50 Blogs on Disbelief
My thoughts on the book, 50 Voices of Disbelief, Why We Are Athiests, edited by Russell Blackford and Udo Schuklenk. Written as I read them in no particular order. The page number of the essay is provided at the top of each entry.
P78 James Randi “A Magician Looks at Religion”
James starts off with his own story that is a little more humorous than most. His parents were liberal and did not go to church, but as with many parents they had some undefined sense of responsibility that led them to send their kids off to Sunday School. For James, this lasted about 2 weeks. He perpetrated the mortal sin of asking “why”. His teacher was rather annoyed with this, so he took his twenty five cents for the offering and went to get ice cream. This went on for two years. His parents never suspected. I guess they just gave up on Sunday School after a while.
He distinguishes “magician” a term implying some supernatural powers from “conjuror” someone who performs tricks. It has been said that this is only honest profession, the conjuror promises to deceive you and he delivers. He notes with some bewilderment, that when he performs a trick such as calling out the phone number of a random person in the audience that is a viewed as a genuine miracle.
He blames the media for this state of misunderstanding, including PBS that annually trots out the likes of Deepak Chopra or Wayne Dyer offering their quackery. PBS even promotes financial schemes that will make you “rich forever”. He compares this to the once popular “mind-reader” Kreskin who offered a system to pick winning lottery numbers. Why wouldn’t he just used it himself and spend the rest of his life on vacation?
He brings all of this up because, as a conjuror, he knows about how people are fooled and how they fool themselves. Children are the most difficult to fool, because they have not been educated enough yet. When showing them a trick where a coin is magically transferred to the left hand, he has to be very explicit about explaining where the coin is. They will just follow the right hand where the coin actually is, and not understand what the trick is.
He also makes an interesting argument against Intelligent Design with a personal story. He had bypass surgery, where a vein was taken from his thigh and put on his heart. He discussed this with his doctor and wondered why a leg, which we already have two of, and can be temporarily disabled without affect on the rest of our systems, should have such redundancy that a large vein can be removed and it still is functional. The heart however, which must be beating constantly for us to live, has no redundancy whatsoever.