Saturday, July 13, 2013

Critical Thinking Fail

If you ever find yourself wondering how fundamentalists could possibly see the world that way that they do, look no further than this article. Author Dan Delzell is a Christian concerned about magicians being misled and corrupted by evil spirits. And by magician he means both occultists and stage performers, because as far as I can tell he thinks they are one in the same. That is, he apparently believes that stage illusionists are actually working with paranormal forces. I expect James Randi would find that pretty bizarre - as do I. As an example, Delzell pulls up stage magician Dynamo's recent double decker bus levitation illusion (warning: linked article contains spoilers) as the sort of supernatural occurrence he's trying to warn readers against.

I had never heard of the magician, Dynamo, until I read about how he floated alongside a double-decker bus in London recently. I watched the video. Personally, I think it was legit. I believe this was a paranormal event and an authentic example of levitation. But it's not like this sort of thing is completely unheard of today.

Whether the levitation is experienced by young girls playing a dangerous occult "game" at a slumber party, ("Light as a feather, Stiff as a board") or by street magicians as shown on YouTube videos, paranormal things happen when people engage in practices that are rooted in sorcery, magic and witchcraft. Many magicians and other occultists have experienced levitation and various forms of supernatural power. These sorcerers typically cast spells or perform other rituals in an attempt to conjure the power to accomplish these feats. It is becoming more and more commonplace to see such expressions of magical performance.

What most of these magicians do not realize, however, is that the power to do such things only appears to be under their control. These magical performers are actually being duped by beings with superior intelligence to their own. Just as some magicians engage in illusion, so do the spirits which seduce magicians to go deeper and deeper into their craft. It is incredibly enticing, especially when the performers start to get high on the attention it brings them. While the spellbinding feats such as levitation are very often real, these "abilities" are not under the ultimate control and power of the magician.

All the control over these supernatural occurrences belongs to the spirits which orchestrate this "power seduction." These evil spirits seek to have total dominion over their host, and so they willfully perform supernatural acts when their host jumps through certain hoops and says certain "magical" words. It is all a con, and the victims are the hosts (magicians) and those who choose to follow the example of the sorcerers and take up the craft themselves in the seductive pursuit of power.

Seriously? Seriously??? Dynamo is a stage magician, not an occultist. He performs illusions - that is, tricks. In fact, the linked article explains exactly how he was able to "levitate" alongside a bus. Just because he's good at what he does doesn't mean that what he's doing is employing the Science of the Magi. Without giving too much away, the illusion is done with technology, not sorcery. There are no spirits involved whatsoever. But apparently the fundamentalist mindset doesn't even allow for the possibility that a paranormal-looking event might be anything other than what it seems. And understand, I say that as the sort of magician who can't do sleight of hand to save his life and does magick for real.

I've never met a sorcerer who could levitate like Dynamo did without the aid of some similar device. I can't do it myself with a spell. This is one of the cases where surely anybody who could do it reliably would have claimed James Randi's money, for all I that don't like how the Randi Foundation sometimes plays fast and loose with their "psychic tests." Levitation would be a complete no-brainer - you just float up in the air, float back down, and as long as you can prove you aren't wearing a harness with wires or something they should just pay up. The reason that nobody has passed the Randi test that way is because it's simply not how paranormal magick works. Paranormal magick manipulates probabilities and the likelihood of particular outcomes. It's not like what you see in the movies.

Let me add that the fundamentalist mindset displayed here is not confined to Christians. It can be found in most religions, and even among hard antitheists who refuse to even look at evidence for weak phenomena that are hard to measure according to the tenets of the scientific method. Real critical thinking is the antithesis of closed-mindedness. It represents a genuine, not ideological, form of skepticism that examines evidence objectively without bias or presupposition. But as this article clearly demonstrates, where I'm in agreement with the debunkers is that if a simple mundane explanation exists, it is far more likely that nothing paranormal is going on.

UPDATE: Delzell's article has not sat well with Christians who practice stage magic. Christian Post now has an article up quoting several Christian stage magicians trying to explain that what they and Dynamo do is present tricks and illusions rather than casting spells.

Delzell's not buying it, though, commenting that "The word 'magic' conjures images which are often different from 'illusion' and 'sleight of hand.' I don't believe all stage performers approach their work the same way. Some perform 'sleight of hand.' I believe others engage in sorcery."

It's pretty clear that the only thing dumber than this level of ignorance is doubling down on it. I'm glad to see some intelligent Christians stepping up and trying to put the record straight.

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Simon Tomasi said...

Here is a Christian response that you might find interesting:

Scott Stenwick said...

Good catch! I'll include that in an update to the article.