Notes from the Weird Watch - 12/11/95
Date: Mon, 11 Dec 95 13:56:18 -0800
From: Peter Langston <psl>
Subject: Notes from the Weird Watch - 12/11/95
From: James Randi --- Wizard <email@example.com>
Miracles, Angels & Assorted Nonsense.
A few weeks ago I videotaped some material that was to be part of a Larry
King TV special on "miracles." I promptly forgot about it and only happened
to see the last half of it while I was channel-hopping last night. I made
a few notes on the part I saw. Quite frankly, I'm infuriated by what was
The author of one of the many popular million-selling books on angels told
us that "Whenever there's a millennium, people just go crazy!" Since
there's only been one of those that I know of, I figured that the content
could only go up from that point on, but as they ran some angel-images as
a segue into a commercial break, I noted that they used one of the US Postal
Services "Love" stamps, perhaps to establish that agency's piety. The
figure used on that stamp is Cupid, the Roman god of love and son of Venus,
who was taken by the Greeks as the god Eros. No relationship at all to an
angel, but a pagan god and quite in keeping with the general accuracy, tone,
and quality of the ensuing discussion. Perhaps the wings on Cupid had them
fooled. Cupid really does have wings, while angels don't. Or didn't you
know? Look it up.
Prominent authority Steven Segal, the shoot-'em-up actor with the pony tail,
was dropped into the proceedings to add his profound wisdom, which consisted
of acceptance of everything wonderful from visions of Mary to instant cures
of acne. He was inspiring....
One of the panelists was Reverend James Gill, a rare combination of Roman
Catholic priest and psychiatrist who heads up some foundation or other on
human sexuality -- sort of a sacred expert on charlatanism who advises on
a subject that he knows nothing about. But he was well versed in the art
of saying nothing with lots of words, telling the audience that God always
answers prayers, but not always with a "yes," because God knows why. Or
that's what I got from it. Gill believes absolutely in demonic possession
and angels, of course. To show that he was aware of the real world, he did
caution us that some persons who "speak in tongues" are fakes, but the way
you can tell them from the REAL divinely-inspired types is by determining
if what they say appears in the Bible. That must be positive proof, right?
Gill waffled when asked if the "miracles" of Medjugore were real, launching
into the danger of "trivializing miracles."
Another panelist was Marianne Williamson, who teaches a Course in Miracles,
patterned on a book by Judith Skutch, an early supporter of Uri Geller.
She is naturally an expert in the subject, and believes in just everything.
She managed to explain why God fails to grant requests for miracles,
asserting that just by asking for a miracle, the petitioner "feels better."
Oh, I see. That had me puzzled until she explained it. Marianne roundly
scolded skeptics for doubting and "judging matters that have been around
for thousands of years." Like the flat Earth, the Sun going around the
Earth, stars that are holes in the celestial sphere, astrology, and
salamanders that live through fire, Marianne? Gee, you got us there!
And an ancient dinosaur named Oral Roberts was there, too, quite out of his
element. He dodged every question he was asked, and fell back on general
anecdotes of no particular date, time, location or specificity, each more
marvelous than the last. He floundered and ran on, being cut off in
mid-myth several times by Larry King.
Grey-haired, well-groomed and impressive Dr. Larry Dossey was there as a
panelist, and when it was announced that he was there from the National
Institute of Health, I had a glimmer of hope that something sensible might
be said. Alas! Dr. Dossey represented the NIH Office of Alternative
Medicine, the nut-fringe bureau that could have been a valuable asset in
actually assessing various claims, but turned out to be a promoter of every
sort of quackery presented to it. Dossey himself accepted everything, too,
and offered his own selection of anecdotes, including an account of an
instantaneous cure of multiple sclerosis! Folks, this is a medical doctor
making this claim, a lie that he MUST KNOW is a lie! There has NEVER BEEN
A CURE OF A CASE OF MULTIPLE SCLEROSIS! NOT EVER!
Viewers who phoned in provided the usual yarns about instant healings, but
one woman naively told about having been hospitalized for a dog bite,
running a fever for four days in the hospital while being treated by
standard methods, then coming out of it on the fifth day. And, she said,
she'd been prayed for the night of the fourth day, and didn't even know
about it! Naturally, all present accepted that her recovery was due
entirely to the prayer, especially when the caller added that the doctors
had said it was "impossible" to have lived through the illness. The mind
boggles, or should.
To be quite frank with you, my own pre-recorded commentary was given fair
exposure, at least in the part of the show that I saw. When King introduced
my name following two of my observations, the panelists managed to ignore
my comments completely, which did not at all surprise me.
But here's what has me more than usually angry: there was no live
representative of the skeptical community there, in spite of the fact that
medical doctors Steve Barrett, William Jarvis, and John Renner (the latter
who is the leading authority on this particular subject) were interviewed
by phone for the program, and then were not used at all after they made
their views known. All three doctors are experts in this subject, and all
are highly skeptical of the claims, and well-informed from a medical point
of view. Barrett in particular is annoyed, saying that though he spent much
time on the phone with a co- producer of the special who promised she would
call him back, he waited for days, prepared to attend the program, but never
heard from them again. He says that's the first time in 25 years that he's
been treated in that fashion.
But TNT got a 2-hour special on the air, Panasonic and some car
manufacturers are no doubt pleased with the exposure they bought, and who
cares about the dupes who fell for the quackery?
© 1995 Peter Langston