This is what we might call an incongruous perception problem: when we encounter something that disagrees with our worldview, we have a strong tendency to ignore or disregard it, or try to finesse it into our worldview by compromising it in some way.
With this in mind, consider the Indiana exorcism case that appeared in USA Today in January, after the story was picked up from the Indianapolis Star. The case is a remarkable one for several reasons. First, there's the sheer number of eyewitnesses: the Star interviewed “police, DCS [Department of Child Services] personnel, psychologists, family members and a Catholic priest.” There are nearly 800 pages of official records documenting the events.
Nor is it just the quantity of eyewitnesses. Many of the eyewitnesses are sober-minded professionals, and both the priest and bishop seemed hesitant to conclude that this really was demonic: in fact, it was the first time Bishop Dale Melczek authorized a major exorcism during his 21 years heading the Diocese of Gary.
But what really stands out about this case are the things that the witnesses report having seen. They are remarkable, to say the least:
- “Ammons and Campbell said the 12-year-old was levitating above the bed, unconscious.”
- “Medical staff said the youngest boy was 'lifted and thrown into the wall with nobody touching him,' according to a DCS report.”
- “According to Washington's original DCS report— an account corroborated by Walker, the nurse — the 9-year-old had a "weird grin" and walked backward up a wall to the ceiling. He then flipped over Campbell, landing on his feet. He never let go of his grandmother's hand. "He walked up the wall, flipped over her and stood there," Walker told The Star. "There's no way he could've done that."”
- “[Gary Police Captain Charles] Austin said the driver's seat in his personal 2005 Infiniti also started moving backward and forward on its own.”
So what do we make of this case?
Christians are free to disbelieve that this case was demonic, of course. Believing that demons exist doesn't mean that everything blamed on demons is really demonic, as opposed to delusions, lies, mental illness, etc. There's no prior commitment to this being demonic or non-demonic: Christians are free to simply evaluate the evidence as it is presented.
But for atheist materialists who deny the existence of the spiritual realm, stories like this one are a bit of a red six of clubs. There's no way to easily harmonize the facts presented with the belief that that matter is all that there is. This worldview prejudges the case: the answer must be that there was no demonic activity.
There's much more and it's all fascinating.
This incongruous perception problem explains much in the political and ideological realms, but it's the spiritual where its application seems, to me at least, the most relevant.
Denial can no longer just be a river to some... but an incongruous perception problem, backed by science.