April 3, Afternoon Session
For many, the high point of the 25th National Convention was the appearance of James Randi. A professional magician, renowned for his expose and demonstrations of “psychic surgery,” Mr. Randi has become a foremost spokesperson on behalf of critical thinking, reason and a willingness to ask questions -- especially when claims are made concerning the paranormal or spiritual.
“I’m in a very peculiar business, I travel all over the world telling people what they should already know...”
Randi said that was an expert on two things: fooling people, and knowing how people manage to fool themselves. He discussed the importance of making certain types of assumptions in order to operate in life -- then distinguished between faith (based on reasonable expectations or good authority) and blind faith. The latter he described as often a “comforting belief which does not make it so.”
Mr. Randi spent the first portion of his presentation regaling the audience with amusing stories about his close friend, the late Richard Feynmann, H.L. Mencken. He then moved to a discussion of “The Faith Healers,” his book critical of a certain genre of evangelist who claim the power to cure a variety of physical maladies.
Randi found three classes of people during his investigation into 104 various healers. The first consisted of people who simply did not have any f the alleged physical problems they were supposedly cured of. Second were those who still had a disease they had supposedly been cured of. Finally, there were those who had already died by the time Randi succeeded in tracking them down. One cancer victim, for instance, who claimed to have been healed by an evangelist died of the disease on the morning Mr. Randi was to interview him.
He then discussed the case of televangelist and faith healer Rev. Grant, and the “racket” he had ostensibly helping his followers with miraculous works by “Dr. Jesus.”
Randi devoted the second portion of his talk to a number of subjects, including the U.S. patent office approving a patent for an “ESP clapper.” He outlined the purposes of his James Randi Educational Foundation which teaches critical thinking, and currently is producing a series of videos on questionable claims such as astrology, numerology and other paranormal phenomenon.
Mr. Randi then proceeded to give the audience a “hands on” demonstration of how easy it is to be fooled by playing a trick involving five “ESP” test cards. He then discussed the story behind homeopathic medicine, which involved diluting substances in progressively amounts; Randi noted that some mixtures of homeopathic medicines consist of one molecule of a substance suspended in the water volume equivalent of 16 average swimming pools! He also regaled the Convention with a videotape of a “psychic surgery,” a procedure popular in the Philippines by frauds who claim to be performing actual surgery. James Randi then concluded his remarks with a brief discussion of the James Randi Educational Foundation, which can be found on the world wide web at http://www.randi.org.
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