Nine items appear below:
Demonic Possession K Straughen 101
Demonic Powers And Science Anonymous 102
Science Does not Support…  K Straughen 103
Regarding "Demonic Powers…" Bob Potter 103
Unconscious Intelligence? Bob Potter 104
More On Demons Anonymous 104
Still No Evidence Straughen 105
Evidence Adequate Anonymous 106
Demonology in the Modern World Bob Potter 107

Demonic Possession: Reality or Delusion?

Kirk Straughen

(Investigator 101, 2005 March)


The idea that people can be harmed by malevolent supernatural beings is as old as (and probably older) than civilization. The Mesopotamian ashipu (a combination of priest, magician and exorcist), for example, dealt with over 6000 varieties of demonic being who were thought to be the cause of misfortune and disease.

According to Mesopotamian beliefs, these entities could be driven off with a variety of rituals and incantations, of which the following is but one example:

"Thou art not to come near my body,
Thou art not to go before me,
Thou art not to follow after me,
Where I stop, thou art not to stop,
Where I am thou art not to sit,
My house thou art not to enter,
My roof thou art not to haunt,
Thou art not to put thy foot in my foot's imprint,
Where I go thou art not to go,
Where I enter thou art not to enter."
(As quoted on page 15 of Ancient Healing.)

The purpose of this essay is to investigate the idea of demonic possession: its origin, cause and veracity.

Origin of the Idea

The idea of supernatural beings originated in prehistory. Precisely when we cannot say with certainty, but archaeological evidence in the form of Cro-Magnon ritual burials and cave paintings suggests it occurred some time between the Middle Paleolithic to Upper Paleolithic Age (circa 100, 000 to 30,000 years before present).

These ritual burials indicate some kind of belief in the existence of the soul, and cave paintings such as the drawing of the ‘sorcerer' from the cave of Les Trois Freres in France, suggest the nature of religion in this age was shamanistic.

How might the idea of the soul have arisen, and what relation does it have to belief in other non-human supernatural beings?

According to Edward Tylor, an early anthropologist, animistic beliefs (the idea that aspects of nature are animated by spirits) arose out of our ancestors' speculations over the nature of life and death, dreams, trances, and hallucinations. These experiences may have led to the reification of the mind where the mind came to be seen as an entity in itself rather than a process caused by the physical brain. For in dreams and hallucinations the mind appears to leave the body and visit distant places, and at death individuals lose consciousness and become cold and inanimate as if some vital element has fled its earthly shell.

The idea of animism may have been extended to other aspects of nature due to faulty analogy the wind, rivers, celestial bodies etc. all display movement. Man moves because of an indwelling spirit (the soul) therefore other things that move must have souls too.

Early man's tendencies to anthropomorphize natural forces and imbue them with human qualities and motives eventually lead to the emergence belief in good and evil spirits a reflection of the fact that Nature can be beneficial as well as appearing malevolent. That these evil spirits were thought capable of controlling or influencing human beings probably originated from the experiences of social life where one individual can influence or control another. Indeed, an examination of the exorcism formula quoted in the introduction clearly shows that it is an address to a being with human characteristics.

Altered States of Consciousness and Mental Illness

The psychological syndrome of sleep paralysis may also account for the idea of demonic possession. This phenomenon occurs during the period between wakefulness and sleep, and is characterized by sensations of immobility, acute anxiety and auditory and visual hallucinations of animals, ghosts, demons and people. These hallucinations can contain a strong sexual component and, given the similarity of the symptoms, are probably the origin of the incubi and succubae that plagued medieval people.

Spirit possession among the Christianized slave cults of the Caribbean and South America (Shango and Voodoo, for example) is not seen as demonic possession to members of the cult. However, I make mention of it here because to those believers with different religious traditions it may seem as if satanic agencies are at work.

Anthropologists who have studied the phenomena, however, see spirit possession as a psychological reaction to the low social and economic status of the cult's members:

"Such lowly figures are regularly mounted by powerful, aggressive spirits, and when they incarnate these gods they command the attention of large audiences in what is evidently a highly satisfying fashion. Women similarly are often possessed by domineering male divinities and these allow their 'horses' [those who are possessed] to express aspects of their personalities, which in other circumstances are strongly suppressed. Indeed, it is clear that the Shango cult enables a discordant mass of humanity to achieve a highly dramatic psychic 'work-out', the possessed giving vent in the rituals to emotions and feelings which in other contexts are held in check." (I. M. Lewis: Ecstatic Religion, page 104-105.)

Possession in this case can be seen as a kind of psychosomatic reaction brought about by the individual's belief in the reality of possession, his or her participation in emotionally charged rituals, the need to find an outlet for frustrations caused by low socioeconomic status, and the desire to gain prestige by becoming a vehicle of the gods.

The idea of demonic possession was probably given added impetus by mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, whose cause may be due to the brain's dopaminergic system being either hyperactive or hypersensitive. Sufferers can experience hallucinations in the form of voices that comment on behavior or thoughts, and the delusion that thoughts are being inserted into the mind by an external agency. Indeed, any dramatic change in behavior could come to be considered a sign that another personality was either interfering with or had displaced the soul, the essence of the individual. For example:

"The Balahis, like most of the people in rural areas of India, believe strongly in the possibility and frequent occurrence of such "possession." Not only certain physical diseases like epilepsy but most types of mental illness are ascribed to such "possession." Mental diseases and even moral aberrations may be attributed to "possession" by superhuman and evil forces." (S. Fuchs: Magic Healing Techniques Among the Balahis in Central India, page 13 5 in Magic, Faith and Healing.)

Tourette syndrome can also be mistaken for demonic possession due to its symptoms. These include a variety of tics such as eye blinking, tongue poking, bursts of uncontrollable profanity, and vocalizations that resemble those of animals. Tourette syndrome is thought by researchers to result from either super sensitivity in the brain's dopamine receptors or norepinephrine system hyperactivity.

Another candidate for mistaken cases of demonic possession is multiple personality disorder (MPD) – a condition where an individual appears to have two distinct and contrary personalities, each of which manifests at different times. The cause of MPD is often attributed to the trauma of childhood sexual abuse, however, not all specialists agree:

"MPD is an iatogenic ["physician-produced"] behavioral syndrome, promoted by suggestion, social consequences, and group loyalties. It rests on ideas about the self that obscure reality, and it responds to standard treatments...

The cause of MPD is supposed to be childhood sexual trauma so horrible that it has to be split off (dissociated) from the host consciousness and lodged in alters. Patient and therapist begin a search for alters who remember the trauma and can identify abusers. Thus commitment to the diagnosis of MPD is enhanced by the sense that a crime is being exposed and justice is being done. The patient now has such a powerful vested interest in sustaining the MPD enterprise that it almost becomes an end in itself." (P.R. McHugh, MD: Multiple Personality Disorder.)

The role that suggestion plays in apparent cases of demonic possession appears to be of considerable importance. This conclusion is supported by the work of Elizabeth Loftus, a University of Washington psychologist and memory expert who, along with other colleagues, conducted a study in demonic possession, the results of which are as follows:

Loftus said the three experiments tell a consistent story. When people are exposed to a series of articles describing a relatively implausible phenomenon, such as witnessing a possession, they believe the phenomenon is not only more plausible but also are less confident that they had not experienced it in childhood:

"We are looking at the first steps on the path down to creating a false memory," said Loftus. "There is controversy about whether you can plant memories about events that are unlikely to happen. As humans we are capable of developing memories of ideas that other people think occurred. Just being exposed to credible information can lead you down this path. This shows why people watching Oprah or those in group therapy believe these kinds of things happened to them. People borrow memories from others and adopt them as their own experiences. It is part of the normal process of memory."

In addition, she said the study reinforces the idea that therapists need to be careful in using potentially suggestive procedures that could change a patient's perceived likelihood of unremembered events. These include UFO abductions, serious trauma suffered in a past life, or participating in or witnessing satanic rituals (common elements in abuse claims.)

"This study can help us understand how you can take normal people and create this kind of effect - make demonic possession seem plausible," Loftus said. "It normalizes this process and shows it can happen to a lot of people, not only to those who are considered to be ‘kooks.'" (New wave of exorcisms seen; some people can be convinced they witnessed a demonic possession as a child: Department of Psychology, University of Washington.)

Exorcism: Why it appears to Work

People suffering from dissociative disorders (formally grouped under the term "Hysteria") such as schizophrenia etc. are more vulnerable to suggestion and persuasion than normal individuals, and it is not difficult to see how they could come to believe they are the victims of demonic possession.

In an environment where a supernatural world-view prevails, sufferers of mental illness can be classified as demonics. This conclusion acts as a powerful suggestion that causes the sufferer to believe and act like one possessed which, in turn, reinforces the observer's conclusion that they are possessed. Consequently, it can become a self-fulfilling prophecy that can cause an entire society to suffer from a collective delusion:

"The strength of the possession hypothesis as an explanation of mental and hysterical illness was that, on the face of it, it made sense. A possessed person did behave as if an alien intelligence had taken control of him. When he was exorcised and it was commanded to come out of him, it very often did and he recovered. This reinforced belief in possession and confidence in the Church's apparently magical ability to deal with it. Conversely, the fact that the belief was so firmly established caused people in disturbed, hysterical and highly suggestible states of mind to accept that they were possessed by demons and to behave accordingly." (R. Cavendish: A History of Magic, page 45.)

Given the strong psychological components of demonic possession, and the fact that those suffering from this disturbed state of mind are highly suggestible, it should come as no surprise that a more powerful counter suggestion may act as a kind of primitive psychotherapy, and that the ritual of exorcism can in some cases fulfill this role:

"To the hysterical and hallucinated witch or to the foaming demon-possessed man, the ability of the priest or inanimate icon to exorcise Satan and his minions was a cardinal fact of existence known since infancy. The astonishing results often achieved in exorcism were due to nothing more than the effect of powerful and readily assimilated counter-suggestion." (D.H. Rawcliffe: Illusions and Delusions of the Supernatural and the Occult, page 65.)

The Dangers of Exorcism

Exorcism may have been suited to medieval times; however, it has no place in the modern world. Indeed, belief in demonic possession and exorcism, its alleged cure, are potentially dangerous ideas that can contribute to human suffering by preventing people seeking appropriate treatment from qualified health professionals, as the following newspaper reports show:

"Church elder held over boy's death" (The Courier-Mail, 27/08/2003).
According to the report, an eight-year-old autistic boy died at the Faith Temple Church of the Apostolic Faith during an exorcism. The cause of death was mechanical asphyxia due to being sat on during prayer sessions that lasted up to two hours. Autism affects nearly three times more boys than girls. Its exact cause is unclear; however, a subtle form of brain damage may be responsible. Demons are clearly not involved, and one can only lament these people's paucity of knowledge.

"Son, 4, dies in ‘devil' torture" (The Sunday Mail, 20/6/1999).
In this instance the mother of the boy was charged with his murder after ritually torturing him because she thought he was possessed by the Devil. The woman was ordered to undergo psychiatric assessment, and sadly I think that says it all.

"Woman in exorcism damages claim on three men" (The Courier-Mail 09/07/1997).
The article states that the woman suffered forcible restraint during a violent exorcism to drive out demons, and that she felt the experience had exacerbated a psychological disorder she was suffering from. Once again, a case of mental illness being mistaken for demonic possession. The tragedy is that for some people nothing much has changed since medieval times, when blows and whips were used to drive out devils from those considered possessed.


Exorcisms, as I have shown, can prove fatal, and people who believe they are possessed should be encouraged to seek the help of qualified mental health professionals, rather than place their lives in the hands of those who lack a proper understanding of the cause and treatment of psychological disorders.

Indeed, there is no sound evidence that supernatural entities play a role in the delusion of demonic possession. The research I have conducted indicates the phenomena arises from the misapprehension of altered states of consciousness and mental illness, conditions that can be exacerbated by social and psychological factors such as belief in the reality of demons and their ability to "infect" human beings.


Ancient Healing Publications International, Ltd. Illinois date and editor not listed.

Barnoull, V. Anthropology a General Introduction, The Dorsey Press, Illinois, 1979.

Bromwell, M. A Demonic Possession

Cavendish, R. A History of Magic, Weidenfeld & Nicholson, London, 1977.

New wave of exorcisms seen; some people can be convinced they witnessed a demonic possession as a child. Department of Psychology, University of Washington. =8

Kiev, A. (Ed.) Magic, Faith and Healing, The Free Press, New York, 1974.

Lewis, I. M. Ecstatic Religion, Penguin Books Ltd., England, 1971.

Maple, E. Magic, Medicine & Quackery, The Scientific Book Club, London, 1968.

McHugh P. R. Multiple Personality Disorder

Rawcliffe, D. H. Illusions and Delusions of the Supernatural and the Occult, Dover Publications, Inc., New York, 1959.

Sagan, C. The Demon Haunted World, Headline Book Publishing, London, 1996.



(Investigator 102, 2005 May)


Anthony Finlay says:

The puzzle is this: some men and women lead blameless lives, and contribute nothing but good to civilization; others are the complete opposite and are a destructive force to civilization. Why is this? Are some people naturally wicked…or have they been corrupted? And by whom? … The possessed person who does not respond to medical science but responds to the ministration of a priest; the disturbed location that seems to lose its menace after an exorcism – what are we to make of these? (p. 208)

Henry More (1614 - 1687), English philosopher, argued that ghosts and spirits inhabit the fourth dimension a realm beyond our tangible senses. (Enchiridion Metaphysicum 1671) Nowadays we wouldn't limit "spirits" to the fourth since we now see that dimension as time.

For details about the "Devil", exorcism and distinguishing "possession" from mental disturbance see Finlay (2002) and McConnell (1995).

My objective is to make a scientifically reasonable case – as distinct from a conclusive case – for the existence of the "Devil and his demons".


The 2004 TV program "The Elegant Universe", hosted by physicist Brian Greene, was based on his book published in 1999. It's about "String Theory" and why it's needed.

Scientific understanding of the Universe is based on two sets of laws that did not agree:

Einstein's general theory of relativity is a theory of how gravity works and applied to large/heavy objects.

In the 19th century Maxwell unified electricity and magnetism into a single force called electromagnetic force (EM). In the 20th century Einstein sought to unify Gravity with EM but failed.

In the 1930s came "Quantum Mechanics" which applied to tiny things like atoms. Quantum Mechanics described two more forces – the Strong Nuclear Force which binds protons to neutrons, and the Weak Nuclear Force which allows neutrons to turn into protons and give out radiation in the process.

Quantum Mechanics like EM could also not be combined with gravity.

The "Big Bang" birth of the Universe started very tiny and therefore we need Quantum mechanics – but also very dense and therefore we need general relativity. Both break down in describing the "Big Bang". Similarly with "Black Holes" – they're very heavy but very small – and again both approaches break down. A theory was needed that embraced both the very tiny and the very large.

In the 1990s String Theory harmonized the two sets of laws. It stated that everything is made of tiny vibrating strands of energy called "strings".

The new synthesis, however, makes the Universe as incredible as science fiction – because String Theory implies the existence of 11 dimensions and parallel universes!

According to Brian Greene:  

  • "There could be entire worlds right next to us but completely invisible."
  • "Other universes might be right next to ours."
  • "All these other universes would exist in the other dimensions."
  • Such comment resembles Christian belief about the invisible realms of God, the Devil and "demons" – around us, in us, untouchable, invisible. String Theorists do not draw this implication, but if there are 11 dimensions and parallel universes we cannot rule it out.


    Science has barriers. There are some things science cannot answer.

    Kurt Godel (1906-78) became famous in 1931 by showing it's impossible to prove mathematics is self-consistent. Godel thus destroyed the 2,500-year dream to reduce mathematics to a small set of self-consistent axioms from which all mathematics could be derived.

    Godel showed there will always be some theorems in arithmetic which can never be demonstrated correct from the axioms of arithmetic. Arithmetic will always be incomplete. There are true statements that the axioms can never prove. Thus mathematics became uncertain. (Kaku 1994)

    If science – even the "purest of sciences" – cannot even in principle discover everything and is even contradictory then again we cannot rule out the supernatural. It may exist but lie beyond what science can find.


    There is a wide range of religious and mystical experiences such as trances, visions and ecstasy which are accompanied by a sense of a "spiritual presence".

    In many cultures people start their contact with a god or spirit by depriving themselves of food, water or sleep. They may then pray, meditate or contemplate for hours. The ritual may include drum-beating, dancing, chanting, singing, swaying, and taking hallucinogenic drugs.

    The result is changes to the brain and nervous system.

    Skeptics therefore explain any trance, vision, or alleged contact by a god physiologically as a biochemical process. (Straughen 1996)

    Even if reported contact by a god is not preceded by stress or drugs, skeptics still attribute it to "natural oscillation" in chemical and electrical activity in the brain.

    What people perceive is also influenced by:

  • Mental states such as imagination and anticipation;
  • Misinterpretation – people interpret experiences in terms of their beliefs (which may be false);
  • Illnesses that effect perception or may cause delusion such as schizophrenia, hysteria, brain infections, head injuries, drug-use, metabolic disturbances;
  • Limitations in perception – people using their senses at the limit of their abilities may "see" or "hear" or "feel" what's not there.
  • Mirages and after-images;
  • Neuronal activity – even when we are relaxed the nervous system may spontaneously react as if to a sensation although nothing external happened.
  • Straughen (2005) explains successful exorcism as follows:

    Given the strong psychological components of demonic possession, and the fact that those suffering from this disturbed state of mind are highly suggestible, it should come as no surprise that a more powerful counter suggestion may act as a kind of primitive psychotherapy, and that the ritual of exorcism can in some cases fulfill this role.

    What about if a prayer is answered? Skeptics argue billions of people interact and when numbers are large "coincidences" occur. If only one person in a million dreams of a car accident, worldwide this comes to thousands of such dreams, and a few will be fulfilled. Therefore a coincidence is not due to a god but is due to large numbers of interacting events.

    The above skeptical explanations, we should note, are theoretical explanations. They cannot rule out supernatural input in any particular case.


    Straughen (1995) says:

    One of the major problems faced by the theory of an occult force, which is neither matter nor energy as we know it, is how the material world and the force can interact to produce a tangible effect. In order for this event to occur, a mediating force would need to exist that is capable of bridging the gap between the disparate worlds…

    …our universe stems from a handful of essential building blocks – the subatomic particles – and…these particles interact in a few basic ways

    …four fundamental forces (gravity, electromagnetic, and the strong and weak nuclear forces)…take part in these interactions between the particles and mould the Universe into the form we observe.

    These forces are all that is needed to explain the workings of the everyday world, the Universe at large, and the inside of atoms.

    Let's consider how non-physical "spirits" might affect the material world.

    When one person 'A' speaks and another person 'B' hears, we can measure changes in his brain. Air vibrations reach B's inner ear, continue as electro-chemical events, and B may then react to what A said.

    Note, however, that B's reaction to A's words is not a reaction to air vibrations per se. Rather, B reacts to what he understands, he reacts to the meaning.

    Is "meaning" and "understanding" something physical and 3-dimensional? If not, then the human mind can be influenced by non-physical phenomena.

    Of course, in this example, observers can see person A speak and hear the words B hears and can even measure the air vibrations. If, however, B's brain-changes and actions are attributed to a god or demon, observers see nothing except B's behavior.

    What about the four forces of science – are they sufficient to explain the Universe?

    "Quantum entanglement" teaches that atoms, electrons and photons light-years apart, and unconnected in any physical way, can instantly influence each other. Einstein called it "spooky action at a distance."

    Ferris (1997) says:

    It is as if the quantum world had never heard of space – as if, in some strange way, it thinks of itself as still being in one place at one time. (p. 269)

    Even if such action is very small the effect can amplify. "Chaos theory" states:

    Tiny differences in input could quickly become overwhelming differences in output… (Gleik 1987)

    …the tiniest change even among atoms is going to change the way very large phenomena occur. (Hall 1994)

    "Spooky action" tells us there's more to the Universe than the "four forces".

    Could "entanglement" even be a "mediating force? Perhaps if "spirits" are in some sense physical. Indeed, if there are other dimensions inhabited by "spirits", then they would be "physical" although physical in a different way. The natural/supernatural distinction is then bridged.

    The Elegant Universe speculated on communication between inhabitants of different dimensions using "strong gravity waves".


    The German Tribune publishes English translations of German newspapers. A report about Walter von Lucadou, director of a Parapsychological Counselling Centre in Freiburg, says:

    Von Lucadou…is able to assure quickly a good 80 per cent of the people who write to him or ring him up. He places before them the physical or psychological backgrounds of their experiences.

    He explains, for instance, the movement of the pendulum, glasses and small tables at a séance as a consequence of participants' unconscious muscle movements…

    The remaining 20 per cent of Lucadou's clients come up with experiences which cannot be explained from a physical or psychological viewpoint. They are for Lucadou "clearly paranormal phenomena." They are phenomena which come from outside our understanding of the world. (Harder 1990)


    I refer readers now to Investigator 64 where I showed The Bible allows for five possible causes of sickness and disability:

  • Natural physical causes;
  • Accident/Injury;
  • Demon Possession;
  • Psychosomatic/Emotional;
  • Pre-birth causes.
  • Psychiatrists describe a personality disorder they label "hysterical":

    Freud…described their unpredictability, suggestibility, over-imagination, insincerity, compulsive love-hunger, dependency needs for approval, dramatic sense, and sharp reactions to disappointment. They tend to confuse phantasy and reality and are prone to a variety of somatic complaints as well as hysterical ones, particularly skin reactions. (Sim 1974 p. 479)

    Hysteria can produce physical symptoms to simulate almost any illness:

    …including amnesias, tremors, anaesthesias, paralyses of limbs, hyperventilation attacks, mutism, deafness, blindness, somnambulism or attacks resembling those of epilepsy. (Ibid p. 478)

    Similarly the Comprehensive Textbook of Psychiatry (1975) says:

    …the symptoms of conversion hysteria may simulate bodily disease so cleverly that diagnosis is difficult to establish. (p. 1216)

    The Bible labels illness by the observed symptoms. Paralysis, for example, is called "paralysis" whether a "demon" is involved or not. The New Testament mentions two occasions when Jesus cured epilepsy. In one instance the cause was a "demon" (Matthew 17). In the other instance (Matthew 4) it wasn't, since epilepsy is there distinguished from demonism.

    In Matthew 4 the sick are grouped into:

  • Those afflicted with diseases;
  • Those afflicted with pains;
  • Demoniacs;
  • Epileptics;
  • Paralytics.
  • Clearly, casting out "demons" is not the same as physical healing as each can occur without the other. Similarly "epileptics" are not necessarily "demoniacs" although they can be.

    The implication in all this is that "demons" can so disturb the mind that physical symptoms result. I refer to hysteria not to suggest such people are demon-possessed but to show that mental events can so effect the body as to simulate almost any sickness.


    In Investigator 63 I explained that everyone thinks they are right but are wrong in much of what they believe. The Bible gives as the main cause, "Satan, the deceiver of the whole world."

    I wrote, "To deceive billions of people with millions of sets of false beliefs…suggests awesome power and intellect."

    I gave four "facts" from which it reasonably followed Satan exists:

  • All people are misled yet think they are right.
  • Centuries of scientific research cannot explain it or prevent it.
  • Some purported supernatural phenomena remain unexplained.
  • The Bible is incredibly accurate – demonstrated in Investigator Magazine often in debate – and therefore reliable.
  • The phenomenon of everyone deceived yet imagining himself right is one sense in which everyone is "demon influenced".

    In Investigator 86 I showed that even psychoanalysis, the science of the mind, was wrong for a century:

    …the profession most specialized in uncovering deception was blind to a billion cases of child abuse worldwide and under their noses.

    And to refute the Bible on Satan:

    …would require only one person – one out of all humankind – to come forth and prove himself right in beliefs and values.


    The Bible is being proved by science, sentence by sentence, in a process that's gone on for centuries. This fact alone should make us take "demons" and their influence seriously.

    Jesus expelled "demons" by commanding them. Exorcisms still occur today in many churches. For details the reader should obtain the books by Finlay and McConnel. There are also the less spectacular processes of Bible study, obedience and prayer, which also remove "demons":

    Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.
    For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places…
    Stand therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the equipment of the gospel of peace;
    above all taking the shield of faith, with which you can quench all the flaming darts of the evil one.
    And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
    Pray at all times… (Ephesians 6)


    Anonymous 1998 Everyone Correct and Right in a World Deceived – Why? Investigator 63
    Anonymous 2000 Straughen's "Nature of God", Investigator 77
    Anonymous 2002 Child Sexual Abuse and Psychoanalysis, Investigator 86
    Anonymous 1999 The Bible Scientifically Accurate, Investigator 64
    Chenery, S 2004 The Exorcist, The Weekend Australian Magazine July 10-11, pp 15-16
    Finlay, A 2002 DEMONS The Devil, Possession, and Exorcism, Vega, Great Britain
    Ferris, T 1997 The Whole Shebang, Weidenfeld & Nicholson, London
    Gleick, J 1987 Chaos Making a New Science, Cardinal, Great Britain
    Hall, N 1994 Staring into the mind of God, Focus, February, pp. 74-76
    Harder, B 1990 Hotline to deal with a devil of a problem, The German Tribune No. 1405, 28 January
    Kaku, M 1994 Hyperspace, Oxford University Press, New York
    McConnel, B 1995 The Possessed, Brockhampton Press, Great Britain
    Sim, M 1974 Guide to Psychiatry Third Edition, Churchill Livingstone, Great Britain, pp 478-494
    Straughen, K 1995 Tribal Magic, Investigator 43
    Straughen, K 1996 Religious Experiences, Investigator 47
    Straughen, K 2005 Demonic Possession: Reality or Delusion? Investigator 101

    Science Does not Support

    the Existence of Demons

    Kirk Straughen    

    (Investigator 103, 2005 July)

    In Investigator # 102 (Demonic Powers & Science, p. 18) Anonymous attempts to make a reasonable case for the reality of demons by reference to scientific theories, such as eleven dimensional String Theory.

    The basic question I will address is this: Could intelligent entities exist in some other mode of reality, and is there any scientific evidence to support this belief. Perhaps we should first inquire as to the conditions required for the emergence of conscious beings.

    The primary requirement is the emergence of complexity – subatomic particles associate to form atoms, atoms to form molecules, molecules to form cells, cells to form multi-cellular organisms.

    Organisms evolve, and some will develop brains of sufficient complexity for consciousness and intelligence to emerge. Naturally, the process I have outlined has been greatly simplified for the sake of brevity, and the interested reader is referred to textbooks on evolution for greater elucidation concerning cosmic and human origins.

    However, even from this basic outline it should be clear that complexity rises upwards (so to speak) from the microcosm of subatomic particles to the macrocosm of stars, planets and conscious beings.

    The dimensions of String Theory are in the order of the Plank length (circa 10-33 cm), and are simply too minute to contain those macro-elements essential for the evolution of intelligent beings.

    In addition, the postulated dimensions are within our Universe and therefore part of the order of Nature, not separate from it. Indeed, modem cosmology does not conceive of anything being outside our Universe. The Cosmos is finite but there is no boundary, there is nothing beyond the most distant point in which anything can exist – no space, no time, neither matter nor energy.

    Therefore, if modern cosmology is correct, then it is meaningless to speak of any transcendental realm in which our hypothetical beings could inhabit. The many worlds interpretation, (it postulates an enormous number of parallel universes), was formulated in an attempt to solve the paradox of Schrodinger's cat, a thought experiment in physics. (I will not belabor my readers with the details, suffice to say they should consult physics textbooks for a full explanation). However, novel split beam experiments carried out by physicist Shahriar Afshar may falsify this particular interpretation (see Quantum Rebel. p. 30-35 in New Scientist. Vol. 183) No 2457).

    For the sake of argument, let us suppose there is some other universe or dimension outside our own, how do they interact if the two realities are truly separate? Anonymous has not provided any meaningful answer to this question, because if interaction can occur then both modes of reality are simply part of the greater whole we call Nature. Indeed, under this scheme there is no supernatural realm in the sense that there is a reality beyond or above nature.

    On the other hand, let us suppose the dimension (or whatever you wish to call it) that our hypothetical beings inhabit is part of this universe, then those beings would be bound by the laws of Nature. Their existence is then problematical, for although we have ample evidence matter can exist without mind, there is no evidence that mind can exist without matter. Indeed, mind is the result of brain function. It has a material basis, it is governed by chemical reactions, and its roots are entirely physical.

    What is the stuff our hypothetical entities are made from? It can't be matter because the dimension they inhabit is not our dimension of space-time. We could say they are composed of a different order of matter, but by saying this have we said anything meaningful? We might as well say they are made of SPLACK (whatever that is). Once again, Anonymous has not provided any sound theoretical foundation in support of such being's existence.

    Anonymous can speculate all he likes. That is his right, and I respect it. However, let us be absolutely clear about what is speculation and what is not. We know this Universe exists and is inhabited by material beings – that is certain. What is not certain is the belief that realities other than the order of Nature exist, and are inhabited by malevolent intelligences.

    Where does that leave us then, how are we to decide if demons exist? I think it comes down to evidence. What evidence is there for the existence of such things? The answer is none, and in view of this it would be saner to consider demons figments of the imagination until proven otherwise, and Anonymous has not succeeded in doing this.


    Bob Potter

    (Investigator 103, 2005 July)

    Regarding "Anonymous" on "Demonic Powers and Science" #102.

    I hadn't realized there were still characters about who purportedly "use" maths to prove the existence of the supernatural! Anyway, your contributor doesn't appreciate/understand that Godel's incompleteness theorem and related theorems proving there are limits to what any particular system can do, are relevant only to 'closed' systems; which are quite unlike both people (and/or artificial intelligence programs) which communicate with the world.

    Like the legendary Don Quixote, Anonymous has done no more than demolish a windmill!

    Bob Potter

    Unconscious Intelligence?

    Bob Potter

    (Investigator 104, 2005 September)

    In Investigator 103 (Science Does not Support the Existence of Demons), Kirk Straughen addresses one of today's popular ‘discussion topics' – "could intelligent entities exist in some other mode of reality?" and suggests we should "first inquire as to conditions required for the emergence of conscious beings", adding that as organisms evolve "some will develop brains of sufficient complexity for consciousness and intelligence to emerge".

    Kirk refers the interested reader to "textbooks on evolution" and "physics textbooks" as the best initial approach to explaining and understanding what the answers might be.

    I'm not convinced Kirk is asking the right questions; rather than urge readers to rush to acquire the latest "textbooks", perhaps we might begin by exploring our own mental categories?

    Consider what we (by "we" I mean each of us, individually, readers of the Investigator) mean when we talk of ‘intelligence' and ‘consciousness'!? Words in common everyday usage, we each use them constantly in conversation; not only are we quite confident we know what we mean by these terms, but are equally sure our listener knows exactly what we mean. Mostly our assumptions prove to be correct!

    To behave ‘intelligently' means the "target person" (must it be a "person"?) will actively behave with an appropriate (‘logical') strategy towards solving some task or problem. Whether the task is in the form of performing well in a debating contest, repairing the engine of a motor car, getting on well with others in a social situation, solving a chess problem, or whatever, the concept remains the same.

    Developing a little on the last example, most of you will have played chess with a computer (program) …. and lost! Before you arrived on the scene, someone has written a program, had "taught" the computer how to move the pieces correctly in order to manoeuver your King into a checkmate position. Those who have spent time "teaching computers how to play chess" will tell you of the many similarities between teaching a computer and teaching a person!

    Now, consider the Venus fly-trap; after millions of years of ‘natural selection', a species of plant has developed the ability to respond to an insect settling upon it, whereby the insect is entrapped and becomes plant fodder. Or remember the climbing grape vines you have seen, whereby the organism efficiently shoots its tentacles towards the sky and directs its growth towards the sun.

    Surely these are three examples of "intelligent behaviour" – the last two being indisputably "natural behaviour" in the realms of "machine intelligence". I'm sure you can think of many other "intelligent behaviours" in the plant world. The important point I wish to make at this point is that none of these intelligent behaviours are "conscious" behaviours! Contrary to Kirk's argument, in nature intelligence precedes consciousness, it's not the other way round!

    Continuing the approach I'm advocating, there is no need to search "textbooks" or carry out laboratory experiments to demonstrate the truths I'm exploring. A few moments reflection on your part, dear reader, should be sufficient. If I give you a test in mental arithmetic, you will probably pass with flying colours. But if I ask you to describe in detail exactly what happened "in your mind" as you calculated, you just won't be able to do so.

    An even better illustration! I show an old film that was a favourite of yours many years ago. You remember it well. I ask you to name the actors. Some present no difficulty, but there are others you "know" but can't put a name to. We then talk about something else and you quite literally forget about the previous conversation (it is no longer in your ‘consciousness'!), but suddenly, you interrupt our chat about quantum theory by shouting out, "his name was Randolph Scott"! For half an hour your brain has been working, "unconsciously"...and has come up with the right answer! If you tell me this sort of experience hasn't happened to you, frequently, I just don't believe you!

    I say again: Historically speaking, species wise, intelligence – what we call ‘mental activity' – precedes consciousness, it's not the other way round! (In a previous contribution to Investigator I referred to Nobel Prize winner Otto Loewi's discovery "while asleep"!)

    I hope to achieve no more than encourage you all, dear readers, to think further on the implications of what your own experiences can tell you. I will not be offended if you feel I am talking nonsense when I hypothesize "intelligent plants". Nonsense it may turn out to be, but I am not alone in my hypothesizing.

    In fact I stole the idea from one who lived just a few miles from where I sit in Sussex, writing this contribution to the Investigator; Charles Darwin (whom Kirk appears to recommend to you!). In his early notebooks on Man, Mind and Materialism he makes that very supposition – and years later made the idea much more plausible with his works on the behaviours of plants, climbing plants, twining plants and insectivorous plants!

    Check the books if you must – but for starters, what's wrong with a little reflection on some of your own everyday experiences, some of which I have reminded you?



    (Investigator 104, 2005 September)

    <>As part of his argument against the existence of demons (Investigator 103) Kirk Straughen summarised some requirements for the origin of conscious beings – emergence of complexity, subatomic particles to atoms, atoms to molecules, molecules to cells, etc.

    However, this is not relevant to whether demons exist because we need to distinguish questions of how anything originated, ie the process, from the fact that it is here. Ignorance of how something got here, i.e. the process, does not refute that it exists.

    Evolution has gaps. We don't know the full process – all the steps – for the origin of most species. Yet we don't argue life doesn't exist. A species' origin is a different concept from our experience of it.

    Similarly with "demons". Evidence for or against their existence is a separate question to how they may have originated.

    Furthermore, life and consciousness need not come about solely through non-conscious processes i.e. by evolution. Humans may one day create life and consciousness using atoms and molecules as building blocks! If so it follows that complexity and consciousness could originate as a "creation" by someone already complex and conscious!

    What demons might be made of is likewise a different question to whether they exist. Humans know that humans exist and consider themselves made of matter such as atoms, molecules and cells. But at far smaller levels than atoms, it's unclear what we are made of. Physicist Paul Davies, for example, writes about The Matter Myth (1991).

    I suggested in #102 that demons inhabit dimensions we can't see, but Straughen says the dimensions of String Theory are of Plank length (10-33 cm), therefore far too small. But that idea is not conclusive:

    …two or more of string theory's extra dimensions might be far larger – just so long as these dimensions are barred to every force except gravity. They could even be infinitely large. (Boyle 2001)

    Cosmologists have a range of views, summarized by Battersby (2005). Even if String Theory is rejected: "we may well have to accept some kind of multiverse to account for many features of nature." (p. 33)

    If a "multiverse" and/or unseen dimensions interact with our Universe we cannot rule out that this greater reality harbors intelligent life, including the biblical "demons".

    Paul Davies summarises another idea:

    Some theorists have speculated…a sort of second version of the Universe, a shadow world inhabited by identical copies of the sorts of particles familiar in our Universe (electrons, neutrinos, and so on) but able to interact with our world only through gravity…

    It would be possible, for example, to walk right through a person made of shadow matter without feeling a thing. (The Matter Myth p. 250)

    Straughen argues that if a "larger scheme of things" exists, it would be part of nature and is not supernatural. Agreed. We use the term "supernatural" because technology cannot currently access it. If that changes and science finds a "larger scheme of things" with life like the biblical "demons", then we could change the label and call it "natural"! (See also No. 65 pp 33-34)

    Getting off Straughen's comments now. Others have argued, "Everything has a cause; therefore if Demons influence our world we'd notice their activity by observing causeless events."

    It's difficult, however, to identify the complete "cause" of anything.

    Consider a seemingly obvious case where: "The brick hit the window and caused the glass to smash."

    The problem is we can always think of something else, which contributed to an event, so that without that "something else" the event would not have occurred:

    If Jack hadn't thrown the brick the glass would not have smashed – hence the throw is part of the cause. If Sue hadn't insulted Jack he would not have thrown the brick – hence the insult is part of the cause. If Sue's parents hadn't had sex on July 1 1960 there would have been no Sue and no insult. If the builder had used tougher glass it would not have smashed. We could continue such reasoning indefinitely and show that the entire Universe contributed to the window being smashed.

    If we cannot pin down the complete cause of anything then we cannot rule out contributing influences from other dimensions, even from the "Devil" and the "demons":

    "Resist the devil and he will flee from you." (James 4:7)


    Battersby, S Are we nearly there yet? New Scientist 2005, April 30, pp 30-34
    Boyle, A 2001 Beyond Time and Space, New Scientist 2001, September 29, pp 23-29
    Davies, P and Gribbin, J 1991 The Matter Myth, Viking, Britain


    Kirk Straughen

    (Investigator 105, 2005 November)

    In his response (More On Demons, #104) Anonymous argues that just because we don't know how something originated that this "does not refute that it exists." He then goes on to point out that although evolution has gaps we "don't argue that life doesn't exist."

    Quite true, but the reason we don't argue that life doesn't exist is because there is ample proof that it does. Is there ample proof that demons exist? With all due respect to Anonymous' beliefs, I think there is an absence of sound evidence in support of this view.

    Why should we believe in demons? Should we believe just because it is written in some allegedly sacred book claimed to be vouchsafed by God? Should our belief be based on possible hallucinations? I mean no offence when I say this, but such an argument is really no argument at all.

    If this is a reasonable statement, then clearly significant independent and empirical evidence is required.

    Unfortunately, Anonymous has been unable to provide this evidence to date. Therefore, the existence of demons remains unproved and, as there is really nothing more to say, I'll make this my final reply.

    Kirk Straughen




    (Investigator 106, 2006 January)

    Straughen (#105) asks, "Why should we believe in demons…just because it is written in some allegedly sacred book...?" (p. 4)

    No, not for that reason alone but for the reasons given in our 2005 debate where I supplied inductive evidence that flowed from scientific fact and theory.

    The "sacred book" is added support because it has proved correct in hundreds of disagreements – sometimes against the whole world – and should therefore be taken seriously.

    Since my argument is inductive some doubt remains. But that's the case with every inductive argument and yet everyone relies on induction every minute they're awake.

    With the Devil/Demon claim I suggested a test: Since the Bible says the Devil is the "deceiver of the  whole world" we need find only one person who is not deceived in his beliefs and values...

    To deny the existence of an enemy is unwise, even dangerous: "Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around looking for someone to devour." (I Peter 5:8)


    Bob Potter

    (Investigator 107, 2006 March)

    Whether or not demons exist continues to occupy space in INVESTIGATOR.  It's not a topic that grabs me although a letter in the current edition (106, January 2006) did inspire reference to a birthday present from many years ago – Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics, (ed) Jas. Hastings (1911).

    I found 71 pages devoted to the subject, subdivided into 20 sections, with the space allocated to Christian beliefs taking third place to slightly larger summaries of Hebrew and Indian beliefs. (Islam came 4th!) What does interest me is that although the belief, found in many societies, that "misfortune" or "illness" are caused by malevolent demons or devils (see J.Leff (1988) Psychiatry Around the Globe; A Transcultural View.), relatively little study has been made within Western industrial societies.

    This is surprising as medical personnel regularly meet clients suffering from ‘psychiatric illnesses' and who have deep religious convictions; patients who claim being "possessed or under the influence of" an "evil power" and seek "salvation" in terms of "magical thinking" or "witchcraft" (see M.B.McGuire (1988) Ritual Healing in Suburban America).

    Understandably, a major problem faced by the practitioner in such cases, is one of communication, for the specialist inhabits a world of scientific models, offering biological and/or psychological explanations – how can the psychiatrist explain and justify the "treatment" he has in mind?

    In spite of the universality of demon belief, almost all published studies dealing with the treatment of demon experiences relate to a Christian culture – where demons are theologically identified as "fallen angels", and where standardized "defences" against them are often a Christian emblem like the crucifix that appears at the critical moment in a vampire film, or some sort of ritual performance by a Church official and/or the afflicted person.

    Traditionally, belief in demons in the West has been associated with the Catholic Church where, even today, exorcisms continue. The doctrinally defined Catholic stance on exorcism with the prescribed prayers of the Rituale Romanum – less informed readers are referred to the Internet! – to say nothing of well-known Church History during the Middle (or Dark) Ages, has led to more comprehensive documentations within the Catholic paradigm.

    In recent years these traditional beliefs have become more widely prevalent within the religious frameworks of numerous Protestant communities where criteria for diagnosing "occult bondage", the physical forms possession might take, and intimate "family histories" of affected ‘devil communities', frequently appear in evangelical literature.

    A recent investigation in this area was carried out by Sam Pfeifer at a Swiss psychiatric clinic, specifically researching the prevalence of "demon or devil beliefs" of 343, mostly Protestant outpatients (Belief in demons and exorcism in psychiatric patients in Switzerland: British Journal of Medical Psychology (1994, 247-258).

    No less than 38% believed their "problems" arose from "demon influence" and commonly used language such as "occult bondage" or "possession" – 30% perceiving a "cure" in terms of "ritual prayer" and/or "exorcism". No less than 70% of these individuals were committed to church bodies. On the other hand, patients who did not belong to a church, did not hypothesize supernatural explanations.

    Interestingly, although the data uncovered gave no support to the view that any of the practiced rituals "worked", participants' faith in them did not diminish. [Long-time readers of Investigator will recall my ‘brief report' (Investigator 65, March 1999) of the book When Prophecy Fails, Festinger, Riecken & Schachter (1956) a study of a cult believing in the imminent destruction of humanity. For those believers forming a close-knit community, the falsification of their prediction, strengthened rather than weakened their faith in their "false prophet"!].

    There are additional details from the Swiss study deserving elaboration. Of those patients who blamed "demons" for their problems and were diagnosed as ‘schizophrenics', 53% believed their auditory hallucinations and delusions were generated by supernatural forces, while that proportion for patients with specific ‘personality disorders' rose to 56%, clients frequently associating demonic influence with the sexual conflicts of their everyday lives.

    [An earlier Swiss study discovered "delusions of witchcraft" among Italian guest workers, strongly supporting the view that ‘demonic influence' serves as an unconscious strategy for disowning drives and behaviours unacceptable in a religious culture (Risso & Boker (1968) Delusions of WitchcraftBritish Journal of Psychiatry, 114, 963-972). The reader will recall the Inquisitional "definition" of a witch as "one having sexual intercourse with Satan" (such a belief was the  fulchrum of the infamous Malleus Maleficarum of Kramer & Sprenger) – a theme so powerfully developed by Arthur Miller in The Crucible.]

    As I made clear at the outset, I have no interest in joining a debate as to whether demons exist or not. [Cursory researches disclose that 16th Century physician and scholar and expert on "Witchcraft" (Johan Weyer) calculated there were exactly 7,409,127 demons active in the world; if indeed they do exist, the odds are I'll run into one pretty soon!] What people dream or hallucinate about is not the key factor – in Freud's most famous dream analysis, Little Hans, a horse plays a significant role. Analysis did not depend upon horses actually existing; a unicorn in the dream could have served a similar purpose!

    The point I would make is the need for those working to assist people unfortunate enough to suffer from what are labeled "mental" problems, to be aware of these prevalent beliefs. An emphatic approach with unconditional regard for the right of all to their personal beliefs can open the door to further exploration. Experiences and interpretations must be combined acceptably for both parties; the patient as sufferer can be helped to overcome feelings of victimization by inexplicable and uncontrollable symptoms. Speaking as an atheist materialist, church communities can and often do provide, a very positive role for sufferers in many of their ‘difficult situations' by providing ‘fellowship' and a preparedness to ‘listen' – essential ‘help ingredients' often less practicable in more clinical environments!

    Skeptics Versus Bible Defenders – Numerous debates: