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You, sir, are no James Randi!
chap
nmg

This week's New Scientist carries an interesting story in its Feedback section (the page opposite the inside back cover for those of you who primarily read the print edition as I do). In short, a person skeptical of new age/pagan claims (using the pseudonym "disturber") posted a "provocative enquiry" to a UK pagan website which centred on the supposed efficacy of "crystal homeopathy", as advertised on a website which sells, uh, homeopathic crystals.

Unsurprisingly, he received a fair amount of criticism for expressing such skepticism and not displaying a suitably open mind(as can be seen in the forum thread on UK Pagan). The twist in this tale is that he had actually written the magic rocks website that he was criticising (and the postings claiming to be from the proprietor of the website), and had manufactured the episode to expose the credulity of pagans/new age types.

I consider myself to be a scientist, so I very much agree with his views on the validity of magic(k), crystals and the like; they are no more than snake oil (although I find it disturbing that they are 'sold' by people who actually appear to believe this rot, rather than by the usual cynical exploiters of the terminally gullible - but I digress). Far from being open-minded individuals who have chosen to reject the teachings of Christianity, I consider them remarkably close-minded for their rejection of a system which offers the ability to produce objective, verifiable truths - science, in other words.

However, I can't help but feel that his approach to showing that pagans/new age types are fools is rather too close to entrapment, and this does his case more harm than good. Besides which, it isn't as if you have to manufacture evidence to demonstrate the credulity and gullibility of the pagan/new age community, since they're normally extremely willing to provide more than enough rope to shoot themselves in the foot with...


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I'm never quite sure what's so great about "objective, verifiable truths".

Sure, science is useful, and one would be a fool to discount it... but by and large, the truths it unearths aren't really definitive. I mean, it's possible to be the best scientist in the world and still totally fail to manage your life in such a way that you end up happy and fulfilled... because the spiritual, personal truths are the ones that science is totally at a loss to deal with.

Science obviously gives the human race a lot, don't get me wrong. Very useful for technological and medical advancement, just for starters. But I can't help feeling that there is a "cult of science" out there that is willing to pooh-pooh everything else because for them science is the be-all-and-end-all. And science is only a useful tool for dealing with such a small subsection of human endeavour that I can't help but feel that such people are pretty much fools.

Humility is important... everything should know its place. Science too.

it's not the truths that science uncovers that are most importants; it's the methodology.

Couldn't have put it better myself - this was exactly what I was trying (clumsily) to say. It's the scientific methodology that provides the means for testing hypotheses in an objective fashion.

I really must go back and read Popper again...


and I should read some more Carl Sagan.
I bet my pagan boyfriend has eaten my copy of The Demon Hauntede World!

It's a good methodology for discovering objective, verifiable truths with; a less good one for determining how to treat people, what to do with your life, or what is beautiful.

Okay, I'm biased because of my degree, but it annoys me when science is used as a stick to beat alternative lifestyles whose exponents are basically enjoying themselves and doing harm to none, just because their methodology is perceived to be inadequate.

To some extent, I agree with you. Science is not the be-all and end-all. Science is not adequate for investigating subjective phenomena, like interpersonal relations, moral values, life choices or beauty (Murray Gell-Mann's whimsical naming of the heaviest quark aside). Science can also be a dangerous tool when misapplied, or when applied in a moral vacuum, as the abberration that is eugenics has shown.

Similarly, it annoys me when science is used as a stick to beat alternative lifestyles (and religious and faith-based lifestyles in general, including the mainstream) - when their proponents are enjoying themselves and doing harm to none, which is not always the case.

It makes no difference to me whether you believe in one god or many, or what the names of those gods are, providing that you keep yourself from making outrageous claims of the supposed health benefits of your faith. I have just as many problems with people who claim that praying to the BVM every hour will make your cancer go into remission as I do with people who claim that wearing a quartz crystal pendant will cure your ME.

An'it harm none? Not if you're dissuading people from using conventional - tested - therapies in favour of using magic rocks. Selling false hope is despicable, no matter how you dress it up.


Science obviously gives the human race a lot, don't get me wrong. Very useful for technological and medical advancement, just for starters. But I can't help feeling that there is a "cult of science" out there that is willing to pooh-pooh everything else because for them science is the be-all-and-end-all. And science is only a useful tool for dealing with such a small subsection of human endeavour that I can't help but feel that such people are pretty much fools.

Yes, there is a tendency for those who belong to "the cult of science" to pooh-pooh the claims of new age practitioners - when I'm feeling at my most belligerent, I'd place myself in that group. However, the claims made by new age practitioners, particularly in the realms of psychological or physiological wellbeing are grandiose at best, and the most reprehensible form of downright quackery at worst. This is what raises the hackles of us "science cultists"; there are claims being made of medical benefits which are based on scattered anecdotal evidence rather than clinical studies, and which have failed to be verified under controlled laboratory conditions (the field of what might be termed crystal oncology stands out as a particularly dangerous example).


Hammer meet nail-head.

Yep the gibbering wretches of religion (pick a religion, any religion..) are usually both dangerous and offensive but to varying different degrees. Generally (very generally speaking the (supposed) followers of the modern resurgent VARIATIONS of the various pagan and wiccan religions are a lot lower on the scale of either offensiveness or danger. And they don't tend to have a problem with shagging on the first date...

I find all three Abrahamist sects (no sex please, we're sects) a thorough pain and they have been right up the species' jakse for a good four millenia. Definitely deservent of a global purge, preferably retroactively, about four or so thousand years should do it oddly enough. But then we'd probably just have been left with some daft bunch of snake-handlers not letting their six year old daughter have a blood transplant because it wasn't OK with Pythonia or some other daft shit. Religion; people fighting over who has the best imaginary friend and what to call it. And may they all fuck off and do it on some other planet. Bleh

...Tsk... and what does one NORMALLY do when one opens a set of parentheses? CLOSE THEM you fuckwit! (very generally)

I apologise. I haven't started drinking yet.

You're dead right about the relative offensiveness of the neopagans and the wiccans, although they do sometimes have an unfortunate tendency to be rather self-righteous in their "we're better than the Christians" rants. This has always struck me as rather silly for a religion that, in the case of wicca, was the creation of one man (Gerald Gardner) in the late 1940s and early 1950s.

And don't even get me started on "the burning times"...


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