Therefore unlike an agnostic, an atheist has a burden of proof and must provide us with arguments against the existence of God and of the afterlife.

Once this mistake (and other similar ones) are debunked, the case for atheism appears to be much weaker than village atheists usually take for granted.

Rauser pointed out that another crucial difference between the afterlife and unicorns consists of the existence of many peer-reviewed publications arguing for the authenticity of some Near Death Experiences.

This is a fair point but I doubt that NDEs are really evidence of a life after death while being open to a small number of them being due to paranormal phenomena.

Mehta said that if everyone in heaven would have to submit themselves to God and Christ, this is a pretty bad new for all non-Christians.

I think that there is a fallacy going on here, which is interestingly enough also committed by Conservative Evangelicals such as William Lane Craig: the fact that someone dies as a non-believer does not mean he doesn’t wish Christianity to be true, as the case of French philosopher Andre Comte Sponville arguing for atheism nicely illustrates.

“Given that — and this is the key point — God’s mercy has no limits, if you go to him with a sincere and repentant heart, the issue for those who do not believe in God is to obey their conscience” Pope Francis wrote.

https://i0.wp.com/patdollard.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/pope-francis-wont-judge-gay-people.jpg

“Sin, even for those who have no faith, is when one goes against their conscience” he added.

Finally, Justin mentioned the anguish of his seven years old son after having heard that the universe would end up becoming inhospitable for life. Justin answered this is what is going to happen according to science but that God would step in to keep this from occurring. He then asked Metha what hope he would give to his own child in such a situation.

He did not answer this question and just said that he would encourage his kid to think by himself on this issue, while recognizing it wasn’t morally wrong for Justin to have transmitted such a hopeful vision of the future to his boy.

This is how I view faith: hoping in the truth of something extremely desirable if the evidence is not sufficient.
Given such a definition, faith does not have to be irrational since it does not pretend to be a form of knowledge.

Actually I don’t know how anyone manages to love the pleasures of his life while being fully aware that everything he is now will usher into nothingness.

If atheism is true, a Buddhist-like resignation and detachment seems to be a much more coherent and viable choice than Western hedonism.

To conclude, I want to strongly advise everyone to buy some of Randal’s books for he is truly a far better apologist than William Lane Craig in numerous respects.

Next episode on hell: the dark side of destiny.

Erfordern außergewöhnliche Behauptungen außergewöhnliche Beweise?

English version: Do extraordinary claims demand extraordinary evidence? 

 

https://lotharlorraine.files.wordpress.com/2013/09/4e4f9-1797-dog-walking-on-water.jpg

Die Beantwortung dieser Frage erweist sich als viel schwieriger, als was viele Leute gern denken.

Der berühmte Skeptiker der Parapsychologie Richard Wiseman aus dem vereinigten Königreich wurde einmal gefragt, warum er außerkörperliche Wahrnehmungen (ESP) und Fernwahrnehmung ablehnt. Seine Antwort war aufschlussreich:

„Ich stimme zu, dass nach den Normen jedes anderen wissenschaftlichen Themenfeldes Fernwahrnehmung bewiesen ist. Es stellt sich jedoch die Frage: Brauchen wir höhere Standards von Beweisen, wenn wir das Übernatürliche erforschen? Ich glaube schon. Wenn ich behaupten würde, dass sich ein rotes Auto außerhalb meines Hauses befinden würde, würden Sie mir mit Sicherheit glauben. Wenn ich Ihnen jedoch sagen würde, dass dort soeben ein UFO gelandet ist, würden sie wahrscheinlich mehr Beweise dafür wollen. Da Fernwahrnehmung eine solch sonderbare Behauptung ist, die die Welt revolutionieren würde, benötigen wir überwältigende Beweise, bevor wir irgendwelche Schlüsse ziehen. Im Augenblick haben wir keine solche Beweise “

Eine solche Herangehensweise bezüglich anormalen Phänomenen wird häufig durch das legendäre Theorem von Baye bestützt, das besagt, dass man die Wahrscheinlichkeit der Wahrheit einer Theorie durch die Berücksichtigung der aus neuen Tatsachen stammenden Informationen aktualisieren kann.

Ich werde einer kritischen Unterschung der verwandeten Philosophie Bayesianismus zukünftige Konversationen widmen.

Im Zweiten Buch der Chroniken von Narnia “der König von Narnia” verwarf der berühmte Schriftsteller C.S. Lewis völlig diese Methode.

Die junge Lucy kamm in Narnia, eine paralellen Welt, nachdem sie sich in einer Garderobe versteckt hatte. Zurück im Haus rannte sie auf ihre Geschwister zu, die die Realität ihrer Erfahrung völlig verleugneten.

Besorgt, weil ihre kleine Schwester an der Wahrheit ihrer unglaublichen Geschichte festhielt, suchten sie den Professoren Kirke, der sie zurecht wies, Lucy nicht vertraut zu haben.

Nachdem sie erwidert hatten, dass ihre Behauptung außergewöhnlich war, antwortete er:

“Logik!” sagte der Professor, halb zu ihm selber. “Warum lehren sie keine Logik in diesen Schulen? Es gibt nur drei Möglichkeiten. Entweder erzählt euch eure Schwester Lügen, oder sie ist verrückt, oder sie sagt euch die Wahrheit. Ihr wisst, dass sie keine Lügen erzählt und es ist offensichtlich, dass sie nicht verrückt ist. Für den Moment müssen wir dann davon ausgehen, dass sie die Wahrheit erzählt, es sei denn, neue Beweise auftauchen.”

Das heißt, für den alten weisen Professoren waren normale Beweise oder Evidenzen ausreichend, um die seltsame Behauptung des kleinen Mädchens für wahr zu halten.

Hier bin ich irgendwie über die Gültigkeit der beiden Prinzipien verwirrt.
Einerseits ist es klar, dass wir immer unser Hintergrundswissen in Betracht ziehen sollten, bevor wir eine neue Hypothese oder Theorie einschätzen.

Andererseits, wenn ein Satz von Tatsachen ausreicht, um eine gewöhnliche Behauptung zu beweisen, dann sehe ich nicht ein, warum ein ähnlicher Satz von Tatsachen daran scheitern würde, eine außergewöhnliche Behauptung zu belegen.

Lasst uns nun manche konkrete Beispiele von gut bekannten Phänomenen uns anschauen, die in der Vergangenheit aufgrund ihrer vermeintlichen Außergewöhnlichkeit verleugnet wurden.

Im Nachhinein zu sagen, dass sie doch nicht außergewöhnlich waren, wäre allzu einfach denn dies war die Weise, wie sie von Wissenschaftlern zu dieser Zeit wahrgenommen wurden.

Die Existenz von Meteoriten wurde damals als eine haarsträubende Behauptung angesehen und die normalen vorliegenden Beweisen wurden als irdische Phänomene oder Halluzinationen der Zeugen wegerklärt.

In 1923 fand der deutsche Geologer Alfred Wegener normale Beweise für die Kontinentaldrift, aber da er nicht fähig war, einen sinnvollen Mechanismus darzustellen, wurde seine Theorie während Jahrzehnten ignoriert oder sogar verlächerlicht.

Dasselbe könnte über die Blitzkugel gesagt werden, die oft als das Produkt der Sinntäuschungen und Halluzinationen der Zeugen abgelehnt worden war.

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Heutzutage kann ein ähnliches Phänomen in Bezug auf den kleinen Anteil von wirklich unidentifizierten fliegenden Objekten beobachtet werden.

Wenn außergewöhnliche Behauptungen außergewöhnliche Beweise erfordern, dann existieren UFOs (in der Gegenwart) nicht und die Kontinentaldrift, Meteoriten, und Blitzkugel existierten in der Vergangenheit nicht.

Aber wenn man nur nach normalen Beweisen sucht, kann eine feste Argumentation dafür aufgebaut werden, dass manche UFOs (gemäß der ursprünglichen Definition “unidentifiziert”) wirklich existieren. Ich werde dies in zukünftigen Posten erläutern.

Wir werden auch zusammen die Möglichkeit berücksichtigen, dass es wirklich normale Beweise für die Auferstehung von Jesus von Nazareth gibt.

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Afterlife, near death experiences, fundamentalism and Christianity

Alex Tsakiris, the creator of the paranormal website Skeptiko, interviewed recently a new guest on his show, Kevin Williams, the author of one of the main websites aiming at scientifically defending the existence of a life after death.

In many respects Kevin is a very interesting fellow. I greatly admire his courage to have admitted suffering under a bipolar disorder at the beginning of the show. Having myself ADHD, I know all too well that coming out having a psychiatric or psychological disorder can often be much more risky than coming out as gay within a Western society completely obsessed by performance.

Kevin is a former Christian fundamentalist, who was traumatized by the idea of hell and left the faith behind. However, unlike most people in such a situation in a American context he did not become an angry and resentful atheist but adopted a kind of New Age philosophy where eternal bliss is the inevitable fate of everyone.

I believe that the existence of eternal conscious torments is logically incompatible with the love of God, given the definitions of words, this concept is as meaningful as a married bachelor.

So if Kevin was honestly persuaded this is what Christianity is, then I am very glad he has stopped worshipping such a fiend even if this meant giving up the faith altogether.

While I believe that a small minority of Near Death Experiences seriously challenges materialism, I think we have overwhelming grounds for thinking that the numerous contradictory accounts of heaven (or hell for that matter) are creations of the mind.

It is therefore as unwarranted to use NDEs as proof of heaven than it is to use them as evidence of reincarnation or of widespread torture by gruesome demons.

But I do believe that this feeling of unconditional love experienced in NDEs and in many other contexts is a genuine reflection of God’s love.

And this leads me to a tension in the worldview of Alex and Kevin. Like me, both believe in libertarian free-will, that is that the soul is a necessary and sufficient cause of many things. But if it so, what should God do if he encounters a person (like, say, the late Christopher Hitchen or for that matter Fred Phelps)  who utterly rejects his love? If God is the ultimate love, goodness and joy, spending eternity without him would logically entail ever-lasting torments.
God could turn him (or her) into a new creature who could do nothing else than desiring Him. I find this solution very unappealing, both rationally and morally, because I cannot consider love to be a meaningful concept if the lover coerces the loved one into loving him.

This is why I consider it extremely likely that God will respect the wish of an individual not desiring Him and that he or she will eventually cease to exist.

Do extraordinary claims demand extraordinary evidence?

Deutsche Version: Erfordern außergewöhnliche Behauptungen außergewöhnliche Beweise?

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Answering such a question proves much more difficult than many people like to think.

The famous Skeptic of parapsychology Richard Wiseman from Britain was once asked why he rejected Extrasensory Perceptions (ESP) and specifically remote viewing. His answer was very revealing:

“I agree that by the standards of any other area of science that remote viewing is proven, but begs the question: do we need higher standards of evidence when we study the paranormal? I think we do.

“If I said that there is a red car outside my house, you would probably believe me.

“But if I said that a UFO had just landed, you’d probably want a lot more evidence.

“Because remote viewing is such an outlandish claim that will revolutionize the world, we need overwhelming evidence before we draw any conclusions. Right now we don’t have that evidence.”

Such an approach to anomalous phenomena is often backed up by the legendary Bayes’ theorem, according to which one can actualize the likelihood of the truth of a theory by incorporating the information conveyed by new facts.

I’m going to keep a critical examination of the related philosophy Bayesianism to future conversations.

In the second book of the Narnia series “The King Of Narnia“, the famous writer C.S. Lewis completely rejected this method. The young Lucy came into Narnia, a parallel world, after having hidden within a wardrobe. Back in the house, she ran to her siblings who utterly denied the reality of her experience.

Worried that their small sister kept holding fast on the truth of her incredible story, they searched Professor Kirke who rebuked them for not trusting Lucy. After they retorted that her claim was extraordinary, he replied:

“Logic!” said the Professor half to himself. “Why don’t they teach logic at these schools? There are only three possibilities. Either your sister is telling lies, or she is mad, or she is telling the truth. You know she doesn’t tell lies and it is obvious that she is not mad. For the moment then and unless any further evidence turns up, we must assume that she is telling the truth.”

That is to say, for the old wise professor, normal evidence was sufficient for vindicating the wild claim of the little girl.

At this point, I am kind of confused about both principles.

On the one hand, it is clear one should always take our background knowledge into account before evaluating a new hypothesis or theory.

On the other hand, if a set of facts is sufficient to prove an ordinary claim, I don’t see why a similar set of facts should fail to prove an extraordinary conclusion.

Let us now see some concrete examples of well-known phenomena which were rejected in the past due to their alleged extraordinariness. Saying in hindsight they weren’t extraordinary after all would be all too easy for this was the way they were perceived by scientists at that time.

The existence of meteorites was once thought to be an outlandish claim and the normal evidence was explained away in terms of purely terrestrial phenomena or witness hallucinations.

In 1923 the German geologist Alfred Wegener found normal evidence for continental drift, but failing to present a mechanism which worked, his theory was ignored and even ridiculed during decades.

The same thing could be said about ball lightnings which were often dismissed as stemming from illusions or hallucinations experienced by the witnesses.

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Nowadays a similar phenomenon can be observed for the small proportion of flying objects which are truly unidentified.

If extraordinary claims demands extraordinary evidence, then UFOs (in the present) does not and continental drift, meteorites and ball lightnings did not (in the past) exist.

But if one only seeks for normal evidence, a strong case can be made that some UFOs (according to the original definition as “unidentified”) really exist. I am going to explain this in future posts.

We will also explore together the possibility that there really exists normal evidence for the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.

 

 

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