Most people remember Sir Arthur Conan Doyle solely as the creator of Sherlock Holmes. But Doyle was actually quite prolific, and wrote a large number of novels and short stories in a variety of different genres. One of these novels was The Land of Mist, published in 1926.

The novel was one of several to feature Professor Challenger, a ferociously talented scientist whose arrogance and combative nature made him very difficult to get along with. In this particular story, Challenger’s sidekick, a journalist named Malone, gets caught up in the Spiritualist movement. He witnesses various mediums produce manifestations he can not explain, and becomes persuaded that life after death is real. Challenger is horrified, of course, and ultimately gets sucked into a public debate with a spokesman for the Spiritualists. What follows is a scenario that everyone who has ever seen a scientist flounder in rheotrical combat with a fork-tongued creationist will recognize.

Please forgive the lengthy quote, but I find Doyle’s description of the debate to be so spot-on that I think it’s worth reading the whole thing. The only thing that rings false is his implication that the audience was initially evenly split between the two sides. In my experience, at these debates crank sympathizers tend to outnumber the sane people by a considerable majority.

Just in case anyone reading this is a fan of obscure Doyle novels and hasn’t gotten to this one yet, I should probably mention there are some spoilers ahead.

It was admitted on all sides that Challenger’s opening half-hour was a magnificent display of oratory and argument. His deep organ voice — such a voice as only a man with a fifty-inch chest can produce — rose and fell in a perfect cadence which enchanted his audience. He was born to sway an assembly — an obvious leader of mankind. In turn he was descriptive, humorous and convincing. He pictured the natural growth of animism among savages cowering under the naked sky, unable to account for the beat of the rain or the roar of the thunder, and seeing a benevolent or malicious intelligence behind those operations of Nature which Science had now classified and explained.

Hence on false premises was built up that belief in spirits or invisible beings outside ourselves, which by some curious atavism was re-emerging in modern days among the less educated strata of mankind. It was the duty of Science to resist retrogressive tendencies of the sort, and it was a sense of that duty which had reluctantly drawn him from the privacy of his study to the publicity of this platform. He rapidly sketched the movement as depicted by its maligners. It was a most unsavoury story as he told it, a story of cracking toe joints, of phosphorescent paint, of muslin ghosts, of a nauseous sordid commission trade betwixt dead men’s bones on one side, and widow’s tears upon the other. These people were the hyenas of the human race who battened upon the graves. (Cheers from the Rationalists and ironical laughter from the Spiritualists.) They were not all rogues. (“Thank you, Professor!” from a stentorian opponent) But the others were fools (laughter). Was it exaggeration to call man a fool who believed that his grandmother could rap out absurd messages with the leg of a dining-room table? Had any savages descended to so grotesque a superstition? These people had taken dignity from death and had brought their own vulgarity into the serene oblivion of the tomb. It was a hateful business. He was sorry to have to speak so strongly, but only the knife or the cautery could deal with so cancerous a growth. Surely man need not trouble himself with grotesque speculations as to the nature of life beyond the grave. We had enough to do in this world. Life was a beautiful thing. The man who appreciated its real duties and beauties would have sufficient to employ him without dabbling in pseudo sciences which had their roots in frauds, exposed already a hundred times and yet finding fresh crowds of foolish devotees whose insane credulity and irrational prejudice made them impervious to all argument.

Such is a most bald and crude summary of this powerful opening argument. The materialists roared their applause; the Spiritualists looked angry and uneasy, while their spokesman rose, pale but resolute, to answer the ponderous onslaught.

His voice and appearance had none of those qualities which made Challenger magnetic, but he was clearly audible and made his points in a precise fashion like a workman who is familiar with his tools. He was so polite and so apologetic at first that he gave the impression of having been cowed. He felt that it was almost presumptuous upon one who had so little advantage of education to measure mental swords for an instant with so renowned an antagonist, one whom he had long revered. It seemed to him, however, that in the long list of the Professor’s accomplishments — accomplishments which had made him a household word throughout the world — there was one missing, and unhappily it was just this one upon which he had been tempted to speak. He had listened to that speech with admiration so far as its eloquence was concerned, but with surprise, and he might almost say with contempt, when he analysed the assertions which were contained in it. It was clear that the Professor had prepared his case by reading all the anti-Spiritualist literature which he could lay his hands upon — a most tainted source of information — while neglecting the works of those who spoke from experience and conviction.

All this talk of cracking joints and other fraudulent tricks was mid-Victorian in its ignorance, and as to the grandmother talking through the leg of a table he, the speaker, could not recognize it as a fair description of Spiritualistic phenomena. Such comparisons reminded one of the jokes about the dancing frogs which impeded the recognition of Volta’s early electrical experiments. They were unworthy of Professor Challenger. He must surely be aware that the fraudulent medium was the worst enemy of Spiritualism, that he was denounced by name in the psychic journals whenever he was discovered, and that such exposures were usually made by the Spiritualists themselves who had spoken of “human hyenas” as indignantly as his opponent had done. One did not condemn banks because forgers occasionally used them for nefarious purposes. It was wasting the time of so chosen an audience to descend to such a level of argument. Had Professor Challenger denied the religious implications of Spiritualism while admitting the phenomena, it might have been harder to answer him, but in denying everything he had placed himself in an absolutely impossible position. No doubt Professor Challenger had read the recent work of Professor Richet, the famous physiologist. That work had extended over thirty years. Richet had verified all the phenomena.

Perhaps Professor Challenger would inform the audience what personal experience he had himself had which gave him the right to talk of Richet, or Lombroso, or Crookes, as if they were superstitious savages. Possibly his opponent had conducted experiments in private of which the world knew nothing. In that case he should give them to the world. Until he did so it was unscientific and really indecent to deride men, hardly inferior in scientific reputation to himself, who actually had done such experiments and laid them before the public.

As to the self-sufficiency of this world, a successful Professor with a eupeptic body might take such a view, but if one found oneself with cancer of the stomach in a London garret, one might question the doctrine that there was no need to yearn for any state of being save that in which we found ourselves.

It was a workmanlike effort illustrated with facts, dates and figures. Though it rose to no height of eloquence it contained much which needed an answer. And the sad fact emerged that Challenger was not in a position to answer. He had read up his own case but had neglected that of his adversary, accepting too easily the facile and specious presumptions of incompetent writers who handled a matter which they had not themselves investigated. Instead of answering, Challenger lost his temper. The lion began to roar. He tossed his dark mane and his eyes glowed, while his deep voice reverberated through the hall. Who were these people who took refuge behind a few honoured but misguided names? What right had they to expect serious men of science to suspend their labours in order to waste time in examining their wild surmises? Some things were self-evident and did not require proof. The onus of proof lay with those who made the assertions. If this gentleman, whose name is unfamiliar, claims that he can raise spirits, let him call one up now before a sane and unprejudiced audience. If he says that he receives messages, let him give us the news in advance of the general agencies. (“It has often been done!” from the Spiritualists.) So you say, but I deny it. I am too accustomed to your wild assertions to take them seriously. (Uproar, and Judge Gaverson upon his feet.) If he claims that he has higher inspiration, let him solve the Peckham Rye murder. If he is in touch with angelic beings, let him give us a philosophy which is higher than mortal mind can evolve. This false show of science, this camouflage of ignorance, this babble about ectoplasm and other mythical products of the psychic imagination was mere obscurantism, the bastard offspring of superstition and darkness. Wherever the matter was probed one came upon corruption and mental putrescence. Every medium was a deliberate impostor. (“You are a liar!” in a woman’s voice from the neighbourhood of the Lindens.) The voices of the dead had uttered nothing but childish twaddle. The asylums were full of the supporters of the cult and would be fuller still if everyone had his due.

It was a violent but not an effective speech. Evidently the great man was rattled. He realized that there was a case to be met and that he had not provided himself with the material wherewith to meet it. Therefore he had taken refuge in angry words and sweeping assertions which can only be safely made when there is no antagonist present to take advantage of them. The Spiritualists seemed more amused than angry. The materialists fidgeted uneasily in their seats. Then James Smith rose for his last innings. He wore a mischievous smile. There was quiet menace in his whole bearing.

He must ask, he said, for a more scientific attitude from his illustrious opponent. It was an extraordinary fact that many scientific men, when their passions and prejudices were excited, showed a ludicrous disregard for all their own tenets. Of these tenets there was none more rigid than that a subject should be examined before it was condemned. We have seen of late years, in such matters as wireless or heavier-than-air machines, that the most unlikely things may come to pass. It is most dangerous to say a priori that a thing is impossible. Yet this was the error into which Professor Challenger had fallen. He had used the fame which he had rightly won in subjects which he had mastered in order to cast discredit upon a subject which he had not mastered. The fact that a man was a great physiologist and physicist did not in itself make him an authority upon psychic science.

It was perfectly clear that Professor Challenger had not read the standard works upon the subject on which he posed as an authority. Could he tell the audience what the name of Schrenck Notzing’s medium was? He paused for a reply. Could he then tell the name of Dr. Crawford’s medium? Not? Could he tell them who had been the subject of Professor Zollner’s experiments at Leipzig? What, still silent? But these were the essential points of the discussion. He had hesitated to be personal, but the Professor’s robust language called for corresponding frankness upon his part. Was the Professor aware that this ectoplasm which he derided had been examined lately by twenty German professors — the names were here for reference — and that all had testified to its existence? How could Professor Challenger deny that which these gentlemen asserted? Would he contend that they also were criminals or fools? The fact was that the Professor had come to this hall entirely ignorant of the facts and was now learning them for the first time. He clearly had no perception that Psychic Science had any laws whatever, or he would not have formulated such childish requests as that an ectoplasmic figure should manifest in full light upon this platform when every student was aware that ectoplasm was soluble in light. As to the Peckham Rye murder it had never been claimed that the angel world was an annexe to Scotland Yard. It was mere throwing of dust in the eyes of the public for a man like Professor Challenger –

At this point Professor Challenger explodes and things get out of hand.

This is why I read older novels. Every so often you hit a little nugget that shows you that certain things are timeless. Doyle’s account was written more than eighty years ago, but it could just as easily have been written yesterday. For as long as there has been science there have been cranks. And for just as long those cranks have been very effective at putting their thumbs in the eyes of scientists.

In certain respects I have a great deal of sympathy for Professor Challenger. It is, indeed, frustrating to have to take time out from more important work to ponder the ravings of people who do not know what they are talking about. The Spiritualist’s arguments here are reminiscent of all those people who thought they were refuting Richard Dawkins’ arguments for atheism just by pointing to obscure theological works he had not read.

But in other respects, I am as annoyed with Challenger as I am with all the scientists who have naively gotten involved in creationist debates without first doing their homework. The crank wins just by looking serious and thoughtful and not at all like the raving lunatic mainstream consensus says he is. That the facts he cites are invariably wrong and the references he tosses off relentlessly unreliable is mostly irrelevant. Unless you have really spent some time immersed in crankdom, you should not be debating the subject publicly.

Alas, the novel comes to a disappointing close. If you are familiar with Doyle’s views on these subjects, you know he is not at all on Challenger’s side in this debate. There was hardly a form of crankery Doyle did not endorse during his lifetime. So if you are expecting the story to end with Challenger providing rational explanations for the manifestations the mediums produce throughout the novel, you are likely to be disappointed.

Instead the novel ends with Challenger’s conversion. He converts hard, after his own daughter serves as the medium through which various figures from his past send him messages of great import. Challenger ends up defending Spiritualism with precisely the same fervor with which he once denounced it. Familiar as I was with Doyle’s opinions on the supernatural, I was not surprised by this development. But it was no less disappointing for that.

A final coda. On the desk in front of me is an anthology that contains all of the Professor Challenger stories. I picked it up at a used book store during my recent trip to England. Here’s an excerpt from the material on the front flap:

The adventures of Professor Challenger are in one way, with the scientific novels of H.G. Wells, the prototypes of the stories now known as science fiction. But there are in fact several important differences: Conan Doyle’s Challenger stories are all based solidly on scientific facts, not possibilities; his imagination has the grip and persuasiveness of the master storyteller; and he never forgets the necessity for a strong logical story nor for full-scale characterisation.

I seem to recall something about not believing everything you read.

Comments

  1. #1 JYB
    August 7, 2007

    I haven’t read any Doyle books but I love a series by Colin Bruce where he uses Sherlock Holmes to explain science and math puzzles. If you ever get a chance, pick them up. Professor Challenger shows up in the science ones. The math one is called Conned Again Watson and features all sorts of fun Monty Hall-like problems.

  2. #2 MartinC
    August 7, 2007

    There is only one real commandment for scientists:
    Thou shalt not lie.
    To do so will ruin your reputation and career prospects. To tell a falsity accidentally is a possibility that is ruthlessly guarded against through the process of peer reviewing publications.
    Imagine if it was acceptable in science to lie in publications or in conference debates – it would be just like creationism!
    The standard way of scientists debating creationists will fail for exactly this reason – and for the associated factor that the audience for the most part won’t be able to tell who is telling the truth and who is telling lies. Indeed if you start to point out that the creationist is simply listing a long string of untruths you will be accused of ad hominem attacks rather than debating the points. A one on one debate in front of an uneducated audience is unfortunately really a no-win situation.
    If you can introduce another factor – such as an alternative religious viewpoint into the debate (have another person argue for the Norse, Native American, Hindu or Pastafarian creation stories, for instance) then perhaps the scientific viewpoint can come across the way it should do – the only way to logically work out the truth from a myriad of competing possibilities. This way you avoid the false dichotomy that arises in the audiences mind that the only alternatives are scientific or the fundamentalist christian interpretations but when have you ever seen a debate structured like that?

  3. #3 hoary puccoon
    August 7, 2007

    Poor Professor Challenger sounds like the challengers Ken Ham supposedly quotes, who end every alleged exchange with some variant of, ‘duh, I nevah thought o’ dat!’ So, how could science possibly be right? And yet science goes rolling on from strength to strength while spiritualism is a minor, fading cult. We can only hope the creationists will eventually be as successful as the spiritualists have proved to be.

  4. #4 Toby
    August 7, 2007

    The odd thing here is that Conan Doyle was a firm believer in spiritualism!

    He must have heard many arguments like the one quoted here. Possibly, he was disappointed in the specious tricks pulled by his own side and was intellectually honest enough to write them as he saw them.

    Recall also that in Doyle’s time, and for a brief period, some respectable British scientists like Sir Oliver Lodge http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oliver_Lodge were conned into studying psychic phemomena empirically.

    For a slight digression on Conan Doyle: A very good presentation of him occurs in the excellent Julian Barnes novel “Arthur and George” http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/search?search-alias=stripbooks&field-keywords=&author=Barnes&select-author=field-author-like&title=Arthur+and+George&select-title=field-title&subject=&select-subject=field-subject&field-publisher=&field-isbn=&chooser-sort=rank%21%2Bsalesrank&node=&field-binding=&mysubmitbutton1.x=46&mysubmitbutton1.y=9

    The novel is a fictitious presentation of a true story. A young British Indian was falsely accused and found guilty of cruelly maiming animals for no other reason than for his colour and the fact that he liked to stroll country lanes on his own in the evenings after work. Doyle courageously took up his case and forced a Parliamentary enquiry and a pardon for the young man (George Edalji, the “George” of the title). I just read the book a couple of months ago, and recommned it highly. Doyle’s spiritualism is fully integrated into the exposition of his character.

  5. #5 decrepitoldfool
    August 7, 2007

    I loved the Sherlock Holmes stories as a child, but was unaware of the larger body of work. OhBoy!

    Professor Challenger’s contempt for the human desire to believe was his Achilles’ heel, and the reason that for all his learning he could not persuade. How very timely.

  6. #6 Grodge
    August 7, 2007

    Conan Doyle was an enigma. He made his writing career espousing rationalism in the actions of Sherlock Holmes, yet in his later years Conan Doyle succumbs to the siren song of Spiritualism.

    The timing of the Challenger novel “Land of Mists” is telling, having come after the heart-wrenching death of Sir Arthur’s son in WW I. Perhaps we underestimate the power of such an emotional loss on altering even the most staunch materialist.

    The human condition is indeed complex. Challenger is reduced to spewing drivel and ends with a hard conversion to the irrational world of the occult, not unlike Conan Doyle himself.

    In my mind, there is no doubt that belief in an after-life and God become much easier as we come closer to the end ourselves. The prospect of the “eternal night” for us or our loved ones is at times unbearable, and such painful fear is enough to look for credence in such charlatanism as Spiritualism.

    Surely, Conan Doyle surmised all this, yet succumb he did. Professor Challenger seems more of an object lesson on existential angst than anything else.

  7. #7 tourettist
    August 7, 2007

    Actually Challenger sounds less like most scientists I’ve met and a lot more like some of the ID-ists one encounters online.

  8. #8 DuWayne
    August 8, 2007

    It is very interesting indeed, I would have guessed, having only read his Holmes mysteries that Doyle was an atheist/agnostic. I have heard he was something of an occultist, but never really bought it, until now. I’ve been meaning to read his other works for years, but never have gotten around to it.

    I’m still sore over having to sell the original Strand magazine volumes I got when my grandmother died. I had a couple of extraneous volumes along with the entire serial of The Hound of the Baskervilles. She was an english teacher and no one else had any interest in any of her boxes, upon boxes of books, except me. That is until I cataloged the collection and some very valuable volumes turned up, including a hand signed first edition of Brave New World and several other signed first editions. The whole of the collection that was sold, went for over eighty grand. Crap of it was, all that I really wanted out of it, was the Strand’s and the Huxley, which if I had been allowed to keep, I would still have today. Out of the lot, they accounted for only a few thousand. The real crap of it was, that she probably knew exactly how valuable they were, yet died in relative poverty anyways.

  9. #9 Toby
    August 8, 2007

    Grodge wrote:

    “Perhaps we underestimate the power of such an emotional loss on altering even the most staunch materialist.”

    How true. At the moment I am reading Doris Kearns Goodwin’s “Team of Rivals” about Lincoln and his cabinet. She mentions in passing that spiritualism received an enormous boost during the American Civil War due to the number of people trying to contact dead sons and husbands. Mrs Lincoln tried to use spiritualists to make contact with her dead son Willie (died of typhoid, 1862).

    Something similar probably happened during World War I in Britain. Also, death and particularly the deaths of children was far more common in that age, which was also more permeated with religion than our own.

    It is also true to reflect that most “psychics” are cruel phoneys feeding on the very real grief of vulnerable people.

  10. #10 Gene J
    August 8, 2007

    Sir AC Doyle is fantastic! Thanks for taking a large part of the text… I can’t wait to get the whole text. I always find it funny how writers used not so subtle character names (i.e. “Challenger”). It reminds me of C.S. Lewis in his Space trilogy, “Prof. Ransom” “Devine” “Ironwood”…
    Obviously, to Christians Science is the work of understanding and using “God’s Creation” and Scripture and Tradition are the works and stories of his Law. Newton, Darwin, Galileo, Copernicus, Einstein, Mendel… embraced their faith in God and his creation.
    The Giants we are standing on should not be dismissed as mere spiritualists.

  11. #11 Jo5ef
    August 8, 2007

    I’ve often thought myself that Doyle had an almost split personality – to present the empirical, deductive approach so effectively he must surely have given it credence. indeed Holmes is rationality personified, and has thus gained immortality. And yet, the credulous, spiritualist side won over, although there must have been some mighty internal debates. Interesting that another brilliantly rational mind, Wallace, had the same weakness, although as pointed out above, this was not uncommon at the time.

  12. #12 Tegumai Bopsulai, FCD
    August 8, 2007

    I’ve often thought myself that Doyle had an almost split personality…

    A lot of people have noticed the divergence of Holmes’ pure rationalism with Conan Doyle’s support of every crock of BS including fairies. Some people have even proposed that Conan Doyle was not really the author of the Holmes stories.

  13. #13 David D.G.
    August 8, 2007

    Tegumai Bopsulai, FCD, wrote:

    A lot of people have noticed the divergence of Holmes’ pure rationalism with Conan Doyle’s support of every crock of BS including fairies. Some people have even proposed that Conan Doyle was not really the author of the Holmes stories.

    If Doyle didn’t write the stories, who do they think is supposed to have written them? Christopher Marlowe?

    ~David D.G.

  14. #14 Grodge
    August 8, 2007

    David D. G.,

    Everyone knows Charles Dickens really wrote the Holmes stories and Conan Doyle was his nom de plum. (kidding)

    Seriously, the Holmes stories were started when ACD was a young man just out of medical training. The character is designed after one of his professors who happened to be a great diagnostician.

    As ACD grew older, he tired of the Holmes character and persisted with it only to pay bills and live a high level lifestyle. He is legendary in bemoaning the plight of having to continue the Holmes stories to “please my fans.”

    Professor Challenger came later, and is also designed after one of his professors, but ACD uses this character to cast aspersions on rationalism and materialism. Who knows what changed Conan Doyle later in his life? The grief over the death of his son? A revelatory experience, delusions or dementia?

    Conan Doyle, if nothing else, was a complex man.

  15. #15 Reality Czech
    August 8, 2007

    The standard way of scientists debating creationists will fail for exactly this reason – and for the associated factor that the audience for the most part won’t be able to tell who is telling the truth and who is telling lies. Indeed if you start to point out that the creationist is simply listing a long string of untruths you will be accused of ad hominem attacks rather than debating the points.

    Has anyone tried a debate with a panel of judges and a rule, “No false claims”?

    Imagine the creationist being stopped every few phrases by a buzzer, the offending claim being projected on a screen behind the stage, and the contrary facts displayed afterward.  All the judges would really need is the Index to Creationist Claims, with perhaps some one-paragraph summaries of the results for the audience.

    Imagine someone trying to practice the Gish Gallop over a landscape filled with stones and trip wires.  Imagine an audience being shown, phrase by phrase, how they are being lied to.  Imagine the creationist actually speaking for perhaps two minutes out of thirty, while the rest of “his” time is devoted to refuting false claims.

  16. #16 David D.G.
    August 8, 2007

    Reality Czech,

    That exact scenario you describe has been a fantasy of mine for some years now. The only problem is that it requires a creationist to somehow get suckered into such a debate controlled by strictly science-based judges, and I can’t imagine any of them accepting that. They may be deluded and/or dishonest, but few of them are quite that stupid.

    ~David D.G.

  17. #17 Susan
    August 8, 2007

    I’ll have to admit, I’ve always been struck by the strange split personality suffered by Conan Doyle. I wonder if it was just a result of the attutude of the times? It wasn’t long before that “The Orgin of Species” was published, it was a blow to people’s spiritual beliefs. Intelligent people saw the logic of Darwin’s books but still needed to cling to the supernatural. A lot of intelligent rational people from this era had this problem. Look at Harry Houdini. He was famous for debunking charlitan mediums but it was in an effort to prove that this type of spiritual communication was real. In spite of the ovewheliming evidence to the contrary, he never lost his belief. It goes on to this day but people now seem more ridiculious and desperate then they did back then.

  18. #18 Reality Czech
    August 9, 2007

    The only problem is that it requires a creationist to somehow get suckered into such a debate controlled by strictly science-based judges…. They may be deluded and/or dishonest, but few of them are quite that stupid.

    This allows the forces of reason to ask them, “Why are you afraid to debate if you can’t lie?”

    It puts the shoe on the other foot.  For once, the creationists would be damned if they do, damned if they don’t.

  19. #19 realpc
    August 9, 2007

    It’s obvious from the beginning to the end of the debate that Doyle agrees with the spiritualist. His portrait of the spokesman for scientific materialism seems very accurate to me. Your opposition to and contempt for everything that does not fit your preconceptions is emotional, angry, close-minded and irrational. You have no patience for logic and evidence, unless it happens to support what you already believe. Doyle has done a good job of pointing this out.

    Everyone Jason disagrees with is a “crank.” Scientific materialism is just as unscientific as any fanatical extremist religious cult.

  20. #20 Science Avenger
    August 10, 2007

    Your opposition to and contempt for everything that does not fit your preconceptions is emotional, angry, close-minded and irrational. You have no patience for logic and evidence, unless it happens to support what you already believe.

    Glad to see your skills at projection are still finely honed my good troll.

    One of the many facts you consistently ignore is that many of us who now oppose all this psychic nonsense were once proponents of it. I mean really, a lot of it would be cool beyond belief were it true. Alas, the evidence for such things is of low quantity and poor quality, which is why our minds changed.

    I still hold out hope that someone one day will waltz into a Vegas casino, beat their roulette wheel senseless, and prove me wrong. But I’m not betting on it.

  21. #21 realpc
    August 10, 2007

    So unless someone proves they have the ability to perform whatever miracles they feel like performing, you will remain a fanatical materialist?

  22. #22 hoary puccoon
    August 10, 2007

    I don’t even want to control that little ball in the casino. If I could just get realpc to stop, I’d be happy.

  23. #23 Science Avenger
    August 10, 2007

    It Trolled thusly: So unless someone proves they have the ability to perform whatever miracles they feel like performing, you will remain a fanatical materialist?

    OK, contest on who can spot the most logical fallacies or misrepresentations in the above. I count at least 5.

    No my good troll, I am not a materialist, fanatical or otherwise. I simply require that, prior to my dismissal of well-establishd scientific laws/theories, those claiming the ability to violate said laws/theories demonstrate that ability, in a statistically significant way, and under controlled conditions provided by, and in the presence of, those with a vested interest in seeing them fail. Any skilled conjuror can appear to succeed in front of an uncritical audience that gives them infinite wiggle room and wants them to succeed. Just watch John Edwards or Silvia Browne to get an idea of what I am talking about. And don’t forget Project Alpha.

    Let me give you an example of what I mean. I happen to be one of those mathematical freaks that has a calculator in my head. I can multiply 2 digit numbers and add successive 2 digit numbers faster than you can punch the problems into a calculator. Now this no doubt sounds like a bold claim to some, and they might doubt, and I don’t blame them. But if one of them offerred me $1 million to demonstrate it udner thei controlled conditions, I’d be there in a heartbeat, and I’d take their money. Hell, Ido it for beers now.

    There are many such opportunities for the psychics, but they can’t ever perform in them. They fail in Vegas (why hasn’t a psychic won the WSOP?), they fail with James Randi (who you are sure to now start lying about…again), they fail with lotteries (where’s the headline “Psychic wins 4th straight!), and they fail in sports (just think of what a telekineticist golfer, pool player, dart thrower or table tennis player could accomplish). There is only one rational conclusion to be drawn from this overwhelming lack of evidence. The effect of such efforts is miniscule, if it exists at all.

  24. #24 hoary puccoon
    August 11, 2007

    Let’s talk about miracles.

    I watched my mother die a slow death from the insidious long-term effects of childhood polio. And she was one of the lucky ones who had apparently recovered. I’m just old enough to have dim memories of the sick, helpless fear that swept through our town during a polio epidemic. I knew two little boys whose mother died of the disease. I knew several more kids who wore leg braces.

    My own kids simply can’t imagine the fear people lived with. They never had a single friend die or be crippled from polio. I’m not sure they even know what an iron lung is. That’s a miracle. That’s what a miracle looks like.
    And it didn’t come from mystical mumbo jumbo. It came from researchers in a lab making it happen.

    It’s scientists, not psychics, who have “prove(d) they have the ability to perform whatever miracles they feel like performing.”

  25. #25 Coin
    August 11, 2007

    Any skilled conjuror can appear to succeed in front of an uncritical audience that gives them infinite wiggle room and wants them to succeed. Just watch John Edwards or Silvia Browne to get an idea of what I am talking about.

    Um, just to be clear, you mean John Edward not John Edwards right?

  26. #26 realpc
    August 11, 2007

    John Edward, and others, were studied by Gary Schwartz, a psychologist. If you have not even heard of these experiments, you are unfamiliar with parapsychology, just like Challenger in Doyle’s essay. You are judging something you have not bothered to learn anything about.

    hoary puccoon,

    I don’t know why you think we would have to give up the kind of science that led to the polio vaccine, if we decided to venture beyond materialism.

    There are many serious diseases, such as cancer, that are not being understood or conquered within the current materialist ideology. It’s not that more time is needed — decades have passed without any real progress. Refusal to acknowledge the existence of life energy is one of the mental blocks that blocks progress. And materialist preconceptions about the brain have prevented understanding of mental illness.

    Research into the paranormal in no way damages science. Parapsychology is science, it just doesn’t fit within your materialist ideology. Scientific materialism is a religious cult, as Doyle illustrates in this essay.

  27. #27 hoary puccoon
    August 12, 2007

    realpc–
    Please explain the paranormal program for curing cancer. Why do you suppose hasn’t it succeeded in the last three or four millenia?

  28. #28 Science Avenger
    August 12, 2007

    Egads Coin, yes, I meant John Edward, no “s”.

    As for the Troll:

    John Edward, and others, were studied by Gary Schwartz, a psychologist. If you have not even heard of these experiments, you are unfamiliar with parapsychology, just like Challenger in Doyle’s essay. You are judging something you have not bothered to learn anything about.

    Oh I know all about Schwartz and his shoddy experiments. Just another example of what I talked about, psychics performing well in poorly designed experiments moderated by an audience predisposed to want success. Same ol’ same ol’. And of course the results have not been replicated. [yawn] Can you say “cold fusion”?

    For those interested, here is a detailed dissection of Schwartz’ experiments and conclusions. The flaws listed are part and parcel for parasychology research:

    1. Inappropriate control comparisons
    2. Inadequate precautions against fraud and sensory leakage
    3. Reliance on non-standardized, untested dependent variables
    4. Failure to use double-blind procedures
    5. Inadequate “blinding” even in what he calls “single blind” experiments
    6. Failure to independently check on facts the sitters endorsed as true
    7. Use of plausibility arguments to substitute for actual controls
    8. The confusion of exploratory with confirmatory findings
    9. The calculation of conditional probabilities that are inappropriate and grossly misleading
    10. Creating non-falsifiable outcomes by reinterpreting failures as successes
    11. Inflating significance levels by failing to adjust for multiple testing and by treating unplanned comparisons as if they were planned.

    All it takes to trip these guys up is to cut off their avenues of cheating. Does everyone remember the late great Johnny Carson destroying the famed Uri Geller’s spoonbending ability simply by not allowing Geller to cheat? And then, to my great amusement, like any cheat caught in the act, Geller tried to wiggle out of by playing rhetorical games with Johnny. Bad move.

    And of course nothing these mediums produce is ever truly insightful or otherworldly. You’d think if they truly inhabited another dimension they’d come up with one scientific breakthrough, or at least next week’s box scores. But no, it’s always something completely mundane, like who owned what dog, and who had false teeth. All the traits of charletans.

  29. #29 Science Avenger
    August 12, 2007

    Egads Coin, yes, I meant John Edward, no “s”.

    As for the Troll:

    John Edward, and others, were studied by Gary Schwartz, a psychologist. If you have not even heard of these experiments, you are unfamiliar with parapsychology, just like Challenger in Doyle’s essay. You are judging something you have not bothered to learn anything about.

    Oh I know all about Schwartz and his shoddy experiments. Just another example of what I talked about, psychics performing well in poorly designed experiments moderated by an audience predisposed to want success. Same ol’ same ol’. And of course the results have not been replicated. [yawn] Can you say “cold fusion”?

    For those interested, here is a detailed dissection of Schwartz’ experiments and conclusions. The flaws listed are part and parcel for parasychology research:

    All it takes to trip these guys up is to cut off their avenues of cheating. Does everyone remember the late great Johnny Carson destroying the famed Uri Geller’s spoonbending ability simply by not allowing Geller to cheat?

    And of course nothing these mediums produce is ever truly insightful or otherworldly. You’d think if they truly inhabited another dimension they’d come up with at least one scientific breakthrough, or at least next week’s box scores. But no, it’s always something completely mundane, like who owned what dog, and who had false teeth. All the traits of charletans.

  30. #30 Science Avenger
    August 13, 2007

    Egads Coin, yes, I meant John Edward, no “s”.

    As for the Troll:

    John Edward, and others, were studied by Gary Schwartz, a psychologist. If you have not even heard of these experiments, you are unfamiliar with parapsychology, just like Challenger in Doyle’s essay. You are judging something you have not bothered to learn anything about.

    Oh I know all about Schwartz and his shoddy experiments. Just another example of what I talked about, psychics performing well in poorly designed experiments moderated by an audience predisposed to want success. Same ol’ same ol’. And of course the results have not been replicated. [yawn] Can you say “cold fusion”?

    For those interested, here is a detailed dissection of Schwartz’ experiments and conclusions.