The Scole Debate: An Unbiased Report from a Christian's Point of View
by David Christie-Murray
Some stir has been caused in psychical research circles by activities which began in 1993 at the Norfolk village of Scole. These resulted in a dedicated 314-page book, The Scole Experiment; a 336-page account (The Scole Report) in the Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research; the issue of a quarterly journal, The Spiritual Scientist, from 1994; and a Study Day (The Scole Debate) on December 11th, 1999 of talks, discussion and debate by the S.P.R., attended by a larger audience than most such days attract. Following is a summary of the bare facts of the case, omitting such usual qualifications as 'alleged' or 'supposed'.
A group of seven friends headed by a married couple, Robin and Sandra Foy, who - although veterans in the holding of séances - do not label themselves Spiritualists in any religious sense, was prompted by spirit scientists and other spirit entities (the Team) to form the Scole Experimental Group (the Group).
They were to initiate a series of experimental spiritual science sessions. The moving spirits (literally!) included scientists who had benefited in their earthly lives from the acceleration of scientific knowledge and technology that has so changed the modern age and were intent on developing new scientific approaches 'on the other side' in experimenting with 'creative energy' - a more advanced and safer spiritual agent than the old ectoplasm - and pioneering new forms of tangible paranormal phenomena. Their aim was to prove conclusively once and for all that death does not exist and that there are other dimensions of being.
The Group was reduced to four, the Foys and two sensitives, Alan and Diana Bennett, through whom the spirits communicated. Although its sessions began with prayer, it was non-religious and non-sectarian and its work was to be universal. Its activities were directed by the Team, who planned its progress, including, in due course, the opening of its sittings to visitors. These included a number of S.P.R. investigators (the Guests -my name for them).
The Team decreed that the sessions should take place in a completely blacked-out cellar, except for luminous arm-bands worn by the sitters and luminous tabs on the table and some props. The Team would provide its own light, since electric current dissipated the spirit energy, a subtle blend of earth, human and spiritual energies, its effects akin to those of an electromagnetic field.
Their intention was eventually to provide enough light for all phenomena to be clearly seen. They partially achieved this by illuminating a glass dome, which they had instructed the Group to get, like a giant electric light bulb, for 52 minutes.
The Team was not omniscient and obtained their progress by experimenting, like human scientists.
In some 500 sessions over a period of five years, they developed a wide range of physical phenomena, including some 70 apports; extremely complex patterns of dancing light, strong enough to illuminate faces, which could pass through solid objects and enter human bodies, sometimes with healing results; levitation of objects, some solid and heavy; 'energy voices' from mid-air; changes in room temperature; strong breezes; and partial materializations of spirit limbs with once, several times during one session, the head and shoulders of a Team member.
To students of psychical research, these phenomena will appear more redolent of the nineteenth than the twentieth century, and the insistence on complete darkness invites suspicion.
More, however, followed.
Cameras were introduced into the sittings which worked by themselves, snapping and winding on and producing copies of photographs of views, street scenes, First World War participants and St. Paul's Cathedral during the London blitz (memories of Team members?).
From September, 1994, cameras were not required. Photographs would be originals imprinted directly on sealed film. More of this later.
The Scole activities became known. They were opened to visitors to the Foys' cellar, then demonstrated to various audiences, first in this country, then abroad, (in Ibiza, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Switzerland, The Netherlands, Eire and Germany). Robin Foy lectured at a number of conferences and other venues and when The Spiritual Scientist appeared, it was bought by subscribers in at least 14 countries.
Invitations were given to men of science and letters to investigate the phenomena and it was in reply to these that the Guests (as individuals, and not in the capacity of official representatives of the SPR) appeared.
Their names are almost a roll-call of today's most eminent psychical researchers, including five past and present Presidents of the SPR, its then Hon. Secretary (now deceased) and at least five other SPR members very highly qualified in their own fields and researchers of many years' experience.
There was at least one member of the Magic Circle, who thought the phenomena genuine.
There were, among the scholars, sceptics who remained unconvinced and pointed out weaknesses, touched on below.
It should, however, be pointed out that the integrity of the Group has remained unquestioned and has been vigorously upheld by all who have known them, some for many years.
As the spirit scientists developed their skills, faces, glyphs, handwriting, diagrams (some of apparatus to be used for communication from that side of life to this), Romanised Sanskrit, German poems, Latin, and much else, appeared on rolls of unopened films still in their factory-sealed packaging.
Some Polaroid films were used, which were developed as soon as possible after they were opened at the close of sittings.
Some of the literary puzzles that appeared on the films were reminiscent of F. W. H. Myers' cross-correspondences at the beginning of the twentieth century.
It is not possible in an unillustrated summary to give an idea of the richness and variety of the contents of the films - The Scole Experiment: Scientific Evidence for Life After Death by Grant and Jane Solomon - is fortunately lavishly illustrated - and readers interested in physical phenomena are referred to the book itself.
If they are sceptics, they can amuse themselves by devising means of showing 'how it was done.'
There were weaknesses in the procedure, acknowledged by believers as well as sceptics.
The Team forbade the use of infrared viewing, whereby body-heat shows where people are during sessions and any movements of theirs involving trickery.
An SPR specialist in the psychology of deception provided a fraud-proof bag for unopened film, which seemed partly to inhibit its development, though even so the results 'indicated paranormality.'
Some of the film came from stock owned by the Group, who therefore could have doctored it… but how?
It was alleged by one sceptic that the small padlocked box in which films were enclosed could be opened (this has not been proved).
On the other hand, an entire German poem was imprinted on the film when a German visitor had complete control of the box grasped in his hand from beginning to end of a session.
The investigators continued to tighten their control procedure to meet every possible criticism but, regretfully, the experiment had to be brought temporarily (it is hoped) to an end. (See below).
Other phenomena that may be mentioned included the manifestation of a crystal that could be seen and touched, then seen and not touched, then seen and touched again, its physical attributes and 'essence' separated in a 'hologram' form.
A 'germanium receptor' was constructed under instruction from the Team, which enabled dear conversation to take place with a copious number of otherworldly personalities, finally culminating in a conversation which lasted for more than twenty minutes. Electrical experts said there could be no normal explanation for this - the device contained nothing to make it work (this will put mediums out of business!).
But the most striking experiment was ‘Project Alice’ (‘through the looking-glass’) by which mirrors and a video were used to create an 'inter-dimensional doorway’ through which 'many different types of beings were able to enter the cellar, passing between dimensions as they did so.'
The Guests were not admitted to these experiments on the grounds that the energies of the four members of the Group could be balanced without the intrusion of those of visitors who might vary from time to time and the work therefore proceed rapidly. But the evidence for the claims of Project Alice is presumably on videotapes. (Correct - Editor).
Unfortunately, the very powerful vortex of energies within the 'doorway' attracted the attention of 'a group of experimenters from the future, (whose) motives were not entirely benevolent', causing an 'interference contrary to the strict laws of time and space.'
The Group activities had to cease forthwith.
Scole brought about the creation of a number of other groups, working on the same principles, and there was no reason why these should not continue. So all is not lost.
The Scole Experiment, by authors favourable to the Foys' philosophy and activities, is attractively written, moderate and objective.
The chapter on 'Spiritual Philosophy' contains nothing to which a Christian could take exception - unless he were of the sort who regard all psychical phenomena as 'of the devil.'
The SPR Proceedings (‘The Scole Report’) is, as one would expect, a more scholarly covering of much the same ground as the book but in considerable detail and giving much space to the doubts about the phenomena and the contentions of sceptics.
The two publications together make fascinating reading, as gripping as any detective story.
The Study Day (which I attended) was partly spoiled by the absence through illness of two leading protagonists, one on either side of the debate.
It was largely a repetition of the Proceedings, the 'pros' vigorously defending the genuineness of the Scole phenomena, the 'antis' remaining unconvinced.
What was striking was that none of the arguments seemed to have the slightest effect upon the embattled attitudes of either side; although not the slightest doubt was thrown upon the integrity of the members of the Group.
What concerns Christians more is the significance of Scole, if the phenomena are genuine (as it seems to me, trying to be objective, that they mainly are).
Are they delusions, luring believers away from truth about the after-life and its conditions?
If they are a true picture, they would seem to support a Spiritist view that we wake up on the other side of life with the characteristics, qualities and interests which we have cultivated here, and that we continue in the other life the pilgrimage of which this existence has been a part.
There is also more than a hint that there are hierarchies of higher beings who can help, advise and warn, and that the post-mortem dimension of existence has access to realms in which entities dwell that have not known terrestrial life - angels, archangels and all the hosts of Heaven.
Christian belief about the afterlife has evolved, though very slowly, down the centuries. It began with stark Heaven and Hell for righteous believers and - the rest. Common sense seemed to indicate that border-line cases existed in which opportunity should be given for lesser sinners to undertake spiritual discipline which should purge them and fit them for the holy presence of God. Limbo, a state of beneficent shadowland, received the good people who had died before Christ brought his salvation to earth, together with babies who died before baptism.
The Reformers introduced justification by faith, which promised instant and complete salvation at the moment of death when the believer entered the presence of God clad in the wedding-garment of the righteousness of Christ that replaced the filthy rags of his own pitiful attempts at goodness. Rejection of this belief belittled the grandeur of the sacrifice on the Cross.
Many Christians feel that this is too simplified a picture to be satisfactory and sense that they need more preparation in the antechambers of heaven before being plunged into the searing presence of the Almighty. The symbols of heaven in our hymns, mostly taken from revelation, golden crowns, glassy seas, myriads of the righteous waving palms and conducting everlasting church services, eternal rest, and so on are mostly meaningless, even if some of them are fun to sing. It is not surprising that some Christians altogether reject the belief that we survive death.
It could be that in the fullness of time, for all its false prophets in the shape of charlatans and cheats and the triviality of much of its vision, the Spiritist movement with its emphasis on survival of human beings as they have become in their lives is something that Christians should study seriously (as many individuals in our Fellowship already do).
If post-mortem existence is a stage, perhaps one of many, in which we learn to discipline ourselves into spiritual progress, that is the basic idea of Purgatory - which need not all be misery.
Is Scole important or just another psychic flash-in-the-pan?
One of the lessons of the modern age with its ever-accelerating developments in science and technology, some of which seem to defy all common sense, is that we can no longer define what is possible and what is not.
The idea of personalities in the future interfering with activities in our present seems to be lunatic - yet quantum physics contains a number of conceptions that seem equally ridiculous, which are theorised to be true.
Theologically, if Jesus were indeed the Messiah, the manner of his first coming was completely unexpected by the Jews. His promised Second Coming in theory may equally happen in an unexpected way. It is promised as a breakthrough of the divine dimension into human life and, if it is indeed possible that 'doorways' may be opened between dimensions, then Scole may have taken a first step with unimaginable consequences.
Manu, the leader of the Spirit Team, once quoted:'Infinite progression, infinite harmony, and infinite love.'
Could there be a better expression of the Christian hope?