Psychic Energy; Scientific
Method; James Randi
Paula Musante

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From: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
To:
Subject: Re: WebMaster:_Positive_Atheism_Index
Date: Saturday, July 22, 2000 3:08 PM

We lack a god belief; we do not assert that no gods exist. This is the traditional definition for atheism: "a-theism," the lack of theism.

The key to our response to you surrounds your statement that this is all you know.

Well, we don't know these things of which you speak. If you could find some verification for your claims (perhaps broad consensus within the scientific communities instead of one group in Berkeley, California) we would accept them. But for now, we don't know these things, and thus are too honest to tell others that we do know these things when, in fact, they are highly speculative.

Has anyone from your group tried to collect James Randi's million dollar prize? Has anyone from your group taken on Victor Stenger's or Nicolas Humphrey's objections to the notion of psychic phenomenon?

Cliff Walker
"Positive Atheism" Magazine

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This letter came as a single giant paragraph. We have divided it into smaller paragraphs for readability.

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From: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
To:
Subject: Re: WebMaster:_Positive_Atheism_Index
Date: Saturday, July 22, 2000 5:19 PM

I do follow Liberal Scientific Method when investigating claims of the paranormal. I also respect James Randi's point that many who stump for the paranormal are, in fact, parlor magicians. So, it is important to have a background in parlor magic when investigating such claims, as scientists generally are not prepared for deliberate deception, and Liberal Scientific Method does not actively account for deliberate deception.

Using these methods, I have yet to encounter a claim that I find convincing.

Stenger, in his book Physics and Psychics: The Search for a World beyond the Senses was very just in that he found out which studies the paranormal sympathizers thought were their strongest cases and investigated them.
 

Science is how we discover and verify claims like this. Science is the only way such ideas and findings will enter into the body of scientific knowledge.

How else are you going to discover whether somebody is telling the truth when they claim that matter and energy are doing things that all of science says they cannot do? If you think you have a convincing case, and want to convince the rest of us, you are welcome to follow Liberal Scientific Method like the rest of us do, and present your finding for public scrutiny -- like the rest of us do.

Liberal Scientific Method is not about a single experiment, but is an ongoing discussion of global proportions dating back thousands of years. In it, someone makes a finding and then presents those findings to the public -- specifically for the purpose of allowing the rest of us to scrutinize those findings. That's the whole point: I want others to try to tear apart my studies and see if they withstand that scrutiny. If they don't I gleefully abandon my hypothesis in the interest of truthfulness. One of the biggest joys in science is to have one's pet hypothesis overthrown by new evidence. I can just imagine how happy Isaac Newton would have been to watch this two-bit patent clerk, Albert Einstein, completely dismantle the theories that Newton had so firmly established and that had been so widely reinforced by subsequent experiment.
 

I have read Randi's accounts of those who have tried to collect the money, and have verified that he is on the up and square. I would suggest that you contact Randi yourself, as he makes himself very available. Also, check out the game rules that Randi has posted on his website and see if you can find any holes in them. I encountered a similar claim made by a Christian Creationist, and did not need to go very far to see the holes in his offer. Randi's offer had covered for all these holes, though there may be other holes in Randi's offer that I have not detected. Don't just take the others' word for it (that would be unscientific), go check out Randi's claim for yourself and scrutinize it with all you've got. This is the only way to really get to the bottom of this question.

Even skeptics would admit to paranormal phenomenon if it could be demonstrated adequately. Unfortunately, so many who claim the paranormal are charlatans and opportunists, and Randi is more pissed off about these people taking advantage of the ignorant and gullible than anything else. Randi is not a scientist, but is a parlor magician: he knows all about the deception game in this trade.

The other problem you run into is that even if some of these paranormal claims were proven, we'd have to account for what Science has shown us for all these centuries. Our entire understanding of how matter and energy works would be overthrown. To do this, you would need to come up with an overwhelmingly strong case for your claim. This has been known to happen (and, indeed, it happens all the time) but we're not simply going to take the word of some cat who puts on a show in Sacramento on Thursdays. We'll need a lot more, and that will have to withstand a world of scrutiny. If it does, you can bet that your claim will become accepted scientific knowledge.

I do realize that some of the skeptics have not played fair. Martin Gardiner encouraged the persecution of Wilhelm Reich during the 1950s, where Reich's entire lab and all his notes were burned in New York's Vandivoort Street incinerator. Reich was jailed, where he died a few months later. However, this atrocity is not what will vindicate Reich's work: only repeating his experiments and lots of discussion and scrutiny of his ideas and findings will vindicate his work and bring it into the realm of scientific knowledge.

Gardiner, still an associate of Randi's and still busy in this work (so I'm told) later expressed remorse for the role he played in the Reich persecution. This doesn't absolve him, it only indicates that he might have grown up a little since the 1950s; it certainly doesn't overthrow his work any more than a single detected case of parlor magic would overthrow the entire realm of claims of the paranormal. We must continue to take each claim as it comes and take each claim at face value.

Randi has come under similar scrutiny in Robert Anton Wilson's book "The New Inquisition," which is an expansion of a previous article in his book "Right Where You Are Sitting Now." I have read the latter article aloud on the radio, so I know where you're coming from. I reserve my sternest criticism for atheists an skeptics who don't play by the rules of honest discussion. Nevertheless, I must hand it to Randi for showing us how to detect frauds that involve parlor magic and similar craft.
 

This sounds convenient. It certainly doesn't help you (y'all -- English has no distinct plural you) in making your case to the public, as you are now making multiple claims to cover up your inability to withstand this particular form of scrutiny.

Cliff Walker
"Positive Atheism" Magazine

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From: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
To:
Subject: Re: WebMaster:_Positive_Atheism_Index
Date: Wednesday, July 26, 2000 3:30 PM

My whole point is that I have discovered much in the way of charlatanism when it comes to these so-called studies. When they claim that they have done scientific research, and when I have examined this research, I have discovered that their "scientific" method is extremely lacking, that such "science" would not pass muster even when trying to establish a case that has nothing to do with paranormal claims. Thus, I will continue to point out that if one simply wants to believe, that is their prerogative and their business. However, I am not so "fortunate" (depending on which side you're on) and must have good reason to go along with claims such as this.

When I was in the fifth grade, my friend John Nutting bought an ESP book: How To Make ESP Work For YOU. I got the book and Kreskin's ESP kit, and we worked on this for weeks. Despite our lack of success, John still believed. I politely went on to other projects and remember letting John take my money to the store on his bicycle to purchase some records. I still have those records (though now on CD) and still enjoy them. And I still retain my skepticism about the ESP -- even more so these days because I have studied both sides of the discussion and have found the professional advocates of these things to be no more discerning than John was. John remained my friend for several years (until his family moved to Los Angeles) despite his zeal to believe things that I do not and cannot verify.
 

And I insist that you have valid reasons for believing this way. I don't have valid reasons for believing this way, so I lack any god belief. I think I have every reason to reject those god claims that I have encountered, because I have spent much of my life studying both sides of the question, and at one point desperately wanted for there to be a god. However, I am too honest to go ahead and say I believe something just because I want it to be true. I must have good reason to think it is actually true before I will tell someone I think it's true. Believe me: I could have more friends and be more successful in business if I were to confess a faith in a god (any god) than I do admitting that I don't buy any of the god claims.
 

I also insist that you probably have valid reasons for believing in this, but I don't have any valid reasons for believing in any psychic phenomenon, so I don't believe in it. I think I have every right not only to reject such claims but also to speak out against the so-called scientific research in this area, simply because I have dedicated a good chunk of my life studying both sides of the question and trying, at one point, to make a case for the existence of psychic phenomenon.
 

Many things have happened to me that I cannot explain. This doesn't give me the right (in all honesty) to claim that something supernatural is happening. If I cannot explain it, it does me no good to "explain" it as something supernatural. I am better off leaving it as a question to be solved later (or never solved at all), than going ahead and assuming that I know when in fact I do not know a thing (except that most claims for the paranormal that I have studied strongly resemble charlatanism). I may not have as much fun as you do, and I may not have as many friends as you do, but at least I can look at myself and know that I have done all I can to find the truth of the situation, that I have acted as honestly as I know how to act.
 

And this is why so many who claim the existence of the paranormal do not enjoy my respect.
 

I don't understand your point -- not that I disagree, I don't understand what you're saying in order to agree or disagree.
 

Is it really a reality? or is it just a figment of someone's imagination? This is my question about all claims, particularly those involving the supernatural.
 

I can only accept something if it is true, otherwise I am believing it, not accepting it. To say that accept something or refuse to accept it begs the question, because it presupposes that you are telling the truth, when, in fact, you are, for purposes of this discussion, simply making claims.
 

I will respect someone's right to believe, and I will respect that someone thinks they have valid reasons for believing, but I refuse to respect the belief itself if I have sufficient reason for thinking that the belief is groundless, and especially if I have good reason to think fraud was involved in popularizing that belief.
 

What goes on in the privacy of your mind is your business. However, you are now telling me that these things are true, and with this it stops being a private matter. When you tell me something is true, I have every right to challenge your claim and to ask that you back it up. If you refuse, I have absolutely no business believing your claim or that you are being honest with me in making your claim.
 

You're missing my point entirely (besides putting words in my mouth and thoughts in my head).

If I believed them, my search would be over. If I could possibly state (in all honesty) that I know for a fact that they are false, my search would be over. However, my position is this: I have heard numerous (countless) claims for the existence of the paranormal and the supernatural and gods and demons and angels and the like. Unfortunately for those making the claims, nobody has been able to make a strong case that they are telling the truth. Nobody. Thus, I have not gone along with any of the claims I have heard. Nevertheless, I submit myself to the game rules of Liberal Scientific Method when discussing philosophy, and as such, I must remain open to the possibility that someone might come along with a convincing case for these things (Liberal Scientific Method requires this, and I submit myself to this method because it has shown itself to, thus far, be the best we've got for determining fact from falsehood).
 

I suspect that is the case because nobody will even try to make a strong case for their claims. And I suspect this is the case because nobody has a strong case for believing in the paranormal or the supernatural. Liberal Scientific Method requires me to remain open to listening for people's cases, and then scrutinizing them to see if those cases are compelling. If a compelling case does come along, I will, in submitting to the game rules of Liberal Scientific Method, go along with it. No compelling case has yet been presented to me, however.
 

It sure sounds like a copout. You are not making any effort to make it sound otherwise.
 

You don't have to prove yourselves at all, but you fail to earn the respect of people like me unless you at least try to prove yourselves. You are not in very good company: any study of the history of psychic claims will show huge amounts of charlatanism and hucksterism and trickery of the vilest kinds imaginable. Throughout the years, those claiming the paranormal and the supernatural have exploited countless folks to gain money, political power, prestige, and social standing. You are not in very good company, indeed.
 

This is as I described above: frauds are so numerous as to bias any examination of such claims to suspect fraud, and to bias these examinations from the get-go. However, within the game rules of Liberal Scientific Method, those who are shown wrong admit it and move on to something else (if they submit to these game rules).

"Psychic research" has utterly failed to make a case for itself, and every case that has been scrutinized has been shown either to be fraud or to have failed to keep tight enough controls to make even a remotely convincing case. Randi think that all shows of supernatural power are some form of parlor magic, and he has good reason to suspect this. Thus, his angle is to try to detect evidence of parlor magic and the like when he observes shows of supernatural power.

What I don't understand is, if those claiming bona fide supernatural power are on the up and square, why don't they go to Randi and prove him wrong? Randi is making huge inroads toward biasing people against psychic research. If Randi is wrong, we need to know this, so we can remove this bias and be able to conduct more balanced research. I think a public demonstration of supernatural powers is in order, here -- right in Randi's office, in front of lot of cameras and witnesses. If Randi is wrong, we need to finish him off once and for all, and send him running with his tail between his legs. But no. I haven't seen anybody try to do this. It only makes Randi's case appear stronger.
 

Sometimes I listen to my inner voice and discover, when I open my eyes, that it is wrong. I don't place much faith in my inner voice, when it comes to discerning what is real and what is imaginary. I mean, what does imaginary mean but what exists only in someone's imagination. Is that the inner voice, or what?
 

Are you saying, then, that psychic phenomenon is imaginary?
 

People who only use their senses do not conclude that psychic phenomenon is occurring. Psychic phenomenon is either: sending or obtaining information without the use of the senses, or moving objects without touching them or using any currently known forces -- that is, sending "mental energy" or the like to move objects or to change the throw of the dice, etc. All claims of psychic phenomenon fit into one of these two categories. The whole point of psychic phenomenon is the claim that one is not using the senses or the muscles (or, very recently, electrodes physically connected to some part of the nervous system).
 

And I've said all I have to say -- unless you make an effort to back up your claims.
 

I am not interested in digging out any of this. I will satisfy myself to refer you to reports such as those that are discussed in Victor Stenger's Physics and Psychics for starters. This will tell you where I am coming from, as he also submits to Liberal Scientific Method just as I do.

I am not trying to de-convert you, but am simply stating my mind and stating why, at this point, I don't believe you are being candid with me. Most of it has to do with your refusal to even try to make a case for yourself, and relying solely on anecdotal evidence. Were I trying to convince you of anything, I would gladly bring out all the guns. However, you are not even trying to make a case for yourself, so I feel no obligation to "reciprocate" -- considering that to do so would not be a reciprocation at all, but would be me doing all the work when it is not even my responsibility to prove you wrong: you are making the claims, thus, you are the one responsible for backing up those claims.

Cliff Walker
"Positive Atheism" Magazine

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