Does mentioning the possibility of demonic possession disqualify a writer?

A commenter at Mencius Moldbug’s blog, Unqualified Reservations, said he would not read me any more because I had said that demonic possession was a possible explanation for Diane Schuler’s behavior leading to the terrible automobile disaster on the Taconic State Parkway. His comment and my reply are below. In connection with this, see also (in the entry about logical arguments for the existence of God) Sage McLaughlin’s comment about how materialists, far from being “free-thinkers,” are rigidly dogmatic.

Moldbug’s commenter, whose name is Bruckner, wrote:


Due to your recommendation, I’ve been giving Larry Auster a chance and putting up with his arrogant attitude and anti-evolution diatribes, but after reading him today I think I’ve exhausted my patience.

From his blog today:

“So the story remains a mystery, and I cannot dismiss my theory of demon possession.”

Anti-evolution, intelligent design, Creationism, etc., fine. I can handle that.

But demon possession?! I mean come on….

The point is that one can only handle so many ridiculous beliefs and theories before losing faith and confidence in a blogger’s credibility.

I’ve posted this reply at Moldbug’s site:

Lawrence Auster said…

It’s funny when people who pride themselves on their superior knowledge turn out to be quite parochial. As Victorians were scandalized by the mention of a leg, Bruckner is scandalized at the mention of the possibility of demonic possession. In the case of the Diane Schuler automobile disaster, which I was writing a great deal about, her extreme and insane behavior seemed so unaccountable by any known causation that a possible explanation was demon possession, which would fit the pattern of her robotic and zombie-like yet wildly aggressive and homicidal behavior in driving to her doom and that of her children, nieces, and others.

To Bruckner, the mere fact that I mentioned this speculation puts me so far off the chart of the acceptable that he won’t read me any more. In fact, there are documented cases of demon possession, most famously the story told in the book and made-for-TV movie Possessed, concerning the single documented case of an exorcism in the United States. Carol Iannone discussed the movie four years ago in an excellent article at National Review Online, focusing on the priest who heroically fought and overcame both the demonic possesion in the boy and his own self-doubts.

The real life, documented story told in Possessed was the basis of the fictional book and movie The Exorcist.

In any case, if Bruckner had remained open-minded in a search for the truth of the Taconic crash, as I was, he would have continued to read my posts about it, and he would have read the entry, “Diane Schuler problem solved,” in which a commenter and I, on the basis of new information the commenter had found about drunken drivers whose behavior was strikingly like Schuler’s, realized that her specific behavior (acting in an extremely aggressive and dangerous way but apparently in complete unconsciousness) which up to that point seemed inexplicable, could be explained by alcohol after all.

* * *

One more point.

What do we mean by a scientific attitude, a rational attitude? It is the search for answers that best fit the facts before us.

For example, if the best explanation for the existence of the cosmos, life, and consciousness—the explanation that best fits the facts—is a divine Creator, then the idea of the possibility of a divine Creator, whether it turns out to be true or not, is not an irrational idea but a rational idea that is in conformity with the truth seeking spirit of science.

Similarly, if the best tentative available explanation for a bizarre and seemingly totally unprecedented car crash—the explanation that seems best to fit the facts—is demonic possession, then that idea is not an irrational idea but a rational idea in conformity with the truth seeking spirit of science.

But the materialists, who are not open-minded seekers of truth but rigid dogmatists, exclude certain possibilities as non-scientific right from the start. Any non-material reality is automatically defined as non-scientific, so that the mere mentioning of the possibility of God or of demonic possession automatically classifies the speaker as irrational.

* * *

Also, my statement that Diane Schuler’s behavior looked like demonic possession actually provided a more accurate way of describing her behavior, the behavior that we were trying to explain. And that accurate description assisted us in finding the facts that provided the correct, naturalistic, explanation for her behavior. A theory, which was not true, helped form a picture of the facts that led to the true explanation.

- end of initial entry -
Terry Morris writes:

Well, when I first read your demon possession theory, I initially thought it pretty far-fetched (not to be confused with irrational) myself. Then I thought about the fact that we don’t call alcohol “spirits” for no reason, which changed my attitude to slightly far-fetched.

LA replies:

Well, if the materialist atheists would stop deriding doubts about Darwinism as irrational faith-based superstition and simply speak of them as far-fetched, what an improvement that would be.

Leonard D.writes:

There is a conservative point to be made in this whole discussion of demons and science: old theories are often not totally wrong, but contain important and useful truths.

Scientists have many theories that purport to explain particular observations. But the observations are primary; the theories are always contingent. And a new theory cannot simply throw away all older observations; it must account for them somehow. Of course, the older theory also accounted for many observations. Because of this, even after old theories are superseded, they are often still useful approximations or good metaphors—especially if the new theories are little better.

For example, I was taught Newtonian physics in the 70s—long after they had been displaced by Einstein. Of course, they are a superb approximation of physics at low energies/speeds, which is what we deal with most of the time.

Relating this to psychology: even if one accepts the modern atheist view which precludes the existence of demons (as I do), that does not erase centuries of observations, however primitive, of stuff that people attributed to demonic possession. What was that stuff? Instances where a person did things that were so abnormal, so irrational, or so out of character, that observers could not believe the actions were the will of the person (or even a person). Thus, for example, the insane were often viewed as possessed. But people who suddenly started acting in crazy ways were also.

Now it is true that the theory of demonic possession was viewed as having a particular mechanism. That is, demons—supernatural beings opposed to God—inhabit a person somehow, and either totally displace him, or partially. This mechanism is now considered wrong. We now think that the “I” part of the brain is somehow “turned off”, and more basic mechanisms take over. Or else that the brain itself is damaged somehow (perhaps a lesion!) which causes changes in personality or whatever. But if you delve into these modern beliefs beyond their surface, you find the same ignorance caused by the same fundamental problem: we don’t know how the brain works. Or perhaps more properly I should say that we don’t know how the brain computes its outputs. It was a black box to the ancients more or less at the level of the skull. To us it’s a black box at the level of large groups of neurons and larger. Not really that different. We’re trying to explain the output of a device with very little understanding of how it works.

LA replies:

Exellent comment.

Anthony Damato writes:

I wanted to comment on your post regarding losing a reader because you questioned the possibly of demonic possession.

About possession. I know you are a Christian. To be a follower of Christ, one would have to accept the teachings of Christ and the validity of sacred scripture. It is recorded in scripture that Christ Jesus cast out demons. He sent on one occasion demons into swine, which then stampeded to the sea. Jesus was tempted by the evil one, during 40 days in the wilderness, who Jesus actually spoke with, and ultimately rebuked. Jesus talked of sin emboding to various degrees, the forces of evil, and led by Satan. In Acts of the Apostles, Peter had the power to cast out demons in the holy name of Jesus Christ, St. Paul, that wonderful saint who Christ entrusted as witness a ambassador, spoke of evil, and Satan, demons and the whole spectrum of evil forces which Christians must be on constant guard against. He continues his instructions to Christians in Romans, Ephesians, Corinthians, and the rest of the Pauline letters. The devil is also warned against in the Old Testament.

Accepting Christ, Jesus, means accepting the reality of the Devil, and all the rest, which is required to be saved from damnation.

Why demonic possession is less frequent in modern times is a good question, I do not know why. But there are compelling, very frightening cases where the Catholic rite of exorcism was employed as the only means of combat against the evil one and his minions. You mentioned the book on which William Peter Blatty’s “The Exorcist” was based. This event was real, and I once saw a documentary where the Catholic priests who were involved in the exorcism spoke of their awful experience. The lead priest said, and I paraphrase, “We were all highly educated men in that room. I am a medical doctor specializing in psychiatry, the others were accomplished professionals given to Christ … we were not observing any medical condition or event which was of this world….”

Basically, these priests were dealing with a possessed boy and the portal, which somehow opened allowing the forces of evil to descend upon him. The events these priests described were horrifying, especially the levitation and extreme difference in temperature. The boy also spoke several languages to the priests despite the fact he was a young boy and apparently never learned Latin for example. There are other cases, but my point is, evil exists.

I disagree however, that the wrong-way driver, Diane Schuler, was possessed. She was under the influence of narcotics and alcohol. Now if you argue that the devil tempted her to indulge in mind altering behaviour, which led to the tragic outcome, I can agree that this is likely. [LA replies: No one argued that she was possessed; I raised that as a possibility, in the absence of any available natural explanation, until a satisfactory natural explanation, based on accounts of drunken drivers who had done essentially the same thing Schuler had done, was found. The other thing necessary for a satisfactory explanation was that it had to explain or fit not just the final episode of insane driving leading to the craasah, but the four very different stages of Schuler’s behavior during the last three hours of her life. Kathlene M. demonstrated that alcohol intoxication (plus marijuana) was indeed consistent with all four stages. The point is, I asked tough questions about this event and would not stop until my questions were answered to my satisfaction. People who just said, oh, she was drunk, that’s the answer, were not really looking at the totality of strange and seemingly contradictory facts that had to be explained.]

The scriptures make it clear that as Jesus said, Satan is the father of lies, the deceiver. In many cultures and religious traditions, all I think, that old deceiver is called or regarded as “The Great Tempter.”

A. Zarkov writes:

I was not exactly sure what you meant by “demonic possession” in the Diane Schuler discussion, but such a condition might occur in someone with a multiple personality disorder, now known as dissociative identity disorder (DID).The popular book and movie, The Three Faces of Eve, were based on Chris Costner who was supposed to have as many as 20 different personalities that would appear in clusters of three. DID might explain the bizarre behavior exhibited by Diane Schuler where she seemingly became possessed by a demon-like personality. In DID one personality can be completely unaware of the others.

If you were being literal rather than metaphorical, then I would have urged you first to seek a more prosaic explanation before resorting to the supernatural. While we can’t absolutely rule such a thing out, it must be relegated to a very low order of credibility. Of course rogue waves (huge waves in the oceans and Great Lakes) were once regarded with extreme skepticism, but now we know they are all too real.

Kristor writes:

So far as I know I’m the only other member of the VFR community who has publicly and forever demolished his reputation as a rational person by virtue of having entertained a hypothesis of demonic possession in the Schuler case (will someone please tell my wife that I am no longer HAL?), so I feel I have a dog in this particular fight.

The first criterion of a successful scientific theory is logical consistency and coherence; the second is adequacy to experience. There are other criteria—agreement with other credible theories, parsimony, elegance—but they are subsidiary to the first two.

No matter how coherent and elegant it may be, an inadequate theory is erroneous, and will likely mislead us sooner or later. The essential activity of science is therefore to try to discover experiences that contradict our theories, or that our theories fail to address. Experiment is one way of doing this, but there are others, such as the methods of natural history used in geology, and social history used in the social sciences. As compared with experiment, the methods of natural and social history are notoriously unreliable—primarily because in the field it is far more difficult to control for noise in the data than it is in the lab—but this does not make them invalid or useless. Anecdotal data is even more beclouded by noise, but again, the presence of noise in the data does not indicate absence of signal.

So here’s what I would say to those who rule out the very possibility of demonic possession from the get-go because there is no room in their theory for the supernatural: if your theory rules out a type of experience that crops up repeatedly in the anecdotal data, as demonic possession has done, then the likelihood is that despite its elegance and power, it’s inadequate. If demonic possession is real, it doesn’t matter that your theory rules it out; you should be more loyal to the data than to your theory. You should be interested first to discover whether demonic possession is real, and if it is, to limn its character, the better to correct your understanding.

It is no good at all to dismiss demons, ghosts, etc., with a contemptuous wave of the hand. One cannot properly dismiss a widespread phenomenon without a good way of explaining it. “Shut up, you’re crazy,” is not an explanation.

Kristor writes:

The Exorcism of Emily Rose is a film of a few years ago that tells the true story of a Canadian co-ed who was possessed. I would recommend it as a really scary horror show, for those who are into such things (not me), and as a datum in the dialogue over the reality of demonic possession. Much of the script consists of court transcripts from the trial of the exorcist. No kidding. So it is pretty true to life. Perhaps the most interesting and telling thing in the whole film is that it uses tape recorded in the actual exorcism. The demon was recorded, speaking out of this girl’s mouth. So when the screenplay calls for the actress to utter these sounds, the filmmakers use the sounds that the possessed girl actually uttered. It sounds like sinister gibberish—though oddly unlike anything you might expect Hollywood to concoct for such a purpose. But aside from its unexpected, novel sound, it’s not really remarkable. But then you find out that sound engineers have parsed the recording into 5 separate tracks, all of them coming out of the possessed girl simultaneously. Each track is a different voice. Each is speaking in a different language, saying different things. All the languages are ancient—Latin, Greek, Aramaic. Each speaker identifies himself as a demon, and indicates a historical personage he had possessed in the past. One of them claims to have possessed Nero. You find that out, and you go back and listen to the demon(s) speaking again, and—well, it might keep a person awake for a while at night. Because, honestly: has anyone ever met a 20 year old farm girl who knows how to speak 5 ancient languages fluently, cogently, and simultaneously? Has there ever been any human who could do that sort of thing?

Kathlene M. writes:

It’s too bad this person didn’t read any further; he would’ve learned a lot.

I was thinking about how the drunken state is like “possession” because the person gets increasingly out of control of their will, mind and body, and a subconscious alter-ego seems to take over. By excessively imbibing in drugs or alcohol, the person has temporarily given up his God-given free will and allowed something else to take over, causing harm to oneself and even others. Is it any wonder that the Bible has passages that warn us about drunkenness? [LA replies: yes. As you and I learned from the drunk-driving cases you found, alcohol can make a person not only behave in a terribly reckless and dangerous manner, but can literally deprive him of his consciousness even as he remains physically active, like driving a car the wrong way on a freeway. That was the awful discovery that made the behavior of Schuler explicable. And that is very like a possession.]

In the past I’ve read about Near Death Experiences (NDE) and a few of them have mentioned the appearance of “demons” in a realm immediately outside the physical realm upon death. They are described as spirits of the dead who live in a dark realm of lower vibrations and may walk among the living unseen, trying to lure them into the behaviors they thrive upon. They range from normal to grotesque-looking and manifest all the cravings, excesses, and harmful desires of our human lives. One fascinating NDE described how the spirits of some people who had died as alcoholics were observed trying to enter the bodies of drunken sailors on earth in an effort to satisfy their never-ending craving for alcohol. It reminded me of Dante’s Inferno. Whether one believes in Near Death experiences or not, it is fascinating to read.

If we know that radio or television signals—which cannot be seen and cannot be heard (without a way to translate the signals)—exist, then who’s to say that a spirit world doesn’t exist too, just that we cannot see or hear it?

LA replies:

The Indian spiritual master Meher Baba had a technical, prccise explanation for ghosts. He said that when a person dies before his time, principally through suicide, he has unfulfilled impressions (sanskaras) that keep his soul from moving on to the next stage in its journey. The person still has the desires and impulses he had while alive, but no physical body in which to satisfy them. So he remains in the location of his former life, trying to satisfy his desires through the bodies of living people. Baba said that ghosts can do no real harm, but they can be annoying and frightening.

This is from a webpage on this subject:

Garrett Fort: What is meant by possession?

Baba: There are certain cases where the Gross body is compelled to drop before the person’s sanskaras are completely used up. Such is the case when a person commits suicide. The body is gone, but the momentum of all the impressions goes on. The person is now a ghost. The ghost wants to drink, eat, etc., very, very badly. So much so that it takes to unnatural resources by entering someone else’s body. It awaits its opportunity. When it finds you drinking it satisfies its desire by drinking through you, your body. When it has to experience anger, then when you are angry it experiences it through you, your body. This is a fact.
14 March 1937, Nasik, LM6 p2139

Anthony Damato writes:

Here are articles on Demonical Possession and the Devil from The Catholic Encylopedia.

LA replies:

When I posted this entry, my intention was not at all to get into the substantive question of possession, etc, which is not particularly of interest to me, but that has happened.

For the Catholic view of the matter, here are selections from the Catholic Encyclopedia article on Demonical Possession that Anthony sent.

Man is in various ways subject to the influence of evil spirits. By original sin he brought himself into “captivity under the power of him who thence [from the time of Adam’s transgression] had the empire of death, that is to say, the Devil” (Council of Trent, Sess. V, de pecc. orig., 1), and was through the fear of death all his lifetime subject to servitude (Hebrews 2:15). Even though redeemed by Christ, he is subject to violent temptation: “for our wrestling is not against flesh and blood; but against principalities and powers, against the rulers of the world of this darkness, against thespirits of wickedness in the high places” ( Ephesians 6:12). But the influence of the demon, as we know from Scripture and the history of the Church, goes further still. He may attack man’s body from without (obsession), or assume control of it from within (possession). As we gather from the Fathers and the theologians, the soul itself can never be “possessed” nor deprived of liberty, though its ordinary control over the members of the body may be hindered by the obsessing spirit….

Reality of the phenomenon

The infidel policy on the question is to deny the possibility of possession in any circumstances, either on the supposition, that there are no evil spirits in existence, or that they are powerless to influence the human body in the manner described….

That mistakes were often made in the diagnosis of cases, and results attributed to diabolical agency that were really due to natural causes, we need have no hesitation in admitting. But it would be illogical to conclude that the whole theory of possession rests on imposture or ignorance. The abuse of a system gives us no warrant to denounce the system itself. Strange phenomena of nature have been wrongly regarded as miraculous, but the detection of the error has left our belief in real miracles intact. Men have been wrongly convicted of murder, but that does not prove that our reliance on evidence is essentially unreasonable or that no murder has ever been committed. A Catholic is not asked to accept all the cases of diabolical possession recorded in the history of the Church, nor even to form any definite opinion on the historical evidence in favour of any particular case. That is primarily a matter for historical and medical science. As far as theory goes, the real question is whether possession has ever occurred in the past, and whether it is not, therefore, possible that it may occur again. And while the cumulative force of centuries of experience is not to be lightly disregarded, the main evidence will be found in theaction and teaching of Christ Himself as revealed in the inspired pages of the New Testament, from which it is clear that any attempt to identify possession with natural disease is doomed to failure.

[on the Gospel’s distinction between natural disease and demonic possession]

A favourite assertion of the Rationalists is that lunacy and paralysis were often mistaken for possession. St. Matthew did not think so, for he tells us that “they presented to him all sick people that were taken with divers diseases and torments, and such as were possessed by devils, and lunatics, and those who had the palsy, and he cured them” (iv, 24). And the circumstances that attended the cures point in the same direction. In the case of ordinary diseases they were effected quietly and without violence. Not so always with the possessed. The evil spirits passed into lower animals with dire results (Matthew 8:32), or cast their victim on the ground (Luke 4:35) or, “crying out, and greatly tearing him, went out of him, and he became as dead, so that many said: He is dead” (Mark, ix, 25; cf. Vigouroux, “Les livres saints et lacrit. rationaliste”, Paris, 1891).

Posted by Lawrence Auster at August 14, 2009 10:12 AM | Send

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