Robert Todd Carroll
January 12, 2005
"God created blacks to make merry, whites to
make money, Asians to make televisions, Latinos to make babies, and Indians
to make rain" (The "wisdom" of
Reggie White in a nutshell, summed up by
Michael Shermer. White, a former NFL football player and evangelical
preacher, died recently.)
In this issue: confessions of a book
burner; psychic insecurity in Russia; dead
men still writing and Kerry & the bishops revisited; what's
new in The Skeptic's Dictionary and The Skeptic's Refuge; and
some upcoming events.
My psychic powers proven wrong
From the frequent criticism of readers of The
Skeptic's Dictionary that I don't provide a "fair and balanced" account
of the topics I take up, I surmise that many readers ignore the introduction
to the book. It is there that I announce that the SD does not attempt to
provide a fair and balanced account but a skeptical counterweight to the
abundant publications on the other side. At the conclusion of my
introduction I write: "I believe it is highly probable that the only
interest a true believer would have in The Skeptic’s Dictionary would
be to condemn and burn it without having read it." I may have overstated the
case, however. At least one true believer claims to have read the book
twice before burning it.
I have read and re-read your infamous book, "The
Skeptics Dictionary". But then it became clear to me that the book I
purchased is rubbish and a waste of time. The book has many flaws and only
shows your shameful ignorance on many subjects. It is also very
misleading. I hope you will never write another know-it-all book again. I
am very, very disappointed at my purchase.
P.S. I burned the book.
I don't know why he admits that it took him two times
through to discover the book is rubbish. I advised him to ask his friends to
buy hundreds of copies for a massive bonfire and to be sure to notify the
national press before lighting the match.
James Randi blurbed The Skeptic's Dictionary by
calling it "first aid for psychic attacks." Now we find it reported that
former Russian President Boris Yeltsin had a special “psychic security
department” to protect him from psychic attacks. According to
Yuri Malin, a former KGB agent, "reportedly told UPI that that the Russian
secret services had a special department to protect top Russian officials
from malevolent scientists and extrasensory individuals, who might create
devices that were capable of affecting human psychology."
The story is that the psychic security department was
formed when a directional antenna was found in Yeltsin's office and it was
determined that it had been put there "to exert a psychological influence on
Malin claims that the cost of extrasensory security
was $3,000 a month. For $2,000, however, a candidate could have an expert
"bewitch the entire population of a town to make all people vote for him.
The cheapest extrasensory service for assisting candidates during public
appearances was $150 per hour." The Skeptic's Dictionary is only
$19.95 and assuredly offers at least as much protection as any Russian
psychic security agent.
Pravda.com - not a reliable source, I know - has Malin also saying that
President Putin has "no professionals in his team to help him struggle with
the external psychophysical influence." According to Pravda, "The agents of
the psychic security department were taking great care of Boris Yeltsin:
they were meticulously watching over every little detail. They could not let
a button of Yeltsin's shirt disappear: it was believed that extrasensory
individuals could put the evil eye on the
president with the help of any little thing that Yeltsin owned."
What century are we in?
Bryan Krofchok responded to
about quacks claiming to channel books from famous dead authors.
biography of Peter Fleming (James Bond creator Ian Fleming's older
brother) contains the following:
``A year later there began a sequence of far stranger events
connected with Ian which Peter was never able to explain. It started in
October 1970, when he was approached by a man whom he described ... as `Mr
A' -- a retired bank officer of seventy-three who lived in Hertfordshire.
In a short, typewritten letter Mr A told Peter that he had some `unusual
and I believe very pleasurable news concerning your late brother Ian' [who
had been dead six years], and asked if he might come and have a talk.
Peter, agreeing rather reluctantly, arranged a meeting for the following
``When Mr A came he brought with him his middle-aged daughter Vera
and a 60,000-word typescript on the cover of which was inscribed, `Take
Over: A James Bond Thriller'. This, he explained, had been dictated by Ian
to Mrs A (Vera's mother), who had died some three years earlier; Mrs A had
transmitted its text from the spirit world to Vera, who had taken it down
in longhand. Ian, he went on, was one of a group of authors who were
anxious to carry on writing in the spirit world and so to prove to people
on earth that life goes on `very pleasurably' (as one of them put it)
after death. The other authors were Conan Doyle, H. G. Wells, Edgar
Wallace, Ruby M. Ayres and Somerset Maugham; but when Miss Ayres later
dropped out of the syndicate on her promotion to a `Higher Plane', her
place was promptly taken by Bernard Shaw.''
(The double dictation from Ian to Mrs A to Vera strikes me as
particularly amusing.) The story goes on for 3-1/2 more pages, with Peter
described as being both skeptical and fascinated by the incident. Some
``It would be hard to imagine anybody harder-headed than Peter in
matters of this kind, or anybody less easily impressed; and indeed, as he
read some pages of `Take Over', his scepticism built up rapidly, for he
saw that although the book made use of the traditional Bond apparatus --
M, Universal Export, Miss Moneypenny and so on -- its style and execution
were nothing whatever like Ian's.'' ...
``At the beginning of November 1970 the spirit authors began to
transmit `Tales of Mystery and Imagination': in the next two months Edgar
Wallace wrote five, H. G. Wells and Ian two each, Conan Doyle and
Somerset Maugham one each: a total of 30,000 words. Later, Maugham began
sending a full-length novel. All this work was, as Peter put it, 'tosh' --
crude, devoid of literary merit, and all almost exactly the same. In
November, after asking Peter's permission, Mr A submitted `Take Over' to
Jonathan Cape, who not surprisingly rejected it.'' ...
``But the most striking fact, as Peter pointed out, was that in a
period of scarcely nine months `some form of intelligence' had caused Vera
to copy out, in her mother's handwriting, a 60,000-word book, some 30,000
words of short stories, and thousands more words of `service traffic'. As
anyone who has tried to produce a book will know, the sheer energy needed
to put 100,000 words on paper is enormous, and it was very hard, in this
case, to discern whence the momentum could have emanated. Had Vera been
otherwise unoccupied, the feat -- for someone with no literary background
or inclinations -- would have been remarkable enough; as it was, she had a
full-time job, a house to run and an ailing husband (who died in February
1971) to look after.''
What I didn't realize until just now is that Peter apparently
submitted an article to the London Sunday Times about the incident in
Spring 1971, which was published as their main feature of the week.
Proof once again that there is nothing new under the sun.
However, Nathan Hall has found an author who has one-upped the channelers of
famous dead people. Nathan refers to David Wilcock's book
Reincarnation of Edgar Cayce? Wilcock claims he is Edgar
Cayce. In language reminiscent of Gary Schwartz or Dean Radin, Wilcock says
he found that he "was born on the one day of 127 years where his
astrological planetary configurations exactly matched Cayce's, with odds of
300,000 to one."
Jose Cabo wrote to defend the Catholic bishops' position opposing Kerry
and advising that priests deny him the Eucharist.
I think you make a mistake in your last newsletter (number 50) when
you talk about Kerry and the Catholic hierarchy. Moral high ground or not
(I think whether the attitude of the bishops is self-righteous or not is
irrelevant when it comes to the facts) Kerry did go against fundamental
Catholic doctrine when he supported abortion. Consequently, he had no
right to present himself to the electorate as a faithful Catholic. I would
even guess that most Catholics saw through his facade. He looked like a
total religious hypocrite. It's, of course, unfortunate that a profession
of religiosity is so important in American politics, but that does not
justify Kerry's feigning allegiance to a creed he obviously does not
share. The issue of abortion is serious. If one thinks --as the Roman
Catholic church does--it equivalent to murder, they cannot simply "agree
to disagree" and be tolerant of the opposite view. The same goes for
fox-hunting in Britain or bullfighting in my own country, Spain.
The fact that the Catholic bishops behaved poorly in the sex abuse
scandal does not, however, mean that they cannot be right in criticizing
Kerry-- I think ad hominem or tu quoque arguments are not valid in this
Kerry doesn't "support" abortion. He supports the
right of a woman to have one if she chooses. The fact that he doesn't
think it is right to make a law that would impose on the rest of Americans
his own personal moral belief is something I admire and others despise. To
me, it is the bishops that look like hypocrites.
I don't think it is fair to characterize Kerry as
feigning allegiance to Catholicism simply because he doesn't' want to cram
his creed down our throats in the form of laws that impose what Catholics
believe on all Americans. It's not Kerry that needs moral lessons; it's the
bishops. They whine and gnash their teeth about the millions of innocents
slaughtered in abortions while they abuse thousands of the living and
protect priests who do the same. When women and children were dying in
indecent conditions while pursuing illegal abortions, where were the
bishops? Legal abortion may be bad but illegal abortion is worse.
It seems that the only universal moral rule these
days is "thou shalt be non-judgmental". Ironically, such relativism is
ultimately self-defeating, because it assumes tolerance itself to be an
absolute value. Real moral relativists are probably as nonexistent as
Bigfoot. So maybe it's time for a re-evaluation of such a belief. Perhaps
the respectful thing to do is not to "tolerate" our neighbor's moral code
(as if we were simply putting up with a household pest) but to take him to
the debating arena and engage in polemics, vigorously if necessary. How
else are we to find out whose moral arguments are better? Beliefs, after
all, are there to be tested, not to be "respected".
I'm not denying that on most issues we can and
should probably just "agree to disagree". But there are other issues which
do not admit such a civilized compromise.
Abortion is one such issue.
No it isn't. Why should any particular view on the
issue of abortion get a free pass? Why shouldn't proponents of whatever
viewpoint have to argue their cases before the court of public opinion?
It's disingenuous to
tell someone it's okay for them to believe abortion is murder, so long as
she respects the right of others to have abortions, just as it would be
dishonest, in the context of the death penalty debate, to tell
abolitionists that they must respect the opposite view and allow
executions to go on as usual.
This has nothing to do with what we are talking
about: the bishops maintaining that unless a politician supports their
political belief--yes, the position that there be a law forbidding
abortion is a political belief--he should suffer religious
consequences. The issue we're debating isn't whether there should be
toleration of opposing moral views, but whether a man who has never aided
anyone in having an abortion and has never advocated that any woman have
an abortion, is obligated by the tenets of his religion to oppose a law
that would give women the right to choose whether to have an abortion.
(After all, the lex talionis is probably
better than private vengeance). I'm not advocating persecution of anyone,
but I believe that in such cases an outcry is preferable to tolerance and
silence. Should the principle of not imposing our beliefs on others
through legislation justify allowing the ancient Indian institution of
sati (or sutee) or the practice of female circumcision in the case of
Sudanese Americans? I don't think so.
Again, the issue we're debating isn't the toleration
The bishops may be wrong about abortion (science
may be able to tell us one day the exact moment when a fetus becomes a
person) but their argument must stand or fall on its own.
Science can never tell us when a fetus becomes a
person. That is a social, political, and ethical issue. But again, the
issue isn't whether the bishops are right or wrong about abortion, but
whether they are right in claiming that no Catholic is entitled to the
privileges of his religion if he does not oppose a secular law forbidding
any and every abortion.
Even if the bishops are guilty of hypocrisy, that
doesn't mean they should remain silent. We cannot use the bishops'
behavior to avoid addressing the substance of their claim. If an elderly
German politician questioned the morality of Hiroshima and an American
colleague responded by saying "look who's talking... your people
engineered the Holocaust", that would still be irrelevant to the original
In my view, almost everything you are bringing up in this
discussion is irrelevant to the original issue. You think the "substance" of their claim is that Kerry is
supporting murder by not opposing a secular law forbidding all abortions.
Neither Kerry nor anyone else who supports the right of a woman to have an
abortion is supporting murder. Nobody supports murder.
Abortion is perhaps the most divisive issue in
American politics today. In the 1860s it was slavery. Imagine for a moment
that Abraham Lincoln, when asked if slavery should be abolished, had
answered this: "I believe all men are created equal. It is an article of
faith for me. I would never have slaves, and I would not tolerate that
practice in my family. But since I am the president of all Americans,
slave-holding or not, and I don't want to impose my beliefs on anyone, I
will not abolish slavery. If anyone believes in his conscience that
slavery is morally permissible, I won't stand in his way". Wouldn't he
have alienated Yankee sensitivities and lost much of the Yankee vote? I
think he would. Likewise, I think Catholic voters perceived that Bush was
defending the Catholic viewpoint on abortion better than Kerry.
I really don't know what Catholics were thinking. They
may have preferred Bush because of his position on abortion. They may have
preferred him for other reasons. I still maintain that moralists don't get a
free pass just because they identify something as "murder." I'm sure some
Catholics or others consider masturbation by males to be "murder."
There are probably a few ayatollahs who would stone to death as murderers
any girl who menstruates. Again, though, the issue we're debating isn't
toleration of opposing moral views, but the moral hypocrisy of Catholic
The analogy between abortion and slavery is a false
one. About the only thing they share in common is the divisiveness you note.
Who knows what rationalizations the Catholic bishops of the 19th century
might have come up with to deny communion to an abolitionist candidate. There is no doubt that a slave is a living human being,
even if the law denied him or her full personhood. To kill a slave
unjustly is always the killing of a human being unjustly, whether the law
calls it murder is irrelevant to its moral heinousness. The heart of the
abortion issue is when to grant the embryo or fetus the status of
personhood. But even if that status is granted, it does not follow that
every abortion is an unjustified killing. We allow killing in self-defense
and do not consider it murder, even if the one we kill is entirely innocent
of malicious intent toward us, such as a mentally deranged person who has no
idea of what she is doing. Some abortions are done to save the life of the
mother, that is, they are killings in self-defense. The fact that an embryo
is present in the womb doesn't give it an absolute right over the life of
its host. Even if it is granted that every abortion is the killing of a human being, that
doesn't make every abortion murder any more than every killing in
self-defense, war, or execution of criminals is murder.
This is the last I have to say on the matter, so those
anti-abortionists who are firing off your missives should cease immediately.
Your letters may be read, but they won't be printed nor will I respond to
What's New in The Skeptic's
Dictionary & Skeptic's Refuge
out-of-body experiences, to include a link to
"Out of body experiences and their neural basis" by Olaf Blanke;
altered states, to include data from and a link to a
study by Pehr Granqvist of Uppsala University, who found that exposing
the temporal lobes to weak magnetic fields had no discernable effects
(contrary to what Michael Persinger found);
anthroposophic medicine, to include a link to an
about the misguided use of mistletoe to fight cancer;
electromagnetic fields, to include a link to an
article about potential damage from cell phone use;
to include a link to Ken Miller's
"Finding Darwin's God"
(updated all external links);
Bigfoot to include a link to the paperback version of Daegling's
psychics to include to a link to Leon Jaroff's
Time piece on psychic predictions, which reports on Gene
CSICOP piece on the high failure rate of psychic predictions in 2004
(but we already knew that, didn't we?);
chiropractic to include a link to a
news story about the resistance being put up by medical faculty at a
proposed college of chiropractic for Florida State University;
Noah's ark to
include a note warning the reader that the piece mocks the story and
should not be taken as an attempt at Biblical scholarship or
- electromagnetic fields: I
removed an example of lower scientific standards in courtrooms than in
labs. The example was based on newspaper stories that I now know were
misleading. The media reported that Judith Richardson Haimes sued Temple
University Hospital, claiming that a CAT scan had caused her to lose her
psychic powers. It was reported that she won a large verdict. Later it was
reported that the amount was reduced to $1 by a judge. The facts that were
not reported at the time are that Haimes told the doctors she was allergic
to iodine dye, but it was used during the test anyway. She had an
immediate adverse reaction and developed severe headaches and this
prevented her from working as a "spiritual advisor," i.e., psychic (she
was an aura reader). Her husband wrote a book about it in 1991 called
- Amway: I removed a link
to a web site that had provided a very fair and thorough analysis of one
of Amway's schemes known as Team of Destiny. Apparently, the Amway lawyers
got involved and the author of the site took it down because of a lawsuit.
Ramtha to include a link to an article by Michael Shermer and a
response from Stuart Hammeroff about the movie "What the bleep do we
exorcism to include a link to an article about a new Vatican
university course on Satanism for priests;
crystal skulls to include a link to an article that claims an "Aztec"
crystal skull in the British Museum was manufactured in Germany in the
The airlines have cut fares. That should make it
easier for some folks to attend the
Amazing Meeting 3 this
week in Las Vegas. Headliners include: Richard Dawkins, Michael Shermer,
Penn & Teller, Julia Sweeney, Banachek, Joe Nickell, Jerry Andrus, Phil
Plait, Richard Wiseman, Liam McDaid, Randi (of course), and many others.
Unfortunately, due to illness, I have had to cancel my trip to what has been
for me a highlight of the year for the past two years.
Darwin Day celebrations will be held throughout the world next month.
Check with your local humanist or freethought group for activities in your
area. The Skeptic's Dictionary is a proud sponsor of Darwin Day
Sacramento (Feb 12, 2 p.m.), where this year the featured speaker will be
neuroscientist Dr. Leah Krubitzer,
a Professor in the Department of Psychology and Center for Neuroscience at
The Skeptic Society
is sponsoring a mind-fest on Brain, Mind, & Consciousness. The event, hosted
by Michael Shermer, will be held May 13-15 in Pasadena, CA. Speakers
include: Susan Blackmore, V. S. Ramachandran, Michael Chrichton, James Randi,
Mark Edward, and several distinguished neuroscientists, psychologists, and
You can purchase your copy of
The Skeptic's Dictionary
Amazon.com or from your local bookseller. The perfect way to
start off the new year! And, suitable for burning!
Click to order from Amazon