James Randi – Science, Magic, and Future of Skepticism

June 30, 2006

James “The Amazing” Randi is a world-renowned magician, skeptic and investigator of paranormal claims. He has been a central figure in the development of the world-wide skeptical movement. He’s perhaps most known for the One Million Dollar Challenge, in which his Foundation will award One Million Dollars to anyone who is able to show evidence of any paranormal, supernatural or occult power or event, under test conditions agreed to by both parties.

Randi has appeared very widely in the media, including on Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show at least 22 times and he’s also a regular on Penn and Teller’s Showtime Series, Bullshit! He has received numerous awards and recognitions, including a MacArthur Genius Grant, a Fellowship from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. In 1989, the American Physical Society presented him with its Forum Award for Promoting Public Understanding of the Relation of Physics to Society.

He is the author of many books, notably The Truth About Uri Geller, in which Randi aimed to use his background in magic to investigate the Israeli psychic and performer, and also The Faith Healers, Flim-Flam!, and An Encyclopedia of Claims, Frauds, and Hoaxes of the Occult and Supernatural.

In this discussion with DJ Grothe, Randi discusses critical thinking and magic, recounts his experiences as a leading paranormal investigator of people like televangelist Peter Popoff and others, shares his views about skepticism and religion, and reflects on the future of the skeptical movement.

Also in this episode, Lauren Becker shares some thoughts about America’s Founding and the Fourth of July.

This is point of inquiry for Friday, June 30th, 2006. 

Welcome to Point of inquiry, I’m DJ Grothe a point of inquiry is the radio show and podcast of the Center for Inquiry, a think tank collaborating with the State University of New York at Buffalo on the new science and the public master’s degree. CFI also has branches in Manhattan, Tampa and Hollywood and 11 cities around the world. Every week on point of inquiry, we examine some of the central beliefs of our culture, focusing mostly on three research areas. First, we look at pseudoscience and the paranormal. Second, we examine alternative medicine claims. And third, we look at the intersection of secularism and religion, science and faith. We do all this by drawing on the Center for Inquires relationship with the leading minds of the day, including Nobel Prize winning scientists, public intellectuals, social critics and thinkers and renowned entertainers. I’m really pleased to be joined this week by one of the main figures in the contemporary worldwide skeptical movement. James, the amazing Randi. We’re going to talk about skepticism and magic, science and religion. But first, the always eloquent Lauren Becker with a thought about the Fourth of July. 

After 10 years of rambling around the country this summer, I finally have a chance to return home to Virginia to celebrate the Fourth of July. I grew up just 15 miles from Washington, D.C.. So coming home to family is more than just a chance to catch up with mom and dad. It’s a time to touch base with the extended family. The boys, Jefferson, Madison, Washington and Mason. It’s a time to revisit the familiar stories of Virginia’s history, America’s history, and to refocus my hopes for America’s future. In 1784, the General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Virginia proposed a bill establishing a provision for teachers of the Christian religion. At first, the bill had wide support. The dominant Episcopal Church stood to benefit greatly from the extra taxes that would be collected to pay for its teachers. But other Virginians saw the bill as a broad attack on the principle of freedom of conscience and a threat to the liberties. So recently ranged from King George the third. So James Madison sat down to write a memorial and remonstrance, a list of 15 reasons why Virginians should oppose the bill and any other attempt to use the state to support the church. Remarkably, the petition collected over 13000 signatures when the General Assembly gathered again in 1785. The bill died before it even made it to the floor. The success of Madison’s petition set the stage for the passage of Thomas Jefferson’s Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom. Then, in 1787, when the Constitutional Convention met to create a new American system of government, the language of the Virginia statute became the law of the nation and inspired the first secular Republican history. That is, unless you’re one of millions of people that think America is a Christian nation founded on the Ten Commandments. This Fourth of July finds America deeply divided. Much of the country is convinced that America is in the midst of a vast moral decline to slow the trend. Many right wing political and religious leaders and millions of citizens are demanding a return to biblical teachings and a re-emphasis on the foundation of American virtue, which they believe to be the Ten Commandments. They imagine a link between secular government and societal decay. And have there more been hacking away at what Jefferson called the wall of separation between church and state? They believe that if we’ll just do what God tells us to do, he’ll make it all better for them. Morality comes from God. So they look to faith to save the day. Strangely, those on the other side of the debate have given up their historical support of church state separation in favor of also calling for a return to God, though they have a very different idea of what that means. Left-Wing liberal leaders now believe we all need a deeper spirituality that will help guide us out of our moral malaise and lead us to a kinder and more loving society for them. Morality comes from some kind of transcendent awareness of the sacred. So they look to a higher power to save the day. There was a time when the church state debate was about the merits of a secular state versus those of a religious state. The big question then was should the state be neutral toward religion or should it actively support religion? This should be the discussion today. But thanks to a ferocious branding campaign, the term secular now equates with evil. So our national leaders are left to babble about the values of conservative dogma versus liberal spiritualism. At the end of the day, the issue has been framed so poorly that no matter who wins the debate, we’re all losing. Everyone is so busy trying to figure out how to keep the faith. Get it back or wear it on their sleeve. It’s no longer safe to ask the most important question. Is it wise to try to fix a nation’s problems with religion? Is it even possible? There’s a dangerous problem with a movement to base our national morality on Christian faith specifically or even on religion in general. Of course, it’s a good idea to have a strong moral foundation. But morals don’t need religion to be sound. In fact, history is replete with examples showing that morality does horrific damage when it is based on the authority of God. God’s laws are absolutes, and the things that make people want to cling to absolutes are the very things that can make them dangerous. Absolutes shut down critical thinking. They allow no reflection. There is no room for debate. There is no moderation. There is no reason when people attach the authority of God to moral precepts. They turn good ideas into bad ideology and corrupt theology. Benign ideas for peaceful living get perverted into the ends, justify the means because God said so. Here’s a little thought experiment to run while you’re sitting around this weekend waiting for the Fourth of July fireworks to begin. How many of our current crises around the world can be traced back to an end justifies the means. Ideology ideology is amenable to branding and particularly useful during political campaigns. But it is a disastrous base from which to make decisions. It’s a disastrous way to govern a country. People who believe the United States can somehow be saved by a rebirth of religious piety missed the most profound lesson that American history has to offer. The greatest distinction of our national experiment was not its dedication to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The genius of the American example was the method our founders used to conclude that those things should be the foundation of their new republic. They dismissed the political and religious ideologies of the day and used reason to come up with better ideas. When the colonies came together to draft the Declaration of Independence, it was not because God said so. After all, how could they appeal to God while at the same time opposing his divine representative, King George? Instead, our founders appealed to reason no less than 27 reasons and painstakingly explained to King George and the rest of the world why these United Colonies are and of right ought to be free and independent states. When delegates to the Constitutional Convention gathered to form a more perfect union, establish justice and ensure domestic tranquility. They didn’t write the authority of God into the administration of government. They studied world history and political philosophy. They compared dozens of governing systems. They reviewed centuries of human experience and reasoned, after much strenuous debate that we, the people would be the best guardians of liberty. Not God. Not King. Not priest. We, the people. And so it was with Madison’s memorial and remonstrance when the General Assembly tried to pass a bill that would infringe upon religious liberty. Madison didn’t try to justify his disagreement with an appeal to faith. He didn’t fire back at his adversaries with a commandment with. Because God said so. He looked to reason and found 15 of them more than enough to persuade his fellow Virginians to change their minds and choose the better way, a way that would make American liberty the envy of the world. Our leaders and fellow citizens are right to say that America has strayed from its original values, but our value system was never about religion. Liberty, equality, tolerance and respect, fairness, freedom of conscience and speech, distribution of power and checks and balances. The civic virtues and democratic values that have sustained us are not the commandments of an omnipotent God. This should be obvious. By definition, a democratic republic is irreconcilable with absolute authority. No American values are secular values, born of human experience and free inquiry. They are the legacies of founders who understood that happiness is more dependent on freedom than on faith. That reason is a better judge than religion, and that revolutionary ideas work better than religious ideology. America cannot be saved by a return to religion because America was not founded on faith. America is the child of reason. This Fourth of July, if we wish to honor our founding principles, if we wish to regain our moral footing and work toward a better day, we have to come home to reason. 

Hi, I’m Barry Carr, executive director of Psych up here at the Center for Inquiry. We’re celebrating our 30th anniversary this year, making the world safe for science and skepticism and dealing with fringe science and paranormal claims. We publish what I think is an essential magazine, The Skeptical Inquirer. This is the magazine for Science and Reason. The July August issue is now on shelves at better bookstores and can be ordered online at w w w Saikat. Org or by calling our toll free number one 800 six three four one six one zero. We are open Monday through Friday, 9:00 to 5:00 Eastern Time. Subscribing to the Skeptical Inquirer helps us continue to advance science and reason in our society. I am so sure that you love this magazine that I want you to have a complementary issue to see what we’re all about. To get your sample copy. Just call one 800 six three four one six one zero. I mentioned the point of inquiry podcasts and ask us for your free copy. We’ll get it right out to you. And you can begin enjoying the Skeptical Inquirer. Thank you. 

It’s a great pleasure for me to have this week’s guest on Point of Inquiry. James, the Amazing Randi is a world renowned magician and skeptic and investigator of paranormal claims who’s had a central role in the development of the worldwide skeptical movement. He’s perhaps best known for his one million dollar challenge in which his foundation will award one million dollars to anyone who’s able to show evidence of any paranormal, supernatural or occult power or event under test conditions that both parties agree to. Randy has appeared very widely in the media, including on Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show at least 22 times, and he’s also a regular on Pendent Tellers Showtime series Bullshit. He’s received numerous awards and recognitions, including the MacArthur Genius Grant, a fellowship for the John D. and Catherine T MacArthur Foundation. In 1989, the American Physical Society presented him with its Forum Award for promoting the public understanding of the relation of physics to society. He’s the author of many books, notably The Truth about Uri Geller, in which Randy used his magic background to investigate the Israeli psychic and performer Uri Geller, and also books like The Faith Healers Flimflam and an Encyclopedia of Claims, Frauds and Hoaxes of the Occult and Supernatural. James Randi, welcome to Point of Inquiry. 

Very good to be here. Thank you for inviting me, Randi. 

Like many skeptics, you began as a magician, and I’m interested in that because I worked my way through college doing magic myself. If you look back on the skeptic movement, there’s a definite relationship between magic and the skeptical viewpoint. You look at some of the greatest skeptics of the paranormal. They were also magicians Harry Houdini, Milbourne, Christopher Martin Gardner yourself, Ray Hyman, Joe Nicole Penn and Teller Jamie in sweats on and on. So let me ask you, why are so many big skeptics, also magicians? 

I think that being a magician that is a conjurer or DJ Grothe a performer gives you an expertize that’s rather rare. I know two things about people in general, members of the human race that I share this planet with. 

I know, A, how they’re fooled and more importantly, be how they fool themselves. The magician, after all, is Zambians. Suisse’s fruitfly, he said, is the most honest performer of all because he says, I’m going to deceive you. And then he does so for purposes of the vendor attainment. That is, if I were being honest about it. So the magician has that peculiar kind of expertize. He knows how the tricks are done and he knows how easily people fool themselves. 

When did you get first involved in skepticism? Was it out of your background in magic? Were you always of a skeptical bent because of your background in magic, or did one event set you off in that direction? 

Well, it’s rather hard to say. I know that at the age of twelve, I made Harry Blackstone senior, who was the reigning magician of the day at the local theater, and we struck up a friendship and they had quite elderly gentleman and this little twelve year old kid. And that’s what got me interested in magic. But even at that age, I was doubting a lot of claims that were being made. There were faith healers in the neighborhood and there were spirit churches. Doriana, I could solve some of the tricks that they were doing. But it took a little bit more time. Oh, perhaps another six or eight years before I was really well equipped to do that sort of thing. So it was a gradual process, though I was critical and skeptical from the very beginning. 

What was the first paranormal claim that you investigated? 

I was introduced by my friend Terrence Lawson, who was a couple of years older than I and was into amateur magician stuff at the local magic shop. I was introduced by him to the Temple of Inspired Thought, a Spirit Church on Queen Street West. I believe in Toronto, a city in which I was born and raised. And he took me on one Sunday to sit in the congregation up to the balcony where we get a good view of people. And I can tell you that was quite a revelation. I saw the old one ahead. I feel this prejudice, which is still used today and has been used for a century. It’s a it’s a popular he can make us try to convince people that I’ve low fat or sealed up and held in the hand of a poor farmer actually being supernaturally red. But that’s another matter altogether. It was just a case of seeing an old gimmick being used. And I remember that I went down to the man hours. 

I interrupted the performance, although they were calling it a service as a recent the wastepaper basket and pulled out a handful of arbitrary questions and said to the audience, This man is using a gimmick. He’s teasing you. This is a pack of lies. And I was promptly escorted out of the place and in fact, taken to the police station across the street and was put into the hands of the policeman there who was rather amused over the whole thing. They knew this was a bunch of crazy people across the street, but they called my father and he was paged at the golf course. And four hours later, I was back on that. I was not very happy and my father was very happy. 

The minister was actually doing magic tricks during the service. 

Yes, they did give because they went ahead. As I said, very frequently used in spirit churches and sites. Almost universally, people at the door are asked to write a question of some kind or make a statement in writing on an index card which isn’t sealed inside and out below. And they write their name on the outside of the envelope. They drop it into the basket. And later on in the service, the basket is brought up to the front, to the preacher ministry, whatever you want to call them, the. 

And he reaches into the basket apparently at random and picks up an arrow closer to his forehead and he reads First, I should say, he read out the name that’s on the front of the envelope and that person to identify themselves and they’ll stand up. And then he’ll hold the elbow to his head, still feels. And that’s what’s written inside the envelope. And answer the question from spiritual inspiration. Then he chairs open the envelope as a check. The card on the inside says, Aha. But suicide picks up another album and does the same thing. Well, what he’s done is he’s actually gotten a lot of the Alvo’s out of the basket secretly backstage and as memorize a question or comment that’s on the inside. And the name that’s on the outside. That’s easy enough. And when he reaches into the basket, he’s holding up a totally different of what somebody hasn’t already been into to examine the contents. As he announces the name of the they are Beloff that he had previously studied reading off the front of the overall ostensibly. And then he tells what the contents of the opera that he carries. It felt as if to check. Well, actually, what he’s doing is he’s noting the name that’s really on the outside of this Arbroath, one that he hasn’t had before. And the question is on the inside, he says, Aha. But to decide and then announces as he picks up another Abelow, he announces the name that he has just read on that Arvelo. Who is he? So it’s one ahead. And he appears to be reading the Oslo picture held to his forehead, but he’s actually reading the previous one. So it’s a popular. Give me that. It’s a good trick. It’s a trick in magic. 

They call that, I guess, the Q and A. Act. Is it being done in spiritualist churches? 

Still, yes. That’s the standard. Trick is done in spiritualist church. Today has been for a Roger DJ Grothe. 

Wow. Randy, who are some skeptics? You mentioned Harry Blackstone as an influence. But who are some skeptics or advocates of the critical scientific outlook who were in influence, whom you looked up to, maybe inspired you or John Booth, who is now in his 90s, if John is still with us? 

I’m not sure it was a big influence. 

And most of the magicians that I knew at that time were very influential in telling me what various tricks could be paralyzing him. But in fact, I used to ask them to disprove church on Sundays and Saturday afternoons when they held services, and it would be able to come back and give me some input and some of their insight on what was happening there before the audience. 

But once, you know, the gimmicks are used by magicians and the misdirection that is used by them, psychological as well as physical, you begin to understand these things for yourself. So I eat a great deal of help in that particular direction. It becomes obvious after a while, a grounding in magic tricks and such and far as you very well as to what’s happening automatically. 

Matter of fact, people are always saying what’s new? And I say no, really. And nothing is new. I was interviewed by people from South Korea over a year ago and now come to Dangote who were asking me to go to South Korea to do a TV series, which I subsequently did. And they told me after I’d signed the contracts and agreements that they had all kinds of people in South Korea that would surprise me that we’re brand new, that we’re doing things that has never been heard of before. And what I got there some weeks after that, I saw that there was the same old thing. It was just a different cast of a different language, a different facial characteristic. But they were telling exactly the same thing that’s been done since the early 60s, hundreds. And it is in the literature. 

I’d like to let our listeners know that books by James Randi like Flimflam Man, The Truth about a Wriggler can be purchased at a discount through our website, Leighann Lord. Point of inquiry, dawg. 

Randy, you’re one of the most visible and well-known skeptics worldwide. You just mentioned going to South Korea. You also have some serious detractors, mostly from the more call it, the more credulous parts of our society. Believers often criticize your one million dollar challenge, saying that only scientists should be designing and testing paranormal claimants. Yeah, you’ve argued, as you did earlier, that magicians should be involved whenever possible in testing and investigating the paranormal. Let’s get more into that. Why should magicians always be involved in paranormal investigation, if at all possible? 

If at all possible, and not always, because some of them are pretty evident. That’s where trickery could be taking place. As psychological or physical, magician certainly should be involved. 

I’ve been told this by many scientists that I’ve worked with over the years and many different countries around the world that they appreciate my involvement, my participation in designing tests like this. But the way that was stated said that scientists should be the ones testing and they are eventually. I don’t involve myself in the test personally unless I am asked to be involved. To be asked by the people who are answering the charges. 

But you helped design the testimony. 

I helped design the tests and I helped to regulate the way the tests were carried out because the trickery is taking place. I want to get around the possibility that we usually design those things in such a way in advance, rather advanced that there’s no doubt that that has been guarded against Jim Underdown. 

Would you detail for your listeners the story, the Project Alpha experiment at the MacDonell Laboratory for Psychical Research? It was at Washington University, one of my alma maters. 

Yes. Well, very briefly, I heard in the press that a Professor Philips there had been given a huge amount of money by the McDonald Aircraft Corporation through John A. MacDonald, who was a big way to air at the time. 

Now deceased, I believe. And he wanted to investigate the possibility of life after death. 

Now, what that had to do with the specific experiments they were doing, I don’t really know, but I always question that. But nonetheless, he spent his money the way he wants to. 

So I sent a letter to Phillips at the university and I said very clearly that if he wanted assistance in designing protocol to get around any possibility of trickery, that I would be available to him at no charge. All he had to do was pay any expenses that might be involved in travel or any such thing. Now, this is before the James Ride. The Educational Foundation exists first. And the letter I got back was very curt and rather insulting. He said that they thought he didn’t need the help of magicians and designing scientific tests. So I accepted that. I thought to myself, I wonder if I could get somebody in there to test whether they know what they’re doing. And I went into my files and I came off with the names of two young fellows who one of which is as a leading mentalists today. No one as batted check. 

And when I found these names, I saw that they had made comments to the effect that if it was ever necessary to use a ringer to send into a laboratory, it would be willing to serve. They didn’t know what another, but I acquainted them by telephone and I suggested to them that they applied at the laboratory. They did. And the application was very successful. Apparently nobody else applied except the fellow. His name was Tom Richards, who is a professional psychic, a real woo woo character. He was called by the laboratory independently. He didn’t apply what they called and they got him in. And of course, the two kids were highly amused to see the gimmicks that Mr. Richards was carrying on right in their midst there. And they knew what was happening. 

My agreement with the kids and they were getting what if you’re ever asked if what you did was a trick, you are to immediately say yes. And we were sent in here by James Raddy to test the facilities for its ability to detect trickery. They were never asked. Sometimes the letters that I wrote to the laboratory during the several years that they were used in the holiday periods from time to time, never accepting a penny for their efforts, only the expenses, the travel costs. I thought the interesting things that I introduced and letters there, I would send them a copy of the letter, of course, suggesting to the laboratory that if such and such a thing happened, which was happening, and I hear about it, they should do the following and they would always get my letters read to them. And of course, the potential was that at the end of the letter that Phyllis would look up and say, is this true? Are you doing tricks? But he never asked if they were ready for that question to be asked. And they were ready to answer. Yes, but he never asked them. He would not ask them, even though I said in every letter, you should ask these kids whether they’re doing tricks. 

So Phillips was never skeptical? 

No, he couldn’t be skeptical as he was. They’ve been granted a huge fortune by a got aircraft to run this laboratory. And he was very well equipped with a body and and scientific technology to be able to do this thing that he didn’t want to spoil a perfectly good situation. 

So what eventually happened? Steve Shaw. Now, Bana, check this mind reader, this mentalists entertainer. But then he was a teenager. Steve Shaw and Mike Edwards, were they eventually found out? 

No. They were never discovered. What they did was they eventually admitted the whole thing. As our agreement was in advance, that before they ever tried to publish scientific papers saying this was the real thing, that they would come for it. They would be well aware of that, of course. But Phyllis confided everything to them that they were well aware of that and they would come forward. Then they would admit that this was trickery. That’s exactly what happened. Before Phillips appeared at a conference of her psychological conference prepared to read a paper in which he was saying that. These kids were definitely psychic. He have a copy of his proposed favoritism. They sent it off to me immediately. Horrified as to what he was going to say. And I notified Phillips and I told them to notify him like they did. And he issued the paper because he had already announced he was going to issue the favorite. But he put in ostensibly and possibly and perhaps he put in all kinds of modifiers all the way through until I took the air Java completely. And he was highly embarrassed or Jim Underdown. 

Looking back at your incredibly distinguished career as a skeptic in paranormal investigator, is there one or another investigation that especially stands out, one that you’re most proud of? I’m thinking of your investigation of Peter Pop Off and others. 

Is there one that you would like to share with our listeners or to drop off line is something we can handle briefly. Peter Popoff was a so-called faith healer who appeared on television channels right up and down the spectrum. It was very popular. His program was syndicated and rebroadcast in every tiny backwoods town, either on radio and or on television. It was very popular, very well. No, I don’t. 

He was bringing out a fortune. Well, I understood this whole thing and we actually sent people out there to pose as those who wanted to be healed in the audience. One was a postman who was disguised as a woman with a couple of apples that were appropriately placed in the dress. Haven’t seen the full profile. God didn’t tell him that he was being fooled and he healed this post-flight of ovarian cancer, which I don’t think he was afflicted with. So we showed that, God, he was speaking to a pop off, apparently. And we intercepted his broadcast because Popoff was using a two way radio thing that was concealed on his body. He had a small earpiece and didn’t have a wire running into it. It was said by induction that looked like a hearing aid. But we soon found out that that hearing aid was transmitting information to him about the people in the audience. His wife is on the other end of this communication system that telling him to go down the aisle, stop the third row, the fellow on the end there in the red shirt. That’s Bill. And Bill has ovarian cancer. And Popoff would be does Farm Day with Dallas some of the details. But the background, Bill, because Bill had been pumped for his address and the name of his wife and his children and various other things which he willingly gave because he was about to receive the benefits of being healed, of whatever problems we reveal this whole thing on the Carson show eventually. And Carson himself was rather taken by surprise. Carson didn’t like surprises. And what I approached his producer backstage beforehand, he said, oh, we’ll have to tell Johnny. And I said, think of it for a moment, Fred. Maybe the expression on Johnny Face will be worth it. They looked me straight in the eyes, said, OK, it’s on your head. And indeed, that’s exactly what we did. We put the the thing on the program live with the audience sitting right there. And Carson’s mouth just fell open. The matter of fact, during the taping, he came up with that unfortunate phrase, which just escapes his lips. It had to be edited out of the tape. But Carson was willing to go along with the things to the point where he was so surprised and he was dismayed when he heard about it. He was so angry at Popoff and so wanted to expose them. Well, he was thoroughly exposed. And you’d think that would pop up out of business. Well, he said that NBC had hired a woman to impersonate his wife via radio, etc. A few things like that, very, very effective because no one believed as the first pop. I just dropped off the scene for the moment and he made a comeback. Eventually, the Black Entertainment Network. And as he found his audience there, apparently, and he’s back doing the same act, except I don’t believe that he used the radio any further because I might be in the back of the audience there with a listening device in my field is supposedly Jim Underdown. 

You see, he’s still on BGT. Is there anything that people could do if they feel the same kind of righteous indignation that you say Johnny felt and and that motivated you to investigate pop off in the first place? 

What can they do? They can’t go to the local station because the local station is just accepting a videotape from Popoff and they’re being paid to broadcast it. They’re not gonna interfere with that cash cow. That’s money coming out every week. I don’t care whether it’s genuine or not. All they care is that the pop off pays the check. 

So we’re talking now really about this intersection of religious belief, fan skepticism. And that brings us to kind of a controversial subject, especially these days. In the history, the skeptical movement, there’s always been kind of this division of labor, some national organizations look at the paranormal and pseudoscience, you know, psychics, astrology, Bigfoot, UFOs. But they don’t look into other supernatural claims of our society, especially claims about, say, the existence of God or or angels or, you know, religious claims. Other national skeptical organizations look at the question of God and religion almost exclusively. I’m thinking of groups like the Council for Secular Humanism. They deal with ethnic Sân and religious belief. And you know what the scientific outlook has to say about those things, but they don’t treat the paranormal all that much. Let me ask you. Do you think that skeptics, people, you know, steeped in the scientific outlook, the kind of skeptical world view that you’ve advanced these decades? Do you think the skeptics should be just as skeptical of supernatural religious claims as they are of supernatural claims regarding ghosts or talking to the dead or things like that? 

Of course, because it’s exactly the same thing. I just got to a different costume on. The priest wears a different costume from the farmer of Pungently, somebody of inspired spiritualist church. It’s exactly the same thing. Religious beliefs are superstitious beliefs. They are a belief based on mythology. And we should get the terminology correct here, too. They keep on talking about faith. Well, there are two kinds of faith, very distinctly different from what the other one is, a kind of faith based upon evidence. Sophia Loren will probably not be at my home when I go home tonight, waiting for me patiently. I know that from past experience and from good common sense. There is evidence to support that expectation. But religious claims are based upon mythology. They are not based upon evidence at all. And when you try to argue with these folks who say, say what? It’s in the Bible, that’s all I need is in the book. And they wrapped the book and they smile and they turn away from you because they have this ability to be very proud of the fact that though they’ve got no evidence, they still believe. And as Richard Dawkins has said so many times, this is incredible that people will take great pride in being ignorant and believing in something for which they have no evidence whatsoever, simply as a matter of pride and, of course, a matter of fear, because religious belief is also a fearful belief, because if they don’t believe that, they don’t declare that they’re safe, they’ll go to hell. 

And they don’t want that. They believe in this pathology. They are firmly. And Trish. And there really is any way that you can tell the real believer out of being a believer. 

Couple years ago, you came out as a bright someone who is a scientific naturalist. Is someone skeptical of God’s existence, an atheist, agnostic, maybe a humanist? Still a lot of terms people bandy about. But Bright seems to be an umbrella term for a lot of people. Do you think that other skeptics should also come out as brights or come out skeptical of God’s existence? 

Well, I’m concerned about the term because there isn’t a suitable term really to cover it, right? I think it’s the closest that can be gotten to it. But it’s like the term gay homosexuals. They’ve sort of worked it around to a point where it’s accepted as a as a proper term. And I think the word break will be accepted to designate people who are evidence based and their conclusions. 

And that’s actually what it is, evidence based in their conclusions about gun. 

No evidence based on their conclusions that everything now they have the belief in God is only one thing, of course, but they’re evidence based on that. 

And remember that the writer are not essentially an atheist organization, but they are certainly not going to believe in religious claims and religious philosophy if they are truly bright because they’ll require evidence and are to believe that religion does not call for evidence. It calls for blind belief, belief, not based on evidence. 

I’m interested a lot in the future of the skeptical movement. Does it ever seem to you like that skepticism, the thankless job that it is unappreciated in our society, that it’s going nowhere? Or would you say that skepticism has really made a difference and is continuing to really make a difference? I guess what I’m asking. What keeps you pushing the boulder up the hill when the paranormals, the super naturalists seem like they’re always going to be with us. 

And even that they’re growing in numbers are purslow, those voters up the Hill and some of them stayed there. And I went down the hill. I got another boulder. So they’re always falling back down the hill. Remember, I’m not Tantalus, not professionally and not philosophically. No, I think we get a lot of boulders up that hill and they’re staying in place. Thank you all federal from at around the bottom to make sure they say their skepticism is working. And I get a huge amount of correspondence here. We’ve got something like nine thousand hits a day. Our Web page, Endor, nationally, that’s internationally, all over the world from different languages and such. So that’s that’s rather effective. And I think it’s powerful, as effective as one thing that can apply to an individual. Powerful, I think, are by far two groups of people and the populace in general. I think it’s been very effective, safe, working well. And as I see all this correspondence pouring in here from people who are saying things like, Mr. Ali, you were your foundation made a great deal of difference in my attitude. I’m now reading skeptically, Inquirer and The Skeptic cetera, et cetera. That’s very, very satisfying and particularly satisfying when it comes from young people. And a lot of these people are young people who are just following their basic philosophies of life. And I’m very proud to have had some effect. 

I’d like to remind our listeners that you could purchase copies of James Randi’s books. The Truth About a Wriggler The Faith Healers Flimflam through our website point of inquiry dot org. Randi, you just mentioned that you’re particularly enthusiastic about young people and and how they’re getting involved in the skeptical movement Center for Inquiry sponsors and helps organize and fund a nationwide network of 180 plus campus groups. But when you look at the resources that we provide in our network and compare it to, say, the campus crusade for Christ, which alone has an annual operating budget of 400 million dollars, that’s each year. Where do you get your optimism? How can you think that there are you know, that there’s light at the end of the tunnel when you realize the cultural competition that the skeptical pro science point of view has out in society? 

Well, the letters that I get every now and then a letter will arrive saying you made a big difference. You changed my way of thinking. I want to thank you, etc.. That’s all I need. I don’t need very many of those. It’s not the amount of money that you’d have to know. James Randi, Education Foundation doesn’t have big money behind it at all. We do have the one million dollars, which is at Goldman Sachs, but that’s specifically as a prize for anyone who can prove any paranormal or alcalde claim that can’t be touched. We can take the interests of it the top of that every year, and that helps to run the foundation. It’s maybe only about four percent of our budget. The interest off the amount of money that’s on the bank. But nonetheless, the fact is that it’s not the total dollar value that you have, the amount of money you have to spend. It’s what you do with that. And what we’re doing with it, I think has been very, very effective. And it’s money well spent. We’re having an influence for having an influence on the important people and particularly young people, because they are the next generation. 

They’ll be here while I’m gone. And that that gives me a good feeling of self-satisfaction that we’ve created a generation that is going to stay behind and a president who has something to do with running the world. 

So skepticism is having an impact. Randy, where do you see that impact going in the future? Where do you see the skeptical movement headed, say, 10 years from now, 25 years from now? 

Well, I think that we’re going to have to wait to see. I won’t be around. I don’t think. But nonetheless, someone will be around. Perhaps you will. And I ask you to take a look for me, if you will. He’s okay. I think that we’re going to see that this younger generation that we’re getting to is going to have an influence eventually. I don’t know that I can hope that it will get into the upper echelons of politics. I can’t imagine that about announcing that he’s an atheist or he’s a appraiser or whatever and applying for the position of president of the United States. That’s going to take quite some time. I think a few generations before that could possibly happen, as a matter of fact. We are going in a new direction with the presidential aspirations because women are serious. 

They’re beginning to think about selling that position, which I would be very highly edified to see happen eventually if that person is of the right cast of mind, of course, that I could manage to live with. So we’re we are having big changes taking place around us. And I look forward to those big changes. I won’t get too prophetic. And while I’m rolling this present rock uphill and hoping that it’s going to stay where I put it. 

I think no rolling doubt over me if I get prophetic. I’m not going to try that. 

I used that to be the war, was there. 

Randy, what can a listener do if they’re motivated by what you’ve said and they’re interested in helping advance the skeptical viewpoint in our society? What are some concrete things a listener can do starting today? 

Well, I suggest that they are followed by Web based on that basis, scribed for Skeptical Inquirer and Skeptic magazine. However, a different take and a different approach on the paranormal claims and whatnot. They rather reflect one another’s to a certain extent. But we have to subscribe to those periodicals and we have to try to get a group going at our locality or join the group that is going in the locality since they’re all over the world. It shouldn’t be difficult for you to find a group that meets regularly and discusses these matters, get involved. And when you see something come up in their local newspaper and the local TV channel, do write a letter. It’s only one letter. Yes, but that letter can be the one that’s going to turn the tide. That’s going to make a difference and may even get you mentioned on the television program or in the newspaper as having hit a fan. That is somewhat different from the werewolves out there expressing your opinion in a free society, such as what we boldly assume we have and that limiters. Is there, I think, can be very, very effective. I encourage everybody to get involved. 

Do say something and make sure that your your your word on the thing and your opinions are heard. 

Randy, it’s been a great pleasure to have you on point of inquiry. Thank you. 

Well, you’re very welcome. I’m glad to have been here. 

You’ve seen the headlines, Bill seeks to protect students from liberal bias. The right time for an Islamic reformation. Kansas School Board redefined science. These stories sum up the immense challenge facing those of us who defend rational thinking, science and secular values. What one adviser to the Bush administration dismissed as the reality based community. Who could have imagined that reality would need defenders? The educational and advocacy work of the Center for Inquiry is more essential than ever. And your support is more essential than ever. Show your commitment to science, reason and secular values. By becoming a friend of the center today, whether you are interested in the work of psychology and skeptical Inquirer magazine, the Council for Secular Humanism and Free Inquiry Magazine, the Commission for Scientific Medicine or Center for Inquiry on Campus. By becoming a friend of the center, you’ll help strengthen our impact. If you’re just learning about CFI, take a look at our Web site. W w w dot. Center for Inquiry dot net. We hosted regional and international conferences, college courses and nationwide campus outreach. You’ll also find out about our new representation at the United Nations, an important national media appearances. We cannot pursue these projects without your help. Please become a friend of the center today by calling one 800 eight one eight seven zero seven one or visiting w w w dot center for inquiry dot net. We look forward to working with you to enlarge the reality based community. 

Thanks for listening to this episode of Point of Inquiry. Join us next week for a discussion with Paul Kurtz, the founder of the Center for Inquiry and all the other organizations headquartered here. We’re going to have a discussion about, well, the science of happiness, a topic he calls stoicism and the courage to flourish, to get involved with an online discussion about the topics in today’s show. The back and forth I had with James, the amazing Randi go to w w w dot CFI dash forums, dot org. Views expressed on point of inquiry aren’t necessarily the views of the Center for Inquiry, nor its affiliated organizations. Questions and comments on today’s show can be sent to feedback at point of inquiry dot org or by visiting our Web site. Point of inquiry dot org. 

Point of inquiry is produced by Thomas Donnelly and recorded at the Center for Inquiry in Amherst, New York. Executive producer is Paul Kurtz. Point of Inquiries. Music is written and composed for us by Emmy Award winning Michael Palin. Contributors to today’s show include Lauren Becker, Thomas Donnelly, Debbie Goddard, Sarah Jordan and Barry Carr. I’m your host, DJ Grothe. 

DJ Grothe

D.J. Grothe is on the Board of Directors for the Institute for Science and Human Values, and is a speaker on various topics that touch on the intersection of education, science and belief. He was once the president of the James Randi Educational Foundation and was former Director of Outreach Programs for the Center for Inquiry and associate editor of Free Inquiry magazine. He previously hosted the weekly radio show and podcast Point of Inquiry, exploring the implications of the scientific outlook with leading thinkers.