Religion and Psi
From the beginning of consciousness, man has
encountered phenomena and situations whose cause or significance was
not apparent to him. Fearing the unknown as a threat to his existence,
he invented reassuring explanations to calm his mind and allow him to
think constructively or even enjoyably about his immediate activities.
Many of his feared experiences seemed related, and
these he lumped together and explained by a variety of otherworldly
myths. This led to organized religion which reached the peak of its
political power among Western European people in the Middle Ages.
As men became more sophisticated in their thinking,
in the 16th and 17th centuries, religion was rejected in favor of
materialist science, which, however, was unable to encompass certain
of the nonmaterial aspects of experience. These aspects, therefore,
remained in the domain of religion.
By the time of the 18th Century Enlightenment,
materialist science was in its ascendancy, while the beliefs of
religion were increasingly recognized as fraught with
self-contradictions. An intellectual movement was set afoot to
dispense with religion.
In our own time, the majority of educated people in
the First World reject most of the superficial, irrelevant aspects of
religion, which however continue to hold sway among the less educated.
This has led to the interclass religious conflict in which we are
The author believes that the ultimate solution for
this dilemma is for the better educated people to recognize the
reality of psi phenomena, and, under the guidance of scientific
method, to make a place for them in their own belief systems. Then,
having regained credibility with the masses, they might hope to
eradicate truly superstitious beliefs. This is what your author
believes should be the long-range goal of parapsychology.
Science and Psi
In this paper the author will explain how the
materialists, in their struggle to be free of anything smacking of
superstition, have adopted a defensive ideology that denies reality
and betrays their own intellectual principles.
The author has subscribed to Skeptical Inquirer
for many years, and regards CSICOP as the foremost instrument of the
arch materialists in their fight against superstition.
In their zealotry they have opposed those few
scientists today who are struggling with the difficult, perhaps
impossible, task of discovering the nature of non-materialist
phenomena and of explaining them in the materialist language that we
speak. These visionaries seek no less than the reconciling, through
the use of the scientific method, of the material and the
non-material: of science and religion!
Parapsychologists have no quarrel with the
antisuperstition program of CSICOP and the Skeptical Inquirer,
but they are frustrated by CSICOP's blanket denial of the experimental
evidence for psi phenomena.
Spontaneous Psi: Its Characteristics
Psi occurs spontaneously as well as in the
laboratory, and the evidence for its spontaneous occurrence (as well
as for its laboratory occurrence) overwhelmingly affirms its reality
(McConnell, 2000). In this paper, spontaneous psi is where we shall
focus our attention.
From all accounts, it would appear that spontaneous
psi occurs more often among less educated persons, and this is
commonly used as an argument that the evidence supporting psi must be
fallacious. On the other hand, it is possible that psi effects are
occurring with equal frequency at all levels of society but are
recognized more easily by the less educated who are not subservient to
the sovereignty of science and are under little social pressure to
accept the common wisdom of science, according to which, psi does not
Spontaneous psi occurs in many forms and with all
degrees of intensity and frequency, depending on the person. The most
common form of psi is extrasensory perception (ESP) in which a
percipient acquires information through other than sensory-motor
means. Spontaneous ESP is most obvious when it reveals information
from a distance or about the future.
How Science Ignores Psi
indeed, psi occurs equally at all levels of education, why is its reality not obvious to
the world? The answer is multifold. For most people, ESP occurs only as a weak and
infrequent effect, readily deniable as coincidence if one so wishes, or readily
recognizable as anomalous if one has low evidential standards.
Also, those professional psychics who make a living using psi, which is at best a
thoroughly undependable phenomenon, must often supplement their performance by cheating to
maintain their business reputations. This leads to the supposition that all exhibitions of
spontaneous psi are mistaken or fraudulent.
Add to this the treatment of psi as entertainment on television. Powers far beyond
those scientifically demonstrated to be possible are daily fare on television, enhancing
the disbelief in psi among educated people.
Some parapsychologists believe that psi occurs more readily in minds that have a
limited ability to think analytically but whose mental forte lies in their right cerebral
hemisphere, i.e., in those who are artistically inclined rather than in those who are
logical by nature. If so, this merely strengthens the prejudice of scientists against the
reality of psi.
The real puzzle is why ESP is not universally acknowledged when it occurs, as it
occasionally does with some people, as a dramatic and undeniable effect. For high-powered
psychics who happen to be highly educated there is an escape hatch from the embarrassment
they might otherwise cause to their professional-class friends. To avoid cognitive
dissonance, these individuals usually join their less educated fellow psychics and quietly
assign psi to a realm of spiritual belief that is commonly conceded to be outside the
realm of science.
Thus, as regards psi experience, religion serves two purposes. For those deeply devoted
to an organized sect, psi may be considered either as a gift of God or as a manifestation
of His presence. For those rare others, seeking escape from their own undeniable psi,
religion provides a haven to put psi safely out of mind. In both functions, psi
strengthens the legitimacy of religion. Quite aside from those who recognize themselves as
psychic, the existence of a nonphysical realm--call it what you will--must ultimately
strengthen the beliefs common to most religions.
Rewriting the Textbooks
There is another and more encompassing explanation for the failure of the Scientific
Establishment to examine carefully the empirical evidence for the occurrence of psi. To
understand the undying opposition of scientists to psi, one must consider the hypothetical
consequences of psi's universal acceptance. All general textbooks of psychology and
physics would have to be rewritten. For physics, this might require no more than an
acknowledgment that there exists a nonphysical realm with which the physical realm can
interact, both spontaneously and experimentally. The exploration of these interactions
would attract the interest of theoretical physicists even while experimental physicists
might be frustrated in their misguided attempts to demonstrate psi as though it were a new
form of electromagnetic radiation.
In psychology, the fallout from a universal recognition of the reality of psi would be
catastrophic. Most of present and past psychological research would be recognized at once
as trivial. Much of the rest would lose its claim to validity because of the probable
confounding effects of ESP or of psychokinesis (e.g., by the direct mental action of
"wishing" upon measuring instruments). Experimental psychology as now practiced
would be destroyed as a scientific enterprise. Psychiatry, for its part, would have to go
back and start from the beginning.
A Revisionist Worldview
The foregoing practical considerations do not, however, come to grips with the
philosophic heart of the matter, namely, the shattering of the materialist worldview of
physics. This worldview governs not only the physical sciences, but also psychology and
postmodernism, and justifies the aggressive behavior of much of the First World's ruling
It is not possible for the average layman to understand what the acceptance of psi
would mean to a thoughtful scientist. The acknowledgement of the reality of psi by physics
departments, implying as it would, philosophic dualism, would be comparable to the denying
by Rome of the reality of God. Any attempt by a thoughtful scientist to reconcile the
established facts of parapsychology with his understanding of his philosophic commitment
to his profession would encounter an emotional block. Direct uninferable knowledge of the
future, for example, which is accepted matter-of-factly by parapsychologists, would be
horrifying to the scientist who accepts the materialist view of reality.
Since the sovereignty of science extends to most persons who wield power in the First
World, including most of those in middle management, its collapse could result in social
chaos. The materialist scientist's adamant denial of the existence of psi can perhaps best
be explained by his fear of the consequences that might follow in the event of its
McConnell, R.A. (2000). Joyride to Infinity: A Scientific Study of the Doomsday
Literature. Washington, D.C.: Scott-Townsend. ISBN 1-878465-35-X. pbk.
McConnell, R.A., and Clark, T.K. (1991). "National Academy of Sciences' Opinion on
Parapsychology" Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research, 85,
Radin, Dean I. (1997). The Conscious Universe: The Scientific Truth of Psychic
Phenomena. San Francisco: HarperEdge. ISBN 0-06-251526-8. pbk.
In 1943, by visiting Harvard's library, Dr. McConnell ascertained that ESP occurs
although beyond explanation by known physics and psychology. After entering parapsychology
full time in 1947, he devoted his efforts primarily to the question: "Why do
scientists reject ESP?" This paper gives the answer to his 50-year search.
To the pursuit of this question, Dr. McConnell brought an unusual breadth of
experience. He holds a doctorate in physics. During World War II he led a radar
development group at M.I.T. He is a life senior member of the Institute of Electrical and
Electronics Engineers. In 1957 he was the founding president of the Parapsychological
Association, which was admitted to affiliation with the American Association for the
Advancement of Science (AAAS) in 1969. He is a Fellow of the American Psychological
Society, Research Professor Emeritus of Biological Science, and a Fellow of the AAAS.