TV SHOW

James Randi --- Wizard (randi-hotline@ssr.com)
Mon, 11 Dec 1995 11:06:38 -0500

Miracles, Angels & Assorted Nonsense.

A few weeks ago I videotaped some material that was to
be part of a Larry King TV special on "miracles." I
promptly forgot about it and only happened to see the
last half of it while I was channel-hopping last night.
I made a few notes on the part I saw. Quite frankly,
I'm infuriated by what was presented.

The author of one of the many popular million-selling
books on angels told us that "Whenever there's a
millennium, people just go crazy!" Since there's only
been one of those that I know of, I figured that the
content could only go up from that point on, but as
they ran some angel-images as a segue into a commercial
break, I noted that they used one of the US Postal
Services "Love" stamps, perhaps to establish that
agency's piety. The figure used on that stamp is
Cupid, the Roman god of love and son of Venus, who was
taken by the Greeks as the god Eros. No relationship
at all to an angel, but a pagan god and quite in
keeping with the general accuracy, tone, and quality of
the ensuing discussion. Perhaps the wings on Cupid had
them fooled. Cupid really does have wings, while
angels don't. Or didn't you know? Look it up.

Prominent authority Steven Segal, the shoot-'em-up
actor with the pony tail, was dropped into the
proceedings to add his profound wisdom, which consisted
of acceptance of everything wonderful from visions of
Mary to instant cures of acne. He was inspiring....

One of the panelists was Reverend James Gill, a rare
combination of Roman Catholic priest and psychiatrist
who heads up some foundation or other on human
sexuality -- sort of a sacred expert on charlatanism
who advises on a subject that he knows nothing about.
But he was well versed in the art of saying nothing
with lots of words, telling the audience that God
always answers prayers, but not always with a "yes,"
because God knows why. Or that's what I got from it.
Gill believes absolutely in demonic possession and
angels, of course. To show that he was aware of the
real world, he did caution us that some persons who
"speak in tongues" are fakes, but the way you can tell
them from the REAL divinely-inspired types is by
determining if what they say appears in the Bible.
That must be positive proof, right? Gill waffled when
asked if the "miracles" of Medjugore were real,
launching into the danger of "trivializing miracles."

Another panelist was Marianne Williamson, who teaches a
Course in Miracles, patterned on a book by Judith
Skutch, an early supporter of Uri Geller. She is
naturally an expert in the subject, and believes in just
everything. She managed to explain why God fails to
grant requests for miracles, asserting that just by
asking for a miracle, the petitioner "feels better." Oh,
I see. That had me puzzled until she explained it.
Marianne roundly scolded skeptics for doubting and
"judging matters that have been around for thousands of
years." Like the flat Earth, the Sun going around the
Earth, stars that are holes in the celestial sphere,
astrology, and salamanders that live through fire,
Marianne? Gee, you got us there!

And an ancient dinosaur named Oral Roberts was there,
too, quite out of his element. He dodged every question
he was asked, and fell back on general anecdotes of no
particular date, time, location or specificity, each more
marvelous than the last. He floundered and ran on, being
cut off in mid-myth several times by Larry King.

Grey-haired, well-groomed and impressive Dr. Larry Dossey
was there as a panelist, and when it was announced that
he was there from the National Institute of Health, I had
a glimmer of hope that something sensible might be said.
Alas! Dr. Dossey represented the NIH Office of
Alternative Medicine, the nut-fringe bureau that could
have been a valuable asset in actually assessing various
claims, but turned out to be a promoter of every sort of
quackery presented to it. Dossey himself accepted
everything, too, and offered his own selection of
anecdotes, including an account of an instantaneous cure
of multiple sclerosis! Folks, this is a medical doctor
making this claim, a lie that he MUST KNOW is a lie!
There has NEVER BEEN A CURE OF A CASE OF MULTIPLE
SCLEROSIS! NOT EVER!

Viewers who phoned in provided the usual yarns about
instant healings, but one woman naively told about having
been hospitalized for a dog bite, running a fever for
four days in the hospital while being treated by standard
methods, then coming out of it on the fifth day. And,
she said, she'd been prayed for the night of the fourth
day, and didn't even know about it! Naturally, all
present accepted that her recovery was due entirely to
the prayer, especially when the caller added that the
doctors had said it was "impossible" to have lived
through the illness. The mind boggles, or should.

To be quite frank with you, my own pre-recorded
commentary was given fair exposure, at least in the part
of the show that I saw. When King introduced my name
following two of my observations, the panelists managed
to ignore my comments completely, which did not at all
surprise me.

But here's what has me more than usually angry: there was
no live representative of the skeptical community there,
in spite of the fact that medical doctors Steve Barrett,
William Jarvis, and John Renner (the latter who is the
leading authority on this particular subject) were
interviewed by phone for the program, and then were not
used at all after they made their views known. All three
doctors are experts in this subject, and all are highly
skeptical of the claims, and well-informed from a medical
point of view. Barrett in particular is annoyed, saying
that though he spent much time on the phone with a co-
producer of the special who promised she would call him
back, he waited for days, prepared to attend the program,
but never heard from them again. He says that's the
first time in 25 years that he's been treated in that
fashion.

But TNT got a 2-hour special on the air, Panasonic and
some car manufacturers are no doubt pleased with the
exposure they bought, and who cares about the dupes who
fell for the quackery?

James Randi.

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