Published byThe Blavatsky Archives. Online Edition copyright 2000.
Methinks Johnson Has "Shot" Himself in the "Foot":
Johnson's "Definition" of
the Paranormal and Its Bearing
on Henry S. Olcott's Accounts of the Theosophical Masters
by Daniel Caldwell
In Strain at a Gnat, Swallow a Camel, K. Paul Johnson attempted to rebut some of my criticisms (see my work K. Paul Johnson's House of Cards?) of his thesis concerning the Theosophical Mahatmas. I counted more than 40 fallacies and mistakes in Johnson's rebuttal. Below in Part I as well as in Part II, I have tried to illustrate in some detail two of Johnson's major fallacies.
One of K. Paul Johnson's arguments in Gnat (against certain criticisms raised in my House of Cards critique) reads as follows:
In his case for evaluating all claims by Col. Olcott about the Masters by a single standard, Mr. Caldwell cites a letter in which Olcott reported being awakened from sleep in Ceylon in 1881 by Morya, who made him take dictation for an hour. He then goes on to describe a case where Morya "showed himself" to Olcott and HPB, and an "appearance" by Morya before six other people. All of these are equated with the Ooton Liatto case, which is much more clearly one of physically present people conversing with Olcott. But Mr. Caldwell does not seem to recognize that these "appearances" sound more like paranormal visitations than normal physical visits. How can he assume that such appearances, if genuine, were not Ranbir Singh, since he does not know whether or not the maharaja was capable of such phenomena? What does he know of other people who were, who might therefore be more plausible candidates for the Morya in these stories? This section of his argument shows naivete in conflating different categories of evidence. The principle which seems to elude Mr. Caldwell is that extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof. My explanation of HPB's relationship with the Masters relies on ordinary factors and is based on ordinary historical evidence. Mr. Caldwell is defending extraordinary claims about HPB and the Masters, on behalf of which he cites evidence of a far more dubious and ambiguous kind. . . .
What is K. Paul Johnson's basic argument? What are the main points of his argument?
As I read Johnson, his argument goes something like this:
(a) Johnson writes that there are two categories of evidence:
Category (1) evidence involving "ordinary factors" and "ordinary historical evidence" Category (2) evidence deals with the "paranormal", the "extraordinary."
(b) Johnson contends that the "Ooton Liatto" case [Case A] belongs to category (1) involving "ordinary" evidence. Johnson specifically writes that the "Ooton Liatto" case is "much more clearly one of physically present people conversing with Olcott." Johnson himself puts the word "physically" in italics.
(c) Johnson maintains that, on the other hand, Cases B, C, and D belong to category (2) evidence involving the "paranormal". Johnson writes that "these 'appearances' [Cases B, C and D] sound more like paranormal visitations than normal physical visits." These three cases, Johnson says, involve "evidence of a far more dubious and ambiguous kind" in contrast to the "Ooton Liatto" case. [NOTE: See Cases A through F appended at the end of this article.]
(d) Johnson maintains that in an attempt to evaluate "all claims by Col. Olcott about the Masters by a single standard" Caldwell has unfortunately conflated the two categories of evidence. Johnson writes that "all of these [cases B, C and D] are equated [by Caldwell] with the Ooton Liatto case." Johnson goes on to write that "this section of . . . [Caldwell's ] argument shows naivete in conflating [these two] different categories of evidence."
(e) Johnson contends that (in light of all of the above) "Mr. Caldwell is defending extraordinary claims about HPB and the Masters." "The principle which seems to elude Mr. Caldwell is that extraordinary claims require extrordinary proof."
(f) Johnson maintains (that contrary to Caldwell's approach) his own "explanation. . . relies on ordinary factors and is based on ordinary historical evidence." Specifically, Johnson writes that the Ooton Liatto case involves "physically present people conversing with Olcott." and therefore falls into the category (1) of ordinary evidence
In the above statements (a-f) I have tried to explicitly describe in detail Johnson's argument.
Is my analysis and summary of Johnson's argument more or less correct? If not, what is Johnson's argument? What is his specific line of reasoning? Are Johnson's points well taken? Does his argument hold up?
I will now try to answer some of these questions.
No, I was not trying to defend "extraordinary claims" as Mr. Johnson contends. Cases B, C, D E and F may involve the paranormal but not necessarily so. Can Johnson specifically tell us what are the paranormal "features" of each of these cases?
But when Johnson writes that the "Ooton Liatoo case" "is much more clearly one of physically present people conversing with Olcott", I do not follow and understand Johnson's "thinking and reasoning" in this matter at all. The Ooton Liatoo case is full of paranormal features (many of which I did not quote in my critique). See Johnson's The Masters Revealed for a fuller version showing these additional paranormal features.
Let us now look more closely at the Ooton Liatoo incident.
I asked Liatto if he knew Madam B[lavatsky]....The elder Bro[ther]...[said] that with her permission they would call upon her. I ran downstairs---rushed into Madams parlour---and---there sat these same two identical men smoking with her and chatting....I said nothing but rushed up stairs again tore open my door and---the men were not there---I ran down again, they had disappeared--- I . . . looked out the window---and saw them turning the corner....
Can we characterize this series of events as "normal" and "ordinary"? Do "physically present people" disappear and appear in the manner described by Olcott? And what about the rain shower inside Olcott's room? The incident reeks of the paranormal yet Johnson can write (with all seriousness?) that this Ooton Liatto case is "much more clearly one of physically present people conversing with Olcott."
See Joscelyn Godwin's book The Theosophical Enlightenment where Godwin quotes this same "Ooton Liatto" case and makes a very telling comment.
And then Johnson (apparently without cracking a smile) in the
next sentence can write:
But Mr. Caldwell does not seem to recognize that these "appearances" [Cases B, C, D, and E and F, too??] sound more like paranormal visitations than normal physical visits . . . . Mr. Caldwell is defending extraordinary claims about HPB and the Masters, on behalf of which he cites evidence of a far more dubious and ambiguous kind.
I ask the perceptive reader: Is the Ooton Liatto case any less "dubious and ambiguous" than Cases B,C, D, E and F?
What seems to be eluding Mr. Johnson here is that the Ooton Liatto case (to paraphrase KPJ's own words) "sounds" more like a paranormal visitation than a normal physical visit. Are we seeing Johnson's "double standard" at work again in his thinking on this subject of the paranormal?
Does Johnson expect anyone to take his criticism seriously?
I give below the Ooton Liatto case (Case A) as well as Cases B through F for ease of reference and comparison for those who actually want to cross check and compare material in order to see the validity of Johnson's argument and of my reply to his "reasoning."
"...I was reading in my room yesterday (Sunday) when there came a tap at the door---I said 'come in' and there entered the [younger] Bro[ther] with another dark skinned gentleman of about fifty....We took cigars and chatted for a while....[Then Olcott relates that a rain shower started in the room. Olcott continues the account:] They sat there and quietly smoked their cigars, while mine became too wet to burn....finally the younger of the two (who gave me his name as Ooton Liatto) said I needn't worry nothing would be damaged....I asked Liatto if he knew Madam B[lavatsky]....the elder Bro[ther]...[said] that with her permission they would call upon her. I ran downstairs---rushed into Madams parlour---and---there sat these same two identical men smoking with her and chatting....I said nothing but rushed up stairs again tore open my door and---the men were not there---I ran down again, they had disappeared--- I . . . looked out the window---and saw them turning the corner...." (Olcott's account is given in full in Theosophical History, Jan., 1994.)
"...on the night of that day [Sept. 27th, 1881] I was awakened from sleep by my Chohan (or Guru, the Brother [Morya] whose immediate pupil I am)....He made me rise, sit at my table and write from his dictation for an hour or more. There was an expression of anxiety mingled with sternness on his noble face, as there always is when the matter concerns H.P.B., to whom for many years he has been at once a father and a devoted guardian. . . ." (Quoted in Hints On Esoteric Theosophy, No. 1, 1882, pp. 82-83.
In his diary for Jan. 29, 1882, Colonel Olcott pens this brief entry:
"M[orya] showed himself very clearly to me & HPB in her garden.... she joining him they talked together...."
"We were sitting together in the moonlight about 9 o'clock upon the balcony which projects from the front of the bungalow. Mr. Scott was sitting facing the house, so as to look through the intervening verandah and the library, and into the room at the further side. This latter apartment was brilliantly lighted. The library was in partial darkness, thus rendering objects in the farther room more distinct. Mr. Scott suddenly saw the figure of a man step into the space, opposite the door of the library; he was clad in the white dress of a Rajput, and wore a white turban. Mr. Scott at once recognized him from his resemblance to a portrait [of Morya] in Col. Olcott's possession. Our attention was then drawn to him, and we all saw him most distinctly. He walked towards a table, and afterwards turning his face towards us, walked back out of our sight...when we reached the room he was gone....Upon the table, at the spot where he had been standing, lay a letter addressed to one of our number. The handwriting was identical with that of sundry notes and letters previously received from him...." The statement is signed by: "Ross Scott, Minnie J.B. Scott, H.S. Olcott, H.P. Blavatsky, M. Moorad Ali Beg, Damodar K. Mavalankar, and Bhavani Shankar Ganesh Mullapoorkar." (Quoted from Hints On Esoteric Theosophy, No. 1, 1882, pp. 75-76.)
From Olcott's diary for Jan. 5, 1882,
"Evening. Moonlight. On balcony, HPB, Self, Scott & wife, Damodar....[etc]...M[orya] appeared in my office. First seen by Scott, then me....Scott clearly saw M's face....M left note for me on table in office by which he stood...."
Below I cite two more cases that Johnson does not address in his argument. However, these two cases were quoted in my HOUSE OF CARDS and are also germane to the issues under discussion.
On August 4, 1880, Olcott writes that:
". . . a Mahatma visited H.P.B., and I was called in to see him before he left. He dictated a long and important letter to an influential friend of ours at Paris, and gave me important hints about the management of current Society affairs. I left him [the Mahatma] sitting in H.P.B.'s room...." [Old Diary Leaves, Volume II, 1972 printing, p. 208]"
And Olcott's actual handwritten diary for August 4, 1880 reads:
"M [orya] here this evening & wrote to Fauvety of Paris. He says 5000 English troops killed in Afghanistan in the recent battle. . . ."
"This same Brother once visited me in the flesh at Bombay, coming in full day light, and on horseback. He had me called by a servant into the front room of H.P.B.'s bungalow (she being at the time in the other bungalow talking with those who were there). He [Morya] came to scold me roundly for something I had done in T.S. matters, and as H.P.B. was also to blame, he telegraphed to her to come, that is to say, he turned his face and extended his finger in the direction of the place she was in. She came over at once with a rush, and seeing him dropped to her knees and paid him reverence. My voice and his had been heard by those in the other bungalow, but only H.P.B. and I, and the servant saw him." (Extract from a letter written by Colonel Olcott to A.O. Hume on Sept. 30, 1881. Quoted in Hints On Esoteric Theosophy, No. 1, 1882, p. 80.)
"[I] had visit in body of the Sahib [Morya]!! [He] sent Babula to my room to call me to H.P.B.'s bungalow, and there we had a most important private interview...." (Extract from Olcott's handwritten diary for Tuesday, July 15, 1879.)