Those who write on religion mostly fall into two categories: touters and skeptics. Free Inquiry, in particular, with Editor in Chief Paul Kurtz and Editor Thomas Flynn, provide a readable example of the latter. Let us start though with…the Amazing Randi.
Randall James Hamilton Zwinge, or The Amazing Randi, who was born in Canada but became a naturalized citizen of the U.S., offers $1 million to anyone who can show, under proper observing conditions, evidence of any paranormal, supernatural or occult power. For most of his professional life, he was a magician, escape artist and amateur astronomer, and actually has an asteroid named after him, 3163 Randi. He gave up doing magic tricks to become the foremost scientific skeptic
and challenger of paranormal claims. In 2003, he received the first Richard Dawkins Award (for best publicizing atheism; Daniel Dennett won the 2007 honor; and Bill Maher in 2009).
Between 1997 and 2005, 360 notarized applications were received. No one has passed the formal test. In April of 2007 he began limiting entrants to only those with an existing media profile and the backing of a reputable academic. He was wasting time with mentally ill claimants. This challenge will be revoked in 2010 so that he can do more important work.
Randi debunked the efforts of Uri Geller in NOVA’s “Secret of the Psychics,” and gets 100,000 hits/day at www.randi.org. He is real, he is a pain to some trying to make an honest living out of chicanery and he is undefeated.
Some things don’t qualify as paranormal, according to Randi. Bigfoot (and other legendary characters), exorcism, the existence of God and reincarnation fall in this list. About God and reincarnation, the problem is that there are no test protocols to verify. The James Randi Educational Foundation chooses not to debate something that cannot be scientifically demonstrated.
Does religion deserve to be mentioned on the same pages as UFOs, spoon bending and the like? There is a kind of sacrilege here, but techniques for proving an afterlife seem to mostly be accomplished through some so-called medium, ideal for the Randi test. Among the paranormal phenomena defined by Randi include: communicating with the dead, faith healing, the existence of ghosts and the like. Again, no one has shown these abilities to Randi. A tally of An Encyclopedia of Claims, Frauds and Hoaxes of the Occult and Supernatural, by Stephen J. Goodson, reveals a disturbing number of religious-related hoaxes, many dealing with the afterlife and miracles. Ergo, if there can be no validation of the afterlife and miracles, maybe that answers this question.
Oh, yes, in addition, any seer with a paranormal aptitude can also contact B. Premanand of the India Skeptic (to win 100,000 rupees; about 44 Rs. to the dollar), Prabir Ghosh (Rs. 20,000), Australian Skeptics ($100,000 Australian, 1.3A$ to $) and the Association for Skeptical Inquiry (£12,000, .45£ to $).
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