This site is not maintained. Click here for the new website of Richard Dawkins.

← Magicians say their craft makes them see faith as just hocus-pocus

Magicians say their craft makes them see faith as just hocus-pocus - Comments

achromat666's Avatar Comment 1 by achromat666

I suppose there is some logic to being the proverbial man behind the curtain and not seeing any of the faith or religious promise as having any real ground as a magician. After all, your job is to get the audience to suspend belief enough to be amazed, which all comes with the magician knowing the trick is just that, a trick. As in illusion, or sleight of hand. Misdirecting the audience to accept what you've done as magical to some degree.

And I guess that is as good a description of what religion does for the mass of believers as anything.

Mon, 31 Oct 2011 16:55:19 UTC | #885766

Red Dog's Avatar Comment 2 by Red Dog

Just curios, does anyone know if Penn is still a climate change denier?

Mon, 31 Oct 2011 17:34:57 UTC | #885774

susanlatimer's Avatar Comment 3 by susanlatimer

I always wondered if anyone had done a survey to find out what percentage of magicians were religious. I thought the number might be close to zero but it looks like I'm wrong. There are magicians for Christ.

If one makes one's living manipulating the many ways that humans can be deceived and can deceive themselves, how does one not see the transparency of religions' bags of obvious tricks?

Chalk another one up to cognitive dissonance.

Mon, 31 Oct 2011 17:45:43 UTC | #885775

Kubrick's Avatar Comment 4 by Kubrick

A shame that there was no mention of Derren Brown here.

Mon, 31 Oct 2011 17:59:52 UTC | #885777

Red Dog's Avatar Comment 5 by Red Dog

I always found Houdini to be another interesting case. I don't know if he was religious but he definitely believed in the possibility of life after death. The unique thing is that he was a rare case of someone who really put his spiritual beliefs to an empirical test:

"Before Houdini died, he and his wife, Bess, agreed that if Houdini's spirit came back to earth, he would utter "Rosabelle believe" as a secret codeword to prove that it was actually him. This was a phrase from a play that Bess performed in when the couple first met. Bess held yearly séances on Halloween for ten years after Houdini's death, but Houdini's spirit never appeared. In 1936, after a last unsuccessful séance on the roof of the Knickerbocker Hotel, she put out the candle that she had kept burning beside a photograph of Houdini since his death, later saying in 1943 that "ten years is long enough to wait for any man." Source: Wikipedia

Mon, 31 Oct 2011 18:05:14 UTC | #885778

Carl Sai Baba's Avatar Comment 6 by Carl Sai Baba

Comment 2 by Red Dog :

Just curios, does anyone know if Penn is still a climate change denier?

I don't know that he ever was, at least not in the common style of denial. They made an episode of BS in 2003 where they asserted that it was not yet certain enough to justify the "hysteria" (as was the title of the episode. A lot of laymen skeptics were still undecided back then. On his radio show, in 2006 or 2007, he said that he can't get himself to believe it, but he also noted that everyone he knows who would know better than him says he is wrong.

Mon, 31 Oct 2011 18:12:39 UTC | #885780

AsylumWarden's Avatar Comment 7 by AsylumWarden

          [Comment 5](/articles/643696-magicians-say-their-craft-makes-them-see-faith-as-just-hocus-pocus/comments?page=1#comment_885778) by  [Red Dog](/profiles/126865)          :


                 I always found Houdini to be another interesting case. I don't know if he was religious but he definitely believed in the possibility of life after death. The unique thing is that he was a rare case of someone who really put his spiritual beliefs to an empirical test:"Before Houdini died, he and his wife, Bess, agreed that if Houdini's spirit came back to earth, he would utter "Rosabelle believe" as a secret codeword to prove that it was actually him. This was a phrase from a play that Bess performed in when the couple first met. Bess held yearly séances on Halloween for ten years after Houdini's death, but Houdini's spirit never appeared. In 1936, after a last unsuccessful séance on the roof of the Knickerbocker Hotel, she put out the candle that she had kept burning beside a photograph of Houdini since his death, later saying in 1943 that "ten years is long enough to wait for any man."  [Source: Wikipedia](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harry_Houdini#Debunking_spiritualists)

I'd heard this. Apparantly he tried to be put in touch with a medium who could put him in touch with his dead mother, but due his in-depth knowledge of sleight of hand, he caught each and every one of them out as fakes. What makes in interesting though, is that of course he wasn't trying to rumble them - he genuinely was trying to find someone who could do it for him!

Mon, 31 Oct 2011 18:35:14 UTC | #885784

Mr DArcy's Avatar Comment 8 by Mr DArcy

Derren Brown is not so well known in the USA as in Britain. There is, somewhere on Youtube, Brown "converting" people to belief and then deconverting them again. If I have time I will look for it and post the link back here.

IMO most priests rely on hypnotism to get their message across. They say you can't be hypnotised against your will.

Mon, 31 Oct 2011 18:38:17 UTC | #885786

Mr DArcy's Avatar Comment 9 by Mr DArcy

I think this is the one, but it's quite long:

Derren Brown

Mon, 31 Oct 2011 18:46:32 UTC | #885789

Nunbeliever's Avatar Comment 10 by Nunbeliever

And if Penn & Teller would see libertarianism as just hocus pocus they would be yet one step closer to reason... I think it's quite intereting that so many self-proclaimed skeptics and rationalists at the same time seem to have no problem with libertarianism although there is no real evidence such an economical system could ever work in real life any more than say communism. I have to say I really can't take Dan Barker seriously anymore since I learned about his absurd views on economics. I guess the evangelist did not disappear entirely when he converted to atheism ;-)

Mon, 31 Oct 2011 19:00:36 UTC | #885795

Neodarwinian's Avatar Comment 11 by Neodarwinian

@ Red Dog

I think Penn is not so much a climate change denier as a climate change interpreted by Al Gore's catastrophic view denier.

I did not know that a number of prominent magicians connected their magic to lack of religious belief. I also did not know Teller's first name was Raymond!

Mon, 31 Oct 2011 19:13:54 UTC | #885798

xenocephalus@mac.com's Avatar Comment 12 by xenocephalus@mac.com

In general, I like Mr. Jillette's philosophy of things. I do remember a Bullshit! episode where they dismissed second-hand cigarette smoke's effects on health. I think this was probably incorrect.

Mon, 31 Oct 2011 19:26:28 UTC | #885803

Reckless Monkey's Avatar Comment 13 by Reckless Monkey

Comment 11 by Neodarwinian

I think Penn is not so much a climate change denier as a climate change interpreted by Al Gore's catastrophic view denier.

Firstly, Al Gore is not a climate scientist (doesn't claim to be). Secondly, which of Al Gores Catastrophic views are you questioning? From my reading they seem to sit about smack in the middle of the IPCC spectrum. All the data is suggesting a trend to the upper end of predictions. So I'd be interested in some specifics rather than just general statement.

None of Al Gores comments are his rather he is presenting climate scientists views. So which the statements brand his reporting as "Catastrophic views?".

Mon, 31 Oct 2011 21:28:07 UTC | #885825

frax71's Avatar Comment 14 by frax71

@ Comment 10 by Nunbeliever

What exactly are Barker's views on economics?

Mon, 31 Oct 2011 21:36:36 UTC | #885828

rrh1306's Avatar Comment 15 by rrh1306

He did eventually admit that they were wrong on that one.

Comment 12 by xenocephalus@mac.com :

. I do remember a Bullshit! episode where they dismissed second-hand cigarette smoke's effects on health. I think this was probably incorrect.

Mon, 31 Oct 2011 22:12:34 UTC | #885833

KRKBAB's Avatar Comment 16 by KRKBAB

Comment 11 by Neodarwinian- I'm also interested in the same questions Reckless Monkey asked you in comment #13. Other than Republicans and Libertarians not liking Al Gore simply because he's a Democrat (I really believe that is the only reason), what about Al Gore's catastrophic views (of scientists) on the subject of ACC are you saying are wrong?

Mon, 31 Oct 2011 22:37:13 UTC | #885837

I Deny's Avatar Comment 17 by I Deny

Ever since the "Bullshit!" episodes about Global Warming and animal rights, I really don't give a damn what P&T have to say.

Mon, 31 Oct 2011 22:53:38 UTC | #885841

silverwolf7's Avatar Comment 18 by silverwolf7

I'm conflicted about Penn & Teller.

One one hand, Penn at least seems to be a genuinely kind man and to really have empathy for others, judging by meeting him in person and by his more informal interviews. He's also remarkabley rational on a large number of issues.

But with his style of showmanship, he's either very right or very skewed. His opinions on global warming and animal rights are quite weak, especially compared to his other arguments, and the Bullshit shows on both topics were full of strawmen and misdirection.

I think his strong commitment to libertarianism might be the chink in his armor with regards to rationality.

Accepting the realities of climate change and cognitive ethology essentially means the death of the "ideal" libertarianism he supports, since climate change is a global phenomenon that requires global co-operation to solve, and if animals are legally protected in the way animal rights activists want them to be, there would have to be plenty of regulation on the way humans treat other creatures.

Tue, 01 Nov 2011 06:54:34 UTC | #885881

sbooder's Avatar Comment 19 by sbooder

Burger, a self-described skeptic, sees a spiritual image in the famous magic trick where three separate rings become joined as one. It's really a metaphor for how broken people want to be restored, he said.

That ruined what was nearly a good article, metaphor for broken people...please! What a load of old bollocks.

I thought there for a second we really had dumped this word spiritual, but alas it pops up at the end to spoil it all.

Tue, 01 Nov 2011 06:56:21 UTC | #885882

jimbobjim's Avatar Comment 20 by jimbobjim

Penn and Teller have a programme (in the UK) called "Penn and Teller: Fool Us" (presented by J Ross) in which magicians perform in front of them and try and full them with a trick. The first Magician to fool them on the first series was John Archer. He won a trip to Las Vegas to perform on their show and they said that he was one of the funniest and most creative magicians they had seen or met. Archer is also known for teaching other magicians for the Magic Circle in the UK. He is also one of Derren Brown's favourite magicians and has performed more private shows for the Brown family. Archer also write comedy for many top comedians including Tim Vine, Jack Dee etc. John Archer is also a Christian and performs in churches.

Tue, 01 Nov 2011 08:19:29 UTC | #885888

Pete H's Avatar Comment 21 by Pete H

I second that on Derren Brown’s contribution.

The important target to address are kids and Derren Brown seems to capture the interest of kids, with their parent’s approval. Penn & Teller were very good, and the kids love it, but the Bullshit series emphasises dirty language rather than dirty deeds. So some parents would be cautious about exposing their kids to such despicable characters.

Re Penn Jillettes’s libertarianism:

From what I can tell some of the most interesting pop science writers seem to embrace libertarianism. E.g. Steven Pinker, Matt Ridley.

Libertarianism is not an economic system or a political ideology of convenient personal preference. There is some real substance behind it. i.e. it is not just a matter of inherited belief, random preference, or contrarian attitude. It has something in common with atheism in that it is merely an absence of crucial and widely accepted, yet non-existent and impossible, concept. It isn’t a good label to define the substance of more extended theories. There is no copyright or trademark. People who call themselves libertarian do not necessarily possess a common set of peculiar beliefs any more that many atheists may possibly posses a common belirf in idiotic economic or political concepts based on flawed assumptions originating outside their area of interest.

Tue, 01 Nov 2011 09:54:27 UTC | #885905

Bernard Hurley's Avatar Comment 22 by Bernard Hurley

I hadn't come across the idea that "hocus-pocus" was a corruption of "hoc est corpus" before. But it makes perfect sense because, these are considered to be magic words by Roman Catholics (Of course they would object to my use of the word "magic"). In a Latin mass the priest can turn a wafer into the body of Christ by uttering the words "hoc est corpus meum" (this is my body).

For any devout Catholics reading this I am aware that the wording in the Tridentine Mass is "hoc est ENIM corpus meum". However, the tradition is that the words work without the "enim" because it is grammatically unnecessary to the sentence ("Accipite et manducate ex hoc omnes, hoc es enim corpus meum, quod pro vobis tradetur.") in which the phrase occurs. I just love the idea that the Creator of the Universe might be concerned about the niceties of Latin grammar.

Tue, 01 Nov 2011 11:01:28 UTC | #885916

thebaldgit's Avatar Comment 23 by thebaldgit

Fellowship of christian magicians? you are having a laugh. Can there be any group that does not have a christian pressure group? probably there are some hidden ones even in other religions.

Tue, 01 Nov 2011 11:02:13 UTC | #885917

rsharvey's Avatar Comment 24 by rsharvey

Comment 21 by Pete H :

From what I can tell some of the most interesting pop science writers seem to embrace libertarianism. E.g. Steven Pinker, Matt Ridley.

Libertarianism is not an economic system or a political ideology of convenient personal preference. There is some real substance behind it. i.e. it is not just a matter of inherited belief, random preference, or contrarian attitude. It has something in common with atheism in that it is merely an absence of crucial and widely accepted, yet non-existent and impossible, concept. It isn’t a good label to define the substance of more extended theories. There is no copyright or trademark. People who call themselves libertarian do not necessarily possess a common set of peculiar beliefs any more that many atheists may possibly posses a common belirf in idiotic economic or political concepts based on flawed assumptions originating outside their area of interest.

I'm not sure pinker could be called a libertarian - His latest thesis is an argument for the Hobbesian state. That's pretty antithetical to libertarianism.

Michael shermer is a big believer in the free market though. Some would say he doesn't display enough scepticism in that regard..

My impression is that while a defence of civil liberties is very much compatible with atheism, libertarianism actually requires a large dose of magical thinking. It's not simply the rejection of unfounded ideas. It rests on beliefs about anarchy and the market which have been, to my mind debunked by history. Its true that the free market has helped to build many of the things we take for granted today, but then so has state education and sanitation and health care etc.

Tue, 01 Nov 2011 11:20:11 UTC | #885921

jimbobjim's Avatar Comment 25 by jimbobjim

Comment 23 by thebaldgit :

Fellowship of christian magicians? you are having a laugh. Can there be any group that does not have a christian pressure group? probably there are some hidden ones even in other religions.

Who said it was a pressure group?

Tue, 01 Nov 2011 11:45:34 UTC | #885922

some asshole's Avatar Comment 26 by some asshole

Comment 5 by Red Dog :

I always found Houdini to be another interesting case. I don't know if he was religious but he definitely believed in the possibility of life after death. The unique thing is that he was a rare case of someone who really put his spiritual beliefs to an empirical test:

"Before Houdini died, he and his wife, Bess, agreed that if Houdini's spirit came back to earth, he would utter "Rosabelle believe" as a secret codeword to prove that it was actually him.

Oh, please. Houdini did not believe in life after death. Many times during his life, he debunked spiritualists claiming to be able to talk to the dead. The "codeword" thing was basically a way for him to do it one last time. The basis for it was not that he actually thought it would work, but rather that it would not work.

Tue, 01 Nov 2011 12:41:48 UTC | #885938

the prisoner's Avatar Comment 27 by the prisoner

see also the Police - they will instinctvely know just how bad eyewitness testimony really is

Tue, 01 Nov 2011 13:02:43 UTC | #885947

KenChimp's Avatar Comment 28 by KenChimp

Comment 10 by Nunbeliever :

And if Penn & Teller would see libertarianism as just hocus pocus they would be yet one step closer to reason... I think it's quite intereting that so many self-proclaimed skeptics and rationalists at the same time seem to have no problem with libertarianism although there is no real evidence such an economical system could ever work in real life any more than say communism. I have to say I really can't take Dan Barker seriously anymore since I learned about his absurd views on economics. I guess the evangelist did not disappear entirely when he converted to atheism ;-)

What exactly do you mean when you say "libertarianism"? From the context of your post it seems you are referring to the political philosophy which, until the mid 20th Century was referred to as "liberalism", a term for the political philosophy holding individual liberty as its prime tenet. After that time, the term "liberal" was usurped to refer to the political philosophy that more government involvement in private affairs is necessary to achieve equality and national stability, and "true" liberalism became known as libertarianism.

With that said, I wonder what it is about the concept of individual liberty as the prime tenet of a political philosophy you deem "hocus pocus".

Tue, 01 Nov 2011 14:44:06 UTC | #885974

PERSON's Avatar Comment 29 by PERSON

Comment 24

Sorry? How is Better Angels an argument for a Hobbesian state when it rejects Hobbes' core view?

Debunking both the idea of the 'noble savage' and an over-simplistic Hobbesian notion of a 'nasty, brutish and short' life, Steven Pinker argues that modernity and its cultural institutions are actually making us better people.

Comment 28 by KenChimp

I've heard that story before quite a few times, but I've not seen any evidence presented for it. As far as I can see, Liberalism started out as an effort to subvert socialist arguments in a way acceptable to middle-class people, and Libertarianism originated in the working-class version of the same thing.

Tue, 01 Nov 2011 14:50:05 UTC | #885977

Nunbeliever's Avatar Comment 30 by Nunbeliever

To Pete H:

There is some real substance behind it. i.e. it is not just a matter of inherited belief, random preference, or contrarian attitude.

I am all ears :)

From what I can tell some of the most interesting pop science writers seem to embrace libertarianism. E.g. Steven Pinker, Matt Ridley.

Well, from what at least Steve Pinker says in this article I think it's vastly misleading to label him a laissez-faire libertarianist. (link) But yes, I am amazed by how many Americans (even people I tend to agree with on other topics) tend to have quite extreme views with regard to economics. I guess, it's a cultural thing. Americans are drinking the sam Kool Aid, so top speak ;-) Perhaps in much the same way as many (if not most) leading intellectuals were communists or extreme socialists in Europe in the 60s and 70s. Today, we all know what a ridiculous idea communism is, but back then people bought into to this dogmatic ideology. The mechanism at work is not all that different from how religions work. I think that christianity is not really the main dogma in USA. Capitalism and a general distrust in governments seem to be the dogmas Americans cherish the most. Regardless of whether they are atheists, christians, leftists or rightists.

To KenChimp:

What exactly do you mean when you say "libertarianism"?

Well, today the term libertarianism is mostly synonymous to Laissez-faire...

Tue, 01 Nov 2011 15:29:29 UTC | #885983