Skip to main content

Seeing Angels

Very irritating Emma Heathcote-James on angels. Chris French does his best given the biased format of the programme ... BBC Radio 4 "Beyond Belief" 28th December 4pm (available for one week).

Below is a quote from programme from Father Gregory Hallam, Greek Orthodox Priest and believer in angels. Chris French was challenged by Hallam to say what would count as evidence of angels (Hallam perhaps implying that Chris wouldn't allow anything to count as evidence - i.e. that there are no angels is a "faith position" for Chris) - Hallam asked Chris "What actual evidence, Chris, would make you change your mind?" - and Chris suggested we could get objective evidence of angels if e.g. under controlled conditions they provided information to those who claim to communicate with them that could be checked and which could not have been acquired in any other way.

My problem with your answer Chris is you are subjecting these phenomenon to certain criteria and tests in relation to scientific evidence and you're actually talking about a confusion of categories of truth here. I understand that you operate in the realm of anomolistic psychology and that this is a kind of a difficult interface between science and human experience but I think that unless we are actually clear how to assess each piece of evidence according to appropriate criteria we risk just making no sense at all.

From BBC Radio 4 "Beyond Belief" 28th December 4pm (@21 mins)


Hannah said…
Ooooh "energy"

alarm bells ring...
sounds very profound eh;)
Hannah said…
Poor Chris.
Anonymous said…
Poor Chris, struggled to get his views accross admidst quite biased opposition. There can never be any reconciliation with subjects such as these, people will believe what they want, and at the end of the day does it matter?
Anonymous said…
ooops - across / amidst
MikeN said…
I just love the use of the word "risk" in that final sentence ;)
anticant said…
The flight from reason really is beyond belief, isn't it?
Smörgåsmåsen (formerly Psye) said…
Opacity. That's the word I'm thinking of when reading the quote from Hallam.

By the way, I'd refuse calling anyone except my biological father "father".
Steven Carr said…
What evidence would convince sceptics?

Well, some believers just have to have a dream and they are convinced.

Dreams aren't evidence.
Hannah said…
The flight from reason is more surprising than I would have imagined!

It would have been a lot more interesting if poor Chris had got a proper chance to explain (...erm... sense)...

And it does matter, it matters if you want to have integrity in your beliefs and make good rational judgments and decisions.
"... we risk just making no sense at all."


We know for a fact that people often lie and have false experiences. We don't know for a fact that any supernatural beings exist.

Thus, the evidence for the veracity of angelic experiences has to rule out to a reasonable degree the other two possible explanations, and controlled scientific studies are the only way to do that.

Epistemic laxity lets wishful thinking seep in.
theObserver said…
I would have asked him if he believed the archangel Gabriel swooped down to Muhammad and recited the Koran over the period of a few years. And if not, why not and what would count as evidence.

And what the hell is this recent fascination with angels? The philosophy section in my local book store is now reduced to being a single bookcase (and half of the books are on 'the science of happiness') while the Mind and Spirit section fills a wall and a half. Every time I walk past, I notice ladies devouring books on angels.

Then of course there's Doreen Virtue (phd), angel healer extraordinaire. I wonder which category of truth this priest would put her into.
Kosh3 said…
"I think that unless we are actually clear how to assess each piece of evidence according to appropriate criteria we risk just making no sense at all"

True, but meaningless in this context unless there is actually some problem with the suggestion that one way to examine the question of the existence of angels would be by confirming or disconfirming information purportedly received from them under controlled conditions.
anticant said…
Ladies devouring books on angels? Maybe because they are overwhelmed by the dire (human-created) state of the world, and are seeking solace in what Marx called "the opium of the people"?
Hannah said…
It's true actually. Only yesterday did I frolic into the book store, only to find that the Philosophy section had shrunk, and yet the mystical nonsense section was, as always, booming...
Unknown said…
Funny how at one point Gregory was sceptical about the validity of tests proposed by Chris, but then suddenly changed his mind when listening to one of Emma's more bizarre (to Gregory) examples. He'll accept testimonies that fit his belief, but not others.
Anonymous said…
I have posted my own (derisive!) opinion of this show on my own blog.

“Very irritating” doesn’t even begin to describe Heathcote-Jones. I don’t know how French didn’t keep himself from knocking her out. Well, I do actually. I emailed my piece to French and he said that she was in a different studio altogether and is very easy on the eye, but that’s hardly the point!

I also saw French give a lecture at the Merseyside Skeptics Society in September and he was brilliant. Full report here.


Popular posts from this blog


(Published in Faith and Philosophy 2011. Volume 28, Issue 2, April 2011. Stephen Law. Pages 129-151) EVIDENCE, MIRACLES AND THE EXISTENCE OF JESUS Stephen Law Abstract The vast majority of Biblical historians believe there is evidence sufficient to place Jesus’ existence beyond reasonable doubt. Many believe the New Testament documents alone suffice firmly to establish Jesus as an actual, historical figure. I question these views. In particular, I argue (i) that the three most popular criteria by which various non-miraculous New Testament claims made about Jesus are supposedly corroborated are not sufficient, either singly or jointly, to place his existence beyond reasonable doubt, and (ii) that a prima facie plausible principle concerning how evidence should be assessed – a principle I call the contamination principle – entails that, given the large proportion of uncorroborated miracle claims made about Jesus in the New Testament documents, we should, in the absence of indepen

Plantinga's Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism refuted

Here's my central criticism of Plantinga's Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism (EAAN). It's novel and was published in Analysis last year. Here's the gist. Plantinga argues that if naturalism and evolution are true, then semantic epiphenomenalism is very probably true - that's to say, the content of our beliefs does not causally impinge on our behaviour. And if semantic properties such as having such-and-such content or being true cannot causally impinge on behaviour, then they cannot be selected for by unguided evolution. Plantinga's argument requires, crucially, that there be no conceptual links between belief content and behaviour of a sort that it's actually very plausible to suppose exist (note that to suppose there are such conceptual links is not necessarily to suppose that content can be exhaustively captured in terms of behaviour or functional role, etc. in the way logical behaviourists or functionalists suppose). It turns o

Suggesting a new named fallacy: the Non Post Hoc Fallacy (or David Cameron Fallacy)

Many of us are familiar with the Post Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc Fallacy (' after this, therefore because of this) - Post Hoc Fallacy for short). It's the fallacy of supposing that, because B occurred after A, A must be the cause of B. For example: My car stopped working after I changed the oil, so changing the oil caused it to stop working. Or:  I wore my red jumper to the exam and I passed, so that jumper is lucky: it caused me to pass. This fallacy is so common, it gets a latin name. However, there's a related common fallacy that I think also deserves a name. I am going to call it the Non Post Hoc Fallacy (' not after of this, therefore not because of this), or, perhaps more memorably, the David Cameron Fallacy. Every now and then someone desperate to ‘prove’ that X is not causally responsible for Y – e.g poverty is not a cause of crime, will commit the following fallacy. They will argue that as X has often occurred without Y following, therefore X was not the