I don’t watch The O'Reilly Factor very much anymore. Like many ego-driven personalities, bloviating Bill has become a caricature of himself. But I had it on last night and happened to catch a story about the Pope's alleged intention to dispatch more exorcists to the field. This story was reported last month and I thought it had been knocked down, but O'Reilly was still reporting on it as if it is true, so maybe it is. Or maybe not. I don’t know and don’t really care.
What did interest me was one particular part of the story, in which O'Reilly interviewed an "expert in demonology and mysticism" who believes that spirit possession is real. The fellow went on briefly about the theology behind spirit possession – fallen angels, a.k.a. demons, who displace the body's rightful soul. O'Reilly, though a Catholic himself, seemed doubtful, and finally challenged the expert to provide some proof of all this. In his inimitable style, Bill said (I quote from memory), "You've got two minutes to convince people you're not a nut."
This gave me pause.
Many of things I believe are roughly as "nutty" as anything stated by the demonologist. In fact, I too think spirit possession can be a real phenomenon, though I would attribute it to earthbound spirits rather than demons.
But if I were given two minutes to "prove," say, that there is an afterlife, what response could I possibly give? None that would be too effective, I'm sure.
One option would be to cite a strongly evidential case, such as the R-101 incident. But any individual case can be dismissed as fraud, exaggeration, mistaken observation, or a fluke. (This, by the way, is the practical defect in the often-cited "white crow" argument – the idea that it takes only one white crow to disprove the contention that all crows are black. Technically this is true, but in practice, scoffers will say that a single, isolated white crow is a freakish mutation or a put-up job, and that it lacks any real significance.)
Another option would be to refer the viewers to an introductory book on the subject – say, Ghost Hunters by Deborah Blum. By mentioning Blum's credentials as a Pulitzer Prize-winning science reporter who was skeptical of afterlife studies but ended up being at least somewhat convinced, I might persuade a few people to take the subject more seriously, even if they didn’t track down the book.
A third option would be to say that if proof could be presented in two minutes, the issue wouldn't be controversial; it is controversial precisely because accumulating and evaluating the relevant evidence requires years of study, an effort which most doubters are unwilling to make.
As a last possible tactic, I could try the Robert Crookall approach, observing that information derived from a variety of sources neatly together, like the pieces of a puzzle. Tribal lore, the Tibetan Book of the Dead, the writings of Emmanuel Swedenborg, the communications of modern mediums, reports of people who've have OBEs and NDEs, accounts of deathbed visions, and even statements by subjects under hypnosis when asked to recall a state between their earthly lives or their manner of death in an earlier incarnation – all these and more are in surprising agreement on many (though not all) details of life after death. Since collusion around the world and across the centuries seems impossible, the general similarities of these reports give us good grounds for thinking they may be true.
The fourth one is probably the approach I would use. It might not convince anyone, and it certainly wouldn't convince Bill O'Reilly, but it would be the best reply I could shoehorn into a two-minute window.
As for the demonologist, he chose the first option – a strong case with which he was acquainted. But I don’t think Bill gave him the promised two minutes; it seemed more like forty seconds.
I doubt any minds were changed.