October 31, 2011

A Critique of the Paranormal Theory of Ghosts in Light of the Church Fathers

By Demetrius 
(Co-Founder of OCPRS Toronto, Canada)

One of the most intriguing questions explored by most paranormal societies is whether or not there is life after death? “Ghosts” are thought to be the souls of the dead, bound to wander the earth. Countless stories and reports of ghosts have provided various circumstances and descriptions assigned to the belief in life after death. Science and philosophy have been used to explore the paranormal phenomenon of “ghosts” in one form or another. During the 18th century, the philosopher and empiricist, David Hume (b.1711 – d.1776), explored the question concerning life after death in one of his essays. A stout skeptic, Hume believed that “Nothing in this world is perpetual, every thing however seemingly firm is in continual flux and change, the world itself gives symptoms of frailty and dissolution.” Hume applied this view against the belief in a soul and life after death. Although far from answering the question surrounding an afterlife, there are other examples which do not dismiss the possibility of an afterlife so easily. The famous psychologist Carl Jung (b.1875 – d.1961) also explored the question concerning life after death. Jung believed that “All of the dreams of people who are facing death indicate that the unconscious, that is, our instinct world, prepares consciousness not for a definite end but for a profound transformation and for a kind of continuation of the life process which, however, is unimaginable to everyday consciousness.” These examples provide a sense of how important philosophy was and continues to be in science. Unfortunately, many paranormal researchers attempt to apply science to their questions with little regard for the philosophical implications. Due to the nature of such a question, the theological considerations are equally important, although less significant in the minds of most paranormal investigators. When religion or spirituality is taken into account by most paranormal investigators it is typically a non-Christian viewpoint.

The immortal soul is perhaps one of the most important underlying subjects spread across paranormal phenomenon today. Naturally, when science and technology are adopted by paranormal investigators, what emerges are paranormal theories attempting to explore and answer the unknown. One such paranormal theory which has become popular is that “ghosts” are made up of energy, specifically an undetermined type of Electromagnetic energy. The technology used by paranormal investigators – EMF meters, Audio Recorders for EVP, etc. – seemingly supports the idea that “ghosts” are electromagnetic in one form or another. The paranormal theory also includes other areas of science in an attempt to validate the electromagnetic nature of  “ghosts.” Many paranormal investigators have turned to Physics, such as the First Law of Thermodynamics in order to broaden the electromagnetic “ghost” theory.

FIRST LAW OF THERMODYNAMICS – Energy can not be created or destroyed but can change, from one form of energy to another.

The premise of the paranormal theory concerning “ghosts” is that the human body contains energy, and following death this energy changes from one state to another – the First Law of Thermodynamics. To support this, additional sciences are included to support the electromagnetic nature of “ghosts.” Among the variety of sciences, which are included, are Bioelectricity and Neuroscience. A brief explanation of these two other fields of science will also help explain the paranormal theory surrounding electromagnetism and “ghosts.” Bioelectricity examines electric potentials produced by living organisms, and this includes the human being. The field of Neuroscience is an interdisciplinary study including biology, chemistry, medicine, psychology, etc. and is the study of the nervous system. Both Bioelectricity and Neuroscience are closely related.

The energy identified to the human body, according to the sciences applied by paranormal investigators, are neurons. Neurons are electrically excitable cells that process and transmit information by electrical and chemical signals. They are at the core of the nervous system. Identified as energy, the First Law of Thermodynamics seems to support the idea that the energy changes from one state to another following death. In other words, the sciences provide an explanation to the paranormal theory of electromagnetism and “ghosts.” The science applied to this paranormal theory is very convincing. Or is it?

There are problems with this paranormal theory explaining the nature of “ghosts.” In order to explore these problems there are certain issues which need to be addressed. Since the underlying theme to such a theory is the exploration of the existence to an afterlife, it becomes necessary to compare what the teachings of the Holy Church Fathers are in such paranormal theories. Why the Church Fathers are justifiably used here to examine the paranormal theory in question is largely due to the fact that the paranormal theory about “ghosts” rests on religious beliefs concerning the soul and an afterlife. The philosophical and theological considerations belonging to the Church Fathers are therefore valid. By comparing the teachings of the Church Fathers to the sciences found in the paranormal theory regarding “ghosts” and their electromagnetic nature, many overlooked realizations will allow people to rethink what they think they know about the afterlife.

If the human body contains energy in the form of neurons, it becomes necessary to explore Neuroscience. For the sake of brevity, this science will only be examined in relation to the paranormal theory about “ghosts.” There are estimates which state that the human brain has billions of neurons. These cells work in a very complex way, transmitting electrical signals for various functions throughout the brain and body – the nervous system. This would suggest that the paranormal theory is describing the human soul as a complex and multi-celled distribution of energy. From St. Gregory Thaumaturgus’ On the Soul there is a description which describes the soul in a very particular way and does not find any similarities with the paranormal theory: “The soul is simple, best of all, by those arguments by which its incorporeality has been demonstrated. For if it is not a body, while every body is compound, and what is composite is made up of parts, and is consequently multiplex, the soul, on the other hand, being incorporeal, is simple; since thus it is both uncompounded and indivisible into parts.” Here, St. Gregory Thaumaturgus describes the soul in a singular nature that is not divisible. He is not alone in such explanations, and Tertullian is another Church Father who explained in his A Treatise on the Soul: “Being thus single, simple, and entire in itself, it is as incapable of being composed and put together from external constituents.” Once again, the singular and indivisible nature of the soul is described. The soul is a simple and singular essence and not something divisible or consisting of billions of cells. Once again, the paranormal theory implies that the human body contains an energy thought to be a soul, and that this energy is ultimately consisting of billions of neurons, each containing their own electrical signal. If these neurons represent the nature of the soul, this means the soul – as energy – is divisible. This conflicts with the teachings of the Holy Church Fathers. On the other hand, the human being is made up of corporeal and incorporeal natures – body and soul. The neurons are cells belonging to the corporeal body and not the soul. Some may argue that the soul acts through the nervous system. This argument, however, ignores the teachings of the Church which believe that the actions of the flesh can stain the soul, and therefore the flesh acts against the soul. In other words, one affects the other thereby revealing that body and soul are not the same thing. Even if paranormal investigators reject this argument since it belongs to the Church, they cannot ignore their own beliefs which identify the circumstances or causes for ghosts and haunted locations. These include physical events affecting the soul, such as the belief that murder victims become restless spirits. In any case, the problems with the paranormal theory concerning “ghosts” and electromagnetism are not limited to Neuroscience.

Returning to the First Law of Thermodynamics, it is understood that energy can not be destroyed or created. If the soul is energy, as hypothesized in the paranormal theory, this would mean the soul is not something created. Again, the Holy Church Fathers offer descriptions about the soul which state something contrary to the paranormal theory. In St. Gregory of Nyssa’s On the Soul and Resurrection, “The soul is an essence created.” Tertullian also expresses this belief about the soul: “The soul originates in the breath of God, it follows that we attribute a beginning to it” (A Treatise on the Soul). Even the Nicene Creed indicates the creation of all things visible and invisible, and this would include the soul. If energy cannot be created, as the First Law of Thermodynamics suggests, this would mean that the human soul is not an energy recognized by science, or especially according to its created nature through God. Of course, the philosophical and theological considerations compared to the paranormal theory of “ghosts” does not resolve the beliefs held by individuals – especially paranormal investigators who gravitate towards many non-Christian beliefs and practices. Despite this, the next set of problems rest with the technology used to support the paranormal theory of “ghosts” and electromagnetism.

EMF (Electromagnetic Field) meters measure various fields of energy depending on the type of meter used. Electromagnetic fields which can be measured by such EMF meters are AC (Alternating Current) and DC (Direct Current). Keeping all the sciences previously explored in mind, a problem presents itself with EMF meters being used to detect “ghosts.” Since EMF meters are used to detect “ghosts” this would ultimately mean that the bioelectric energy contained within the human body changes from one form of energy to another following death. If EMF meters are designed to measure AC or DC electromagnetism, this would suggest that the energy change following death is either AC or DC electromagnetic energy. Why this is problematic is due to other technologies used to detect “ghosts” through different fields of electromagnetism.

The Electromagnetic Spectrum includes Infrared and Ultraviolet radiation and various cameras designed to capture such light energy are also used to support the paranormal theory about “ghosts” and electromagnetism. Infrared lenses and Full Spectrum Cameras are thought to capture the energy of “ghosts.” Comparing the Infrared and Ultraviolet radiation to how EMF meters measure AC or DC electromagnetic fields, Infrared and Ultraviolet energy therefore conflicts with the type of electromagnetic energy “ghosts” are thought to consist of. The various forms of technology used by paranormal societies measure different types of energy that are not consistent with one another. Sometimes these technological inconsistencies are ignored and lead investigators of the paranormal into misconceptions about the scientific theories they are borrowing.

Many paranormal investigators willfully ignore the teachings of the Church Fathers and prefer to blend various scientific theories to their own beliefs borrowed from diverse non-Christian sources: Modern Spiritualism, the New Age, and other occult sciences. After all, the belief that ghosts are the spirits of dead people is mostly explored through religions and spirituality belonging to the non-Christian variety. The philosophical and theological considerations belonging to Christianity are either accepted or rejected. If accepted, this could help people understand and recognize that the current science applied to the field of paranormal phenomenon is misapplied. Instead, what is accepted as “science” within paranormal theories is really pseudo-science that ignores both science and philosophy. Simply borrowing scientific theories and applying them to paranormal phenomenon does not always make paranormal theories valid. What rests at the heart of most paranormal theories are personal beliefs drawn from non-Christian sources of spirituality. The sciences applied to paranormal theories are over-generalized and superficially mask the underlying premise of any such argument involving the belief in an afterlife.