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Magic services: Taking money out of the equation, by Drew Jacob

March 17, 2013
Detail from a custom magic spell, by Drew Jacob

“What if we took money out of the equation?”

She sat on my couch and wept. Not because her husband left. Because he wanted the kid.

“He abuses him. He abuses both of us,” she said between sips of pekoe. “Now he’s going to take my son.”

I didn’t know if any of it was true. It wasn’t my job to judge, just to listen. At least for now.

The husband had hired a private investigator to dig up dirt. He also had a very expensive lawyer. The hearing was in a month and it didn’t look good.

She took a quiet tone. “Can you cast a spell?”

I remembered an ancient egg-shaped court case charm involving snake spit. I figured I could make a pretty good version of that. I warned her that a justice spell can backfire: it will favor whoever’s in the right. If she had misrepresented anything…

“No,” she said. “That’s fine with me. There’s no way he’s in the right.”

Snake spit isn’t sold at supermarkets. It took a week of phone calls to get it. I also procured snake skins, which I powdered and mixed with the spit, some honey, and clay mix. I shaped it all around the egg during the enchantment process, which borrowed its form from an old Breton justice spell.

I don’t remember what she paid me. Another magician would have charged $300 – and that’s fair. It took about 15 hours of work, and it was draining. But I was in the habit of telling clients to pay what they felt was right. Not a profitable solution, but one in line with my values as a priest.

Those same values are why I’m launching Magic to the People.

Magic to the People will be an an open-door shrine offering magic spells at no fixed cost. Anyone can walk in, and their ceremony is done immediately. They drop as much or little money in the jar as they like.

The skeptic’s objection

I believe we have the power to change our lives, and magic ceremony is my tool for doing that. Whether or not it’s supernatural its effects are potent. But skeptics still object to the practice.

Increasingly those objections are couched in ethical terms. Is it right to charge money for magic services?

It’s a question of getting what you pay for. Many magicians are aware that their spells have limits and are careful not to promise unrealistic results. But as one who believes spells might have purely psychological effects – and who writes openly about that for all my clients to see – I have to admit I’m in a minority.

The problem is that even if I’m very forthright about not promising anything supernatural, a portion of my clients nonetheless believe in supernatural agents. In other words, they are spending money on something that may not exist.

Poverty further complicates this. If you can hardly afford groceries, a charm to get a new job might be a great investment – if it does what you expect it to do. If it doesn’t, the expense actively hurts your family. (Though it’s worth noting that such a charm would actually help, whether the mechanism is supernatural or cognitive.)

But what if we took money out of the equation?

A social service

Instead of selling magic as a product, Magic to the People offers it as a social service. People who believe in magic do not have to spend money to access it. Affluent believers can make a donation if they feel good about doing so, but those on the brink can drop a symbolic penny in the hat and take part in an awe-stirring ceremony – that just might provoke a change in their life.

I believe this directly addresses the “ethical” concerns skeptics say they have – magic belief is not fraudulent and can be delivered in a way that avoids any such appearance. But it’s worth noting, too, that even calling for-pay magical services fraud is a step too far. Magic is as much an art form as is painting or drama, one that’s engaging and satisfying to both the magician and the recipient. I don’t know that it matters whether artists and their clientele have different explanations of what makes their work so useful.

Will this service be well received? Right now, Magic to the People is climbing toward our goal, and you can help. Whether you contribute money or simply help us spread the word, please check out the Magic to the People campaign and see what you think.

The author

Drew Jacob

Drew Jacob is the Rogue Priest. He’s walking from the Mississippi River to the Amazon on a search to meet the gods. He makes his living as a writer and an artist crafting traditional magical charms.

Check out Drew’s other posts:

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34 Comments
  1. March 17, 2013 8:47 am

    I don’t see any problem with getting paid for a service you provide. Paying for something (in our culture) gives people a sense of value for the service delivered.

    But it seems to me that, if the benefits of magic are psychological, the method of magic should reflect that. If magic works objectively, then it does not matter who performs the spell or whether the intended beneficiary is involved. But if it works subjectively, would it not make more sense for you to supervise the woman above in preparing her own spell? And would it not make more sense for some element or elements of the spell to originate with her rather than wherever the ancient court case charm above came from?

    • March 19, 2013 10:30 am

      Hi John,

      I think it’s important to continue to use the ritual forms that actually work – which often involves a trained, practiced magician being the one to perform the ceremonial aspects of the spell. The recipient is involved either by being active in the ceremony, or by receiving the tangible result of the ceremony (a charm, talisman, etc), or by making offerings to activate it.

      At Magic to the People I will use all three of these methods. When they take home their charm they will continue to make offerings for x days and they will be active in completing the magic.

      I find this useful because it makes the ceremony more personal and meaningful to the recipient. But from a strict “does it work” point of view, no, I don’t believe a psychological theory of magic necessitates the recipient being the one to cast the spell – in fact that would be quite unusual.

      Great question by the way.

  2. Krimsyn permalink
    March 17, 2013 10:53 am

    Reblogged this on Raggle Fraggle.

  3. March 17, 2013 11:44 am

    Let me start off by saying I think the free-will donation idea is a good one, so far as it goes. Being honest (telling clients you are unsure of the causal mechanism) and non-exploitative (letting clients determine their own price) is hands down a good thing, regardless of what other ethical issues may be involved. So, if you only want to discuss the money issue today, then I have little more to say. In fact, I think your free-will donation idea goes above and beyond the call of duty, so to speak. Psychiatrists charge hundreds of dollars per hour for a service that, depending on the school of psychiatry, often has little more than anecdotal evidence to show it works. Compared to them, you come out like a saint.

    On the other hand, I don’t think money is the chief ethical issue involved. The primary issue IMO is whether the magic service fosters a community of discovery or a community of ignorance (to use Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s phrase).

    I just wrote a detailed explanation of what I mean by that, and how this article seems to portray some seriously mixed messages sent to the client, and I can post it if you like, but if you’d rather not get into that hairy mess today, I would understand. :-)

    • March 19, 2013 10:42 am

      I’m happy to get into it if you like, BT, by which I mean if you think the “community of ignorance” idea actually has merit.

      I personally don’t, and when skeptics take the position that skepticism is morally superior, or that non-skeptics are dangerous, they are themselves becoming the dangerous ones.

      • March 19, 2013 11:16 am

        Okay, so here’s what I wrote:

        The message sent to the client about causal mechanisms (i.e. whether it’s purely psychological or not) seems extremely mixed. Despite frank and forthright honesty about your uncertainty, the process of consultation and spellcasting, as portrayed in this article, seem to implicitly demonstrate a basically certain belief in more-than-psychological mechanisms.

        In the comments discussion of your last article here at HP, you expressed concern over such mixed messages, so it might be relevant to point out that the issue doesn’t seem resolved yet.

        The article describes yourself as “one who believes spells might have purely psychological effects – and who writes openly about that for all my clients to see”, and in addition maybe you even say that explicitly to your clients face-to-face. On the other hand, the introductory story sends a contradictory message. I realize the story may be somewhat fictionalized to protect identities and what not, but I take it more or less at face value as representative of your magic services. It says “I warned her that a justice spell can backfire: it will favor whoever’s in the right”, and it describes an arduous search for snakespit. These seem to suggest more-than-psychological mechanisms. If I try hard I can think of “purely psychological” motives for these actions, but I have to really stretch. With the backfire, perhaps there is some unconscious element of her mind that believes she is in the wrong or misrepresenting the situation and this will produce a psychological backlash against her. With the snakespit, perhaps the client’s knowledge that you worked that hard (if she is informed of it) will increase her confidence in the spell’s effects. I acknowledge these purely psychological possibilities, but they are really reaching IMO. Meanwhile, on the whole, a very strong message is sent to the client that the process is not purely psychological: Why worry about a spell backfiring if there is not something independent of the client’s psychology that could contradict her intentions? Why go to such lengths to acquire real snake spit if there is not something necessary about its physical properties? It takes creative speculation to come up with the purely psychological interpretations, whereas the client is most likely to receive only the basic concrete message: magic is more than psychology.

        Furthermore, there’s no part in the consultation process as depicted (I realize you may have just left this part out) where the client’s psychological state is elicited and discussed. If a purely psychological effect is taken seriously as a possibility, then wouldn’t it make sense to delve into what she’s feeling, what factors in her life besides this guy may have led to it, etc.? If the emphasis of the client consultation is on the facts of the situation, as opposed to how she feels about it, that seems to me to be a strong message to the client that the treatment will be equally factual in nature.

        Considering that actions speak louder than words, it seems to me that the overall message is: magic is more than pure psychology.

        Now, the ethical question becomes: does this message empower clients to discover the knowledge necessary to fix their life problems, or does it further obscure understanding of a complex situation clients already find difficult to manage?

        • March 19, 2013 12:06 pm

          Here is my personal view on each of these questions. Other magicians might answer differently.

          First of all, it is not my duty – nor a skeptic’s, nor a scientist’s – to convince anyone that they shouldn’t believe in the supernatural. I tell my clients that I don’t know how magic works; that it may be strictly psychological; and that I don’t know if the spirits exist outside our heads. But I’m not going to hardline someone about their religious beliefs when they’re already hurting. (Notably, neither would a psychologist.)

          Instead, my duty is to perform a spell expertly and to give the client the ceremony or charm they asked for. If a spell calls for snake spit, I’ll go find snake spit. Or I will come up with a sensible substitution in line with other traditional spells.

          This is important not only for honesty, but because there is a lot more to psychology than just placebo effect. At the end of the day I have to look the client in the eye and say here is the charm you asked for. Does that come across the same if I know I just mixed Kool-Aid with clay?

          (This touches on some current issues in the magic community. There has been some great discussion at the blog Beyond Chaos Magick about how using, for example, cartoon characters as symbols in ritual rather than deities or traditional spirits yields less impressive results.)

          The real issue here is that the “community of ignorance” argument is one that only made sense when we thought magic had been soundly disproved: if magic doesn’t work, and you tell people it does, you are promoting a dangerous ignorance.

          But we know that magic ceremony has demonstrable effect, and the skeptic argument becomes a lot more muddled. It becomes: we know magic works, we postulate reason x, you also tell people it works because of reason x, but some of them still think reason y, and you refuse to chastise them about it so you are an accomplice in a form of ignorance that is arguably not dangerous. Duly noted.

          I believe in pluralism. I will never crusade for materialism or chastise believers. That kind of activity polarizes the discussion, putting believers on the defensive and closing down dialogue – and ultimately weds them more firmly to their position than ever. (I think you have even linked out to the research showing that, BT.) My own approach is to be open and transparent about my non-supernatural beliefs, in a non-judgmental way to firm believers. It provokes dialogue and, I think, critical reasoning.

          If we see a move away from supernaturalism in the magic community it will be because of that kind of open, nonjudgmental dialogue.

          • March 19, 2013 2:55 pm

            Yeah no, I would never expect a person to try to convince their clients, much less chastise them.

            >you also tell people it works because of reason x, but some of them still think reason y

            Well yes, except the mixed message amend that to: “you also tell people it works because of reason x *while many of your actions seem to demonstrate reason y*, and some of them still think reason y”

            It’s no one’s job to chastise them for still thinking reason y, but doesn’t one have to take some responsibility if many of the aspects of one’s practice implicitly suggest it?

            Say, for example, that a high school science teacher gives a lesson on evolution, presents the history of life on earth in impersonal evolutionary terms, and does an activity that shows adaptations coming about without any intention or design behind it. Of course some students may still go away believing in intelligent design, and it would not be the place of the science teacher to upbraid them for it.

            Suppose on the other hand, that the same teacher describes how evolutionary theory does not require an intelligent designer, but then goes on to tell the history of life and do activities in such a way that seems to presuppose a designer. Wouldn’t the teacher bear some responsibility for those who go away believing in intelligent design?

            Now, I’m using this example *only* to illustrate a similar ethical situation, not to suggest that magic is somehow equivalent to intelligent design. The analogy is loose insofar as both represent theories radically contrary to current scientific consensus.

            • March 19, 2013 4:51 pm

              …doesn’t one have to take some responsibility if many of the aspects of one’s practice implicitly suggest [supernaturalism]?

              In short: no.

              Long answer: I can’t control what my ritual forms “implicitly suggest” to biased outside observers who ignore my stated beliefs.

              The analogy you offer with teaching evolution is a sharp one, except for a key difference: in the case of magic, we are talking about a purpose-oriented craft, a how-to method designed to get results. I know that the traditional ceremonies, with the traditional songs and the offerings poured out and the scent of the herbs and the striking colors and the calls to the spirits and the spirits’ sigils, provoke an effect. The client gets what they asked for and, in many cases, the ritual changes lives.

              Would that work if I stripped out key elements that may imply supernaturalism? I don’t know. (You’re suggesting quite a project there, one worthy of our age, and which I would gladly participate in – outside the vein of my normal work for clients.)

              And therein lies the difference: I gots ceremonies that work. And I’m a keep on doing ‘em.

              I’m a technician. For the purposes of ceremonies, the correct technique is to invoke the spirits and make the offerings. We can talk theory before and after the ceremony, but within the brackets of ceremony there is, on my part, a suspension of disbelief.

              I believe you have written about a similar approach to non-theistic prayer and sacrifice: when communing with the gods, you treat them as independent beings. Is that correct?

  4. Jonathan Blake permalink
    March 17, 2013 1:51 pm

    I can see where money changing hands raises some ethical concerns. One ethical concern is whether a magical working causes the beneficiary to take the kinds of actions that will bring about the desired result or whether they will simply rest easy in the hopes that the magic will do the work for them. In other words, while the magic isn’t harmful in itself, does it prevent some people from seeking other, more beneficial avenues to achieve their desires (e.g. working hard to find a good lawyer in this case).

    • March 19, 2013 10:38 am

      Hi Jonathan,

      Thanks for this. While I can understand that concern, it seems to be the kind of question only brought up by those who aren’t very familiar with the magical community. Every magician I’ve met strongly counsels their client on this: you have to take pragmatic steps. You have to work toward the end of the spell yourself. I can’t count the number of blog posts, book chapters and schpiels at seminars that reinforce this idea to those considering magic.

      (In fact, it is so strongly emphasized that some skeptics have suggested it’s the only reason magic seems to work: because you have someone you trust insisting you go out and take practical steps.)

  5. March 18, 2013 2:32 pm

    I’m trippin’ cuz I only discovered that Drew’s project is based right here in my lil ole hometown when I saw it mentioned elsewhere. http://wildhunt.org/2013/03/pagan-community-notes-nora-cedarwind-young-starhawk-at-harvard-and-more.html Small world.

    • March 19, 2013 10:32 am

      Whoa! I didn’t realize we were mentioned on the Wild Hunt. Thanks for sharing this B!

  6. March 20, 2013 8:25 am

    Drew wrote:
    >within the brackets of ceremony there is, on my part, a suspension of disbelief. I believe you have written about a similar approach to non-theistic prayer and sacrifice: when communing with the gods, you treat them as independent beings. Is that correct?

    Yes, that’s correct. And the comparison is apt. I’m aware that in this debate, the knife cuts both ways: much of what we are talking about here could also be applied to how I have often performed ritual too. Much of my new ritual liturgy has moved away from overtly magical or theistic forms, so as to convey a less confusing message to others and to my own subconscious.

    >I can’t control what my ritual forms “implicitly suggest” to biased outside observers who ignore my stated beliefs.

    Ultimately we can’t control what others take away from a ritual, but we can certainly influence it, can’t we?

    >Would that work if I stripped out key elements that may imply supernaturalism? I don’t know. (You’re suggesting quite a project there, one worthy of our age, and which I would gladly participate in – outside the vein of my normal work for clients.)

    Interesting. Let’s pursue that further. I don’t want to ignore the other good points you’ve raised, but moving in this direction might help shed light on them.

    Say, for example, I want to perform a “justice” ceremony (ritual? spell? working? not sure what you prefer to call it) equivalent to the one described in the article, but with a more transparently psychological approach. Regarding ingredients, say I replaced the snake spit and other traditional ingredients with a number of items chosen by the client that suggest “justice” to her. That way it would be reasonably transparent that the value is not in the physical properties of the ingredients but in their symbolic relationship to the idea of “justice” as she perceives it. As for the “backfire” warning, let’s say I tell her that the emotional investment clients tend to put into a ceremony like this can aggravate any pangs of conscience she might have about it, should she have misrepresented anything. And for good measure, let’s say I spend about an hour or so discussing how she feels about the whole situation she’s in, provided she’s willing to share that with me. So far, I’ve got what feels to me like a ceremony that is reasonably transparent about the possibility of purely psychological mechanisms behind it. Let’s say my client feels good about it too, so I go ahead and do the ceremony. Now, my question is, how would I know if it “worked”?

    • March 25, 2013 12:57 pm

      Ultimately we can’t control what others take away from a ritual, but we can certainly influence it, can’t we?

      If an observer comes to a ceremony with the intention to construe everything as supernatural even when told that is not what the participants believe, then they are beyond my ability to influence them and I am not going to compromise the form of the ritual for them.

      (For example, I see nothing supernatural about using snake spit if it is the prescribed traditional ingredient. Snakes are a highly symbolic animal particularly for their bite and venom. You found it too “supernatural” to use snake spit in a charm whereas I feel it’s quite in line with a psychological theory of magic. And while the value of that symbolism can be questioned in a case where the recipient of the spell doesn’t watch, firsthand, as it’s mixed in, I stand by my professional standard of following the traditional ritual forms, both for efficacy and integrity.

      I explained to the client what was in the charm – snake pit and all – and the symbolism surely had its effect on her. I would not feel comfortable lying to her (“it contains snake spit” if it doesn’t) nor would I feel that an uncomfortable, lying priest is going to have the same psychological impact as a confident one who can look her in the eye and explain matter-of-factly the one of a kind charm he has created for her.)

      Okay, on to the fun stuff:

      Say, for example, I want to perform a “justice” ceremony… with a more transparently psychological approach. Regarding ingredients, say I replaced the snake spit and other traditional ingredients with a number of items chosen by the client that suggest “justice” to her.

      This is where I would be out of the experiment, personally. Bear in mind that the most symbolic – I hesitate to say archetypal – ingredients will be the ones that are deeply, mythically resonant to most/all of us on a visceral, unconscious level. Not just the top 5 things we can think of off the top of our heads consciously.

      I think a good magician does more than just pick red for love, white for protection. They surprise the client by producing something that speaks to the client on a much deeper level – something they never would have thought of. There is an entire corpus of ritual ingredients a skilled magician knows to draw from.

      (And it’s worth noting that people like to believe they are in the hands of an expert; if they feel they “made it up” themselves it is a different impact.)

      I feel that existing corpus of magical ingredients, ranging from herbs and animal parts to gems, metals, objects and sigils, has its footing in deep psychological symbolism. It makes very little sense to think that the physical properties of most of the ingredients are somehow magical, but they have appeared over and over in legend and lore. There’s something there worth paying attention to.

      I would also point out that systems that ignore traditional associations and use a “do whatever feels right to you” approach (such as chaos magic) have limits, and as noted above there is an active discussion among chaos magicians right now about how using the traditional symbols gets them better results even though there is nothing “wrong” with making up symbols of your own.

      I guess I see the process of creating a “transparently” naturalistic magic to be a process of purging references to the overtly supernatural: not appealing to spirits, not mentioning them, removing references to astral realms, etc.

      This has a bonus effect, by the way, in re-painting how the symbolic ingredients themselves are viewed. When you use, say, black pepper, you have two supernatural ways to view it. Either its own physical properties are somehow capable of producing magical effects – a proposition that most magicians reject – or it’s the appropriate herb for the spirit or energy you are working with. The latter is a very popular view among magicians.

      But if you are excluding spirits/”energies” from the ceremony, that option is off the table. So you can either believe that normal black pepper is magic pixie dust (??) or just go ahead and admit it’s the symbolism, not the pepper itself, that is at stake.

      (This symbolic view of magic is actually quite popular among Neopagans.)

      In other words, I would begin a project in naturalistic magic by conservatively removing only the explicitly supernatural aspects, not the corpus of symbolic ingredients, with the hypothesis that this one change also changes how we view those ingredients. I would not leap to abandoning the corpus of symbols.

      As for the “backfire” warning, let’s say I tell her that the emotional investment clients tend to put into a ceremony like this can aggravate any pangs of conscience she might have about it, should she have misrepresented anything.

      That makes sense.

      And for good measure, let’s say I spend about an hour or so discussing how she feels about the whole situation she’s in, provided she’s willing to share that with me.

      Definitely. That’s what all good magicians do, in my experience. The client doesn’t just get the person’s technical expertise, but also feels that he or she has an ally, someone who listens to them and believes in their cause and is on their side. This is the difference not only between a mediocre magician and a good one, but between (for example) a mediocre lawyer and a good one.

      Now, my question is, how would I know if it “worked”?

      The answer is that you won’t, without a very large-scale study that’s unlikely to occur.

      I would add, however, that traditional magic certainly has a “tangible” effect, i.e. the recipient can “feel” the magic when the spell is put on them or the charm placed in their hand. I have had magic-savvy clients explain how they can feel the “energy” or power of my spells, and clients without a magic background put it in in terms of emotional effects and changes in consciousness or perception.

      I would suggest that if you’re getting reports like that – if people can feel that “something happened” – you are managing something similar to traditional magic.

      • March 27, 2013 10:46 am

        >Bear in mind that the most symbolic – I hesitate to say archetypal – ingredients will be the ones that are deeply, mythically resonant to most/all of us on a visceral, unconscious level. Not just the top 5 things we can think of off the top of our heads consciously.

        That’s a very good point.

        >I would begin a project in naturalistic magic by conservatively removing only the explicitly supernatural aspects, not the corpus of symbolic ingredients, with the hypothesis that this one change also changes how we view those ingredients. I would not leap to abandoning the corpus of symbols.

        Well said. I’ve made the same argument regarding myths: it’s not wrong to make up new ones, but the old ones are still around because they are time-proven to speak to our subconscious in significant ways.

        I see your point about the potential symbolic power of snakespit. I would go even further to add that being authentically ancient could itself hold significant suggestive power for the client, not to be underestimated. Nevertheless, that is again one of those interpretations requiring considerable reflection, an effort I doubt the majority of clients would undertake or even think to undertake. Most, I suspect, would make the straightforward inference that the physical properties of the ingredients play a causal role in the effect of the spell. I realize you don’t consider this problematic or your responsibility, and I think we might just have to agree to disagree on this one, but I wanted to point that out just to cap off the discussion.

        >The answer is that you won’t, without a very large-scale study that’s unlikely to occur.

        I agree. Even with a large-scale study, I don’t think you would know if it worked or not. And that is the larger point I want to get at. You hang a lot of weight on the confidence that your magic works – however it works, it works. And if you’re delivering a service that works, how can it be unethical? But I don’t see where that confidence comes from.

        With the spell as described (again, you may have been more detailed in actual practice), as well as with most spells I’ve ever seen, the intended effect is so vague as to allow nearly any result to qualify as a success, limited only by one’s talent at interpretation. What’s expected to happen in the justice spell, and how would you know if the spell had any causal role in the outcome?

        On the other hand, there are some common spells that really are specific, like a healing spell on a specific illness – you either get better or you don’t. But in those cases too, there is almost never any way to rule out alternative hypotheses about the effective agent: was it the spell that cured it, or the medicine, or did the magic work through the medicine… any number of possibilities abound.

        Yet, as you point out, the “tangible” effect of being able to feel the “energy” seems to suggest that at least something is going on. The spell must have some kind of effective power if it is leading to that. How could such dramatic and unusual phenomenological experiences occur, if not by the power of the magic?

        There are two problems with that line of reasoning, though. The first is that even if the magic is producing inexplicable side effects, that does not logically imply the magic is producing its intended effects. It would be like saying I know that bloodletting is curing my illness, because it makes me feel woosy. Feeling “energy” doesn’t imply anything about the intended effects of the spell. The second problem is that these are not inexplicable at all. As dramatic and unusual as they often are, I know from personal experience, as do most experienced meditators I would wager, that it takes little more than expectation and concentration in the right situational context to produce truly dramatic phenomenological experiences. So, to sum up, “tangible effects” arguments tend to use unusual but ordinary bodily experiences to draw a logically invalid inference that magic works as intended. Tanya Luhrmann articulates all this well in her book Persuasions of the Witch’s Craft, where she calls feeling energy or power “secondary effects”, frequently mistaken as evidence of the spell’s “primary effect.” Meanwhile, what she terms “ambiguity” about the exact nature of the intended effects enables that invalid inference to escape notice.

        So, in the end, that’s what it really comes down to for me. I don’t see how you, I, or anyone else could have confidence that the magic works at all. I’m not forgetting about your post about Three Magic Spells That Work, or the argument from your previous post that only sensationalist magicians have been tested and found wanting, while traditional magicians have not been tested. Without rehashing those conversations, suffice to say I still see no reason to think magic of the kind on offer here “works.” And without sufficiently compelling evidence, it’s always going to be ethically problematic to provide a service that contributes to the spread of ideas radically contrary to mainstream scientific consensus. As we’ve seen with other such radically contrary ideas, like creationism, even those that seem relatively harmless can be surprisingly damaging to society.

        I’m open to hearing other reasons you might give for your confidence, or parts that I’ve missed or misunderstood.

  7. April 7, 2013 12:05 am

    I have to start with this point:

    [W]ithout sufficiently compelling evidence, it’s always going to be ethically problematic to provide a service that contributes to the spread of ideas radically contrary to mainstream scientific consensus.

    This is so far outside of a reasonable ethic that it is sickening. I soundly reject this.

    Whether someone believes in the supernatural is not a question of morality. It is not morally right and not morally wrong. Let me go further: contradicting science is not a moral issue. Teaching and spreading belief in the supernatural is not a moral issue. Belief in the supernatural is a personal choice.

    I personally have chosen not to believe in the supernatural. But that, too, is a personal choice.

    Whatever problems there may be in promoting supernaturalism, they shrink beside the issues of genocide and oppression that have always followed from criminalizing a set of beliefs. Moreover, the idea that science can explain everything – while an idea that I personally share – is itself a philosophic position without strong proof. When you treat it as not only fact but moral imperative you exceed its epistemological basis. You are establishing doctrine.

    To construe science as a moral issue is a horrendous misapplication. When skeptics do it, I at least understand why: the rhetoric directly bolsters their cause. They are on the holy side of this imagined crusade.

    As the rhetoric spreads however it creates even more problems. To name a few:

    (1) It amounts to victim blaming. Often, the people whose beliefs most contradict science are also those who have the least scientific literacy. They may not have access to good education. To tell them they have done something morally wrong on that count is abominable.

    (2) It wrongly presumes incompatibility of science and religion. Many religious people hold their unscientific faith side by side with a reliance on science as an important tool.

    (3) It alienates real solutions to the problems caused by lack of scientific literacy. For example, someone who believes in faith healing or homeopathy can often be convinced that they should use it side-by-side with modern medicine. The ethic you’ve presented criminalizes these pragmatic solutions. You polarize the issue.

    (4) It is a message of vinegar. It makes science more judgy, more hardline, more aloof. This is truly the last thing we need in trying to increase scientific education and literacy.

    You hang a lot of weight on the confidence that your magic works – however it works, it works… But I don’t see where that confidence comes from.

    I want to reiterate that the problem here is one of lack of study.

    We have discussed before how extremely easy it would be for a well funded study to do a controlled test of love spells and see whether those who receive them do – or don’t – end up with more (and happier) relationships in a predefined period.

    The problem is that no one is doing tests of this sort. Skeptics have no interest in them; they prefer one-off unscientific tests humiliating showmen. Many magical practitioners have no interest in them: they are often averse to scientific inquiry and testing. And most disturbingly, academics have no interest in them.

    So do I know whether my spells have a role in the outcome? In an epistemological sense, I do not. I wish I had the kind of broad, data driven snapshot of the efficacy of magic that we could easily produce through careful research. Lacking that, I can only go on my own track record: the majority of my clients report that they got the outcome they wanted.

    You rightly pointed out that there are other potential causes for those successes than the magic; a proper study would find out for sure.

    Yet… the “tangible” effect of being able to feel the “energy” seems to suggest that at least something is going on. The spell must have some kind of effective power if it is leading to that… There are two problems with that line of reasoning, though.

    Yes, which is why I never suggested that. Please don’t mis-attribute that view to me.

    The fact that a magic spell makes you feel funny is certainly no proof that it also, for example, draws a new lover into your life. And I never stated otherwise.

    Rather, what I said was that if your theoretical naturalistic spell can make someone feel funny the same way as a traditional spell does, there’s a good chance you’re on the same track.

    [S]uffice to say I still see no reason to think magic of the kind on offer here “works.”

    I guess I find that problematic. You yourself sent me an article explaining how a magic ritual to become untrackable does, in fact, make the subject harder to find in the wilderness. You also spoke approvingly of my sources when I discussed that it is accepted by psychologists that a magic ritual to kill someone can, in fact, kill them.

    The kind of magic I perform is similar in substance and form to the kind of magic ritual that is accepted to have real effects.

    • April 7, 2013 8:22 am

      Drew, I feel compelled to respond to your initial premise. You contrast “personal choice” against “moral issue” with regard to “belief in the supernatural.” I disagree. I’m not sure belief in the supernatural is a choice at all. But if it is a choice, it would seem to be a moral choice. Speaking from personal experience, it did not feel like a choice to me when almost 30 years ago I lost the faith of my childhood. It felt like insight; it felt like truth. At the time, everything I’d been taught about morality hinged on the supernatural, so it was nearly impossible for me to see this as a moral issue, as I seemed to be losing my moral anchor and compass. But in retrospect I could easily make the case that it was all about morality. To ignore what seems evident and important about the very nature of reality would be profoundly immoral. I felt compelled to change my thinking for moral reasons. Again, it didn’t feel like a choice at the time. But I’ve heard people say the same thing about acts we’d consider moral, even heroic, such as rescuing someone in an emergency. You’ve given me pause to revisit and re-examine a critical juncture in my life, and I think it highlights why certain issues are so contentious in our community. For many, it would seem the “belief in the supernatural” is indeed a moral issue. Thanks for provoking me to think.

      • April 7, 2013 11:02 am

        Thanks for provoking me to think.

        You’re welcome, Editor B, and thanks for an insightful response.

        I agree that many people tie the basis of their moral beliefs with the basis of their supernatural beliefs. No doubt about it. But the basic question of whether they believe in unproven things is not a moral issue – it is neither evil nor righteous.

        This is directly paralleled by how early atheism and humanism was painted. If you didn’t believe in a higher power, obviously you are a threat; now the doubters have taken up the same poor rallying cry: if you still believe, you are a threat.

        To me the only threat on the issue is exactly that kind of narrow-minded self-righteousness that lays the groundwork for marginalization.

        To ignore what seems evident and important about the very nature of reality would be profoundly immoral.

        I question that – ignorance is a sin? – but for the sake of argument let’s say that is true. Even so, what “seems” evident (and especially “important”) about reality to many people is its supernatural basis.

        Viewing one standard of truth – faith and inner experience – as more evident and important is not a crime.

        (Noting, again, that I am not in the “faith” camp; but I think criminalizing their very existence is abhorrent. And it’s dangerous.)

    • April 7, 2013 8:38 pm

      >Rather, what I said was that if your theoretical naturalistic spell can make someone feel funny the same way as a traditional spell does, there’s a good chance you’re on the same track.

      My mistake. Sorry I misunderstood.

      >This is so far outside of a reasonable ethic that it is sickening. I soundly reject this.

      I think you’re pushing my words too far on this one. First, I said it will always be “ethically problematic”, meaning there will always be a significant ethical question to address, not that it will definitely be unethical, much less “criminal.” Second, I was speaking in the context of our present conversation between two guys who are both scientifically literate to a similar degree. The situation of the scientifically illiterate would be different, and would require a separate conversation.

      For those who have sufficient ease of access to the relevant scientific data, sufficient background knowledge to comprehend it, and sufficient cultural capital to value it, I think it’s reasonable to expect such a person to consider that evidence. And if the weight of that data runs strongly contrary to a belief the person holds or disseminates, in the absence of other kinds of data deemed sufficiently compelling to outweigh it, then I think there is something morally salient about holding or disseminating that belief.

      >To construe science as a moral issue is a horrendous misapplication.

      Science is morally *relevant*, I would say. However far current scientific theories are from approximating actual factual reality, it is a leading current means (I would say *the* leading current means), and as such it’s data provide a major source for modeling the conditions involved in any given situation with moral valence. The ethical choices one makes, regardless of what moral philosophy one subscribes to, depend crucially upon the accuracy of one’s understanding of the situation. So, science is relevant. Whether it is itself a moral issue is debatable, but I think it is highly relevant at the very least.

      >You yourself sent me an article explaining how a magic ritual to become untrackable does, in fact, make the subject harder to find in the wilderness. You also spoke approvingly of my sources when I discussed that it is accepted by psychologists that a magic ritual to kill someone can, in fact, kill them.

      My memory is a bit fuzzy, but I think the article established that the ritual *could* make one harder to find within a naturalistic framework, not that it *does* (correct me if I’m misremembering). Similarly, the fact that a magic ritual can potentially kill someone via psychological mechanisms if they believe in it enough doesn’t imply whether it actually does so with any significant frequency. The one question addresses possibility, the other probability, which is another issue altogether.

      >The kind of magic I perform is similar in substance and form to the kind of magic ritual that is accepted to have real effects.

      I think the similarity needs to be extremely tight for inferences to be drawn from the effectiveness of one spell to another. Just because some traditional spells, like the three from your article (the Vodou zombie, the Himalayan tumo, and the death curse), have been shown to be possible and effective in at least a few recorded cases doesn’t imply that another spell effect will be likewise possible and effective unless it relies on precisely the same mechanisms and conditions. Such evidence is certainly relevant, but it leaves much unanswered. Just as in the pharmaceuticals industry every drug must be separately tested, so too with these sorts of spell effects. I realize how much work that would be and how unlikely it is to actually happen, but likelihood does not change its necessity for confidence in the spell’s efficacy.

      >I can only go on my own track record: the majority of my clients report that they got the outcome they wanted.

      I don’t doubt it. As mentioned in an earlier comment, I suspect that in most (not all) cases of magical spells, including the “justice” spell depicted here, the intended effect is extremely vague. What you’re actually working with is a Barnum effect. It’s no wonder people go away feeling they got what they wanted – anything could qualify as success, provided they want to see it that way.

      • April 8, 2013 12:58 pm

        I agree with your statements about needing proper testing of spells to have strong confidence in their efficacy.

        What you’re actually working with is a Barnum effect. It’s no wonder people go away feeling they got what they wanted – anything could qualify as success, provided they want to see it that way.

        That is one hypothesis. We’d know for sure if we tested.

        On another level, I’m not sure that’s even incompatible with the psychological theory I advanced. In the love spell example, if the spell group wound up with more and happier relationships than the non-spell group, maybe all those relationships are not exactly what they pictured at the outset. Maybe the goal was vague. But is there actually a higher rate of starting relationships? That is something of a different question.

        It showcases neatly why my happy clients aren’t proof of efficacy, but it also showcases why I don’t just assume “Barnum effect” and call it done.

        (On a professional note: I generally use a series of questions to get a very specific idea of what the client wants, then I state it back to them and make sure we both agree on the specific desired effect. Then I enchant very narrowly for that purpose.)

        On ethics:

        I think you’re pushing my words too far on this one. First, I said it will always be “ethically problematic”, meaning there will always be a significant ethical question to address, not that it will definitely be unethical…

        I appreciate your nuanced approach. There are problems in specific actions taken by some people with unscientific beliefs – for instance, convincing a cancer patient to discontinue medical treatment. Yet to describe all supernatural belief as “ethically problematic” based on those immoral actions is a direct parallel to supposing all of Islam is (in nice nuanced language) “predisposed toward terrorism.”

        But I do welcome the chance to look more closely at your words. You wrote:

        [W]ithout sufficiently compelling evidence….

        So the ethically “problematic” ideas aren’t just the ones proven to go against science; anything that doesn’t have strong scientific evidence backing it is ethically problematic. In other words there is no “innocent until proven guilty.”

        Let’s look at some of those ethically problematic ideas.

        You’re saying that any unproven hypothesis is ethically problematic. For example when physicists suggest (so far unevidenced) explanations for quantum phenomenon. I would say that stifling creativity and discovery is ethically problematic.

        You’re also saying that all of Christianity is ethically problematic (or almost any religion). I would say that promoting bigotry against religions is ethically problematic.

        You’re also saying that the entire field of academic philosophy is ethically problematic. Philosophy uses logic and reason to explore ideas that haven’t been or cannot be empirically tested by scientific means. As someone who holds a BA in philosophy, I never felt my four years were particularly ethically problematic.

        I am not hashing this all out simply to split hairs, BT: there is a crucial difference here. You are making a blanket ethical statement about an entire epistemological position, which is a mistake – and these examples follow directly from that mistake.

        Second half:

        …it’s always going to be ethically problematic to provide a service that contributes to the spread of ideas radically contrary to mainstream scientific consensus.

        And we are back to “contributing to the spread of…”

        We discussed this above, but you have a very strict idea of what constitutes “contributing” to unscientific ideas. Apparently, if someone can even misconstrue my actions as reflecting supernatural belief – against my best efforts to show otherwise – that counts as me contributing to the spread of supernatural belief.

        Science is morally *relevant*, I would say… The ethical choices one makes, regardless of what moral philosophy one subscribes to, depend crucially upon the accuracy of one’s understanding of the situation.

        Absolutely.

        There are many factors that are relevant to moral reasoning; many factors that can influence people to choose good or bad actions. Supernatural beliefs can inspire one to do great deeds; then again they may inspire them to make bad medical choices. Scientific learning can give one great leverage in making good decisions; then again it can lead one to feel entitled, smug, and arrogant in one’s certainty – even to belittle people who think differently.

        I don’t blame science for that. I’d like to think people’s spiritual beliefs need not be blamed either.

  8. April 8, 2013 10:26 am

    In my haste I foolishly conflated a couple issues.

    One thing I want to make clear: I don’t want to set myself up as some sort of would-be arbiter of how others should think and feel. I’ve come to certain conclusions because of my own personal inner experiences. Others have had different experiences. The moral imperative is to be true to those experiences — to live the best we can according to our best lights. To do anything less would represent a moral failure.

    While I’d exhort some to have courage in their convictions, I’d caution others to do more questioning, and the difference between the two probably hinges on whether they’re doing harm to themselves or others.

    In the interest of clarity, let me also say that I am a relativist. I can respect other people coming to conclusions other than mine. Furthermore, as a matter of politics I am tolerant, and sometimes downright celebratory, of differences. The thought of criminalizing any faith, or lack of faith, is abhorrent to me as well. We are on the same side here, I think. To me, “live and let live” is the only way to live.

    What I meant to emphasize was that this idea that belief or non-belief in the supernatural often does not seem like a choice. Perhaps it is a choice, but it doesn’t feel like a choice to many people on both sides of the question. I’m sure there are many ardent theists and many hardened atheists who would tell you that it’s not “a personal choice” but a truth they personally realized — a moral imperative.

    I’m harping on this because you seem to frame the idea of “personal choice” as a premise. So I wonder: How important is the distinction, truly? Do your subsequent arguments depend upon this distinction, in your own thinking?

    • April 8, 2013 1:03 pm

      Well said Editor B.

      I agree with you – many people don’t feel they have “chosen” the beliefs they hold; they either were raised with them as the default, or they feel they are “truth” that they should believe.

      I don’t think “personal choice” was a good choice of words on my part. My point was that people are free to believe in unscientific ideas and that this is not an ethical matter, it’s not up for judgment as morally right or wrong. To conflate something’s epistemological value with its ethical value is, I believe, itself the root of much unethical action.

  9. April 8, 2013 10:59 pm

    Reply to Drew:

    >>[W]ithout sufficiently compelling evidence….
    >So the ethically “problematic” ideas aren’t just the ones proven to go against science; anything that doesn’t have strong scientific evidence backing it is ethically problematic. In other words there is no “innocent until proven guilty.”

    That’s right, but be careful not to take that in an unintended direction. What I mean is: there can’t be an “innocent until proven guilty” because science is not a courtroom with a final verdict of either proven or unproven. It’s an eternally-revisable ongoing process in which whatever theory is currently the best supported takes the lead. In some situations there are decisive experiments, most often in the hard sciences and math, but in many other cases one has to go with what has the highest probability of being right. There’s no way to disprove God, for example, though the probability of existence seems rather low in my estimation. Many other common beliefs in religion and magic are in a similar situation of being unable to be proven “guilty” (i.e. convicted of being false). So, there can’t be an “innocent until proven guilty” rule. There *can* be a “beyond a reasonable doubt” clause, though. I remain entirely open to the possibility of beliefs contrary to current scientific consensus should some new significance be presented to the court, to continue the analogy. Barring new evidence, though, the jury ought to lean toward the side with the better case.

    In a courtroom, the burden of evidence is on the prosecutor. That’s not the situation in science. In science, the burden of evidence is on the new idea being proposed. It’s incumbent upon the person proposing it to provide compelling evidence.

    I realize it may be easy to hear my words as “entitled, smug, and arrogant”, condemning everything that doesn’t meet the scientific standards of my choosing. But that’s not what’s going on. I’m simply stating that in cases where a person has reasonable access to data arguing against a belief, and cannot bring countervailing forth data in favor of it, there’s something morally questionable about holding or disseminating that belief.

    For example: If Sally texts John that she probably can’t make the meeting with the client, but John tells the client she’ll probably be there, there’s something morally questionable about that. On the other hand, if John didn’t see the text, it wouldn’t be questionable. Likewise if for some reason John didn’t consider the text reliable (maybe he reasons she could not have sent it because he knows her phone was recently stolen). But if John sees the text and considers it reliable, the decision to tell the client otherwise is what we call dishonesty.

    Likewise, if a person has access to the relevant scientific data (sees the text) and values it (considers the text reliable), moral value attaches to holding or disseminating beliefs to the contrary without countervailing evidence. However, there are still plenty of cases where people either have insufficient access to the data (scientifically illiterate, perhaps) or do not value the data (perhaps they hold religious or philosophical beliefs as a higher authority). In those cases, it’s a different question altogether. So no, I’m not describing all supernatural belief, or all Christianity, or all academic philosophy as ethically problematic. I’m saying guys like us who are scientifically literate and value the data have a moral question to answer.

    >you have a very strict idea of what constitutes “contributing” to unscientific ideas.

    Yes, I do. Much of my own work is likewise problematic. I still have dozens of poems posted at Witchvox that portray gods and goddesses as if they were real, without a whiff of hinting otherwise. It’s probably time I take them down. Even much of my writing here at HP might still contribute more to the dissemination of ideas I don’t believe in than one’s I do, despite copious explicit statements otherwise.

    Let me frame it like this: When you sign up to Youtube, you click “agree” to the terms of service saying you won’t upload copyrighted videos, and even if you do, there are systems in place that actively work to keep the site copyright legal (not perfect, but they’re there). In contrast, there are some sites – Wixi was one, several years ago – where you sign the same terms of service saying you won’t do that, but the whole site is clearly set up for sharing copyrighted episodes of Lost and Battlestar and everything else. Now, the question is, is my work more like Youtube or Wixi? Whatever I might say explictly about the beliefs I support, does my work ultimately disseminate beliefs to the contrary? How can I make my work more like Youtube and less like Wixi? These are the questions I’m struggling with right now.

    The more I research into human psychology and how ideas spread through societies, the less confident I am that the balance ends up in my favor. I’m still weighing the evidence, but honestly I’m wondering. Until I come to a decision, I’m not calling my work right or wrong, but yes it is ethically problematic: there’s an open moral question there that’s worth asking.

    • April 16, 2013 12:54 am

      In a courtroom, the burden of evidence is on the prosecutor. That’s not the situation in science.

      I think you have nicely captured the very real difference between an epistemological question and a moral one.

      I’m not describing all supernatural belief, or all Christianity, or all academic philosophy as ethically problematic. I’m saying guys like us who are scientifically literate and value the data have a moral question to answer.

      I find that a more agreeable position, except…

      (perhaps they hold religious or philosophical beliefs as a higher authority)

      …that would apply to almost everyone who holds supernatural beliefs. In other words the backdoor you have offered for why supernatural belief isn’t always “ethically problematic” is exactly why it isn’t ethically problematic generally.

      I am reminded here of a guest essay at The Friendly Atheist on the topic of atheist values. Marcus Mann writes, “I have to ask to what degree correctness crowds out other values important to me, particularly that part of me that strives to be kind… atheists need to be wary of valuing correctness over the much more important values of kindness, sobriety, and pluralism.”

      Those latter values are “more important” precisely because they are moral virtues. Correctness is procedural. It is an accessory to morality, but it is beside the question of morality itself.

      But let me put down my semantic argument. Maybe accuracy is righteousness. Still, the much greater ethical question is tolerance. Holding a supernatural belief reflects a person’s philosophy and it almost always reflects their religious view.

      When a person or movement does not support religious tolerance, I construe that person or movement as fundamentally opposed to human rights. And I consider them dangerous.

      • April 17, 2013 12:06 pm

        At this point, I’m bowing out of the conversation. The language being used is going over the top, from “criminal” all the way to “fundamentally opposed to human rights.” This isn’t the kind of conversation I find fruitful. So, I’m bowing out. There’s just one thing that can’t be left hanging: the charge of religious intolerance.

        > (perhaps they hold religious or philosophical beliefs as a higher authority)
        …that would apply to almost everyone who holds supernatural beliefs. In other words the backdoor you have offered for why supernatural belief isn’t always “ethically problematic” is exactly why it isn’t ethically problematic generally.

        No. In my view, supernatural beliefs of all kinds might be problematic generally or they might not. It requires a whole separate conversation to debate that, getting into the question of whether one can ever take a sort of meta-perspective to judge one very different ethical system against another, which starts to get into the question of relativism, and that’s a tangled morass that I will leave to greater moral philosophers than I. With regard to those who work within the basic ethical framework I’ve laid out where scientific evidence is valued without some higher priority that takes precedence in matters of fact, there’s a problem to be addressed when actions are taken (that’s where ethics enters the picture) which ignore the evidence. I fit that framework, for one. Others can opt-in if they feel they fit it too, in which case the argument would apply to them.

        In any case, the point is moot with regard to the charge of intolerance. Even if a person finds all supernatural beliefs ethically problematic, that doesn’t entail religious intolerance. Right now I have many Muslim students in my class, and I think it fair to say that traditional Muslim ethics finds atheism ethically problematic to say the least. That doesn’t make my students intolerant of me. They would be intolerant if they considered me less of a person because of my atheism, or if they tried to take away my rights or freedoms. They don’t have to condone my beliefs in order to be tolerant of me. My friend Jon Cleland Host likes to say “Respect the person, not the idea.” I try to live by that. And I return the same courtesy to my students, respecting them while tolerating their beliefs without condoning them, in the interest of valuing “kindness, sobriety, and pluralism” over “correctness.”

        You paint my views as intolerant, but I invite you to have another look at the situation. In the current article, which you solicited to have published here, you invited a conversation about the ethics of the Magic to the People initiative. Regardless of my own beliefs about it, I published it, gave you a forum for your opinion, and engaged you in serious debate about it. I even gave you the choice of just sticking to the ethical issue raised in the article, or getting into other ethical issues. You’ve had full freedom of choice and freedom of expression at every point. On a topic where most atheist bloggers probably wouldn’t give you the time of day, I engaged you as best I could in serious debate, precisely because I do value “kindness, sobriety, and pluralism.” And I haven’t made this into an issue in other contexts, like when we’re hanging out as friends, because I value those things over correctness. But right now we’re talking about the ethics of the issue, and correctness is appropriate. I gave you my honest opinion without compromising my own principles.

        That’s not intolerance. That’s treating you as an equal.

        • April 19, 2013 8:35 pm

          Reply to BT:

          BT, I know you are not an intolerant person. I do believe, however, that the position you’ve adopted – as you’ve worded it here – is one that contributes to intolerance.

          Are there special ethical issues relating to belief in magic? Yes, there are. There are special ethical issues in every field, from biology and medicine to the running of a democracy. I don’t think you would describe modern medicine as “ethically problematic.”

          It is the blanket generalization I object to, and which I feel is dangerous. Skeptics and atheists have largely gone beyond simply characterizing believers as incorrect and begun to characterize them as necessarily either frauds or victims. You may not have gone that far but your position contributes to legitimizing that view.

          I appreciate that you have accepted a topic here outside the vein of what many atheists would levelly discuss. But, when you do so, you will encounter views outside the atheist norm – some of which may be well founded.

          What sounds to fellow atheists like a very reasoned and accepting view – “hate the belief, love the believer” – sounds to a believer like bigotry. It is (relatively) easy to agree to disagree over the accuracy of a belief. But once the disagreement also implies moral judgment, there is no longer a basis for mutual respect. The judgment will always carry either implicit blame or implicit pity, which is not a foundation for a relationship of equals.

          I’ve found our conversation about the efficacy and evidence of magic very fruitful, and I appreciate it.

  10. April 10, 2013 10:40 am

    I’m glad that I finally got around to reading this thread. Thanks Drew for sharing your initiative; it looks really interesting and I’ll be visiting your website later today.

    I actually wrote a blog post earlier this year that addresses some of the controversies that have been reflected in the comments. I’d like to add it as my comment, and invite anyone who feels like adding their opinion on that post to do so.

    http://atheistwitch.blogspot.ch/2013/01/embracing-mystery-to-have-certainty.html

    • April 10, 2013 7:03 pm

      Many good points in that article. I especially appreciated the point that dogmatism happens on all sides, including atheist and scientific and naturalist ones, which is why we have to be continually checking ourselves and engaging in dialogue with others, just like this conversation. :-)

    • April 16, 2013 12:22 am

      Thanks AtheistWitch. I’ve just added your article to my reading list and hopefully I will be able to comment on it sometime this week.

    • April 23, 2013 2:37 pm

      AtheistWitch, I read your article and it’s really quite excellent. In particular, I find this portion to be pertinent to the discussion BT and I have been having:

      Some deny the reality of any experience or belief that cannot explained (but not disproved) through existing frameworks of scientific framework, and assume anyone claiming otherwise to be either delusional, ignorant or lying. They would justify this by claiming that many people have been proven to be just that while highlighting the dangers of sacrificing “rationality” for the emotional comfort of religion.

      What is ironic about this stance is that it actually shows a lot of emotionality and subjectivity. With… pending mysteries in areas which are so fundamental, it seems silly to not even be open to the possibility of even very fundamental ideas that we have about the universe being completely turned on their head in the future.

      I believe this view is at the core of why educated people believe in the supernatural in the age of science. And while there is no scientific basis for believing in the possibility of the supernatural, there is a rational basis for it for exactly these reasons.

      While I personally do not believe in the supernatural, this is why I continue to maintain an openness to the possibility, and a respect for those who do believe. Not a “hate the belief, love the believer” respect but a solid intellectual respect of “their belief has merit.”

      That is also why I find it unfair to claim that such believers are de facto ignorant, and thus unfair to claim that their ethical decisions are de facto misinformed.

      (By the way, I’ll be spotlighting this article on my blog Rogue Priest this week; thanks again for an excellent essay.)

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